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nside a hidden shaft in the cemetery of Abusir, near Cairo, the biggest cache of mummification equipment has been discovered. A team of Egyptian and Czech Egyptologists led by Petr Košárek was amazed by the discovery which unveiled 370 pottery storage jars that were used to embalm mummies. Košárek mentioned that the tools which were discovered were at least 2,500 years old based on their encryptions.

Some of the jars contained tools that were used to prepare the body for mummification. Other jars were filled with various materials and powders that were used to cleanse the body before mummification. Within Ancient Egyptian history, these types of Jars with the heads of different Ancient Egyptian deities were mainly used to store the organs of the person that was being mummified.

Egyptologists found a cache of embalming equipment, including 370 pottery storage jars, at the cemetery Abusir, near Cairo. (Source: Petr Košárek, © Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology)

Better known as Canopic Jars, they have been introduced in the 4th Dynasty to keep the removed internal organs of the deceased. As time went on the mummification process introduced canopic chests as they were more practical. The lids represent the four sons of Horus:

  • Imsety (human-headed) guarded the liver.
  • Hapy (ape-headed) guarded the lungs.
  • Dwamutef (jack-headed) guarded the stomach.
  • Qebhsenuef (falcon-headed) guarded the intestines.

What is strange is that none of these jars contained any organs, most of them being empty. Usually, these sorts of jars that would contain embalmed viscera would be left next to their owner. Jiří Janák, a faculty member of the Czech Institute of Egyptology mentioned that finding most of these jars empty is still a mystery. The inscriptions on them indicate that they belonged to Wahibre-mery-Neith, son of the Lady Irturu.

Inscriptions on the vessels indicate they belong to Wahibre-mery-Neith, but several dignitaries of that name are known from this period. (Source: Petr Košárek, © Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology)

Director of the mission to Abusir, Prof. Miroslav Bárta mentioned that these jars as well as the other artifacts found within the hidden shaft could have been placed to preserve the culture and identity of Egyptians. His theory is that in the late dynasties of Egypt, Nubian, Persian as well as Greek armies threatened their cultures so they wanted to hide artifacts that represented their culture for future generations, such as the Egyptologists that discovered these artifacts.

“The season of 2021 was part of a long term project aiming at excavation and interpretation of monuments dating to a period when Ancient Egyptian society was looking for new means how to maintain their unique identity which was challenged by the Greek, the Persian and the Nubian armies”. The shaft tombs of Abusir, built in a similar fashion like the famous burial of Djoser, founder of the Old Kingdom, played a major role in a unique way of cultural expression by the Egyptian elites of the period.” (Quote by Miroslav Barta)

Despite the mystery behind the jars, such a discovery is a valuable source of information on burial customs used by the Egyptian social elite. The mummification process may seem simple, but it was quite complex, and which each passing Dynasty, new rituals, and traditions were implemented. This process is quite an important part of Ancient Egyptian culture, starting somewhere in 2600 BCE (during the fourth Dynasty) and continuing until the Roman Period.

What is interesting about this find is that it questions the intentional start of mummification within Ancient Egypt. What has been discovered before only shows signs of mummification being implemented somewhere around the fourth Dynasty, but egyptologists tend to believe that it may have started even earlier. This has been described as the greatest finding since 2006 when an embalming deposit belonging to general Menekhibnekau was discovered.

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