The Arabic name el-Muzzawaka means ‘The Decorated Hill’, but this area, which is really part of the Amheida cemeteries, consists of a series of small soft stone hills or ridges in which over 300 tombs were cut. Primarily Roman and dated to the first and second centuries AD, a few of the tombs are decorated in a mixture of traditional Egyptian and classical style. Although many of the tombs are still unexcavated, two of the most interesting, belonging to Petubastis and Petosiris, are outstanding for their exquisite colourful frescos.
The tomb of Petubastis consists of a single decorated chamber with recessed shelves intended to house the mummies of the deceased. On the eastern wall is a portrait of the tomb-owner, painted onto plaster. The ceiling of the chapel is painted with a zodiac in the style of the first century AD.
The second tomb, belonging to one Padiosir Petosiris, dates from the early part of the second century AD and contains two chambers. The owner is again portrayed on the northern wall of the outer chamber as a large figure wearing a long pink Roman-style toga. Curiously he is surrounded by representations of traditional ancient Egyptian religious symbols, including a hieroglyphic text. The inner chamber depicts the weighing of the deceased’s heart before Osiris while Isis provides a libation for the spirit of Padiosir. Other scenes are reminiscent of the New Kingdom funerary art. Here, a more complex zodiac than that in the tomb of Petubastis, is painted with figures of birds and animals, a scarab and the god Horus as well as the usual representations of the constellations.
Archaeologists are not certain whether either of these two tombs actually contained burials, but many mummified bodies have been found in neighbouring undecorated tombs. Simple inscriptions have also been found in some of the other tombs, providing information about the spiritual beliefs and customs of the Roman inhabitants of Dakhla.
The tombs at el-Muzzawaka have been known of for many years and have been well-plundered for any artefacts of value. The two major tombs were photographed by Herbert Winlock in 1908, but only rediscovered by Akhmed Fakhry as recently as 1972 after which time the badly damaged frescos were restored. In 1998 the tombs of Petubastis and Padiosir Petosiris were once again closed to the public as the ceilings were in a state of collapse. Apparently restoration has now been completed but when I visited in 2011 the tombs were still not open to the public. A new visitor centre has also been built, but at the time of writing was not open.