Monday, February 08, 2010

In the field: Opening the tomb of Sa-Iset (Zahi Hawass)

Recently I went to Dashur to investigate the tomb of the vizier Sa-Iset and lift the huge sarcophagus lid to discover what it contained.

This tomb was found by Jacques de Morgan in 1890, and the tomb was actually lost for many years, until the Egyptian archaeologists at Dashur uncovered it again in 2006 during survey work at the site.

It was very important that we re-excavate this tomb and open the lid of the sarcophagus. De Morgan found four funerary stelae in the 1890’s, which are currently in the Egyptian Museum. From inscriptions on the stelae and in the tomb we learned that Sa-Iset was a vizier in the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, during the reign of Amenemhat II.

From his incomplete records, we understand that de Morgan opened the sarcophagus lid, but we wanted to be sure of this, and discover if anything remained inside.

Sa-Iset’s burial chamber has a vaulted ceiling and is inscribed with Pyramid Texts. The style of the burial chamber and the style and color of the hieroglyphs are a copy of the pyramid of Unas, the last king of Dynasty 5. This tomb is unique and provides a very interesting example because it is a Middle Kingdom tomb that has Pyramid Texts inscribed on the walls. The use of Pyramid Texts in a Middle Kingdom tomb is very unusual, as the Coffin Texts were much more popular at that time. Coffin texts were a Middle Kingdom variation of the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, which were popular among non-elite individuals. In the New Kingdom, these funerary texts were adapted to become the funerary books that were inscribed on tomb walls.

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