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Saqqara north area: First Dynasty tombs

Northern section of Saqqara, showing tombs north of the Pyrmaid of Teti (Google Earth).

Saqqara functioned as the necropolis for Memphis, the Old Kingdom capital of Lower Egypt. The earliest burials at Saqqara are mastaba tombs of 1st Dynasty nobles, when the royal burial ground was still at Abydos.

A large 1st Dynasty necropolis occurred in the northern part of Saqqara, along the eastern ridge just north of the Pyramid of Teti. 
First Dynasty royalty and high officials were buried in large rectangular tombs dug into bedrock and divided into a series of chambers. The central burial chamber with the sarcophagus was filled with food and furniture, while surrounding rooms stored provisions for the afterlife, including food and jars of wine. The tombs were covered by a superstructure also divided into chambers for other funerary items, frequently including pits for funerary barges.

The earliest known mastaba of the Saqqara necropolis is tomb 3357 from the reign of Hor Aha (ca. 3050 BC), discovered in 1936. The mastaba was surrounded by two plain enclosure walls about 1.2 meters apart, The tomb substructure was  divided into five chambers, with the central one holding the sarcophagus. Here the tomb had been looted, but human remains from different individuals were discovered.  Above was a superstructure with 27 rooms. Abundently found in the tomb were clay jar seals for wine and food containers, imprinted from engraved wooden cylinders. These, and the small engraved wooden and ivory labels attached to funerary items provided essential sources of written documentation of the early Dynastic period. Also found were many small pottery containers with the royal name of Hor Aha, and pieces of furniture, flint tools, stone vessels and palates, and pottery rhino horns.

Several tombs from the reign of Djer, the third king of the 1st Dynasty (ca. 3050-3000 BC) at Saqqara include Nos. 3471, 2185, 2171, and 3503.  Tomb 3471, excavated by Emery, was larger and more elaborate than the earlier tomb 3357, and cut deeper into the bedrock.The substructure had been burned, probably by ancient tomb robbers. The mastaba superstructure had 29 storage rooms or magazines which were thoroughly looted, but the seven lower chambers had large collections of copper vessels with forms like those of stone vessels of the first two dynasties. There were also hundreds of copper tools, as well as ivory bracelets and fragments of wooden furniture.

Tomb No. 2185, excavated in 1912-1914 by Quibell, had subterranean chambers with stone vessels, copper and flint tools, and clay seal impressions of Djer's emblem. The smaller tomb No. 2171H, discovered by Quibell beneath the 2nd Dyn. Tomb 2171,  held  stone vessels, flint tools, beads, and two labels inscribed with the name of Djer.

Tomb No. 3503 may have been a royal tomb belonging to Merneith, a possible consort of king Djer. The tomb substructure was divided into five chambers. The central burial room had been looted but still held fragments of a wooden sarcophagus with a few human bones. There were also remains of funerary meal, with pottery vessels and traces of wooden chests and baskets. The superstructure held 21 storage magazines, all plundered and some burned.  The tomb was surrounded by at least 20 subsidiary burials. Some had boat models, and  an above-ground, brickwork casing for a funerary boat was located nearby. These subsidiary burials were probably those of retainers and artisans associated with Marneith.

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