Every two months, the Nile Scribes bring you summaries of the latest news and discoveries in Egyptology, both from the field and the library. We introduce you to the newest archaeological finds or rediscovered artefacts from museum collections, plus other new theories stirring in the Egyptological Zeitgeist.
This spring, we have been particularly captivated by the reliefs from the tomb of a Fifth Dynasty official at South Saqqara, and the corresponding discovery of a previously unknown queen of Egypt.
The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities publishes a very helpful round-up of recent discoveries, events, and projects in Egypt in an accessible PDF format. The latest issue was published in March 2019 (English or Arabic).
Nile shipwreck discovery proves Herodotus right – after 2,469 years (March 17 – Guardian)
NS: Herodotus, who devoted a book to his supposed travels through Egypt, is typically regarded with caution in his descriptions surrounding Egypt. However, his detailed description of a type of boat known as a baris has been confirmed as quite accurate: underwater archaeologists working at the sunken city of Thonis-Heraklion have come across the wreckage of a sunken ship – exactly of the type which Herodotus described.
“In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt and wrote of unusual river boats on the Nile. Twenty-three lines of his Historia, the ancient world’s first great narrative history, are devoted to the intricate description of the construction of a “baris”. For centuries, scholars have argued over his account because there was no archaeological evidence that such ships ever existed. Now there is. A “fabulously preserved” wreck in the waters around the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion has revealed just how accurate the historian was. “It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realised Herodotus was right,” said Dr Damian Robinson, director of Oxford University’s centre for maritime archaeology, which is publishing the excavation’s findings. “What Herodotus described was what we were looking at.””
New temple palace discovered at Ramses II’s temple in Upper Egypt’s Sohag (March 29 – Ahram)
NS: Next to the amazing temple of Sety I at Abydos is located a temple built by his successor, Ramesses II. An excavation team has come across further evidence of occupation from the time of the famous king. The article alludes to the unearthing of a palace attached to the temple and it also appears that further parts of the temple have been revealed.
“Excavation work carried out in Ramses II’s temple in Abydos, Sohag, has uncovered a new temple palace belonging to the 19th Dynasty king. The discovery was made by the New York University mission, directed by Sameh Iskander. “It is a very important discovery which will change, for the first time, the plan of the temple more than 160 years since its discovery,” said Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. He describes the new discovery as “an important contribution to our understanding of the development of the temple palaces during the Ramesside period.” The location and layout of the palace exhibits a noteworthy parallel to the temple palace of Ramses II’s father Seti I in Abydos some 300 metres to the south.”
Discovery of a unique tomb and the name of an ancient Egyptian queen in south Saqqara (April 2 – Czech Institute of Egyptology)
NS: What a remarkable discovery: an Egyptian mission working in south Saqqara uncovered a tomb belonging to the official Khuwy, who lived during the Fifth Dynasty. The walls are decorated in vivid colour with scenes pulled from the ‘daily life’ repertoire. Discoveries in this area go in hand with the announcement of a previously unknown Queen Setibhor, whose name is preserved on a column base nearby. The Ministry of Antiquities has also posted a short video through the tomb on its Twitter feed.
“The tomb was found during the excavation and documentation activities of the area. The tomb consists of a superstructure with an L-shaped offering chamber, which was once decorated with reliefs. Only the bottom part of this decoration is preserved due to re-use of its white limestone blocks in later times. In the north wall of the tomb the mission found the entrance to a unique substructure, which is for the first time clearly inspired by the design of the substructures of the royal pyramids of the 5th Dynasty. This part of the tomb started with a descending corridor, which leads to a vestibule. An entrance in its southern wall gives access to a decorated antechamber. Its decoration represents the tomb owner sitting in front of the offering table on the south and north walls.”
Limestone Coffin Housing 2 Ptolemaic-Era Mummies Unearthed in Monufia (April 2 – CairoScene)
NS: New parts of an ancient cemetery at Quesna, north of Cairo, have been uncovered, stretching in time from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Era. Among the discoveries were an anthropoid limestone sarcophagus, two meters in length, that contained the mummies of two persons buried together.
“The mission accidentally stumbled upon the sarcophagus while they were digging at the northeast side of the archaeological site. Waziri stated in a press release that the sarcophagus is two metres long and 60cm in width and in a good condition, despite the status of the mummies inside of it. Gilded coins and fragments were also found inside the sarcophagus covering the top mummy. The whole discovery was sent to be restored in Kafr El-Sheikh’s storage gallery.”
Mummified mice found in ‘beautiful, colourful’ Egyptian tomb (April 6 – Guardian)
NS: Among finds of several mummies were fragments of mummy masks and perhaps, most intriguingly, the mummified remains of mice and many other animals. The tomb has also preserved in vivid colour several funerary scenes and texts that speak to the family background of its owner: Tutu.
“Dozens of mummified mice were among the animals found in an ancient Egyptian tomb that was unveiled on Friday. The well-preserved and finely painted tomb near the Egyptian town of Sohag – a desert area near the Nile about 390km (242 miles) south of Cairo – is thought to be from the early Ptolemaic period, dating back more than 2,000 years. The tomb is believed to have been built for a senior official named Tutu and his wife, and is one of seven discovered in the area last October, when authorities found smugglers digging illegally for artefacts. Its painted walls depict funeral processions and images of the owner working in the fields, as well as his family genealogy written in hieroglyphics. “It’s one of the most exciting discoveries ever in the area,” said Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s supreme council of antiquities.”
Archaeologists Discover A New Profession In An Ancient Egyptian Woman’s Teeth (April 11 – Forbes)
NS: The skeleton of an older woman was among the more than 65 bodies unearthed at Mendes in the Nile Delta in the late 1970s. Recent reevaluation of some of the dental remains have produced some unexpected results, which add to our limited understanding of the types of professions which women held in Egyptian society.
“Some archaeologists rejoice in opening graves that have been sealed for millennia, while others marvel when their lab work reveals the hidden past of a particular person. During routine analysis of a skeletal collection from ancient Mendes, two archaeologists discovered odd tooth wear in an older Egyptian woman that suggested her body had more to tell them about her life. The skeleton was originally excavated in the late 1970s by the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Expedition to Mendes, along with 67 others. The site was the capital of ancient Egypt during the 29th Dynasty, or roughly the 4th century BC, but it was occupied continuously for a total of about 5,000 years. In addition to being a capital, Mendes was a trade hub and religious cult center, and archaeologists have also found residential and burial areas.”
Graeco-Roman era tomb discovered in Upper Egypt (April 23 – Ahram)
NS: An exciting discovery was recently announced by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities: an Italian team working near the Aga Khan Mausoleum in Aswan have uncovered burials of around 30 Egyptians dating to Graeco-Roman times. The mission had been successful in mapping the more than 300 tombs in the area and this discovery also provided the team with texts identifying the owner as Tit.
“An Egyptian-Italian archaeological mission working at the Aga Khan Mausoleum area in Aswan has discovered a rock-cut tomb dating back to the late Pharaonic Graeco-Roman period. Mostafa Waziri, the general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explains that the mission found inside the tomb parts of a painted wooden coffin. Also discovered were fragments of another coffin adorned with a complete text that includes the name of the owner, identified as Tjt, and an invocation to the gods of the First Cataract; Khnum, Satet and Anuket, as well as Hapy, the Nile god.”