Lara’s Travels: Tomb of Semerkhet

In this edition of Lara’s Travels, we’ll be exploring the Tomb of Semerkhet, one of the many Egypt-based levels in the 1999 game Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. One of the things that Tomb Raider fans may have noticed is the series’ quirky blend of historical fact and archaeological fantasy, and The Last Revelation is no exception.

But does the Tomb of Semerkhet really exist? The answer is yes… and no.

In The Last Revelation, Semerkhet is said to be a High Priest of Horus who helped the falcon-headed sun god seal the Lord of Darkness Seth in a sarcophagus in order to save the world from falling into chaos and despair. This Semerkhet’s tomb is located within the Karnak Temple complex and visitors are forced to play a game of Senet, the Egyptian “game of passing”, before they can continue on their journey.

So far, so fictional.

Fancy a game of Senet? (Image credit: Katie's Tomb Raider Screenshots)
Fancy a game of Senet? Image credit: Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.

There was, however, a real Semerkhet whose tomb was discovered by the renowned Egyptologist and archaeologist William H. Flinders Petrie at the Umm el-Qa’ab cemetery at Abydos in 1899. This Semerkhet was a king who ruled during the 1st Dynasty (ca. 3100-2890 BC) and may have only been on the throne for just over 8 years.

Little is known about Semerkhet’s background or family but legend has it that a great calamity befell Egypt during his short reign. Sadly, there are no detailed accounts of this supposed calamity in any surviving historical records. Interestingly, an inscription on the stone slab referred to as the “Cairo Stone” mentions that he was an escort of Horus and that the first year of his reign saw the “destruction of Egypt”. Could this have been the inspiration for the High Priest’s backstory in Last Revelation?

An alabaster vase bearing the name of Semerkhet (Image credit: Iry-Hor/Wikimedia Commons)
An alabaster vase bearing the name of Semerkhet. Image credit:Iry-Hor/Wikimedia Commons.

Semerkhet’s tomb, also referred to as “Abydos Tomb U”, can be entered by walking down a ramp that leads into a rectangular brick-lined burial chamber. Here, Petrie and his team found a number of precious grave goods, which included jewellery made of ebony, turquoise, and amethyst and fragments of pottery, marble vessels, and furniture. The discovery of vessels which once contained aromatic oils imported from Syria or Palestine suggests that early dynastic Egypt had already established trade links with its eastern neighbours.

The chamber itself is surrounded by 67 smaller, subsidiary tombs which were once part of Semerkhet’s tomb. Some archaeologists believe that members of the king’s family and household may have been sacrificed and buried alongside him so that they could obey and serve the deceased king in the afterlife, a tradition that was abandoned towards the end of the 1st Dynasty.

It seems that having friends in high places doesn’t always pay off.

A map of the real Tomb of Semerkhet (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A map of the real Tomb of Semerkhet. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

That’s all for this edition of Lara’s Travels. If you’d like to learn more about some of the places Lara has visited over the years, you can find an archive of all editions of Lara’s Travels over here.

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About Kelly M

Kelly McGuire is a translator, editor, writer, and gamer with a passion for archaeology, foreign languages, cultural heritage, and wildlife conservation. She tweets under the username @TRHorizons and is the admin and chief content creator for Tomb Raider Horizons.

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