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Egyptian Love Story

A 4,400-Year-Old Egyptian Love Story

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Hidden amongst bedrock and surrounded by a court of tombs in the vast, ancient burial ground of Saqqara, archaeologists made a unique discovery – a 4,400-year-old tomb belonging to a couple, their children and possibly grandchildren. But what makes this tomb special is the relief painting depicting a loving scene between the couple, which was extremely rare in Egypt during the Pyramid Age. Now the painting in its original colours has been released for people to see.

The tomb belonged to a priestess named Meretites, and her husband, who was a singer named Kahai, who performed at the pharaoh’s palace. "Probably, as a result, their tomb is particularly beautiful, being perhaps decorated by the royal artists," said Miral Lashien, a researcher at Macquarie University.

Indeed, the tomb was covered in colourful scenes showing people singing and playing musical instruments, such as harps and flutes.  But the scene which stands out the most is the one in which the couple are seen gazing into each other’s eyes, with Meretites placing her right hand over Kahai's right shoulder.

While such a depiction may seem quite normal for a married couple, in ancient Egypt, such depictions were almost unheard of.  Only a few examples of a face-to-face embrace survive from the Old Kingdom (2649 B.C. to 2150 B.C.), the time period when the couple lived and pyramid building thrived, said Miral Lashien, a researcher at Macquarie University. "I think that this indicates very special closeness," Lashien said.

The tomb was first discovered in 1966 and published in a book in 1971, but the discovery was mainly recorded in low quality black-and-white images. So in 2000, a group of scientists from Macquarie University's Australian Center for Egyptology returned to the tomb to study and document the artwork in full colour.

"This tomb is one of the most colourful examples of Old Kingdom art and certainly deserves a full-color publication," said Lashien.

The tomb contained five "false doors" with images of the deceased that acted as a conduit between the world of the living and that of the dead. Food was placed in front of the doors so that the deceased could go out through the false door to receive the offerings.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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