Saqqara in 2001: Explorations in the Middle Kingdom Teti Pyramid Cemetery

Dr. David Silverman was the Chapter's lecturer in August. Dr. Silverman is Chairman of the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, PA. He has been excavating
Middle Kingdom Tombs at in the Teti Pyramid Cemetery at Saqqara in Egypt since 1992.

Dr. Silverman opened his lecture by telling the audience that he intended to provide an update of his team's work at Saqqara in 2001 at the Teti Pyramid complex, sponsored by the University of PA Museum, and noted that this season produced some very interesting and important finds.

The University of PA team is working on tombs of people who were responsible for the mortuary cult of King Teti's pyramid complex at Saqqara. [The Teti pyramid is north east of the Stepped Pyramid complex.] Dr. Silverman advised that the team has found that these officials of the cult had done a few things besides just "keeping the faith"!

The team has excavated the tombs and mortuary temples of four individuals who lived some 200 years apart, but all of whom were responsible for maintaining the mortuary cult in the Teti complex. The first two investigated were named Ihy and Hetep. The second two are named Sa-Hathor-ipi and Sek-Wesket, whose tombs, incidentally, were partially excavated by a French team in the early 20th century.

Ihy and Hetep, who both lived during the Middle Kingdom during the reign of Amenemhat I, built their above-ground mortuary chapels side by side, in the very shadow of the Stepped Pyramid, and in an "L" abutting the tombs of Meraruka and Kagemni. In 1992, the team cleared both tomb chapels and excavated shafts in both chapel courtyards. Rita Freid did epigraphic work during several seasons and discovered that at least two, and possibly as many as four, different artists worked on the tomb chapel of Ihy. Artist A was clearly a better artist than was Artist B! Inscriptions on the north and south walls contain the same text, but the quality of the carving is considerably different. The best artists worked at eye level, whereas the apprentices worked close to the floor and to the ceiling where their work would be less easily scrutinized.

In Ihy's burial chamber, there are no coffin texts - only pyramid texts. Dr. Silverman noted that it is unusual not to have any coffin texts at all. Hetep has pyramid texts on his sarcophagus, which apparently mirror the royal pyramid texts such as are found in Teti's pyramid - evidence that Hetep was copying the king's burial in his own.

Hetep's tomb is probably the earlier of the two. The underground corridor which leads from the tomb chapel to the burial chamber cuts through a number of Old Kingdom and 1st Intermediate Period burials in the process of making it long enough to go all the way to Teti's pyramid.

Both burials are near images of Teti's own. Each built a tomb chapel above ground, then sunk a deep shaft which ends at the entrance to a long tunnel which extends to a point actually under the pyramid of King Teti. Though Ihy and Hetep served a Middle Kingdom king, they emulated an Old Kingdom royal burial when they built their own burial complexes.

During the first two season's the University of PA team worked on the north side of the Teti pyramid, specifically with the tombs described above. In the 3rd season, work moved to the east side of the pyramid, to investigate two shafts thought to be from the Middle Kingdom as well. When they were opened, however, they were found to be much later. Sa-Hathor-Ipi and Sek-Wesket, also mortuary priests of the Teti pyramid cult, had big single-chamber tombs, and the shafts dropped down approximately 30 feet, right into the burial chambers. Entering either tomb meant climbing the 30 feet down a rope ladder.
Though broken, the Univ. of PA team found that all the pieces of Sa-Hathor-Ipi's sarcophagus are present, as are most to the pieces of the decorated wall panels. Sek-Wesket's sarcophagus is in somewhat better condition with the base intact.

During the early investigations in the two adjoining tomb chambers, a wall was found to be supporting the roof. Initially it was surmised that the French had installed the wall when the tombs were initially investigated to shore up the roof, but an evaluation of the mortar used proved it to be of ancient origin, and probably was installed when the tomb was used for intrusive burials. From the burial chambers there is a corridor that no doubt leads to Sa-Hathor-Ipi's and Sek-Wesket's tomb chapels. The team expected the corridor to come up in the mortuary temple court of the Pepi I pyramid complex - but it doesn't! At about 15 meters the corridor intersects the first intrusive burial shaft. In all the team has found 57 intrusive burials while excavating the corridor. In addition, there are portcullis stones installed at intervals along the corridor. Such portcullis stones are usually an indication that one is approaching the burial chamber of a king. The second stone was encountered at 50 meters, and the wooden beams that held it in place are still present. It now appears that the corridor is going to come out on the south side of the Teti pyramid. Once again we see an example of usurping royal prerogatives.

Sa-Hathor-Ipi's tomb walls are covered with a combination of pyramid and coffin texts; that of Sek-Wesket also has fine coffin and pyramid texts on the west wall. They are of excellent quality; though one section is incomplete. Inscriptions provide the honorary titles of the deceased: Hereditary Prince and Count, Priest of Maat, Overseer of the Temple, etc., but no priestly titles. There is evidence that it was considered inappropriate to incorporate priestly titles below ground. They appear only in the above ground chapels.

During the 2001 season, the team tried to record absolutely everything. As was found to be the case in the tomb chapel of Ihy, two different artists worked in the tombs of Sa-Hathor-Ipy and Sek-Wesket. The texts are the same, but the hieroglyphs reflect stylistic differences in their rendering. The sarcophagi are, however, very similar and very well done. At the north end of each sarcophagus the inscriptions are nearly identical; e.g., 5 Horus on standards, vs. 4 Horus on standards, carved in almost the same manner. One sarcophagus shows a top view of sandals, where the other shows both a top and a side view - something which is actually quite rare. Additionally the very same pyramid text spells appear in both burial chambers, and an inscription in one tomb actually contains the name of the other man! Clearly a sloppy scribal job, or one by a scribe who could not read the glyphs.

It is pretty certain that all the work on the sarcophagi and the wall panels was done above ground then they were all lowered down the shafts and installed in the tombs.

What has the excavation found in the way of artifacts? In addition to wall decorations, ushabti of faience and clay, for both the original tomb owners and the intrusive burials, the top of a canopic jar, many beads and amulets, a fragment of a stela - very well preserved with excellent glyphs, and surface painted to simulate wood. Based on the inscriptions on this fragment, it should have occurred above ground in the tomb chapel.

In summary, Dr. Silverman noted: Why did these four mortuary priests put their burial chambers where they did? Clearly to be in the sacred precinct of the king whom they served.

How did they get away with usurping so many kingly prerogatives? Their tombs are in an older section of the necropolis, which was probably seldom visited during the Middle Kingdom. It seems that it would have been relatively easy to build however they chose, without anyone being the wiser.

Had the Teti pyramid been robbed by the time Ihy and Hetep built their tombs? Every inscription in the Ihy and Hetep tombs appears in the Teti pyramid, save one spell which appears in the tomb or Pepi II. Thus, it is reasonably certain that the tomb had been entered long before Ihy and Hetep entered it to read the inscriptions and chose to include them in their own tombs. Additionally, the paving stones used in Ihy's and Hetep's tomb chapels are from the Old Kingdom reliefs in the causeway of the Teti complex, so were certainly "quarried" during the Middle Kingdom if not before.

Nancy Corbin

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Berkeley, CA 94712-2352

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Contact Joan Knudsen by email at pakhet@uclink4.berkeley.edu for further information on ARCE/NC events or by mail at P.O. Box 11352, Berkeley, CA., 94704-2352.


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