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November 2002-April 2009Excavating Hierakonpolis
A gruesome discovery in Tomb 10
Despite initial indications, the legs were found in situ
The leather shroud was found tucked in over the feet.
All photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

Nubians at Hierakonpolis: Week 1: Tomb 10

While delicate pieces of leather were being extracted from Tomb 9, Tomb 10 appeared within the amorphous remnants of a ring of stones with fragments of miniature vessels placed between the rocks. Similar to Tomb 9 with respect to orientation and dimensions, it was definitely lacking in its charm. In fact, it made a gruesome initial impression when we revealed the rib cage with extensive soft tissue preservation upside down along the south wall of the tomb. With it were the shoulder blades and the arms, still in a bent position: it definitely bore a strong resemblance to road kill and it didn't smell too nice either.

But first impressions can be deceiving. Although we expected the tomb to be completely disturbed, below we found the articulated lower half of the body, from the pelvis (present but disturbed) down to the toes, still encased in a remnant of a bag-like leather shroud. From around the right ankle we recovered an anklet of ostrich eggshell beads.

The ostrich eggshell beads on the right were found around the ankle of the right foot.

This discovery proved that the burial was in a very loosely contract position on its right side, with the head to the northwest (magnetic) facing west. In Nubia, the orientation of the burial has been attributed chronological significance. An east-west (according to the river rather than magnetic) orientation was used exclusively in the earliest part of the C group (phase 1A and 1B = First Intermediate period and early Middle Kingdom in Egypt). It continued into C group phase IIA (Late Middle Kingdom-Dyn. 12-13) phase but was abandoned in IIB (Second Intermediate period), only to be revived again in Phase III (Dynasties 17-18). A north-south orientation began in phase IIA and was used exclusively in IIB, but went out of style again in Phase III. In conjunction with other features of the burial, orientation has been useful for determining the relative date of many burials within Nubian cemeteries.

At Hierakonpolis, however, we have a bit of a problem. The Nile doesn't run magnetic south to north at Hierakonpolis, but very nearly east-west, so that a view toward the river is actually looking magnetic north, although they may have considered it east--or did they? Pottery dates our graves to the Middle Kingdom, so either orientation is possible. This is a question that will became more of an issue as we continued our work and it is for this reason we use the magnetic coordinates while we try to sort it out.

As in Tomb 9, the grave's floor and walls were lined with tightly woven reed matting, which was then coated with a fine clay. This seems a little odd, but it may have served as a type of coffin or bier upon which the body, wrapped in leather, was laid. The shroud was evidently made of one sheet of plain brown leather and it was to Fran's great relief that it showed no evidence of seams or sewing!

Tomb 6

Tomb 9

A Loincloth

Tomb 10


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