A 4,000-year-old funerary garden has been discovered in a tomb in Egypt. The findings are reported by a researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
We have now seen everything: a funerary garden spotted at the entrance of an Egyptian tomb! 4,000 years of age, the first of its name (kind) has been identified on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in Luxor (previously known as Thebes), Egypt.
“It is a spectacular and quite unique find which opens up multiple avenues of research,” says lead author, professor José Manuel Galán, from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
The discovery was made by researchers involved in the Djehuty Project. Led by Galán, the team has unveiled key elements of an era (the Twelfth Dynasty) when Thebes was first designated capital of the kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt 4 millennia ago.
This is the first time such a garden has been found, but it came as no surprise to Galán and his colleagues. He says in a statement that they were aware of the possible presence of this type of garden because illustrations at entrances of tombs and inside them would hint at their existence. Now that an actual garden has been discovered, the world of archaeology can boast of having confirmed hypotheses built from data deduced from iconography.
Investigating the composition of the garden—by examining the seeds collected, among other methods—promises to reveal important information about the environmental conditions (and, of course, about botany) of ancient Luxor. The belief systems together with the religious and socio-cultural practices of that time can also be divulged by analysing the plants of the garden which are believed to hold symbolic value, used for funerary rituals.
“Digging in a necropolis not only allows us to discover details about the world of funerals, religious beliefs and funerary practices, it also helps us discover details about daily life, about society and about the physical environment, both plant and animal. The necropolis thus becomes, as the ancient Egyptians themselves believed, the best way to understand and embrace life,” says Galán.
Previous studies have shown that ancient Egyptians would revere the palm, sycamore, and Persea trees: these were believed to bear the power of resurrection. Other plants like the lettuce were associated with fertility and restoration of life. The new finding will be adding to this list.
Describing the garden, Galán mentions a tiny rectangular space (3m x 2m) occurring at around half a meter above the ground; it lies at the entrance of a tomb cut from rock dating back to around 2000 BCE. The garden consists of 30 cm² beds arranged in rows of 5 or 7 beds: these might have been home to different kinds of plants and flowers. Two trees stood next to the funeral garden. Another interesting finding is a tamarisk shrub standing upright; it was recovered by the researchers, with its roots and 30cm-long trunk intact. Next to this plant was a container with dates and other fruits, perhaps serving as an offering.
An additional feature spotted is a small mud-brick chapel with three stone tombstones whose inscription hinted at a later date than the tomb and the garden. One of the tombstones belonged to Renef-seneb, and another to a soldier citizen named Khememi. The researchers also found reference to a deity of the ancient Thebes named Montu, and to funerary gods Ptah, Sokar, and Osiris.
“These finds highlight the importance of the area around the Dra Abu el-Naga hill as a sacred centre for a wide range of worship activities during the Middle Kingdom. This helps us understand the high density of tombs in later times as well as the religious symbolism that this area of the necropolis holds,” comments Galán.