Abydos: The Tomb of Hor-Den


Abydos: Tomb of Hor-Den (© DAI Cairo)

With a floor space of c. 135 m² and a depth of over 6 m, the grave chamber of King Hor-Den (c. 2950 BC) is the largest known from the 1st Dynasty. Additional features include the annex - a ritual area in the south-western corner -, two large storage magazines on the south side and 133 subsidiary chambers, which enclose the main grave chamber on all four sides in rows of one to three. The grave had already been repeatedly examined over 100 years ago, before follow-up excavations were undertaken by the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo (DAI Cairo) under the overall direction of Günter Dreyer between 1985 and 2002. In 1993, the analysis and publication of the grave inventory was entrusted to Vera Müller.

All the tombs are heavily looted and burnt, so that the remaining grave inventory is often scattered around the burial complex in all directions and highly fragmented. Nevertheless, the re-excavation has revealed an incredible amount of archaeological material, especially by screening the soil of surrounding spoil heaps. The discoveries range from previously unknown objects to variants of the already known and even to fragments that can be fitted exactly to antiquarian objects held in various museums. Since the existing publications often only provide a glimpse of the appearance of the salvaged objects and do not show them in their entirety but only in selection, the re-examination of this cemetery will lay a new foundation for materials of this time horizon.

About 800 jugs of wine along with other vessel forms can be calculated for the two magazines alone based on vessel imprints; a similar amount was deposited in the King's Chamber. Many further vessel forms can be added. The 133 subsidiary chambers for individual burials also housed grave goods (after comparisons with contemporary graves of the elite, about 5–10 vessels per chamber). According to rough estimates, approximately 3,000 ceramic vessels were deposited in the grave system. Furthermore, about 2,000 stone vessels were found (dissertation topic of Robert Kuhn, University of Bonn/SPMK Berlin) as well as several thousand fragments of furniture made of wood and ivory (beds, chairs, boxes), jewellery, games, tools and weapons. A special feature of this tomb is the large number of fancy vessels, i.e. stone vessels of unusual shapes (imitations of baskets, grape leaves, fig leaves, etc.) and imports from Syria-Palestine. Many containers were further provided with sealed stoppers, which give insights into the management of elite grave inventories.

Bone arrowheads are analysed by Jan Bock (University of Göttingen), flint by Beatrix Midant-Reynes und François Briois (IFAO/Kairo), textiles by Jana Jones (Sydney/Australia), coffins by Mirjam Mahn (University of Bonn) and inscribed labels together with the architecture by Günter Dreyer (former Director of the DAI Cairo, now Berlin). The anthropological investigation was conducted by Albert Zink (EURAC, Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, Bolzano); animal bones and objects made of ivory and bone were analysed by Angela von den Driesch† and Joris Peters (Institute of Palaeoanatomy and History of Veterinary Medicine, Munich).