By Mohamed Osman
In 2016, during the systematic cleaning and investigation of the upper courtyard in the tomb of Ipi (TT315), a concentration of significant amount of mummification materials –mainly loose bandages and natron bags along with a few fragments of pottery– was found right on the stone floor in the eastern area. By that time, archaeologists considered that this context perhaps represented the remains of the embalming cachette that Herbert Winlock found during his excavations at the complex in 1923. Such a supposition found evidence to support it in the publications and archival materials produced by Winlock. Later, the project archaeologists benefited from identifying some materials belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, mainly video recordings of the embalming cachette discovery showing the extraction of some of the 67 jars found inside, whose contents seem to have been left in the area. It is here where the MKTP archaeologists found them almost one century later.
The MKTP researchers were aware that Winlock took a few jars to New York at the end of his season at the complex. What our researchers did not know was the whereabouts of the rest of the jars. The question was simple: if he took a few to the Met, what did he do with the others? All that our team members knew was the actual location of the subterranean embalming cachette.
Then, in 2017, our archaeologists working at the complex of Ipi decided to reopen the shaft that led to the embalming cachette, investigate its conditions, and incorporate the structure into the updated GIS plan for the complex. After descending half a metre within the shaft, a thick deposit of loose textile and bandages was found filling it and blocking the entrance into the chamber. Upon the removal of this layer, our archaeologist Mohamed Osman was surprised at finding 56 intact jars in the chamber. Obviously, these containers were redeposited by Winlock there after examining their contents. The rediscovery of the long-lost material was significantly impressive and important.
The cachette is basically a rectangular room approx. 6.4 m long and 1.7 m wide. The height of the ceiling varies between 70 cm and 2 m. The floor of the room shows a gradual ascend from the entrance to the end of the room in the east. As observed in the figure, the room was filled with the jars stacked in a few rows. Some of the recipients still contained natron bags stuck together at the bottom. Several other bags were found scattered on the floor of the room. The most astonishing discovery was a mummified organ associated to one of the jars. This organ proved to be a mummified human heart, a very unusual item to be found dissociated from the corpse to which it belonged. The expected place for the heart –if removed and mummified– was back in the chest as the Egyptians did not discard this organ during the mummification process unlike other organs. In addition, the body parts removed from the corpse used to be stored in the canopic jars, which were always kept in the burial chamber. This embalming cachette functioned as a place where the ancient embalmers of the vizier’s corpse deposited all the leftovers of the mummification process in order to keep it away from the tomb. Such a procedure aimed at keeping the remains not very far away from the tomb itself. Based on these beliefs, we understand the absolute significance of finding a mummified heart inside one of the jars used in the mummification process.
Another interesting find associated with the embalming cachette and the history of its discovery deals with the personal wax seal of Herbert Winlock, identified at the four sides of the entrance into the cachette room. It is possible that after he found the cachette he conceived some security measures in situ in order to keep the jars intact until he finished investigating the contents of the deposit. Upon his expeditious study, he must have decided to leave the rest of the deposit behind for the next generations to study such a collection more in detail.
Morales, A.J. / et alii. 2018. The Middle Kingdom Theban Project: Preliminary report on the University of Alcalá Expedition to Deir el-Bahari. Fourth Season (2018). Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 47. 183-221.
Morales, A.J. / et alii. 2017. The Middle Kingdom Theban Project: Preliminary report on the University of Alcalá Expedition to Deir el-Bahari. Third Season (2017). Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 46. 153-190.
Winlock, Herbert. E. 1947. The rise and fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes. New York: Macmillan.
Note: Unless expressly indicated to the contrary, photos in this article are copyright of The Middle Kingdom Theban Project © MKTP – Patri Mora Photography. Figs. 1 and 2 present the plans in the excavated areas (upper courtyard and eastern section of it) by Mohamed Osman. Fig. 3 corresponds to photos taken by the Metropolitan Museum Expedition to Deir el-Bahari (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Egyptian Art Archives, MMA Theban Expedition Photos M3C 196 and M3C 202). Fig. 4 shows the first stage of excavation and study after its discovery in April 2017. Figs. 5 and 6 were taken by Mohamed Osman during the excavation process and the study of Winlock’s wax sealings.