for National Geographic News
An ancient Egyptian noblewoman's large stone coffin has been found in a tomb near the pyramid of Unas, experts announced yesterday
Archaeologists were digging near the crumbling pyramid in Saqqâra, 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of Cairo, when they discovered the tomb, which had been built more than 600 years before the noblewoman's death. (Check out a map of ancient Saqqâra.)
The find is another example of the enduring gravity of ancient Egypt's sacred places, said expedition leader Ola el-Aguizy of Cairo University.
El-Aguizy said the coffin of the noblewoman, named Sekhemet Nefret, was the first from Egypt's 27th dynasty (525 to 402 B.C.) to be found in this part of Saqqâra, an ancient royal burial ground.
The walls of the burial shaft were made in part with carved stone slabs, known as stelae. The stone dates from the even earlier reign of the pharaoh Djoser, who was buried in Saqqâra's distinctive step pyramid.
Renovated Burial Grounds
El-Aguizy and her team were digging in a part of Saqqâra built during the reign of Ramses II (1279 to 1213 B.C.) when they found Nefret's sarcophagus.
Like other burial grounds near Egypt's ancient capital Memphis, the site was abandoned for centuries and then came back into use after the Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 B.C.
At that time, nearby temples were renovated and religious cults flourished. (Related: "'Gentrified' Egyptian Burial Chamber Discovered" [August 2, 2007].)
Noblewoman Nefret's family had a direct role in that conquest.
She was related to Udja Hor Resenet, a physician and scribe. Resenet helped the Persian king Cambyses II conquer Egypt and later tutored the new ruler in Egyptian religion and rituals, said Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. (Hawass is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)
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