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The Shaft Tomb of lufaa at Abusir



The Shaft Tomb of lufaa at Abusir


Ladislav Bares

The Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, Prague


The tomb of lufaa is the second structure in a group of huge Late Period shaft tombs, on the southwestern outskirts of the Czech archaeological concession at Abusir, to have been examined archaeologically. Only the nearby tomb of the famous Udjahorresnet has been fully excavated. (1) Since the last Congress in Cambridge, where the first report on the tomb of lufaa was presented (2) much more work has been completed. (3) At the beginning of 1996, the main shaft of the tomb was completely cleared At the bottom, at a depth of about 22 m, an intact burial chamber carne lo light. It was the first tomb of its kind in Egypt in 55 years lo be found intact.


The burial chamber, constructed of rather uneven and roughly-worked blocks of local limestone, is orientated east-west. In shape it imitates a giant sarcophagus with raised ends and a vaulted ceiling. The outer face of the stone blocks was left rough, except for the northern portion of the western wall where smoothing had begun. Sornewhat surprisingly, there is no aperture in the roof of the chamber to facilitate filling it with sand after the burial ceremonies took place.


Rather unexpectedly, the entrance to the burial chamber is situated in its western wall, just opposite the corridor leading from the western subsidiary shaft. The western wall of the burial chamber was not connected with the western wall of the main shaft, the free space between both walls being about 1.7 m wide. The remains of one pair of vertical wooden posts measuring about lo cm in diameter were found lying adjacent to the sides of the entrances to both the corridor and the burial chamber. Between the posts, tiny remnants of disintegrated reed mats were discovered, certainly not strong enough to protect the passage once the main shaft had been filled with sand. These lateral walls therefore represent only symbolic boundaries of the passage to the burial chamber. Without any doubt, the passage and indeed the whole main shaft as well, would have bcen left open until the moment of the burial.


The burial chamber, measuring 4.9 by 3.3 m inside, is dominated by a huge rectangular sarcophagus cut out of two white limestone blocks. The sarcophagus is surrounded on all four sides by a corridor about 0.5 m wide, uncommon in this type of tomb. This corridor was found half filled with a thick layer of sand, covered from above with partly crushed mud brick and here and there, a number of very rough limestone blocks. Most probably, those blocks helped to keep the lid of the outer sarcophagus raised to the moment of the burial. There were no traces of the device for lowering of the lid of the outer sarcophagus: This normally consisted of two pairs of vertical shafts with wooden props. In the corridor, atop a layer of sand and mud brick, pieces of the original burial equipment were found. North of the entrance a damaged wooden chest with a cavetto cornice had been placed. Under the broken bottom of this chest were heaped the remains of its contents: ten faience vases with lids, six small faience cups and ten pottery vases. All contained the remains of ointment. The names of the respective sacred oils were written on the outside of the vases in black ink. In addition to those vases, a small bronze vessel, two bronze models of offering tables, four miniature alabaster blocks, two small schist amulets (a double ostrich feather and an Upper Egyptian crown), two miniature models of offerings made of wood and ivory respectively, a magic brick of silt faintly inscribed with the usual Chapter 151A of the Book of the Dead, the remains of a papyrus roll completely destroyed by humidity, and unidentified copper, iron, and faience fragments were found.


Along both the northern and southern sides of the sarcophagus, one flat open box was discovered full of blue-glazed shabtis (203 in the north and 205 in the south, 408 together), as well as one taller chest, resembling a naos in shape and crowned on its lid with a small figure of a jackal. Each chest contained two canopic jars. Due to the very high level of humidity caused by the water table, all those chests, made of wood and originally embellished with texts and representations painted in ochre on a thick layer of black varnish, were almost completely destroyed. All four canopic jars, made of alabaster and about 30 cm high, were closed by conical lids carved with a representation of a human face. Each jar bore incised inscriptions mentioning one of the four sons of Horus as well as his image. In addition, a name of one of the four protective goddesses (Isis, Nephthys, Selqet, and Neith) was written in black on the lid. All the jars were almost completely full of a resinous matter, now carbonized.


Adjacent to the eastern wall of the burial chamber, two stone vessels were discovered, a small one made of alabaster and a larger (46 cm high), of pink limestone inscribed with an Anubis formula and an incised representation of that god. This vessel, similar to a canopic jar in shape and full of a resinous matter, most probably served to store the materials left after the mummification.


Tiny remnants of another papyrus roll, again completely disintegrated, were found in the northwestern corner of the chamber. In the sand west of the sarcophagus were three more magical bricks made of Nile silt and bearing Chapter 151A of the Book of the Dead, and a few other amulets, among them a fine djed pillar of green faience.


Because of the poor quality of the shale (tafla) into which the main shaft had been dug, it was necessary to strengthen the walls before continuing work. A huge cover in the shape of a gabled roof of reinforced concrete was installed at the bottom of the main shaft. This structure, measuring 11.5 in square and about 9 in high, covers the whole of the lowermost portion of the main shaft.


Only after this time and labor-consuming task had been completed was it possible to continue copying the scenes on the walls of the burial chamber and the limestone sarcophagus. The texts are purely religious in nature, made up of long excerpts from the Pyramid Texts, the Book of the Dead, and other compositions. Interestingly, some of the texts appear more than once in the tomb, e.g. Chapters 26 through 30B and 72 of the Book of the Dead are inscribed on both the exterior of the outer sarcophagus and on the lid of the inner sarcophagus. Together, the texts take up more than 80 square in of space. Only after the difficult task of tracing the relief decoration had been done could the huge limestone outer sarcophagus be opened.


The box of the inner sarcophagus stands on a platform raised about 35 cm above the floor that is made of rather small local limestone blocks. The sarcophagus is about 3.8 in long, 2.3 in wide, and its box is 1.4 in high. The lid, originally cemented to the chest by means of a thick layer of a coarse whitish or greyish lime mortar, is about one meter thick. To open the sarcophagus, it was necessary to raise the lid, weighing about 24 tons, by more than one meter and lay it aside. Before this operation, all necessary measures were taken to protect the reliefs.


A cavity of roughly anthropoid shape was hollowed out in the box. The vertical inner sides are completely covered with inscriptions and representations of deities (among them Re Horakhty, Sekhmet, Bastet, Wadjet, Shesemtet, and the less known god Tutu) and religious symbols, finely carved in incised relief. Inside, the hieroglyphic signs, register lines, and images were colored black, red, blue, brown, green, and yellow.


The lid of the inner sarcophagus was mostly covered by an irregular layer of gypsum mortar and on top of this was a layer of crushed mud brick. The mud-brick layer has not yet been satisfactorily explained. Since mud brick is a very strong desiccant, it might have been intended to diminish the very high level of natural humidity inside the sarcophagus, or perhaps was the remains of a structure used during the manoeuvring of the lid. Finally, a possible association with Osirian funeral rites has been put forward.


The layer of gypsum mortar filled almost all the space remaining around the inner sarcophagus, thus sealing the lid. Patches of molten resin were found inside here and there. Partly inside this layer and over it, were scattered shards of red ware storage jars. A possible connection with the ritual of "breaking the red vessels" cannot be excluded, but perhaps the vessels may have simply been to transport the mortar.


The anthropoid inner sarcophagus, made of basalt or possibly schist, filled the above-mentioned cavity almost completely. This sarcophagus, orientated with its head to the east, is 2.20 in long, and its maximum width is 90 cm. Except for the face framed by long lappets of a tripartite wig and the convex upper surface of the feet, the exterior is again completely covered with incised hieroglyphic texts. On the chest, under the curved beard identifying the deceased as Osiris, is a large, finely carved scarab beetle. Very probably, the lower part of the inner sarcophagus is decorated on its outer side as well but it is still firmly embedded in mortar. Thus, only a small piece of its exterior Oust behind the head) has been cleared, revealing incised inscriptions. The interior of the lid and chest of the inner sarcophagus are also inscribed.


Under the lid of the inner sarcophagus, the remains of a wooden anthropoid coffin were revealed. Unfortunately its lid had split lengthwise and was almost completely destroyed by moisture. The coffin was 1.84 in long and 48 cm at its widest (across the shoulders). Originally, the exterior was covered with a thick layer of ochre-colored stucco. Remains of black-painted decoration were partly preserved on the lid, among them three columns of roughly-rendered hieroglyphs. The text on the left side was the best-preserved, although only remains of the title xrp Hwwt "Administrator of the palaces" and the name of the deceased could be imperfectly read.


Under the broken lid was a damaged fine bead net composed of larger tubular and smaller globular faience beads. It had originally covered the mummy of the deceased almost completely, except for the head. There were faint traces of gilding here and the eyes were painted black. Basically, the net consisted of light blue tubular beads arranged into rhomboids in a fashion typical of the time. At a number of places, however, there was a more complex decoration of much smaller disc-beads. There was a wsx-collar under the chin and representations of the goddess Nut and the four sons of Horus on the chest, and Isis and Nephthys around the calves. Between the thighs, a yellow oval was visible, outlined with black and with a single column of black hieroglyphic signs mentioning the title and name of the deceased and the name of his mother. The text is identical with that on the shabti figures.


Inside the mummy wrappings, a number of artifacts were uncovered. All the finger and toe tips were encased in sheaths made of pure gold with the nails represented. Another thin metal plate made of gilded copper covered the penis. On the body of the deceased and inside the wrappings were a number of amulets: six udjat-eyes, three scarabs (including a heart scarab, unfortunately uninscribed), three hearts, two Isis knots, one headrest, one small tablet, one DD-column, one w3D-column, and one snake's head. Four barrel beads were also found on the mummy (4) The floor of the inner sarcophagus was also decorated with texts and representations of deities and religious symbols and scenes in incised relief. Among them, and perhaps most interesting, are the images of the enthroned Atum and a syncretised figure of Tatenen depicted as a scarab with the head of a hare and one human hand.


According to the inscriptions found mainly in the burial chamber, the tomb belonged to a dignitary named Iufaa, born to a lady Ankhtes; the name of the father is here so far unattested.

Interestingly enough, even the name of lufaa's mother is mentioned only on shabtis and on the

ended to bead net protecting the mummy. Only on those places does his title hrp hwwt "Administrator of the palaces" appear. No other title in the tomb can be indisputably be connected with him.


The rather common title of the deceased seems to be in sharp contrast to his huge funerary

monument, relatively well-decorated and equipped. Moreover, according to the preliminary

anthropological examination done by Eugen Strouhal, lufaa died at the young age of 25 to 30

years (35 maximum).


A number of unique features are attested in his burial complex when compared to other Late

Period shaft tombs of the same type:

            * an extensive use of mud brick

            * the paneled outer face of the enclosure

            * the existence of two smaller lateral shafts giving access to the bottom of the main pit an interrupted corridor to the burial chamber

            * the position of the outer sarcophagus surrounded by a corridor inside the burial chamber

* the absence of the device for lowering of the lid of the outer sarcophagus                 * the position of the deceased with his head to the east

            * the type and enormous amount of the decoration inside the burial chamber and especially on both the outer and inner sarcophagi


The dating of the tomb is still far from certain. Judging from its location, especially its proximity to the more firmly-dated tomb of Udjahorresnet and the numerous finds of imported east            ern Greek and Aegean pottery, dated by Smoláriková to the last quarter of the sixth century BCE,

the tomb could be tentatively dated to the beginning of the Twenty-seventh Dynasty (around 500 BCE). On the other hand, some features quoted above might point to a somewhat later date, perhaps even the beginning of the fourth century BCE. In addition to these, the shape of the shabtis are closest to Schneider's class XIA5-Thirtieth Dynasty and early Ptolemaic period.


Only future archaeological work will bring answers to those and other questions connected with lufaa and his tomb. At the same time, restoration is in progress and the consolidation of the

relief decoration will be continued. After all the necessary work is finished, the tomb should be

opened to the public and become, we hope, one of the most interesting places in not only the

Abusir necropolis, but the whole Pyramid Zone as well.






1.- L. Bare§, The Shaft Tomb of Udjahorresnet at Abusir, (Prague, 1999).

2.- See L. Bares "Saite-Persian Cemetery at Abusir," (Report for January 1995), GM 151 (1996), 7-17.

3.- The following preliminary reports have been published; L. Bares - K. Smolarikova "The Shaft Tomb of lufaa at Abusir," (Preliminary report for 1995/1996), GM 156 (1997), 9-26; L. Bares - E. Strouhal, "The Shaft-Tomb of lufaa, Season of 1997/98," ZÄS 127 (2000). See also C. M. Sheikholeslami led.), The Egyptian Museum at the Millennium, A Special Exhibition in honor of the VIIIth International Congress of Egyptologists, 28 March-3 April 2000, Cairo, Egypt, (Cairo, 2000), 42-43 and pls. 33-35.

4.- At present, the amulets are being prepared for final publication by Vivienne Gae Callender.



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