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New treasures at Saqqara

A cachette of more than four dozen anthropoid wooden coffins will soon be unveiled at the Saqqara Necropolis

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 22 Sep 2020
New treasures at Saqqara
El-Enany and Waziri inspecting the new discovery
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The Saqqara Necropolis outside Cairo continues to reveal its secrets, with its sands having concealed ancient Egyptian royal and noble tombs for millennia that once belonged to some of Egypt’s most-distinguished ancient rulers and officials.

Saqqara’s most exceptional masterpiece is the funerary complex of the founder of the ancient Egyptian Third-Dynasty king Djoser. The site was exploited as a necropolis from the First Dynasty until the end of the Old Kingdom with periods of abandonment before being developed again during the New Kingdom.

It has been explored for the last 150 years, allowing the discovery of many tombs and pyramids, most of which date from the Old Kingdom. The remains of these make it possible to understand how the people of the time once lived.

Today, the necropolis has been revealing more of its secrets, as excavators have unveiled several important discoveries, among them a Sixth-Dynasty mummification workshop complex including an embalmer’s cachette of pottery and a 30-metre-deep communal burial shaft with six tombs containing around 54 mummies and skeletons.

They have also uncovered the tomb of the Fifth-Dynasty priest Wahti, a cachette of mummified cats, crocodiles, serpents and scarabs, and the tomb of the Fifth-Dynasty nobleman Khuwy with a well-painted antechamber.

This week, Egyptian archaeologists unearthed a collection of almost 30 intact and sealed anthropoid coffins that were buried inside two-metre-deep burial shafts more than 2,500 years ago. Despite being beneath the sand for millennia, the coffins are very well preserved and still retain their original colours.

The first 13 wooden coffins were found inside an 11-metre-deep burial shaft with two sealed niches. Opening one of them, a collection of smaller artefacts was found, including of statuettes and ushabti figurines. The second collection of coffins was uncovered inside another five-metre-deep burial shaft located adjacent to the first and housing 14 coffins on top of each other.

All the 27 coffins are completely sealed and intact, and excavations have revealed that more coffins will be uncovered at the same location.

“It is unclear how many more coffins may be found in the shaft, or whose remains they contain, though archaeologists hope to provide answers during the excavation process,” said Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), adding that the excavations continued to reveal more discoveries.

“It is a very exciting discovery,” Khaled El-Enany, minister of tourism and antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that the discovery was the largest number of coffins to be found in one burial site since the discovery of the Al-Assasif cachette in 2019 in Luxor where 30 sealed and intact coffins were unearthed.

El-Enany thanked the excavation workers for operating in difficult conditions while adhering to Covid-19 coronavirus-related safety measures. “I think it’s only the beginning of the new discoveries,” El-Enany said, alerting the world’s media to a major new announcement early next month.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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