Discovery of high official tomb points to reuse of tombs and burial goods in ancient Egypt
The discovery of an ancient tomb belonging to a vizier (high official) in the Upper Valley outside Luxor, Egypt, points to a curious practice among ancient Egyptians: reuse of burial goods and coffins in subsequent burials and even recycling of tombs.
Perhaps the most famous case that came to light recently was the tomb of Tutankhamun, who, researcher Nicholas Reeves believes, was entombed in part of a space meant for Nefertiti. Nefertiti possibly assumed her famous husband Akhenaten’s burial goods , Reeves said .
Reeves posits that when Tutankhamun died in 1332 BC, his tomb displaced part of Nefertiti's tomb and assumed some of her burial goods and space because of his untimely and unexpected death. Further, though he says it can't be proven yet, he speculates Nefertiti herself “will have inherited, adapted, and employed the full, formal burial equipment originally produced for Akhenaten.”
Other researchers say the ancient Egyptian practice of recycling mortuary goods and spaces was common at certain times, especially during times of financial hardship.
“Even for elites, the reality was that mortuary cults were short-lived, tombs were robbed from the time of burial onwards and burial places were reused,” says a 2002 paper in the Journal of Social Archaeology, written by John Baines and Peter Lacovara.
Great care was taken to ensure a good afterlife for elites, but burial practices for less-prominent Egyptians are unknown because their remains and graves have not survived. Much of society was mustered to participate in constructing the tombs of the ancient royal personages and other elites, Baines and Lacovara’s paper says. Ancient Egyptians considered proper burial necessary for salvation in the afterlife, but the people doing the work on elaborate and even grandiose tombs had no part in the elaborate rituals of embalming, protection of the body in a stone tomb and the burial goods that would ensure the deceased was in comfort.
The ancient Egyptian outer coffin of Meret-it-es (Photo by Daderot/ Wikimedia Commons )
In other words, the workers who did the work of ensuring the noblemen and –women had a safe comfortable afterlife had no such salvation for themselves.
In this latest case, vizier Badi-Bastet’s tomb was discovered in the South Asasif Conservation Project area. The vizier apparently had some influence in the court of Karabasken, the ruler or a mayor in Upper Egypt during the 25 th Dynasty, which ruled from the mid-8 th to 7 th centuries BC. Badi-Bastet’s tomb was inside the tomb of Karabasken.
"Such a find highlights that Badi-Bastet reused the tomb," Mahmoud Afifi, the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department, told Ahram Online . From the decorations in the tomb, it appears Badi-Bastet was an important person, Afifi said. An archaeological survey was recently done on the court of Karabasken’s tomb that revealed several paintings and architectural designs made just for Badi-Bastet.
Badi-Bastet’s body has not been found, but Elena Pischikova, the chief of the archaeological mission, said he could be buried in the court of Karabasken’s tomb or even in the main burial chamber. She said the mission will do more cleaning and further archaeological explorations of the tomb, which may reveal more secrets.
Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told Ahram Online that the discovery is important. He added that the tomb has shed more light on design and architecture of the tombs of government officials of the period.
The South Asasif Conservation Project area near where the Badi-Bastet tomb was discovered (Credit: South Asasif Conservation Project )
From a study of his titles, scholars have ascertained that Badi-Bastet was the grandson of nobleman Babasa, whose tomb is east of Asasif.
The South Asasif Conservation Project began in 2006. At that time two Kushite tombs of Karakahamun and Karabasken along with the early Saite tomb of Irtieru were found. The tombs had not been cleaned and restored until this most recent project now underway.
A tomb of a much earlier era and another place, Senebkay’s tomb of the 13 th Dynasty of the 17 th century BC in Abydos, was found to have objects from previous tombs. Senebkay’s tomb was found near the tomb of an 18 th century BC pharaoh, Sobekhotep. The discovery of recycled grave goods indicated that the Abydos Dynasty, as it is called, had a comparatively weak economy, says IBTimes in an article from 2014 . The discovery of Senebkay’s tomb was the first tomb from that dynasty ever found, and the era of the rule of Senebkay and others was dubbed the Abydos Dynasty.
Archaeologist Kathlyn Cooney wrote an article on the website of the American Research Center in Egypt that says her survey of 21 st Dynasty coffins turned up evidence that half of them were reused. She said these coffins are spread out around the world. She wrote that some Egyptologists may consider the reuse of coffins rare and immoral, but her research showed it was common for that period.
“I suspect there were magical spells and rituals involved to keep the dead at peace before and after they were removed from the container, but the Egyptians did not leave any such information preserved for us,” Cooney wrote.
Featured image: This relief shows Badi-Bastet holding lotuses. ( Ahram Online photo )
By Mark Miller