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A new bite for archaeologists
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 01 - 11 - 2006

THE FIRST necropolis for royal dentists ever found was discovered early this week in the shadow of Djoser's Step Pyramid in Saqqara. Nevine El-Aref visited the site and learnt that the Pharaohs' curse was not just a myth.
Early this month a pair of tomb raiders were inflicted with the Pharaohs' curse when they were apprehended while making an illicit attempt to dig a deserted area in the shadow of the Step Pyramid. They have since been jailed, but their illegal action in the Saqqara necropolis inadvertently led excavators to a very important discovery on the site. A necropolis dedicated to royal dentists of the Old Kingdom was revealed intact.
The necropolis dates back to the early fifth dynasty. "It was created to honour a chief dentist, E-E-Mery and two of his colleagues who treated the Pharaohs and their families," says Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who led the excavation team.
Hawass believes that the location of these tombs in the neighbourhood of the Step Pyramid reveals two facts. First, these dentists were very close to the king, serving at the royal palace and treating the teeth of the ruler and his family -- according to medical papyri now on display at the Egyptian Museum, the Ancient Egyptians took great care over their teeth. Second, it indicates the respect these kings paid to their dentists. "Being buried in the shadow of a royal divinity was a great honour," Hawass says.
Early studies revealed that the necropolis includes three tombs carved of mud brick and limestone. They were built by the chief dentist E-E-Mery and two others; Ka-Me-Su and Sekhem-Ka, who were not related but may have been partners or colleagues. The walls of each tomb are painted with reliefs showing the respective deceased among deities and his family or presenting offerings to the deities. On the false doors of each tomb are carved curse inscriptions warning that anyone who violates the sanctity of the grave will be devoured by crocodiles and snakes.
Inscriptions decorating the pillars in the doorway of the chief dentist's tomb tell archaeologists much about his life and habits, as he is depicted along with his family immersed in daily pastimes and rituals: playing games, slaughtering animals and sitting in front of an offering table with the standard 1,000 jars of beer and 1,000 loaves of bread for the afterlife.
The tombs are empty of treasure except for the scattered remains of human bones and a huge bust-less statue of dentist Ka-Me-Su standing next to his son.
Further excavations are currently underway to reveal more of the dentists' tombs and secrets.
Saqqara, which lies 35 km south of Cairo, is the central part of the Memphis necropolis, which stretches from the northernmost site of Abu Rawash to Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur. In addition to the famous Step Pyramid, Saqqara contains many first and second dynasty tombs along with pyramids of the third, fifth and sixth dynasties and tombs of the Late Period and the Saite, Greek, Roman and Coptic eras.


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