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Well-Preserved 4,400-Year-Old Tomb Found in Saqqara, Egypt

The Egyptian government on Saturday (Dec 15) announced the discovery of a millennia-old tomb, believed to be the final resting place of Wahtye, a royal purification priest who served under the fifth dynasty pharaoh, Neferirkare Kakai.

The tomb, which dates back more than 4,400 years, was found at the ancient burial ground of Saqqara, some 30 kilometers south of Egypt’s bustling capital, Cairo.

“We are happy to be with you today to announce the last discovery of the year 2018,” said the Egyptian Minister for Antiquities, Khaled el-Enany, in a press briefing.

“It’s the tomb of a high employee who lived during the era of King Neferirkare, the third king in the fifth dynasty, from the middle of the 25th century B.C.,” he said

Described by the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Mustafa Waziri, as a “one of its kind” discovery in a decade, the tomb is in near-mint condition and contains equally well-preserved paintings and more than fifty sculptures.

“The colour is almost intact even though the tomb is almost 4,400 years old,” he said.

The 33-foot-long, 10-foot-wide and 3-meter-high tomb also contains five shafts, one of which was found to be unsealed and empty, while four were sealed.

 Mustafa Abdo, the chief of excavation workers. Picture: Amr Nabil / AP PhotoSource: AP
Mustafa Abdo, the chief of excavation workers. Picture: Amr Nabil / AP PhotoSource: AP

As keen as they are to know what treasures the sealed shafts hide, archaeologists started excavating them on Sunday.

There’s more than a fair chance that one of them might lead to Wahtye’s sarcophagus, containing his mummified remains – hopefully as well-preserved as the rest of the find.

Dr. Waziri’s main focus is on one shaft in particular, which he thinks is the one that holds what he and his team so passionately seek.

“I can imagine that all of the objects can be found in this area,” he said, pointing at one of the sealed shafts, according to Reuters.

“This shaft should lead to a coffin or a sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb,” Dr. Waziri added.

“The discovery today, it’s one of the most important ones for me,” he said in a statement to the press, adding: “Because number one, it’s almost intact tomb. Number two, it’s old kingdom.”

The royal purification priest’s family, including his wife and mother, are also well-represented in the tomb.

“This guy ‘Wahtye’, he mentions the name of his mother almost everywhere here,” Waziri said, drawing the reporters’ attention to the impressive collection of sculptures, paintings, and hieroglyphics adorning the tomb’s interior.

Well, what can you say to that? Except that the royal priest was probably a mamma’s boy – at least until the experts provide a better and more acceptable explanation.

Waziri told reporters that Wahtye’s mom’s name was ‘Merit Meen,’ which translates to “the lover of God Meen” – the fertility God of the time, while his wife was known as ‘Weret-Ptah’ – “the greatest of God Ptah.”

The well-preserved tomb is decorated with scenes showing the royal priest alongside his mother, wife and other members of his family. Picture: Khaled Desouki / AFP.Source: AFP
The well-preserved tomb is decorated with scenes showing the royal priest alongside his mother, wife and other members of his family. Picture: Khaled Desouki / AFP.Source: AFP

This latest archaeological find, among more than a dozen others this year, is expected to give an added boost to the once-flourishing tourism industry that has witnessed a sharp decline since the 2011 political uprising.

The last major archaeological discovery in the country was made in the ancient city of Alexandria where archaeologists unearthed a two-millennia-old sarcophagus amid speculations that it contained the remains of Alexander the Great and that opening it would unleash the “curse of the pharaoh.”

Well, no such thing happened, as all that the 9-foot-long, 5-foot-wide, and 6-foot-deep sarcophagus unleashed were three skeletal remains and some stinking sewage water.

No Alexander. No curse.

“The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse,” Dr. Waziri said at the time.

It was the British media that had, actually, fuelled speculations about the contents of the tomb and the so-called “curse of the pharaohs,” their hypothesis based on a string of deaths, believed to have followed the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb early last century.

The red liquid found inside the sarcophagus, along with the three long-dead occupants, was found to be sewage, believed to have seeped in through a right-side crack in the ancient structure, causing the mummies to decompose.

The ancient tomb, dating back to the Ptolemaic period, was discovered during excavation work that was being carried out for some other purpose in the Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria.

According to the Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, the tomb, which was found 5 meters below the land’s surface, had a layer of mortar between the body of the sarcophagus and its lid.

The presence of mortar was an exciting piece of discovery for the archaeologists, as it indicated that the sarcophagus had remained unopened since it was sealed and buried more than 2,000 years ago.

An alabaster head, thought to have belonged to the owner of the tomb, was also found along with the sarcophagus.

Based on his initial study of the bone structures and the fact that one of the skeletons was found to have suffered an arrow blow, Shaaban Abdul – a specialist in mummies and skeletons and a member of Dr. Waziri’s team – said that the skeletons were the remains of three soldiers.

No inscriptions, engravings, or hieroglyphics were found on the inside or outside of the sarcophagus, nor was there any mention of any artifacts, other than the Alabaster head.

As for the Saqqara discovery, there’s probably a lot more to come in the coming months as excavation work continues at the ancient site.

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