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A visit to Saqqara
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 04 - 2019

The serenity of the Saqqara Necropolis near Cairo was disturbed this week as Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, actress Yosra, and a group of 52 ambassadors and cultural attachés of foreign, Arab and African countries flocked to the archaeological site to visit the newly discovered tomb of a dignitary named Khuwy who lived during the reign of the Fifth-Dynasty Pharaoh Djedkare.
Yosra had come to explore the necropolis and enjoy a special visit to the exceptional painted tomb of Khuwy, recently uncovered by an Egyptian archaeological mission. She described the visit as “thrilling and exciting” and promised not to miss any other visits organised by the ministry in future, praising its efforts to preserve Egypt's antiquities and make new discoveries.
“Although the tomb's discovery was announced earlier this month, its distinguished wall paintings and the vivid colours of its scenes encouraged the media to ask for a special tour inside its two small halls,” El-Enany said.
He said that it was the fifth time he had visited Saqqara in last nine months to attend the announcement of the discoveries of a mummification workshop, the tomb of the Fifth-Dynasty priest Kakai, the Wahti tomb, a cat necropolis, and the opening of tomb of Mehu for the first time since its discovery.
During his speech on the present visit, El-Enany announced that on 18 April Egypt would celebrate World Heritage Day in Luxor by announcing two new discoveries in Assassif and the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis on Luxor's west bank, as well as witnessing the completion of the restoration of the Ramses II colossus at the first pylon of the Luxor Temple.
He also announced that on the day all museums and archaeological sites in Egypt would be open for free to all Egyptians, Africans, Arabs and foreigners living in Egypt.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the newly discovered tomb belonged to a Fifth-Dynasty dignitary named Khuwy and had been discovered during an excavation and documentation survey carried out in Saqqara by an Egyptian mission led by Mohamed Megahed and members of the Czech Institute of Archaeology at Charles University in Prague.
The tomb was not the only item the mission had uncovered, he said, as it had also discovered the name of the queen to whom a pyramid complex in the area belonged.
The tomb consists of a superstructure with an L-shaped offering chamber, which was once decorated with reliefs. “Only the bottom part of the decoration is preserved, as the white limestone blocks of the other parts were re-used in the construction of other buildings in antiquity,” Waziri told Al-Ahram Weekly.
On the north wall of the tomb, the mission located 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 Fifth Dynasty. This part of the tomb starts with a descending corridor that leads to a vestibule. An entrance in its southern wall gives access to a decorated antechamber with scenes depicting the tomb owner sitting in front of an offering table on the south and north walls. An offering list is depicted on the east wall and a palace façade on the west wall.
The mission located the undecorated burial chamber through two entrances in the west wall of the antechamber of the tomb.
“It seems that the space of the burial chamber was almost completely filled with a limestone sarcophagus, which was found entirely destroyed by ancient tomb robbers,” Megahed said. However, he added that the mission had discovered the remains of Khuwy, which showed clear traces of mummification.
An entrance in the south wall of the decorated antechamber leads to a small room, most likely used as a storeroom. The mission found this room to be filled with debris, with no finds of value.
“The discovery of this tomb stresses the importance of Djedkare's reign and the end of the Fifth Dynasty in general,” Megahed said.
ANOTHER FIND: He added that in cooperation with an international team of Egyptologists, the mission had also discovered the name of an ancient Egyptian queen who lived during the late Fifth Dynasty in the same pyramid complex.
“The mission found the name of queen Setibhor, who had not been known before from ancient sources, engraved on a column in the south part of the until-now anonymous pyramid complex,” Megahed told the Weekly.
He said that the complex was located by the pyramid of king Djedkare in south Saqqara, and the identity of its owner had been a puzzle that Egyptologists had been trying to solve for decades.
The name and titles of the owner of this unique monument was found on a column made of red granite in the newly uncovered portico of the queen's complex. The inscription was carved in sunken relief in a rectangle on the shaft of the column, and it reads “the one who sees Horus and Seth, the great one of the hetes sceptre, the great one of praise, the king's wife, his beloved Setibhor.”
The column and limestone blocks and fragments bearing relief decorations from the temple of the queen were found during exploration and documentation work in the pyramid complex of king Djedkare.
The pyramid complex of queen Setibhor is one of the earliest pyramids in south Saqqara built at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, and it is the largest pyramid complex built for a queen during the Old Kingdom. Her funerary temple incorporates architectural elements and chambers that were otherwise reserved for the kings of the Old Kingdom only.
The large size of the pyramid complex and her title of queen may indicate her intervention in helping her husband Djedkare ascend the throne of Egypt at the end of the Fifth Dynasty. It seems that Djedkare wanted to honour his wife by constructing a huge pyramid complex for her with many unusual features, including palmiform granite columns, an architectural element so far known only in the pyramid complexes of kings.
Megahed said the mission had also completed the architectural restoration and consolidation of the substructure of the king's pyramid, which had not been the object of restoration work before. The work was a vital task for the mission, he added.
The mission focuses on the pyramid complexes of Djedkare and his wife Setibhor and their associated cemeteries, and it hopes to obtain more information on the end of the Fifth Dynasty and the beginning of the sixth.
This period witnessed a radical transformation in ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, such as the appearance of the Pyramid Texts for the first time inside the pyramid of king Unas, the successor of Djedkare, and also the end of the practice of constructing sun temples, which all the Fifth Dynasty predecessors of Djedkare had done.
Megahed said that Djedkare's reign was the longest of the Fifth Dynasty and in many ways the most significant. He had built his pyramid complex in south Saqqara, on the way between the Third-Dynasty Step Pyramid and the Fourth-Dynasty pyramids at Dahshur, and several kilometres to the south of the royal cemetery of his predecessors in Abusir and the central Saqqara area where the pyramid complexes of Userkaf and possibly Menkauhor were established, he said.
Djedkare had decided to start a new royal cemetery in a place that had not previously been used for royal burials.
This royal cemetery was later used in the Sixth Dynasty, where the Pharaohs Pepi I and Merenre together with their families constructed burial monuments nearby. “The question why Djedkare moved to this new area has not been satisfactorily answered,” Megahed said.
South Saqqara is a unique royal cemetery, and it was here that in May 1880 scholars found Pyramid Texts for the first time inside the pyramid of Pepi I. It was also here that ancient Egyptian queens started to inscribe the substructures of their pyramids with these Pyramid Texts.
Many years before that, Djedkare built for his wife the largest pyramid complex known for a queen of the Old Kingdom. The name of this queen was unknown until the mission found that her name was Setibhor and she was the main wife of Djedkare.
During the reign of Djedkare many important changes took place, not only in architecture, but also in beliefs, some of them indicated in the pyramid complex. The god Osiris was depicted for the first time, for example, not in his usual mummified form, but in an unusual human shape.


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