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Left; part of one of the murals, Right; Entrance to the mastaba. Source: Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities

Mastaba With Stunning Murals Unearthed in Dahshur Necropolis

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In the shadow of the ancient pyramids of Dahshur, a remarkable discovery has once again highlighted Egypt's enduring legacy as a cradle of human civilization. Thanks to the diligent efforts of a German-Egyptian archaeological team led by Dr. Stefan Zeidelmeier of the German Archaeological Institute, a mastaba from the Old Kingdom Period has been revealed, with murals that shed light on the sophisticated daily life and spiritual practices of a civilization that continues to fascinate the world.

The Necropolis at Dahshur

Dahshur is an ancient pyramid site in northern Egypt, located just south of Ṣaqqara along the west bank of the Nile River. Part of the Memphis area, which includes other historical sites like Abusir, Abu Ruwaysh, and the Pyramids of Giza, Dahshur was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

The site is notable for its two 4th Dynasty pyramids built by King Snefru (2575–2551 BC). The most famous of these, the Bent Pyramid, is recognized for its unique double-sloped design resulting from an initial overly steep angle that was corrected mid-construction.

The famous bent Pyramid of Sneferu in Dahshur, Egypt. (Ivrienen/ CC BY 3.0)

The famous bent Pyramid of Sneferu in Dahshur, Egypt. (Ivrienen/ CC BY 3.0)

Important New Structure

The German-Egyptian archaeological team has successfully uncovered the building and artifacts which include murals and inscriptions. Dr. Hisham Al-Laithi, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and head of the Department of Preservation and Registration of Antiquities, elaborated on the significance of these findings. According to a Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities release, he explained that the unearthed structure was part of the extensive cemetery for the Dahshur populace during the Old Kingdom, and had initially been discovered in 2002 in partnership with the Free University of Berlin.

Furthermore, Dr. Al-Laithi highlighted the significance of the mastaba, noting its unique and detailed depictions that illustrate everyday activities, such as harvesting grain, navigating ships on the Nile, marketplace scenes, and ritual offerings. These motifs are particularly rare in the mastabas found in Dahshur, adding to the discovery's exceptional value.

Fresco depicting farming life from the Old Kingdom Era. (Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities)

Fresco depicting farming life from the Old Kingdom Era. (Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities)

Mastabas – Precursor to the Pyramids

A mastaba is a type of ancient tomb built in ancient Egypt with a rectangular shape, sloping walls, and a flat roof, typically constructed from mud brick or stone. They contain a deep shaft leading to an underground burial chamber.

These were first used in non-royal burials during the Old Kingdom, and usually contain a chapel and a stela depicting the deceased with offerings. Over time, these evolved architecturally from simple structures to more complex ones including a tomb-chapel and false doors for the spirit's passage.

They were also equipped with storage chambers filled with provisions for the afterlife, and the walls adorned with scenes of the deceased's daily life, notes Britannica Encyclopedia.

Dr. Stefan Zeidelmeier, former director of the German Institute of Archaeology and head of the mission, pointed out that the monument is made of mud brick and is known to belong to a person called "Seneb-neb-af" and his wife “Edut”, found by the inscriptions. It dates back to the end of the Fifth Dynasty and the beginning of the Sixth Dynasty, at about 2300 BC.

The carvings indicate that its owner worked several positions at the Royal Palace in Tenants Management (Khentiu-shi), and his wife held the titles of Hathor priest, and Lady of Al-Jamez.

Mural depicting Old Kingdom Egypt life. (Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities)

Mural depicting Old Kingdom Egypt life. (Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities)

He confirmed that the mission will complete its excavation works at the site in an attempt to search for more secrets of the area, adding that in the coming period the cleaning and documenting of the cemetery and its inscriptions will be carried out.

The mission pointed out the work done at the site began in 1976, during which its excavation work focused initially on the pyramids of King Sneferu from the Old Kingdom and King Amenemhat III from the Middle Kingdom era, but its excavation work has recently focused on the graves of senior statesmen, priests and administrators who lived through that period.

Among the most important things the mission has discovered are the cemetery of palace servants from the reign of Amenemhat III (circa 1880 BC), the harbor and lower bridge of the curved pyramid, and a ritual garden adjacent to the Valley Temple.

Top image: Left; part of one of the murals, Right; Entrance to the mastaba. Source: Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities

By Gary Manners

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Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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