June 17, 2012

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6

Today almost nothing is left of Memphis; only the area of the great temple of Ptah, the local god of Memphis, can still be traced. The palaces and houses, built of mud brick and wood, have crumbled long since and have sunk into the muddy agricultural soil. At the western part of the ancient Memphis area, and close to the rim of the desert, stands the Arab village of Saqqara. Above it, on the desert plateau, overlooking the Nile valley, stretches for several miles the ancient necropolis - one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. It is dominated by the Step Pyramid which for a long time was regarded as the oldest pharaonic tomb.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
In 1912 J. E. Quibell, who had twenty years earlier made some important discoveries about the pre-dynastic ‘Scorpion’ king in Upper Egypt, shifted his activities to Saqqara. Digging in the northern sector of the necropolis, he established the existence of some large archaic tombs. Unfortunately, the work was interrupted by the First World War and interest in it was not revived immediately afterwards. Finally, in the early 1930s, when G. A. Reisner of Harvard was engaged in compiling his monumental work on the development of the Egyptian tomb, he suggested to the Egyptian Antiquities Department that digging in the area should be resumed. The work was undertaken by Cecil Firth, who was then Chief Inspector of Antiquities, but it was again interrupted by Firth’s untimely death. In 1936 the excavations were entrusted to Walter Emery who, except for the interval of the Second World War, kept up the exploration of the Saqqara necropolis until his death in 1971. Emery’s important discoveries during this long period of work have vastly increased our knowledge of life and conditions in Egypt just before the Pyramid Age.

Following the lead provided by the work of Quibell and Firth, Emery turned his attention to the large structures first noted by them. His careful and extensive excavations yielded what appeared to be the tombs of the successors of Menes, the first kings to rule in the new capital. Each tomb consists of a superstructure of mud brick, surmounting a pit excavated in the rock beneath, which evidently held the burial chamber and storage space for tomb furniture and offerings. Most of the Saqqara tombs, as indeed others in Upper Egypt, were destroyed by fire, probably already in the Early Dynastic period. Moreover they all appear to have been robbed in antiquity and, in fact, no actual burial has been found in any of them. Hence the determination of ownership relies entirely on such evidence as jar sealings or wooden and ivory tags, originally attached to funeral equipment, which bear the king’s name. Unfortunately, sometimes a pharaoh’s name may not only appear in his own tomb but also in that of his predecessor which he may have finished after the latter’s death. In addition, the name of some nobleman, such as the king’s vizier, is occasionally found and then the question arises whether the excavated tomb is indeed that of the pharaoh himself or had belonged to some high dignitary. While in most cases the evidence is sufficiently strong to assign a tomb to a particular king, it has to be admitted that a slight element of uncertainty is always present.

However this may be, the pattern of tomb construction and its development has clearly been established by Emery’s excavations. When the sand had been removed it turned out that in spite of their extreme age and the fragility of mud brick, the superstructures of most tombs had remained intact up to the height of several feet. In fact, the protection afforded by the blown sand was so complete that even the vivid colours in which the walls had been painted are well preserved. The pattern of these decorations represents ornamental matting used as hangings to embellish the bare walls, and this indicates that the tombs were replicas of the royal palaces of Memphis which themselves have long since vanished without a trace. The idea that the palace of the dead king was designed on much the same lines as the one which he had inhabited during his lifetime is supported by the structure of the buildings which is essentially that of a dwelling-place. Emery found that their outer walls show the same recessed panelling which recurs in the enclosure walls of the step pyramids. This type of construction was possibly modelled on ancient fortresses and the fact that the same recessed panelling is also found in Mesopotamia suggests that the basic pattern originated in very early times.

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids :
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P7


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