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Responsible for the Horn, Hoof, Scales, and Pen: Finding Ipi, A Forgotten Vizier of Ancient Egypt

Responsible for the Horn, Hoof, Scales, and Pen: Finding Ipi, A Forgotten Vizier of Ancient Egypt

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The administration of Ancient Egypt was a complex and perfectly organized system in which there were many grades of officials: from simple scribes and copyists to the highest officialdom represented with similar roles as current ministers. Topping them all was the Chaty (or Taty), commonly known as ‘Vizier’, a figure that already existed in the First Dynasty.

There were alterations to the Chaty’s responsibilities over the years, but one never changed – as the Administrator of Justice. As such, the vizier was in charge of delivering justice and appointing judges.

In fact, the position of Chaty was one of the highest ranking in ancient Egypt: he met with the king several times a day and the king delegated certain functions to him: anything concerning the administration of the royal domains, including the administration of the royal residence, the choice of location for the royal tomb, and building it.

Another of the Chaty’s important tasks was to govern the country during the 70 days of mourning that happened after the Pharaoh’s death. In addition, viziers also tended to supervise the funeral feast, the musical accompaniment and, finally, were the ones who had the power to appoint the heir to the monarch.

Currently, the Spanish Egyptologist Antonio Morales, a professor at Freie Universität Berlin and director of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project, is leading an archaeological mission to study the tomb of a relatively unknown but important person: the vizier Ipi.

The term "chaty" or vizier in hieroglyphic writing.

The term "chaty" or vizier in hieroglyphic writing. (El saber no está de más)

As the Spanish news agent El Mundo reports, the vizier Ipi “was the senior official in charge of the horn, hoof, scales, and pen. Guardian of any bird that swims, flies, or walks. Supervisor of what was and was not.” However, the memory of vizier Ipi, “the king’s only friend” who served four millennia ago and held numerous titles, seems to have been lost in the pages of history. In fact, his tomb located on the hill of Deir el Bahari on the west bank of Luxor today along with other ancient burials, appears to be his only legacy.

"In Thebes they know little about Ipi despite his titles being full of epithets, which can be incredible and lofty. All these tombs date back to the Middle Kingdom (about 2055-1650 BC). They usually have a huge 100 meter [328.08 ft.] courtyard and an adobe chapel. The priests were very clever, and avoided going up every day to the burial chamber to perform the rituals of worship to the deceased by building a chapel at the foot of the hill," Antonio Morales said.

The burials were discovered by Herbert Winlock in the 1920s thanks to an expedition funded by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Although in reality all Winlock did was simply take numerous objects found in various tombs with him.

The tomb of Ipi is located on the famous hill of Deir el Bahari, where numerous tombs and temples of great importance are found; including the Temple of Hatshepsut (shown in this photograph).

The tomb of Ipi is located on the famous hill of Deir el Bahari, where numerous tombs and temples of great importance are found; including the Temple of Hatshepsut (shown in this photograph). (Public Domain)

"Museums wanted objects for their collections, and Winlock spent only a month on each of the tombs. This went on until 1923 when the beginning of the ramp to Hatshepsut Temple’s was discovered and the Metropolitan ordered him to go down and start cleaning the esplanade. There, he found a gruyere cheese and a mess of sarcophagi, coffins, and ramps which took years of work. However, details on the tombs are mostly unpublished or provide very poor and inaccurate information. Everyone talks about these tombs to explain later architecture, but nobody ever made ​​a scientific study of them," Morales explained. His team is to carry out the inventory that has been pending ever since Winlock’s expedition.

Little remains the same as it was 4,000 years ago inside tomb TT315: its walls and floor have been completely washed away, including the old hall of worship at the end of the corridor. "Everything was covered in stone and the walls had hieroglyphic texts. It was all destroyed because it was later used as a quarry," the Spanish Egyptologist lamented.

The researchers have discovered that Ipi’s complex was not limited to a structure-less rectangular courtyard, rising up the slope to access the tomb with its walled enclosure. After finding the remains of a platform that Egyptians dug to lower both sides, leaving a kind of central ramp from the foot of the hill to the door of the tomb, they have found evidence of an adobe and stone structure that was built at the entrance the complex at the foot of the mountain, and that was probably a chapel of worship to the deceased.

The ramp discovered in the funerary complex of vizier Ipi goes from the foot of the hill to the door of the tomb.

The ramp discovered in the funerary complex of vizier Ipi goes from the foot of the hill to the door of the tomb. (El Mundo/ FRANCISCO CARRIÓN)

The stone coffin was the only jewel that survived the pillaging, and its colorful hieroglyphics, which are coming to light thanks to the tremendous work of restoration, is one of the keys to unlocking the forgotten vizier’s biography. As the Egyptologist told El Mundo:

"We are picking up the pieces to rebuild it. Some are in very bad condition. So far, we have found that it is the only known sarcophagus that also has documents in the base. This coffin has the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts. The Pyramid Texts were originally used during the Old Kingdom, for example, at the great pyramids of Saqqara. The Coffin Texts appear in Middle Kingdom sarcophagi but actually they were the same as those used by people who did not belong to the elite in the Old Kingdom. There has been talk that the vizier served at the end of the reign of Mentuhotep II (2055-2004 BC), the monarch who reunified the country and was creating a solid state from Thebes. But there are also those who say that he lived at the beginning of Amenemhat I’s reign (1985-1956 BC), who was the first king of the 12th dynasty. Paleography will help us to reveal his time.”

Aerial View of Ipi’s burial chamber.

Aerial View of Ipi’s burial chamber. (El Mundo/ Francisco Carrión)

In addition, during this second season of excavations the team of archaeologists has managed to find the materials used in embalming Ipi’s body. Morales told El Mundo with undisguised enthusiasm:

"During mummification there are a number of objects that come into contact with the deceased and have traces of blood or bitumen. You cannot throw these away because they have been used on someone who has passed on, but neither can they be placed in the grave because they are impure materials which were used to extract the intestines or liver. They are usually saved in another room -one that Winlock located and took some of the materials from. But, what he was not interested in he dropped at the door of the tomb. This is a unique collection, stoppered jars with their bands to seal liquids such as ointments, perfumes, and animal fats; cloth bags with natron [salt used to dry the body or fill it]; hundreds of meters of all kinds of bandages; and even the main shroud of the deceased – similar to the Holy Shroud of Jesus, with bloodstains, and markings from ointments, fats and perfumes used during mummification.”

The content stored for millennia in the 67 pots that were ignored by Winlock will be subjected to all kinds of analysis – these are important finds, but still a small portion of all of the artifacts discovered so far.

The team has recovered around 1500 objects as diverse as fragments of mummies, funerary figurines, pieces of coffins, and even the bristles of an ancient broom: "They [the bristles] come from the broom the priest used to remove steps from the grave when the room was closed, so that it was a pure cavity where no human trace remained," the director of excavations concluded.

Top Image: Inside the tomb complex of vizier Ipi. Source: El Mundo/Francisco Carrión

By Mariló T. A.

This article was first published in Spanish at and has been translated with permission.

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Mariló T.A.

Freelance writer, blogger and expert in social networks, Mariló has been working and collaborating with online media for several years. Fond of nature, pets, history, photography, ecology, byodinamics, spirituality, ancient civilizations, travelling and parapsychology, you can contact her via e-mail... Read More

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