In 1902 archaeologists excavating the great Memphite necropolis of Saqqara in Egypt discovered a deep shaft cut into the desert floor. After sixty feet (18m) the passage opened into an enormous unadorned tomb and they were confronted with this imposing black sarcophagus carved from a single piece of greywacke and standing over eight feet tall.
The hieroglyphic inscription contained spells from the Book of the Dead and revealed the tomb was that of Horkhebit "Royal Seal Bearer, Sole Companion, Chief Priest of the Shrines of Upper and Lower Egypt, and Overseer of the Cabinet" and it is believed to date from the XXVI dynasty (595–526 BC). Horkhebit's mummy wore a mask of gilded silver and had a number of magical amulets about his body.
The XXVI Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, came after the Assyrian invasions of the seventh century BC when Egypt was attempting to reassert its independence and power in the region. It was also a time of great artistic inventiveness producing some of the most beautiful masterpieces ever created in Egypt and is sometimes called the Saite Renaissance
The Sarcophagus was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1907.
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