Archaelogists Have Unearthed The 4,300 Year-Old Tomb of An Ancient Egyptian Dignitary

The tomb of an ancient Egyptian official who would have been responsible for secret documents in the royal chancellery was discovered in the ancient Egyptian necropolis Saqqara, the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw said in a statement last week.

Expanding on an earlier excavation, the team discovered the tomb while digging within a dry moat that encircles the larger Step Pyramid of Djoser, a complex built for the late pharaoh who ruled from approximately 2630–11 BCE. There, archaeologists uncovered the tomb’s decorated entrance façade, including hieroglyphic inscriptions, rough paintings, and a relief depicting the tomb’s owner.

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“The dignitary bore the name Mehtjetju and was, among other things, an official with access to royal sealed, that is s[e]cret, documents, an inspector of the royal estate and a priest of the mortuary cult of King Teti,” expedition director Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz said in the statement. “This means that he most likely lived during the reigns of the first three rulers of the Sixth Dynasty: Teti, Userkare and Pepy I” (ca. 2300 BCE).

The reliefs would have been carved by skilled artisans, which Mehtjetju would have been able to afford given his higher social status. The rock on which it is carved, however, is brittle and eroded, but underwent treatments lead by conservators from the National Museum in Warsaw.

The decoration on the façade appears incomplete without the inclusion of polychromy. “It is possible that it was never created because the decoration of the chapel was not completed. The side walls of the entrance have no relief decoration, just figures painted in black ink on lime plaster,” explains Kuraszkiewicz. The sketches, which depict sacrificial animals such as cows, antelopes, and goats, would have functioned as a draft for later more detailed reliefs.

Researchers believe the unfinished decoration is likely due to the investor’s untimely death, resulting in a hastily completed tomb—a relatively common occurrence in ancient Egypt. Since the burial chamber has yet to be explored, it remains unclear whether Mehtjetju, his family, and/or possibly other people are interred in the tomb. The archaeologists plan to further explore the chapel’s interior this fall.

This discovery is the latest among many in the necropolis of Saqqara, which, earlier this year, yielded the remains of five well-preserved 4,000 year old painted tombs stuffed with more than 20 sarcophagi, toys, wooden boats, and masks.


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