Between 1894 and 1895 Jacques de Morgan discovered several rich tombs in the Dahshur necropolis. The first tombs were found during his 1894 excavations, around the pyramid of Senwosret III and contained the burials of royal ladies, arranged in two galleries. Above the ground the tombs were constructed in the form of small pyramids. Hidden inside a burial chamber, de Morgan found the treasures of Princess Sithathor, a daughter of Senwosret II, consisting of a rich cache of jewellery which included a magnificent pectoral of Senwosret II (now in Cairo Museum) and a scarab of Senwosret III as well as other items of jewellery. Further down the same corridor de Morgan discovered the jewels of Queen Meret, a daughter (or wife) of Senwosret III. This included two beautiful pectorals and a range of scarabs and rings bearing the names of Senwosret III and Amenemhet III.
During the next season de Morgan went on to excavate the area around the west wall of the pyramid of Amenemhet II and uncovered further royal burials. These revealed the tombs of Queen Khnemet and the chancellor Amenhotep, as well as Princeses Ita, Itweret and Sithathormerit. The elderly queen Khnemet was a wife of Senwosret II and Princesses Ita and Itweret were daughters of Amenemhet II, whose mummies were ornamented with many fine pieces of jewellery. Their tombs were intact – missed by grave robbers, and have revealed sumptuous examples of Middle Kingdom funerary trappings, which have become an important part of the Cairo Museum collection.
De Morgan went on to uncover more exciting burials in his third season at Dahshur, around the pyramid of Amenemhet III, including the funerary shafts of twelve members of the royal family on the northern side of the pyramid. One of these was the tomb of a little-known King Hor-Awibre of Dynasty XIII, in which his famous wooden ka statue was found. The statue, still in its wooden shrine is 1.75m high and is extremely well-carved and well-preserved, still retaining its life-like inlaid eyes. Hor-Awibre’s tomb revealed more funerary objects including an inscribed rectangular wooden coffin and a canopic chest, alabaster and pottery vessels, an offering table and two stelae.
Also in Amenemhet III’s enclosure, de Morgan found a tomb of Princess Nubhotepti-khered, possibly a daughter of King Hor-Awibre. Her burial was decayed by dampness but otherwise undisturbed. In her stone-lined burial chamber the princess lay in her gold-embellished wooden coffin within its sarcophagus. Her jewellery was still in place on the mummy and items of her funerary equipment surrounded the burial where they had been placed 4500 years ago.
The skill shown in the production of these Middle Kingdom treasures from Dahshur are among the greatest achievements in Egyptian art.
How to get there
The Dahshur necropolis officially opened in 1996 for the first time, after being occupied as a military zone for many years. The site can be reached from Cairo by taxi (perhaps combined with a visit to nearby Saqqara) or by bus to the modern village of Dahshur.