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Seraperion I & II (cont.)
By Antoine Gigal

He soon came to what he described as a courtyard of the ruins of a small temple. There he found the famous statue of the seated scribe who is now in the Louvre, and a statue of the god Bes, whose name ("bs") signifies "to be initiated, to be born" and whose ugliness was believed to repel evil forces. Eventually, on 12 November 1851, only a year later because of the tons of sand to be moved, he found lower down the real entrance to the catacombs of the Serapeum. Look closely at the pictures of the site as it is now, the place is still totally buried below the level of the dunes. Mariette had to use explosives to break through the rock of the sealed entrance. He then entered a long gallery containing niches with votive stelae and 24 side rooms, like alcoves, each containing a huge dark granite sarcophagus. These sarcophagi were nowhere near human scale, as to reach the top one has to climb a ladder of at least eight full steps; I checked it myself. In addition each sarcophagus, carved from a single block of granite, measures 4m long, 2.30m wide and 3m30 tall and weighs about 80 tons, proof of a remarkable feat of technology.

We are told that these sarcophagi are the tombs of mummified sacred Apis bulls of the 26th dynasty (664-525 BC) up to the Ptolemaic period. These huge sarcophagi are therefore supposed to have been receptacles for the mummified bodies of bulls that in real life would not have been much more than 1m60 high over all and would have weighed as an adult about a tonne at the most. The least one can say is that these granite sarcophagi were oversized compared to their supposed content. Strange, isn't it? We will come back to this. We are also told that the granite sarcophagi are empty (it's true, I was able to check on the spot). Supposedly their contents were looted in antiquity. They were thus found as they are now, that is to say empty, with no signs of any mummified bulls - keep that in mind. Marietta also found that most of the lids had been moved.


Left: Look at the enormous size of the sarcophagus, Right: Look at the height of the sarcophagus cover

He continued the excavations and the following year he found other galleries, dating from Ramses II (1279-1212 BC, 19th dynasty) and thus even older. This time they did in fact contain 28 Apis mummies, but in small caves and in wooden sarcophagi that matched the actual size of a mummified bull. Moreover, the bull mummies were always embalmed in the kneeling position like sphinxes, which took up even less space. The wooden sarcophagus of Apis XIV dating to the 44th year of the reign of Ramses II has come down to us intact. We know from later texts (votive stelae did not exist at the time) that during the 67 year reign of Ramses II, seven Apis bulls were embalmed. Mariette then found a third network of rooms containing other smaller burials, dating from the time of Amenhotep III (1387-1350, 18th dynasty). The only wooden sarcophagi still intact were those of the Apis VII and the Apis IX discovered with ushebtis, canopic jars and amulets. So the only record we have is of a few bull mummies enclosed in wooden sarcophagi and several stone sarcophagi of normal size. But nothing about the 24 huge sarcophagi of granite.

At this point we can already see a lot of questions raising their heads - but before we go into them any deeper, let's look at something else: why this worship of bulls? "Serapeum" comes from Serapis, a composite god Sokar-Osiris-Apis created on purpose by the late Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter (305-282 BC after the 31th dynasty). The Pharaoh had a major problem to solve: he had to reconcile and unify two different cultures mingling in Egypt, the Egyptian and Greek. Thus the new cult of Serapis was created, combining the ancient Egyptian cult of the Apis bull with the ancient Greek cults of Zeus, Hades, Asclepius and Dionysus, trying to bring them all together into this composite god who represented fertility and the powers of the underworld.

Yes, but before that? The cult of Apis was certainly in existence a very long time before. According to Manetho, who I have already spoken of a lot, it went back to the second dynasty. But for me and many other Egyptologists and researchers, it is much older still, because many objects from the earliest times that show the importance of the bull in connection with the heavens have been found, for example the palette from the pre-dynastic period of Naqada (4000-3000 BC).


Left: Almost unreal view of a corridor in the Serapeum, Right: One of the corridors in the Serapeum
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