Egypt’s great necropolis continues to reveal its secrets
Excavations at the site of the ancient Saqqara tombs continue to amaze with the discovery of 250 sarcophagi and 150 statuettes. The discovery was announced in a press conference held by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities . Saqqara was the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and has been a treasure trove of discoveries. All 250 sarcophagi are in remarkably good condition with their mummies still inside. Although this is the largest single discovery of sarcophagi from the UNESCO World Heritage site, it will certainly not be the last.
Although tombs and burial complexes found at Saqqara date as early as the Early Dynastic period (c. 3150–2663 B.C.E.), the newly discovered sarcophagi are from Egypt’s Late Period (c. 525–332 B.C.E.). The sarcophagi, which still had their mummies preserved inside, were discovered within the site’s Cemetery of Sacred Animals. Among the statuettes were representations of the Egyptian gods Anubis, Amun, Hathor, Isis, Min, Nefertum, Osiris, and Bastet. Additionally, excavators found a headless statuette of Imhotep, the famous architect who is believed to have built the nearby Step Pyramid of Djoser (c. 2650 B.C.E.), the oldest still-standing stone monument in Egypt.
These were not the only discoveries by the Egyptian team, however. As excavation director Mohamed Al Saidi told CBS News, “We found two beautiful wooden statues with golden faces of the deities Isis and Neftis … They were in a seated position [by one coffin], one of them by the head of the coffin and the other by the feet, in a position called ‘the mourners’ or ‘weepers’ for the deceased.” More remarkably, inside the coffin guarded by these deities was a nearly 30-feet-long papyrus scroll that may be a chapter from the Book of the Dead, a collection of spells and texts intended to assist the owner in the afterlife. Another scroll containing a chapter of the Book of the Dead was uncovered in Saqqara in 2021.
The Saqqara tombs, located in Giza a few miles south of Cairo, were first excavated in 2018 after the discovery of an untouched tomb of a priest who lived nearly 4,500 years ago. That discovery has since become the subject of a Netflix documentary. According to Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, these 250 sarcophagi are the biggest discovery at the Saqqara tombs so far. “I’m very proud that the discovery was made by Egyptians, and this will not be the last discovery here,” Waziri said at the press conference.
Since their discovery in 2018, the Saqqara tombs have continued to provide incredible finds from across the span of Egyptian history. Among the finds have been hundreds of sarcophagi, human and animal mummies, grave goods, statues, and more. In the future, the Egyptian team hopes to discover the tomb of Imhotep, who was deified after his death and is remembered as one of ancient history’s most important architects.
All of the finds from the Saqqara tombs are expected to be brought to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to be completed in September 2022. The artifacts will be studied, preserved, and curated for future display. It is hoped that the creation of this new national museum, along with its hoard of incredible new treasures and their associated media buzz, will help rejuvenate a tourism industry that has suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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