The Pyramid of Tirhaqa
On Thursday, October 26, 1916, the work of clearing the “ western ” front of the large pyramid (Pyramid I) was begun with a force of Egyptians and of men and boys from the local tribe of the Shagiah,. The mass of debris was enormous, consisting of drift sand and debris fallen from the pyramid. It was not until a month later, November 26, that this mass was cleared away. The chapel was found to be utterly destroyed, but on that day we opened the stairway leading down to the burial chambers. On December 5 the men found in the debris filling the stairway a fragment of a stone figure on which was written the name of Tirhaqa.” It was at once concluded that Pyramid I was in fact the tomb of that Tirhaqa who was one of the five kings of Ethiopia who ruled over Egypt, and this conclusion was fully borne out by later finds.
The excavation of the stairway and the chambers met with great difficulties owing to the dangerous condition of the cracked walls and half-fallen roofs, to the water which covered the floors, and to the unexampled heat of the interior. Several times, after propping overhanging masses of rock we waited a few days to see what would happen. Once we had to wait three days to allow the interior to cool, and a month we waited for the water to fall, but in vain.
The chambers were cut in the solid rock, a sort of micacious schist which deteriorates under the action. There was a great central hall divided into three aisles by two lines of three rectangular pillars each. The central aisle was approached by a small ante-chamber, which itself was entered by a flight of four steps leading down. A large part of the up from the bottom of this vow or because the place was not as dangerous as it looked, the excavation was finished in the flight of steps leading down. A large part of the work of removing the debris and the water was carried out through this corridor in order to avoid risking the lives of the workmen under the threatening roof of the hall.
Our architect, Mr. Robert. Williams, experienced in more civilized methods of propping, was inclined to smile at our rough use of dom-logs ; but Said Ahmed, the chief Egyptian foreman, vowed to sacrifice a sheep if we finished the work without accident; and whether because the place was not so dangerous as it looked, the excavation was finished in safety on March 6 (1917). About a month earlier, on February 12, we had reached the water-table and had begun to remove the earth which lay under the surface of the water. On that day, one of the Egyptians feeling about with his feet in the ” western ” end of the “ southern ” aisles discovered that a number of stone figures lay embedded in the floor debris of the aisle. A great effort was then made with the bailing,- a hard struggle, as the water never ceased running in as from some great spring. Finally, we got the tomb temporarily dry and saw the floors of the two side aisles covered with over a thousand beautifully carved stone figures varying in height from 18 to 64 cm. Many of them had been ruined by soaking in water, but about 600 were in good condition. The coffin which had been made of wood the mummy cases, and the mummy had been torn to pieces by thieves looking for gold, and had decayed except for a few fragments of bones, three pairs of inlaid eyes, and some bronze trappings pairs of inlaid eyes, and some bronze trappings chamber and partly just outside the main entrance. We found along with them two canopic jars, several stone vessels, and a number of gold ornaments, the latter dropped unintentionally by the thieves.
While the excavation of the tomb of Tirhaqa was proceeding at intervals all winter, the rest of the men and sometimes all of them were employed. on the excavation of the pyramids on the “western” part of the horseshoe. An account of the exciting work of clearing these royal tombs, of the difficulties overcome, and of the great moments, would take far more space than this article allows. Object after object was found which bore the name of a king: now a gilded electrum ribbon, again a stone vase, or a cylindrical case of gold, an amulet of gold or of semi-precious stone, a stela, an altar, a granite coffin, a batch of magical figures of blue faience, silver libation bowl, or an inscription on the walls of a burial chamber.
Thus pyramid after pyramid found, was identified as the tomb of some known or unknown king of Ethiopia. Tanutaman was found two of whose statues we had recovered from the dumps of the Temple of Amon at Barkal Senkamanseken was discovered to be the owner of Pyramid III. Three of his statues had also been found by us in the Barkal dumps, and it was him, who had finished the Temple of Atlanarsa which we excavated at Barkal, and whose name was inserted in the great granite altar of that temple (now the property of the Museum). The floors of his burial chambers at Nuri were also covered with water but not so deeply as the floors of the Tirhaqa chambers ; and one of the most walls were inscribed with the “negative confession” from the Book of the Dead, and whose “south” wall was still lined with magical figures standing up to their waists in water.
Amtalqa, whose headless statue was found by Lepsius at Merawi, was buried stelae are in Cairo, were identified with Pyramids XIII and XV, and other names were found which had never before been read by modern eyes on any monument, lost to human knowledge for over a thousand years. All the nineteen pyramids with which lay on the curve of the horseshoe and in the great line of the “ western ” arm, were the tombs of kings. At the end of 1916-1917, and during the campaign of 1917-1918, we excavated the small pyramids beside Pyramid I on the “eastern ” arm, which we call the main ridge. On this main ridge, we found the tombs of fifty-three royal ladies, queens, and princesses, some of whom, were now discovered for the first time. The curious fact thus appears that Tirhaqa, the first and greatest of the Nuri kings, and queens of all the periods there represented, were buried on the “ eastern ” part of the knoll, while all the kings in Pyramid IX. Harsiotef and Nastasan, whose after Tirhaqa was buried on the “ western ” part. The chapels and the entrances of all these tombs are turned to the “ west,” the land of Amenti, the land of Osiris, the god of the dead.