Archaeologists in Egypt have declared that one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo.
The mummified remains date back almost 2,500 years, with many more expected to be found in the coming months.
Saqqara, 32 kilometers south of the capital, is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s. Part of the necropolis of Egypt’s ancient city of Memphis, it is famous for its 5,000-year-old Step pyramid of Djoser, which has recently undergone a $10 million restoration.
Although there is still much work to be done to identify who was buried there, experts believe the mummies were priests and officials who once sanctified the vast cemetery.
The discovery of so many sealed sarcophagi — several retaining their original ornate colors despite the long passage of time — is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in decades.
“This discovery will go all over the world because it is the most important discovery that has happened in Egypt in 2020,” Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptologist and former Egyptian minister for antiquities affairs, told Arab News on Saturday.
“That moment, I cannot explain to you, it is passion when you discover a mummy for the first time that was sealed for thousands of years. I always say that you never know what the sand of Egypt may hide.”
“We thought there were only animal mummies, like cats, crocodiles, snakes and lions,” Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, told Arab News.
His team of archaeologists were stunned when they uncovered the first of the closed coffins from an 11-meter-deep burial shaft.
“I found a big mountain of debris and, in my heart, I felt something and said ‘this is the place that they should start digging,’” Waziri said, recalling his first impressions of the site when he arrived in 2018.
As the team sifted through hundreds of cubic meters of earth, his gut feeling soon proved correct.
“We found the most famous necropolis of the sacred animals, including mummified crocodiles, snakes, scarabs, lion cubs, mongoose and falcons. It was amazing to find hundreds of those mummified animals and birds,” he said.
It was here in 2018 that archaeologists discovered the Tomb of Wahtye from the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, which dated back almost 4,400 years.
“We found tombs and shafts everywhere in this area, some dating back to the Late Kingdom and some to the Late Period,” Waziri said.
Then, on Aug. 1 this year, after a mountain of debris almost nine meters high was removed, the archaeologists had a “lovely surprise.”
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