Craft priests: Sabu Tjety

In Kom el-Khamaseen a singular individual was buried: Imephor Impy Nikauptah, high priest of the gods Ptah and Sokar of Memphis during the First Intermediate Period, that is to say, the troubled period that followed the fall of the Old Kingdom (2200-2050 aC). This led the UAB team to look at the individuals who held the office before him throughout the Old Kingdom, from its first documentation in the 2nd dynasty. These were influential individuals at the Memphite court, because, in addition to their priestly office, they were in charge of the construction and decoration of the royal pyramids and their temples. Their official title was wr ḫrpw ḥmwt (ur kherepu hemut), which literally means “the greatest of the directors of craftsmen”.  They were thus craft priests. Indeed, Ptah and Sokar were creator gods and protectors of builders and craftsmen, because building and craftsmanship are ultimately “creation” activities.

wr ḫrpw ḥmwt

These individuals were all buried in the same cementery and many of them probably belonged to the same family, within which the position was passed down from father  to son. This cementery is located just northwest of the step pyramid. Its tombs were excavated a century and a half ago by Auguste Mariette and no one else has worked there since. It is well known that the archaeological sites excavated by the pioneers of the discipline, using the methods of their time, were not thoroughly worked and that, when they have been returned to, they have yielded great surprises. A team from the Czech Institute of Egyptology, led by Miroslav Bárta, has been working on one of the mastabas in this area since last year (Ptahshepses I). It is here that the UAB has also applied for and obtained its new concession from the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt.

In particular, we will begin by excavating the monumental mastaba of the high priest Sabu Tjety, who lived in the second half of the 6th dynasty. We know of this individual from a unique document: part of his funerary false-door stele, which contains his titles and his “autobiography” inscribed on it. The large stele precisely comes from his tomb at Saqqara and is now kept in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The co-director of the Mission, Josep Cervelló, has already had the opportunity to work with his unique document in 2022. Indeed, shortly after its discovery by Mariette, part of the inscribed surface had broken off from the main block and split into four fragments that had been lost in the Museum’s cluttered storerooms. After a painstaking search, with the invaluable assistance of the Museum’s director at the time, Dra. Sabah Abdelrazek, and the curators of the Basement, the four fragments were recovered and the monument restored. It is now back on display in the Museum’s galleries dedicated to the Old Kingdom and will be the subject of a forthcoming publication.

The first season of the new project took place in June 2023. The next season is planned for April and May 2024.

Stele of Sabu Tjety
Josep (the mudir) and Ismail (archaeologist, veteran member of the team) chat about the work
Helena en plena prospección magnética en el yacimiento

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