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A worker on the Middle Kingdom Theban Project takes out an embalming jar he had just discovered among a cache of other embalming materials of the Vizier Ipi, who lived more than 4,000 years ago. (Photo courtesy of the Spanish Mission)

Egyptologists Find 4,000-year-old Dried Heart, 50 Embalming Jars and Mummification Materials of Ancient Vizier

A team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered a large cache of embalming materials for the Vizier Ipi of ancient Egypt’s 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, including large urns, shrouds and bandages, oils, and natron salts. The team also found the mummified heart of Ipi, who was overseer of Thebes and a member of the elite of King Amenemhat I’s court.

Historical Context of the Find

The 12 th Dynasty is considered the finest period of the Middle Kingdom, and Amenemhat I was its first pharaoh. His reign lasted for 29 years, from 1991 to 1962 BC—about 4,000 years ago. Amenemhat was not descended from royalty, and he attempted to legitimize his sovereignty by building pyramid complexes like those of the 6 th Dynasty.

The Spanish University of Alcalá team’s Middle Kingdom Theban Project, an international mission, found the 50 Nile and marl clay jars under the courtyard of his tomb. They were cleaning it when they came across the jars and other materials.

This statue of Sehetepibre (Amenemhat I) stands at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Amenemhat was not of royal lineage, so he renewed the pyramid style of monuments to cement his place as a sovereign.

This statue of Sehetepibre (Amenemhat I) stands at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Amenemhat was not of royal lineage, so he renewed the pyramid style of monuments to cement his place as a sovereign. ( CC-BY-2.0 Photo by Juan R. Lazaro)

Who Was Vizier Ipi?

In an article about Ipi, Ancient Origins reported in June 2016 that the administration of ancient Egypt was a complex and perfectly organized system in which there were many grades of officials: from simple scribes and copyists to the highest officials represented with similar roles as current ministers. Topping them all was the Chaty (or Taty), and answering to the pharaoh, was a figure commonly known as vizier. There were viziers as long ago as Egypt’s First Dynasty of 5,200 years ago.

As the Spanish news outlet  El Mundo  reported in 2016, the Vizier Ipi “was the senior official in charge of the horn, hoof, scales, and pen. Guardian of any bird that swims, flies, or walks. Supervisor of what was and was not.” However, the memory of Vizier Ipi, “the king’s only friend” who held numerous titles, seems to have been lost in the pages of history. In fact, his tomb, located on the hill of Deir el Bahari on the west bank of Luxor today, appears to be his only legacy.

The Embalming Jars and Mummification Paraphernalia

Ahram Online reports this week that Mahmoud Afifi of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department said American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock discovered the jars in 1921 and 1922. They were in an auxiliary chamber in the upper courtyard of Ipi’s tomb, where they were left. Over time, the courtyard was buried in sand until the Spanish mission uncovered it just recently.

An embalming jar with an incision on its side, found in an auxiliary chamber underneath the upper courtyard of Vizier Ipi’s tomb monument.

An embalming jar with an incision on its side, found in an auxiliary chamber underneath the upper courtyard of Vizier Ipi’s tomb monument. (Spanish Mission photo)

The jars contain the oils, salts and bandages used in mummification. They also have jars, bowls and scrapers. One of them contained a mummification board onto which ankh-signs had been carved.

“The identification of these materials is of great importance for understanding the mummification techniques used in the early Middle Kingdom and the assessment of the kinds of items, tools, and substances involved in the process of embalming,” head of the Spanish mission Antonio Morales told Ahram Online.

Professor Morales said the materials also included jars with inscriptions and what he termed potmarks. The linens included various shrouds, 4-meter (13.12-feet) sheets, shawls and rolls of bandages. The cloths included rags and slender wraps for covering Ipi’s fingers, toes and other body parts.

The identification of the vizier’s heart merits more investigation, specialist Salima Ikram told Ahram Online.

Among the finds were 300 sacks of natron salt, jar stoppers and a scraper. Some of the Nile clay and marl jars had hieratic writing, a type of script from ancient Egypt. One of the jars contained a shroud that covered Vizier Ipi’s body and a fringed shawl of 10 meters (32.8 feet). These things are among the most prized pieces of the discovery.

Some of the embalming bandages found in a chamber underneath the main part of Ipi’s tomb

Some of the embalming bandages found in a chamber underneath the main part of Ipi’s tomb ( Photo courtesy of the Spanish archaeological mission)

Ahram Online reports that some of the natron bags had been deposited in Ipi’s body along with twisted bandages and small bandages for the upper and lower limbs. The newspaper reports:

The collection should provide members of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project an excellent opportunity for the scientific analysis of the substances, components, textiles, and human remains found in the embalming cache, as well as the technical procedures and religious rituals used in the mummification of a high official in the early Middle Kingdom.

It’s sort of amazing the team found all this stuff, given that the tomb’s walls and floor have completely washed away, including the old hall of worship at the end of the corridor. "Everything was covered in stone and the walls had hieroglyphic texts. It was all destroyed because it was later used as a quarry," Professor Morales lamented to El Mundo .

Top image: A worker on the Middle Kingdom Theban Project takes out an embalming jar he had just discovered among a cache of other embalming materials of the Vizier Ipi, who lived more than 4,000 years ago. ( Photo courtesy of the Spanish Mission)

By Mark Miller

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