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Source: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Egyptian Chambers of Mystery Found Near Abydos

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Archaeologists exploring inside the sacred valley south of the royal cemetery of Umm Al-Qaab, in the desert west of Abydos, in Egypt have discovered a series of mysterious openings located high up a cliff face. Now they are trying to explain the purpose behind those strange Egyptian chambers.

Located near the modern Egyptian towns of El Araba El Madfuna and El Balyana, about 11 kilometers (6.84 miles) west of the Nile, Abydos was one of the oldest and most important cities of ancient Egypt. This vast necropolis contained the remains of the earliest Egyptian royalty, thus, over time, it became a major cult and pilgrimage center for the worship of Osiris, the god of the underworld.

Archaeologist Mohammed Abd Al-Badea led the Egyptian archaeological survey team and Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities , said that their recent investigation demonstrated that the openings discovered high up in a cliff face are “entrances to carved out chambers, which probably have sacred religious importance.”

The openings discovered high up in a cliff face are “entrances to carved out chambers, which probably have sacred religious importance.” (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

The openings discovered high up in a cliff face are “entrances to carved out chambers, which probably have sacred religious importance.” ( Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )

A Matrix of Ancient Egyptian Underworld Chambers

A report in Ahram says that some of the cliff chambers had been created by enlarging natural tunnels in the bedrock that had been made by water flowing over thousands of years. Deep vertical well-like shafts follow natural water tunnels down into the bedrock , but these are currently blocked by debris. Some of the openings lead to one chamber, while others lead to groups of two, three, and five chambers which are interconnected by narrow doorways cut through the bedrock.

The chambers measure around 1.2 meters (3.94 ft.) high and are largely undecorated, with only one carving of two small figures cut in bas relief on the side of one entry point. But there are many shallow rock-cut niches, benches, rows of circular depressions or troughs cut in the floor, and many small holes in the walls just below the ceiling, which Waziri said are ropes or hand holds.

No burials were found inside any of the Egyptian chambers, but pottery and graffiti found inside one chamber gives the names of “Khuusu-n-Hor, his mother Amenirdis, and grandmother Nes-Hor,” which dates to the Ptolemaic period, 332-30 BC.

The newly found Egyptian chambers are not decorated. (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

The newly found Egyptian chambers are not decorated. ( Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )

Evidence of Environmental Adaptation, Perhaps?

A report on Archaeology News Network says Matthew Adams of the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University , who is co-director of the North Abydos Expedition , suggested that because the chambers are located inside the sacred valley of Abydos, in hard-to-reach positions high on a cliff face, they may have had “great religious significance.”

A paper published on ESA Academic by Ashraf Aboul-Fetooh Mostafa explains that in ancient Egypt caves were one of “the most important morphological features of the Nile Valley landscape.” They can be divided into three types: “dissolution caves, caves of rock-cut tombs dated from the dynastic period and caves derived from ancient quarries.”

The researchers explains that the functional role of caves varied in different areas across Egypt throughout the centuries, reflecting the people’s interrelationship with the environment. Furthermore, the geographic nature of the Nile valley, the morphology of the caves, and the political and social conditions explain why natural caves had not been exploited since Pharaonic times and why man-made caves, especially caves of rock-cut tombs, were used instead.

The chambers are located inside the sacred valley of Abydos. (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

The chambers are located inside the sacred valley of Abydos. ( Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )

But There is Not a Jot of Evidence of Any Burials in the Egyptian Chambers

The ancient Egyptians often left natural caves alone, preferring to dig chambers in the rocks on the sides of the Nile Valley, and these man-made caves were conceived for functional purposes that natural caves could not perform. And while in the beginning holes were dug in the ground at the desert margin near the floodplain for protection from floods and resulting swamps, subsequent tombs were dug on high scarps for protection against theft and sabotage that prevailed during periods of social and political unrest.

Tombs were often dug high up on cliff faces for protection against theft and sabotage. (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

Tombs were often dug high up on cliff faces for protection against theft and sabotage. ( Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )

However, the archaeologists researching these newly discovered ancient Egyptian chambers found no evidence that they had ever been used as tombs. According to Ashraf Aboul-Fetooh Mostafa, “other caves were dug for economic purposes like quarrying during the Pharaonic and Romanic periods and “Quarry-caves were used as human shelters in later times.”

Until the debris from the deep shafts has been excavated and tested it looks like the original purpose of these chambers will remain a mystery.

Top Image: Source: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

By Ashley Cowie

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