Abydos: Deposits to the east of Den’s tomb

Abydos: gold treasure (© DAI Cairo)

Numerous findings from the extensive sacrifices to Osiris, the god of the afterlife, death, life and resurrection, were encountered in situ east of the tomb of King Hor-Den (5th king of the 1st Dynasty, c. 2950 BC). The cult of Osiris can be traced through archaeological finds over at least two millennia in the oldest royal cemetery of Egypt, Umm el-Qaab/Abydos. The area of the eastern fringe was excavated as part of a re-examination by the German Archaeological Institute Cairo (DAI Cairo) under the direction of Günter Dreyer between 1998 and 2002. This, however, represents only a limited part of the relics of the Osiris cult in Umm el-Qaab salvaged by the DAI Cairo between 1977 and 2013, which are analysed in the framework of Research Cluster 4 of the DAI by Ute and Andreas Effland and Julia Budka.

The depositions can be divided into two groups. One group are carefully arranged materials dating to the reign of King Djer (2nd king of the 1st Dynasty, c. 2980 BC), which do not differ from the inventory deposited inside the tomb. They are, however, arranged in sometimes curious combinations without any functional relation. They consist mainly of ceramic vessels with associated sealed stoppers of Nile mud and various small finds such as arrowheads and attached labels of bone, but also furniture legs of ivory and game pieces of coloured rock, which have been carefully arranged on the surface east of the tomb of Hor-Den. They have either been placed here as part of special burial rites with the effect that this area was not used afterwards or the objects have been regarded as sacrosanct being former grave goods that were sacrificed in a secondary ritual. In the latter case these objects would have been deposited in the beginning of the Middle Kingdom at latest (beginning of the second millennium BC) after the tomb was interpreted as the burial place of the god Osiris and used as a cult place for mystery celebrations.

During the 25th Dynasty (8th to mid-7th century BC), on the other hand, causeways were created whose boundaries were lined with bottles closely set next to each other. These form the second group. In the following centuries, these areas were covered extensively with small bowls (Arabic Qaab, eponymous for the site of Umm el-Qaab), most of which were deposited lying upside-down. In addition, two vessels with burial material were found in a pit in the middle of this procession route, which led from the South Hill (on the axis to the temple of Seti I and south of the royal necropolis) to the grave of Djer. They contained resin-impregnated mummy bandages, three intentionally broken vessels, about 6 kg of lapis lazuli inlays and about 500 grams of sheet gold strips ("Goldschatz", see fig.). The inlays and the gold strips most likely covered a coffin either representing the god Osiris himself or belonging to a member of the elite.

The animal bones and objects made of bone and ivory were investigated by Angela von den Driesch and Joris Peters (Institute of Palaeoanatomy and History of Veterinary Medicine, Munich).