In 1940 Egyptologist Zaki Saad was investigating the Saqqara necropolis – a burial ground found to the south of present-day Cairo. During his search, however, Saad uncovered the Tomb of Mehu, which by this time was over 4,000 years old. And although the tomb remained closed to public view for nearly 80 years, now it is finally open to visitors.
It’s fair to say that ancient Egypt has left a considerable impression upon the world that has succeeded it. To this day, in fact, Ancient Egyptian history and culture are sources of great fascination to people, with publishers and television producers all continuing to pour time and money into producing fresh books and shows about the civilization.
And life in Ancient Egypt flourished in part thanks to the exploitation of the Nile River valley for agricultural purposes. With the abundance of crops produced, Ancient Egyptians were therefore able to pursue the development of their culture and put further resources into construction and trade.
Ancient Egyptians also made many breakthroughs – particularly within the field of mathematics, inspiring the likes of Pythagoras. However, their achievements are perhaps most tangibly encapsulated in their physical constructions – many of which were created as extravagant tombs for people of power and significance within society.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, for example, is thought to have been conceived as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu, who ruled during the 26th century BC. Elsewhere, Tomb KV17 – one of the most ornamented in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings – serves as the resting place of Pharaoh Seti I and was initially unearthed by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817.
Meanwhile, in 1922 the supposedly cursed Tomb of Tutankhamun was rediscovered, along with many significant artifacts. And the news of Howard Carter’s find – not to mention the myth that accompanied it – ultimately served to whip up public fascination with Ancient Egypt.
In 1940, then, the Ancient Egyptian civilization was known throughout the world. Yet when Zaki Saad discovered the Tomb of Mehu that very year, the public would not be allowed to enter. That privilege was left, in fact, to a select group of archaeologists and investigators. And it would only be in 2018 that visitors were permitted to step inside.
Situated in the area of Saqqara, the Tomb of Mehu was created in the period of the Sixth Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt for more than 150 years. And the grand structure was created – as its name suggests – for Mehu, who was once a vizier, or the highest-ranking individual to attend to a pharaoh.
In fact, Mehu possessed no fewer than 48 titles during his lifetime – each of which are inscribed at the tomb. But the vizier isn’t the only person to lie in state at the location; Mehu’s son, Mery Re Ankh, and grandson, Hetep Kha II, also rest there.
And the tomb’s ornamentation may be valuable in determining what life during the Sixth Dynasty was like. Indeed, several of the detailed etchings inside – which depict acts such as dancing, hunting and fishing – appear to be distinctive to that era.
Meanwhile, at the tomb’s opening, drawings of Mehu himself can be seen. There are also illustrations of birds in the vicinity – either nesting, being hunted or being prepared for food. Other images of everyday life found within the tomb include depictions of sailing, fishing and working with metal.
Furthermore, the writing on the walls has apparently allowed researchers to glean some information about Mehu’s place in society. “It clarifies the important status of this person,” archaeologist Zahi Hawas has said of the scripture, according to Reuters. “[Mehu] was very respected in the royal family, and that tomb was dedicated to him, his son and grandson.”
Now, work is being undertaken on the Tomb of Mehu as part of the renewal of the Pyramid of Djoser. And Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anani has since gone on record to talk about the restoration of the ancient monument. He said, “It’s a huge project that will finally, after years of work, complete by the end of 2018.”
To enhance the tomb prior to its public unveiling, for example, the artwork found within had its colors refreshed. Additional lighting was also set up at the site, thus ensuring that visitors would be able to see the tomb in all its glory.
And following the tomb’s public opening in September 2018, social media photos show the interest that the site has garnered. There, people can be seen waiting in a long line to gain entry and snapping shots of the attraction’s interior.
However, the Tomb of Mehu is just one of many culturally significant sites found in the Saqqara area. And perhaps recognizing the potential to boost tourism to that part of Egypt, the country’s government is pressing ahead with plans to let visitors see other ancient monuments for themselves.
Indeed, a 2018 Reuters report quotes al-Anani as saying, “We are making sure to constantly present cultural content for tourists. This is why we [have been opening] tombs [to] visitors [throughout] the past two or three years.” Of the last resting place of Mehu, the minister added, “It is a beautiful tomb.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that more and more Egyptian attractions are becoming available for the public to see, though, as tourism in Egypt took a knock following the 2011 revolution there. The often violent protests then paved the way for the so-called “Egyptian Crisis,” and the political and social upheaval in the country has resulted in an estimated 7,000 related deaths since 2011.
So, where once Egypt had a healthy number of visitors, instability in the nation seemingly left the tourist sector weak. Then, in May 2018 there was altogether better news. According to Reuters, the number of tourists flocking to the country during the first quarter of 2018 had increased by 37 percent from the last quarter of 2017.
And while the tourism industry is still far from its peak prior to the revolution, the government may hope that letting foreigners into ancient sites such as the Tomb of Mehu will help. Indeed, minister al-Anani has said of the attraction, “We opened this previously discovered tomb to invite ambassadors and show the media that Egypt is safe.”