October 24-26, 1996
Excavations at Saqqara may soon uncover the long-sought Tomb of Imhotep, antiquity's architectural and medical genius.
A Polish archaeological mission has been exploring to the west of Zoser's step pyramid in Saqqara in search of what the archaeologists believe may turn out to be a discovery of considerable importance.
Professor Karol Mysliwiec, who heads the mission, believes he has found evidence that the Tomb of Imhotep, venerated by the ancients as the god of medicine, may soon be unearthed.
Mysliwiec said archaeologists had previously shown little interest in the area west of Saqqara, and that most excavations had taken place to the east -where there are Old and Middle Kingdom tombs- and to the north- where tombs from the Second Dynasty were found by a British mission. But now archaeologists may have to revise their long-held views.
"I was convinced that the west was important because that is where burial grounds are generally found," he explained.
Acting on this theory, the mission began to examine the whole site in 1987, using geophysical techniques and some excavation. "We found a wall running parallel to the enclosure wall of Zoser's Pyramid and dating back to the same period," said Mysliwiec.
At the time, there was no indication of the purpose of the wall. It was only this year, when the mission decided to extend the excavation 10 metres to the east and south that their work began to bear fruit.
The archaeologists discovered that the wall surrounded an open-air courtyard which is part of a Second or early Third Dynasty structure yet to be fully excavated. "All indications show that the tomb belongs to a king or an equally prestigious person, if not Imhotep himself, the architectural genius who first used stone for large-scale construction and who designed Zoser's pyramid," Mysliwiec said.
The open air courtyard displays clear traces of ritual fires. "There is a line of four red-coloured circles with black areas inside them. This is one reason why I think the tomb belongs to an exceptionally important person," he said.
Imhotep is among the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egyptian history. He was Zoser's vizier and the builder of his funerary complex. He was also well known for his wisdom and, 2000 years after his death, was venerated as the god of medicine. There are statues of Imhotep in museums around the world, but his tomb has never been found.
If Mysliwiec's theory proves correct, it will be a remarkable discovery. The late British scholar Walter Emery spent years searching for the tomb on the Saqqara plateau. Finding galleries of mummified animals, Emery was convinced that he was on the right track, but eventually had to give up his search.
Mysliwiec said that a number of factors had combined to make him believe that he has found the long-lost tomb of Imhotep. "First, it is very close to the Zoser's Pyramid. Workers at the site have also found small faience tiles and vessels similar to those used to decorate the subterranean chamber of Zoser's complex. The tomb undoubtedly belongs to an important person who could afford equally precious decoration," he said. As Zoser's highest-ranking official, Imhotep seems the obvious candidate.
"There are also two rock-hewn shafts, four metres long and three metres wide, which are covered with an extremely complicated ceiling structure of many layers," he said. Unfortunately, the walls are uninscribed.
The area west of the shafts has been fully excavated, but proved to be filled with rubble. "They were used as a camouflage to protect the actual entrance to the subterranean rooms," Mysliwiec said, adding that he hopes that, by excavating to the east of the shafts, he may discover the actual burial chamber where the sarcophagus of the deceased and his funerary equipment lies.
The mission intends to continue the excavations eastward in the direction of Zoser's pyramid, in order to proceed systematically through the different strata in its attempt to reach the tomb.
Courtesy: Al Ahram Weekly