Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A heritage weekend in Minya - Al Ahram Weekly

A heritage weekend in Minya

Nevine El-Aref enjoys an unforgettable journey with the Pharaohs and some newly discovered mummies in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya


A mummy of a child wrapped in linen along with funerary pots

The Upper Egyptian city of Minya was in the limelight last weekend, when Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat, and Governor of Minya Kassem Hussein, as well as ambassadors and cultural attachés from Malta, Greece, the Czech Republic, Spain, Serbia, Ireland, Belarus and China along with their families, flocked to the city to witness the announcement of new discoveries and tour archaeological sites.  

A carriage promenade along the city's Nile Corniche was also on the programme.

The first discovery to be announced was at the Tuna Al-Gebel Necropolis, where hundreds of media figures and officials gathered to witness the first major discovery of 2019. As silence reigned, El-Enany announced the discovery of a collection of Ptolemaic rock-hewn burial chambers filled with more than 40 mummies of different sizes and genders, 10 of them belonging to children.

The discovery was made by a joint mission from the ministry and the Research Centre for Archaeological Studies at Minya University. El-Enany said that the discovery was the third in Minya since he had taken office and the first in 2019. He said that this year would likely witness more discoveries.

"Various ambassadors have told me that they always admire mummies in museums, but it is a very different experience to be face-to-face with them in situ," El-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said that the newly discovered tombs were part of a familial grave probably for a family from the period's upper class. The grave consists of a number of burial chambers containing a large number of human mummies of different genders and ages. All are in a good state of conservation, and some are wrapped in linen or decorated with Demotic writing. Some of them still have fragments of coloured cartonnage covers near their feet.

"The methods used in burying the mummies inside the tombs vary," Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told the Weekly, explaining that some of the mummies had been found inside stone or wooden sarcophagi while others were buried in sand or laid on the floors of the tombs or inside niches.

Ostraca and fragments of papyri had also been found in the tombs, he said, which had helped reveal that they could date to the Ptolemaic, Early Roman or Byzantine periods.

Waziri said that the mission had started its work in Tuna Al-Gebel in February 2018, when it discovered a rock tomb consisting of a corridor leading to sloping stairs that opened onto a rectangular chamber with a number of burials. Another chamber was also located at the western side filled with mummies and large stone sarcophagi. At the northern side there was a third chamber with a collection of stone sarcophagi inside niches.

"This is the typical burial style used in Tuna Al-Gebel, which once was the necropolis of Egypt's 15th nome during the late New Kingdom and the beginning of the Intermediate Period," Fathi Awad, director of the Tuna Al-Gebel site, said.

He added that the archaeological site had several tombs, among them the tomb of Petosiris, the Isadora tomb, a sacred animal cemetery, a Roman cemetery, and two reliefs of the Pharaoh Akhenaten

Al-Mashat described the discovery as "a message to the whole world that Egypt has it all in terms of heritage experiences."

El-Enany inside the tomb explains to Al-Mashat and Greece ambassador the hieroglyphics decorating the mummy's chest

TEL AL-AMARNA: El-Enany, Al-Mashat, Hussein, and the various ambassadors then embarked on a tour to the Tel Al-Amarna archaeological site, once the capital of Egypt during the reign of the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten and the centre of a cult to the sun god ‎Aten.

The site now houses a collection of 25 rock-hewn tombs of government officials decorated with distinguished wall paintings depicting scenes of Akhenaten with his family worshiping the god Aten. There are images of the royal convoy to the Aten Temple, as well as images of palaces and temples during his reign.

Scenes showing the distribution of bonuses among government servants are also depicted.
The delegation visited the tombs of high priest Mery-Re I and overseer of the royal herds and granaries Panehsi, both renowned for their distinguished and well-preserved wall paintings.

The Mery-Re I tomb has a coloured cornice around its entrance with false columns of painted flowers. It is decorated with scenes of offerings and Aten worship, as well as of Akhenaten during a visit to the temple and while leaving his palace. "Such scenes have helped Egyptologists to visualise the appearance of the palaces and temples and the city in general at that time," Awad told the Weekly.

The tomb contains one remarkable scene showing a band of blind musicians, with one of them playing music on an oud (lute) with seven strings and the others clapping to the rhythm.

The Panehsi tomb has an intact decorative façade and similar decorations to the ones in the Mery-Re I tomb. However, the tomb's first courtyard was modified later by Egyptian Christians who used it as a chapel. Two of the tomb's columns were removed to transform the northern wall into an altar.

hunting scene in Tel Al-Amarna; carriage promenade along the Corniche

BENI HASSAN: The delegation's second stop was at the site of Beni Hassan south of Minya where a group of rock-cut tombs are carved into the high limestone cliffs on the east bank of the Nile.

It houses 39 tombs dating mostly to the Middle Kingdom, especially the 11th and 12th dynasties.

The tombs are reached via a long flight of stone steps up the hillside, from where there is a magnificent view up and down the river valley. The delegation visited the tomb of Khety, the city's ruler during the 11th Dynasty, and the tomb of provincial governor and military leader Khnumhotep II.

The architecture of Khety's tomb includes a large rectangular cult chapel lying behind a plain façade, with six slender closed lotus pillars in the rear portion. The walls of the tomb are decorated with scenes of fowling and the papyrus harvest, wine-making, ploughing, and processions of colourful cattle and hunting.

They also show Khety and his wife presiding over the activities and watching women dancing and playing games. Clappers, dancers and musicians are also shown along with others, including men practising unarmed combat or wrestling. Scenes of battle are also shown.

The tomb of Khnumhotep II has four polygonal columns in the chapel behind the impressive façade and portico. It contains colourful and lively scenes that make it the most distinctive of the Beni Hassan tombs.

The most impressive depicts a caravan of Asian traders in striped robes bringing gazelles and other items to trade. Two beautiful scenes portray Khnumhotep with his family fowling and snaring birds in the marshes in a papyrus skiff.

carriage promenade along the Corniche

ATEN MUSEUM: The delegation's last stop was at the planned Aten Museum overlooking the Nile Corniche and contained in a pyramid-shaped building. The museum is still under construction as it was put on hold owing to a lack of funds in 2010 before being resumed in late 2016.

Elham Salah, head of the Museums Sector at the ministry, explained that the first and second phases of the project were completed, but the third and fourth remain. Last November, the German parliament had agreed to grant Egypt 10 million euros to help in the completion of the Museum, which relates the history of the monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten.

The idea of building the museum was launched in 1979 after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Minya and Hildesheim in Germany. Its foundation stone was laid in 2003.

The museum grounds, which overlook the Nile, take up 24 feddans. The building itself is made up of five floors and features 16 exhibition halls, a large conference hall, an open-air theatre, a cinema, and a school of museum and restoration studies.
Salah said the museum would contain a large collection related to Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti unearthed at Amarna City in Minya.

The collection includes statues of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, as well as of his father Amenhotep III and his mother Tye. The exhibition will also explore Egypt's relations with its neighbours in the period by displaying the diplomatic archive from the reign of Akhenaten.

A set of talatat blocks of a standardised size used during Akhenaten's reign will also be on display. The talatat were used during the reign of Akhenaten in the construction of temples to the god Aten at Karnak and Amarna, the capital of Egypt during Akhenaten's reign.

CARRIAGE PROMENADE: On the invitation of Minya Governor Hussein, as night fell the delegation embarked on a promenade along the Nile Corniche to explore the beauty of a city known as "the pride of Upper Egypt".

The guests were overwhelmed with the warm welcome they received from the city's inhabitants who waved to them as they passed along the route. Hussein honoured both El-Enany and Al-Mashat and offered them a city award for their efforts in reviving tourism in Minya and highlighting its archaeological treasures.

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