An Egyptian-English mission excavating a necropolis at Tel el-Amarna in Egypt has uncovered the burial of a young woman wrapped in textile and plant fiber matting. She carried a full complement of gold jewelry with her in death.
The mission is digging in the Northern General Cemetery of the Tel el-Amarna archaeological site in Minya Governate. Announcing the discovery , Dr Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of Egypt’s Council of Antiquities, stated that the mission had been excavating in the Northern General Cemetery since 2010 with the objective of studying the social and economic conditions of the residents of Akhenaten (or el-Amarna), the capital city of King Akhenaten. In particular, the team is researching the food and diseases prevalent in the period.
The British team has been operating in Amarna since the 1980s according to its deputy leader Dr Anna Stevens, and besides the many discoveries to its credit, has also been working on the restoration of the mud-and-brick buildings, houses, palaces and temples.
Part of the ruins of Amarna city, Minya, Egypt. ( Sergey / Adobe Stock)
Akhenaten, the Heretic King
The Northern General Cemetery served as the burial ground of the people of Amarna or Akhenaten, meaning the horizon of the sun, the capital city built by Pharoah Akhenaten, the 10th ruler of the 18th Dynasty, in 1343 BC, reports the Middle East News Agency . Before Amarna, Thebes served as the country’s capital.
Akhenaten, originally Amenhotep IV, cast aside the polytheistic tradition of Egypt to promote the cult of god Aten, depicted as the disc of the sun. During the early part of his reign, Akhenaten stuck to the established traditions of worship but soon made Atenism the state religion, building a number of temples and shrines to Aten across the city, according to the Middle East News Agency . The most notable of the Aten temples are the Great Temple and the Small Temple.
Akhenaten also has several other buildings to his credit, reports Egypt Today . These include the Grand Palace and the King’s House linked by a bridge across crossing the royal road used by Akhenaten to go from his residence to the seat of government. He also built the Northern Palace, which is also known as Nefertiti Palace, as well as grand houses for important courtiers and statesmen.
A gold tear-drop necklace and inscribed ring are a part of the bounty. ( MOTA)
The shift to a monotheistic Atenism engineered by him was, however, short-lived and the country quickly reverted to its polytheistic traditions after Akhenaten’s death. His successors distanced themselves from the king who was mentioned in contemporary accounts in disparaging terms such as “the enemy”, “that criminal” and the “heretic king”, according to the Heritage Daily .
Interestingly, Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun, the pharaoh who has perhaps attained greater fame after the discovery of his intact tomb in 1922 than he had achieved in life. This is owing to the fact that the tomb was entirely intact and the fabulous treasure routinely buried with the pharaohs had not been carried off by tomb raiders.
The Woman with Ornaments
The burial recently discovered in the Northern General Cemetery was of a woman wrapped in fabric and plant fiber. She was wearing a necklace with hollow gold beads shaped like tear drops and three finger rings made of gold and steatite (soapstone).
The Egyptian-English archaeological mission has unearthed a collection of gold jewelry at Tel el-Amarna, a pharaonic city south of Egypt. ( MOTA)
One of the rings carries a depiction of the protective ancient Egyptian deity Bes and was presumably worn to ensure the safety of the wearer. Bes, together with his female counterpart Beset, was the protector of households, and more specifically mothers, children and childbirth. Later the deity evolved into the champion of everything good and the destroyer of all evil.
The other two rings were inscribed with hieroglyphics translating into “lady of the two lands”, thought to refer to Egypt’s lower and upper kingdoms.
The woman was placed in a small shaft-and-chamber tomb dating to around the time of Akhenaten’s reign. The tomb contained several other burials. Speaking about the burial, Dr Stevens explained: “Her burial is located at the Amarna North Desert Cemetery in the low desert west of the North Tombs. It includes a small number of burial shafts and tombs, as well as pit graves.”
In addition to the General Cemetery, there are 25 tombs carved into the rocks of the eastern mountain that are believed to house the remains of priests and senior statesmen. These large tombs are decorated with religious motifs. A royal cemetery nestles among mountains 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of the city. Its layout is designed like the tombs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings.
As elsewhere in Egypt, necropolises and burial tombs with their abundant treasures and decorations are an extraordinary source of information about the culture of the period. There is also something endearingly timeless about finding the burial of a woman bedecked in death with her precious jewelry.
Top image: Ring bearing hieroglyphs found at Tel el-Amarna excavation. Source: MOTA
By Sahir Pandey