SAQQARA, Egypt (AFP) — Egypt announced Saturday the discovery of an ancient treasure trove of more than a 100 intact sarcophagi, dating back more than 2,500 years ago, the largest such find this year.
The sealed wooden coffins, unveiled on-site amid much fanfare, belonged to top officials of the Late Period and the Ptolemaic period of ancient Egypt.
They were found in three burial shafts at depths of 12 meters (40 feet) in the sweeping Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo.
Archaeologists opened one coffin to reveal a mummy wrapped in a burial shroud adorned with brightly colored hieroglyphic pictorials.
Saqqara, home to more than a dozen pyramids, ancient monasteries, and animals burial sites, is a vast necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Saqqara has yet to reveal all of its contents. It is a treasure,” Antiquities and Tourism Minister Khaled al-Anani said at the unveiling ceremony.
“Excavations are still underway. Whenever we empty a burial shaft of sarcophagi, we find an entrance to another.”
The latest find came just over a month after archaeologists in the area found 59 other well-preserved and sealed wooden coffins, also dating back more than 2,500 years ago.
More than 40 statues of ancient deities and funerary masks were also discovered, the minister said.
Another two wooden statues were found in the tomb belonging to an ancient judge of the 6th dynasty, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.
It was not immediately clear if the statues depicted any of the judge’s family members but one statue is believed to depict an individual, by the name Heteb Ka, who was “venerated by the king,” Waziri said.
“The beauty of the statue… is seen in the intricacy of its eyebrows, moustache, and eyelashes. It is absolutely beautiful and wonderful,” he added.
The sarcophagi will be distributed among several museums in Egypt including the yet-to-opened Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) at the Giza plateau.
Situated near the famed Giza pyramids, GEM is planned to be inaugurated in 2021 after multiple delays.
Anani attributed the flurry of discoveries in Saqqara to extensive excavation works in recent years.
Another discovery in the vast Saqqara necropolis is expected to be announced in December or early 2021. Archaeologists also hope to find an ancient workshop for manufacturing wooden coffins for mummies.
Waziri explained that ancient Egyptians used to buy their coffins at this workshop. “We expect it to be somewhere close to the coffin’s burial shafts,” Waziri said.
Egypt hopes archaeological discoveries will spur tourism, a sector which has suffered multiple shocks ever since a 2011 uprising up until today’s coronavirus pandemic.