Tending to the Dead: Rites, Texts and Embalming Workshop at Saqqara
Ramadan Hussein Universität Tübingen
In the ancient Egyptians’ minds, death was a transitional stage toward immortality, and life after death was achievable through a set of rites that was performed for the deceased person. Funerary rites, including purification, mummification and presentation of food offerings, were accompanied by recitation of religious texts. All were considered requirements for the resurrection of the deceased and for her transformation into an equipped spirit. For millennia, Egyptians maintained a tradition of performing funerary rituals at their tombs and cemeteries.
The Saqqara Saite Tombs Project, launched in March 2016 at the University of Tübingen, Germany, focuses on the documentation and publication of tombs dating to the 7th BCE. They are located to the south of the Pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara and belong to high ranking Egyptian officials and military personnel.
The tombs of the Saite Dynasty (Dynasty 26, ca. 664-525 BCE), including those at Saqqara, represent a period of Egyptian history that is rightly characterized as one of rebirth and archaism. This dynasty was established by Egyptian patriots who regained Egypt’s independence after the first Persian invasion. They fostered a movement of nostalgia for and revivification of old cultural traditions, running the gamut from architectural styles of tombs, themes of reliefs and funerary texts.
The Saite tombs of Saqqara stand out, because of their large compositions of religious texts that were revived after remaining obsolete for over a millennium. Therefore, they are of particular interest for scholars who study the mechanics of text transmission through space and time.
The work of the University of Tübingen Mission in Saqqara has also uncovered an embalming workshop as well as embalmer’s cachettes of vessels used during the mummification processes. There is a plethora of evidence to show that this embalming workshop was connected to the burials of a number of the higher echelon of the Egyptian society during the Saite Dynasty.
This lecture offers a detailed report on the excavation and conservation of a group of tomb complexes and an attached Embalming Workshop at Saqqara.