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Senusret III Tomb Complex at Abydos

 
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 10, 2007 9:40 pm    Post subject: Senusret III Tomb Complex at Abydos Reply with quote

Enduring are the places of Khakaure True of Voice in Abydos

Last Saturday (June 2) at the Oriental Institute the Chicago chapter of ARCE hosted a lecture presented by the Egyptologist Josef Wegner, Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. I'd like to say that I've spent the past week pondering all the information that Wegner shared and that's why I'm only now writing about it, but that would be a lie. It's just that I'm somewhat lazy, so too bad. Razz I can say that it took a long time to organize the information I'm giving here and to prepare all of the images.

Wegner's lecture was very interesting and I wish I could share the slide show he gave, but that would be a tad difficult. But to compensate I've tried to load up this new epic-length post of mine with many images. Almost all of the images directly related to the Senusret III Abydos tomb come from PDFs produced by Wegner and the University of Pennsylvania, and some of that material can be found in the links on this page. All of it is accessible on the internet.

I wish to limit this post to the tomb itself, but the overall Senusret III complex at Abydos is extensive. Here is an overview of the entire site that I prepared with Google Earth:



At the north end of the area is the mortuary temple. To the east of that is a modern town, adjacent to which are the ruins of the town that was built to service the complex of Senusret III. The ancient name for the town is Wah-Sut, which is an abbreviation for the name for the entire complex: Wah-Sut-Khakaure-maa-kheru-em-Abdju ("Enduring are the places of Khakaure True of Voice in Abydos," Khakaure of course being the prenomen for Senusret III). Much of the town remains to be excavated but some of the features explored inculde the main gatehouse and the large mayoral residence (click here for a schematic of the ruins).

To the south end and abutting the towering cliffs of the mountain called Gebel is the entrance to the tomb and the features associated with it. Here is a Google Earth close-up of that spot:



Much of the T-shaped funerary enclosure is clearly visible here, with the entrance to the northeast. Just to the side of the funerary entrance are the ruins of two tombs called S9 and S10, and to this day scholars are not certain of the ownership of either. Most, including Aidan Dodson, are in agreement that they probably come from some point in Dynasty 13, most likely late in that dynasty, and therefore postdate the tomb of Senusret III.

At the bottom end of the image you have a good view of the edge of the Gebel mountain. When viewed straight from the entrance to the funerary enclosure, Gebel looks a great deal like a natural pyramid (click here). This should sound familiar to many of you. Right now you ought to be thinking, Hmm, sounds like the natural pyramid el Qurn in the Valley of the Kings. As we shall see, this is just one parallel between Senusret III's Abydos tomb and the later royal tombs of the New Kingdom.

(In case the Google Earth images are hard to make out, click here for a handy schematic of the site.)

Early on in the excavations, Wegner and his team found many clay seals bearing this impression. The hieroglyphs on the seal spell "Mountain of Anubis," and it is generally agreed that this refers to the Gebel mountain. It would appear that "Mountain of Anubis" was another name for this location in South Abydos.

Where was Senusret III Buried?

A little preliminary information might be helpful before we explore the tomb in Abydos. Early in his reign Senusret III built a complete pyramid complex at Dashur, south of Cairo, and many scholars believe this is where he was buried. This is a view of the east side of the Dashur pyramid, and here is a schematic of the entire complex. The complex included a mortuary temple, causeway, valley temple, boat pits, cult pyramid, and subsidiary tombs for queens. Family members were definitely buried here, and the complex is complete, so why say that the king himself wasn't buried here?

One of the most compelling arguments is the state in which the burial chamber beneath the main pyramid was found. Here is a terrific photo of it, with a view of the sarcophagus. The burial chamber is in absolutely pristing condition and was clearly never disturbed. There is no sign that anything (or anyone) was ever placed in the chamber and it seems never to have been used. Tomb robbers never ravaged the chamber for signs of hidden rooms--even they didn't bother with it, so it would appear they knew there was nothing to find.

Senusret III Goes to Abydos

Senusret III was much involved with the cult of Osiris and sent officials to support, finance, and expand upon the rituals carried out for that god in his main cult center of Abydos, far to the south of Dashur. One of these officials, the treasurere Ikhernoftret, left a large stela at Abydos detailing how the king had sent him to renovate the temple complex of Osiris. The stela dates to Year 19 of the reign of Senusret III. It was in Year 19 or Year 20 that Senusret III began the preparations for his elaborate tomb complex at Abydos.

Senusret III's strong loyalty to the cult of Osiris is one thing which suggests that he was actually buried in Abydos and not Dashur.

The Excavations at Abydos

The tomb complex had been identified as early as 1899 but the subterranean features were first explored by Arthur Weigall in 1902, on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund. This was at the start of Weigall's career, who would go on to become one of the great names in the early years of Egyptology, and it was a major find. He had hundreds of men working for him and they dug a pit about forty feet deep to find the actual entrance to the tomb. This massive pit was nicknamed the "Devil's punch bowl." Unfortunately for Weigall the subterranean areas were extremely hot, dank, and claustrophobic, and he did not last long at the site. He was replaced by Charles Currelly. Neither of the men performed a systematic and comprehensive investigation, and as modern excavations would prove, many of their notes and plans were inaccurate.

The Abydos tomb sat unexplored for the next 100 years and the relentless desert reburied everything under countless tons of sand. Josef Wegner and his team came along in 2004 to begin new excavations, and joining the team were Wegner's wife, Jennifer, who is also an Egyptologist with the University of Pennsylvania, and their toddler son.

In his lecture at the O.I. Wegner related how he prefers to work with small teams of excavators, but at Abydos he had to revise his usual techniques. The work to be done was so daunting that he had to hire around 200 laborers just to reopen the Devil's punch bowl and gain access to the tomb. It took three months to dig out the sand bowl, and Wegner said that many of the laborers were convinced there was nothing to find. He overheard them mumbling, "The director is crazy. There is nothing here." But finally they did find the entrance, and it's easy to imagine the celebration that followed.

Wegner's team dug out the massive pit to much larger dimensions than Weigall did 100 years earlier; he wanted to be sure it would not fill in again. (If you scroll back to the Google Earth image of the detail of the funerary enclosure, you can see how truly large Wegner's pit ended up becoming.) In the process, and while removing what remained of retaining walls Weigall's men had put there, Wegner discovered the ruins of the original Dynasty 12 staircase that had led down to the tomb entrance.

The Tomb Construct

The subterranean corridors and chambers of Sensuret III's tomb lie between 80 feet and 100 feet below ground. Here is a plan of the tomb:



Wegner stresses that there is a great deal of excavating left to do, but to this point they have learned a lot about the tomb and its layout. Like other Middle Kingdom tombs it is uninscribed, but its layout is intriguing. Not only is it the first hidden royal tomb in Egyptian history, but its configuration and sweeping arc are strikingly similar to the plans of numerous Dynasty 18 tombs in the Valley of the Kings. For example, here is a plan of KV34, the tomb of Tuthmosis III, which would be built almost 400 years later. Also similar is the double well shaft in Senusret III's tomb, which reminds one of the deep well shafts so common in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Tuthmosis III's tomb provides a further interesting comparison, albeit indirect, and we shall see that momentarily.

The excavation of Senusret III's tomb has been extremely difficult. As Weigall found out the hard way back in 1902, those corridors and chambers deep beneath the earth are stultifyingly hot, humid, and caked with dust. Wegner related how he and his wife had to bring down half a dozen changes of clothing every time they went down there, because they would be soaked with sweat and coated with dirt. In his slide show he included numerous photos of his Egyptologist wife, including this one (I'm not kidding). Razz

Two aspects of excavation have proved particularly difficult. The first was the initial clearing of the entrance, which was packed full of sand and debris. If you examine the tomb plan above, you'll see there are two entrances at the bottom of the Devil's punch bowl: a long and sloping descending passage, and a vertical shaft at the foot of the descending passage. Wegner had hoped to clear the vertical shaft and just use that to enter the tomb, but it didn't work. Every time they dug down to the floor of the shaft, the tons of sand packed into the descending passage behind it would flow down and block their way. In the end the workers had to clearly every last bit of sand from both shaft and passage. This was completed in the 2005 season.

The other difficulty is that the Abydos tomb of Senusret III was thoroughly and savagely ransacked in antiquity. Most of the corridors and chambers were carefully lined with well-cut, perfectly fitted, huge blocks of beautiful limestone and quartzite. In their attempt to look for treasure, the ancient tomb robbers smashed many of these huge stones and pulled them from the walls and floors. As a result, many of the corridors and chambers are choked with this stone debris, some of which weighs many tons, and it takes a great deal of work to clear it. Just imagine how hard a job it was for the tomb builders 3,800 years ago to get all of those big blocks 80 feet down into the tomb!

On a side note, Wegner posits that the men who robbed Senusret III's tomb were extremely well organized and equipped, and to carry out the thorough job of pillaging that they performed, they had to have had logistical support and financing from the administrative government of their time. It's not clear yet, however, when most of the pillaging occurred.

As an example of the hard work to which the tomb robbers subjected themselves, return to the diagram of the tomb above and note the central descending passage that leads to the burial chamber. This descending passage was carefully closed off with a series of around fourteen massive, carefully aligned granite blocking stones. It is clear the tomb builders carefully prepared the tomb with difficult security measures. Nevertheless, the tomb robbers just carved their way through the bottoms of the granite blocking stones, creating a small and narrow tunnel all the way to the burial chamber. Wegner mentioned that crawling through this ancient robbers' tunnel is one of the most unpleasant and unnerving experience in the exploration of the tomb, but they have no choice but to use the tunnel (removing the huge blocking stones is out of the question).

There are many such granite blocking stones throughout the tomb. Below is a photo of one of them, which the tomb robbers had managed to topple from its position high up in one of the chambers:



The person in the photo is Jennfier, Wegner's wife. You get a good idea of the size of the stones with her standing there. Wegner says he would love to move that particular stone because he's willing to bet there are the smashed skeletal remains of one or two tomb robbers beneath it. Laughing

The burial chamber was particularly ravaged. It seems the tomb robbers didn't at first recognize it for what it was because they couldn't find anything in there, and pushed on into the remaining corridor and chambers. Eventually, however, they came back and found what they were looking for. As another security measure the tomb builders had actually built the sarcophagus and canopic chest into the walls of the chamber, and then concealed them behind dressed blocks of limestone. The tomb robbers pulled out the dressed stones and freed the sarcophagus and canopic equipment from their concealed niches.

Past the burial chamber is where the tomb starts to arch, and it ends up swinging back and pointing easterly. At the center of the arch is another chamber and at the end, the final chamber. Both chambers are dressed in quartzite but it's not clear what may have been placed within them; to this point no artifacts have been found in either.

But the shape of the tomb is intriguing. As I mentioned earlier, it is similar to the shapes of numerous Dynasty 18 royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but there's something more that might explain why Senusret III's tomb is shaped this way.

Egyptologists believe that Middle Kingdom royal tombs are uninscribed because for his burial the king would've been provided funerary texts on papyrus. Papyrus is of course a perishable material, so this might be why kings at the start of the New Kingdom, in Dynasty 18, started to have royal netherworld texts painted or inscribed on the walls of their tombs.

The netherworld text scholars call the Amduat is of particular importance here. It describes how the solar god Re (and the king thus associated with him) and the god Osiris unite in the netherworld to regenerate each other. This unification of the gods occurs in the sixth hour, in the middle of the text in the land of Osiris, and from there Re proceeds on his journey to rise in the east, reborn, in the twelfth and final hour.

Returning to KV34 in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of Tuthmosis III, we see the Amduat painted on the walls of the burial chamber. This particular tomb is a good example because of the odd, stick-like composition of the figures featured in the text. Click here for an example. It is generally agreed that the figures in the text look like this because the paintings in the burial chamber are meant to represent one huge papyrus scroll that has been unwound and affixed to the walls. Recall again that it is believed kings back in the Middle Kingdom were provided funerary texts on actual papyrus.

Josef Wegner is one of a growing number of scholars who believes the Abydos tomb of Senusret III is meant to be a physical representation of the Amduat, which would explain its shape. It's fascinating to think that the Amduat existed as far back as the Middle Kingdom, but there's no record of it because the perishable scrolls on which it had been written, disintegrated to dust long ago.

Compare the layout of Senusret III's tomb to the hours of the Amduat. At the center of the tomb is the burial chamber, representing the realm of Osiris and equating to the sixth hour of the Amduat. Here is where Re (and the king) will unite with Osiris for regeneration. The tomb proceeds in its arc and loops back to the east, ending in a chamber that can be equated with the twelfth hour of the Amduat, where Re (and the king) are reborn.

LOL By now I know most of you have either given up or have fallen asleep. But rejoice because I am done. This ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would, but I wanted to share with you as much as I could about Wegner's description of the tomb. In closing I'll leave you with another photograph:



This is one of the corridors within the tomb, and you can see how high the depositis of sand are. This is what Wegner and his team have had to face all the way through, together with the piles of huge, toppled blocking stones. At the far end you can see the top of a doorway peeking out. And note the ceiling, carved in limestone to resemble log-hewn rafters.

All right, you can all wake up now. If anyone has been ambitious enough to read all of this (or at least good portions of it), I'd welcome your comments.

Wink
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kat
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 3:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your summary of Wegner's lecture, and for the pains you took to choose illustrations to give us a glimpse of what you saw.

"Mountain of Anubis' gives new meaning to the phrase in the offering formula- thank you for including that particular tid-bit.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 10:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Applause Wow! Kmt_sesh, that must've taken you ages to write. Surprised It was very interesting, though, so I thank you for your hard work. notworthy

The theory of the Amduat being of a much earlier date than previously realised, does make a lot of sense, in my opinion. When you consider that the Sun cult was a prominent part of the ancient Egyptian's religion far earlier than the Osiris cults, it would seem like texts like the Amduat, which relate to the sun's journey, would maybe even predate the Book of the Dead, which refers more to the realm of Osiris. Idea
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 12:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm glad you ladies enjoyed it. Does that mean you read every single word? That's good news because both of you will do well on the test, then. Dancing

I've mailed the test to both of you. It's an essay exam and is about thirty pages long.

All right, so I'm kidding. I took the day off from the O.I. yesterday and was just sitting around and relaxing when I decided finally to post something about the lecture. And yes, Daughter_Of_SETI, it did take me ages to write. About three-quarters of the way through I was thinking, Man, this is taking forever.

It probably would've been more relaxing to go to the O.I. Laughing

The lecture lasted about an hour and a half, so what I posted here was a very brief and condensed version. I didn't even talk much about the above-ground structures, which are also fascinating.

I was also intrigued with Wegner's theory about the Amduat. To think, it may have been written down on scrolls and placed in the tombs of kings long before it popped up in the New Kingdom royal burials. I had always wondered why Senusret III's tomb at Abydos had such an odd shape, and there may well be other convincing arguments, but Wegner's makes a lot of sense to me.

About that essay test--be sure to type your answers single-spaced, and use footnotes! Twisted Evil
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 9:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kmt_sesh wrote:
It probably would've been more relaxing to go to the O.I.

Yeah, probably more relaxing, but we all know how much you enjoy to type and type, and type some more, so I bet you almost enjoyed doing all that typing about the lecture. Razz

kmt_sesh wrote:
About that essay test--be sure to type your answers single-spaced, and use footnotes!

Hey, just because you enjoy typing none-stop, doesn't mean that I do! Wink

I'm glad that you did post all that information on the lecture, though, as the only tombs that I know much about are the ones in the Valley of the Kings, so it was all interesting and new to me. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 6:32 pm    Post subject: Interesting! Reply with quote

This seems to have been an interesting lecture.
Quote:
It's just that I'm somewhat lazy

That's not true, Didn't it take alot of time and energy for you to summarize a lecture into this large post.
Quote:
and some of that material can be found in the links on this page. All of it is accessible on the internet.

Great link too! Smile
Quote:
As another security measure the tomb builders had actually built the sarcophagus and canopic chest into the walls of the chamber, and then concealed them behind dressed blocks of limestone.

Has that ever been done in other tombs? I've never heard of concealing funerary items within the walls.
Quote:
Abydos tomb of Senusret III is meant to be a physical representation of the Amduat, which would explain its shape. It's fascinating to think that the Amduat existed as far back as the Middle Kingdom

Wow, I didn't know that the tomb's layout corresponded to the Amdaut.
Quote:
All right, you can all wake up now. If anyone has been ambitious enough to read all of this (or at least good portions of it), I'd welcome your comments

I stayed awake! I found the info and pictures fascinating. It sounds like it was a very interesting lecture. Thank you for sharing it! pharaohok
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 12:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daughter_Of_SETI wrote:
Quote:
Yeah, probably more relaxing, but we all know how much you enjoy to type and type, and type some more, so I bet you almost enjoyed doing all that typing about the lecture.


You'd think so. But hey, I do so much typing at work fifty hours a week that it's something I'd sooner avoid on the weekends. Typing can be especially strenuous--especially when you do it with three or four out of ten fingures. Razz

Quote:
I'm glad that you did post all that information on the lecture, though, as the only tombs that I know much about are the ones in the Valley of the Kings, so it was all interesting and new to me.


I'm glad you enjoyed it, Daughter_Of_SETI...even if it was about as long as a doctoral thesis. And seeing as how you like learning about other tombs and aren't frightened off by my long-winded ramblings, it so happens I attended another ARCE lecture back in January 2006 that was given by Stephen Harvey, who is excavating the Ahmose I Abydos pyramid complex right next door to the Senusret III complex. Naturally I wrote another one of my epic posts about it, and I found it here! Twisted Evil

Just kidding. I don't expect you to read that one, too. I'm not that cruel, but it was indeed a great lecture. In the course of searching for that post I came across one by anneke that she wrote last summer, and it happens to have links to some of the other materials I used for writing this latest torture-fest. You can find it here.

egyptianscribe wrote:
Quote:
That's not true, Didn't it take alot of time and energy for you to summarize a lecture into this large post.


Yes, it did. I'm still trying to stop the bleeding from the tips of my fingers. Laughing

Quote:
Has that ever been done in other tombs? I've never heard of concealing funerary items within the walls.


The Abydos tomb of Senusret III is unique for its time. The only other parallel I can think of are the ingenious integral burial chambers in some Dynasty 13 royal tombs, such as Khendjer's at South Saqarra. The Dynasty 12 king Amenemhet III built a pyramid at Hawara whose burial chamber employed a clever, massive sliding stone plug to block the sarcophagus, and this was probably the model used for the later pyramids at Mazghuna and Khendjer's at Saqarra. Still, it was obvious to tomb robbers that their burial chambers were burial chambers, whereas it seems the tomb robbers at Abydos were confused by Senusret III's security measures for at least a while.

Quote:
I stayed awake! I found the info and pictures fascinating. It sounds like it was a very interesting lecture. Thank you for sharing it!


Thank you very much for taking the time to read it, egyptianscribe. I appreciate your feedback. Smile
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 11:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to preface this with the fact that I do not speak Arabic, but I believe Gebel just means mountain as there are a lot of mountain names that start with Gebel and then have another part to the name.
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 12:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're probably right, Diorite. I don't speak Arabic myself but I've noticed the Gebel label in other locations. So, then, "Gebel mountain" means "Mountain mountain." The person who named it that must stutter. Razz
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 12:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey, it's like Rio Grande River - River Big River, Sahara Desert - Desert Desert, the list goes on
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 8:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Don't you just love multilingual tautology? Very Happy Just like when you say 'salsa sauce' and 'chai tea'...
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is that what "chai" means? I didn't know that. I especially enjoy Pacific Chai vanilla latté tea but I didn't know I was drinking tea vanilla latté tea. Razz
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WOW great article you wrote there!
May I use it on my website? I will make clear that you wrote it of course.

LOL Wouldn't that be cruel?! Just pass it off as my own ....

The similarities to the 18th dynasty tombs is interesting. In history books Tuthmosis I is usually credited as being the first to come up with this idea of a rock-cut tomb. Seems he may have very well borrowed it from Senusret then.

I wonder if the tomb had already been plundered by the time of the 18th dynasty. I wouldn't be surprised if it had. In that case people may have had access to the tomb.
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
LOL Wouldn't that be cruel?! Just pass it off as my own ....


Laughing I see you were a good girl and didn't do that. I'm glad you wanted to add it to your Senusret III page. It was a terrific lecture and I learned a lot, and I'm happy to share it with everyone.

At least to those who have the stamina to wade through yet another one of my long-winded diatribes. Anxious

Quote:
I wonder if the tomb had already been plundered by the time of the 18th dynasty. I wouldn't be surprised if it had. In that case people may have had access to the tomb.


Wegner explained that at this point in the investigation, they're not sure at what point in history the tomb was first looted. A tremendous amount of excavation and analysis remains to be done before the excavators have a better idea of such matters.

Wegner did make it clear that considering the degree of looting that took place, the raiders were highly organized and supplied and most likely had assistance and support from some higher officials. This was no snatch-and-grab.

Considering that debris dating all the way into the Roman Period has been found in the tomb, Wegner and his team have a long way to go before they can make better sense of the situation.
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