King Semerkhet’s Peculiar Tomb

The burial that sparked my interest at the Umm el-Qa’ab cemetery is the tomb of King Semerkhet.  It has several unique characteristics that suggest that King Semerkhet was very important to society.  However, not much is known about this king except that he had several disasters during his reign that make the size and superior quality of his tomb peculiar.  The first indication of his importance is the entrance into the tomb, which is a ramp instead of a staircase.  Since staircases are more common entrances to royal tombs, it is interesting as to why this one is a ramp.  Perhaps a ramp is more difficult to construct, showing that this king was superior to others in some way, or so the builder thought.

When excavators such as Flinders Petrie opened the tomb, it was “saturated ‘three feet’ deep with perfumed oil, still strongly scented after 5,000 years” (p. 113).  They determined that this oil was imported from a long distance away, most likely Palestine.  The use of such a large amount of oil makes me wonder why it was necessary to add this to the tomb.  It obviously shows that the king had high status since imported oil from far away is a luxury item, but why was the tomb drenched in it?  Was this done only to exaggerate the fact that the king had power, money, and resources to get such oil, or was there another symbolic reason?  It is also amazing how the scent was preserved so strongly in the tomb for so long.  This preservation must have been possible because it was contained in the air-tight tomb and no intruding air could wash the scent or contents away.

The tomb of King Semerkhet at the Umm el-Qa’ab cemetery is a rather unusual burial.  The first difference is the ramp that enters the tomb, as opposed to the usual staircase.  The other difference is the use of such a large amount of imported oil that still saturated the tomb 5,000 years later.  This indicates that long distance trade was very important and shows that the king had an especially high status even though other sources say differently.  It would be interesting to learn more about King Semerkhet’s reign and burial.

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