Archaeologists Find 3,300 Year Old Remains of Scribe, Family in Egypt

By Gabrielle Jonas on April 2, 2014 10:29 AM EDT

The Remains of An Ancient Egyptian Scribe  and His Family Are Found
The Remains of An Ancient Egyptian Scribe and His Family Are Found

Archaeologists excavating a 3,300-year old tomb in Abydos, Egypt found the remains of a scribe, his sarcophagus, and at least 14 of what may be his family members, including his father or older brother, archeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, who have  been excavating the tomb on and off since the summer of 2013, told Live ScienceThe archaeologists found skeletal remains from three to four men, 10 to 12 women and at least two children in the tomb. They surmise that either the tomb was used for multiple generations; was illicitly used at a later date; or, the two men had multiple wives, if indeed polygamy was practiced by non-royalty.

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Within one of its vaulted underground burial chambers, the archaeologists found a red-painted, decorated sandstone sarcophagus, festooned with images of Egyptian gods and inscribed with hieroglyphics of prayers from the Book of the Dead ushering him into the afterlife. The deceased was a scribe named Horemheb, though he was no longer in the sarcophagus, but unceremoniously dumped in disarticulation nearby, as the tomb has been ransacked more than once in antiquity, the archeologists told Live Science.

Although normally a scribe couldn't afford a posh pyramid burial, University of Pennsylvania doctorial student and archeologist Kevin Cahail, who helped lead the excavation, believes that Horemheb's family enjoyed the benefits that came along with having high-ranking relatives in the military: Horemheb and Ramesu, who was either his father or older brothe,r were also the names of two generals who lived at the same time who later became pharaohs. On the other hand, they could have assumed those names in admiration, or those names could have been just plain popular at the time Cahail told Live Science.

One of the burial chambers contained shabti figures crafted to serve the deceased in the afterlife. the deceased was expected to take part in the maintenance of the 'Field of Reeds', where he or she lived for eternity, The shabti figure  a servant that would carry out heavy work on behalf of the deceased. The figures were in the shape of mummies, held agricultural implements such as hoes. They were inscribed with a spell which made them answer when the deceased was called to work. The name 'shabti' means 'answerer'.

Archeologists found a heart-shaped amulet made of red and green jasper and broken into three pieces. Cahail believes it was originally a pendant on a gold necklace that rested on the chest of one of the deceased, and referred to an ancient Egyptian belief that, in the afterlife, hearts would be placed on a scale and weighed against a feather symbolizing truth and justice. In a calorie-counter's worst nightmare, the heart of the deceased had to be lighter than the feather to enjoy eternal life, but if it was heavier, they would destroyed.

The pyramid itself probably contained a chapel that held a statue with the names and titles of the people buried underneath, Cahail told Live Science. So far, they've excavated the thick walls of the tomb entranceway that would have formed the base of the pyramid, which would have been 23 feet (seven meters) high at its entrance.

Cahail will be presenting results at the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt, in Portland, Ore., from April 4-6.

Last January, Cahail was part of a team that unearthed the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh, named Senebkay, who ruled over a forgotten southern Abydos dynasty around 1650 B.C.E. Senebkay was the first or second of a series of approximately 20 pharaohs that ruled over a small kingdom. One of his most spectacular finds was a chest fashioned of cedar that contained Senebkay's organs The box had been gilded, but ancient tomb robbers had removed the gold, uncovering an inscription of a king's name. But the name was Sobekhotep's, not Senebkay's. Cahail thinks that objects from Sobekhotep's tomb had been "repurposed" to bury Senebkay, according to a University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Antrhopology press release.

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