Serapeum of Saqqara
The Serapeum of Saqqara is a serapeum located north west of the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, a necropolis near Memphis in Lower Egypt. It was a burial place of Apis bulls, sacred bulls that were incarnations of the ancient Egyptian deity Ptah. It was believed that the bulls became immortal after death as Osiris Apis, a name that appears in Coptic as ⲟⲩⲥⲉⲣϩⲁⲡⲓ, Userhapi, which was borrowed in Greek as Σέραπις, Serapis, in the Hellenistic period.
Working as an administrator during the reign of his father, Khaemweset, a son of Ramesses II (1279–1213 BC) of the nineteenth dynasty, ordered that a tunnel, now known as "The Lesser Vaults", be excavated through one of the mountains at the site and designed with side chambers to contain large granite sarcophagi weighing up to 70 tonnes each, to hold the mummified remains of the bulls.
A second tunnel, approximately 350 m in length, 5 m tall and 3 m wide (1,148.3×16.4×9.8 ft), now known as "The Greater Vaults", was excavated under Psamtik I (664–610 BC) of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty and later used by the Ptolemaic dynasty.
The temple was discovered by Auguste Mariette, who had gone to Egypt to collect Coptic-language manuscripts, but later grew interested in the remains of the Saqqara necropolis. In 1850, Mariette found the head of one sphinx sticking out of the shifting desert dunes, cleared the sand and followed the boulevard to the site. After using explosives to clear rocks blocking the entrance to the catacomb, he excavated most of the complex. Unfortunately, his notes of the excavation were lost, which has complicated the use of these burials in establishing an Egyptian chronology.
A controversial aspect of the Saqqara find is that for the period between the reign of Ramesses XI and the twenty-third year of the reign of Osorkon II – about 250 years – only nine burials have been discovered, including three sarcophagi Mariette reported to have identified in a chamber too dangerous to excavate (that have not been located since). Because the average lifespan of a bull was between 25 and 28 years, egyptologists believe that more burials should have been found. Furthermore, four of the burials attributed by Mariette to the reign of Ramesses XI have since been retrodated. Scholars who favour changes to the standard Egyptian chronology, such as David Rohl, have argued that the dating of the Twentieth Dynasty should be pushed some 300 years later on the basis of the Saqqara discovery.
- J.-F. Brunet, The XXIInd and XXVth Dynasties Apis Burial Conundrum, Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum 10 (2005), 26-34.
- Aidan Dodson, Of Bulls & Princes, the early years of the Serapeum at Sakkara, in: KMT 6/1 (1995) 18-32.
- Aidan Dodson, The Eighteenth-Century Discovery of the Serapeum, in: KMT 11/3 (2000) 48-53.
- M. Malinine, G. Posener, J. Vercoutter, Catalogue des Stèles du Sérapéum de Memphis, tome premier (textes), Paris, 1968.
- Auguste Mariette, Le Sérapéum de Memphis, Parijs 1857.
- Auguste Mariette, Catalogue général des monuments d'Abydos découverts pendant les fouilles de cette ville. Paris 1880.
- G. Maspero, Le Sérapeum de Memphis, par Auguste Mariette-Pacha, publié d’après le manuscrit de l’auteur, tome premier. Paris, 1882.
Sources and references
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- Mathieson, I., Bettles, E., Clarke, J., Duhig, C., Ikram, S., Maguire, L., et al. (1997). The National Museums of Scotland Saqqara survey project 1993-1995. Journal of Egyptian archaeology, 83, 17-53.
- Mathieson, I., Bettles, E., Dittmer, J., & Reader, C. (1999). The National Museums of Scotland Saqqara survey project, earth sciences 1990-1998. Journal of Egyptian archaeology, 85, 21-43.
- Malek, J. (1983). Who Was the First to Identify the Saqqara Serapeum? Chronique d'Egypte Bruxelles, 58(115-116), 65-72.
- Harry Adès, A Traveller's History of Egypt (Chastleton Travel/Interlink, 2007) ISBN 1-905214-01-4 p. 274.
- Dodson, A. (2000). The Eighteenth Century discovery of the Serapeum. KMT, 11(3), 48-53.
- Farag, Sami (1975). Two Serapeum Stelae: Egypt Exploration Society. JEA, 61, pp 165-167.
- Beechick, R. (2001). Chronology for everybody. Technical Journal, 15(3).
- Rohl, D. M. Pharaohs and kings: Crown Publishers.
- Rohl, D. M. (1992). A Test of Time: The New Chronology of Egypt and its Implications for Biblical Archaeology and History.
- Steiner, M. (1999). THE NEW CHRONOLOGY DEBATE - Problems of Synthesis - A criticism of the New Chronology from Margreet Steiner.
- Molnár, J. (2003). The liberation from Egypt and the new chronology. Sacra Scripta (1), 13.