June 21, 2012

The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2

When the pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty secured their tomb chambers with blind passages and portcullises, they felt that their mummies and their treasures had been well guarded against the thief who might sneak in at night, and even against an armed band of robbers who would overpower the watchman. They evidently had not envisaged any long period of lawlessness during which local chiefs had leisure to mount sustained and large-scale operations against the royal sepulchres. During this Intermediate Period not only the pyramids but practically all the tombs of the princes, the high officials and the rich were rifled. Moreover, it seems that knowledge of the secret location of the tomb chambers had, in many cases, been preserved. When after several unsuccessful attempts Petrie and Wainwright found the tomb chamber hidden in the bulk of an immense mastaba - No. 17 - at Meidum, they discovered that it never had an entrance. It had been completely sealed after the burial and the mastaba had then been built up above it. Nevertheless, the tomb had been robbed and, as Wainwright noticed, the thieves must have known exactly where the burial chamber was located since they had tunnelled straight for it by the shortest possible route.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
After Wainwright and Petri had explored the tomb, they closed it again and filled in the shaft that they had dug into the mastaba. The only way in now is to crawl through the narrow tunnel which the thieves had bored into the mud brick of the structure. It cannot be recommended to anyone suffering from claustrophobia, and the crumbling dry mud is an unpleasant reminder that the tunnel may fall in. It was the only place into which our Bedouin guides did not accompany us. However, the visit was well worthwhile. Through a small hole one enters the T-shaped tomb chamber of smoothly dressed limestone which bears no inscription. In it stands an immense sarcophagus of pink granite with its lid swivelled aside, as the tomb robbers left it 4,000 years ago. It is the earliest granite sarcophagus ever discovered and its completely unadorned bulk is deeply impressive.

It is significant that here, as in other tombs of the period, after the sarcophagus had been opened the body of the occupant was thrown on the floor where the archaeologists found it. The thieves had only been after his treasure. It is interesting to note that the bodies recovered from these early tombs were not mummies in the generally accepted sense. The art of embalming, that is, of preserving the human body as a whole, as practised in later times, had evidently not yet been perfected in the Fourth Dynasty. Instead, thj skeleton was defleshed and the bones reassembled with linen bandages soaked in resin. Wadding was put into the body cavity and by the use of more bandages the figure of the dead was faithfully reconstructed. Two fingers, which were missing from the Meidum skeleton, had been carefully replaced by rolled-up linen. The effigy of the dead person, built up around his skeleton, was re-created to such detail as the male sex organs and the breasts and nipples of the women. Again there is a parallel with West African custom where the corpse of the king was defleshed and then articulated with gold wire.

The systematic robbing of the pyramids and of all rich tombs, lasting for two centuries, has deprived us of practically all the evidence connected with the burial of the kings and their families. We do not, of course, know whether somewhere under the desert sand of Saqqara or Giza some undisturbed tomb still awaits discovery. The trouble is that, unlike the carefully hidden rock burials of the New Kingdom, the Old Kingdom tombs, and particularly the pyramids, were built to be conspicuous. However, there are exceptions. When in 1925 Reisner cleared the sand around Khufu’s pyramid he came across a number of paving stones which had been concealed with plaster. They turned out to cover the mouth of a shaft, 32 m. deep and entirely filled with stones. At its bottom the American archaeologists found a tomb chamber with the alabaster sarcophagus and tomb furniture of Queen Hete- pheres 1, the mother of Khufu and wife of Snofru, the woman who had carried the royal blood from the Third into the Fourth Dynasty. The magnificent gilded tomb furniture was carefully restored by the expedition members and stands today in the Cairo Museum, with a replica set in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

In the tomb was also found an alabaster canopic chest containing the viscera that had been removed from the Queen’s corpse. The sarcophagus, however, was empty. Reisner suggested that this was a reburial after the Queen’s tomb at Dahshur had been rifled and that her body was stolen, the latter fact having been concealed from Khufu. When, 45 years after Reisner’s explanation, I asked a surviving member of the team, Dows Dunham, whether he still believed in it, he was hesitant, saying that it was the best story they could think of at the time. However, Dunham pointed out to me the important fact that the inside of the sarcophagus showed brown stains which he took to indicate that it may once have contained a body. In any case, the shaft tomb of Hetepheres is so far the only royal burial, even if it was merely a reburial, which has survived intact from the Old Kingdom.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid :
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6

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