Nov 18, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Tomb of Unknown Queen and Hundreds of Mummies Found Near King Tut's Tomb

November 2022 is turning out to be a big month for Egypt and Egyptology. The entire world is joining that country in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery and opening of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the limited opening of the $1 billion Grand Egyptian Museum near the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo which has many of the contents of King Tut’s tomb on display, and the discovery of a tunnel under the temple of Taposiris Magna near the ancient city of Alexandria which many believe leads to the long-lost tomb of Queen Cleopatra. Now comes word from leading Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass that he and his team have uncovered hundreds of mummies which may members of King Tut’s staff and a pyramid very close to King Tut’s tomb which may be the long-lost burial site of yet another Egyptian queen. With these latest finds, Zahi Hawass is certainly putting the ‘new’ into the New Kingdom.

King Tut always manages to get himself in these stories.

"Teti was worshipped as a god in the New Kingdom period, and so people wanted to be buried near him. However, most burials known in Saqqara previously were either from the Old Kingdom or the Late Period. Now we have found 22 [interconnected] shafts, ranging from 30 to 60 feet [9 to 18 meters deep], all with New Kingdom burials."

Live Science tells the news of Hawass’ new discoveries at the Saqqara necropolis site in Giza , an archaeological site in Giza south of Cairo. The ‘Teti’ he refers to was the first king of the Sixth Dynasty of Egypt who reigned from 2323–2291 BCE. While he was honored with an elaborate tomb and later regarded as a god, there are also stories that Teti was murdered by his palace bodyguards in a harem conspiracy. Since it is known that these ancient tombs were often connected with tunnels and shafts, it is no surprise that the first things Hawass discovered were interconnecting shafts. However, the big surprise was what the shafts led to … “300 beautiful coffins from the New Kingdom period."

"Burials from the New Kingdom were not known to be common in the area before, so this is entirely unique to the site. The coffins have individual faces, each one unique, distinguishing between men and women, and are decorated with scenes from the Book of the Dead [an ancient Egypt funerary text]. Each coffin also has the name of the deceased and often shows the Four Sons of Horus, who protected the organs of the deceased."

The ancients made things easy for researchers by putting names on the coffins, which is how the archeologists determined that some of them belonged to King Tut's closest generals and advisors. If that wasn’t enough, Hawass’ team got a bigger surprise when they began opening the coffins -- well-preserved mummies of the men … and a few women.

"Some coffins have two lids, and the most amazing coffin so far has a mask of a woman made completely of solid gold."

In addition to the mummies and masks, Hawass found the coffins filled with artifacts, including shabtis [small figurines], statues of the god Ptah-Sokar, a metal axe placed in the hand of an army soldier and games such as the ancient game of Senet. Senet is one of the oldest known board games, dating back to the First Dynasty around 3100 BCE. Paintings of people moving pieces around a grid of three rows of ten squares have been found on tomb walls from the Old Kingdom, dating back to 2686–2160 BCE.

As with so many of these ancient Egyptian discoveries … there’s more! The archeologists found an entire pyramid which was originally thought to have been built for Teti’s mother, Queen Sesheshet. However, Hawass now believes he knows who it belongs to.

"We have since discovered that her name was Neith and she had never before been known from the historical record. It is amazing to literally rewrite what we know of history, adding a new queen to our records."

If Hawass himself has never heard of Neith before, this is indeed a major discovery. Queen Neith or Naert was apparently one of Teti’s four wives and named for Neith or Neit, an early ancient Egyptian goddess who was worshiped as the first and the prime creator of the universe, the goddess of the cosmos, fate, wisdom, water, rivers, mothers, childbirth, hunting, weaving, and war. That covers just about everything, so it’s an appropriate name for an Egyptian queen. The pyramid is part of a complex consisting of the stone temple and three mud-brick warehouses that housed offerings and tools. The major clue that this was probably the tomb of Queen Neith was the discovery of her name etched on a wall in the temple and also written on a felled obelisk near the entrance.

A painting of someone playing Senet

To highlight the significance of these burials of the unknown queen and the generals of King Tut is the discovery of a 13-foot-long (4 meters) papyrus containing Chapter 17 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was there to help guide the deceased through the afterlife. Other copies of Chapter 17 contain a series of questions and answers — almost like a game or a cheat sheet for the deceased to use while navigating their way through afterlife. This plus the game of Senet found in one of the coffins makes the afterlife – at least the ancient Egyptian version of it – sound like a fun place to be. Senet is also mentioned in Chapter 17. The scenes of people playing it painted on Old Kingdom tombs show it to be a game of position, strategy and luck. Does one really need luck in the afterlife? Isn’t it too late for that? Perhaps the pyramid of Neith will provide more clues as to how that works.

In the meantime, congratulations to Zahi Hawass and his team for yet another history-changing discovery in the Saqqara necropolis. November 2022 is definitely going to go down in modern history as a significant month in Egyptology and his work plays a huge part in it. Someone should send him a Senet game.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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