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Newly Discovered Wall in Elite Egyptian Cemetery Believed to be Hiding 4,200-Year-Old Tombs

Newly Discovered Wall in Elite Egyptian Cemetery Believed to be Hiding 4,200-Year-Old Tombs

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A group of archaeologists working in an elite cemetery in Egypt have unearthed the remains of an ancient wall that was hiding for centuries beneath a sandy pathway. The first examination of its rocky construction supplies intriguing evidence that other important tombs might be hiding near the site too.

An Extremely Careful Exploration

A joint University of Birmingham-Egypt Exploration Society Research Project was launched this year near the Egyptian city of Aswan. Its purpose was very clear from the beginning: to carefully and respectfully excavate the elite cemetery of Qubbet el-Hawa.

This specific cemetery is considered an archaeological site of great historical and cultural worth because an impressive number of rock cut tombs are “hiding” within its territory. The tombs belonged to many important provincial officials of Egypt's Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC) and Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BC). Despite its historical importance, however, this is the first time the site is being thoroughly excavated; though a number of illegal explorations took place there in recent years.

Rock cut tombs previously found in Qubbet el-Hawa

Rock cut tombs previously found in Qubbet el-Hawa. (Olaf Tausch/CC BY 3.0)

This was the main reason a team of archaeologists from the University of Birmingham, the Egypt Exploration Society, and the Qubbet Al-Hawa Research Project (QHRP) began their arduous work so early this year – to prevent further illegal explorations on the site and to finally conduct a detailed scientific examination of what remains. Their tense and meticulous study of the site was what led them to the discovery of the ancient wall, which was hidden below a pathway thousands of tourists and visitors have unknowingly walked on over the years.  

The site before the wall was unearthed.

The site before the wall was unearthed. (Ministry of Antiquities)

A Wall Steeped in Information

The two-meter (6.56 ft.) high wall is believed to support Old Kingdom tombs located on the upper terrace of the cemetery. Nasr Salama, general director of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, describes the wall as “stunning," while the project’s co-director, Essam Nagy, believes that this discovery will help them to better understand the ancient funerary landscape of Qubbet Al-Hawa. As he told Ahram Online, “This find is likely to change our understanding of the ancient funerary landscape of Qubbet Al-Hawa.”

Dr. Martin Bommas and Nasr Salama (General Director of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities) discuss the wall’s discovery on-site. (Egypt Exploration Society)

Furthermore, pottery particles in the wall dating to the reign of King Pepi II of the Sixth Dynasty (2278–2184 BC), as well as pieces of Marl Clay jars typical of the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom, imply "the expansion of the cemetery during the latter parts of both periods,” as Eman Khalifa, director of the pottery project within the QHRP, also said to Ahram Online.

The discovery of the wall was part of the project's successful first field season, which also included the recent discovery of a long-lost causeway leading to the tomb of Sarenput I. Sarenput I is believed to have been the first governor of the area at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom period. 

The causeway to the tomb of Sarenput I. View up towards the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis.

The causeway to the tomb of Sarenput I. View up towards the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis. (Egypt Exploration Society)

Top Image: The newly unearthed wall at the site of Qubbet Al-Hawa, Egypt. Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Theodoros Karasavvas



Tsurugi's picture

If the photo of the wall shown here is indicative of the way the rest of the wall looks, I'd say there is a possibility that we might be looking at evidence of an ancient people converting an even more ancient site for mystical and burial use. The presence of two distinct sizes of stone blocks implies two separate phases of construction with two very different skill levels of masonry. If true, the larger blocks represent a much more highly skilled and very probably much older phase of construction.
A long time later, when the remnants of the first phase of construction were already ancient ruins, the place became associated with the gods and was repurposed for use in burying the elites; this phase of construction is denoted by thr much smaller block work.

Not saying this is absolutely true, I've only seen the one photo after all.....just saying it's a possibility.

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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