Archaeology Magazine is featuring the gilded silver mask found in Saqqara this year on the cover of its January/February 2019 issue, after the mummification workshop where it was found was selected as one of the magazine’s top ten archaeological discoveries of 2018.
The discovery of the mask was announced in July in a press conference at Saqqara.
It was part of the discovery of a mummification site dating to the Saite-Persian Period (c.664-404 BC) which included an embalmer’s cachette of pottery, a mummification workshop, and a communal complex of burial chambers.
An Egyptian-German team from the University of Tuebingen, which is carrying out the Saqqara Saite Tombs Project, found a large number of beakers, bowls and amphorae inscribed with names of mummification oils and substances, in addition to embalmer’s instructions.
The vessels preserved sizable amounts of residue of these substances, making them a “dream material” for decoding the secrets of mummification. They are now being tested by an Egyptian-German team of archaeologists and chemists.
The mummification workshop was a rectangular structure built with mudbrick and limestone blocks. It includes two rooms and a mudbrick ramp between them.
Archaeological evidence gathered from the two rooms indicate that they were used for natron and for the preparation of the mummy linen bandages.
In the middle of the mummification workshop, there is a 30 metre-deep shaft that contains several burial chambers on different depth, each one contains dozens of mummies. Inscriptions and artefacts found in these burial chambers reveal several interesting information on the people buried therein. One mummy, for example, is buried inside a small burial chamber that is sealed off with a layer of plaster inscribed with a text written in demotic.
The text speaks about a familial dispute between a wife and her mother-in-law over the mummy of the husband/son who is buried in this burial chamber. It seems that the mother was not content with the burial of her son in this shaft. Another burial chamber included an uncle and his nephew, while the third contained the sarcophagus of a wealthy woman, called Tadihor.
She had a large stone sarcophagus and a set of alabaster canopic jars along with 401 faience shawabti figurines. In a fourth burial chamber, there are two stone sarcophagi and two wooden coffins. The owners of the stone sarcophagi were priests of Amun and the serpent goddess Niut-shaes.
A fifth burial chamber had a stone sarcophagus and four wooden coffins. In one of these coffins, a gilded silver mask was found on the face of the mummy of the priest of Mut and Niut-shaes.
The gilded silver mask, the first found in Saqqara since 1905 and in Egypt since 1939, has inlayed calcite, obsidian and onyx eyes, and measures 23 by 18.5 cm.
Gilded silver masks had deep religious meaning, since Egyptian religious texts indicate that the bones of the gods are made of silver, and their flesh/skin are made of gold. Therefore, a mummy mask of silver and gold is step towards the transformation of the deceased into a god.
The Saqqara Saite Tombs Project of the University of Tuebingen will resume documentation and conservation of the mummification workshop and its communal burial chambers in 2019.
The Egyptian-German team will open the four sealed large sarcophagi in the burial chambers of Tadihor, Iauet, Ayput and Tjanimit in the spring and winter of 2019, expecting more compelling finds.