Researchers discover the first actual ancient Egyptian funerary garden, almost 4,000-years old

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Historians were aware of ancient Egyptian funerary gardens, but only by virtue of literary and pictorial evidences. However this time around, researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have found actual physical evidence of an Egyptian funerary garden, which makes the discovery the first of its kind in the ambit of archaeology. The fascinating find, in the form of a rectangular garden bed, was discovered at the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in Luxor (which corresponds to the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes). So regarding the location of this discovery, it should be noted that Thebes was the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt, at the time when the garden was constructed.

According to José Manuel Galán, the leader of this excavation project, and a CSIC archaeologist –

We knew of the possible existence of these gardens since they appear in illustrations both at the entrances to tombs, as well as on tomb walls, where Egyptians would depict how they wanted their funerals to be. [But] this is the first time that a physical garden has ever been found, and it is therefore the first time that archaeology can confirm what had been deduced from iconography.

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Now while experts are ascribing the find as a garden, the scale of construction is pretty restrained with the entire rectangular bed, raised at a height of 1.6 ft, accounting for an area of only around 10 by 6.5 ft (or 65 sq ft). It is further compartmentalized into smaller sections of just 0.03 sq ft, with the whole layout being conceived on an open courtyard that greeted the entrance of a rock-cut tomb. The ‘garden’ was also accompanied by two trees in its originally ancient state.

Interestingly enough, the very verdant scope of the funerary garden may have entailed plants that had symbolic (or at least ritualistic) significance. To that end, the researchers already know about the connotations of resurrection brought forth by plant types like palm, sycamore and Persea trees. On the other, lettuce, beyond its ubiquity in modern burgers, was probably related to fertility in the ancient times. In those contexts, Galán added –

Therefore, the garden will also provide information about religious beliefs and practices, as well as the culture and society at the time of the 12th Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time. We must wait to see what plants we can identify by analyzing the seeds we have collected. It is a spectacular and quite unique find, which opens up multiple avenues of research.

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Reconstruction of the funerary garden.

Beyond trees, the ancient Egyptian funerary garden may have also flaunted its fair share of flower-bearing shrubs. In fact, one of the corners of the garden still ‘held on’ to the remnants of a tamarisk shrub with its roots and trunk intact. The researchers found offerings like dates and dried fruits placed atop a bowl beside this shrub.

And since we brought up the archaeological scope of the excavation beyond the garden itself, the researchers also located a mud-brick structure beside the main tomb – which housed three stelae (upright stone slabs) designating the graves of three people. These tombstones were found be laid around 200-years after the main garden was constructed, and had references made to a host of Egyptian gods, including familiar names like Ptah, Sokar and Osiris, and unfamiliar ones like Montu (believed to be a local god). Galán concluded –

These finds highlight the importance of the area around the Dra Abu el-Naga hill as a sacred center for a wide range of worship activities during the Middle Kingdom. This helps us understand the high density of tombs in later times as well as the religious symbolism that this area of the necropolis holds.

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Tomb inscriptions beside the garden.

Source: LiveScience / Image Credits: CSIC

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