The Tomb of King Den at Abydos

The Tomb of King Den at Abydos

Jimmy Dunn

A view of Den's Tomb T at Abydos

King Den (Udimu) was one of Egypt's first Pharaohs of a unified ancient Egypt, ruling during the 1st Dynasty of Egypt's Early Dynastic Period when, clearly, the formulation of the society was still underway. Upon his death, we believe that he was buried at Abydos in Tomb T, where his tomb is the most elaborate of the 1st Dynasty structures at Umm al-Qa'ab (Umm el-Gaab). Here, it is located between the smaller tombs of Qa'a (Kaa) and Semerkhet, and that of Djet and Meretneith (his probable mother). His tomb not only provides space for his own burial, but also for those of many servants, who may have been sacrificed upon the king's death. If so, that was a practice not continued in later Dynasties.

The Floor plan of the tomb of Den at Abydos

The Floor plan of the tomb of Den at Abydos

The main, central chamber for the King was accessible from the east by a long, descending stairway in two sections. There were wooden doors midway down the staircase and at the chamber's entrance, which was also blocked by a portcullis (blocking stones). This is, to our knowledge, the first tomb at Abydos with a stepped entrance. The chamber itself measures nine by fifteen meters and has a depth of about six meters. Its floor is paved with slabs of red and black granite, and is the earliest known use of stone on a large scale.

Reconstruction of the Southwestern Annex of Den's tomb

The thick brick walls were covered by reed matting. Based on impressions and post holes in a layer of bricks on the stone pavement, and holes for fixing beams in the walls, the size of the wooden shrine in this chamber was about 24 by 12 by 6 cubits. When the tomb was excavated, many stone vessels and imported Canaanite pottery were piled up around this shrine. Along with the various pottery, numerous jar sealings were discovered in this tomb, along with twenty ebony and ivory plates recording some events of the kings rule.

An ivory seal from the Tomb of Den showing him smitting his enemies, a common theme

To the southwest, there was an annex to the main chamber which most Egyptologists believe was a serdab, or statue chamber. A staircase to the annex was probably meant to serve as an exit for the rising king, represented by his statue in the serdab. This was not a new feature of this tomb. The idea of such a way out is present in all the other 1st Dynasty tombs since that of Djer. Within the surrounding rows of subsidiary tombs near the southeastern corner, there is always a gap in these 1st Dynasty tombs as a potential exit point toward the impressive wadi opening in the cliffs behind this cemetery. According to Gunter Dreyer, this seems to have been regarded as the entrance to the netherworld, the tombs merely being way stations on the way there.

The tomb was burnt in antiquity and, we believe, restored under pharaoh Amasis (26th dynasty). However, earlier restorations may have been possible, as early as the 12th Dynasty. The entrance to the royal chamber is partially restored in large (unburnt) bricks and the entire staircase shows traces of a secondary white wash.

The tomb is surrounded by 144 subsidiary chambers used as burials for servants and dogs, along with three storage chambers for wine jars. It is the presence of this large number of subsidiary burials that suggests the possibility of human sacrifice, though if so, he was certainly not the only early king whose burial included those of servants at Abydos.

The name of Den on a round top stella found at the tomb

Associated with each of the royal tombs was a 'palace of eternity' or funerary enclosure which are currently thought to be mudbrick prototypes of the earliest pyramids, though there is nothing left of Den's. However, these were not built at Umm al-Qa'ab, but rather at Kom es-Sultan. In recent years, a team from the German Institute of Oriental Studies under the direction of Gunter Dreyer has restored the tomb of King Den, which is a fine example of an early royal tomb and one of the most elaborate at Abydos.






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