The discovery of the Osirion (Osireion or Osiron)
In the winter of 1901-2 Mr. St. G. Caulfeild undertook the further examination of the temple of Sety (Seti I) at Abydos (Abtu or Abdju). Our work there resulted in finding the temenos (enclosure) wall, and showing the connection between the planning of that temple and the Royal Tombs of the early kings on the desert behind it. These results, and his careful study of the plan of the temple appeared in the last volume of the research account. But he also made other discoveries which have been followed up during the next winter by Miss Murray with the results here issued in this volume.
When Mr. Caulfeild began to excavate, I noticed some thick masses of crude brick, and suggested that they might be mastabas. He cleared along them and found that they formed a continuous wall, which we then identified as the temenos wall of the temple. I observed that parallel with this there was a slight long hollow on the surface, and proposed that he should clear it out. Some time after, on looking at the site I was told the men had found desert a few feet down. This seemed strange, and on looking at it I saw there was only blown sand. So they were told to go deeper. Again, after some time, on going there again, the same story of desert at the bottom was repeated; only this time about fifteen feet down. On examining it I found blown sand. So a third time they were told to go down, and soon after they struck some great blocks of limestone. The final result was that we found the pavement of the hall was forty-one feet under the surface; a depth filled with some Roman rubbish and much blown sand over it.
After the excavations by Miss Murray and my wife, we realized that these great stones which we first found were the remains of the doorway to a limestone chamber near the north-west corner of the temenos, which had been entirely carried away for lime burning in Roman times. From the place of this doorway Mr. Caulfeild carried on excavations, continually expecting to come to an end of the entrance passage to the south, and find a door of approach to the subterranean constructions; but after continuing for a couple hundred feet this seemed as far off as ever; and the season being at an end nothing more was done.
Miss Murray, then, entered on the work, with the certainty of a long inscribed passage to be cleared and copied, and its terminations to be found. Various attempts were made to settle the beginning of it by surface workings, tracing the filling of made earth which lay over it. And these resulted in showing that it turned at right angles, and led up towards the back doorway of the temple. But it could not be found at it’s beginning owing to the immense rubbish heaps thrown out in Mariette’s clearing of the temple halls. The work was therefore concentrated on a point where the filling seemed to be undisturbed over the construction, hoping to find there the roof intact, and so enter an unbroken part of the passages.
But on descending we found that the filling in had only been left because there was no roof under it there; and the whole of the ancient roofing had been removed, so far as we were able to ascertain, excepting one cracked lintel. Thus nothing short of removing the whole forty feet of stuff over the whole construction can ever clear it. This season only sufficed for the trial working, and clearing the great hall, one chamber, and part of a passage. To do the whole clearance is beyond the slight resources of the Egyptian Research Account; and it is much to be hoped that the Department of Antiquities will undertake to open and maintain this unique hypogeum of Osiris as a part of the great temple which is one of the main attractions of Egypt.
It was most fortunate that we had the knowledge of Miss Murray and the artistic copying of Miss Hansard available for such a work, which required long and tedious facsimiles to be prepared, with due attention to the inscriptions. The elaborate study of Osiris which Miss Murray has issued will, it is hoped, serve to clear up and emphasize the various aspects and connections of one of the fundamental deities of the Egyptian worship and beliefs.
by Sir William Flinders Petrie
and Margaret Alice Murray