Why Egypt’s Saqqara region continues to give up its sarcophagi
Archaeologists have announced yet another discovery of at least 100 ancient coffins, some with mummies inside, and about 40 gilded statues in a vast Pharaonic necropolis south of Cairo.
According to British newspaper the Guardian, the sealed sarcophagi and statues that were buried more than 2,500 years ago were displayed in a makeshift exhibit at the feet of the famed Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.
According to Egypt’s Department of Tourism and Antiquities, 100 wooden coffins sealed in mint condition inside burial shafts and 40 gilded statues of the deity Ptah Soker, god of the Saqqara necropolis, and 20 wooden boxes of statues of the god Horus were discovered. The discovery was announced on Saturday.
In a statement issued by the ministry, the Egyptian archaeological mission working there also uncovered a number of Ushabti statuettes and amulets, and four golden masks of gilded cartonnage.
This is the third major discovery of ancient Egyptian sarcophagi this year, which has sparked the question, how is it that so many sarcophagi are being unearthed? Let us take a look at the timeline of events that occurred this year.
Earlier this year, the ministry announced the unearthing of five limestone sarcophagi and four wooden coffins containing human mummies. These incredible archaeological finds were inside a burial shaft stretching 9m below ground, according to news outlet CNN.
According to the report, the shaft where the sarcophagi were located was in the Sacred Animal Necropolis in Saqqara, an ancient burial ground some 32km south of Cairo and is also home to landmarks including the Step Pyramid, considered to be the world's oldest.
In September/October, the Egyptian archaeological mission working at the Saqqara Necropolis outside Cairo unearthed another batch of sealed and intact coffins inside three burial shafts. According to media outlet Ahram Online, a collection of 59 intact and sealed anthropoid coffins were found buried inside three burial shafts of 10m to 12m in depth.
News outlet Egypt Today reports that while experts say the collection dates to 2,500 years ago, the coffins were very well preserved and still retained their original colours.
According to Wikipedia, mummification was an integral part of the rituals for the dead beginning as early as the second dynasty, about 2,800 BC.
Egyptians saw the preservation of the body after death as an important step to living well in the afterlife.
According to Unesco, the capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the areas of Memphis, has extraordinary funerary monuments, including rock tombs, ornate mastabas, temples and pyramids. In ancient times, the site was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Reports also suggest that the region could also potentially be an ancient Egyptian pilgrimage site.
According to Campbell Price, curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum in the UK, the site was used as a burial ground for more than 3,000 years, writes the Smithsonian.
“Saqqara would have been the place to be seen dead in,” says Price.
Price added that people believed that the site had a numinous divine energy that would help you to get into the afterlife.
The area was overly populated, hence why so many people lived and died in the region.
Furthermore, Egypt’s tourism industry was badly hit by the travel restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus, the Guardian writes, and the country frequently touts its archaeological discoveries in hopes of spurring its vital tourism industry.
With Egypt’s new Grand Egyptian Museum set to house the world’s largest antiquities collection belonging to a single culture’s heritage, which is almost 90% complete, these discoveries are surely going to generate much excitement and interest into the world’s largest archaeological museum.
Meanwhile, the Smithsonian magazine suggests that archaeologists are just beginning to unearth the mummies and secrets of Saqqara, adding that the latest finds hint at the great potential of the ancient Egyptian pilgrimage site.
African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Yaron Blecher