A tomb thought to be that of the brother of one of the most important governors of Egypt's 12th dynasty, Sarenput II, has been unearthed at the site of Qubbet el-Hawa, on the western bank of the Nile.
A number of elite burials are known to be located at Qubbet el-Hawa, many dating from the time of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2649-2150 BC). However, later funerary structures like the one that has just been identified are also present at the site.
This tomb dates back to roughly 3,800 years ago and was discovered during excavations by the Spanish Archaeological Mission led by Dr Alejandro Jimenez-Serrano.
Dr Mahmoud Afifi, head of Ancient Egyptian Department at Egypt's ministry of Antiquities, described it as "important", adding that the richness of the burial will shine a light on the individuals who were close to those in power during the 12th dynasty, but spent their lives in the shadow.
Among the objects recovered in the structure were funerary goods such as pottery and wooden models of funerary boats. More importantly, the archaeologists found two cedar coffins bearing a number of inscriptions, which gave them clues about the person buried there.
The team has thus been able to decipher the name of the deceased, Shemai, followed by the name if his mother Satethotep and his father Khema. Other sources suggest that Shemai was the younger brother of Sarenput II, one of the most powerful governors of Egypt under the reigns of pjaraohs Senwosret II and Senwosret III.
He was governor of Elephantine, an island in the centre of the Nile. At the time, it served as "border town" between Egypt and the Nubian lands to the south and had an important strategic position both for the defence of the border and as a trading route. Sarenput II was also general of the Egyptian troops and a religious figure.
Jiménez-Serrano said a mummy had been recovered from the coffins, but it now had to go through analyses before archaeologists could confirm its identity. The mummy is covered with a polychrome cartonnage with a beautiful mask and collars.
This find is the latest in a series of discoveries during which 14 members of the ruling family of Elephantine during the 12th Dynasty were identified. The project provides an opportunity to learn about the way the Egyptian elites lived some 3,800 years ago.