National Geographic : 2005 Feb
moon, the 29th day of the monthly lunar cycle - a day when the worlds of the living and dead were believed to draw close. In the city sur rounding the palace, families gathered in the gloom for meals within the safety of their houses, following a tradition even then ancient. Led by the eldest son, each family remem bered the dead, offering food and drink to their ancestors and asking them for blessings in a memorial feast called kispum. Deep in the palace King Idanda fulfilled his duty as eldest son and royal heir, descending to the netherworld below. The way was not easy. The king, his priests, and members of the royal family proceeded slowly with oil lamps and a few torches down a windowless secret corri dor. At the end of the corridor the king and his retinue climbed down a wooden ladder to a small landing, then down another ladder to an 114 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * FEBRUARY 2005 antechamber three stories below ground. The priests passed vessels of food and drink from hand to hand down the shaft. Soon the royal party crowded the antechamber, dark as a cave. Idanda led the way into the main chamber of a four-room rock-cut tomb, stepping carefully so as not to disturb the bones lying on wooden biers. The priests poured milk and beer and served beef and lamb, cereal, salt, and butter. In the far thest corner of the room Idanda sat down on a stone bench to dine with the dead: his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and some ancestors so distant he did not know their names. He called to them, starting with his father, whose spirit, once summoned, was believed to recline on a bed in a chamber at the rear of the tomb. We cannot know Idanda's exact words, but similar ones are found in ancient texts recovered across the Near East. "Come! Eat this!