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Excavations at Saqqara (1911-12): The Tomb of Hesy

Excavations at Saqqara (1911-12): The Tomb of Hesy

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An excerpt from the beginning: During the two seasons of 1910-11 and 1911-12 the greater part of our time was devoted to that part of the cemetery which lies on the high ground overhanging the village of Abusir. Here an area perhaps 600 metres long and 250 wide is covered by crude brick mastabas of the 2nd and 3rd Dynasties, all much denuded, but singularly free from burials of a later date. Two patches of ground in this area have been fully cleared and some 5oo mastabas of varying sizes, some very large but most quite small, dug out. All but a mere half dozen and those of the poorest, had been robbed in a remote antiquity, almost certainly during the Old Kingdom: no paintings and hardly any inscriptions on stone were found. The interest of the tombs lies in a mass of detail, in the plans, the pottery, the stone bowls and such matters. Of them a separate report is being prepared. But one tomb, found in the first week of the second season, has an interest very different in degree and in kind. It had been much less denuded than the others and one wall was covered with paintings of a character new to Egyptian archaeology. These will interest many scholars to whom the details of tomb construction would be only tedious, and seemed to us worthy of a volume to themselves. With this view the Director General agreed, and in consequence the publication of this one tomb precedes that of all the others found near it. The tomb is that of Hesy, found long ago by Mariette, and famous for the five wooden panels which he brought from it to Boulaq. Drawings of three of these appear in the "Mastabas" and photographs in the "Album de Boulaq" and in several other works; the fourth and fifth remained unpublished till Weill gave them in his thesis on the 2nd and 3rd Dynasties. It has been often stated that Mariette gave no information as to the position in which the panels stood. This is not quite the case, for in the "Albums" it is clearly said that: "Le tombeau de Hosi est construit en briques jaunatres et la chambre principale est un long couloir perce de nombreuses niches rectangulaires. C'est au fond de trois de ces niches que nous avons retire les precieux panneaux...". This is quite correct except that the bricks are black, not yellowish. The position of the tomb, however, is not given in any publication, and by some oversight it was not pointed out to De Morgan when he made his map of the site. But all this while it was well remembered by one of Mariette's workmen, Osman Duqmaq, who is still with us and whose acquaintance with the cemetery began "in the reign of Said Pasha, two years before Ismail" i. e. in 1861. He was then a basket boy in the excavations, and, except for five years in Mariette's service in Cairo and the south, has been in Saqqara ever since and either in Government service or in temporary suspension therefrom has always made his living from the antiquities. He has a strong, though not a faultless memory and can recall most of the digging that has taken place here during the last fifty years. When we began to work in the neighbourhood he told me about the wooden stelae, described the niches in which they were found and pointed out a certain dark mound near us as the site of the tomb.