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Qau Tomb 562

the bone deposit

Brunton 1930: 18-20:

"In Cemetery 400 at Qau was a stairways tomb of the Second Dynasty lying immediately against a courtyard wall of the modern village. The chief interest of the discovery lay in the great mass of animal, and even human bones, mostly heavily mineralised, which had been thrown pell mell into the mouth of the tomb, defined by its original walling-round of brick. ... The bone deposit lay at a depth of over four feet ( about 1.22 m) from the surface. It is difficult to estimate the amount of this, but there were probably as much as two or three tons of bones. These were mainly of hippopotami, and often large and heavy. Wedged in between these, without any order whatever, was a quantity of ivory and other objects. The extraction of these was a most difficult and laborious matter. ... The date of the deposit is clearly the xixth dyn. The kohl-tubes were not in use until later part of the xviiith dyn., and the whole style and character of the designs points to the early Ramesside period and not later. The plaque of Rameses II, even if not from the actual deposit, came from a few feet away."

Explaining the location of the bone deposit

The deposit was found inside an earlier tomb. One explanation for this curious location might be that a New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) settlement grew over the area of the earlier cemetery: today there is a modern village over the site. If so, tomb 562 might have been used as cellar for a house or workshop where bone was carved. The house and settlement would have disappeared, leaving no trace in the archaeological record beyond this reuse of a tomb as a cellar. In support of this speculative hypothesis, it may be noted that any superstructures for tombs have also disappeared without a trace.

Another interpretation has been suggested from other deposits of bones in the area: the main local deity at Qau was Nemty, the ferryman god closely related to the god of disorder, Seth, and hippopotamus bones would have been an appropriate offering, so this may be a particularly large Ramesside votive deposit to Nemty.

The question of archaeological record and documentation

If there had been a settlement over the site in the New Kingdom, one would expect at least some residual traces such as potsherds in that area. Brunton does not mention any such material. This leaves open the question of the archaeological record as documented, as opposed to the record as found: did the excavator not find the material, or did he not mention it, because it was not important enough?

further reading:

Welvaert 2002 (interpreting the bones as offering and reference to the local god Nemty)


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