This week we are going back to a royal mummy, Psusennes I. If you could believe it, his tomb is the only pharaonic tomb that has ever been found completely unscathed by any tomb-robbing!
Psusennes I was the third pharaohs of the 21st dynasty, which is the 3rd Intermediate Period. He ruled for approximately 1047 to 1001 B.C.E. The Greek version of his name is Pasikhanu or Pasebakhaenniut. His name means “The Star Appearing in the City.” Egyptian kings had multiple names, called a titulary. His throne name, Akheperre Setepenamun meant “Great at the Manifestations of Ra, chosen of Amun.” Read more about his royal titulary here.
- Horus name: Kanakhtemawyamen Userfau Sekhaemwaset
- Nebty name: Wermenuemipetsut
- Golden Falcon name: Zemakheperu-derpedjetpesdjet
- Prenomen: Aakheperre
- Nomen: Pasebakhenniut
He was the son of Pinedjem I and Henuttawy, Ramses XI’s daughter. If you remember, Pinedjem I and his wife were found in the royal cache in Deir el-Bahari, which I talked about with Queen Nodjmet. Psusennes I most likely married his sister Mutnodjmet and had several children. He most likely had two sons, Pharaoh Amenemope and General Ankhefenmut, both of which were meant to be buried with their father. Ankhefenmut may have fallen into disgrace as his name was excised from the inscriptions in his burial chamber and his mummy was not found. Psusennes I may have also had a daughter name Esemkhebe, who married one of the Theban High Priests, Menkheperre. There is also evidence that he may have also been married to a Lady Wiay.
It isn’t completely clear, but he most likely ruled from anywhere to 41, 46, or 51 years. During the 21st dynasty, the capital city was Tanis, which was located in the eastern Nile Delta. He was responsible for turning Tanis into a full-fledged capital city. Psusennes I built enclosure walls and a central portion of the Great Temple at Tanis, which was dedicated to Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. There was also a sanctuary dedicated to Amun, which was composed of blocks salvaged from the ruins of Pi-Ramesses, just south of Tanis. Many of these blocks were unaltered and kept the name of Ramses II, including pieces of obelisks.
During his reign, he adopted the title of High Priest of Amun, which was an unprecedented move. This may have been done to assert the Pharaoh’s authority over the Theban priests. His wife/sister Mutnodjmet also adopted the titles of the female counterpart of the High Priest of Amun. At Tanis, he built temples to the Theban deities to provide an alternative center for worship for the gods and therefore break the High Priests power.
Even though the 3rd Intermediate Period was described as one of chaos and disorder, Psusennes I was able to amass a large amount of gold, silver, and precious stones for his burial, indicating that this period may have been more prosperous than previously thought. He sought to emphasize the continuity between his reign and that of his predecessors as his tomb harbored many objects from earlier periods.
Discovery at Tanis
French Egyptologist Pierre Montet excavated the tombs at Tanis from 1929 to 1940. Psusennes I was found in tomb no. 3 or NRT III. This tomb contained several kings from the 21st and 22nd dynasties. In total, it contained the following:
- Psusennes I
- His wife Mutnodjmet
- His son, Pharaoh Amenemope
- His son General Ankhefenmut
- Pharaoh Psusennes II
- Pharaoh Shoshenq II
- General Wendkebaundjed
The tomb contained five chambers. Montet found Shoshenq II, Siamun, and Psuennes II in the antechamber of the tomb. Chamber 1 was hidden behind these burials and contained the intact burial of Psusennes I. His wife Mutnodjmet was supposed to be buried in chamber 2, but her sarcophagus was found to contain the body of their son and the next king Amenemope. Chamber 3 contains the empty coffin of their son, General Ankhefenmut. And finally, chamber 5 contained General Wendkebaundjed, which wasn’t found until 1946.
The tomb was originally found on March 18th, 1939, and it was opened three days later to an audience that included the current Egyptian King, Farouk I. But although the tomb’s inscriptions mentioned Psusennes I, the first coffin that was found was Shoshenq II.
Unfortunately, what should have been a well-planned and carefully considered archaeological excavation turned into a hurried salvage operation because World War II was about to break out. Only the front portion of the tomb was excavated. The objects were transported to Cairo for safekeeping and Montet and his family returned to Europe. This is why there are very few original photos from the discovery of the tomb.
On February 15, 1940, after Montet was allowed to resume excavations, he discovered the corridor to Psusennes I’s chamber. He had spent the last few months excavating through the other chambers of the tomb, which had been previously plundered. On this day, he found the corridor which was sealed with a single granite plug made from a section of an obelisk of Ramses II. For six days his workmen chipped away the block and opened the chamber. Here is saw the treasures of Psusennes I.
In 1939, Montet had asked the Egyptian authorities for all-around security, because he knew this tomb was quite valuable. During WWII, unfortunately, this security could not be maintained, so by 1943, thieves were able to break into both the home and storage of the archaeologists and a safe in the Cairo Museum, where some jewelry had been stored. They stole many statuettes from the storage and some of the jewelry from the safe. Luckily, the majority of the jewelry was found, but some of the elements of the necklaces are still missing.
Tanis is a particularly moist environment, so the perishable wooden objects were destroyed by groundwater. Still, the entire tomb contained nearly 600 objects, all currently located at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
The shabtis of the king were found in two very even piles. They had originally been placed into two wooden cases, which had completely decayed over time, without disturbing the order of the shabtis inside. In the northern pile, there were 23 overseer shabtis and 154 workers. And in the southern pile, there were 21 overseers and 171 workers. Shabtis were servants for the afterlife. Because the Egyptians believed that the afterlife was exactly like real life, but with the gods, they would still need servants to take care of their house and their fields. Egyptians who were particularly rich, they could afford more shabtis, which meant they had to be looked after by an overseer. Many of them are inscribed with “Osiris King Psusennes-beloved-of-Amun, beloved-of-Osiris lord of eternity.”
This golden bowl (JE 85896) with carved stripes on the body reveals the fine taste and skills of the craftsman of this period. It has four inscriptions on it, saying “The Adoratress of Hathor Henuttawy, Mother Divine of Khonsu, Aakheperre chosen of Amun, Psusennes beloved of Amun.” It is unclear if Henuttawy refers to his mother or another one of his wives/sisters.
A silver libation vessel was one of the finds in the tomb. It has a spout and would have been used in various purification rights as well as water libations. The text on the pieces states, “The Osiris King, Lord of the Two Lands, Aakheperre-chosen-of-Amun, the Son of Re, Lord of Crowns, Psusennes-beloved-of-Amun, beloved of Osiris, Foremost-of-the-Westerners.”
Interestingly an oven or brazier (JE 85910) was also found in the tomb, that is inscribed with the name of Ramses II. This item would have been used to sacrifice small offerings or burn fragrant resins. It may have originally been from a palace or temple in Thebes, but was taken to Tanis as a sacred artifact of Ramses II. This would be a token of veneration and respect for the great king. The text is a dedication by Ramses to the temple gods on the occasion of one of his Heb-Sed Festivals. The libation vessel was found on top of this.
This slideshow below features some other items found in the tomb including golden vessels, Psusennes I’s four canopic jars, and a golden sword handle!
Sarcophagi and Coffins
The outer and middle sarcophagi had been recycled from previous burials in the Valley of the Kings. This was through the state-sanctioned tomb-robbing that was a common practice in the 3rd Intermediate Period.
The pink granite outer sarcophagus has a cartouche which reveals that it was originally made for Pharaoh Merenptah of the 19th Dynasty. The lid shows the dead king, now Osiris, being watched over by his sister/wife. On the underside of the lid was the sky goddess Nut. She was sculpted so that she would lie face to face with the deceased king forever.
The inner sarcophagus was made out of black granite. This coffin was most likely made for a non-royal originally for a variety of reasons. The texts used date to the 19th dynasty and the deceased figure carved does not have a uraeus or any royal insignia in his hands.
An image of Nut spreading her arms protectively is over the front. Hieroglyphs on the cover of the sarcophagus give the names of Psusennes several times as well as describing the protective role of Nut.
“I am Nut, I [have] placed my two arms over you, I hold you to my breast.” The King begs her aid: “Spread yourself over me so that I may be placed among the imperishable stars and may never die.” On the foot of the lid, Isis watches over Psusennes as he is now in the new incarnation of Osiris.
The body of the sarcophagus is decorated with columns of text and representations of the funerary deities. On the left, Hapi and Qubehsenuf stand on either side of Anubis, with Thoth, holding the sign of night, appearing twice, and the eyes of Horus. And on the right, Imsety, Duamutef, and Anubis face Thoth. These gods are there to protect the king and to regenerate him as they did for Osiris. They say,
“I am Hapi, I have come to protect you, I have reassembled the head and the limbs,” and “I am Qebehsenuf, I have reunited your bones, I have brought your heart.”
Thoth recited a formula from Chapter 161 of the Book of the Dead,
“Long Live Re, death to the turtle, unscathed is he who rests in the sarcophagus.”
Psusennes I was buried within an inner silver coffin (JE 85912) which was inlaid with gold. This was made purely for Psusennes I. It portrays him as a mummy with his hands over his chest, holding a flail and scepter. There are bands of gold along the forehead and a solid gold uraeus. The eyes are inlaid with colored glass paster. On the chest and abdomen, there are representations of three birds with outspread wings while the remainder of the coffin is decorated with long feathers. Finally, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys are shown on the feet of the lid. The golden mummy board and gold mask were found within this coffin
Psusennes I was found with six gold or lapis lazuli necklaces, three pectorals, 26 bracelets, and several rings.
His main collar (JE 85751) consisted of gold beads and seven chains with tassels and floral pendants. This was made with thousands of individual gold pieces and weighs 8 kg (18lbs). The chains are attached to a golden rectangular plaque decorated with two cartouches bearing the names of the king. The figures of Amun and Mut are on either side. The upper part is decorated with the winged sun disk.
Each lapis lazuli necklace weighed 10 kg. This necklace (JE 85755) had two rows of beads made of lapis lazuli and two center gold beads. The name of the king is found on the clasp. Interestingly, one of the beads had an Assyrian inscription mentioned the god Assur.
Psusennes I was found with three pectorals, which are large pendants that sit on the chest. This first pectoral (JE 85791, 85795, 85796) is made of gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, feldspar, and red jasper. It is framed by alternating precious stone, topped by a cavetto cornice and with a row of alternating djed pillars and tit (Isis knots) below a row of sun discs. A winged scarab is in the middle and a cartouche of the king is above and below. Isis and Nephthys can be seen on either side of the scarab.
The second pectoral (JE 85786, 85789, 85785) is very similar. There are alternating semi-precious stones with a cavetto cornice. Two boats can be seen at the bottom separated by two rearing uraei. The king is in both boats, once with Osiris and the other with the sacred Benu bird. In the center, there is a scarab resting on a djed pillar, with cartouches of the king on either side protected by Isis and Nephthys. The pectoral is attached to a row of beads ending in a lotus form counterpoise.
The final pectoral (JE 85787) also has a winged scarab beetle. The wings are decorated with horizontal rows of precious stones. Chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead is inscribed on the underside of the scarab, which describes when the deceased asks his heart not to testify against him during the judgment before Osiris. The scarab is made of dark stone and sits in a gold frame. It lies above a shen sign made of brown jasper, which is a symbol of universal power. The pectoral is attached to a series of beads ending in a lotus form counterpoise. The goddess on the right proclaims via text, “Isis the Great, the divine mother, mistress of the west.” (Though on the reverse side there is a slightly different text – “Isis the Great, the divine mother, mistress of the place of embalming.”) The goddess on the left, Nephthys, proclaims that “We have come to be your protection.”
One of the gold bracelets weighed nearly 2 kg (4 lbs). These bracelets have many of the same imagery including winged scarabs, sun discs, shen symbols, cartouches, and wadjet eyes.
JE 85160 was found on the right arm of the mummy, although it is inscribed on the inside with the word “Iabet,” meaning “east” or “left.” It was made out of two separate pieces, which were unequal in size. Then they were joined with an attachment hidden under the inlay. The upper and lower edges are adorned with spirals in relief and small triangles encrusted with lapis lazuli. The outside bears an inscription in gold relief set within lapis lazuli inlays. The inscription gives the birth and throne names of the king as well as his titles.
JE 85760 is a much simpler design. It is made out of seven tubes connected by a hinge and a clasp that uses a pin through the tube. The tubes are soldered together. It is engraved inside with, “The King, the Lord of the Two Lands, the First Prophet of Amun-Re, King of the Gods, Son of Re, Psusennes, beloved of Amun,” and “The First Great Royal Wife of His Majesty, Lady of the Two Lands, Mutnedjmet.”
This bracelet is inlaid with different precious stones, including large wadjet eyes. It is inscribed with,
“Long live the good god with the fearsome arm, and heart as brave as Montu’s was in his time, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Aakheperre-Setepenamun endowed with lifelike Re eternally,” and “The King of Upper and Lower Egypt lord of the Two Lands, Lord of courage, first Prophet of Amun-Re-King-of-the-Gods, Psusennes-beloved-of-Amun endowed with life.”
JE 86027 and 86028 are almost identical and depict winged scarabs with sun discs and shen symbols. The cartouches of the king are also featured with sun discs. This gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian piece was also found and is described as an anklet rather than a bracelet.
Each of his fingers held a ring of gold and lapis lazuli or some other semi-precious stone. This ring was found on his thumb. Another swivel ring (JE 85824B) was found with a wadjet eye amulet made out of lapis lazuli.
The pharaoh’s fingers and toes had been encased in golden stalls, which are little golden caps. These are some of the most elaborate ever found because fingernails were sculpted in them. These were intended to preserve his toes and restore vitality to his feet in the afterlife. He was also found wearing golden sandals on his feet.
Unfortunately, his body was not preserved due to the moist environment of Tanis. He was a pile of black dust and bones. The mummy could have been destroyed by water seeping through the ground. But his bones were examined in 1940, and he was determined to be an elderly man, possibly around 80 years old. His teeth were badly worn and full of cavities. He had an abscess that left a hole in his palate. This combined with extensive arthritis probably made him in extensive pain in his final years. These were recently re-examined in 2010 for a PBS documentary called “The Silver Pharaoh,” which you can watch here.
The funerary mask (JE 85913) was found intact and is made of gold, lapis lazuli, and inlays of black and white glass for the eyes and eyebrows. It is surmounted with a uraeus, or a royal cobra, and has a divine plaited false beard. The king wears a nemes headdress and a broad or weskh collar incised with floral decoration. It is made out of two pieces of beaten gold, soldered, and joined together with five nails.
He was also found with a gold plaque (JE 85821) which would have been placed over the incision made in his lower abdomen to remove the internal organs. The plate was intended to heal and form a scar over the incision. In the center of the plater, there is a sacred wadjet eye flanked by the four sons of Horus, who are depicted standing with upraised arms as a sign of devotion. The hieroglyphs above have the names of the Four Sons of Horus and the cartouche of the king. The entire scene is framed by a thin incised line with holes at the four corners allowing the plate to be attached to the mummy’s bindings.
Four small gold amulets (JE 85820), were also found within the mass of dust and bones. These depict a Ba bird, a falcon, a vulture, and the Two Ladies. All are made out of beaten gold. The Ba bird symbolized the immortal soul, which is invoked to come back after death to attach itself to the corpse in the god’s domain, according to Book of the Dead Spell 89. The human head represents the King, who had all the royal insignia. The Two Ladies amulet is a combination of the vulture goddess Nekhbet and the cobra goddess Wadjet, who are the titular deities of Upper and Lower Egypt who signified the union of the land.
This reconstruction of the king was drawn by Melissa Drink and depicts him in his old age wearing his main collar necklace.
Photo of tomb reconstruction – Wikimedia Commons (Neithsabes)
Collar – Wikimedia Commons (tutincommon (John Campana))
Mask, Shabtis, Tomb, Reconstruction, Bracelets, Coffin, bowl, necklace, pectoral, collar, cup – https://www.thecultureconcept.com/the-silver-pharaoh-psusennes-i-facing-the-afterlife-in-style
Overseer Shabti – https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548419
Worker Shabti – https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/555077
Mask – https://www.meisterdrucke.uk/fine-art-prints/Egyptian-21st-Dynasty/603830/Funerary-mask-of-Psusennes-I,-from-the-Tomb-of-Psusennes-I,-Tanis,-Third-Intermediate-Period-(gold,-lapis-lazuli-and-glass-paste).html
Excavation photo (Psusennes I is on the left) – https://www.thecollector.com/ancient-egypt-only-intact-egyptian-pharaohs-tombs-ever-discovered/
Black and White Photos – https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/pierre+montet
Side view of the mask -https://www.picuki.com/media/2156803712226732361
Tanis temple area, tomb layout, black and white photos, fingercaps – https://steemkr.com/steemstem/@laylahsophia/egyptology-the-treasures-of-tanis
Amulets, jewelry, oven, bowls – Egypt-Museum.com
Collar and stalls, coffin, sword handle – Flickr (merjaattia)
Bracelets – Flickr (sergiothirteen)
Skeleton – https://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/the-silver-pharaoh-image-gallery/682/ (Andy Webb)
Tomb – Wikimedia Commons (Jon Bodsworth)
Bracelet and Gold Pommel and Tubular section of staff – https://www.mediastorehouse.com/galleries/psusennes
Red granite sarcophagus https://br.pinterest.com/pin/449374869050477165/