Journalists, photographers and top officials flocked to a site south of Unas Pyramid causeway at Saqqara necropolis on Thursday to admire a newly discovered tomb that, according to experts, "will change the history of the necropolis."
Archaeologists from Cairo University stumbled upon what is believed to be the tomb of Paser – Egypt’s royal ambassador to foreign countries during the late Ramesside period as well as the army archives holder.
The tomb is temple-shaped and consists of a portico entrance, pillars hall and a peristyle court, which contains the main burial shaft in the centre and opens directly onto a sanctuary with three rooms.
ushabti figurines and a pot found
"It's a vey important discovery that add more to Egypt’s history and political status with its neighbouring countries," Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online.
He explained that ancient Egyptian tombs are only found in two shapes – mastaba or rock hewn – but that this particular one is temple-shaped and ends with a peramidion, which means that the tomb's designer used a new architect that combined the shapes of both temples and tombs.
The discovery also highlights Egypt’s political relationship with Far East countries during that period, Ibrahim said, as well as the importance of the Memphis necropolis (Saqqara).
Even though the capital had been transferred to Thebes (Luxor), he pointed out, Memphis was still Egypt’s administrative capital and the army's settlement.
Horemhab, army chief in the early 18th dynasty, started to build his tomb in Saqqara but then decided to dig it in Luxor after he became a king, Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim is confident that future restoration of the tomb and the army necropolis at Saqqara will eventually attract more tourists, who will come not just for the Old Kingdom tombs but also the New Kingdom ones, which are unique in shape and different from those in Luxor.
"Although the tomb is unfinished, it depicts very distinguished and well-preserved wall decorations and scenes,” Ali El-Asfar, head of the ministry's ancient Egyptian antiquities section, told Ahram Online.
He added that among the most important scenes were those featuring the deceased's funeral procession, the dragging of his statue and his wife wailing after his death, as well as the tribunal of the underworld presided over by Osiris, the goddess of the west, who is welcoming the deceased.
Ola El-Egezi, former dean of Cairo University's Faculty of Archaeology and head of the excavation mission, told Ahram Online that Paser’s tomb was directly built on the eastern outer mud brick wall of the tomb of royal scribe and army head Ptahmes, which was discovered by the mission in 2010.
Paser and Ptahmes' tombs, she said, were robbed in antiquity, as both were found empty of any funerary collections except for a number of ushabti figurines found at Ptahmes, which belonged to a woman called Mwtipt, as well as a jar in which was found a group of other ushabti figurines that belonged to a woman called Nedjem.
El-Egezi said that some parts of Ptahmes' tomb are only known to archaeologists through photos and documents, as they no longer exist in the tomb. In 1830, she said, a French traveller visited Egypt and photographed a hunting scene at Petahmes’ tomb – now only a few centimetres of its base can be found.
The tomb was partly buried in sand and most of the uncovered parts were stolen and smuggled out of the country in 1830. Some scenes of the tomb, said El-Egezi, are now displayed in several international antiquities museums in places like the Netherlands, the United States and Germany – not to mention the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
"Discovering New Kingdom tombs in such an Old Kingdom necropolis is very important," asserted El-Egezi, explaining that although Luxor was Egypt’s capital during the New Kingdom, top officials continued to build their tombs in Saqqara, which was Egypt’s capital during the Old Kingdom.
That means, she said, that Saqqara was a very important area in ancient Egyptian history, as it was located between north and south Egypt.
"Although the tomb is very small – 12 metres tall and 6 meters in width – it bears all its architectural elements," said Ahmed Saeed, professor of ancient Egyptian antiquities at Cairo University's Faculty of Archaeology.
Saeed explained that Paser started to decorate his tomb from the rear in order to paint the main funerary religious paintings on the walls. He also said that the find reveals that Paser died suddenly at an early age, as the tomb was found unfinished.
Both of the deceased, Ptahmes and Paser, could have been relatives or have had a close relationship, Saeed said, as their tombs are close together.