Despite facing political turmoil, authorities in Egypt have been forging ahead with renovations of key archaeological sites. Last week saw the renovation and reopening of two important tombs, the Serapeum and the tomb of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep.
The Serapeum dates to 1390 B.C. and was a tomb for holy bulls. I visited in 1991 and the memories of the gloomy underground corridors and giant sarcophagi are still vivid in my mind. It was closed in 2001 due to water leaking inside and shifts in the earth that threatened the underground structure.
The tomb of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep housed a father and son who were both high officials for the last two pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty around 2375 B.C. The double tomb is brightly painted with scenes of religious rituals, agriculture, hunting, and children playing.
Both tombs are at Saqqara, 30 kilometers south of Cairo and the site of Egypt’s first pyramid.
Authorities plan to open five more tombs soon. The government has spent millions of dollars on this work and hopes to lure back tourists who have been scared away by the recent unrest.
Check out this video from the Chinese-American NTD Television for some striking visuals of these two ancient tombs.
Two painted tombs have been discovered at the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara, twenty miles south of Cairo.
The rock-hewn tombs belong to a royal official named Shendwa and his son Khonsu. Both men lived in the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2181 BC) of the Old Kingdom. The pharaohs of this dynasty are buried at or near Saqqara. The pyramid of Pepi II is shown here, although it isn’t in the best of condition.
The find comes just a month after the tomb of a royal scribe was discovered at Saqqara and brings further attention to an important archaeological site many tourists miss. Saqqara is home to the oldest pyramid built of dressed stone–the Step Pyramid of Djoser constructed from 2667 to 2648 BC. Earlier pyramids made of brick are known from Mesopotamia and can now be found in modern Iraq and Syria.
Image courtesy Jon Bodsworth via Egypt Archive. Check out the site for some amazing photos of some of Saqqara’s painted tombs.
The tomb was originally discovered in the nineteenth century by artifact hunters who took the best things and left. They forgot where the tomb was and the desert sands covered it over once again. Archaeologists have rediscovered it near the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, visible on the far left in this image courtesy of Hajor via Wikimedia Commons.
Saqqara is often missed by tour groups whizzing through Egypt. While sites such as the Pyramids at Giza are perhaps more impressive, Saqqara is just as important to Egyptian history. It was a religious and mortuary center from the beginning of the Old Kingdom, through the Middle and New Kingdoms, and continued to be used during Egypt’s decline in the Roman Period.
It has the first pyramid ever built in Egypt–the Step Pyramid of Djoser (in the center of the above photograph) constructed from 2667 to 2648 BC. There are even earlier tombs at the site called mastabas, which are low buildings that look like benches. “Mastaba” is the Arabic word for bench. A later addition around about 1390 BC was the Serapeum, a tomb for holy bulls. The wide underground corridors and giant sarcophagi are highly atmospheric. Saqqara is only 30 km south of Cairo and easily reached by taxi or minibus.
Excavations at the tomb are continuing. Several long hallways and chapels have already been cleared of sand. The team hopes to discover the main chamber and a mummy the original discoverers reported seeing but said they didn’t take.