27 Unopened Sarcophagi Discovered In an Ancient Egyptian Necropolis

Egyptian officials called the finds “just the beginning” as excavations at the ancient burial ground Saqqara continue.
September 21, 2020, 4:13pm
​Image: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
Image: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Archaeologists have discovered a total of 27 sealed sarcophagi that date back some 2,500 years at an ancient necropolis south of Cairo in recent weeks, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Initial inspections of these tombs, which were unearthed from a vast burial ground called Saqqara, indicate that they “have not been opened since they were buried,” said the ministry in Facebook announcement over the weekend. 

This pristine state is reflected in some of the elaborate artwork that has been preserved, across millennia, on the wooden exteriors of some coffins. 

The sarcophagi were deposited in two separate deep wells in a shaft that extended more than 30 feet underground. One group, containing 13 tombs, was unearthed earlier this month, followed by a second haul of 14 discovered just last week. Khaled Al-Anani, who heads the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, is optimistic that more coffins will be found as the team continues to dig deeper into Saqqara. 

Al-Anani, who visited the site this week to examine the newest tombs, called the discovery “only the beginning” in a Facebook video. He also thanked excavators led by Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, for “working in difficult conditions while adhering to the precautionary measures” associated with Covid-19.

The sprawling Saqqara complex was the burial ground for Memphis, an influential capital of Egypt located about 12 miles south of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Founded some 5,000 years ago, Memphis persisted for well over 2,000 years and left behind a treasure trove of ancient finds.

Saqqara is now an emerging hotspot for archaeologists as recent excavations have uncovered incredible new artifacts, including dozens of 4,500-year-old cat mummies and millions of mummified dogs. Ornate tombs containing the bodies of high-profile people have also been discovered in the necropolis over the past few years.  

The identities of the bodies inside the newly excavated sarcophagi are not known at this time, but Al-Anani and his colleagues expect to reveal new details about the artifacts in the coming days and weeks, according to the ministry’s announcement.