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Hundreds of Ancient Rock-Cut Tombs have been Discovered in Egypt

Hundreds of Ancient Rock-Cut Tombs have been Discovered in Egypt


The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities have announced the discovery of a distinctive collection of hundreds of ancient tombs. The 250 rock-cut tombs were found in various levels of a mountain face at the Al-Hamidiyah necropolis near Sohag, in Southern Egypt, on the West Bank of the Nile River. This brings the total to more than 300 tombs discovered in the area, which is centrally located near the ancient cities of Aswan and Abido.

This is the latest in a series of major new Egyptian archaeological discoveries. Putting this latest discovery in context, use of the burial complex spans more than 2,000 years of Egyptian history, from the Old Kingdom period, which included Pharaoh Khufu the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, to around the time of Cleopatra’s death in 30 BC, an event which marked the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Rock-cut tomb at Al-Hamidiyah necropolis, near Sohag. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

Otherworldly Images of Sacrifice and Slaughter

Historian Bassam al-Shamaa told Al-Monitor that this ancient burial site dates back 4,200 years and because the complex is made up of smaller sized tombs, compared with royal tombs, it is thought that they were perhaps for “common people.” Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in a statement that one of the burials includes “a sloping tomb with a false door and a hallway leading to a gallery with a shaft.” Furthermore, the door of the tomb is inscribed with hieroglyphs depicting the tomb’s resident sacrificing animals while around him mourners make offerings to his body.

The false door in one of the uncovered tombs (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

Mohamed Abdel-Badiaa, head of the Central Department of Antiquities for Upper Egypt said the archaeologists discovered “pottery shards, intact pots, votive miniatures” dated to the Sixth Dynasty (c. 2345 to 2181 BC). It is thought the ancient burial shaft was reused in later periods, and Abdel Badiaa noted that artifacts were also discovered dating from Egypt’s Late Period (c. 664 to 332 BC). These included “a round metal mirror, human and animal bones, small alabaster pots, amphorae fragments, and pieces of limestone funerary pottery.”

The Cult Of Min

The Al-Hamidiyah necropolis is believed to have been the final resting place for leaders and officials of the city of Akhmim, one of the most important administrative centers in ancient Egypt. However, in Ancient Egypt, governmental administration and religion were two sides of the same coin and this region was also the traditional home to the “cult of Min”.

Min was worshiped as the “Lord of the Eastern Desert,” and the cult of Min originated in the predynastic period (4th millennium BC). This god of fertility and sexuality was worshiped in the image of an erect phallus with a flail in his right hand, embodying the masculine principle of universal creation.

Icon of the Cult of Min, with characteristic flail and penis (Rama / CC BY-SA 3.0 FR)

Somewhat unexpectedly, according to Smithsonian Min was also associated with the lettuce. The reason for this is that the vegetable “grows straight and tall” forming an obvious phallic symbol. Further, if you broke off a lettuce leaf it oozed a sort of white-ish, milky substance, and according to Smithsonian “basically it looked like semen.”

One can only imagine that as ancient Egyptians neared their last days on this world their minds would turn to these rock cut tombs and thoughts of the afterlife. Maybe a certain comfort was taken from knowing you were to be buried in the valley of the fertility god Min, an idea that perhaps brought with it notions of being reborn in other places and times.

Top Image: The Rock Cut Tombs of the Al-Hamidiyah Necropolis. Source: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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