Magic Snake Spells and Texts Discovered In Egyptian Tomb
Egyptologists digging in Abusir, between Giza and Saqqara, have discovered the tomb of a previously unknown scribe. Not only was this burial decorated with gods and goddesses and loaded with magical texts, but it was enchanted with magic spells associated with snake bites.
Dated to the middle of the 1st millennium BC, the richly decorated tomb was discovered at the archaeological site of Abusir, located between the renowned archaeological sites of Giza and Saqqara. Abusir is also known for its extensive necropolis and pyramid complexes that date back to the Old Kingdom period [2686-2181 BC].
The discovery of the tomb was made by the Czech Institute of Egyptology (CIE) at Charles University in Prague. The team announced that the tomb was found in western Abusir, in an area that served as a necropolis for “high-ranking officials and military commanders from ancient Egypt's 26th and 27th dynasties”.
View from the underground connecting passage to the burial chamber of the royal scribe Džehutiemhat. Photo: Petr Košárek, © Czech Institute of Egyptology FF UK
Poor Djehutyemhat Needed All the Spells He Could Get
Miroslav Bárta, archaeologist with the Czech Institute who led the excavations, told “Newsweek” that the cemetery to the west of Abusir “is one of the largest known burial grounds in Abusir and Saqqara.” Archaeologist Ladislav Bareš said the upper part of the tomb is above ground, and that it was destroyed a long time ago. However, the burial chamber is located at the bottom of a 5.24 meters [50 feet] deep shaft, and was found to be richly decorated, and to contain several texts and artworks.
The tomb belonged to a previously unknown a royal scribe called “Djehutyemhat,” a dignitary who lived at the time Persian forces invaded Egypt. Analysis of bones recovered from the tomb have determined that Djehutyemhat died around 25 years old, and that he had suffered occupational health problems, including severe osteoporosis and spinal wearing caused from his sedentary work.
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A view of the interior of the sarcophagus where Dzhehutiemhat's mummy used to rest in the representation of the Goddess of the West. Photo: Petr Košárek, © Czech Institute of Egyptology FF UK
Magical Texts and Protection Spells
Within the burial chamber, a large stone sarcophagus was discovered, emblazoned with hieroglyphic inscriptions and artistic renderings of the deities of Egyption mythology and religion. Archaeologist Jiří Janák explained that among the paintings are the goddesses’ Isis, Nephthys and Imentet, with the latter being the goddess of the West.
Illustrated inside the sarcophagus, Imentet, the goddess of the West, represented both protector and guide, but she was also “the mother of the deceased." Beside these images the researchers discovered accompanying texts, which according to the archaeologists “were intended to ensure the deceased's smooth entry into the afterlife”. Furthermore, among the inscriptions are excerpts from the Book of the Dead, which offered even further layers of protection during the deceased journey in the afterlife.
Roughly carved image of the sun god Reo during his nocturnal pilgrimage. Photo: Petr Košárek, © Czech Institute of Egyptology FF UK
Snake Bites, And A Safe Passage in The Afterlife
The southern and western walls of the well-preserved tomb were covered with ritual offerings, and on the ceiling, the sun's journey across the sky is depicted. Furthermore, hymns were discovered that were dedicated to “the rising and setting of our star”. However, what the archaeologists discovered on the northern wall of the tomb is what is making headlines.
The northern wall of the tomb features a long sequence of spells that were sometimes applied to offer protection from snake bites. Bárta explained to Newsweek that in ancient Egypt many people died from snake bites, and Djehutyemhat’s tomb depicts species of snake that were dangerous. However, these same snakes also acted “as powerful protectors of the deceased and his mummy”.
North wall of Dzhehutiemhat's burial chamber. Photo: Petr Košárek, © Czech Institute of Egyptology FF UK
Snake bites in ancient Egypt were a cause for concern due to the presence of many venomous snakes in the region, and as such, various beliefs and rituals were associated with snake bites. Both practical treatments and magical remedies were developed to address this threat, and the cobra symbol, as seen in the Uraeus, played a role in their cultural response to these potentially deadly encounters.
Top image: The southern wall of the burial chamber and the lid of Džehutiemhat's sarcophagus. Photo: Petr Košárek, © Czech Institute of Egyptology FF UK
By Ashley Cowie