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The conventional find of four canopic jars were buried at tomb TT391.

Canopic Jars belonging to a ‘Lady of the House’ Preserved in High Priest’s Tomb

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The general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities has announced that a team of archaeologists working in Luxor has discovered four canopic jars from the 26th Dynasty, also known as the Kushite Dynasty. The unexpected find was made by a team working on a conservation project at an ancient necropolis. The discovery of the jars is allowing experts to have a better understanding of the important site and also the Later Period in Ancient Egypt.

Ancient necropolis

The find was made at the extensive necropolis in South Asasif, near the site of the ancient city of Thebes - now buried under modern Luxor. According to the British Museum , ‘the site was initially located and visited in the early 19 th century by two British explorers.’ However, the necropolis was practically lost by the late nineteenth century and not excavated in earnest until the twentieth century. The importance of this necropolis in the understanding of the development of private tombs and art during the Late Period is increasingly being recognized.

The canopic jars were unearthed at the tomb of Karabasken, who was the mayor of Thebes and the fourth priest of Amun, one of the most important officials for a period during the Kushite dynasty .  Karabasken was appointed by the Pharaoh Shabaqo, but little else is known about the official.  According to the South Assasif Conservation Project blog , his is believed to have been the first tomb to have been built at the necropolis and is known to archaeologists as tomb TT391.

The Burial Chamber and Sarcophagus of the Mayor of Thebes and Forth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT 391) (25th Dynasty). (Image: Katherine Blakeney, SACP)

The Burial Chamber and Sarcophagus of the Mayor of Thebes and Forth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT 391) (25th Dynasty). (Image: Katherine Blakeney, SACP)

The discovery of the canopic jars

The jars were uncovered by a joint American-Egyptian team who are part of the South Asasif Conservation Project. Since 2006 the project has been trying to conserve the important Late Period tombs at the necropolis. It is expected that they will be fully restored and opened to the public, at some point in the future. During the conservation process, the team has discovered some significant artifacts, the most recent being the remarkable set of canopic jars.

Sets of four canopic jars were commonly used in Ancient Egypt to store human organs that were considered to be essential for the afterlife. The jars, found at the tomb of Karabasken were made of alabaster, each had its own lid and they are approximately 35 to 39 cm (13.8 to 15.4 inches) in height. The lids have been worked to depict a human, a baboon, a falcon and a jackal, apparently by three different craft persons. The vessels appear to contain a large amount of resin used to preserve their contents of viscera.

The site of the canopic jars found at South Asasif tomb TT 391 Image: The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

The site of the canopic jars found at South Asasif tomb TT 391 Image: The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

The set of canopic jars were uncovered in burial compartment in the south wall of the tomb of Karabasken.  They are in very good condition, despite them having fallen over time because of the pressure of flood waters on the walls of the tomb. One of them had broken into several fragments. The set of jars has been removed from the tomb for ‘emergency cleaning and consolidation’ according to the Ahram online website.

An initial examination of the set of jars led to the discovery that each lid contained an inscription that was typical of the 26 th dynasty, according to the researchers.  The website Egypt Today reports that Elena Pischikova, director of the South Asasif Conservation Project, said that the inscription states that the set of jars belong to the "Lady of the House Amenirdis".

Amun-Re, chief god of the Theban Triad. Relief from the Karnak temple complex. (Public Domain)

Amun-Re, chief god of the Theban Triad. Relief from the Karnak temple complex. ( Public Domain )

The discovery of a near perfectly preserved set of canopic jars is adding to our knowledge of the 26th dynasty and indeed the Late Egyptian period. The style and design of the artifacts are allowing experts to appreciate the development of canopic jars in the Late Period. The resin that has been found in the jars may help us to understand the burial practices of the Kushite dynasty. The discovery is demonstrating the importance of the South Asasif necropolis and may indicate that further significant finds are possible.

Top image: The conventional find of four canopic jars were buried at tomb TT391. (Ministry of Antiquities)

By Ed Whelan

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