Wondrous find in Egypt offers clues to Imhotep’s rise

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities this week released the results of a four-year dig near Memphis, which once served as the country’s capital. These included 250 wooden painted coffins and 150 bronze figurines, the largest ever single find of such statuary. 

It also included a carved statue of Imhotep, one of the most important figures in Egyptian history. A non-royal, he is credited with designing and leading the construction of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, in Memphis’s necropolis, Saqqara. Built some 4 600 years ago, it is the world’s oldest monumental structure to be made entirely of stone. 

Before this, the rich and powerful of Egypt’s Ancient Kingdom were buried in mud-brick tombs. Imhotep rose in fame and in myth after his death, eventually joining the Egyptian pantheon as the god of medicine and healing. The first recorded use of his name came 1 200 years after his death, which means there are gaps in the historical record that have yet to be filled. 

The head of the antiquities council, Mostafa Waziri, was quoted by AP saying a main goal of the dig was to find Imhotep’s tomb. In one sarcophagus, a sealed and untouched papyrus written in hieroglyphs was found. 

The researchers said they thought it might contain verses from the Book of the Dead, a text left with the dead to help their path to the afterlife. Saqqara is a Unesco World Heritage Site, 40km south of the modern capital, Cairo. 

Its cemeteries have tombs and pyramids spanning from the Old Kingdom, some 4 500 years ago, to the New Kingdom and then the period of Roman occupation 2 000 years ago. Much of the find will be sent to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which will be the largest archeological museum in the world when it opens.

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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The Continent
The Continent is a free weekly newspaper published by the Adamela Trust in partnership with the Mail & Guardian.

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