National Geographic : 2005 Apr
tediously peeling back layers of sand, Adams uncovered jars and wine stoppers bearing Aha's name, confirming that his lost funerary enclo sure was at last found. Once the crew reached the enclosure's floor, they discovered six surrounding graves. Three contained the bodies of adult women, one held the remains of a man, and one held a young child with 25 ivory bracelets embellished with tiny lapis beads. The sixth grave remains unex cavated. In each case the archaeological evidence pointed to a sacrificial death. "The graves were dug and lined with bricks, then roofed with wood and capped with mud brick masonry," says Adams. "Above that ma sonry cap, a plaster floor extends out from the enclosure and covers all the graves." The floor extension is seamless-an important clue, for it would have been impossible to entomb people under the floor except all at the same time. It's unlikely that 41 people-the six at Aha's enclosure plus 35 at his tomb-would have died of natural causes at the same time. Another pos sibility is that they died randomly over time and were then stockpiled and reburied en masse. But for O'Connor and Adams, the evidence strongly suggests they were sacrificed. How were they killed? Petrie believed that he saw signs of post-burial movement in the tomb graves, suggesting that people were alive or semiconscious when buried. Brenda Baker, a physical anthropologist from Arizona State Uni versity, examined all the skeletons from Aha's enclosure and found no signs of trauma. "The method of their demise is still a mystery," says Adams. "My guess is that they were drugged." Or strangled, suggests Nancy Lovell, a phys ical anthropologist at the University of Alberta. Lovell studied skulls from Aha's tomb and found telltale stains inside the victims' teeth. "When someone is strangled,' she explains, "increased blood pressure can cause blood cells inside the teeth to rupture and stain the dentin, the part of the tooth just under the enamel"' It now seems clear that human sacrifice was practiced in early Egypt-as was true in other parts of the ancient world. Sir Leonard Wool ley's excavation during the 1920s and '30s at Ur in modern-day Iraq revealed hundreds of sacrificial graves dating back to 2500 B.C. and related to the burial of Mesopotamian kings and queens. Evidence for sacrifice has also been seen in Nubian, Mesoamerican, and several other ancient cultures. In Egypt enthusiasm for the grim practice seems to have waned quickly. Aha's subsidiary graves are the earliest to be found, and his suc cessor, Djer, embraced the practice with fervor more than 300 graves flank his tomb, and another 269 surround his mortuary enclosure. But Qaa, the last ruler of the 1st dynasty, had fewer than 30 sacrificial graves beside his tomb, Still standing after almost five millennia, King Khasekhemwy's enclosure, the Shunet el-Zebib, marks the end of an era. Luxuries such as stone jars (opposite) surrounded the ruler in his mud-brick tomb. But his successors were buried elsewhere, under soaring pyramids of stone.