SAQQARA, Egypt — Egypt on Sunday unveiled ancient treasures found at the Saqqara archaeological site near Cairo, including sarcophagi over 3,000 years old, a discovery that “rewrites history,” according to famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass.
Saqqara is a vast necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to more than a dozen pyramids, ancient monasteries, and animal burial sites.
A team headed by Hawass made the finds near the pyramid of King Teti, the first pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom.
More than 50 wooden sarcophagi dating to the New Kingdom (16th century BC to 11th century BC) were found in a burial shaft, Hawass said.
“This discovery rewrites the history of Saqqara and more specifically the history of the New Kingdom, which began 3,000 years ago,” he said.
Hawass told reporters at the Saqqara necropolis that archaeologists unearthed the temple of Queen Neit, wife of Teti, the first king of the Sixth Dynasty that ruled Egypt from 2323 BCE till 2150 BCE.
Archaeologists also found a 4-meter (13-foot) long papyrus that includes texts of the Book of the Dead, which is a collection of spells aimed at directing the dead through the underworld in ancient Egypt, he said.
Hawass said archaeologists also unearthed burial wells, coffins and mummies dating back to the New Kingdom that ruled Egypt between about 1570 BCE and 1069 BCE.
Hawass said his team had discovered a total of 22 shafts, including one containing a “soldier, with his battle-ax resting beside him”.
A stone sarcophagus was also found, he added, as well as “a papyrus around five meters long containing the 17th chapter of the book of the dead… masks, wooden boats, games the ancient Egyptians used to play”.
“It is a rare and new discovery because most of the artifacts we found are dated back to the New Kingdom, whereas in Saqqara, it’s usually more around 500 BC,” he added.
A number of objects were displayed to the press on Sunday, while excavations of the site are ongoing.
“Seventy percent (of the new area) is still to be explored,” he added.
The Saqqara site is also home to the step pyramid of Djoser, one of the earliest built in ancient Egypt.
Later this year, and after several delays, authorities hope to inaugurate a new museum — the Grand Egyptian Museum — at the Giza plateau, home to the famed Giza pyramids.
Hawass, known for his Indiana Jones hat and TV specials on Egypt’s ancient sites, said work has been done at the site close to the Pyramid of Teti for over a decade.
The discovery was the result of cooperation between the Antiquities Ministry and the Zahi Hawass Center at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis at Egypt’s ancient capital of Memphis that includes the famed Giza pyramids as well as smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1970s.
In recent years, Egypt has heavily promoted new archaeological finds to international media and diplomats in the hope of attracting more tourists to the country.
The vital tourism sector suffered from years of political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.