A Czech team working at Abousir near Saqqara has found the tomb of a previously unknown ancient Egyptian queen, writes Zahi Hawass
A Czech expedition directed by Miroslav Barta recently made a great discovery at the site of Abousir, to the south of the Giza Pyramids and between the Pyramids and Saqqara.
Abousir is the site of the “forgotten pyramids,” and the Czech expedition has been working there for many years, first under Miroslav Verner, and now under Barta. Last month it found a tomb at Saqqara recording for the first time the name of a queen. Her name is Khent-kawes, but we know of two other queens named Khent-kawes.
Khent-kawes I is known from Giza, where Egyptologist Selim Hassan found her tomb in 1932-1933. Some scholars believe that this Khent-kawes ruled at the end of Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, between the pharaohs Khafre and Menkaure. Her tomb is unique for a queen, and its construction may be evidence that she actually ruled in her own right.
It consists of a huge mastaba that caused Hassan, its excavator, to designate it as a fourth pyramid of Giza. The tomb, which had a boat located near its southwest corner, is associated with a settlement that may have housed the priests who maintained the cult of the queen after her death.
This is the oldest such settlement to be found in Egypt, and the tomb is also associated with a structure that could be a valley temple. The settlement is surrounded by an enclosure wall.
The title of the queen was Mother of the Two Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, and these may have been kings of the Fifth Dynasty. It is also possible that this title can be read as two separate titles, as the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt and Mother of the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt.
A second Khent-kawes is also known. A block of limestone inscribed with words “the king’s wife Khent-kawes” has been found, and this, associated with the Fifth Dynasty pyramid of Neferirkare at Abousir, indicates that she may have been Neferirkare’s queen.
In the 1970s, a Czech expedition under Miroslav Verner found a small pyramid that belonged to her. Strangely, this Khent-kawes had the same titles as the Giza one. Scholars postulate that the Abousir Khent-kawes was the mother of the pharaohs Raneferef and Niuserre. Verner believed that the Khent-kawes of Abousir was different from the one attested to at Giza and that she also ruled.
Regarding the third Khent-kawes, whose tomb was recently found at Abousir, the expedition found some two dozen symbolic vessels made of limestone and four of copper. The most interesting find was in the burial chamber, where an inscription indicating that Queen Khent-kawes III was the wife of a king and also the mother of a king was found.
Scholars theorise that this queen was the wife of King Raneferef, who was buried in an unfinished pyramid at Abousir, and Verner was able to recover evidence attributing the pyramid to this king.
Egyptologist Mark Lehner believes that even though this pyramid is unfinished, it may be the only one in Egypt that can provide us with information regarding how Fifth Dynasty pyramids were constructed and how they functioned as ritual centres. We know that the king who came immediately after Raneferef was the son of Queen Khent-kawes II.
From all this we can conclude that the name Khent-kawes was very popular among the royal family in the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. The discoveries also emphasise the power of queens in ancient Egypt, because the evidence proves that Khent-kawes I actually ruled the country.
The other major discovery made at Abousir was the Abousir papyri written in hieratic script and found inside the temple of Neferirkare. The papyri relate the functions of the temple and the role of the personnel within it.
The Arabic name Abousir is derived from the hieroglyphic word “pr-Wsir,” meaning the land or place of Osiris. The Greeks called the site Busiris. There are some 14 places named Abousir in Egypt. According to Egyptian mythology, each of these locations was thought to contain a piece of the body of the god Osiris, strewn all over Egypt by his murderer, the evil god Seth.
The site still contains many secrets that can reveal much information about the history of the Fifth Dynasty. But the question arises of why the discovery was announced to the media twice. The first announcement was made by the Ministry of Antiquities, while the second was made by the American University in Cairo. Someone should explain.