The Meydûm Excavations

Originally Published in 1932

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A man sitting in a burial site with six sarcophagi surrounding him
Plate I — Ptolemaic Burials at Meydûm, Egypt
Image Number: 36486

A REPORT from Mr. Alan Rowe tells of the progress of the Coxe Egyptian Expedition. Attention this season is being directed to the clearance of the various tombs and mastabas that have not yet been examined. Many Fourth Dynasty tombs of the sloping passage type [Plate II] have been opened; the sloping passage leads to a small chamber which has a recess in one corner for the canopic vessels containing the inner parts of the deceased. In one case a barrel vault of bricks was found in place of the usual flat or corbelled masonry roof. Another tomb with a sloping roof over one part and a horizontal roof over the other proved to be a new type for Meydum. A late crude pit, cut in the rock nearby, yielded a skeleton of a dwarf, with a huge head on a tiny frame.

Underground excavated entrance to a tomb
Plate II — Entrance to a Sloping-Passage Tomb of the Fourth Dynasty, Meydûm, Egypt
Image Number: 35949

Two tombs of the Ptolemaic era yielded some important material for the history of the site. One of these, with three chambers at the end of a large hall [Plate III], provided a very fine set of amulets, such as those representing the two fingers which Horus, the hawk-god, used when he helped Osiris up the ladder reaching from earth to heaven, two representing the sacrificial cow which are quite rare, and others representing the orbit of the sun. In some of the chambers were niches for lamps, still having traces of smoke in them. One of the lamps was found and belongs to the third century B.C. A coin of Ptolemy III or IV which came to light had probably been placed in the mouth of one of the corpses as a fee for the ferryman for piloting the dead across Acheron. Altogether this tomb is one of the most interesting of its kind that has been discovered at Meydûm.

Some thirty tombs in an Eighteenth Dynasty cemetery, the only one of its kind at Meydûm, were generally T-shaped with a rectangular pit and a small chamber at the bottom. The find in this cemetery included eye-paint pots of alabaster and faience, bearing floral designs, sceptres and other emblems, and some Aegean pottery of the Late Bronze Age. Among the mall objects found was a scarab bearing the rare royal name Men-Neit-Rê.

A man crouching next to an excavated doorway
Plate III — Hall in a Ptolemaic Tomb, Showing Doors Leading to Burial Chambers, Meydûm, Egypt

North of the great Meydûm pyramid a very large cemetery was found, with late burials dating from the Ptolemaic era to the early centuries of our era. The Ptolemaic burials were placed in chambers at the bottom of rather shallow pits, and, although in no case yet noticed had they been robbed, the coffins were crushed by rock falls [Plate I]. Some of the graves contained as many as sixteen coffins. The heads of many of the mummies were placed in beautifully painted cartonnage masks made of sheets of waste papyrus, pressed together and folded. The sheets are inscribed demotic and Greek, and it is hoped that many of these can be deciphered. The later burials were without coffins and date from the third and fourth centuries A. D. Judging from their associated objects, most of them were of early Christian times. Some of the bodies were embalmed, and a peculiar feature of those found in brick-lined graves is that, although they were dressed in brightly colored garments, as was usual at the time, they sometimes have a mass of small pieces of sheep-skin, dyed yellow, piled up over the head to a height in certain cases of over a foot. From these burials came a quantity of pottery, jar-sealings with crosses, bronze serpent-headed bracelets, a bronze Maltese cross, and a quantity of lamps. The designs on the lamps are picturesque: one shows a frog, the emblem of resurrection; another shows the old Egyptian ankh-emblem of ‘life,’ a sign which early Christians occasionally confused with the cross. An interesting fact that the recent Meydûm excavations have shown is that the site was by no means generally abandoned after the Fourth Dynasty, as was once thought to have been the case.

Cite This Article

"The Meydûm Excavations." Museum Bulletin III, no. 3-4 (January, 1932): 77-79. Accessed July 25, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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