Egypt Unveils 100 Sarcophagi

Massive find of painted coffins, many with mummies inside, establishes Saqqara as primary burial ground of 26th Dynasty

The Pyramin of Pharaoh Djoser

THE PYRAMID OF PHARAOH DJOSER (27th century B.C.E.), in Saqqara, was the first built in stone. It was known as the Step Pyramid. Photo: Xiquinhosilva; CC BY-NC-SA.

On Saturday, November 14, 2020, the Egyptian Antiquities Authority announced that they’ve discovered more than 100 finely painted wood coffins, including many mummies, and 40 funeral statues, as well as funeral masks, amulets, and canopic jars, storage vessels for the internal organs of a body that is being mummified. In Saqqara, Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, described finding “shafts full of coffins.” This very large find supports archaeologists’ conclusions that Saqqara was the primary burial ground of the 26th Dynasty of Egypt (c. ~650 to 525 B.C.E.).

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As Abraham Malamat describes in “Caught Between the Great Powers” (Biblical Archaeology Review, July/Aug 1999), the 26th Dynasty of Egypt re-engaged with the Levant, exerting its power in the region as the Neo-Babylonian Empire rose to predominance. The state of Judah found itself caught in the middle, between these two powers. After initially opposing Egypt in the Bible narrative, King Josiah aligned Judah with Egypt against the Babylonians. When Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire attacked Judah in 603 B.C.E., Egypt, as Ezekiel had warned (Ezekiel 16:26, 23:8, 21, 27), did not rescue Judah from defeat. Judah struggled along until the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar and end of the Davidic Dynasty in 586 B.C.E., as the Egyptian 26th Dynasty retreated from the region. The 26th Dynasty, the last native dynasty ruling over Egypt before Persian conquest, fell in 525 B.C.E.

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Saqqara is a necropolis for the city of Memphis, capital of the Old Kingdom, about 20 miles south of modern Cairo. It includes the Pyramid of King Djoser, known as the step pyramid, one of the first burial pyramids to be discovered.

At the announcement, the Egyptian Antiquities Authorities scanned one of the mummies by x-ray, determining he had been a man of approximately 40 years of age. They also announced that the finds would soon be available to be seen at a number of different museums in Egypt. And they promised Saqqara had not yet revealed all her secrets. They hope to announce new finds in the near future.

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The Oasis of Amun Siwa, Egypt: Across the Great Sand Sea lies an ancient necropolis, an oracle of the gods and a melted city. For the ancient Berbers who traveled across the parched desert on camels, the fertile oasis of Amun Siwa was a paradise; for modern travelers, it’s a trip back in time.

Achziv Cemeteries: Buried Treasure from Israel’s Phoenician Neighbor by Eilat Mazar. Like so many archaeological projects, the excavation of the Phoenician tombs at Achziv was prompted by looters. In 1941, when Great Britain governed the land of Israel, the Mandatory Department of Antiquities assigned Dr. Immanuel Ben-Dor to look for tombs that the looters had missed. During the next three years, Ben-Dor uncovered dozens of Phoenician tombs. He was followed by Dr. Moshe Prausnitz, who worked here at various times in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s on behalf of the State of Israel’s Department of Antiquities. I first became involved when Moshe and I conducted a joint excavation in 1984.

The Shaft Tombs of Abusir: Deep beneath the desert, archaeologists found the first undisturbed Egyptian tomb in half a century by Ladislav Bares. Intact tombs from ancient Egypt are extremely rare, so high are the rewards of grave-robbing. Even the most famous tomb of all—that of King Tutankhamun (1336–1327 B.C.), opened by the British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922—was robbed in antiquity. The last intact tomb was excavated in 1941 by Egyptian archaeologist Zaky Y. Saad. Nothing more, for over half a century.

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