When you make your living unearthing the royal riches of ancient Egypt, the beginning is a very distant place indeed – more than four millennia away, during the time of the 6th dynasty. We are standing on the rim of the necropolis of King Teti at Saqqara, where Karar and his team of archaeologists are excavating the tomb of Queen Sesheshet, Teti's mother. The tomb, and the once five-story-high pyramid that accommodates it, was until recently a dump for the sand and detritus of surrounding digs. But the intuitive power of Karar and his inimitable boss, Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, rescued it from oblivion last November. It was a once-in-a-lifetime strike – how often does one "discover" a pyramid? – and it may shed light on a particularly notorious episode in a pharaonic tradition of court intrigue and murder most foul.
Hawass, who began working at the Saqqara necropolis in 1988, says Sesheshet's pyramid "might be the most complete subsidiary pyramid ever found" in the area. It is certainly one of the largest. The remains of its 72-square-foot base suggests a pitch of 51 degrees, a common feature of 5th and 6th century pyramidal design, and a height of 46 feet. Large, smoothly carved blocks of limestone around the southern end of its foundation is all that's left of the casing that gave Egyptian pyramids of the time their clean, elegant lines. The entire structure would have been built with bronze tools.
Karar and his team waited several weeks before opening the tomb's burial chamber so as not to disrupt the remains while the surface excavation was going on. In January, when they finally entered the chamber, they found a mummy inside wrapped in linen and conclusive evidence to suggest it is Sesheshet, Hawas told the Cairo-based Al Ahram Weekly.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Originally published February 3, 2010 | Smithsonian Magazine | by Stephan Glain | An excerpt: