Researchers believe that artisans did not have enough time to complete adorning Mehtjetju’s last burial site.
An ancient Egyptian dignitary who handled confidential papers for the king died abruptly about 4,300 years ago. Crews rushed to adorn his burial location, but they were unable to carve the ornate reliefs of sacrifice animals on the façade because they just ran out of time.
Archaeologists think this occurred at a tomb recently found in the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara.
It belonged to a guy called Mehtjetju, according to researchers at the University of Warsaw’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology. According to the expedition team, heiroglyphics on the tomb show that he handled royal, sealed papers and also worked as a priest and an inspector of the royal estate.
They attribute the discovery of King Djoser’s Step Pyramid to the period of the earliest pharaohs of the Sixth Dynasty, approximately 2300 B.C.E.
The tomb was discovered by the researchers while excavating the dry moat that surrounds the pyramid complex, not far from another burial site uncovered by the team—that of vizier, or senior official, Merefnebef. Mehtjetju most likely lived during the reigns of the Sixth Dynasty’s first three monarchs, Teti, Userkare, and Pepy I, according to archaeologist and expedition director Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz.
Saqqara archaeologists at work
The tomb was discovered by archaeologists from the University of Warsaw’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology. Courtesy of A. Kowalska / University of Warsaw Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology According to the statement, Mehtjetju’s royal position would have given him the social standing to pay “an extremely competent hand” to design and adorn his burial place. The tomb’s granite was very fragile, necessitating prompt intervention and conservation by specialists from Warsaw’s National Museum.
According to the researchers, “the delicacy of the lines and complexity of the modeling surpass the finest reliefs in the vizier’s tomb.”
Nonetheless, Mehtjetju’s brilliant artists did not have enough time to finish the sculptures on the façade. They merely drew rudimentary drafts of reliefs portraying cows, oryxes, and ibexes in black ink on lime plaster.
Despite the incomplete construction, experts think Mehtjetju was buried in his tomb. They can’t see for themselves since they’ve just discovered the facade. However, they want to examine the tomb’s inside this autumn, which will most certainly contain the burial chamber and, maybe, Mehtjetju’s mummy.
“If he hadn’t been buried there, the tomb would have been taken over by someone else,” Kuraszkiewicz said in a statement. “The ornamentation is possibly incomplete since the investor died before the work was done and was buried in the hurriedly created tomb.”
Mehtjetju was buried beside King Djoser, whose Step Pyramid at Saqqara was the first of its sort. Years after Djoser died in 2575 BCE, Egyptian rulers wanted their ultimate burial place to be near the “important and beloved pharaoh from the glorious past,” Kuraszkiewicz tells Live Science’s Owen Jarus.
The gateway to Mehtjetju’s tomb
The entrance to Mehtjetju’s tomb. J. Dabrowski / Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
For about 3,000 years, Saqqara was an important ancient Egyptian burial cemetery. Today, the five-mile area, some 20 miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile River, is “dotted with the remnants of temples, tombs, and pathways that, together, cover the whole history of ancient Egypt,” according to Smithsonian’s Jo Marchant.
Researchers have been investigating Saqqara since 1850 and continue to make important discoveries there. Archaeologists uncovered multiple “megatombs”—large rooms filled with coffins, mummies, and other goods—in 2020. According to Smithsonian’s Livia Gershon, archaeologists uncovered the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II’s treasury director last year.
Though Saqqara has historically been overshadowed by discoveries at Luxor and the Great Pyramids, these and other recent discoveries there are sure to pique the interest of archaeologists like Mostafa Waziri, who told Smithsonian in 2021, “What we found in the last three years is not even 10% of what we will find.”