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The Osiris statuette from Saqqara, Egypt.

Restoration Work Uncovers Statuette of Osiris Secreted in Pyramid Wall

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Mostafa el-Waziri, the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt has announced an amazing discovery, one which is exciting and intriguing the experts. During routine restoration work on the pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, archaeologists discovered a precious and important statuette. The statue depicts Osiris one of the most important of all Egyptian gods . The discovery is raising questions as to why the statuette was placed there.

Hidden in Djoser Pyramid Stonework

The step pyramid of Djoser is an early pyramid located in the Saqqara necropolis, Egypt. It is to the north of the city of Memphis and dates from the 27th century BC, being built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser by Imhotep, the legendary architect and vizier. The step pyramid is in a vast mortuary complex, that is surrounded by the ruins of statues and ceremonial buildings.

Restoration work at the pyramid of Djoser led to the find. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Restoration work at the pyramid of Djoser led to the find. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The pyramid is considered by many to be as important as the great Pyramids of Giza . It is often judged to be the one of, if not the earliest stone-cut constructions and is regarded as the prototype of all the succeeding pyramids. The pyramid is built of six steps and underneath the structure is a complex series of galleries and tunnels.

The Statuette of Osiris

The discovery was made by the archaeological team working on the Djoser pyramid restoration project. They statute was found on the eastern side of the step pyramid, during routine work. As the team was clearing away waste they found a small hole and after a few minutes of cleaning they found the statuette, where it had lain undisturbed for millennia.

The statuette was discovered secreted in this piece of stonework. (Ministry of Antiquities)

The statue was found in an incision between the huge granite blocks.  It is reported in Egypt Today ,  that ‘the statuette's height is 63 cm its width is about 15 cm’ (25 by 6 inches).  The figure is made of bronze and was in quite good condition although it is currently under restoration, a process that could take some time. It will also be examined further to allow experts to date it and determine the precise period to which it belongs.

Bronze Osiris statuette found at Djoser. (Ministry of Antiquities)

A preliminary investigation has established that the statuette represents Osiris.  The Egypt Independent reports that, ‘the statue depicts the God standing and holding a feather in one hand and a sceptre in the other’. He is shown with the double crown, decorated with double horns and a crown of feathers.  The representation of the god is like those of other statues and images of Osiris found in murals.

Left, frieze on a wall of tomb QV66, the burial place of Nefertari (c. 1295-1255 BC) featuring the Egyptian god Osiris. (Public Domain); Right, Bronze statuette of Osiris. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Left, frieze on a wall of tomb QV66, the burial place of Nefertari (c. 1295-1255 BC) featuring the Egyptian god Osiris. ( Public Domain ); Right, Bronze statuette of Osiris. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Osiris was one of the most important gods in the Egyptian Pantheon and was the deity of the underworld and resurrection. He was the god who was believed to judge the dead.  Osiris also later became associated with the cycle of life and was widely worshipped throughout ancient Egyptian history.

This raises the question of who put a valuable figure into a hole in a pyramid and for what purpose. The Ahramonline website reports that the head of the Saqqara archaeological site, Sabri Farag, speculated that  ‘the statue was probably concealed in this area by a priest of Saqqara in antiquity”. However, it may be very hard to establish the beliefs that persuaded a person to deposit the object, out of sight into the façade of the pyramid.

The find of the bronze statuette of Osiris is an important one. In the coming months and years, it will be investigated to see if it’s possible to discover why it was placed in this spot. Was it an intentional hiding place or just an opportunistic stash that was forgotten? How this information might be deduced is anyone’s guess at the moment, but you never know what further investigations might turn up. If the statuette can be dated, this could also tell us something of the worship of Osiris and how his cult developed in ancient Egypt. The discovery of the statuette will no doubt encourage experts to have a good poke around in the crevices and holes between the giant blocks in pyramids in future.

Top image: The Osiris statuette from Saqqara, Egypt. Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Ed Whelan

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