The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry announced this weekend that separate teams of archaeologists have uncovered the burial site of Khentakawess III, a previously unidentified pharaonic queen, and a symbolic tomb built for Osiris, the Egyptian deity of the afterlife and the underworld. The queen’s tomb dates back some 4,500 years, to the Fifth Dynasty, while the burial complex for Osiris was constructed during the 25th dynasty, around 700 B.C.
The Abu Sir necropolis southwest of Cairo contains several pyramids dedicated to Egyptian pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty (2994-2345 B.C.), including Pharaoh Neferefre. A Czech archaeological mission working at Abu Sir, in collaboration with the Egyptian antiquities authorities, recently excavated a tomb they believe belongs to Neferefre’s wife, whose name was previously unknown. The archaeologists found her name—Khentakawess—inscribed in relief on the inner walls of the burial chamber, along with the phrases “the wife of the king” and “the mother of the king.” They think Khentakawess III (two earlier queens bearing that name have been previously identified) was married to Pharaoh Neferefre and gave birth to Pharaoh Menkahur.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty said in a statement that “This discovery will help us shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids.” Inside the newly excavated tomb, the archaeologists discovered several statuettes, along with 30 utensils of limestone and copper, among the funerary objects buried with the queen.
In another stunning discovery, also announced this weekend, a team of Spanish-Italian archaeologists excavating a tomb located on Luxor’s west bank in the Al-Gorna necropolis identified it as a symbolic resting place for Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and ruler of the afterlife and the underworld. The site, which dates to the 25th Dynasty (around 700 B.C.) was apparently modeled on an actual royal tomb, and contains multiple shafts and chambers. From its main room—a large hall with five pillars—a staircase descends into a funerary complex with a carving of Osiris. In an adjoining chamber, a relief on the wall depicts demons wielding knives, which the archaeologists speculate may have been intended as guardian-like figures. Several more chambers are located deeper the complex, two of which are filled with debris but have yet to be excavated.
Egyptian authorities have stated that the archaeologist Philippe Virey discovered part of the tomb in the 1880s, but its significance remained unknown and the main chambers are only being excavated now. The burial site may have been modeled on a more famous Osirion tomb in Abydos, Sohag. Like that one, the newly excavated tomb at Al-Gorna is thought to have been used for rituals linking the ruling pharaohs to the powers of Osiris.
According to legend, Osiris was murdered by his brother and rival god Seth, who tore his corpse into 14 pieces and scattered them across Egypt. The winged goddess Isis, Osiris’ consort, found 13 of the 14 pieces (she replaced his phallus with a gold one) and buried them. Through her efforts, Osiris was brought back to life, and thereafter ruled as lord and judge of the underworld. Meanwhile, Osiris’ son Horus avenged his father’s death, defeating Seth to become king of the gods. This mythology played a central role in the Egyptian concept of divine kingship: When a pharaoh died, he was believed to become Osiris, while the dead king’s son, the living king, was identified with Horus.