At the bottom of a well in the cemetery of Abusir, near Cairo, a team of Egyptian and Czech Egyptologists discovered a large cache of equipment used more than 2,500 years ago to embalm mummies.
The set includes 370 pottery storage jars and several smaller vessels, making it the largest of its kind ever found, according to the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague, which is exploring the site of the necropolis for more than three decades. The discovery came during routine excavations in the area, which includes several known large graves and potentially others yet to be discovered.
Some containers contained remnants of various materials used in the mummification process, as well as tools. Archaeologists have also found canopic jars, which were used by Egyptians to store the embalmed viscera of the deceased and usually left next to their owner. These, however, were empty and unused.
Egyptologists have found a cache of embalming materials, including 370 pottery storage jars, at Abusir Cemetery near Cairo. Credit: Petr Košárek, © Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology
The vessels may be empty, but they bear inscriptions indicating that they belonged to a certain Wahibre-mery-Neith, son of Lady Irturu, a revelation which puzzled the team, as a number of dignitaries from that name are known from that time. period, but none of them can be identified as the definitive owner of these canopic jars.
The inscriptions on the ships indicate that they belong to Wahibre-mery-Neith, but several dignitaries of this name are known from this period. Credit: Petr Košárek, © Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology
“Judging by the importance of the embalming deposit and, above all, by the dimensions and layout of the neighboring tomb, the owner of the tomb (and of the deposit) must have belonged to the highest dignitaries of his time, as well as his closest neighbors in the cemetery — the famous Admiral Udjahorresnet and General Menekhibnekau,” he added.
An embalming deposit belonging to General Menekhibnekau was discovered in his tomb by the same Czech Egyptological team in 2006. It contained several vessels inscribed with legends specifying when a particular substance – such as oils, balsams, myrrh or textiles – should have been used during the embalming process. The researchers hope the new finding could help to better understand the process.
“A find like this represents an excellent source of valuable information about the burial customs used by the late Egyptian social elite and the mummification process itself,” Janák added.
Some containers contained remnants of materials used in the mummification process, as well as tools. Credit: Petr Košárek, © Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology
“Fortunately, the embalming deposits hardly attracted thieves and grave robbers. For them, the hard work needed to dig the well was not worth it. But for the scientists, it is just the opposite We are very happy to have found this repository complete and intact.”
Now archaeologists plan to conduct a more detailed scientific analysis of the vessels and their contents, and to dig further into the site, eventually revealing the tomb of Whaibre-mery-Neith, the owner of the deposit.