Excavations of a tomb dedicated to the sunrise in winter in Egypt.

Archaeologists have unearthed an unfinished 3,800-year-old ancient Egyptian tomb with a small temple precisely aligned with sunrise on the winter solstice.

Archaeologists say it may be the oldest known tomb in Egypt, dated to the winter solstice.

The necropolis was built near present-day Aswan during the reign of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt, part of the time period sometimes referred to as the “Middle Kingdom” when Egypt flourished.

It is located in the necropolis of Qubbet al-Hawa, the researchers wrote in a study published in July in the Mediterranean Journal of Archeology and Archaeometry. In ancient times, grave robbers plundered many of the artifacts placed in the cemetery, including the mummies of the rulers. The name of the ruler who originally built the tomb is unknown, while another ruler buried there is named Khakib the Third, according to an inscription found in the tomb and historical records.

Both rulers were responsible for the nearby city of Elephantine, albeit at different times, and the team noted in a statement that the tomb’s chapel contains a site originally intended to house a statue of the ruler who built the tomb, the team writes in the study. .

The tomb and statue were never completed, study co-author Alejandro Jimenez Serrano, an Egyptologist and archaeologist at the University of Jaén in Spain, told Live Science in an email. Serrano, head of the team’s excavations at the site, said the team “discovered an unfinished statue outside the tomb” that was supposed to be completed and placed in the mihrab, noting it is not clear why the tomb was left unfinished.

The entrance to the church was built in such a way that sunlight could enter and illuminate the church during the winter solstice, which occurs annually on December 21 or 22. The statue and the church were lit up at sunrise on each winter solstice, when daylight is short. The researchers noted that this may be the oldest known tomb in Egypt, dated to the winter solstice.

Researchers say the winter solstice was important to the ancient Egyptians. It marks the beginning of the daily triumph of light over darkness, culminating in the summer solstice, the longest day on earth.

Moreover, the solstice was seen as a moment of renewal. Jiménez-Serrano added: “After the winter solstice, the days begin to lengthen, which is interpreted as a rebirth. This concept was transferred to the embodied material world specifically to the statue depicting the dead ruler.

The tomb was first discovered by Egyptologist Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge in 1885, but it was only excavated between 2008 and 2018 when it was discovered by a team from the University of Jaén. After the excavations, Egyptologists studied the geometry of the tomb in search of any astronomical coincidences.

The team used data from the architecture of the tomb as well as virtual simulations to see how the light in the temple changed over the course of a year.

Jiménez-Serrano said the team is looking into other burials in the cemetery to see if there are other burials oriented towards winter sunrise.

Source: Living Science