Egypt has unveiled a cache of 75 wooden and bronze statues as well as animal mummies – including cats, crocodiles and lion cubs – at the Saqqara necropolis near the Giza pyramids.
The Antiquities Ministry announced the find on Saturday at the foot of the Bastet Temple, dedicated to the worship of cats among ancient Egyptians.
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Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany described the discovery as “a [whole] museum by itself”.
The Saqqara plateau hosted at least 11 pyramids, including the Step Pyramid, along with hundreds of tombs of ancient officials, ranging from the 1st Dynasty (2920 BC-2770 BC) to the Coptic period (395-642).
The Saqqara discovery is the latest in a series of new finds that Egypt has sought to publicise in an effort to revive its key tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters that among the mummified animals were two lion cubs. Radar scans were needed on three others to determine that the mummies were also lions.
Archaeologists frequently find mummified cats but the recovery of a lion is rare.
In 2004, the first lion skeleton was found in Saqqara, revealing the sacred status of the animal in ancient times.
Archaeologists also found wooden and bronze cat statues representing the ancient goddess Bastet and a rare large stone scarab, which Waziri described as “the largest all over the world”.
They also displayed two mummies of ichneumon, or the Egyptian mongoose, wrapped in linen bandages and wooden and tin-glazed statuettes of the goddess Sekhmet, represented as a woman with the head of a lioness. Scholars say Sekhmet (1390-1252 BC) was a goddess of war.
There were also strips of papyrus with depictions of the goddess Taweret depicted as a hippopotamus with the tail of a crocodile.
Markings on the displayed artefacts show that they date back to the Late Period (664-332 BC).