Just south of Unas Pyramid in Saqqara necropolis in Giza the air is buzzing with people who flocked to the site, trying to catch a glimpse of the new discovery to be announced at a press conference.
Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Anany announces the beginning of the excavation of a mummification workshop discovered along with a communal burial place, consisting uniquely of several burial chambers and dating to the Saite-Persian Period (664-404 BC). The work is being carried out south of the King Unas Pyramid in Saqqara by an Egyptian-German mission from the Tübingen University.
“A collection of 35 mummies has been uncovered along with four sealed sarcophagi that are to be opened soon to explore what lies inside,” El-Anany said. He added that one of the most important items uncovered is a gilded sliver mummy mask found in a burial chamber off the main shaft attached to the mummification workshop.
Early studies show that the mask belongs to a person who held the titles ‘the second priest of Mut" and "the priest of Niut-Shaes". Preliminary microscopic examination suggests that it is made of gilded silver, and the eyes are inlayed with a black gemstone (possibly onyx), calcite and obsidian.
The wig is also inlayed with gemstones that were once embedded in coloured pastes. The mask measures 23 x 18.5 cm. A research and conservation project is currently being planned for the mask.
Ramadan Badry Hussein, director of Saqqara Saite Tombs Project and professor at Tübingen University describes the discovery as rare.
Hussein told Ahram Online that the mummification workshop, a rectangular building constructed with mud bricks and irregular limestone blocks, was found 30 metres beneath the ground.
On the south-western corner an entrance leads into an open area with two large basins and a mud brick ramp between them. The two basins are surrounded with mud brick walls.
It is believed that they were for the natron (a salt mixture used as a drying agent in embalming) and the preparation of linen bandages. He states that the mummification workshop includes also an embalming cachette with a 13.00 metre deep shaft, ending with a rectangular subterranean chamber, where a large corpus of pottery was found.
This pottery includes vessels, bowls and measuring cups inscribed with the names of oils and substances used in mummification. The mummification workshop has also a large shaft (K 24) in the middle, which is used as a communal burial place. It measures 3 x 3.35 x 30 m. Shaft K24 is unique in having several burial chambers, including a complex of burial chambers cut into the bedrock at a depth of 30.00 m.
They are arranged on the sides of two hallways. The first hallway has an intact burial chamber on the west, where three decayed wooden coffins were found on top of the western end of a large limestone sarcophagus.
A fourth mummy is found to the north of that sarcophagus. A large number of faience ushabti figurines were also found along the northern side of the sarcophagus.
Hussein pointed out that the middle wooden coffin, on top of the sarcophagus, is badly damaged, and the mummy inside it has a gilded mask that was found on top of the face of the mummy.
The wooden coffin was once plastered and painted with an image of the goddess Nut, the mother of the god of the dead, Osiris.
The decoration also includes the titles of the owner of the mask along with his name. He is the second priest of the goddess Mut and the priest of the goddess Niut-Shaes, a serpent form of the goddess Mut.
The theophoric name of the owner of the mask includes the name of the goddess Neith, the patron goddess of 26th Dynasty.
Pieces of the painted plaster carrying the rest of his name are still missing, and the mission is collecting more of them in order to read the full name of the deceased.
Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Ahram Online that this discovery is the first to be found since the last excavation work carried out by Maspero in 1900 where he found a several burials.
Waziri describes the discovery as important and unique, adding that German-Egyptian mission is very lucky to find such workshop.
He pointed out that the discovery is still at its beginning and more finds are expected.
The Tübingen University's mission to Saqqara has witnessed the implementation of state of the art technology in the documentation and recording of monuments, particularly in laser scanning and photogrammetry techniques.
The mission’s digital documentation activities include the creation of 3D photogrammatic models and laser scans of the burial chambers of Padinist, director of the storage department of the royal palace, Psamtek, chief physician and commander of the libyan mercenaries, and Amentayefnakht, commander of the recruits.
The mission also conducted a conservation project of the polychrome reliefs and inscriptions in these burial chambers.