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Ancient Egypt

Royal Guard's Grave

Edited from Mathaba News, 3 August 2007

The grave of a royal guard of the late 26th dynasty, which dates back to shortly before 525 BC, just before Egypt was conquered by the Persian empire, was unearthed in 2007 by an Egyptian-Czech archaeological mission to the south of Cairo.

A large limestone sarcophagus, which enclosed yet another casket, was discovered while the archaeologists were excavating in search of yet-to-be discovered pharaonic monuments in the Abu-Sir area, about twenty-seven kilometres to the south of Cairo, as announced by the Egyptian minister of culture, Farouq Hosni.

The embedded box was made of diorite and had on it inscriptions from the Book of the Dead. The grave, which belonged to Menkhep-Nikaw, also housed funereal furniture, including faience pots, good-luck amulets, and carnelian stones. Zahi Hawwas, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the new discovery proved Abu-Sir to be a virgin area, with many pharaonic mysteries still buried under its earth.

Hawwas noted that the engravings, which represent whole chapters from the Book of the Dead, were indeed the most captivating of discovered pharaonic designs between the 26th and 27th dynasties (672-404 BC).

Judging from experience, Hawwas said that the Egyptian-Czech mission was only the second batch of visitors into the grave after the inevitable tomb-raiders, who looted it in ancient pharaonic times, probably not long after the guard's body was interred there.

Previous use

The burial chamber bore unusual decorations and may offer further proof of how the nobles of Egypt's 26th Dynasty 'gentrified' what was already a two thousand year-old necropolis of their 5th Dynasty predecessors.

The necropolis had fallen into disrepair in the intervening millennia. The monuments were part of a complex which had been built around 2500 BC during the 5th Dynasty's relatively brief reign, from 2498 to 2345 BC. The necropolis then served the nobles of Memphis, Egypt's ancient capital. Twenty centuries later, the site was revived by a new generation of Egyptian nobles, who wanted to be buried near the temples of Saqqara.

It could have been the proximity to the complex of sacred installations in north Saqqara - just a kilometre away - which led to the building of new tombs at Abu Sir.

Inscriptions from the 26th Dynasty tomb

These hieroglyphics from the Egyptian Book of the Dead were found lining the interior of the sarcophagus. The coffin was one of the treasures inside the burial chamber of Menkhep-Nikaw, a royal scribe who lived under the 5th Dynasty pharaohs.



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