viernes, 17 de agosto de 2007

Egyptian Tomb of Noblewoman Found

An ancient Egyptian noblewoman's large stone coffin has been found in a tomb near the pyramid of Unas, experts announced yesterday

Archaeologists were digging near the crumbling pyramid in Sakkara, 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of Cairo, when they discovered the tomb, which had been built more than 600 years before the noblewoman's death. (Check out a map of ancient Sakkara.)

The find is another example of the enduring gravity of ancient Egypt's sacred places, said expedition leader Ola el-Aguizy of Cairo University.

El-Aguizy said the coffin of the noblewoman, named Sekhemet Nefret, was the first from Egypt's 27th dynasty (525 to 402 B.C.) to be found in this part of Sakkara, an ancient royal burial ground.

The walls of the burial shaft were made in part with carved stone slabs, known as stelae. The stone dates from the even earlier reign of the pharaoh Djoser, who was buried in Sakkara's distinctive step pyramid.

Renovated Burial Grounds

El-Aguizy and his team were digging in a part of Sakkara built during the reign of Ramses II (1279 to 1213 B.C.) when they found Nefret's sarcophagus.

Like other burial grounds near Egypt's ancient capital Memphis, the site was abandoned for centuries and then came back into use after the Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 B.C.

At that time, nearby temples were renovated and religious cults flourished. (Related: "'Gentrified' Egyptian Burial Chamber Discovered" [August 2, 2007].)

Noblewoman Nefret's family had a direct role in that conquest.

She was related to Udja Hor Resenet, a physician and scribe. Resenet helped the Persian king Cambyses II conquer Egypt and later tutored the new ruler in Egyptian religion and rituals, said Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. (Hawass is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Inscriptions on Nefret's sarcophagus, or coffin, also identified her as the mother of a priest who presided over a cult devoted to Pharaoh Menkaure, the 4th-dynasty king who was buried in the third biggest Pyramid of Giza.

That means a woman of the 5th-century B.C. was buried in a tomb built in the 12th century B.C., in a shaft made with carved stone slabs from the 26th century B.C.

Meanwhile, her son led the worship of a ruler from the 25th century B.C.

Nefret's family continued to use this tomb for burials well into Egypt's 30th dynasty (380 to 343 B.C.).

"It seems at this time there was a revival of religious activity—that they worshipped the old kings, restored the old buildings," El Aguizy told National Geographic News.

The new activity brought the necropolis, as it were, back to life.

Nefret's sarcophagus was empty. Her body was likely taken by grave robbers, El Aguizy said, as they likely robbed several other sacrophagi found in shafts even deeper into the tomb.

One plain sarcophagus did contain the bottom half of a mummy, she added.