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Abydos: Egyptian Afterlife
APRIL 2005
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In Learn More the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects. Special thanks to the Research Division.
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Early archaeology at Abydos was very different from the painstaking scraping and sifting done today—for millennia it was more of a treasure hunt than a science. Ancient Egyptians themselves plundered the tombs of their forefathers, knowing that where kings were buried they would find gold, silver, and jewels. Early Western archaeologists were no better. In 1895 Frenchman Émile Amélineau was granted an exclusive multiyear contract to dig at Abydos by the director of the Eygptian Antiquities Service. Amélineau took this as free rein to do what he wanted and take what he wished. Apparently he had little regard for anything that wasn't an intact, impressive, marketable object (of which he found many, notably a large statue of Osiris on his bier), and he discarded many piles of objects that would be considered treasures today. He is said to have even boasted of burning ancient 1st-dynasty woodwork on his campfire and smashing artifacts that weren't impressive enough to take away with him.
One of the most curious tales of early archaeology at Abydos is the case of the missing arm. British archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who took over excavations at Abydos in 1899, was a much more careful and methodical digger than Amélineau, and he went back and reexcavated many of Amélineau's sites to document them properly. In the tomb of 1st-dynasty King Djer he found a mummified arm adorned with beautiful gold and jeweled bracelets tucked into a small hole in the wall of the tomb. He thought it was the arm of Djer's queen; others have speculated it might have been the arm of Djer himself, or perhaps just a noble entombed near the king. The truth will never be known. When Petrie dutifully sent the arm, its linen wrappings, and the bracelets to the Cairo museum, the curator cut away the bracelets for display and simply threw away the old arm and linen. As Petrie summed up those times, "a museum is a dangerous place."
—Elizabeth Snodgrass

Related Links

Archaeology Magazine
In 2001 Archaeology magazine featured ancient Abydos in a two-issue report on recent excavations. Find abstracts of some of the articles here, written by experts such as Matthew Adams, David O'Connor, William Kelly Simpson, Brenda Baker, and Cheryl Ward.
Egyptian Monuments: Abydos
This survey of important monuments at Abydos highlights the standing temples of Seti I and Ramses II as well as the desert sites at Abydos, including descriptions of a number of different caches of mummified animals and birds.
Djer's Tomb
The history of Djer's tomb is explained in detail, from the origins of the tomb's links to Osiris and the growing import of the tomb in the Osiris resurrection festival to Amélineau's and Petrie's excavations of the tomb. A diagram of the tomb and its subsidiary burials helps flesh out the site.
Development of the Royal Mortuary Complex
This detailed document by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Zahi Hawass describes chapter by chapter the evolution of Egyptian royal mortuary buildings. Particularly relevant to the Abydos story are the chapters "The Pyramid Shape and its Function," "Architectural Components of the Pyramid Complex," and "The Early Pyramids: From Narmer to Snofru."

National Geographic's Hieroglyphs Translator
Want to see your name or compose a message in hieroglyphs? Use our translator to write your own Ancient Egyptian message. Then print it our or send to a friend.



Baines, John, and Jaromir Malek. Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Checkmark Books, 2000.
Ikram, Salima. Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt. Pearson, 2003.
Shaw, Ian, ed. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Tiradritti, Francesco, ed. The Treasures of the Egyptian Museum. American University in Cairo Press, 1999.
Ward, Cheryl A. "Sacred and Secular: Ancient Egyptian Ships and Boats." Monographs New Series, No. 5. Archaeological Institute of America, 2000.
Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, 2003.
Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, 2000.


NGS Resources

Hawass, Zahi. Hidden Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Unearthing the Masterpieces of Egyptian History. National Geographic Books, 2004.

Treasures of Egypt." National Geographic, 2003.
Zivie, Alain. "
Mystery of the Sun God's Servant." National Geographic (November 2003), 52-9.

Hawass, Zahi. "
Egypt's Forgotten Treasures." National Geographic (January 2003), 74-87.
Carter, Howard. The Tomb of Tutankhamen. National Geographic Books, 2003.
Williams, A. R. "
Death on the Nile." National Geographic (October 2002), 2-25.

Morrell, Virginia. "
The Pyramid Builders." National Geographic (November 2001), 78-89.

Hawass, Zahi. "
Egypt's Hidden Tombs Revealed." National Geographic (September 2001), 32-41.
Gore, Rick. "
Pharaohs of the Sun." National Geographic (April 2001), 34-57.

Hawass, Zahi. "Abusir Tomb: Egyptian Priest's Undisturbed Burial Discovered." National Geographic (November 1998), 102-13.

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