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4,400-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb Dedicated to Priestess Heptet Discovered

In Heptet’s newly uncovered tomb, it’s all about the monkey paintings.

Inside Heptet’s newly discovered tomb (photo courtesy Ashraf Mohie El-Din)

Over the weekend, an Egyptian excavation team announced the discovery of an ancient tomb near Cairo, the country’s first archeological find of 2018. Dedicated to Heptet, a priestess during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty (roughly 2400 BCE), the elaborately decorated tomb depicts scenes from daily life and a couple of unique renderings of monkeys.

The passageway leading to Heptet’s newly discovered tomb (photo courtesy Ashraf Mohie El-Din)

Ashraf Mohie El-Din, Director General of the Giza Pyramids and an Egyptologist leading the excavation, which began in October of last year, told Hyperallergic in a phone interview that his team discovered the tomb along with a passage leading into it and two chapels. He said Heptet’s name was both inscribed in an offering table and written in the tomb (in hieroglyphs, of course). Among her many titles, the priestess was also identified as, roughly translated, “the one who is in front of the lake.”

“There’s a debate about this title, which is unique for a woman,” Mohie El-Din said. “It could be an overseer of a garden, or maybe even a farmer.”

The drawings on the walls of her tomb show Heptet in a variety of scenes from everyday life, including hunting, fishing, and milking cows. In one scene, Heptet is eating, while her daughters give her offerings. “My favorite scene is one with musicians playing, with dancers and a monkey dancing with the band,” Mohie El-Din said. “We’ve seen this scene only once before [in an ancient Egyptian tomb].”

Everyone’s favorite monkey with a basket of fruit inside Heptet’s newly discovered tomb (photo courtesy Ashraf Mohie El-Din)

In another scene, a monkey holds a basket of fruit. There have been speculations that this monkey was trained to collect food for its owner, but Mohie El-Din is skeptical. “Some people say it’s a domestic monkey, but did you ever see a monkey picking fruit for someone else?” he said. “My opinion is that the monkey stole the basket and is eating the fruit.” Mohie El-Din noted that although monkeys in ancient Egyptian mythology have an association with wisdom, the animals were also just a part of everyday life, often used for entertainment purposes.

Mohie El-Din is already preparing to open a new excavation site. “We keep looking and working, and every day we find a new discovery,” he said. “Just give me a budget, and I’ll give you a discovery.”

Inside Heptet’s newly discovered tomb (photo courtesy Ashraf Mohie El-Din)
Inside Heptet’s newly discovered tomb (photo courtesy Ashraf Mohie El-Din)
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