4300-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb Discovered in Saqqara Hold Keys to Secrets of World’s First Alchemists
On 13 April, Khaled Anany, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities announced the exceptional discovery of a 4,300-year-old Egyptian tomb in Saqqara, which belonging to a noble called ‘Khuwy’ and its walls have secrets.
Professor Mohamed Megahed led the mission that discovered ‘Khoy tomb’ which according to an article in Egypt Today was made “while documenting the collection of pyramids that belong to King Djedkare Isesi.” This was the eighth and final ruler of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt from late 25th-century to mid-24th century BC, an era known as the Old Kingdom.
Brightly painted walls in the 4300-Year-Old Tomb discovered in Egypt. Credit: Screenshot from Ministry of Antiquities video
A painting in Khuwy’s tomb depicting boats and rowers. Credit: Screenshot from Ministry of Antiquities video
According to reporters at The Times of Israel, the design of the north wall and the entrance to the cemetery is an “architectural blueprint” of the royal pyramids of the Fifth Dynasty. The vast tomb, being called a “super structure”, has an L-shaped offering room and while the lower part is decorated with reliefs, the upper limestones were stolen for other building projects.
Part of the tomb has a descending corridor leading to a vestibule and its southern wall leads to a highly decorated antechamber; the north and south walls of which depict Khuwy sat in front of his offering table with an “offering list” was depicted on the east wall, opposite the palace-façade on the west wall.
Penetrating the Contents of Khuwy’s Tomb
Another burial chamber within Khuwy’s tomb contained a destroyed white limestone sarcophagus (coffin) and a set of miniature vessels constructed of calcite and darkstones. Professor Megahed uncovered Khuwy’s human remains “between the stones,” and he was also able to recover oils and resins used to embalm Khuwy in preparation for his journey into the afterlife.
It was only last summer that archaeologists in Egypt unveiled the tomb of an Old Kingdom priestess which was also covered in remarkably bright and well-preserved wall paintings. Agence-France Presse reported that the tomb was uncovered to the west of the Great Pyramid for a “Priestess of Hathor identified as Hetpet” and the paintings depict the high-ranking priestess in various scenarios with her children and hunting and fishing.
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Tomb paintings in the chamber of Hetpet. Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.
Then in December 2018, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced the discovery of another tomb at Saqqara that was, according to an article in Forbes, “The extremely well-preserved tomb of a royal official by the name of Wahtye who lived during the reign of Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Neferirkare as an aid and priest, and the splendor of his tomb reflects that status.”
Like the recently discovered Khoy tomb, all of the prior press releases have been accompanied by stunning photos of beautiful reliefs and murals. But why did Fifth Dynasty Egyptians indulge in such garish art works? According to Egyptologist Leslie Anne Warden, Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Roanoke College, an expert on Old Kingdom Egypt, speaking to Forbes: “When we think about Egypt, we tend to think of a Pharaoh who controlled the whole country, but what becomes clear with tombs such as this is how complex the bureaucracy under Pharaoh was.” What she means by this is that the tombs highlight the multiple and interconnected roles held by individuals.
Statues in Wahtye’s tomb. Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
How Did Ancient Egyptians Achieve Such Bold and Bright Colors?
Stepping beyond the questions raised by the remains of the people buried in these tomb’s; where did Egyptian ‘artisans’ source what must have been an extremely wide array of natural materials with which to make their paints? Offering answers, according to an article on Natural Earth Paint Ancient Egyptian artists were also highly skilled miners who unearthed a variety of “earth pigments, minerals, copper, bronze, silver and lead” and they forged “extensive trading arrangements with overseas suppliers of dyes and pigments.”
Precious stones such as Lapis Lazuli were imported from Afghanistan and they heated lead ore which produced colors from white to red. They made a pigment called "Egyptian Blue” and reds, oranges, yellows and browns were derived from iron oxide clays. Bright yellows came from the highly toxic orpiment, white came from chalk, black from burned wood and green from Malachite and “the acidic corrosion of Copper.”
Therefore, we can conclude that every one of these tombs discovered in Ancient Egypt is much more than the sum of its contents, for if we consider the lost skill sets required in the production of paints, they are ancient time capsules carrying the prized secrets of the world’s first alchemists.
Top image: Brightly painted walls in the 4300-Year-Old Tomb discovered in Egypt. Credit: Screenshot from Ministry of Antiquities video.
By Ashley Cowie