If the question is Egypt, Abydos is the answer. For ancient Egyptians, Abydos was the mythic burial place of the god Osiris and the ancestral home of their first kings. It was Egypt’s single most sacred landscape for thousands of years — a place of pilgrimage, ritual, culture, and power, where ancient Egyptians came to participate in the rituals that established the cultural basis for eternal life. From this place, and the people who lived here 5,000 years ago, much of Egyptian history flowed, shaping the world we know today in countless, unseen ways. The preservation of the unique cultural heritage of Abydos incorporates architectural documentation and conservation, site management, and site protection, within the broader context of a conservation approach that incorporates everything from the smallest individual object to the remains of ancient monuments and the landscape of the site as a whole. Together, all of these elements of conservation form an integrated and holistic philosophy of preservation. A central element of our conservation program, since 2001, has been the comprehensive architectural documentation, stabilization, and preservation of the Shunet el-Zebib — the Second Dynasty cult enclosure of King Khasekhemwy (c. 2650 BCE), which has dominated the landscape at Abydos since before the pyramids were built or even imagined. This 5,000-year-old monument — the last, largest, and sole surviving of a series of enormous mud brick enclosures built by Egypt’s earliest kings, and the foundation for the royal building tradition that gave us the pyramids — is, in a sense, Egypt’s Stonehenge. It stands on the horizon of time between a historical world we can readily perceive and another world much more distant to us. The long-term excavation and conservation of the Shunet el-Zebib have anchored the Expedition’s archaeological program at Abydos for nearly twenty years, a significant component of which is investigating evidence for the original use of the monument in the Second Dynasty. Equally important, however, have been the excavation and documentation of subsequent archaeological phases in the cultural re-use of the Shunet el-Zebib throughout Egyptian history, which will result in a permanent record of its long life on the ever-changing landscape of Abydos, and ultimately, preserve a tangible connection to deep antiquity that echoes throughout all of human history.
Text and images © Abydos Archaeology 2019