CAIRO – After unearthing 3,000-year-old tombs, archaeologists from the University of Barcelona’s Egypt mission in Oxyrhynchus have tapped into an enthralling world of ancient gems.
Oxyrhynchus, located nearly 200 kilometers southern Cairo, has been repeatedly looted by treasure hunters since it was discovered over two centuries ago.
It became famous when English Egyptologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt discovered 100,000 papyrus scrolls in the early 20th century.
Fascinating discoveries have been made in the city since, such as a tomb belonging to the Saite Dynasty (664 B.C. to 525 B.C.) with 11 chambers and a funerary trousseau of more than 800 pieces.
Esther Pons co-head of the 13 to 15-member mission financed by the Spanish ministry of culture highlights the most recent discovery, announced by the Egyptian authorities a week ago:
“This year, we have found eight tombs, all built with white limestone blocks. Six of these tombs are from the Saite-Persian period, that is, from 664 BC until 330 BC, which is the time when Alexander the Great enters Egypt and a major change occurs at all levels.”
Six one-chamber tombs differ from those discovered until now at the site, with flat or sloping instead of vaulted ceilings, and a different type of burial, without a sarcophagus.
It is a unique discovery in Oxyrhynchus that reflects a change at the end of the Late Period of ancient Egypt.
The other two tombs recently discovered belong to the following era, the Ptolemaic dynasty or the Greco-Roman period.
Mummified individuals have been found inside four tombs, sometimes placed on “poorly preserved” wooden platform.
They also contained “many thousands” of beads belonging to a mesh, as well as funerary figurines.
Two of the individual tombs discovered this year had not been looted and had been sealed nearly 3,000 years ago with two big blocks of stone and mortar.
Due to the small size of the tombs, the team had to install boxes and wood on top, lie down on them and excavate “from the feet to the head” of the dead person so as not to damage the body, she says.
Archaeologists wore gloves, a mask and took great care at all times and used tiny scalpels and brushes and carefully removed the boxes as they dug.
Each expert spent a maximum of 20 or 30 minutes inside the tombs due to their small size.
“There were always two people inside, one at the door of the tomb and the other inside, in case they needed something, something happened or they got short of breath,” Pons said.
The discovered pieces remain at a warehouse belonging to the mission except for the most important ones that will be selected by the Egyptian antiquities authorities to be taken later to their storehouses.
The Egyptian authorities have been collecting pieces to be exhibited at new museums such as the Grand Egyptian Museum, scheduled to be inaugurated next year.
Finding a historical treasure is not as dangerous as Allan Quatermain, Benjamin Gates or Jack Sparrow made it look like, but it is without doubt complicated and exciting.
To begin excavation in Egypt, a team of archaeologists, anthropologists and photographers is needed, she says.
The team expands and becomes more specialized as discoveries are made, she adds.
Once the project is approved by the Egyptian Antiquities Service and the police, the duration of the excavation is set and the team decides where to being.
The excavated items are filmed and photographed not only for use in subsequent studies and research but because when you “lift” something, it is “irreversible” and will never be as it was found, she adds.