Egypt has been a treasure trove for archeologists as far back as the time of Napoleon. Every month new discoveries come to the surface, astonishing modern societies. Recently, a 3,300 year old tomb was found in Egypt, sporting a pyramid but there are many more tombs still to be discovered. The Egyptian desert is littered with burial sites and excavations stretching for miles and miles. This ancient culture was clever, cunning and infinitely esoteric.
Tombs like the ones discovered in Abydos were usually reserved for high status citizens. Not many people could afford pyramid structures to be attached to their burial sites. Within the pyramid complex a red sarcophagus was uncovered, bearing images of gods as well as the deceased’s name: Horemheb, a scribe by trade. Though it may sound odd that a scribe would be of high status, in ancient Egyptian culture literacy and scribing was a very prestigious profession. This would certainly allow for an impressive grave. Though the mummy itself was not found, other bodily remains of three to four men, 10-12 women and approximately two children. These may have been family members of the deceased or slaves chosen to accompany him through the afterlife.
While one tomb was found in Egypt with a pyramid, there are more tombs still to be discovered in the vast desert. A great deal many. Near the Valley of the Kings in the cliffs of Luxor, miles upon miles of caves and secret passages wind through the earth. The last greatest discovery made in that region occurred on November 26, 1922 by the archeologist Howard Carter. This was the day when Tutankhamun finally breathed the fresh air once again. Unimagined treasures, both material and educational, poured out of the burial chamber and into the world. Similar, if not greater, bounties could still be buried beneath the sands. Tutankhamun was, after all, a very minor pharaoh. In the early 20th century other tombs were uncovered in the region, bringing to light the mummies of significant rulers, though their treasures were long gone. Tomb raiders, treasure thieves and antiquities collectors have plagued tombs for millennia. Without proper knowledge and instruction, however, they do not only remove the goods from the tombs but also destroy the mummy and the subtle architecture of these magnificent monuments.
Egyptology has long gathered popular interest. Many films such as The Mummy, The Scorpion King and others have made Egyptology accessible, if only on the surface, to the wider populace. However, the intricate details of this ancient and glorious culture still remain a mystery to many. Mystical text surround tombs and sarcophagi for several purposes: on the one hand, they are spells which serve to protect the soul of the dead. They were also instructions for the deceased to follow on his journey to the afterlife. As the sun sets in the west, behind the mighty Sphinx, the deceased’s soul moved to the underworld where it was challenged by numerous tasks. Giant snakes, gods, riddles and a river of souls awaited the departed. The most well-known challenge is the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. In this ancient ritual the heart of the person, which was removed upon death, was to be weighed against the Feather of Truth or Ma’at. If it was found heavier than the feather, Osiris the god of the underworld, would condemn the soul to be devoured by the terrible Ammit beast which was part crocodile, part lion and part hippopotamus. The penalty was obliteration from history forever. If the heart was as light or lighter than the feather, the individual would be able to pass through and be reborn again with the rising sun. The soul was greeted in the east by the Sphinx. This cycle continued until the end of time.
Changes in the scriptures and pictures themselves point to changing political platforms. In the tomb uncovered in Abydos the presence of Shabti figures hint at the dating of the burial. The prime example is this: as the priest class continued to grow, people could “buy” their own salvation by purchasing the Shabti figures. These figures were originally used to perform actions which the deceased had to carry out, acting as avatars in a way. Before long, the Amun priesthood began marketing these statues as tools to avoid the weighing of the heart ceremony. The more figurines, the better. In original depictions of the weighing ceremony, Osiris would sit watching the scales while the scribe god Thoth made annotations of the results. Later in time, however, several papyri were discovered in which Thoth is literally holding the scales to balance the heart against the feather. Where there are trials of righteousness, corruption is sure to be nearby.
What other treasures hide underneath the sand? Though one tomb was found in Egypt with a pyramid of its own, there are still more tombs to be discovered and uncovered. Volumes have been written about these possibilities, and volumes still remain to be written. Every season, every day and every excavation brings the ancients closer to modern days. With rumors of ancient curses and spells protecting the burial grounds perhaps there are some secrets that are better left untouched?
Researched by Atar Kishon