Unleash the Hounds: Archaeology edition

There are many articles and essays about new archaeology finds that are of interest to modern Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists out there, more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. Therefore, The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Here are our favorite picks this month.

CAIRO, Egypt – The number of significant new archaeological discoveries, and the published findings of previous recent excavations in Egypt has been nearly constant over the past few months. Since the merging of the Ministry of Antiquities with the Ministry of Tourism in 2019, there seems to have been a virtual flood of new discoveries. In 2022 alone, there were 26 new discoveries in Egypt.

The Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser in the Saqqara necropolis – Image credit: Dennis JarvisCC BY-SA 2.0

Just in the past few weeks, the number of discoveries from the Saqqara Necropolis and the nearby Djoser Step Pyramid has made international news.

The announcement of the discovery of a 52-foot-long papyrus in a tomb at the Step Pyramid which contains sections of the Book of the Dead could help researchers to have a better understanding of the process of funerary practices in ancient Egypt. The papyrus was found in a coffin that roughly dates to the Late Period, circa 712 to 332 BCE, making it at least 2,000 years old.

The papyrus has already been cleaned, preserved, and translated into Arabic according to a statement made by the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Mostafa Waziri at the 16th celebration of Egyptian Archaeologists’ Day on January 14. Waziri also pointed out that it is the first full papyrus to be discovered in over 100 years. The translation of the text and the name contained on the papyrus identifying the owner has yet to be released.

Additionally, a second papyrus was found recently. In 2022 a 13-foot-long and incomplete papyrus was also discovered at Saqqara. While the pyramid where it was discovered dates to the reign of the pharaoh Teti, the first king of the Sixth Dynasty, 2323 to 2291 BCE, the papyrus bore the name of “Pwkhaef.”

The burial shaft where the papyrus was discovered dates from 1550 BCE to 1186 BCE, centuries after the reign of Teti and when the pyramid was constructed somewhere between 2630 and 2611 BCE. It was also common practice for prominent Egyptians to select burial sites near the sites of past kings and rulers during that period.

Both new finds will eventually go to the museum and be on display.

New research connected to the 2016 discovery of an embalming workshop underground at the pyramid of Unas in Saqqara examined the contents of 31 vessels that contained organic compounds used in funerary preparations and embalming. Many of the vessels were labeled either for their intended use, such as, “treatment of the head,” “to wash” or “to make his odor pleasant,” or bore the name of the substance.

One of the aspects of the discovery was the amount of non-local organic substances that were used. These elements were identified using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry analyses and provided researchers with data that reflects the possible impacts to trade and trade networks that would have reached beyond the region and included the Mediterranean and tropical rainforests.

The analyses of the substances used at Saqqara also equipped researchers to better identify items named in texts as antiu and sefet which were previously translated as meaning “myrrh,” or “incense,” and “a sacred oil” are now known to “refer to a coniferous oils-or-tars-based mixture and an unguent with plant additives, respectively.”

Researchers gaining a better understanding of the substances used and how they were applied to processes of embalming and funerary rites, help to provide a clearer picture of the culture and practices of ancient Egypt.

Another discovery at Saqqara was made at Gisr Al-Mudir which included a tomb that belonged to Khnumdjedef, who is identified as “an inspector of the officials, a supervisor of the nobles, and a priest in the pyramid complex of Unas,” by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who led the excavation and project. Unas was the last king of the Fifth Dynasty.

Valley temple part of the Unas pyramid complex, Saqqara, Egypt (2020) – Image credit: Carole Raddato, FRANKFURT, Germany – CC BY-SA 2.0

The next largest tomb was identified as belonging to that of “Meri, keeper of the secrets and assistant of the great leader of the palace.”

Yet another tomb was that of a priest who remains unidentified but contained nine statues that depicted a variety of people yet none of the statues were inscribed. A false door was later discovered near the where the statues were found and bore the name “Messi” but it is uncertain if the statues were attributed to that name.

Additionally, a 15-foot-deep burial shaft was discovered that contained a sarcophagus that had been undisturbed and had remained sealed which is believed to back 4,300 years. The sarcophagus was inscribed with the name, Hekashepes. When the sarcophagus was opened, the mummified remains of a man covered in gold leaf were found. The sarcophagus was surrounded by a variety of stone vessels.

In yet another burial shaft, the team discovered both wooden statues and three stone statues. The stone statues bore the name Fetek and were found next to an offering table and the sarcophagus that likely holds the remains of Fetek.

Overall, this particular year-long excavation at Saqqara has yielded the largest number of statuary to be found at the site in recent years. The range of items discovered helps to provide Egyptologists with a better picture of what life, and death, were like in ancient Egypt.

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