Egypt on Saturday announced the discovery of an ancient treasure chest containing more than 100 intact sarcophagi, dating back more than 2,500 years ago, the largest find this year.
The sealed wooden coffins, uncovered on site among much fanfare, belonged to top officials during the late period and the Ptolemaic period in ancient Egypt.
They were found in three burial shafts 12 meters deep (40 feet) in the sweeping Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo.
Archaeologists opened a coffin to reveal a mummy wrapped in a tombstone adorned with colorful hieroglyphic images.
Saqqara, home to more than a dozen pyramids, ancient monasteries and cemeteries for animals, is a large necropolis in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Saqqara has not yet revealed all the content. It is a treasure,” Antiquities and Tourism Minister Khaled al-Anani said at the unveiling ceremony.
“Excavations are still ongoing. When 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, which also date back more than 2,500 years ago.
‘Beautiful, wonderful statues’
More than 40 statues of ancient deities and funeral masks were also discovered, the minister said.
Two more wooden statues were found in the tomb belonging to an ancient judge from the sixth dynasty, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s highest anti – council.
It was not immediately clear if the statues depicted any of the judge’s family members, but a statue is believed to depict an individual named Heteb Ka, who was “revered by the king”, Waziri said.
“The beauty of the statue … can be seen in its eyebrows, mustache and eyelashes. It is absolutely beautiful and wonderful,” he added.
The sarcophagi will be distributed among several museums in Egypt, including the as yet unopened Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Giza Plateau.
Located near the famous Giza pyramids, GEM is planned to be inaugurated in 2021 after several delays.
Anani attributed the discovery in Saqqara to extensive excavation work in recent years.
Another discovery in the vast Saqqara necropolis is expected to be announced in December or early 2021.
Archaeologists are also hoping to find an old workshop for making wooden coffins for mummies.
Waziri explained that ancient Egyptians used to buy their coffins at this workshop.
“We expect it to be somewhere near the grave axes of the coffin,” Waziri said.
Egypt hopes that archaeological discoveries will stimulate tourism, a sector that has suffered several shocks since an uprising in 2011 until the current coronavirus pandemic.