Secrets from the Sepulcher: Egyptian `Cryptic' Discovery Sheds New Light on African Culture and Civilization

By Phillip, Mary-Christine | Black Issues in Higher Education, June 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

Secrets from the Sepulcher: Egyptian `Cryptic' Discovery Sheds New Light on African Culture and Civilization


Phillip, Mary-Christine, Black Issues in Higher Education


Secrets From The Sepulcher: Egyptian `Cryptic' Discovery Sheds New Light. on African Culture and Civilization

WASHINGTON, DC -- In his reclamation of African history, J.A. Rogers, the late African-American journalist and historian, noted that "much has been buried, lost, forgotten. But within [human] consciousness there is a burning desire to know as much of it as possible."

The truth of Rogers' assessment hit home recently when Kent Weeks, an archaeologist from the American University in Cairo, unearthed what is being called the largest and most complex tomb of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh to date. Weeks' desire to know led him to the Valley of the Kings, where, after a decade of digging, scratching and scraping, he excavated a 3,500-year-old crypt believed to hold the remains of 50 of the 52 sons of Ramses II, "Son of Ra," the Sun God, who ruled Egypt for 66 years until his death in 1213 B.C.

Historians describe Ramses II as a great Pharaoh, conqueror and builder, who fathered more than 100 children with many wives, one of them being Queen Nefertari. The find is the most significant since Howard Carter opened Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. The remains of his daughters have yet to be found. Weeks says it will take his team months, even years, to complete an inventory of this expansive, ornate mausoleum, which contains at least 62 rooms, many laid side by side. Adorning the rooms are a series of hieroglyphics and artifacts, including canopic jars used to hold the inner organs of the deceased.

Researchers believe dozens of other rooms are in the lower level of the tomb.

While some Egyptologists, anthropologists and scholars are marveling over the magnitude of Egypt's latest "cryptic" revelation, others are trying to interpret what the findings mean to present-day African culture and civilization.

For starters, it "gives us greater knowledge into the technical capacity of African society," says Dr. James Turner, a professor of African and African American Studies, political economy and social policy at Cornell University. "We are looking at the development of tombs that have 50 chambers that are interconnected. There seems to be tremendous engineering and architectural development. That gives us a sense of the scale of technology that was commonplace to Africans."

From the architecture of the tomb, archaeologists say they have rock-solid evidence that ancient Egypt was a highly developed and sufficiently rationalized society. It had a level of production and sophistication that allowed its people to become masons, builders, sculptors, writers and poets.

In societies where people are scrounging to get their next meal, there is no time or resources left for such creativity, Turner said. He considers the evidence overwhelming that ancient Egypt -- and Nubia, which he said predates it -- was a highly organized, very productive and extraordinarily advanced society. It had a division of labor that was efficient and provided for the kind of development that archaeologists are just beginning to scratch the surface of, experts say. In addition to the writings on the wall, historians and others are intrigued by the ability of the Egyptians to light the chambers of the tomb. That light, they say, is not simple stick fire.

"This latest finding vindicates what many present-day Nile Valley scholars -- who are mostly Black -- and earlier scholars, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Leo Hansberry, J.A. Rogers, Arthur Schomburg and others had been saying for years, and that is Egypt is really one of the very important lights of human history," says Turner. "It is a critical part of the story of humankind. Egypt, which is in Africa, predates the rise of the period of enlightenment in Europe by at least 1,000 years. It is important to study that part of African history because it holds some of the vital information on the civilization of humankind."

Ancient Nubia

Disclosure of the tombs coincides with an exhibit, "Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival In Africa," now under way at the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. …

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