SAQQARA, Egypt – The Pharaonic necropolis in this town south of Cairo has emerged as a veritable mother lode for Egyptologists with the discovery of the more than 100 coffins and dozens of gilded statues put on display on Saturday.
Buried some 2,300 years ago, the wooden coffins, some with mummies inside, remain in excellent condition.
Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Anany said during the presentation at the feet of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara that the elaborately painted coffins held the remains of elite figures from the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt circa 320-30 BC.
Archaeologists found more than 40 artifacts, such as statues and funeral masks, along with the coffins and work at the site continues, he said.
“Saqqara has yet to reveal all of its contents. It is a treasure. Excavations are still under way. Whenever we empty a burial shaft of sarcophagi, we find an entrance to another,” El-Anany told the media and invited guests.
The event included the opening of a coffin containing a cloth-wrapped mummy and an X-ray visualization of the subject, determined to be a man between the ages of 40 and 45.
The coffins displayed on Saturday are of more recent vintage than the 59 discovered dating from the Late Period (664-332 BC) that were discovered earlier this year, the Ptolemaic hoard stands as the most important find of 2020 in terms of quantity and condition, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
He said that the “well-gilded, well-painted, well-decorated” coffins held the remains of people at a high social level.
Saqqara, roughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Cairo, is one of the necropoli at the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, which includes the Giza Pyramids.
Mohamed el-Seaidy, head scientist for the Council of Antiquities, told EFE that the first major discovery at Saqqara came in early 2018, when archaeologists came across a group of mummies accompanied by wooden statues of Baset, the ancient Egyptian goddess of love, harmony and protection.
December 2018 brought the discovery of a magnificent burial chamber belonging to Wahty, a priest and high official, which inspired the Netflix documentary “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.”
Last year, the all-Egyptian team working at the site found a collection of mummified animals.
Waziri said that just as people nowadays typically bring flowers when they visit a loved one’s grave, “in ancient times, they stopped to buy mummified animals and they offered them to their departed.”
Study of the 100 coffins unearthed recently has already greatly enriched knowledge about “society and funerary practices in Saqqara,” El-Anany said.
The Egyptian government plans to distribute the sarcophagi and accompany artifacts among three different museums in Cairo.