In April and May 2023, the archaeological expedition of the Czech Institute of Egyptology of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, continued field research on the shaft tombs from the mid-1st millennium BC in Abusir, Egypt. Here the team discovered the tomb of a hitherto unknown dignitary from the time of the Persian invasion of Egypt. This part of the Abusir cemetery, where the eternal abodes of high dignitaries and military commanders of the 26th and 27th dynasties lie, represents a unique source of knowledge and information for the study and understanding of the history of Egypt in the Late and subsequently Greco-Roman periods.
It is a richly decorated shaft tomb of medium size, whose owner, a certain Djehutiemhat, held the office of royal scribe,” explains Ladislav Bareš, who has been coordinating research at Abusir’s shaft tombs for a long time, adding that “along with other recent discoveries, such as a large the shaft tomb of the general Wahibre-Meryneith, this newly discovered tomb allows a better understanding of the changes that took place in Egypt and the surrounding states in the 6th-5th centuries AD.”
Only the main shaft (with dimensions of 6.6 x 6.6 meters) was preserved from the tomb, while the above-ground part had been destroyed already in ancient times. At the bottom of the shaft, at a depth of 14 meters, lay a burial chamber built of limestone blocks. The decorated burial chamber is 3.2 m long, 2.6 m wide, and 1.9 m high. Access to it was provided by a smaller shaft (1.2 × 1 m) and an approximately 3 m long narrow corridor that connects the access shaft with the burial chamber. For reasons still unknown, this access shaft was largely filled with several dozen decorated limestone blocks, originating from the dismantled above-ground part of the nearby majestic tomb of General Menekhibnekau.
The burial chamber is richly decorated with texts and scenes. A long sequence of apotropaic spells against snakebite from the Pyramid Texts covers the north (entrance) wall. Interestingly, the snakes mentioned in these magical texts both represented a potential danger and could serve as powerful protectors of the deceased and his mummy.
“While the entrance to the nearby Menekhibnekau ‘s burial chamber was protected by the guardians of the gates of the 144th chapter of the Book of the Dead, in the case of Djehutiemhat, snakes from the Pyramid Texts play this role,” adds Renata Landgráfová, director of the Czech Institute of Egyptology at the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University and an expert on the ancient Egyptian language and texts.
The south and west walls are covered with a sacrificial ritual and an extensive sacrificial list. On the ceiling of the burial chamber there are depictions of the sun god’s journey through the sky, first in the morning and then in the evening celestial bar. The depictions are accompanied by hymns to the rising and setting sun.
Inside the burial chamber covered with relief decoration is a large stone sarcophagus, which also bears hieroglyphic inscriptions and depictions of gods, both outside and inside.
The upper side of the sarcophagus lid is decorated with three columns of hieroglyphic text with the liturgy of the 178th chapter of the Book of the Dead, which is composed of excerpts from the much older Pyramid Texts.
The longer sides of the lid are decorated with the 42nd chapter of the Book of the Dead dedicated to the deification of the deceased’s body parts, including depictions of individual deities to which the deceased is compared.
The shorter walls of the lid then bear images of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, with accompanying texts offering protection to the deceased. On the outer walls of the sarcophagus, there are excerpts from the Coffin Texts and the Pyramid Texts, which partially repeat sayings that already appear on the walls of the burial chamber. On the bottom of the inner wall of the sarcophagus, the goddess of the West is depicted, and its inner sides bear the so-called canopic spells, spoken by the goddess of the West and the earth god Geb.
“The Goddess of the West inside the sarcophagus represents the protector, guide, and symbolic mother of the deceased,” explains Jiří Janák, who analyzes and interprets religious and magical texts as part of field research. All the mentioned religio-magical texts were intended to ensure the deceased a smooth entry into a blissful and well-provided eternal life in the afterlife.
The deceased’s identity
The tomb of the scribe Djehutiemhat was discovered almost empty, as it was robbed (like other tombs in this burial ground) probably already in the 5th century AD. From the anthropological analysis of the skeletal remains, which was carried out by leading Egyptian experts, it was found that Djehutiemhat died at a relatively early age of around 25 years, bearing the signs of some kind of occupational disease (wear and tear of the spine during sedentary work) and suffering from severe osteoporosis. The last-mentioned fact could place him in the family of other inhabitants of the Abusir burial site of shaft tombs, in whom this disease was also confirmed: for example, the famous Iufaa, the owner of a nearby much larger tomb, whose unlooted burial chamber was discovered in 1996.
It is, therefore, possible that most of the owners of the tombs buried in this part of the Abusir necropolis belonged to one extended family, firmly anchored in the military elite of late Saite Egypt. However, Djehutiemhat’s mother probably came from completely different circles and a different part of Egypt at that time. Her two names can be translated as “Nubian” and “Fox”, while the latter is written in an unusual, most likely Berber form. Detailed photo documentation and analysis of finds and texts will continue.
The pottery assemblage was more or less adequate to the size of the tomb (with the exception of the seven torches). It came almost exclusively from the small northern shaft and consisted mainly of bowls, jugs, and lids. Imports were represented by a fragmentarily preserved amphora, the so-called “torpedo jar” from the region of Syro-Palestine, and the decorated neck of a Chian amphora. “The discovery of a large fragment of a Chian amphora with a perfectly smoothed edge is also very interesting,” says Květa Smoláriková, who is the Czech team’s expert on Egyptian ceramics and Greek, “because ancient looters probably used it as a shovel.”
“The recently discovered tomb of the dignitary Djehutiemhat at the Abusir archaeological concession is the latest piece of knowledge in the mosaic of the history of ancient Egypt at the end of its glory in the Late Period, in the 6th century. BC,” says Miroslav Bárta, director of Czech archaeological research in Abusír. “The shaft tombs represent a special type of tombs of this period. They were created as a specific attempt by the ancient Egyptian elites for a renaissance and are based on the image of the tomb of King Djoser, the founder of the famous Old Kingdom, the time of the pyramid builders in the 3rd millennium. BC.”, he adds.
The research on this tomb was financed by the KREAS project and a special grant from the Ministry of Education and Culture.