Egyptian officials have announced the discovery of at least 100 ancient coffins – some with mummies inside – and some 40 gilded statues in a vast pharaonic necropolis south of the capital, Cairo.
Colourful, sealed sarcophagi and statues that were buried more than 2,500 years ago were displayed on Saturday in a makeshift exhibit at the feet of the famed Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.
Archaeologists opened a coffin with a well-preserved mummy wrapped in cloth inside. They also carried out x‐raying visualising the structures of the ancient mummy, showing how the body had been preserved.
Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Anany told a news conference that the discovered items date back to the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt for some 300 years – from around 320 BC to about 30 BC, and the Late Period (664-332 BC).
The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis at Egypt’s ancient capital of Memphis that includes the famed Giza Pyramids, as well as smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s.
“Saqqara has yet to reveal all of its contents. It is a treasure,” El-Anany said. “Excavations are still under way. Whenever we empty a burial shaft of sarcophagi, we find an entrance to another.”
The minister said authorities would move the artefacts to at least three Cairo museums including the Grand Egyptian Museum that Egypt is building near the Giza Pyramids.
The discovery at the famed necropolis is the latest in a series of archaeological finds in Egypt. Since September, antiquities authorities revealed at least 140 sealed sarcophagi, with mummies inside most of them, in the same area of Saqqara.
Egyptian archaeologists found other “shafts full of coffins, well-gilded, well-painted, well-decorated,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters on Saturday.
Egypt frequently touts its archaeological discoveries in hopes of spurring a vital tourism industry that has been reeling from the political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that overthrew longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. The sector was also dealt a further blow this year by the coronavirus pandemic.