Archaeologists Discover Hundreds of Colorful Sarcophagi at Saqqara, and They Are Not Completed Yet | Smart News
For thousands of years, ancient Egyptian dynasties deposited their nobility beneath the desert sands, often surrounding them with treasures and trinkets to take with them to the afterlife. Burials in the ancient city of Memphis took place in a massive necropolis about 15 miles southwest of Cairo.
Today, the place where they buried their dead is the archaeological site of Saqqara – and the vast scale of the ancient city of the dead is still in focus. A newly unveiled discovery should help: Researchers have just revealed a huge trove of artifacts from the site, including hundreds of ancient sarcophagi in which the well-heeled dead of ancient Egypt were buried.
This week, archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the recovery of more than 250 sarcophagi, 150 bronze statues and a variety of other antiquities from the site. The remarkably well-preserved objects from the necropolis are still in good condition, and sometimes stained, according to researchers.
The long list of finds includes bronze statues that represent ancient Egyptian gods, including Anubis, Osiris, Nefertem, Isis and Hathor; 40 wooden coffins with sealed mummies inside; evidence of a burial with bronze and brass trinkets and ornaments, and more.
“We found two beautiful wooden statues with golden faces of the deities Isis and Neftis, named the protectors of the coffin,” excavation director Mohamed Al Saidi told CBS News’ Ahmed Shawkat. “They were in a sitting position [by one coffin]one by the head of the coffin and the other by the feet, in a position called ‘the mourners’ or ‘the mourners’ of the deceased.”
Another find at the site may tell even more about ancient Egyptian burial practices. Inside the coffin protected by Isis and Neftis, the team found a papyrus scroll estimated to be 30 feet long that may contain parts of the “Book of the Dead” – a collection of ancient Egyptian texts filled with spells and spells. formulas supposed to protect the deceased in the afterlife. This parchment was sent to a laboratory in the Egyptian Museum.
Although the finds are thousands of years old, many are in excellent condition and still have their paint and gilding intact. “These figurines, although a little scuffed, do not look their age”, writes Gizmodois George Dvorsky; “The items were made about 2,500 years ago.”
The cemetery site where the coffins and statues were found was originally named for the ancient Egyptian cat goddess Bast, due to the many statues of the deity that have been discovered there. However, due to the continued discovery of statues of other gods and mummified animals, the site was renamed Cemetery of Sacred Animals in 2019.
The latest finds there, Al Saidi told CBS News, “[confirm] that the temple was not exclusively reserved for cats, but also for other Egyptian deities.
Egyptian antiquities authorities have let the press take a close look at the many artifacts in a pop-up display near the base of Djoser’s Step Pyramid, the AP reports. The finds will eventually be transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo when it opens in November, according to the Washington PostIt’s Rachel Pannett. The Job reports that the Egyptian government hopes the findings will reinvigorate Egypt’s tourism sector, which has suffered from political unrest, pandemic-related travel restrictions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Ukrainian and Russian tourists typically make up a large portion of Egyptian visitors each year.)
But Saqqara might have what it takes to tempt tourists curious about Egypt’s ancient past. The necropolis is different from other burial places of ancient Egyptian nobility, Smithsonian reports Jo Marchant of the magazine. Other cemeteries may have sprawling, lavish graves for individuals or families. In contrast, Saqqara is characterized by “mega-tombs” filled with hundreds of expensive coffins. While finds at the site spanned 3,000 years, from the time of the early pharaohs to Roman subjugation of Egypt, most of the sarcophagi found date to the late period of ancient Egypt, from 525 to 332 Before our era.
During this period, Egypt was largely under Persian occupation. Although the era was characterized by a struggle for Egyptian autonomy, the culture of the occupied peoples flourished under the Persians, who respected Egyptian mores, arts and religion. At this moment, Smithsonian reports, shared graves had become a common burial practice, necessitated by political instability around 1000 BCE
By then, Saqqara was already iconic as the home of Egypt’s oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, built around 4,700 years ago. In the Late Period, the site was already ancient and associated with the gods and the divine. A burial place close to the deities of the afterlife would have been coveted by the ancient Egyptian nobility
In modern times, Saqqara is known for other reasons: its seemingly endless archaeological treasures. To date, more than 450 sarcophagi have been discovered there, CBS reports, with many more yet to be discovered – only 300 feet of the quarter-mile site have been excavated so far. In November 2020, Smithsonian‘s Marchant reported at the time, researchers unveiled another hoard of more than 100 sarcophagi. This discovery included funerary masks and statues of deities of the dead.
At the time, Saqqara archaeologist Salima Ikram said Smithsonian that finding such treasure in an intact Late Period tomb was “hugely significant”, although Campbell Price, curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum in the UK, added that the sarcophagi were “much more than what we already have.”
Although the objects may be similar, they make up for their lack of variety with quantity. And given how much territory archaeologists have yet to tackle, it’s likely that these discoveries are just the beginning. The dead of Saqqara may have lain dormant for millennia, but their resting place is finally revealing its secrets.