for National Geographic News
Thank thieves for an archaeological discovery with some real bite.
The recent arrest of several tomb raiders led an Egyptian archaeological team to graves of three royal dentists who had been buried in the desert for 4,200 years.
The thieves had launched their own dig in Saqqara—the ancient, pyramid-rich royal cemetery just south of Cairo—Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters touring the site yesterday (related photo: "Egypt's most beautiful mummy found at Saqqara).
"It seems for the first time that the ancient Egyptians made a cemetery to the dentists, and they are buried in the shadow of the Step Pyramid," said Hawass, who is a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)
Built for Pharaoh Djoser and named for its staircase-like construction, the circa-2630 B.C. Step Pyramid is believed to be Egypt's oldest pyramid.
The dentists' tombs date back to ancient Egypt's 5th dynasty, which lasted for 153 years and ended in 2345 B.C.
Archaeologists say the tombs were meant to honor a chief dentist and two others who treated ancient Egypt's pharaohs and their families.
Two hieroglyphs depicting an eye over a tusk—identifying the men as dentists—appear frequently among the symbols decorating the tombs.
One tomb also includes a curse proclaiming that anyone who violates the grave will be eaten by a crocodile and a snake.
The ancient Egyptians "cared about the treatment of their teeth," Hawass told reporters, according to the Associated Press. (Read more about Zahi Hawass and his mission to protect Egypt's artifacts.)
Cathleen Keller is an Egyptologist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Saqqara is probably the single most important private cemetery of the 5th dynasty," she said.
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