Huge archaeological find in Egypt includes 50 mummies and a temple

Famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass says the discoveries 'rewrite the history' of Saqqara

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Egyptian archaeologists announced a major find on Sunday, including a funerary temple, more than 50 wooden sarcophagi and a five-metre papyrus depicting a chapter of the ancient Egyptian Book of the dead.

Egypt's world-famous archaeologist Zahi Hawass announced the new finds at Saqqara, the vast necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

"Every day, the sands of Saqqara reveal more information that helps us write the history of Egypt," Mr Hawass told The National in Saqqara.

He said the temple belonged to Queen Naert, wife of King Teti, the first pharaoh of the sixth dynasty that ruled during the New Kingdom period (16th century-11th century BC). The Queen was only identified on Saturday, when archaeologists found her name engraved on a temple wall, he said.

The discoveries were made during a joint excavation by Bibliotheque Alexandria's Zahi Hawas Institute and the Ministry of Antiquities. A wealthy French family financed the dig, according to Essam Sheehab, a senior archaeologist who worked on it since excavations began in September.

"The most important discovery, in my opinion, is the temple," said Mr Hawass, who has for decades been the global face of Egyptology with his hallmark Indiana Jones hat and passionate stories of discoveries in the country.

“Beside this temple we found the storage area, where tools that they used for the rituals inside the temple were kept,” he told reporters.

He said 22 burial shafts were discovered during excavations.

Fifty-two wooden coffins dating back to the New Kingdom were found in the shafts. "They are decorated with many scenes depicting gods worshipped during that time," he said.

The team discovered statues, toys, wooden boats and funerary masks. A papyrus depicted a chapter of the Book of the Dead, a collection of mortuary texts of spells that ancient Egyptians believed would guide the soul of the deceased in the afterlife. It was first used in the New Kingdom.

The latest trove to be found in Saqqara, home to the famed Stepped Pyramid and other notable finds, came two months after Egyptian archaeologists announced the discovery of more than 100 sealed wooden sarcophagi dating back around 2,500 years in the same area. It was the largest find of 2020.

A statement by the Ministry of Antiquities released on Saturday said the latest discovery could shed new light on the history of Saqqara during the New Kingdom.

Egypt hopes archaeological discoveries and the media attention that surround them will spur tourism, a sector devastated by years of turmoil that followed a 2011 uprising and more recently by the coronavirus pandemic.