See Inside the Tomb of a High-Powered Egyptian Woman

A 4,000-year-old tomb with unusual monkey scenes is discovered on the outskirts of Cairo.

Archaeologists have discovered the lavishly decorated tomb of an ancient Egyptian priestess, giving a rare glimpse of the life of a high-ranking woman more than 4,000 years ago.

The tomb belongs to Hetpet, who served as a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, music, and dance. While female priests weren’t common in ancient Egypt, Hathor’s priesthood included a number of priestesses.

The find marks Egypt’s first archaeological discovery of the year, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany announced at a press conference Saturday in Giza.

Inside the tomb, Hetpet’s name and titles are engraved on a purification basin, AFP reports. The tomb is also decorated with remarkably preserved paintings, including Hetpet in hunting and fishing scenes and depictions of people melting metal, making leather goods, and dancing.

Image: A man walks near the newly discovered tomb at the Giza plateau, the site of three ancient pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo. PHOTOGRAPH BY AMR ABDALLAH DALSH, REUTERS

Among the paintings are unusual scenes of monkeys, which were kept as pets at the time. One shows a monkey picking fruit and carrying a basket, and another shows a monkey dancing in front of an orchestra. Only one other painting of a dancing monkey has been found previously, reports the Egyptian newspaper al Ahram, with a monkey dancing in front of a guitarist in the 12th-century tomb of Kal-ber in Saqqara.

Image: A guide from Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities inspects a painting discovered in the tomb of the priestess Hetpet. PHOTOGRAPH BY AMR ABDALLAH DALSH, REUTERS

Hetpet lived during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty, part of a prosperous era known as the Old Kingdom. This was Egypt’s great age of pyramid-building, when pharaohs ruled and scores of temples and palaces were erected.

Learn what may have caused the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom.

Her name was first seen on antiquities unearthed at the site in 1909 and sent to Germany. The tomb itself was not unearthed until 2017, more than a century later, by a team led by Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Image: The Old Kingdom tomb has an entrance leading to an L-shaped shrine. PHOTOGRAPH BY AMR ABDALLAH DALSH, REUTERS

The team hopes to make more discoveries as they continue excavating the site, Waziri told reporters in Giza.

Lead Image: A woman takes a photo inside the tomb of an Old Kingdom priestess adorned with well-preserved and rare wall paintings on the Giza plateau in Cairo.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MOHAMED EL-SHAHED, AFP, GETTY IMAGES

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