The spectacular find of the pharaonic cemetery of Saqqara: 59 intact sarcophagi

The spectacular find of the pharaonic cemetery of Saqqara: 59 intact sarcophagi

The collection of coffins, belonging to priests and notables of the pharaoh society, had been sealed and buried in a series of wells in the necropolis for 2,500 years

The spectacular find of the pharaonic cemetery of Saqqara: 59 intact sarcophagi

In the arid terroir that surrounds the stepped pyramid of Djoser , where the pyramid fever began, an underground universe is still struggling to make its way into public light. A skein of vertical shafts, tunnels and passageways that stretches for kilometers and that this Saturday has begun to unravel one of its many mysteries. The latest excavation campaign has rescued 59 intact graves from their entrails.

The treasure of wooden sarcophagi, of different styles, polychromies and sizes, remained in safe custody for the last 2,500 years, oblivious to the voracity of thieves. “It is a really important find because it is in the shadow of the stepped pyramid, near the tombs of a well-known ambassador who signed the treaty of Ramses II with the Hittites, of Tutankhamun's nanny and of a prime minister of Amenhotep III” , has recognized EL MUNDO by the media Zahi Hawass , former Minister of Antiquities of Egypt, after attending a massive press conference that, marked by the usual fanfare, has served to announce the latest discovery of a necropolis located about 50 kilometers from the current urban agglomeration of Cairo .

Under a tent, to mitigate the still hot sun of Egyptian October, the authorities have presented 26 of the coffins unearthed by a local mission that began its campaign last August. “In the area where we located a collection of mummified animals two years ago, we detected access to an 11-meter deep well in which 59 intact sarcophagi had been deposited,” detailed Hawass, escorted by the coffins that have just emerged after millennia of rest and that they are the first archaeological announcement since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

The discovery has gradually revealed its enigmas, at the rate that up to three similar wells were inspected. “First we located 13 intact sarcophagi and then another 14. Last Thursday, when this press conference was already prepared, we found a wooden door behind which another handful of coffins was hidden. We thought about canceling the event but the final order was that there will be time to announce the new details in the coming weeks, “acknowledged Mustafa al Waziri , secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

“There are layers and layers of sarcophagi,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al Anani has launched as a warning. “They are in good condition and still retain their original colors,” said Al Anani, who has presided over the opening of two coffins before a cascade of cameras and reporters. After the planned intrigue, two officials have removed the lid and a mummy wrapped in linen and carved with hieroglyphics has broken with two millennia of retirement. “From what we are reading here, it is about a man who called himself Psamético, a very common name at that time,” explained the minister.

The spectacular find of the pharaonic cemetery of Saqqara: 59 intact sarcophagi

Preliminary examination, which will continue in the laboratory, indicates that the recovered coffins date from the 26th dynasty and belong to a group of priests, high-ranking statesmen, and prominent figures in pharaonic society. “Its final destination is the Great Egyptian Museum, where it will be exhibited in the room opposite the one dedicated to Al Asasif's hideout, found last year in Luxor and made up of 32 sealed coffins of members of the clergy during the XXII dynasty,” he added. Al Anani.

Along with the unfinished procession of sarcophagi, whose identity is still an enigma, the expedition has also dusted 28 statues, most of them, of the funerary god Ptah-Sokar-Osiris , the principal of Saqqara. The jewel is, however, a bronze representation of Nefertum, a prominent god of the Egyptian pantheon linked to the birth of the sun. The 14-inch effigy depicts the deity as a man crowned with a lotus flower made with beautiful inlays of red agate, turquoise, and lapis lazuli. The pedestal still bears the name of its owner, a certain “Badi Amun”, who must also have lived during the XXVI dynasty.

The same wasteland that now recovers part of its buried history gave birth to the mummies of two beetles two years ago, the first of which there is evidence in ancient Egypt, along with dozens of mummified cats that found burial in the main funerary complex of Memphis , the first capital of Egypt. “The coffins discovered now will tell us more about mummification and their religious beliefs around 500 BC- . But this is only the beginning. We have only found 30 percent of what was buried in Saqqara,” said Hawass, happy to unravel the skein. “For an archaeologist, going down a well in search of treasures like these is a passion difficult to describe.”

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