In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh may have had the title, but he or she was still powerless without money … which made the head of the pharaoh’s treasury the real controller of the power of the pharaoh’s kingdom. Since many Egyptologists consider Ramesses II (also spelled Ramses II) to have been the greatest and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, the most powerful period of Ancient Egypt, that would have made his head of treasury the most powerful money man in ancient Egypt. We now know just how powerful Ptahemwia, Ramesses II’s treasurer, was -- the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced the discovery of his pink granite sarcophagus – and archaeologists are calling it a “dream discovery.” What makes it so dreamy?
“Dr. Mustafa Waziri stressed that the importance of this discovery is due to the important positions held by the owner of the sarcophagus related to the management of the mortuary temple of King Ramses II in Thebes, including the “royal scribe, chief supervisor of livestock and head of the treasury in the temple of King Ramses in the possessions of Amun and responsible for the divine offerings to all the gods.”
No less that Dr. Mustafa Waziri, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, handled the announcement of the discovery of the pink granite sarcophagus which held the mummified remains of Ptahemwia or Ptah-im-wea, who handled many important duties during the reign of King Ramses II 3,300 years ago. According to Waziri in the press release (in Arabic) , the discovery was made during the current excavation season in the Saqqara necropolis area 30 km (19 miles) sound of modern Cairo. In charge of the excavations is Ola El Aguizy, emeritus professor of the faculty of archaeology at Cairo University, who found the surface-level tomb of Ptah-em-wia last year. She then led the careful vertical dig -- using a bucket attached to a hand-operated rope winch -- underneath this tomb and, at 23 feet below the surface, found the underground burial chamber with the sarcophagus. Said to be in pristine condition, the coffin was inscribed on all sides with emblems, hiéroglyphs and titles of the man who controlled the purse strings of Rameses II.
“The discovery of this sarcophagus in its original place in the burial shaft was very exciting because it is the sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb, which is not always the case. Sometimes the sarcophagus is for a different person of a later period, when the tomb was used in later periods. But this time it is not the case.”
In an interview with The Guardian, El Aguizy explained the discovery was a ‘dream’ because everything was right – the sarcophagus belonged to the person whose name was on the wall of the tomb, the pink granite coffin was in nearly perfect condition, and the decorations on the burial container were of the kind rarely seen on one belonging to a person who was not a pharaoh or member of the royal family.
“This sarcophagus is a good example of New Kingdom style of sarcophagi for the elite. It is in granite and is inscribed with usual emblems of the gods: the Sky-goddess Nut on the lid covering the chest with her opened wings to protect the deceased, the four sons of the Sun-God Horus surrounding the sarcophagus with prayers for the protection of the deceased. The features of the face and the beard reveal also the nice artistic features of the New Kingdom art, and the high rank of the deceased.”
Everything was nearly perfect … except for the lid. Part of it was broken off and tossed in the corner of the room where the sarcophagus was found. Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities archaeologists believe the damage was done by tomb robbers who cracked open and looted the sarcophagus. Since this was so common, many looted tombs were used again for another person … but this one was built for by Ptah-em-wia himself and there were no indications anyone else was buried there. That means the drawing of a human figure with his hands crossed over his chest and a face with the traditional Egyptian false chin was definitely Ptah-em-wia – the Great Overseer of the Cattle, Royal Scribe and head of the treasury of Ramses II. Although the sarcophagus was empty, the archaeologists found traces of resin indicating a mummy had once occupied it.
Those up on their ancient Egyptian history will note that Ramesses II was initially buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but because of looting it was transferred the tomb of queen Ahmose Inhapy, then to the tomb of the high priest Pinedjem II, and was eventually discovered inside an ordinary wooden coffin in The Royal Cache in the Theban Necropolis opposite the modern city of Luxor. (The mummy is now in Cairo's National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. On the other hand, his right-hand man Ptah-em-wia was buried beside the 1000-year-old pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara, the home of many necropolises. It is believed Ptah-em-wia requested this because he considered the ancient site to be sacred.
Modern Egyptians are excited about this discovery for another reason, according to Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology at Harvard University – it was made by an Egyptian archeologist instead of one from another country.
“There’s a long history of western archaeologists doing this work. So it’s great to see their own discoveries – and the fact that she’s a woman archaeologist, an Egyptian woman archaeologist, is even more welcome.”
And Ola El Aguizy is not just any female Egyptian archeologist, according to Tom Cook, the producer of an eight-part National Geographic documentary series on the current excavations and discoveries, Lost Treasures of Egypt, which is now airing in the UK.
“She’s a grandmother, she’s in her 70s and she’s still going out there doing this really quite hazardous job.”
While the mummy and the other contents of the sarcophagus were looted, the inscriptions of the Sky-goddess Nut on the lid covering the chest with her opened wings to protect the deceased, the four sons of the Sun-God Horus surrounding the sarcophagus with prayers for the protection of the deceased, and the image of the face of Ptah-em-wia are expected to help Professor El Aguizy fill in the gaps in the biography of the money man for Ramesses II and provide more data on Egytpian life in the Nineteenth Dynasty – the period after the death of King Tutankhamun and the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
The excavation of the sarcophagus of Ptah-em-wia is definitely a “dream discovery” … but so is the discovery that a 70-year-old grandmother is responsible for it. You go Ola El Aguizy!