Egypt unearths new mummies dating back 2,500 years

FILE PHOTO: Tourists visit the Pyramid of Khufu, the largest of the Great Pyramids of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt on March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo
Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed more than 100 delicately painted wooden coffins, some with mummies inside, and 40 funeral statues in the ancient burial ground of Saqqara, Egyptian antiquities authorities said, calling the discovery the largest find at the site this year.

The sealed, wooden coffins, some containing mummies, date as far back as 2,500 years and are “in perfect condition of preservation,” Khaled el-Enany, Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities, told reporters in Saqqara on Saturday. The fine quality of the coffins meant that they were probably the final resting places for the wealthiest citizens, officials said.

Other artifacts discovered include funeral masks, canopic jars and amulets.

“This discovery is very important because it proves that Saqqara was the main burial of the 26th Dynasty,” Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist, told Egypt Today magazine, referring to the rulers from about the mid-600s BC to 525 BC It would also enrich existing knowledge about mummifications in that period, he added.

The artifacts and coffins will eventually be exhibited at several museums in Egypt, including the Grand Egyptian Museum, a sprawling archaeological centre under construction near the Giza Pyramids that is expected to open next year.

Saqqara, a city about 20 miles south of Cairo, is a vast necropolis for the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis, and it has long been the source of major archaeological finds. Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1970s, the necropolis holds more than a dozen burial sites, including the Step Pyramid of King Djoser, the first known burial pyramid.

In a dramatic flourish at the news conference Saturday, experts opened a coffin and X-rayed a mummy, determining it was most likely a man around the age of 40.

The latest discovery comes as Egypt is trying to draw visitors back to the country, which depends heavily on tourism. Political problems, including a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, coupled with terrorist attacks and other instability have deterred tourists, and the coronavirus dealt another blow.

According to a Times database, Egypt has reported 110,547 total virus cases. The country reopened its borders to visitors in July.

© 2020 The New York Times Company