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Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated

Polish researchers have been working at Hatshepsut's temple in Luxor since 1961, when Prof. Kazimierz Michałowski established the Polish-Egyptian Archaeological and Conservation Expedition. Since then, archaeologists, conservators and architects affiliated with the Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology (CAŚ) at the University of Warsaw have been busy documenting and reconstructing the 3,500-year-old temple. 

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
Rubble in the tomb under the Hatshepsut temple [Credit: Dr Patryk Chudzik]

Currently, they are focusing their efforts, among other things, on the reconstruction of the Hathor chapel. Recently they examined a rock-cut tomb which lies partly beneath the chapel.

"We were concerned that our work might lead to the ceiling of the tomb collapsing, so we wanted to secure it. However, after entering it, it turned out that it had never been examined and cleaned, as the rubble was deposited up to a height of about half a metre," said the head of research at Hatshepsut's temple, Dr Patryk Chudzik of CAŚ UW.

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
Wooden figure of a man, probably the owner of the tomb [Credit: M.Jawornicki]

Archaeologists therefore had to carry out excavations before reinforcing the ceiling. As a result, several hundred objects were discovered among the rubble - some of them are the remains of tomb furnishings from the early Middle Kingdom. The tomb was thus some 500 years older than the Temple of Hatshepsut. However, most of the artefacts found are from later times, probably from the early 18th Dynasty, the New Kingdom period.

"Already in antiquity the tomb fell prey to robbers. Its furnishings must have been valuable, because it belonged to a person closely associated with Pharaoh Mentuhotep II - probably his son or wife", Dr. Chudzik pointed out. 

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
Small faeince figurines of the goddess Hathor [Credit: M.Jawornicki]

The tomb was built next to the temple of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II. Today it is almost completely ruined. Only later, after several hundred years, was the temple of the female pharaoh - Hatshepsut - built nearby.

"The number and quality of the artefacts we have found is astonishing. They include a wooden figurine representing, most likely, the owner of the tomb, who has a wig on her head", the archeologist said.

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
Clay figurine of a cow [Credit: M.Jawornicki]

In the backfill there were a lot of painted vessels and bowls from the 18th Dynasty period, so definitely later than the time when the tomb was built. The mystery was how they got there. Plant motifs are visible on them, symbolising rebirth from the Land of the Dead. In addition, ceramic flasks with a breast motif from the same period and cow figurines were found in the rubble. In total, dozens of female figurines were discovered in the tomb.

The researchers concluded that these were offerings made by worshippers and priests at the Hathor shrine above, which belonged to Hatshepsut's temple. The goddess Hathor, well known from the reliefs in the temple of Hatshepsut and from Egyptian mythology, was depicted as a cow or as a woman with cow ears. In some depictions she also nourishes the pharaoh. In addition to the female figures, which directly pointed to the goddess Hathor, there are also small stone effigies which are votive offerings intended to obtain favours from the goddess Hathor.

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
Fragment of a coffin from the later burial of a woman [Credit: M.Jawornicki]

"The gifts were made by local people asking Hathor for support. But after a while there were too many of them and the priests or temple staff had to clean them up. So far, we know of several places just outside the entrance gates to the temple grounds where they were dumped. We have just discovered another - unknown until now", stressed Dr. Chudzik.

Interestingly, among the rubble in the tomb there were also blocks from the sanctuary of Amun, one of the most important parts of the temple of Hatshepsut. The Polish team completed its reconstruction and opened it to tourists in 2017. "We have no idea why they were placed in the tomb. However, we know that we will be able to place some of them in their original location, within the temple grounds," he added.

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
Graffiti of an owl probably made during the construction of the Hatshepsut temple
[Credit: M.Jawornicki]

The tomb was discovered in the late 19th century by Professor Henri Édouard Naville. However, the information he published about it was quite scanty. The researcher mentioned the rubble filling the tomb, but did not write a word about the excavations carried out at the site. This valuable backfill also escaped the attention of archaeologists from an American expedition working at the temple of Hatshepsut in the `20s of the last century. It therefore appears that the backfill, along with votive gifts to Hathor, has remained intact since the time of its deposition, nearly 3,500 years.

The tomb is carved entirely into the rock. It consists of a corridor more than 15 metres long, which leads to the burial chamber, where there is a recess in the stone floor where the coffin containing the body of the tomb's owner was originally placed.

Rock-cut tomb beneath Hatshepsut temple in Luxor investgated
The so-called Hathor path in front of the cow goddess chapel, where the entrance
to the tomb was discovered [Credit: O. Ignatowska & P. Chudzik]

The discovery and research took place in the spring of 2021. This season, experts intend to support the ceiling of the tomb so that reconstruction work can be carried out on the Hathor chapel located above.

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski | Source: PAP - Science in Poland [trsl. TANN; November 22, 2021]

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