for National Geographic News
A recycled burial chamber with unusual decorations has been discovered just south of Cairo, archaeologists announced today.
The chamber may offer further proof of how the nobles of Egypt's 26th dynasty (664 to 525 B.C.) "gentrified" the 2,000-year-old necropolis, or vast burial grounds, of their 5th-dynasty predecessors. The necropolis had fallen into disrepair in the intervening millenia.
The find occurred near the three weathered pyramids of Abu Sir—remnants of an original seven—located 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of Cairo.
The monuments were part of a complex built about 4,500 years ago during the 5th dynasty's brief reign, from 2498 to 2345 B.C. The necropolis then served the nobles of Memphis, Egypt's ancient capital.
Twenty centuries later, the site was revived by a new generation of Egyptian nobles, who wanted to be buried near the temples of Saqqara, said Miroslav Verner of the Czech Institute of Egyptology in Prague.
"We believe it is the proximity to the complex of sacred installations in north Saqqara"—just half a mile (one kilometer) away—that led to the building of new tombs at Abu Sir, said Verner, who has been researching the region for decades.
Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities announced that a team led by Ladislav Bareš, also of the Czech Institute, had located the burial chamber of a royal scribe named Menekhibnekau. (Related: "photo: 'Unusual' Tomb of Egyptian Courtier Found" [May 23, 2007].)
The chamber was located about 65 feet (20 meters) underground on a small hill southwest of the Abu Sir pyramid of Neferre.
"It is a very important find," Verner said. "This type of shaft tomb was probably inspired by the substructure of the pyramid of Djozer"—a so-called step pyramid nearby at Saqqara.
Plundered and Abandoned
Czech archaeologists have been excavating Menekhibnekau's tomb since 2006, but only in April did they find the burial chamber.
Inside the chamber, the team uncovered a vaulted ceiling decorated with stars.
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