The only ancient Egyptian tomb found intact is that of Pharaoh Psusenes I

What was the only tomb of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh found intact, never having been opened or stolen? Most people think it was KV62, the technical name Egyptologists give Tutankhamun’s hypogeum. However, this is a mistake, since Howard Carter found signs of thieves passing through there, not once but twice. So the only virgin tomb to date is NRTIII, discovered in the Egyptian city of Tanis in 1940 and belonging to Pharaoh Psusenes I, although other lineage deceased lay with their trousseau next to it.

Psusenes I, Greek name of Ajeperra Pasebajaenniut Meryamon (“The star that appears in the city, chosen from Amun”), was the third of the seven kings that made up the XXI dynasty, chronologically located in the Third Intermediate Period. He was preceded by Esmendes I and Neferjeres, succeeded by Amenemope, Osocor, Siamón, and Psusenes II. The dates of his reign, as often happens, are confusing: some experts place it between the second and the first millennium (1039-991 BC) and others consider it more appropriate to delay it to the segment 1047-1001 BC. C., so the total duration would be more than considerable, from forty-one to forty-nine years, depending on the source.

The reason for this discrepancy is that the Third Intermediate Period was a troubled time, in which the pharaohs had to establish their capital in Tanis, a city in the Nile delta -hence the XXI Dynasty is known as the Tanita Dynasty- , because they only maintained control over Lower Egypt, leaving the rest of the country in the hands of the powerful Theban clergy of Amun, some of whose representatives adopted royal names. Curiously, it seems that Psusenes I maintained good relations with these priests, as would be demonstrated by the discovery of their gifts in his tomb.

After all, the pharaoh was the offspring of one of them: Pinedyem I, a high priest of that god who had married the princess Duathathor-Henuttauy, probable daughter that Ramses XI had with queen Tentamun. Ramses XI was the last representative of the XX dynasty and, when he died, his son-in-law, ruler de facto of Upper Egypt and viceroy of Kush, assumed royal status in Thebes. Immediately, he applied a plan to maintain control of the country based on kinship, as a way to try to cushion the instability (dynastic change, popular uprisings…) that was shaking the territory.

Thus, Psusenes I received the throne of Lower Egypt, three of his brothers (Masaharta, Dyedjonsuefanj and Menjeperra), succeeded each other in the position of high priest of Amun and a sister (Maatkara) was named Divine worshiper of Amun. Thus the two families that ran the Nile Valley had a direct blood link, something that continued throughout the entire period. As an anecdote, it is interesting to note that in the Pinedyem I hypogeum, DB320, discovered at Deir el-Bahari in 1860, many mummies were found, accumulated there for preservation at a time when it was difficult to ensure adequate protection.

But it is the tomb of Psusenes I that interests us here, since if the character has entered history with anecdotal relevance it is thanks to it and not because of a reign of which we have little news: the most relevant was the architectural embellishment of Tanis ; the construction of the walls of the enclosure and the central part of the Great Temple of the city, dedicated to the Amón-Mut-Jonsu triad (for which he used materials from Pi-Ramesses, a neighboring city in the process of being abandoned due to the siltation of the fluvial arm that watered it); the marriage he contracted with his sister Mutnedyemet; and having run alongside the son they both had, Amenemope, most of the time.

Silver coffin of Pharaoh Psusenes I/Image: Aidan McRae Thomson on Wikimedia Commons

The NRT III (or Number 3) as we said that the burial has been baptized, was discovered in 1940 by the French Egyptologist Pierre Montet, who had been excavating in the Near East for two decades. The royal necropolis was going to be his great speciality, since in 1923 he found the one at Jebail in Byblos, the star piece being a sarcophagus that showed for the first time the twenty-two characters of the Phoenician alphabet. Focusing on the Nile delta for the last ten years, he then brought to light that of Tanis, a city that he initially took for Pi Ramses due to the aforementioned transfer of bricks, which bore the name of its founder, Ramses II.

In that place the pharaohs of the XXI and XXII dynasties had been buried, so it came to be a version of the Theban Valley of the Kings and this has led Montet to be compared to Carter. And it is that there were several tombs of pharaohs and high Egyptian dignitaries that still contained a good part of their grave goods, although this was due to a typical circumstance of Ancient Egypt: the relocation of the bodies in other tombs for various reasons. The case of Psusenes I is paradigmatic in this sense, as we will see below.

The first find, which occurred in 1939, was the tomb of Sheshonq II, third ruler of the XXII dynasty. His original final resting place had been flooded, so even then they moved him with his belongings to another site; Proof of this haste would be some plants attached to the silver coffin and the flaws on its surface, which did not hide its magnificence, underscored by a solid gold funerary mask. That other place where it was deposited was the antechamber of the tomb of Psusenes I, which the works finally managed to expose a year later.

Statue of Pinedyem I at Karnak Temple/Image: AdaVegas Travel on Wikimedia Commons

An important achievement for two reasons. First, because there was no evidence that it had been accessed, which made it a unique case in Egyptian history. Second, because this safeguarded the integrity of the trousseau over time. And although it was not as spectacular as Tutankhamun’s, it was certainly eye-catching, with special mention for the magnificent death mask, now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo: it measures about eighteen inches high by thirty-eight inches wide, being made of gold and lapis lazuli, inlaid with black and white glass for the eyes and eyebrows of the face.

Likewise, the fingers of the extremities of the pharaoh were covered with gold (with sculpted nails), a material with which the sandals that fitted his feet had also been made. Each finger was adorned with a ring, either gold or some semiprecious stone. In this line of pageantry, surprising in a time as decadent a priori as the Third Intermediate Period, the mummy lay inside a silver coffin, a precious metal that at that time was more expensive than gold because it was less abundant in Egypt and had to be be imported from other countries; if gold was considered the meat of the gods, silver was the bones.

Both the outer sarcophagus, made of red granite, and the intermediate one, made of black granite, were taken from another pharaoh, Merenptah (the fourth of the XIX dynasty, thirteenth son and successor of Ramses II), as indicated by a cartouche with his name that It is seen on the cover of the first; something quite usual, we said before, finding numerous cases throughout Egyptian history that often complicated things for scientists.

And that the very long reign of Psusenes I gave him plenty of time to prepare his burial; he did not even die violently, despite the fact that a forensic analysis carried out the same year of his discovery revealed that the last years of him must have been disabled by advanced arthritis and a hole in the roof of his mouth resulting from infection of his large bones. cavities.

But not only the pharaoh turned out to be plagued by ailments. Unlike in the Valley of the Kings, the climate in Tanis is very humid due to its location in the delta, next to the Mediterranean, and therefore worse for the preservation of things; consequently, the organic materials appeared debris by water seepage. It was the case of the bandages, meat and skin of the mummies, for example, as well as the furniture, which was practically irrecoverable. In that, Montet was at a disadvantage against Carter.

Gold and lapis lazuli necklace of Psusenes I/Image: tutincommon on Wikimedia Commons

However, the French made up for it because inside the tomb of Psusenes I there were also more occupants, starting with the close family: his wife Mutnodjmet, his son and heir Amenemopé and Prince Anjefenmut. Likewise, later the mummies of Psusenes II (the last ruler of the XXI dynasty) and Siamón (the sixth of the XXV) were moved there, of which only bones remain due to the aforementioned decomposition action of the humidity.

But there were still surprises in that tomb. They were not immediate because the Second World War forced the interruption of work, but they were resumed in 1946 and Montet proceeded to excavate the southeast wall of the antechamber, which gave access to the three already illuminated vaults and which was thick enough to suggest that it was behind it could be something. And wow if there was. After some complex and delicate operations to remove heavy granite slabs, the team was stunned.

There another tomb was housed (that is, inside that of Psusenes I), equally intact. It corresponded to a character who, when he died, received the privilege of being buried next to his lord: General Undjebundjed, commander of the personal guard, priest of Jonsu and right-hand man of the pharaoh. The trousseau was lavish, made up of gold and silver tableware, jewels, hundreds of usebtis, four alabaster canopic jars, and an anthropomorphic sarcophagus inside which was a coffin lined with silver sheets.

The astonishment was sublimated when they opened it. The mummy was ruined, like the others, but the skull was found covered by another splendid solid gold funerary mask, very similar to that of Shoshonq II despite being from different periods. Beyond the economic value was the historical one.

The set, added to the previous ones, seemed to indicate that the reported instability of the Third Intermediate Period should not have been constant and there were quiet moments. The anomalous half century in which Psusenes I remained in power must have been one of them and the sumptuousness of his last resting place would be a reflection.


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