Egypt’s mummies and their secrets unearthed

In fact there was a string of discoveries at Saqqara, including 59 intact coffins revealed in September and October

By   |  Published: 15th Nov 2020  5:54 pmUpdated: 15th Nov 2020  5:55 pm

Agiant trove of ancient coffins and mummies has been discovered at the vast Egyptian burial site of Saqqara. More than 100 intact wooden coffins with brightly painted scenes and hieroglyphs, and well-preserved mummies were found.

In fact there was a string of discoveries at Saqqara, including 59 intact coffins revealed in September and October.

These coffins were found nearby, at the bottom of three 12- meter shafts revealed when archaeologists were removing debris from the site.

Other finds include funerary masks and more then 40 statues of the funerary deity Ptah-Sokar, all untouched for at least 2,000 years.The excavated mostly date from between the sixth and first centuries BC.

To find an unplundered necropolis from this period is extremely significant. Nonetheless, researchers are excited about the possibilities for learning more about this ancient sacred landscape, and the people who were buried there.

Saqqara, located around 20 miles south of Cairo, is one of Egypt’s richest archaeological sites. Home to the 4,700-year-old Step Pyramid, Egypt’s oldest surviving pyramid that’s about 200 years older than the more-famous Pyramids at Giza, the site was used as a burial ground for more than 3,000 years. The coffins finds mostly date from fairly late in ancient Egypt’s history, from the Late Period (664- 332 BC) and the Ptolemaic period when Greeks ruled as Pharaohs (305-30 BC).

During this period, Saqqara was far more than a cemetery. It was a pilgrimage site like an ancient Mecca or Lourdes, that attracted people not just from Egypt but from all over the eastern Mediterranean. Buildings such as the Step Pyramid were already thousands of years old at this time. People believed they were burial places for gods, and wanted to be buried close by.

Geophysical surveys have revealed the remains of numerous temples buried under the sand. Archaeologists have also discovered millions of animal mummies, including dogs, cats and birds, believed to have been left as offerings. Recent finds of mummified cobras, crocodiles and dozens of cats, including two lion cubs, were reported in November 2019 and feature in a Netflix documentary, ‘Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb,’ released this month.

The discovery of an underground embalmers’ workshop suggests a thriving business in dealing with the dead, with coffins and masks to suit a range of budgets.

But the undertakers weren’t digging from scratch. They were reusing older, looted tombs, suitable for placing new coffins, even beneath the Step Pyramid itself, says a researcher. That makes the site a densely packed mix of finds that range thousands of years. The latest coffins come from an area north of the Step Pyramid, next to the bubasteon, a temple complex dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet, where older tombs were reused to hold hundreds of mummified cats.

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