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A sarcophagus that was discovered is displayed at the site of an ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2018.

Discovery of a Necropolis Yields 1000s of Artifacts, Mummies and Ritually Buried Moon Priest

An ancient Egyptian burial ground has been unearthed containing the ritually buried remains of a sacred priest of the moon god Thoth.

Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry, Kaled El-Enany, announced on Saturday that an “ancient necropolis housing catacombs” has been discovered six miles from the vast archaeological site known as Tuna Al-Gabal, in the Nile Valley city of Minya, south of Cairo, on the edge of the western desert, according to a report in AP News .

New (Ancient) Necropolis

The site was discovered by a team of Egyptian archaeologists led by Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who began excavations towards the end of 2017 and discovered “17 mummies in the area of Tuna al-Gabal” which is known to have been inhabited from the “Pharaonic Late Period and the Ptolemaic dynasty.” Al-Anani told reporters at AP News that the necropolis contained “tombs, a funerary building and a large necropolis for thousands of mummified ibis and baboon birds, as well as other animals.”

Skulls were uncovered at the ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, Egypt. (Image: Ibrahim Youssef, EPA)

Skulls were uncovered at the ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, Egypt. (Image: Ibrahim Youssef, EPA)

Bountiful Find

The Egyptian archaeologists showed reporters “five showcases displaying the artifacts uncovered from the burial sites.” El-Enany told reporters at  Ahram Online “Excavation work is scheduled to last for five years in an attempt to uncover all the burials of the cemetery.”

One of the 5 showcases of artifacts with a great number of shabti. (Ministry of Antiquities)

One of the 5 showcases of artifacts with a great number of shabti. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Archaeologists set out last year to locate the remainder of the “cemetery of Upper Egypt’s 15th nome during ancient times,” said El-Enany. Mostafa Waziri, head of the archaeological operations, told reporters that “eight tombs have been uncovered so far” but he was quick to add that he “expects more will be discovered soon.” Among the discoveries so far one tomb included “several coffins, statues depicting ancient priests and other funerary artifacts.”

One tomb in particular belonged to a priest of Thoth, the ancient god of writing, wisdom and the moon. According to El-Enany it contained “1,000 statues and four well preserved alabaster canopic jars inscribed with hieroglyphics” containing the “mummified internal organs of their owner who was a high priest of the god Thoth.” This lunar priest’s mummy was decorated with blue and red beads and bronze gilded sheets.

Moon Priests

Albeit the Egyptian archaeologists have not yet elaborated on what exactly a “moon priest” was, or what he did day to day, El-Enany’s quote in that last paragraph is very revealing. We know the priest’s remains were decorated with “blue and red beads” and that archeologists discovered “a large necropolis for thousands of mummified ibis and baboon birds.”

In ancient Egyptian imagery and iconography Thoth was most often depicted with a blue head and red body and as a man with the head of either an ibis or a baboon. This apparently surreal imagery finds reason when we look at Egyptian creation myths, in which Thoth was considered as being the “creator god in Ibis form, who laid the World Egg.”

Ramses III (left) and god Thoth (right) in tomb of Khaemwaset (QV44)

Ramses III (left) and god Thoth (right) in tomb of Khaemwaset (QV44) ( Public Domain )

In his report to Ahram Online El-Enany described Thoth as the “god of wisdom and the moon,” but he was a lot, lot more to the people of Egypt. He was the “One who Made Calculations Concerning the Heavens, the Stars and the Earth”, the “Reckoner of Times and of Seasons” who “Measured out the Heavens and Planned the Earth.” Thoth was the “God of the Equilibrium,” “The Lord of the Divine Body”, “Scribe of the Company of the Gods” the “Voice of Ra", and the “Author of Every Work on Every Branch of Knowledge, Both Human and Divine”, and most importantly he understood “all that is hidden under the heavenly vault.”

Thoth, depicted on a relief.

Thoth, depicted on a relief. ( CC BY 2.0 )

This basically means that Thoth was regarded as being the god, or controller, of the Egyptian calendars, evident in that he himself represented the first month of the Egyptian calendar, known as Thuthi by Greek times.  In the words of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica , “the ancient Egyptians originally employed a calendar based on the Moon” and according to R. A. Parker in Ancient Egyptian Astronomy , that earlier calendar was, “like that of all ancient peoples, a calendar of twelve lunar months plus a thirteenth intercalary month that kept the seasons in place.” 

Thus, in this recent discovery of a tomb containing the remains of a “priest of the moon god Thoth” we have a man who at one time monitored the cycles of the moon to determine when to plant seeds, when to harvest crops, when to breed animals and when eclipses would occur, those most sacred dates where the Sun and Moon united in the sky. Over time, this discovery will add to our understanding not of how ancient Egyptians spiritualized and worshiped the moon, but how they observed it to enhance survival.

Top image: A sarcophagus that was discovered is displayed at the site of an ancient Egyptian cemetery, in Minya province, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2018. Source: Ibrahim Youssef, EPA

By Ashley Cowie

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