Egypt on Saturday unveiled a collection of 59 sarcophagi unearthed in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, with officials saying they expect tens more to be exhumed from the burial site used by inhabitants of Memphis, the ancient capital.
The wooden sarcophagi date back to the 26th dynasty, more than 2,500 years ago. Most of the coffins include mummies of priests and top officials, the antiquities minister, Khaled El-Anany, told reporters.
“This is not the end of the discovery — this is only the beginning,” he added, at the sacred area of the ancient cat goddess of Bastet. Saqqara, a UNESCO world heritage site, is about 20 miles south of Cairo.
The sarcophagi, most of which painted, are inscribed with hieroglyphs. They were found intact, with restorers opening two of them as reporters jostled to take a glimpse of the mummies.
“After removing the lid, we found that the two mummies bear the name and title of the family,” El-Anany added.
The coffins, stacked atop of each other, were excavated in three burial shafts that are 11, 12 and 13 meters deep, officials have said. (Twelve meters is about 39 feet.) They will be transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum, a mega project near the Giza pyramids that’s scheduled to open next year.
A collection of artifacts and objects also was found in the burial shafts, including a 35-centimeter-tall bronze statuette of god Nefertum and a statue of Ptah-Soker, the main Saqqara god.
“We haven’t had that chance to announce a discovery since March because of the COVID-19 restrictions, but we have battled such conditions and have worked harder since August to dig and uncover more secrets of this great civilization,” El-Anany said.
Egypt’s latest discovery is even larger than last year’s uncovering of 30 wooden coffins in the southern city of Luxor, which was described at the time as the biggest in years.
The country has opened its tourist attractions in July after a four-month closure due to the pandemic as it seeks to lure back tourists and rescue a vital industry that accounts for about 15% of Egypt’s economy.