An Japanese-Egyptian mission directed by professor Nozomu Kawai of Kanazawa University has discovered a Roman catacomb from the 1st or 2nd century AD during excavation on the eastern rock escarpment of the North Saqqara plateau.
“This area had never been previously investigated by an archaeological mission,” Kawai told Ahram Online.
Kawai explains that the catacomb consists of a vaulted mud brick structure with a staircase leading to the entrance and a rock-cut chamber made of fine limestone. It also contains a niche holding a round-topped stele depicting the deities Sokar, Thoth, and Anubis, under which is a two-line Greek inscription.
Kawai suggests that the stele had been reused, and that the Greek inscription was a later addition. In front of the stele, five terracotta figurines of Isis-Aphrodite, Roman ramps, and small pottery vessels were found. The mission also found a pair of symmetrical guardian lion statues made of limestone, each one measuring 55cm in length, 33cm in height, and 19cm in width.
The rock-cut chamber beyond the entrance gate consists of a long hall measuring approximately 15m in length and approximately 2m in width, with small chambers hewn on its side walls. Notably, a large complete terracotta statue of Isis-Aphrodite measuring approximately 58 cm in height was found in the rock-cut chamber.
A number of human remains, including mummies, were also found.
“This is the first discovery of a Roman catacomb in Saqqara,” asserted Kawai, adding that the objects, particularly the terracotta figurines and statue of Isis-Aphrodite, the guardian lion statues, and the stele, show a combination of Egyptian and Greco-Roman style. It is expected that future excavation will reveal more details about the burial customs and religious practices during the Roman period in Egypt.
Outside of the catacomb, the team found a number of simple burials, probably dating from the Roman period to the Coptic period, along with a part of a mud brick mastaba tomb that could be dated to the early dynastic period or the Old Kingdom.