Ancient Mummy Warehouse Found Deep Beneath Egypt

Maggie Michael in Cairo
Associated Press
February 9, 2009

A storehouse of 30 Egyptian mummies has been unearthed inside a 2,600-year-old tomb, in a new round of excavations at the vast necropolis of Saqqara outside Cairo, archaeologists announced today.

The tomb was discovered at the bottom of a 36-foot-deep (11-meter-deep) shaft, announced Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Eight of the mummies were in stone coffins, or sarcophagi. The rest had been placed in niches along the wall.

The chamber was a "storeroom for mummies," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

The ancient warehouse dates back to 640 B.C. and the 26th dynasty, which was Egypt's last independent kingdom before it was overthrown by a succession of foreign conquerors, beginning with the Persians.

Most of the mummies are poorly preserved, and archaeologists have yet to determine their identities or why so many are in a single room.

One of the sarcophagi is made of wood and bears the name Badi N Huri but no other identifiers. "This one might have been an important figure, but I can't tell, because there was no title," Hawass's assistant Abdel Hakim Karar said.

The rest of the sarcophagi—including four that are tightly sealed—have yet to be opened yet, Karar said.

Karar added that it was quite unusual for mummies of this late period to be stored in rocky niches. "Niches were known in the very early dynasties, so to find one for the 26th dynasty is something rare," he said.

Excavations have been ongoing at Saqqara for 150 years, uncovering a vast royal necropolis of pyramids and mummy-filled tombs dating mostly to the Egypt's Old Kingdom (2575 to 2150 B.C.), but including sites as recent as the Roman era.

In the past, excavations have focused on just one side of two nearby pyramids—the famous Step Pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser and that of Unas, the last pharaoh of the 5th dynasty.

The area where the current tomb was found, to the southwest, has been largely untouched by archaeologists.

Despite the years of excavation, new finds are constantly being made. In December last year two tombs were found near the current discovery. The tombs were were built for high officials—one responsible for the quarries used to build the nearby pyramids, the other for a woman in charge of procuring entertainers for the pharaohs.

In November Hawass announced the discovery of a new pyramid at Saqqara, the 118th in Egypt, and the 12th to be found just in Saqqara (story and video of the November Egypt pyramid discovery).

According to Hawass, only 30 percent of Egypt's monuments have been uncovered, with the rest still under the sand.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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