Dayr al Barshā (Egypte): Discovery of a new nomarch burial

Leuven University
Source -
During its 2012  spring campaign, the archaeological mission of Leuven University in  Dayr al Barshā, directed by Harco Willems, has discovered an important burial dating back to the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (approx. 2040 B.C.). Although the burial has been robbed at least twice, and has suffered extensive damage, a large amount of objects were still found in their original position, providing unique information on the scenario of the funerary ritual.
The tomb must have belonged to a nomarch (i.e. a provincial governor) or to a person belonging to the close family of a nomarch. It is for the first time in over a century that a relatively well preserved burial of this kind has been found.
The discovery was made in the tomb of the nomarch Ahanakht I, who was the first Middle Kingdom governor of the Hare nome (nome = province). This tomb is well known, as it has been investigated already    in 1891-1892, and was thoroughly excavated by the American archaeologist George Andrew Reisner in 1915.  Reisner's work was crowned by the discovery of a nearly intact nomarch burial in a neighbouring tomb. The beautiful remains from this latter tomb are world famous.
However, Reisner did not finish the excavation of the southwestern burial shaft in Ahanakht's tomb. His diary makes clear that the American archaeologist was under the impression that this shaft had been robbed only a short while before he arrived on the scene. For this reason, he stopped the excavation. This has proved to be a rare chance, as Reisner has thoroughly emptied all other tombs in the area. Therefore, the Leuven mission had in the previous ten years only excavated and documented tombs that had already been thoroughly emptied before, and there is no chance that other tombs of this kind may still be discovered elsewhere.
The excavation made clear that Reisner's assessment about tomb robbings was correct. Almost down to the bottom of the 6 m deep burial shaft, the archaeologists found disturbed material (although including some important reliefs from the decoration of the tomb), which included cigarette stumps and newspaper fragments dating back to the early 20th century.
There were also numerous remains of tomb equipment, but it was not clear whether it came from this tomb, and all of it was much damaged. Moreover the burial chamber was filled to the roof with rocks, something that can only be explained by assuming that robbers threw these stones deliberately into the chamber. In the process, much of the wooden tomb equipment was crushed. Yet, many funerary gifts had not been noticed by the tomb robbers.
It seems that the tomb was robbed twice. The first robbing may already have taken place in antiquity. At that time, the robbers seem to have been interested mostly on precious materials. Numerous pieces of gold leaf show that the coffins, and probably other objects, had been covered by this material. After this first looting event, the tomb seems to have been eft standing open. Much rain water seems over the years to have spilled into the chamber, mixed with lime dust from the tomb shaft. Once dried, this mixture left behind a thick lime crust, which may have been taken by the second group of looters, who entered the tomb in the late nineteenth century, as the floor of the burial chamber. These robbers caused enormous damage to the coffins and other wooden objects, which had rotted and been affected by fungi as a result of the moisture. 
When the excavators emptied the chamber, it turned out, however, that many dozens of ritual objects in alabaster, faience, copper and pottery still remained in their original position, embedded  in the dried lime crust. The find includes many alabaster model vessels, offering tables, and head rests, faience libation vases, and a variety of copper vases, dishes, and model tables. Also some unique ritual objects, hitherto only known from ancient depictions, were found. 
The positioning of the objects enabled the archaeologists to reconstruct the scenario of the funerary ritual in detail. It is now possible to show that the coffin was placed in the burial chamber first; then a purification ritual was carried out, and subsequently an offering ritual.
The latter ritual is well known from texts and depictions, but it is for the first time that it can be shown that such a ritual was carried out under ground in the burial chamber. 
The coffin remains are in such a bad condition that they can only be studied after conservation next year. However, two important conclusions can already be drawn. First, the coffins were inscribed, and the texts show that the burial belonged to a man called Djehutinakht. This is important, because the inscriptions in the Ahanakht tomb also mention his father Djehutinakht. This man also had an offering place in the tomb. This suggests that Ahanakht buried his father in his own tomb. Djehutinakht is  known to have been the last nomarch of the Hare nome of the First Intermediate Period. It can now be concluded that this person was buried here.
Secondly, his coffin was inscribed with Coffin Texts. This group of texts constitutes the most important collection of religious texts of the Middle Kingdom, and it forms the link between the royal Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom and the famous Book of the Dead of the New Kingdom. It was already known that the Middle Kingdom tradition of the Coffin Texts started from Dayr al-Barshā, with Ahanakht thus far being the first owner of a coffin decorated with these inscriptions. The badly preserved coffin of Djehutinakht adds an important chapter to the history of the Coffin Texts: it may be the earliest representative of the Middle Kingdom.  
View into the burial chamber from the entrance. The objects on the floor are model offering tables, head rests, and vases (all made of alabaster), vases and parts of necklaces made of faience, and copper items. The dark spots are remains of the wooden coffins.
Objects of copper, faience, and pottery lying against the disintegrated coffin bottom
Documenting in situ objects around the coffin bottom
Faience libation vases
Alabaster offering vessels, head rests, and offering tables
Copper ritual objects
Copper purification set