A Remarkable Discovery

From the unpublished journals of W.M. Flinders Petrie, Petrie Museum, University College London, reprinted here with permission for the first time.

22 February 1882

It is due to the singular and unique nature of the evening's find that mention elsewhere must be omitted; we will certainly return for further enquiry when a less restricted concession is secured. But lest the discovery be forgotten, it is committed herein on the off chance we are unable to return.

It was 'Ali who first noticed the peculiar joint around one of the pavement stones comprising the floor of the horizontal passage leading to the Queen's Chamber. The distance of the joint in question, measured by steel tape, is 1177.8 inches from the door of the passage, proximal to the step. The joint is open nearly .5 inch and represents the northern face of a complete square. Upon striking this portion of pavement with the crowbar, a hollow resonance was heard. After inserting the bar into the joint and levering it upward, the block was found to be a slab some 4 inches thick that served as a door to a chamber below. A thin lip of stone supported the slab.

The chamber beneath was found to be 97.5 inches deep and 96.5 inches long. The width could not be determined as, while the westernmost wall was even with the west side of the passage, the chamber extended beyond the eastern wall above it and disappeared into the darkness. The impediment to our further investigation of the chamber was our attention to the fantastic object contained within: an extraordinary golden chest!

The chest measured 51.67 inches long, 31.0 inches wide, and 31.0 inches high. It appeared to be of solid gold. On the top of the chest were affixed twin figures, presumably representing Nepthys and Isis, both of beaten gold. The goddesses faced each other and their outstretched wings touched tips in the centre of the chest, in the manner of New Kingdom iconography, though in other respects the design departed from convention. The chest was otherwise undecorated, save for vertical pillar-like markings on all four sides and a raised rim on the lid terminating in a horn-like flare at each corner. It was bereft of any inscription whatsoever. Near the bottom of the chest were affixed four rings of gold, two on each side, through which two poles were passed to facilitate transport. The poles appeared to be of gold but were likely of gold-covered wood. Though they were loose in the rings, the poles could not be removed due to the restricted space in the chamber.

It was with difficulty that we raised the heavy lid as it was certainly made of solid gold! Inside, the chest walls were smooth and gilded, and we found four objects that will be briefly described. Our movement within the chamber was cramped and our examination hasty as we were under the press of time.

The first object was a jar of baked clay, simple in design, lacking handles, with a plain rim bearing a knobbed cap. Contained inside was a small amount of a queer flaky substance, grey in colour, and odorless. "What is it?" 'Ali asked, and a thought began to surface in my mind upon hearing these words, but it was quickly dispelled in my excitement as I spied what I took to be a measuring rod.

The rod proved to be a staff of sorts, crudely made with budding twigs still upon it, of nonstandard length. We measured it at 44.2 inches long, which, even allowing for shrinkage over time, does not conform to known standard linear measures. The stick was cut at one end as if to facilitate containment within the chest; indeed it had to be angled from corner to corner to fit inside.

The third and fourth items in the chest, by far the most enlightening to be found, were two tablets of stone upon which were inscribed characters in, quite surprisingly, biblical Hebrew script! The tablets were carved on front and back and my familiarity with the language enabled me to make a crude preliminary translation. The text proved to be a series of admonitions in the manner of Middle and New Kingdom didactic literature, though in this case the precepts were somewhat more fundamental in content.

The nature of the tablets, taken with the stylised design of the gold figures on the lid, the simplicity of the chest decoration, the elemental form of the jar, all these elements together provided evidence that the find was an intrusive placement dating not to the IVth dynasty but rather to the Graeco-Roman period or later. This anachronism is problematic and a matter for considerable speculation, but that is reserved for the future. We replaced the items, closed the chest, and resealed the chamber until such a time as we could return to this most remarkable discovery.

© Copyright 1999 by Larry Orcutt.