- Title: EGYPT: Archaeologists unearthed intact sarcophagus of Queen Behenu in Cairo
- Date: 12th March 2010
- Summary: VARIOUS OF WORKER BRUSHING DUST OFF OF SARCOPHAGUS AND PYRAMID TEXT WIDE OF TOMB WIDE OF TENTS FOR EXCAVATION TEAM IN FRONT OF PYRAMIDS
- Embargoed: 27th March 2010 12:00
- Location: Egypt
- Country: Egypt
- Topics: History,Science / Technology
- Reuters ID: LVA60DPR0L41NXUX40ELZBQVDEVR
- Story Text: Archaeologists have unearthed the intact sarcophagus of Queen Behenu inside her pyramid's 4,000 year old burial chamber, the inner walls of which were lined with hieroglyphic formulas for her journey into the afterlife.
Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed the intact sarcophagus of the mysterious Queen Behenu inside her pyramid's 4,000 year old burial chamber, the inner walls of which are lined with hieroglyphic spells for the Queen's journey into the afterlife.
The team that discovered the tomb have little information on Behenu's identity, including which Pharaoh she was married to, because her tomb was scoured by tomb raiders and stonecutters throughout the centuries.
Ancient Egyptians believed that the souls of royalty could fly to heaven, or alternatively use stairs, ramps and ladders with the help of religious spells Such engraved spells, known as Pyramids Texts, were common in royal tombs during the 5th and 6th Dynasties, and are considered to be the oldest religious text in the world.
The tomb was uncovered by a French team that has been excavating the site for three years, in cooperation with Egyptian archaeologists.
The Old Kingdom queen's chamber was badly damaged, but the head of the archaeological team says the tomb's well-preserved granite sarcophagus and several panels of delicately carved hieroglyphic pyramid texts are an important find.
Philippe Collombert of the University of Geneva says the texts that once filled the entire chamber were Behenu's roadmap into the afterlife.
"These texts were funerary formulas for the afterlife for the Queen to be able to live again after she died on the earth. So that means you have formulas to help her to ascend to the northern sky and to go with the imperishable starts in this northern sky. You have here offerings, a lot of offerings here, saying what she will eat in the afterlife. So with this inscription she will never be dying of hunger because she will have everything she wants to eat. You even the number of things that she will eat - of these kind of bread she will have two, of these kind of bread, two, of this kind of fruits you will have one, and all this. You have the exact number of the meal of the queen," he says.
Stonecutters have harvested the fine limestone of the pyramid's outer casing and inner tomb over the centuries, and archaeologists discovered over a thousand fragments of limestone containing pyramid texts scattered at the site.
Behenu's 25-meter-long pyramid was discovered in 2007 along with seven other pyramids of ancient queens at the well-known necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo, that served the nearby city of Memphis.
While the sarcophagus was found within the sprawling necropolis of Pepi I, the team is unsure whether Behenu was the wife of Pepi I or Pepi II, both 6th Dynasty rulers Egypt's Inspector for Saqqara antiquities, who is working with the French team, says that the next task is puzzling together the rest of the pyramid texts and reconstructing them.
"The first important thing, that we need to protect what we discovered, from the security side, that's first. And we will think about reconstruction and to put the original pieces again to the wall to let all world imagine how this important pyramid had been before, when the ancient architect finished his work in this point of the pyramid," says Galal Muawad.
While the team are excited about the discovery of Behenu's sarcophagus and the texts, little else remained inside in tact inside the tomb.
The site was scoured by thieves in ancient times who left only bone fragments, pottery shards and torn cloth.
Experts will now examine what is left of Behenu's mortal remains, including what is believed to be her jawbone, which should reveal her age.
The excavations have now stopped until next winter, but more could be revealed next year, when a funerary temple adjoining Behenu's pyramid is excavated.
Team leader Collombert says they expect that site to be a goldmine of information about the mysterious Behenu, including which Pharaoh she was was married to.
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