CAIRO — Egypt on Monday displayed a trove of ancient artifacts dating back 2,500 years — including one of pioneering architect Imhotep — that the country’s antiquities authorities said were recently unearthed at the famed necropolis of Saqqara near Cairo.
The artifacts were showcased at a makeshift exhibit at the feet of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, 24 kilometers (15 miles) southwest of the Egyptian capital.
According to Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the find includes 250 painted sarcophagi with well-preserved mummies inside, as well as 150 bronze statues of ancient deities and bronze vessels used in rituals of Isis, the goddess of fertility in ancient Egyptian mythology, all from the Late Period, about 500 BCE.
A headless bronze statue of Imhotep, the chief architect of Pharaoh Djoser who ruled ancient Egypt between 2630 BCE and 2611 BCE, was also displayed.
Imhotep, who lived in the third millenium BCE, built the Djoser step pyramid, one of the earliest in ancient Egypt. He later became the god of medicine.
Waziri revealed a goal for the archaeological mission, which has so far undertaken four seasons of excavations in the area: “To find the tomb of Imhotep.”
Other unearthed statuettes depict various gods and goddesses including Bastet, Anubis, Osiris, Amunmeen, Isis, Nefertum and Hathor, according to a statement from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Inside one sarcophagus, the team found an untouched and sealed papyrus, Waziri said. It has been transferred to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo for full restoration and study, he said.
He added that the papyrus — estimated at nine meters (9.9 yards) long — likely contains chapters of the Book of the Dead, collections of funerary texts composed of spells that Egyptians used to guide the dead through the underworld.
The artifacts will be transferred for a permanent exhibit at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, a megaproject still under construction near the famed Giza Pyramids, just outside Cairo.
The Saqqara site is part of a sprawling necropolis at Egypt’s ancient capital of Memphis that includes the Giza Pyramids and the smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s.
Egypt has been heavily promoting recent archaeological finds, hoping to attract more tourists to the country. Its tourist sector, a major source of foreign currency, suffered from years of political turmoil and violence following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The sector has recently started to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, only to be hit again by the effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Along with Russia, Ukraine is a major source of tourists visiting Egypt.