Late Period tomb architecture at Saqqara

After the New Kingdom, a period of decline set in for the Saqqara necropolis. Until the end of Dynasty 25 (752-656 BC) there was not much activity. It is only after the stabilization and re-emergence of Memphis as the administrative capital of Dynasty 26 (664-525 BC) that the site was used again for private burials. No royal tombs from this period exist at Saqqara: for safety reasons these were built inside the great temple enclosures of the Delta cities where these Late Period kings originated (as was done before at Tanis).

In the Late Period we see quite some reuse of earlier tombs. A lot of the New Kingdom tombs had already been plundered and reused in post-Ramesside times and were used for new burials in the Late Period. New or existing shafts were used to enter the underground chambers in which niches were cut to hold as many mummies as possible. Some of these mummies were still buried with nicely decorated coffins and bead-nets. Towards the end of the Late Period (5th and 4th centuries BC) such shafts tombs tend to be poorer, with hundreds of badly-embalmed mummies in a very confined space, and no other grave goods then a handful of shabtis and amulets.

Several high officials of the Saite and Persian periods (Dynasties 26-27) built rock-cut tombs along the edge of the Saqqara plateau. An example is the tomb of Bakenrenef which consisted of a walled courtyard, two pillared halls, three subsidiary chambers that were nicely decorated, and two very large burial shafts. Most contemporary elite tombs, which also occur at Abusir, just consist of very deep shafts (often over 20 m deep) leading to one or more decorated burial chambers at the bottom. Some examples of these are the tombs of Nesthoth just east of the Dutch concession; the tombs of Padipep, Psamteknebpehti and Hor located near the pyramid of Teti; the tombs of Imentefnekhet and Hekaemsaef in front of the Unas pyramid; and some more east of the Djoser complex. The burial chamber (with a sloping roof) usually contained a large stone sarcophagus in which the coffin with the mummy was placed.

Alongside the road that must once have gone from the capital Memphis to the Serapeum there are a lot of simpler graves clustered together. Oriented E-W and consisting of a shallow, rectangular pit, they contained coffins that were decorated on the in- and outside. The grave goods were limited and basic. There were also some simple burials underneath the precinct of the Anubieion. In 1905-1906 Quibell excavated a number of simple pits without shaft or chamber. Inside were brightly-coloured terracotta coffins and sometimes also cartonnages. The few finds and worn-down teeth of the dead led Quibell to conclude that these were the poorer Egyptians.

Another development in the Late Period that must be mentioned are the animal galleries which contained huge numbers of animal mummies, buried either as votives (ibises, falcons) or as sacred incarnations of the divine (the Apis-bull and his mother). These were located north of Djoser's pyramid.