He was the king of kings, the god of gods. Now archaeologists believe they have found the “tomb” of the Egyptian supreme deity, Osiris.
Egyptian media is reporting two new tombs that were announced at the weekend, one of which belonged to a previously unknown queen.
But it is the ominous blackened ‘tomb’ of Osiris — the god of the afterlife and reincarnation — which has attracted the most attention.
It is not actually a tomb: Instead, it is a symbolic burial site used in rituals to link the god’s immortal powers to those of the ruling Pharaohs.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-DamAcaty said the 25th Dynasty structure (from about 700BC) at the Al-Gorna necropolis on Luxor’s west bank was modeled on a real royal tomb, with multiple shafts and chambers.
The tomb consists of a transversal hall that is supported by five pillars, as well as a staircase that goes down into the bedrock to a complex dedicated to Osiris.
It was discovered by the Min Project, an Italian-Spanish initiative in cooperation with the Egyptian government that aims to study New Kingdom tombs in Thebes, namely a private tomb TT109 (also known as the Tomb of Min) and Kampp -327-, which is an extension of the original tomb.
The myth of Osiris, first Pharaoh of Egypt
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris was the first ever Pharaoh. Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, the god of disorder and chaos.
Seth locked Osiris in a box, poured molten lead into it and then threw it into the Nile. Isis, Osiris’ wife and the goddess of magic, eventually found the box and recovered Osiris’ body, but then Seth reincarnated as a crocodile, ripped Osiris’ body into 14 pieces and scattered them across Egypt.
The winged goddess Isis tracked down and found 13 of the 14 pieces (she had his penis replaced by a gold representation), and sang a life-giving song to have the god restored.
At least two other depictions of the myth of Osiris are known to exist – one located 95ft below the back of the Great Sphinx at Giza, while the other is the Osireion, located at the Temple of Seti I in Abydos.
The other interesting fact about the tomb is that it is a recreation of the important test that each ancient Egyptian had to face at the end of his life – the weighing of the heart, as documented in Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead.
Maat – Weighing of the heart
The ancient Egyptians believed that when they died, their lifetime’s worth of deeds would be judged before Osiris, the god of the dead and the afterlife, and a tribunal of 43 deities.
During the ritual, the heart of the deceased was weighed on a pair of scales against a feather, which represents Maat, the principle of truth and justice that all people in ancient Egypt strived to live by, from the Pharaoh down to the most humble beggar.
If the heart balanced against the feather, this meant that the deceased had led a righteous life, and would thus be granted a place in the Fields of Hetep and Iaru (the Egyptian version of Heaven, where everyone could live in a beautiful, prosperous land of plenty for eternity).
However, if the heart was heavy with the weight of wrongdoings, the balance would sink and the heart of the deceased would be devoured by Ammit the gobbler, a monstrous beast that was a cross between a crocodile, a lion, and a hippopotamus.
Its main feature is a large hall propped up by five pillars. A staircase leads down to a funerary chamber which contains a carving of the dead god. An adjoining room contains reliefs of demons holding knives — which the archaeologist in charge of the Spanish-Italian excavators describes as being guardians.
A 9m deep shaft then leads to a central chamber, beneath which another 6m shaft leads to two more as-yet unexplored, debris-filled rooms.
The ‘tomb’ is believed to be modeled on the more ancient Osirion tomb/temple complex in Abydos, Sohag.
It is not the first time the tomb has been discovered.
The Egyptian Department of Antiquities says that part of the structure was uncovered in the 1880s by archaeologist Philippe Virey. Despite some attempts to map it, the significance and nature of the site remained unknown until now.
Ancient Queen uncovered
Archaeologists have also unearthed the tomb of a previously unknown queen believed to have been the wife of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4500 years ago, officials in Egypt said last night.
The tomb was discovered in Abu Sir, an Old Kingdom necropolis southwest of Cairo where there are several pyramids dedicated to pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty, including Neferefre.
The name of his wife had not been known before the find, the Antiquities Minister said in a statement.
He identified her as Khentakawess, saying that for the “first time we have discovered the name of this queen who had been unknown before the discovery of her tomb”.
That would make her Khentakawess III, as two previous queens with the same name have already been identified.
Her name and rank had been inscribed on the inner walls of the tomb, probably by the builders, Damaty said.
“This discovery will help us shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids,” he added.
Miroslav Barta, who heads the Czech Institute of Egyptology mission who made the discovery, said the tomb was found in Neferefre’s funeral complex.
“This makes us believe that the queen was his wife,” Barta said, according to the statement.
An official at the antiquities ministry said the tomb dated from the middle of the Fifth Dynasty (2994-2345 BC).
Archaeologists also found around 30 utensils, 24 made of limestone and four of copper, the statement added.