National Geographic Daily News
Photo of false door in newly discovered tomb of Shepseskaf ‘ankh, Head of the Physicians of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Hieroglyphs spell out the physician's titles around a false door, a symbolic portal between this world and the next.

Photograph by Martin Frouz, Archive of the Czech Institute of Egyptology

Elizabeth Snodgrass

National Geographic

Published October 25, 2013

A team of Czech archaeologists excavating at the site of Abusir, 17 miles (27 kilometers) south of Cairo, has discovered the large limestone tomb of a top royal physician from about 2400 B.C.

The physician's name was Shepseskaf-Ankh, which means "Shepseskaf is living"—a tribute to the last king of the fourth dynasty during the period known as the Old Kingdom.

As the Head of the Physicians of Upper and Lower Egypt, Shepseskaf-Ankh served the royal household during the fifth dynasty. He is especially associated with a king named Niuserre, who ruled Egypt for at least a decade.

Miroslav Bárta, director of the archaeological team from the Czech Institute of Egyptology, is particularly pleased with the historical details contained in the tomb as well as its architectural preservation. "This microcosmos illustrates general trends that ruled the society of the day," he says.

Niuserre "followed the policy of marrying some of his daughters to his top officials to keep their ambitions at bay," says Bárta. "This is exactly the moment when the empire starts to break down due to rising expenses and increasing independence of powerful families."

It was also a time when Egypt's kings had run out of room at the royal funerary complex on the Giza plateau, the site of the grand pyramids of the fourth dynasty. They were now building smaller, rougher pyramids farther south.

Shepseskaf-Ankh's tomb is the third physician's tomb to be found in the area. Other court officials and high-level priests were also laid to rest there, close to the rulers they once served.

Shepseskaf-Ankh came from an elite Egyptian family. In one section of the tomb—surrounding a feature called a false door—he is identified by titles indicating his elevated status, such as Priest of Re in the Temples of the Sun, Priest of Khnum, and Priest of Magic.

The spacious dimensions of his tomb—roughly 46 feet (14 meters) by 70 feet (21 meters), and 13 feet (4 meters) high—are another indication of his importance. The funerary complex features an open court and eight burial chambers for Shepseskaf-Ankh and his family. Being a royal doctor, it seems, could ensure your family's success not just in this world but in the afterlife as well.

Abusir is part of the great royal cemetery that stretches between Giza and Saqqara in the desert west of the Nile. Although looting has increased there in the wake of the 2011 revolution, this discovery shows that some areas remain undisturbed by the recent turmoil. The Czech team next plans to excavate structures beneath the tomb to see what additional secrets they may reveal.

24 comments
Camilo Mendez
Camilo Mendez

The day Imhotep's tomb is discovered that will be the day! Very historic!

Jade Taylor
Jade Taylor

So if this tomb has room for his family then what would be lying beneath it? Would it be another tomb for someone else of higher authority or a ruler he reigned beneath of in that era? Learning new history sure raises a lot of questions. I am in college and we are studying History 103.It ranges from the Paleolithic era to the Ting Dynasty and more. So far I love this class as I never learned this when I was going to school 42 years ago.

Vicente Garcia
Vicente Garcia

The Ancient Egypt is a fascinating civilization. Their "houses of eternity" are extraordinary… the entrails of the egyptian earth always  discover magnificent funerary monuments.

Ali Bukhari
Ali Bukhari

Well, I guess, when I die and after some thousand years the new generation will dig me up :( 

But I got Idea! I'll ask my family to write a word "Royal" at my grave! this way the new generation will make a story and will put me in museum to be shown :P  

JOE Chen
JOE Chen

there is a reason to keep the deceased  undisturbed in peace.

Arthur Panayotou
Arthur Panayotou

Awesome, shame about the looting, we were offered to purchase in Alexandria, that's what happens when a country and its people are poor!!!


James Shybunka
James Shybunka

Once again more secrets revealed form a civilization that was UN-matched in detail and splendor!

Mohamed Elshamy
Mohamed Elshamy

And still a lot of great Pharaonic civilization secrets exposed day after day

Carrie Singer
Carrie Singer

Where are there writings like this inside a pyramid?

Jade Taylor
Jade Taylor

@JOE Chen

I agree with you even as intriguing as this find is. My teacher said they were getting ready to open a tomb they found this coming year and the it's suppose to have a curse on those that disturb its contents.Otherwise open it. I wonder if it could be a plague that ends our world. Someone better do more research before treading into deep water.

Jade Taylor
Jade Taylor

@Arthur Panayotou

Looting tombs there is like thieves breaking into houses in the USA. The poorer you are and no income will always make an honest person dishonest.

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