The remains of a royal funerary temple, painted coffins, mummies, masks, statues, stelae, toys, and a chapter from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead were all among the spectacular new discoveries unveiled at the Saqqara Necropolis near Cairo this week.
Beside king Teti’s pyramid, the founder of the Sixth Dynasty, archaeologists have been busy excavating the sands of the Saqqara Necropolis to reveal more of its secrets. Renowned Egyptologist and former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass, who has been leading the work, stood before a beautifully painted coffin examining the mummy inside during the announcement of the discoveries.
“This discovery is re-writing the history of Saqqara and in particular the saga of the 18th and 19th dynasties of the New Kingdom when king Teti was worshipped and the citizens of the time were buried around his pyramid,” Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He explained that the discovery confirmed the importance of the worship of king Teti during the 19th Dynasty, as archaeologists had unearthed a collection of New Kingdom workshops for mummification and the fabrication of coffins. This showed that the necropolis has not only been reused as a burial place during the Late Period but during the New Kingdom as well.
A painted coffin
Hawass said that the remains of the funerary temple of queen Nearit, the wife of Teti, was also uncovered along with three mudbrick warehouses at the temple’s southern end to store the provisions, offerings, and tools used to revive the queen’s cult.
A large collection of burial shafts 10 to 12 metres deep had been found filled with more than 50 painted anthropoid coffins containing mummies, along with hundreds of statues of the deities Osiris and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, stelae, toys, wooden boats and funerary masks, and a four-metre papyrus of Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead.
This helped the deceased pass through the trials faced on the journey to the other world. The copy of the text that was found was once owned by a member of the ancient Egyptian elite.
A luxurious mudbrick shrine paved with polished limestone slabs and dating back to the New Kingdom was also found. It has a 24m shaft that Hawass expects to end in a tomb.
The Egyptian archaeological mission working at the site found pottery from Crete, Syria, and Palestine, showing the long-distance trade and multicultural nature of Saqqara in ancient times.
Many carefully carved and painted wooden ushabti figurines and funerary masks were unearthed beside a shrine dedicated to the god Anubis. A well-preserved limestone stelae was discovered that had belonged to a man named Kha-Ptah, overseer of the king’s military chariot during the 19th Dynasty, and his wife Mwt-em-wia.
The upper part of the stelae depicts the deceased and his wife in an adoration gesture in front of the god Osiris, while the lower part shows the deceased sitting with his wife behind him seated on a chair. Below the chair, one of their daughters sits and smells a lotus flower. Above her head is an ointment flask.
In front of the man and his wife, there are six of his daughters and sons depicted in two registers, the upper one for seated daughters smelling lotus flowers and the lower one for standing sons.
Hawass said that one of the daughters bears the name Nefertari, named after the wife of king Ramses II who built her a tomb in the Valley of the Queens at Luxor as well as a temple at Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt.
One of the sons is named Kha-em-waset, he said, after one of the sons of Ramses II. He was considered a wise man, almost the first Egyptologist, who used to restore the antiquities of his ancestors.
The owner of the stelae was the overseer of the king’s military chariot, indicating his prestigious position.
Other objects found include human skulls and bones along with a game known as senet. “Those who win at senet will go to the other world, or to the fields of Aaru, which was the paradise of ancient Egypt,” Hawass said.
Coffins inside a burial chamber
Radiologist Sahar Selim has conducted studies on the mummies found using X-rays and has determined the causes of death, the age of the deceased at their death, and the characteristics of a mummy of a young child.
One mummy of a woman was found to be suffering from a chronic disease known as Mediterranean fever or “swine fever”, a disease that comes from direct contact with animals.
“The discoveries are very important and will make Saqqara an even more important tourist destination,” Hawass said, adding that more secrets would be revealed soon.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.