Rare Egyptian "Warrior" Tomb Found

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The discovery of burials belonging to soldiers and mercenaries, who had elevated status in the wartime society, are even rarer, according to Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

Only "a handful" have ever been unearthed, Ikram said.

"It shows that there were a lot of warriors that had been in use," she said.

"Because of their prominence in calming things down [after the civil war], they probably were wealthier and regarded with more honor than in early periods, and that is why they had nice burials."

Bows and Arrows

The wooden coffin—adorned with drawings of Iker presenting offerings to the goddess of the heavens, Hathor—was fairly well preserved, though it suffered some damage from flooding and termites, according to experts who pried it open.

Inside the coffin, the archaeologists found Iker's mummy, lying on its left side next to two bows and three staffs, which would have been used to indicate his high rank.

(Related: "Surprise Egypt Tombs Yield Ornate Coffins, Dog Mummies" [January 30, 2008].)

"Usually the important people [carried a staff] as a way to be recognized as chiefs of a tribe or family," said Galán, adding that his team had not yet analyzed the newfound artifacts.

The presence of bows and arrows means that Iker was likely a hired soldier in the service of a king, though the exact details are unclear.

"It means this person was a fighter," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

"He was fighting in the army or something like that ... there were many fighters joining the king, and this could be one of them," said Hawass, also a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence. (National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Spanish archaeologist Galán and his team plan to remove the mummy from the coffin to x-ray it and determine more specifics.

"We don't know about the origin of Iker," Galán said. "We don't even know if he was Egyptian, Nubian, or Libyan."

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