CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptian archaeologists have discovered the tomb of a priest dating back more than 4,400 years, authorities said Saturday, heralding the rare and well-preserved find.
The tomb, belonging to a high priest named “Wahtye,” who served during the fifth dynasty reign of King Neferirkare, is decorated with colorful scenes and carvings depicting his family, the Antiquities Ministry said.
“It is exceptionally well preserved, colored, with sculpture inside. It belongs to a high official priest… (and) is more than 4,400 years old,” Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told an audience of invited guests including reporters.
The site was uncovered in the pyramid complex of Saqqara, south of the capital Cairo.
The tomb is decorated with scenes showing the royal priest alongside his mother, wife and other members of his family, the ministry said in a statement. Some show him offering sacrifices, hunting, sailing or making pottery.
The tomb also contains a total of 45 statues carved in rock depicting the official, his family and an unidentified individual.
This burial is “one of a kind in the last decades,” antiquities official Mostafa Waziri told a press conference, according to National Geographic. “The color is almost intact even though the tomb is almost 4,400 years old.”
Enany said the private tomb had been a new discovery. According to reports, the site contains five unopened shafts and archaeologists could begin systematically excavating the site Sunday.
Waziri said he expected one of the shafts to lead to the coffin or sarcophagus of Wahtye.
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 has suffered from the years of political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In November, archaeology officials announced the discovery in Saqqara of seven sarcophagi, some dating back more than 6,000 years, during excavation work started in April by the same archaeological mission.
Three of those tombs contained mummified cats and scarabs.
The Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo is home to the famous Djoser pyramid, a more than 4,600-year-old construction which dominates the site and was Egypt’s first stone monument.
The stepped tomb, built by the master architect Imhotep for the Pharoah Djoser, stood 62 meters (203 feet) tall originally and is considered the oldest building in the world built entirely of stone.