The treasure trove was found at the Saqqara necropolis, which is located about 19 miles (30 km) south of Cairo and west of the Nile River . Saqqara served as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. The Saqqara UNESCO World Heritage site is the location of the world-famous Pyramid of Djoser (or Step Pyramid), as well as a number of mastaba tombs . In total, there are 11 pyramids at Saqqara, as well as “hundreds of tombs of ancient officials and other sites that range from the 1st Dynasty (2920-2770 B.C.) to the Coptic period (395-642),” reports Yahoo.com.
Since 2018, an Egyptian archaeological mission has been working in the Saqqara area. To date, they have a number of uncovered shafts or wells , lined with coffins. Recently, the archaeological mission found three previously unknown shafts or wells that had been hewn from the rock, beneath the desert sands. The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities Facebook page reports that these three new shafts “contain a huge number of colored coffins that were sealed for more than 2,500 years.”
Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, is quoted by Phys.Org as saying that “more than 80 coffins were found.” These newly found ancient Egyptian coffins or sarcophagi, made of wood, were very colorful and in excellent condition. They are covered with motifs from Egyptian mythology . The hieroglyphs and the images on the coffins were painted to provide the deceased with the magical knowledge they needed to prosper in the afterlife.
What is really special about the recently discovered ancient Egyptian coffins is that they are sealed. Often Egyptian sarcophagi have been looted or broken by grave robbers. These perfectly sealed coffins found in Saqqara may contain intact mummies and highly valuable grave goods.
During the same excavation period, Egyptian archaeologists also found a number of “colored and gilded wooden statues,” according to the Facebook page of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. These unique statues were placed in the shaft with the deceased to help them in the afterlife.
The public opening of a previously found sarcophagus or coffin last week caused some outrage in the media as some people felt sealed coffins should not be opened so that the dead can rest in peace. It has to be remembered that the ancient Egyptians had strong beliefs about the afterlife. Digging up the dead and inspecting them is seen by some as incredibly disrespectful of these ancient beliefs. On the other hand, placing such coffins in a safe location will surely protect them from the hands of looters.
Several important archaeological finds have been made at the Saqqara site in the last two years, but especially in 2020. According to a Facebook statement by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities “59 colored sealed coffins with mummies in good condition,” were found before the latest shaft discoveries. It is believed that the previously discovered 59 mummies are of bureaucrats, probably from the 26 th Dynasty, the last native dynasty to rule Egypt. We previously reported on Ancient Origins that “Those interred in the wooden sarcophagi would have been members of the elite in Memphis and elsewhere.”
The discovery of the latest three shafts lined with sarcophagi has caused a sensation in Egypt. Dr Mustafa Madbouli, the Egyptian Prime Minister, has visited the shafts and been shown the finds. The Ministry’s Facebook page stated that “Dr. Madbouli thanked the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities and the Ministry’s staff and the Supreme Council for Antiquities for the efforts of this generation of archaeologists.” In particular, the Prime Minister acknowledged the archaeologists’ numerous recent discoveries, including the most recent shaft finds.
Phys.org quotes a Ministry Press Statement as saying that “Details of the new discovery will be announced in a news conference at the famed Step Pyramid of Djoser.” To boost tourist numbers, Egypt is eager to publicize any archaeological finds, as tourism is so important to its economy. The Egyptian inbound tourism sector was badly hit by the 2011 revolution and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In the coming weeks and months, the newly discovered ancient Egyptian coffins will be opened by experts, and their mummies and burial goods will be examined. Then a multidisciplinary team of experts will closely study the contents of the coffins and carry out a variety of tests on them. Their findings will likely provide new insights into this ancient Egyptian period.