Meet the Mummy

Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus to be opened on live TV

Thousands-year-old coffin to be featured on Discovery channel is believed to contain an Egyptian nobleman

An ancient Egyptian sarcophagus (YouTube screenshot)
An ancient Egyptian sarcophagus (YouTube screenshot)

NEW YORK — A sarcophagus believed to contain an Egyptian nobleman will be opened on live TV during a special broadcast by the American channel Discovery.

The two-hour “Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live” will air Sunday night from the site outside Minya, which is along the Nile River south of Cairo and its Giza pyramids.

Egypt has sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism hit by turmoil after the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities declined to comment, even though Discovery announced that council head Mostafa Waziri would be present for the event.

The site containing the sarcophagus was discovered in February last year, and a Discovery spokesman told AFP that the project was set up in collaboration with Egypt’s antiquities ministry.

Archaeologists at the site recently discovered a network of vertical shafts leading to a network of tunnels and tombs containing 40 mummies “believed to be part of the noble elite.”

In one of those, a limestone sarcophagus holding a 3,000-year-old mummy is to be opened during the show.

Discovery declined to disclose the identity of the mummy prior to the broadcast.

Prominent Egyptian archaeologist and former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass will also participate, Discovery previously announced.

Asked by AFP about a possible financial deal between the channel and the Egyptian state for permission to film and open the grave, the spokesman for Discovery refused all comment.

“It’s a media spectacle in the end — but it could make people love antiquities and is a good promotional opportunity for tourism, if done right,” an Egyptian archaeologist who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

She said the broadcasters should not open the tomb without providing solid archaeological context, but “the main problem” is something else.

“If money is being paid by a major channel to the ministry to show antiquities, where is it going to end up?” the archaeologist asked.

“Will it go in the state’s purse-strings or end up elsewhere? We need more transparency on where the money is going.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has overseen a crackdown on dissent, banning protests and jailing Islamists as well as liberal and secular activists.

He regularly evokes political stability to draw foreign investment.

The tourism sector has begun to return, with arrivals reaching 8.3 million in 2017, according to government figures.

That still falls far short of the 14.7 million tourists in 2010.

Discovery’s broadcast also comes with global interest in Egyptian archaeology generated by a “once in a generation” exhibition about the pharaoh Tutankhamun, which opened in Paris last month and will tour the world.

In Washington, a separate exhibition has opened focusing on the “Queens of Egypt.”

Discovery said that its broadcast will be simulcast on the Travel and Science channels.

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