A team of Czech archaeologists have rediscovered a lost tomb that belonged to an ancient Egyptian official called Ptahshepses, who lived around 4,400 years ago (during the 24th and 25th centuries BCE). The discovery even contained the mummified remains of this significant individual.
According to a statement released by the Czech Institute of Egyptology on Facebook, the lost tomb was discovered in the zone between the pyramid fields of Abusir and Saqqara, Egypt.
"It was a difficult search lasting several years,” Miroslav Barta, head of research at Abusir, explained in the statement. “Detailed satellite imagery of the area and the study of old maps led to the rediscovery of the tomb of Ptahshepses in 2022.”
Around 160 years ago, a French scholar named Auguste Mariette found this site and partially “excavated” it. Mariette extracted Ptahshepses’s false door, a symbolic doorway the Egyptians believed the deceased could use to enter and exit the tomb, and a lintel originally placed above the cult chapel. However, the tomb disappeared under the sand and was lost until now.
The artifacts recovered by Mariette are currently on display at the British Museum. The door itself provides an extensive and unique account of Ptahshepses’s career. It explains how he was educated at the court of the last Giza ruler – Menkaure (Greek "Mykerinos") – and how he later married the daughter of pharaoh Userkaf. Userkaf himself was an important figure who founded the Fifth Dynasty of Sun Kings.
“This reference itself indicates that Ptahshepses is the first known official of non-royal descent in Egyptian history who was given the privilege of marrying a royal daughter,” the Institute explained.
“Moreover, on the lintel, there is reference one of the earliest attestations of the god Osiris. And this makes the official Ptahshepses even more unique because he can be credited with the idea of introducing the famous god of the Egyptian afterlife into the Egyptian pantheon.”
The tomb has been dated to the reign of Nyuserra Ini, the sixth ruler of the Fifth Dynasty during the Old Kingdom period.
“Given Ptahshepses’s political, historical and religious significance, the tomb is one of the most remarkable discoveries of the recent periods in Egyptian archaeology,” the statement adds.
“It also represents a highly important missing link between the relatively small mastabas with a single cult chapel and extensive family tombs such as the neighbouring tomb of Ty constructed roughly at the same time.”
During excavation worked carried out in 2022, the archaeologists exposed an extensive 42-meter (137.7-foot) long and 22-meter (72-foot) wide superstructure of the mastaba (a rectangular structure of Egyptian tombs). It revealed a well-preserved chapel complete with painted decorations in the entrance, two serdabs (spaces used for statues of the owner) and a long access corridor.
Then, in 2023, the team entered the burial chamber that had a huge limestone blocking stone in place. The chamber had been robbed in antiquity, but still contained some of the original equipment used for the burial, including votive offerings and pottery. Interestingly, the tomb also contained a mummified fish, which is the first of its kind to be discovered.
There, in a partially opened sarcophagus that was still lying on its back, was the mummified remains of the official himself. Examination of his remains has revealed new insights into the evolution of mummification during the Old Kingdom period.
“The tomb of a man who changed the course of Egyptian history has thus been rediscovered, representing one of the expedition's greatest recent discoveries. The research is still ongoing, and further discoveries will likely be made to shed new light on his family and times," Barta added.
This article was amended to include images of the archaeological site.