Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Forgotten Pharaoh's Tomb Discovered

The golden age of Egyptology was in the early 1900's, when the Valley of the Kings was explored and its tombs excavated. Recently, though, a previously unknown tomb was discovered near the ancient city of Abydos that held the remains of a forgotten pharaoh. This ruler was identified as Woseribre Senebkay, and the tomb represents the first tangible evidence of a short-lived independent Abydos dynasty, which up until now had remained hypothetical. Aside from the skeleton the tomb was mostly empty, and was likely looted long ago. The pharoah's body was originally mummified, but it decomposed further after apparently being ripped apart by grave robbers.

The modest tomb is the first physical evidence of the Abydos Dynasty, a reigning lineage that had been suspected to have existed, but never proven. "It's exciting to find not just the tomb of one previously unknown pharaoh, but the necropolis of an entire forgotten dynasty," Wegner said in a statement.

The archaeologists first uncovered hints of Senebkay in the summer 2013. That field season, the researchers discovered an enormous red quartzite sarcophagus (or coffin) at the site of Abydos. It was clear that the 60-ton behemoth had been removed from its original tomb, but no one could tell who had first been buried inside.

Continued excavations revealed a story of ancient Egyptian recycling. As it turns out, the original owner of the sarcophagus was a pharaoh named Sobekhotep. Most likely, it belonged to Sobekhotep I, the founder of Egypt's 13th Dynasty around 1800 B.C.

Sobekhotep I was buried in a pyramid in Abydos. A century and a half later, pharaohs apparently began looting Sobekhotep I's tomb for their own purposes. One unknown king snagged the huge sarcophagus. Another king picked up a cedar chest, covered up Sobekhotep's name, and used it in his own tomb. The recycling ruler's name? Senebkay.

It remains to be seen if somewhere in this newly discovered necropolis an intact tomb might still exist. If so, the discovery would be highly significant, similar to that of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. The Abydos dynasty reigned hundreds of years before Tutankhamun, with Senebkay's tomb dated to 1650 BCE and Tutankhamun's to 1323 BCE, and it would be fascinating to compare and contrast the artifacts entombed with bodies from such different periods. Excavations at Abydos are ongoing, and I'll be keeping an eye on them.

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