The Cult of Osiris in Abydos (Research Cluster 4. Sanctuaries. Form and ritual. Continuity and change.)
In Middle Egypt, ca. 500 km south of Cairo and ca. 155 km north of Luxor.
While most monuments of Abydos, as the Osiristempel at Kom es-Sultan or the temples of Ramesses II. and Sethos I. were built at the desert edge, the necropolis of Umm el-Qaab is located approx. 1.5 km further west into the desert.
The area of Umm el-Qaab consists primarily of an elite cemetery of the late Naqada Period and in particular of the necropolis of the kings of the 0 - 2nd Dynasty around 3000 BC. Nearly 1.000 years later during the Middle Kingdom this necropolis was identified as the funeral place of the God Osiris.
The tomb of Osiris was in close ritual and processional connection to the other abydene sanctuaries and became the main focus of worship. The arising local cult of Osiris lasted at least from the Middle Kingdom (around 1800 BC) to late Antiquity, with culminations during the 19th - 20th Dynasty, the Libyan Period, and the 25th and 26th Dynasty. The votive offerings deposited during these periods are various and numerous.
In the context of the newly established DAI-Research Cluster 4 (Sanctuaries: Form and ritual. Continuity and change) the cultic remains and all finds later than the Early Dynastic Period, which are in connection with the cult of Osiris, are studied in detail. Special focus lies on the cultic continuity from the late Old Kingdom up to the early 6th century AD as well as the ritual deposits at the tomb itself.
Aim of the project is the reconstruction of the complex cultic activities around the tomb of Osiris by combining archaeological and textual sources, including the topography and the surrounding sacred areas, temples and sanctuaries.
In coordination with the excavations of the DAI in the early dynastic necropolis at Umm el- Qaab the osirian finds and findings are documented and evaluated. Here the archaeological focus is concentrated on the area directly south and west of the tomb of Djer, which is still covered thickly by dumps and debris.
Umm el-Qaab cannot be regarded in an isolated manner within the sacred landscape of Abydos. The God’s tomb is connected to several surrounding sacred areas by processional and cultic axial routes. The identification of several of these axial routes and processional ways in the course of the past years can be regarded only as the first step. The ongoing investigation of further areas of relevance in the vicinity, especially the so-called south hill (about 150 m southwest of the tomb of Chasechemui) promises a substantial improvement in understanding the integration of Umm el-Qaab into the abydene ritual landscape.
Research in Archives and a fresh look at the older finds of the former excavators Amélineau, Petrie and Naville proved to be necessary and productive. In particular a quantity of text fragments on incised pottery, which originate from the early excavations, are distributed on numerous museums and are mostly left unpublished to this day, are joining with new finds made by the DAI.
An emphasis of the investigations, which are carried out in the context of the archaeological excavation work in Umm el-Qaab, lies in the continuation of the documentation of finds, especially the pottery.
For the first time, a detailed study of the votive pottery connected with the cult of Osiris at Umm el-Qaab is undertaken. Other than previously thought, a votive cult at the tomb of Djer comprising pottery vessels can be traced as early as the late Middle Kingdom (late 12th-13th Dyn.). All in all, most of the votive pottery dates to the 19th Dynasty, especially the reign of Ramesses II., and to the Late Period, especially the 25th Dynasty.
The large amount of finds includes 308 pottery fragments with inscriptions dating from the New Kingdom to Coptic times, as well as numerous small finds, such as the fragment of a mud figure of Osiris or a thick bronze sheet fragment, which was bent and broken with traces of rivets and an Osiris-figure engraved on the outside.
The recent excavations of the German Institute of Archaeology at Umm el-Qaab have unearthed several hewn stones belonging to a large horned altar. The well-dressed stones were plain, without inscriptions, but some were finely hewn into a cavetto cornice. In other cases they take the form of acroteria, the „horns“ that protrude up from the four corners at the top of the altar. Traces of fire indicate that the limestone altar was used for burnt offerings.
Numerous deposits of offering pottery, containing different types of the so called qaab-vessels, are to be found in Umm el-Qaab, especially in the southern part of the necropolis, revealing the intensity of cultic activity. The qaab-vessels were often found clustered with organic remains such as twigs and leaves, but also with small amounts of sheep and goat dung inside the vessels. The meanings behind an offering of dung to Osiris or the cultic context during osirian rituals are not yet clear.
A large monolithic shrine of hard limestone was discovered also, smashed into hundreds of pieces presumably in Coptic times, most of the fragments being smaller than 20 cm. The narrow side of the shrine, so far as it could be reconstructed, bears traces of a decorated niche, which could be closed by a double-winged door. The so called „Osiris bed“, discovered by Amélineau at the turn of the 20th century, seems to have been placed originally inside the shrine.
Finally a closer look at the end of the Osiris cult at Umm el-Qaab revealed the location of an oracle at the tomb of Djer in late antiquity.