Egyptian Excavations and Mummies


    THE recent excavations in Egypt have been productive of great results to archæology and the history of Egypt. One site, which has yielded unexpected additions to the early period of the country, has been excavated on scientific principles under the direction of M. Maspero, the present superintendent or director of the Archæological Department. It is his intention to open the whole group of unexplored pyramids, in order to find the sequence of monarchs of whom they were the sepulchres, and to discover any inscriptions with which they may have been decorated. An examination of the whole group of pyramids indeed was formerly made by J. Shay Perring, C.E., at the expense of Col. Howard Vyse, who spent a fortune in pyramidal researches; but the excavations of Perring were chiefly devoted to the examination of three great pyramids of Gizeh, those of Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus, and although he examined the whole group in the scientific manner of an engineer, by some fatality he appears not to have penetrated into the interior of the smaller ones, which are now in process of examination by M. Maspero. The conviction which that savant has arrived at is that these pyramids are arranged in symmetrical groups, each group holding the remains of the monarchs who followed each other in chronological succession. The group just discovered consists of three pyramids at Sakkara, of small dimensions, lying to the N. and E. of the step-shaped pyramid, and on the road to the Serapeum, the sepulchres of three monarchs of the sixth dynasty, Ra-meri or Mira, whose name was Pepi or Phiops, a king who is said to have reigned 100 years all but an hour; his successor, Merienra, named Har-em-saf, or Ta-em-saf, and a king called Una. They seem all to have been constructed on the same principle, having inclined entrances leading to sepulchral chambers with pointed roofs, the walls of the passages and chambers covered with hieroglyphs coloured green, the ceilings of the sepulchral chambers with pointed roofs on which were stars in white upon a black ground, indicative of the hours of the night. The inscriptions of these chambers are of interest purely mythological, no historical fact or allusion being mentioned in them, but their contents consisting of prayers similar to those in the Book of the Dead, or Ritual, and chiefly referring to the myth of Osiris and Hades, especially the identification of the kings with Osiris as the son of Nut and Seb, and his following the course of the constellation Orion, rising and setting with that constellation, allied with the star Sebt, or Sothis, and the progress of the king to the Aahlu or Egyptian Elysium, and in the account of the Island of the Fields of Ho-tep, or Peace, recalling to mind Eden, mention is made of a tree of life. In the Pyramid of Pepi, the Phiops of the sixth dynasty, who is said by the history of Manetho to have reigned 100 years all but an hour, and who must consequently have ascended the throne quite a boy, was found theremains of a sarcophagus of black and white granite of unfinished work, which had been broken, and another in the south-east corner of the chamber of the same material, which had been let into the masonry. In the vicinity of this sarcophagus on the west side between this and the wall was found amidst a heap of rubbish remains of dresses and mummy bandages varying from yellow to dark brown of extreme fineness; of the mummy itself an embalmed hand in good condition was only found, and even this may be considered remarkable, as the bodies of the earlier period were only dried, and not embalmed, and generally fall to pieces when exposed to air. The pyramid was indeed small, considering the long reign of Pepi. The Pyramid of Merienra, or Har-em-saf, which resembled in general characterthat of Pepi or Phiops, had two sarcophagi of red granite close to one another, the cover of one removed and hidden under blocks of stone. The other held a body mummied, which was that of the king; it had been anciently plundered of its ornaments, but embalmed with the greatest care, the skin well preserved, the traits of the countenance distinct, the eyes closed, the end of the nose fallen in, the stature of medium height, and the limbs youthful. This king was the successor of Phiops. The third pyramid of the group was of Noferkara or Nephercheres, but no details of the inscriptions have as yet been published, although they probably refer to the Osiris myth, like the others. The details of the size of coffins and mummies of this pyramid are still wanting. Each pyramid had a special name: that of Pepi was called Mennefer, that of Ha-rem-saf was Shanefer, that of Noferkara also Mennefer. Compared with the great Pyramids of Gizeh, they are far inferior, but the inscriptions in them offer an interest greater than that of the plain Gizeh Pyramids. The only question is whether the mummies found in them are contemporaneous with the sixth dynasty, which appears most probable, or subsequent usurpations, of which there is no monumental or inscribed evidence.

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    Egyptian Excavations and Mummies . Nature 24, 481–482 (1881).

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