Last night I went to a lecture at the Will's building in Bristol, which was entitled “The Tomb of Meryneith and its surroundings at Saqqara. Quite inconspicuous I though. However, the lecture was to prove not just expectedly fascinating, but also to reveal as of yet unpublished information regarding the substructure of the tomb.
Anyway, nervously clutching my ledger and pen, I entered the building and took a left up the large stone stairs, and took a seat (which I had had to carry there from a storeroom- the lecture had been overbooked!). The speaker was Dr. Maarten Raven (pronounced Rar-vern) of the Leiden University. He had spent the last five years excavating to the east of the tombs of Horemheb and Maya at Saqqara. What follows is (in note form) is the general gist of the lecture. I was unable to write down everything, and that would fill several pages, so here are the key points:
In the 1800s, Lepsius the German scholar had spent several weeks at Saqqara, but was largely unimpressed by what he saw. He saw the Step Pyramid with part of its complex, and he saw the Serapeaum, but he did not see much else. Lepsius felt that there must be a huge quantity of archaeological material still buried in the sand- waiting to be found. The following year he arranged a dig to arranged in the Saqqara area and in a few years he uncovered the Saqqara tomb of Maya (Tutankhamun’s treasurer). Lepsius marked this on his map, but the tomb was covered over once more by the sands of time.
Dr. Maarten Raven was on an expedition as an honorary student to try to find once more the tomb of Maya, which had been marked on Lepsius’ map. In their search however, they found the tomb of General Horemheb. It took them nearly five years to finally find the Tomb of Maya, which they found in 1963. The Leiden Museum wished to continue excavations to the east of these tombs, as they suspected that there would probably be many more tombs to find. The Supreme Council of Antiquities (that name always strikes me as though it were something out of ‘Star Wars’) however refused, on the pretence that it would not be worthwhile. It took Dr. Maarten Raven until 1997 to get a permit to begin excavations, but eventually he managed to persuade the council to allow him to excavate.
In 2000, when digging began Raven’s team found promising signs. Firstly a mud brick wall emerged from the sands, but the most alarming sign was a stone slab with the incription, “hotep-di-nesw-en-pa-Aten’”
. “An offering which the King gives to the Aten!”. This was amazing, as it meant that nearby there must be constructions that dated to the Amarna Period. Gradually as they took away more of the dirt many stelae were unearthed that read “to the highest of seers to the Aten” (i.e the high priest of the Aten). Eventually names appeared at the very bottom of the slabs as they unearthed them. As they reached the ground level of the tomb they could read the name of this priest: Meryneith (pronounced Merry-neeth to settle any disputes).
The tomb was in total 36m long. All of the tomb that I refer to, unless stated was above the ground, a sort of courtyard with peristyle halls and large open spaces. Only later did the Leiden team enter the lower tomb- more on that later. These sorts of tomb were constructed from west to east, so that the most important parts could be finished as quickly as possible before its future owner died. This meant that Raven could work out that the oldest parts of the tomb would be at the western end of the tomb. At the far western ends of the tomb, Meryneith is called Meryneith, however, when Akhenaten chose Aten as the sole god, Meryneith’s name was changed. At the central part of the tomb can be seen the disk of the Aten incised over the lozenge shape on Neith. Then when the old gods were reinstated, the tomb architects had the nightmare of going back around the tomb and re-cutting the Neith lozenges! Meryneith (or Meryre) still remained as the Seer to the Aten though. This was because Tutankhamun and Ay, whilst passing decrees to reinstate the old pantheon, did not eradicate the Aten. All gods need temples and all temples need ‘Highest Seers’. So Meryneith was still ‘Highest Seer to the Aten’. This sort of hilarious changing and re-changing of names can be seen everywhere in the tomb.
The tomb of Meryneith
In one of the western ‘chapels’ of the tomb, a fantastic statue of Meryneith and his wife Aniuya was uncovered. It is similar in style to that of the one of Rahotep and Nofret- and this was surprising. The style of statue was much older than the time of Meryneith, and he believes that it may have been intended for somebody else. The inscriptions to the Aten were clearly inscribed much later. One of the ways that Raven dated the reliefs in the tomb was not only by whether they show the characteristics of Amarna art or not- but by whether they are in sunk or raised relief. Generally during the Amarna period (even though some of the art in the tomb, the earliest is done in Amarna style before Akhenaten moved to Amarna) art is sunken relief, as this was quicker to incise, and Akhenaten was in a hurry. Before and after the Amarna period, reliefs are raised, and this showed wealth as it was an incredibly time consuming way of doing reliefs. Furthermore, less mature Amarna art usually shows small figures, whilst more mature Amarna art generally shows larger figures.
The registers of the upper tomb showed Meryneith inspecting workers counting grain, as well as men making pots and pans from metal. Two sculptors are shown making a sculpture of a Pharoah wearing the pchent and names headcloth. The king has a bulbous lip and crooked nose- it can only be Akhenaten. Many other scenes show the deceased having offerings presented before them. The jewel in the crown however, is a scene showing the launching of an Egyptian barge. An equal has never been found anywhere. Several levels of deck can be seen with men tugging at ropes to release the ship using some sort of A-frame. Undoubtedly this relief will prove priceless to both naval historians and Egyptologists. At the booths at either end of the ship Akhenaten can be seen, but his image has been scrubbed away at. Wreaths of flowers are being thrown to the boat, and people are waving- only Amarna art could show such movement.
The story of the effacing of names gets even stranger, as at the very eastern (newest) end of the tomb the inscription changed once more. The tomb is for a different person! The name eludes me, but Horem-? probably took the tomb from Meryneith at some point. Raven’s team were confused. Why would a disciple of Ra-Horakhety take the tomb of the Highest Seer to the Aten? They wanted answers, so in the middle of 2002 they secretly (against the Supreme Council’s wishes) entered the burial shaft of the tomb.
It was clear to see that somebody had ‘forced’ the shaft to fit onto the tomb above. The shaft suddenly got thinner, before hitting the ground tens of metres below ground level. Under the tomb lay a huge labyrinth of corridors. Meyneith had evidently stuck his tomb onto a pre-existing burial shaft! The substructure itself had been largely extended in the late period, but even more mysteriously the team found hundreds of First and Second Dynasty containers and psuedo-vessels (blocks shaped like vessels that would function in the afterlife).
The substructure of the tomb, showing additional shafts
The Psuedo-vessels found in the tomb
The interior of the substructure
Once more, Raven also found other shafts leading up to as yet unexcavated tombs (see picture). There are at least five more shafts that could lead to even greater remains! Raven seemed to have no idea why this was done, but it appears that the tomb is of a similar layout to that of the Princes of King Unas I, whose pyramid lies nearby. These tombs of the Princes have mastabas above, and Raven suspected that by digging below the level of the ground-level tomb he would find a mastaba. By digging several metres alongside the tomb of Meryneith, Raven found the remains of what may have been an Archaic mastaba.
Raven believes that the unexcavated parts of the underground labyrinth may contain further information regarding the princes of King Unas. He is returning to Bristol in a year to share his finds. The tomb is currently being restored, and should be open to visit in about three years.
For some additional, but out of date info visit: http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/saqqara/Ex ... lTomb.html