Tomb with secret Egyptian documents found at Saqqara

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Ricky Joseph

The tomb belonged to a man named Mehtjetju, as the hieroglyphic reliefs and symbols on the tomb walls and facade reveal. At the time he was alive, in 2300 B.C.E., Mehtjetju was an elite Egyptian dignitary and court official of considerable status, according to a press release from the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.

The story of Mehtjetju

"The dignitary bore the name Mehtjetju and was, among other things, an official with access to sealed royal documents, i.e. secret documents, an inspector of the royal estate and a priest of the mortuary cult of King Teti," explained the expedition's director, Professor Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Warsaw University. "This means that he veryprobably lived during the reigns of the first three rulers of the Sixth Dynasty": Teti, Userkare and Pepy I," added the Egyptologist.

The discovery of this official during the reign of the early pharaohs of the Sixth Dynasty of ancient Egypt (2345-2181 B.C.E.) was made accidentally by the team of archaeologists while excavations were being conducted within the dry moat. The dry moat surrounds the 4,700-year-old step pyramid of King Djoser, and this find, made in 2021, was just west of the tomb of Wazir Merefnebef,also discovered by the same PCMA UW expedition.

Part of the entrance to the Mehtjetju tomb. Image: J. Dabrowski/Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw

The duties of Egyptian dignitaries, as was the case with Mehtjetju, included guarding access to the secret documents of the royal chancery, acting as inspector of the royal estates, and priest of the mortuary cult of King Teti. His death was reportedly unexpected, inferred by a hasty decoration of the burial site. They could not finish carving the decorative reliefs of the animals ofsacrifice on the outer facade, because they ran out of time. The remains of sketches in black paint on lime plaster were found, with reliefs depicting animals. However, researchers believe Mehtjetju was buried "properly," according to Smithsonian magazine.

"If he hadn't been buried there, the grave probably would have been taken over by someone else," Kuraszkiewicz said in the university's press release.

The relationship of Saqqara to Egyptian power

Kuraszkiewicz noted that it was not surprising that the burial was near King Djoser. The legendary Step Pyramid of Djoser was the first of its kind at Saqqara, and he was an extremely important and revered king in Egyptian history. Many Egyptian officials, even after his death in 2575 B.C.E., continued to want to be buried next to Djoser in an attempt to elevate his status.

Saqqara has witnessed an increase in its archaeological value in recent years. For a long time, the focus was on the ancient capital Memphis, which would later move to Alexandria. Today, Luxor and the Great Pyramids are the traditional hotspots for tourists and archaeologists. Archaeological expeditions and ensuing efforts have concentrated their energies on these two important centers.

Since 1987, the Polish-Egyptian mission has shifted its focus to this area of the ancient Saqqara necropolis, west of the Step Pyramid, which served as a cemetery for 3,000 years. The necropolis, with a radius of 8.04 kilometers, a few miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile, houses the remains of tombs, temples and walkways, an integral part of the reconstruction of ancient Egyptian history.

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