A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
An Old Kingdom cemetery yields the tomb of a
"True Governor of Upper Egypt."
A limestone statue depicting Weni the Elder as a child was found in the southeast corner of his tomb complex. (Penn-Yale-IFA)
Everyone who has studied ancient Egyptian history is familiar with the autobiographical inscription of Weni the Elder, an enterprising individual who lived during Dynasty VI (ca. 2323-2150 B.C.) of the Old Kingdom. The inscription, carved on a limestone slab, describes Weni's service under three kings, culminating in his appointment as governor of Upper Egypt. The precise location of the middle cemetery where the slab bearing the inscription had been excavated in 1860 by Auguste Mariette, however, had never been determined, and thus the location of Weni's tomb remained unknown.
In 1995, the Abydos Middle Cemetery Project, of which I am director, surveyed an area we believed to be the most likely candidate for Weni's burial. Armed with information from that survey and a survey of Mariette's finds in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, we returned to the site in September 1999. The grave we'd found did not belong to Weni, but was that of a prince and chief priest, Nekhty, and it was the focus of a large complex and a number of subsiderary monuments constructed around it in the late Old Kingdom, the First Intermediate Period, the Middle Kingdom, and the Late Period. North of Nekhty's complex, however, lies an even larger structure, and it was here that we found the most compelling evidence for Weni the Elder.
Excavation revealed it to be a massive enclosure 95 feet on each side, ten feet thick, and more than 16 feet high, with burial shafts within. We excavated inscribed relief fragments from this area bearing the name "Weni the Elder," and a title, "True Governor of Upper Egypt," the highest promotion recorded in Weni's autobiography. The final connection to Weni came from a rectangular serdab, or hidden chamber, in the southeast corner. This structure contained the deteriorated remains of more than 30 wooden bases for statues and statue fragments such as arms and hands, and limestone components of production scenes. The best preserved and most significant artifact was a beautifully executed limestone statuette of the tomb owner as a young boy, identified by an inscription on its base as Weni.
Janet Richards is assistant professor at the University of Michigan, and directs the Abydos Middle Cemetery Project.