Archaeologists in Egypt unearthed dozens of ancient coffins in a vast necropolis south of Cairo, marking the latest in a series of discoveries in recent years.
Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Khaled Al Anany said at least 59 sealed sarcophagi, with mummies inside most of them, were found, having been buried in three wells more than 2,600 years ago.
“I consider this is the beginning of a big discovery,” Mr El Anany said.
There is an unknown number of coffins still to be unearthed in the area, he said.
He spoke at a news conference at the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, where the coffins were found.
The sarcophagi were displayed and one was opened in front of reporters to show the mummy inside. Several foreign diplomats attended the announcement.
The Saqqara plateau hosts at least 11 pyramids, including the Pyramid of Djoser, or Step Pyramid, along with hundreds of tombs of ancient officials and other sites from the 1st Dynasty (2920BC-2770BC) to the Coptic period (395-642).
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said initial studies showed that the decorated coffins were made for priests, top officials and elites from the Pharaonic Late Period (664BC-525BC).
He said archaeologists found 28 statuettes of Ptah-Soker, the main god of the Saqqara necropolis, and a beautifully carved 35-centimetre bronze statuette of god Nefertum, inlaid with precious stones.
The name of its owner, Priest Badi-Amun, is written on its base, he said.
Egyptian antiquities officials announced the discovery of the first batch of coffins last month, when archaeologists found 13 in a newly discovered well 11 metres deep.
The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis of Egypt's ancient capital of Memphis that includes the Giza Pyramids, as well as smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis were designated a Unesco World Heritage site in the 1970s.
Mr El Anany said the Saqqara coffins would join 30 ancient wooden coffins discovered in October in the southern city of Luxor and would be showcased at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which Egypt is building near the Giza Pyramids.
The Saqqara discovery is the latest in a series of archaeological finds Egypt sought to publicise to revive its tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising.
The sector was also affected by the coronavirus pandemic.