A team of Czech archaeologists excavating at the site of Abusir, 17 miles (27 kilometers) south of Cairo, has discovered the large limestone tomb of a top royal physician from about 2400 B.C.
The physician’s name was Shepseskaf-Ankh, which means “Shepseskaf is living”—a tribute to the last king of the fourth dynasty during the period known as the Old Kingdom.
As the Head of the Physicians of Upper and Lower Egypt, Shepseskaf-Ankh served the royal household during the fifth dynasty. He is especially associated with a king named Niuserre, who ruled Egypt for at least a decade.
Miroslav Bárta, director of the archaeological team from the Czech Institute of Egyptology, is particularly pleased with the historical details contained in the tomb as well as its architectural preservation. "This microcosmos illustrates general trends that ruled the society of the day," he says.
Niuserre "followed the policy of marrying some of his daughters to his top officials to keep their ambitions at bay," says Bárta. "This is exactly the moment when the empire starts to break down due to rising expenses and increasing independence of powerful families."
It was also a time when Egypt’s kings had run out of room at the royal funerary complex on the Giza plateau, the site of the grand pyramids of the fourth dynasty. They were now building smaller, rougher pyramids farther south.