THE TOMB TREASURE

All the burial chambers in the tombs of the kings of Kush and their relatives have been plundered. Surviving finds nevertheless suggest that the dead were buried with large quantities of precious jewelry. No fewer than nineteen silver seal rings had been placed on the fingers of one king from the first century A.D., for example, and on each of his wrists,he wore a bracelet of gold. Once the tomb chamber of Amanishakheto's pyramid was exposed, there were still four gold seal rings

left from the original funerary gifts. Ferlini's find is altogether unusual in two respects: it came to light in a spot that had been undisturbed since the queen's burial, and the presence of such a chamber in the upper part of the mass of the pyramid continues to be unique. Lepsius attributed it to a "whim" on the part the pyramid's builder. Treasures of this kind are only to be expected in the actual burial chambers, and it is therefore pointless to search for them in a tomb's superstructure.

There is doubtless, however, some connection between this "hiding place" and the niches--at the same height and shaped like temple portals--that can still be seen on the east sides of a number of other pyramids. To me these niches were "entrances" into inner chambers--imaginary for the most part, though real in the pyramid of Amanishakheto--intended as dwelling places for the soul of the deceased, for his or her ba. Unfortunately, the "bed" (cataletto o barn di legno) Ferlini writes of, in the French edition of his report an "spece de table ou autel" (roeusa sacra ou ara dornestica), with its "balustrade" of Hathor columns alternating with smaller uraeus serpents, is inadequately described. It may have been a chapel for the ba, possibly in the form of late Egyptian funerary biers, or possibly in the form of station chapels, the most beautiful example of which is the "kiosk" on the island of Philae. The latter was also a common form in Meroitic temple architecture.

According to the ancient Egyptian belief, a person's ba is his immortal "essence," which continues to exist after death though unattached to any particular spot. It sojourns in the heavenly spheres in the proximity of the gods, but it also likes to visit the resting place of the body and provide it with all the necessities of life. The Meroites adopted this idea, but instead of depicting the ba in the Egyptian manner as a bird with a human head, they portrayed it in statuettes combining either a complete female figure or a male one clothed as a dignitary, depending on the nature of the deceased, with a bird's body.

These are found in Meroitic tomb structures of Lower Nubia, placed in niches in the tomb's superstructure above the votive chamber. We find such a combination of a god's body and the ba bird in late Egypt. Given such an individualized notion of the form of the ba, it would have been appropriate to lay out Amanishakheto's jewelry for the ba's use in its own dwelling place. Just what purpose the two bronze vessels that were placed in the hidden chamber in the center of the pyramid might have served must remain an open question. The small openings in the center of the vessels' tops indicate they were used as containers for cosmetic eye paint.
The saw and mallet found in the chamber were probably only stonecutters' tools left there by accident. Aside from the two vessels, a spoon, and a few other objects, the queen's treasure was composed of body ornaments that the queen might have worn, and doubtless actually did. Numerous small abrasions and traces of wear preclude the jewelry having been created especially for the burial. Moreover, none of the pieces reveal any connection, either in their function or decor, to funerary beliefs or burial rites. The jewelry was also not part of the queen's official regalia, which we know from many relief depictions. There are no crowns and diadems, scepters, staffs, or appropriate necklaces, and even the armlets have different pictorial motifs than those depicted on the arms of Meroitic rulers. The queen's adornments must be assumed to be the work of Meroitic goldsmiths, except for those few pieces clearly imported from the Hellenistic world and the scarabs and glazed ceramic figures that possibly never belonged to the cache in the first place. Stylistically, the pieces of jewelry are typical examples of the Meroitic art of the period.
Egypt's encounter with the kingdom of Kush in the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty brought a new inspiration to Egyptian art, to be sure, but above all it lent to the art of the Kushites a profoundly Egyptian flavor. With the beginning of the Meroitic period after 300 B.C., works appear that are just as fine as the art of contemporary Egypt, but that increasingly betray a divergence from it. Many of the characteristics of Meroitic art differ from those of Egyptian art because of disparities between the two cultures.


Revised: November 12, 2009.
Copyright 1997 by Anthony C. DiPaolo, M.S. / Osiris Web Design.