Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ahhotep's Burial

There is little doubt that Ahhotep would have been accorded a splendid burial in the Dra Abu el-Naga royal cemetery on the Theban west bank. However, her tomb is today unknown, and the evidence concerning her burial is to say the least confusing. In 1858 workmen employed by Auguste Mariette to excavate at Dra Abu el-Naga discovered a coffin labelled for a King's Great Wife Ahhotep. King's Great Wife was the title now being used to differentiate the consort from her husband's lesser wives. With the dig director absent in Cairo, the provincial governor took it upon himself to open the coffin. Inside he found a mummy and a collection of golden artifacts. The mummy was stripped, and both body and bandages were thrown away. The grave goods were loaded onto a streamer, destined for the court of the Khedive. Infuriated, Mariette set off to intercept to the boat and claim his antiquities. Theodule Deveria, an eyewitness, takes up the tale:
... we saw theboat containing the treasures taken from the pharaonic mummy coming towards us. At the end of half an hour the two boats were alongside each other. After some stormy words, accompanied by rather lively gestures, Mariette promised to one to toss him overboard, to another to roast his brains, to a third to send him to the gallery, and to a fourth to have him hanged. At last they decided to place the box containing the antiquities on board, against a receipt.
The grave goods included jewelry, an inscribed ceremonial axe made from copper, gold, electrum and wood and decorated with a Minoan-style griffin, a gold dagger and sheath, and three golden flies of valour, the "medal" used to reward high-ranking Egyptian soldiers. Although some of the items bore the name of Kamose, more bore the name of King Ahmose, suggesting that he might have buried his mother.
Then, in 1881, a large outer coffin belonging to the King's Daughter, King's Sister, King's Great Wife and King's Mother Ahhotep was recovered from the Deir el-Bahari mummy cache. Inside this coffin was found the mummy of the Third Intermediate Period High Priest Pinedjem I, misplaced by the priests who had packed the bodies away. Initially it was assumed that the coffin belonged to Ahhotep II, consort of Amenhotep I, However, Amenhotep's wife never became a King's Mother and the next king, Thutmose I, was adopted into the royal family. More recently it has been accepted that the two coffins probably belong to one and the same Ahhotep (Ahhotep I, mother of Ahmose), although how they got separated remains something of a mystery. A third possibility is that there were indeed two queen Ahhoteps: Ahhotep I, the mother of Ahmose and wife of Seqenenre Taa II and owner of the Deir el-Bahari coffin, and Ahhotep II, a queen of unknown origins who was perhaps married to Kamose, and who owned the Dra Abu el-Naga coffin.

Ahhotep I

Ahhotep I's inner coffin lid, and a selection of grave goods recovered from the Dra Abu el-Naga tomb. The gold flies, dagger and battle axe seem to confirm Ahhotep's active role as defender of her land.

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Ahhotep I and the Mysterious Ahhotep II

Seqenenre Taa II, son of Tetisheri, had married his sister Inhapy, Sitdjehuty and Ahhotep. Now Ahhotep became his consort. She was to give him at least four children, all confusingly named Ahmose; two daughters, Ahmose-Nefertari and Ahmose-Nebta, and two sons. Ahmost the elder died young and it was Ahmose the younger who was to succeed his father. But first there was a blip in the succession. Seqenenre Taa died in battle. His mummy, recovered from the Deir el-Bahari cache, shows horrific head injuries caused by a Hyksos battle axe. Bypassing Ahmose, the succession passed to Kamose, a man who, although he is often assumed to have been Seqenenre's son, has no known link to the royal family. Whatever his lineage, it is reasonable to assume that Kamose was warrior of noble birth chosen to continue the struggle against the Hyksos. This he did until, a mere three years later, he too lay dying on a distant battlefield. Kamose was succeeded by Ahmose, the younger son of Seqenenre Taa II and Ahhotep.

Now there was a break in hostilities of almost a decade as Ahhotep raised her son, ruling Egypt on his behalf as regnet. As an adult, and king of the unified land, Ahmose was not ashamed to admit the deep debt that he owed to his mother. On a unique stela recovered from Karnak he encouraged his people to revere her as "one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt":
She has looked after her Egypt's soldiers, she has guarded Egypt, she has brought back her fugitives and gathered together her deserters, and she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.
If we read this stela literally, and there seems to be no good reason not to, it seems that Ahhotep had been forced to take up arms in defence of her country (Thebes), perhaps in the uncertain days following the death of Kamose. For the first time we have written proof that the queen regent could wield real authority.