"But these very short seconds vanish quickly, and then it's just the responsibility of doing the best thing for the tomb itself and for the guy who was buried there, out of respect."
Inside the 6.5-foot (2-meter) by 13-foot (4-meter) space, the team found dozens of ceremonial artifacts, including 10 sealed beer jars, more than 80 miniature limestone vessels, a small perfume jug, and plates and cups for symbolic offerings of food and drink.
Also present were four flat-bottomed vessels known as "canopies," which were used to store internal organs removed during the mummification process.
Beneath the lid of the sarcophagus, the mummy, which was wrapped long before preservation methods were perfected, was badly decomposed.
The body was inlaid with hundreds of Faience beads, and the official's walking stick, about 6.5 feet (2 meters) long and decorated at the tip with small pieces of gold, was buried at his side.
The sarcophagus also contained a wooden scepter, which Neferinpu would have held in his left hand as sign of his seniority, according to Tarek El-Awadi, an official with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and chief inspector at Abusir.
A Rare Find
According to inscriptions discovered on a false door to the tomb, Neferinpu served in the administrations of two fifth dynasty rulers, Neferirkara (2475 to 2455 B.C.) and Nyuserra (2445 to 2421 B.C.).
He held dual posts—religious priest and administrative aid, perhaps responsible for several building projects—as was customary for officials of the era, according to Barta.
Despite the seeming importance of the occupations, such officials were not part of ancient society's elite class, and their burials were usually humble.
"He was rich, but he wasn't the uppermost kind of rich. He wasn't like a top priest," said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.
"It gives you nice insight into the strata of Egyptian society," she said. "It gives you a sense of the people who are not a part of uppermost echelons ... and what was considered customary, proper, or appropriate for someone of that rank."
According to excavation leader Barta, the burial falls in line with what is known about fifth dynasty officials, who were more loyal to the throne than their sixth dynasty successors.
"In the sixth dynasty ... the chambers tend to be richer and richer because of the decline of the central administration and the rising independence of officials," Barta said.
"This guy, on the other hand, was quite a loyal fifth dynasty official, whose career, tomb architecture, tomb size, and tomb equipment were determined by a single person, the king," he added.
Spared by Luck
Neferinpu's burial chamber likely survived intact both because of its modest construction and its fortuitous placement, Barta pointed out.
An opposing chamber at the bottom of the excavation site's principal burial shaft, to the west, had been robbed in antiquity, he said. (Related: "Egyptian Dentists' Tombs Found by Thieves" [October 23, 2006].)
"Normally tomb robbers looked for chambers to the west of the shafts," he said. "In this particular case, the other tomb was penetrated from a different shaft which could not hit our eastern burial chamber, which thus escaped unnoticed."
El-Awadi, of the SCA, said the robbed tomb may also have been a better target for thieves hunting for buried fortune.
"The other tomb and sarcophagus was in a very good state. It was better manufactured, better sculpted, and [richer]," he said.
"[Neferinpu's] burial chamber, on the other hand, was very roughly finished, it was not polished, it was very poor—they knew they wouldn't find anything there."
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