SAQQARA, Egypt – Under a huge white canopy tent in front of Egypt’s oldest pyramid, part of a cache with more than 100 sealed and intact mummies was revealed on Saturday, along with 40 statues of deities, ornate sarcophagi and gilded masks.
Buried more than 2,500 years ago, the colorful, elaborately decorated coffins were the latest discovery in the huge necropolis south of the state capital, Cairo, which was excavated by an Egyptian mission over a period of three years.
Egyptian officials hailed the colorful servings as the greatest discovery of the year.
The coffins belonged to “very wealthy, elite, high-ranking people,” said Mostafa Waziri, director general of the Supreme Council on Antiquities in Egypt, when they were first displayed in front of the towering triangular step pyramid.
Archaeologists found other “shafts full of coffins, well gilded, well painted, well decorated,” he said.
Waziri spoke before a live scan of one of the mummies showed it was a man who was likely between 40 and 45 years old with teeth in perfect condition.
Probably from the time of the Ptolemies, the mummy must have been very wealthy as his arms were crossed over his chest, a calm that usually symbolizes royalty, even though Waziri said he was not a king.
“It makes me feel great,” said Waziri. “We still have a lot to reveal.”
The artifacts will be shared between four museums in Egypt, including the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which is slated to open next year.
Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, Khaled Al Anany, added that “more than 40 artifacts” were found, including funerary masks, figurines and statues, most of which were gilded.
He said work on site would continue and he thought another “promising discovery” would be announced soon.
The artifacts were discovered less than a month after more than 50 ancient coffins, ornate statues of deities and animals were revealed in October. One contained the immaculate mummy of an old priest.
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The Saqqara Plateau is part of the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1970s and includes the famous Giza Pyramids.
Hundreds of mummified animals, birds and crocodiles as well as two mummified lion cubs were found in the region last year.
Egypt has heavily promoted new archaeological finds in the international media in recent years in an effort to revive its tourism sector, which has suffered since the 2011 Arab Spring riots that overthrew autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The sector was hit again by the coronavirus pandemic this year.
Charlene Gubash reported from Saqqara, Egypt and Adela Suliman from London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.