A long-ongoing excavation in Luxor, Egypt, has found a 4,000-year-old funeral garden, the first discovery of its kind. These gardens were known till now only through illustrations at the entrances of tombs and on tomb walls, as part of depictions of how the funeral was supposed to be.

The discovery was made in the courtyard at the entrance of a tomb on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in Luxor, which was called Thebes at the time the funerary garden is from. Around that time, Thebes was the capital of the unified kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. The garden was in a Middle Kingdom rock-cut tomb, likely to be from the Twelfth Dynasty. From the garden, some ancient seeds were also retrieved.

Read: 7,300-Year-Old City Found Along The Nile

José Manuel Galán of Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC), who led the excavation, described the garden in a statement Thursday: “The garden itself consisted of a small rectangular area, raised half a meter off the ground and divided into 30 square centimeter beds. In addition, next to the garden, two trees were planted.”

In all, it measured three meters by two meters, and the different rows contain five or seven beds that perhaps contained various types of plants and flowers. Two beds in the center of the garden were set higher than the others, where shrubs or maybe small trees probably grew.

“We knew of the possible existence of these gardens since they appear in illustrations both at the entrances to tombs as well as on tomb walls, where Egyptians would depict how they wanted their funerals to be. … This is the first time that a physical garden has ever been found, and it is therefore the first time that archaeology can confirm what had been deduced from iconography,” Galán said.

He also explained the relevance of the garden, as well as finding it.

“The plants grown there would have had a symbolic meaning and may have played a role in funerary rituals. Therefore, the garden will also provide information about religious beliefs and practices as well as the culture and society at the time of the Twelfth Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time. We know that palm, sycamore and Persea trees were associated with the deceased's power of resurrection. Similarly, plants such as the lettuce had connotations with fertility and therefore a return to life. Now we must wait to see what plants we can identify by analyzing the seeds we have collected,” he said.

Another associated discovery, attached to the façade of the tomb, was that of a small mud-brick chapel which is likely from the Thirteenth Dynasty, and was built some 200 years after the tomb and the garden.

The excavations were made as a part of the Djehuty Project, which is now in its seventeenth year, and has made some other exciting discoveries in the last few years. The project is led by CSIC.