4000-Year-Old Funeral Garden Unearthed In Egypt

The funerary garden archaeological site with digitally superimposed plants and trees, how it may have looked like. Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

For the first time ever, archeologists have unearthed a 4000-year old Egyptian funeral garden, where ancient worshipers grew plants believed to help the deceased in the afterlife.

Interestingly, archaeologists have long had their suspicions that "funerary gardens" exist due to ancient Egyptian artwork depicting them, but none had been found, until now. 

“We knew of the possible existence of these gardens since they appear in illustrations both at the entrances to tombs as well as on tomb walls, where Egyptians would depict how they wanted their funerals to be,” lead researcher Dr Jose Manuel Galán from the Spanish National Research Council (SNRC) said in a statement“This is the first time that a physical garden has ever been found, and it is, therefore, the first time that archaeology can confirm what had been deduced from iconography.”

The garden was discovered on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in Luxor (once upon a time, Thebes) as part of the Djehuty Project, a 16-year-long excavation led by the SNRC. On top of the many discoveries over the years, they also recently discovered a small mud-brick chapel nearby the gardens, which dates to around 3,800 years ago.

Illustrations outside of the tombs show the gridded gardens. Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

The 3 meters by 2 meters (9.8 feet by 6.5 feet) gridded courtyard was discovered at the entrance of a rock-cut tomb dating back from the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, circa 2000 BCE. The researchers believe the grids were each small beds for a variety of plants, flowers, and small trees. Ancient Egyptian culture associated certain plants with other facets of life. For example, palm, sycamore, and Persea trees were commonly associated with resurrection and death. Lettuce was also commonly associated with fertility and life, so many believed it could bring back the dead.

"The plants grown there would have had a symbolic meaning and may have played a role in funerary rituals. Therefore, the garden will also provide information about religious beliefs and practices as well as the culture and society at the time of the Twelfth Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time,” Galán explained.

“Now we must wait to see what plants we can identify by analyzing the seeds we have collected. It is a spectacular and quite unique find that opens up multiple avenues of research."

How the site looks now. Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

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