During the German Archaeological Institute's campaign in upper Egyptian Thebes in the autumn of 2004, two richly decorated and nearly undamaged wooden coffins were discovered in a shaft complex of the necropolis of Dra' Abu el-Naga in western Thebes. A small chamber in the rock at the foot of an approximately 10 m deep tomb shaft contained a large, rectangular wooden coffin holding a smaller inner coffin. The coffin ensemble was still standing in the exact position where it had been placed during the burial almost 3,800 years previously (fig. 1). The burial chamber is only marginally larger than the exterior coffin, and is the reason why an attempt by tomb robbers to remove the coffins from the chamber failed. The thieves therefore made a hole in the foot panel of the exterior coffin, removed the foot panel of the interior coffin and through these openings, removed the mummy of the person buried here and presumably numerous other objects of the original burial goods as well.
The ca. 250 cm long, 101 cm wide, and 105 cm high box-shaped exterior coffin bears a horizontal line of hieroglyphs around the outside. The inscriptions of these so-called offering formulas include several mentions of the title and name of the owner, who was a high official, a judge (sab) named Imeni. The unusual feature of this coffin is the remarkably well-preserved decoration of all inner walls, which are adorned with religious texts (the so-called 'Coffin Texts') and polychrome representations of the ideal burial equipment (the so-called 'frise d'objets'). The wooden coffin inside the exterior one is also box-shaped, but not as exquisitely made, and is decorated with bands of inscription only on the exterior. These inscriptions name not, as expected, the name and title of Imeni, but those of "his beloved wife, the lady Geheset".
An initial interpretation of this unusual finding is given by two vertical inscriptions at the head and foot ends of Imeni's coffin, which were certainly applied significantly later than the other coffin decorations. Here (and only in the inscriptions of Imeni's coffin), the word Geheset ("gazelle") is mentioned again. The inscriptions explicitly indicate that Imeni gave this coffin, originally made for him, to his "beloved wife Geheset" (fig. 2). This inscription and other observations made during the complicated and time-consuming recovery of the two coffins now allow various reconstructions of the unusual procedures that led to the burial: the large coffin was made for judge Imeni's burial during his lifetime, but certainly never used. Instead, the coffin was "rededicated" to Geheset, either by Imeni himself or by others, however, the exact point in time of this change of ownership remains unclear. Apparently, Geheset was then buried in both coffins. The designated burial chamber, in which the two coffins were discovered, proved to be too small for the large Imeni coffin (fig. 3), necessitating changes to the latter during the burial. As the anthropological examinations of the human remains of the person once buried in the inner coffin have shown, Geheset was in all probability a well-situated lady, probably of African origin, whose skeleton showed a series of highly remarkable pathological findings.
The remarkable feature about the discovery of the coffins of Imeni and Geheset is not their state of preservation and decoration, but arises from another aspect. From the pottery found, the burial of Geheset can be dated to the first half of the 13th dynasty (ca. 1795-1720 BC) a period for which there is only sparse evidence in Upper Egypt. With one exception, coffin ensembles of this kind, especially found in situ, were previously unknown from the Theban necropolis.
The first results of the examinations of the coffins and other finds from the tomb carried out since the spring of 2005 are now accessible in an elaborately designed and richly illustrated publication (see below). This volume also includes a DVD with a virtual, animated 3D reconstruction of the above and below ground excavation area in Dra' Abu el-Naga as well as a documentary film on the recovery of the coffins.