Priestess’ Tomb Discovered in Egypt, Protected by her Soul Feeding Monkey
A mysterious ancient tomb with “unusual and rare” wall paintings has been discovered in Egypt. Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told BBC reporters the discovery of a 4,400-year-old tomb found during excavation work in Giza’s western cemetery “likely belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, who assisted women in childbirth.”
Dr. Al-Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities told reporters yesterday that the tomb’s paintings depict “the goddess Hetpet observing different hunting and fishing scenes, a monkey collecting fruit…another dancing in front of an orchestra.” The tomb also contained a purification basin in which Dr Al-Waziri said are “engraved the name of the tomb’s owner and her titles,” as was reported by a report in The Times.
Daily activities depicted in the artwork of the tomb. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)
Created around 2500 BC, The Pyramid of Khufu in the Giza complex in Egypt is the largest and most famous ancient stone tomb in the world. However, in its shadow, hundreds of lavish tombs and burial chambers contain the remains and treasures of important priests and priestesses and high-ranking officials. The Egyptian ministry told reporters that the tomb “has the architectural style and the decorative elements of the Fifth Dynasty, with an entrance leading to an 'L' shaped shrine”. And that’s all folks! Really, that is all.
I decided to ask a couple of questions that not a single one of the hundreds of reporters who have covered this story has yet asked. Why is this tomb L-shaped? And, what do the “unusual and rare” monkey paintings represent?
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Wall painting thought to depict Hetpet in the tomb (Image: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)
Why an ‘L’ Shaped Room
Answering the first of these two questions, let’s turn to a 2011 paper written by Professor L.H Roeten, Architecture, decoration and interpretation. Speaking of the “ancient Egyptian cult of chapels” Roeten commented “the mastabas (tombs) that were built in later periods of his reign (Khufu) in the 26th century BC, had L-shaped interior cult chapels.” This tells us that L-shaped burial structures were in use at least 200 years before this newly discovered tomb. According to Dr. Roeten “L-Shaped tombs were of the utmost importance… to identify who was buried in the tomb the name and titles of the deceased were given by inscribing them on a stone stela.” That is exactly what Dr. Al-Waziri told the world press had been discovered in the tomb the week! A “stone engraved with the name of the tomb’s owner and her titles.”
Adding all this up, we now know that this newly discovered “L-Shaped tomb” reflects an architectural style that was used at least 200 years prior to its construction, and, in the writing the name and titles on a stone, it is evident that similar sacred dynamics, otherworldly beliefs and superstitions were also consistent with those held two centuries previously.
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The images and colors have been well-preserved for their age. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)
Unusual Wall Paintings
Concerning the “unusual and rare” wall paintings, “in Egyptian literature it is recorded that certain elements within the burial rites were considered to be of such importance that they were sometimes depicted on the walls of the chapel or tomb” said Roeten.
Thus, regarding the monkey collecting fruits, in his 2011 paper The Baboons and Monkeys of Ancient Egypt, Egyptologist Jimmy Dunn wrote “Religious rites involving monkeys are documented by early illustrations.” Furthermore, a 2006 book by Joan Pilsbury Alcock, Food in the Ancient World tells us that “in ancient Egypt fig trees grew all year round and the fruit was sacred to the god Hathor, who was said to provide nourishment to the deceased and it was eaten in funerary feasts and by all social groups…many tombs in Saqqara depict monkeys and baboons collecting figs.”
Thus, we now know that the “monkey collecting fruits” served a functional role in the perceived afterlife journey of the priestess of Hathor, to whom the tomb was dedicated. The monkey symbolically collected fruits so to constantly feed the deceased soul. Thus, this tomb is an ancient, interactive, full-color manual of the mythologies of Hathor in the afterlife. Following the paintings in this L-Shaped tomb, in the correct fashion, will allow us to retrace the steps of an ancient ritual last performed over 4400 years ago, before being locked in time.
Top image: The highly-decorated tomb is built in a distinctive ‘L’ shape. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)
By Ashley Cowie
Dunn, J. The Baboons and Monkeys of Ancient Egypt. Available at: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/baboons.htm
Pilsbury Alcock, J. Food in the Ancient World, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.
Roeten, L. H. (Prof) The Decoration on the Cult Chapel Walls of the Old Kingdom Tombs at Giza, BRILL, Jan 9, 2014.
Roeten, L.H. (Prof), Architecture, decoration and interpretation, 2011. Available at: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/16646/Microsoft%20Word%20-%2002.Chapter%20I%20prschr%20Roeten.pdf?sequence=15