Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Old Mummification Museum lecture - Abydos

Lecture Dr Mathew Adams
Monuments of Egypt’s Early Kings at Abydos –Dr Mathew Adams
The team have been at Abydos since 1991 and it is a joint University of Pennsylvania, New York Fine arts and Yale venture. They have been excavating in the area of Um el Qa’eb (Arabic for mother of pots) where there are a number of 1st and 2nd dynasty graves. This site was excavated many years ago and is now being re-excavated.

King Den has a central underground burial surrounded by magazines and subsidiary burials. There is very little above ground evidence and it is possible that all there was, was a stele. We were shown an old reconstruction of the tumulus and this was compared to the monuments found at Sakkara. However Dr Adams feels Emery confused the issue and the Abydos monuments were grander and his work has shown there was much more to them.

They had a mud brick enclosure wall and Khasekhemwy’s was a niched palace façade which was painted white. The enclosure was 10,000 sq meters and the wall was 11 metres high and 5 meters thick. Palace facades are known from both buildings and objects. The entrance was a monumental gateway which had a room filled with beer jars. There was a convoluted interior and one room had brown stains which Dr Adams is convinced is evidence of libations being poured. This room was the furthest from the doorway and he believes it was the centre of the cult worship. Because f the evidence of cultic ritual Dr Adams believes that Abydos was the main place. But what was the rest of the enclosure for and what function did it fulfil.

The details are under the sand and there is considerable ancient damage. A lot is due the vast cemetery of mummified Ibis that were found here. There are thousands of vessels and each of them was dug into the ground damaging the older edifices underneath. Each vessel contained several Ibis and Dr Adams commented it was no wonder there were none left in Egypt today. Additional Marriet had dug trenches that cut through the ancient remains but the team still found plenty of evidence. They fully expected to find a finished monument but instead it appears to have been left as a construction site with piles of bricks, sand and plaster left around. There are many years of work here for the team.

Peribsen also had a monumental gateway but only 1 meter height is preserved. In the S/E corner outside the chamber there are a huge amount of beer jars. The tomb is surrounded by subsidiary burials.

Petrie missed finding one structure by 25 cms.

The Djer burial has a palace façade with a blocked gateway. There was a cult chapel and subsidiary burials (the slide showed the skeletons in a foetal position. There is debate about whether these people were buried as they died or whether they were sacrificed. As the roof construction is in one piece this would indicate a single episode of burial and the number 269 at Abydos 319 at El Gab would argue that these were sacrifices.

The so called Western Mastaba is also 1st dynasty with a blocked gateway and a palace façade. There were 14 boat burials between Khasekhemwy’s burial and the Western Mastaba which indicates they were probably associated with the Western Mastaba. You can see the wood eroding through the sand and get an idea of the hull. The team have excavated No 10 and confirm these were real wooden boats although heavily damages. The planks have parallel holes through which ropes went through. Emery also found boat graves at Sakkara but it is different at Abydos as these are bigger, 25m in length, and there are lots of them. So the boats at the pyramid of Khufu are an idea that went back to the 1st dynasty.

With Djer, Djet, Peribsen and Merit Neith we have more tombs than enclosures but the team undertook a magnetic survey north of Khasekhemwy. Over 15 hectares were surveyed and this showed the Peribsen enclosure surrounded by Middle Kingdom and late Period burials. They then found another enclosure which had monumental gateways, a cult chapel with an interior chamber like Djer. The cult building had 3 rooms and the 2 front rooms were painted white. The small room had red decoration and a bench like structure covered in brown stains. Dr Adams thinks that there was a statue or stele of the Pharaoh here. This enclosure was surrounded by 6 large graves which had been robbed in antiquity but only the precious stuff was taken so the team still found objects. At first all the pottery was broken just where the name should be. They found alabaster vases and a bowl filled with ground malachite, as this was a female body we can speculate that this lady took her makeup with her! In one grave there were only legs of a 4 year old child. It had 25 bangles and amulets of lapis lazuli so a high status grave. This complex was found to belong to Aha. The burials had a roof construction 30 cms underneath a floor so it would seem all the graves were hidden. The floor had been laid as a single event again suggesting the people were buried at the same time and they were sacrificed.

North of Aha they found more, a 3 chamber vaulted tomb which had been cut through by late period work. There was another bench, it had the same configuration and was covered with brown stains. Here there was more evidence about what the large open space might have contained. The team found the remains of wooden poles. This would suggest that there were other cult structures around the chapel which were made of organic materials. Both the 2 new enclosures had subsidiary graves. There was one intact burial and although it was a poor burial having only one wine jar and three vessels it did name the king as Aha. So two enclosures for the same king. The team then found a third enclosure and that was also Aha. Why he had three graves is unknown. It could be because things were in transmission, or because he had three burial chambers, possible for queens. It is possible his northern monument expanded like his tomb.

Another enclosure was surrounded by 10 donkey burials as well as subsidiary graves. These must have been very special donkeys. There were no horses at this time so if the king rode at all it would have been on donkey. Outside the gateway there was a big limestone basin which must have had some purpose connected with the enclosure. There were 200 seal impressions found but none with the kings name so this enclosure could have been for Djer, Aha or Narmer. Narmer’s tomb is quite modest. If Narmer is represented at Abydos could this mystery enclosure be his. The position and style does support that.

So it appears that the kings had two parts an underground tomb and an enclosure. And it was the later that was the primary architectural statement. At Sakkara there are too many tombs and these are smaller sizes. So where did these kings get buried. Dr Adams argued that it was much more likely to be at Abydos as there is a single tomb and it is much grander with an enclosure.

The wall height indicates that it had fallen down and it appears to have been deliberately demolished ancient times except Khasekhemwy. They seem to have been prepared for demolition, rituals cleansed, the floors were covered with pure sand and gravel and then the walls were brought down. It happened at the end of a period but not 200 years later. You should never see more than one royal monument, the living king. There had to be a ritualistic burial of the enclosures themselves.

So kings had enclosures, people, donkeys and boats which says a lot about the status of an Egyptian king that he could command this. And what you had depended on your particular whim.

Khasekhemwy is the only one left standing why? As Djoser was his successor and he had his complex down at Sakkara there was no conflict between the living king and his predecessor. Why did the kings who were based at Memphis get buried here? Actually the question should be why did they stop being buried here. This was the place to get buried, the ancestral fathers were buried here, Osirus was buried here (allegedly), and it was the proper place for a king to be buried. They might not remember all the names but everyone knew this is where the early kings were buried. The cult place of Osirus and the point of origin of the early kings.

BTW at present the team do not have a website but Dr Adams hopes to get one sorted out this year. However I did find this link http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/abydos/abydoskingstombs.html which seems to be quite up-to-date.

Posted by Jane: - 12:16 pm - Edit| 1 Comment »
April 1st, 2006

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