Egypt unearths 250 mummies in ancient necropolis

Archaeologists in Egypt have uncovered a trove of ancient artefacts at the necropolis of Saqqara near Cairo, including mummies and bronze statues dating back 2500 years.

Among the treasures were 250 sarcophagi – or painted coffins – with well-preserved mummies inside, unearthed during recent excavations at a burial ground outside Cairo, said Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Painted coffins with well-preserved mummies inside, dating back to around 500 BC at a makeshift exhibition at the feet of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, Egypt.Credit:AP

“In one of the wooden sarcophagi, we found, for the first time, a complete and sealed papyrus,” he told reporters at a makeshift exhibit. The document was immediately moved to a museum for further study. Waziri said he believed it was similar to those found 100 years ago that discuss the Book of the Gates and the Book of the Dead. Both are ancient Egyptian funerary texts.

The dig also uncovered 150 bronze statues of Egyptian deities and instruments used for rituals dating back to the Late Period of ancient Egypt, about 500 BC, said Waziri, who led the archaeological mission.

They were accompanied by a musical instrument known as a sistrum and a collection of bronze vessels used in rituals for the worship of the goddess Isis.

The painted wooden coffins were found intact in burial shafts and contained mummies, amulets and wooden boxes. Wooden statues of Nephthys and Isis from an earlier period were also found, both with gilded faces.

Some 250 well-preserved mummies and other objects were found.Credit:AP

The Egyptian government is hoping a spate of recent archaeological discoveries will help revive the country’s tourism industry, bringing much-needed foreign currency and creating new jobs.

Egypt’s tourism-dependent economy has suffered in the past decade from the political chaos that developed after the 2011 Arab Spring. Lately, it has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which curbed global travel, and the war in Ukraine; Russia and Ukraine are usually big sources of tourists for the country.

Ancient finds have been made across the country in recent years, bringing fresh understanding of the dynasties that ruled ancient Egypt.

In February last year, archaeologists found 16 human burial chambers at the site of an ancient temple on the outskirts of the northern city of Alexandria. Two of the mummies had golden tongues, which Egyptian Antiquities Ministry officials said were to allow them to “speak in the afterlife”.

Some of the artefacts unearthed in Saqqara, Egypt, on display on Monday.Credit:AP

That same month, a massive 5000-year-old brewery – believed to be the world’s oldest – was discovered in the southern city of Sohag. The beer, researchers hypothesised, was used in burial rituals for Egypt’s earliest kings.

In April last year, archaeologists announced they had unearthed a 3000-year-old “lost golden city” in the southern city of Luxor, a discovery they said could be the biggest since the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen.

The Saqqara necropolis, where the latest discoveries were made, was part of the burial grounds for the ancient capital, Memphis. Its ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The sarcophagi will be transferred to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, due to open near the famed Giza Pyramids outside Cairo in November, for display.

The Washington Post

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