Ancient Egypt discovery took researchers by surprise: ‘Massive operation’

Egyptian ‘mega-tomb’ uncovered in Saqqara region of Cairo

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Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie largely introduced the western world to the ancient splendours of Egypt. While locals had been finding snippets of their history for years, it was not until the British egyptologist began his work in the mid-1880s that Europe became aware of the lost civilisation. Archaeologists have since flocked to the country to further uncover Egypt’s past, unearthing a number of relics and indicators of how the country’s society used to work.

With over 100 years of excavations in tow — added to the millennia of looting and grave robbing — it might be hard to believe there is anything left to find of ancient Egypt.

But, hordes of treasure and tombs continue to be found, with one explored by the Smithsonian Channel during its documentary, ‘Tomb Hunters’.

A camera crew followed archaeologists as they unearthed a stash of statues and other relics in 2020.

“Precious treasures”, many of which were believed to be 2,500 years old, were found among the tombs and proved that those buried there were a “cut above the average” Egyptian of the time.

One piece, a talisman believed to protect the spirits of the dead, had a perfectly preserved gilded face.

The statues would have been buried alongside the dead as keepsakes and symbols of good luck in their journey to the afterlife.

The narrator noted: “These expensive treasures reveal how the way rich Egyptians buried their dead started to change during the late period — it became more commercialised.”

Ancient Egyptians were extremely anxious about crossing over into the next life.

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They studiously read the Book of the Dead for tips and advice on things they could do for their recently deceased.

Site director Dr Mohammad Youssef said: “The operation of mummification and the burial, it is a religious thing number one, but also a business thing number two.

“So many people dealt with this operation.

“The carpenters, the people in the market, the people who make the statues, the priests, the guards, the people who take care of the mummification operation itself.

“All of this is a business.”

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In the hope of finding more relics, the team went deeper into the burial chamber and quickly found coffins piled on top of coffins, nestled into every available space underground.

What started off with one coffin became a mega-tomb with over 100 coffins strewn across the locality.

Katharina Stövesand, an Egyptologist, said: “Burying all these people required a massive operation.

“These coffins show how Saqqara was home to a huge industry of death where the dead were the customers.

“Saqqara had a huge funerary industry and was really a money-making endeavour.

“We know that they had personnel to sell space in a tomb or tombs.

“We know that they were selling mummification, we know that there were priests involved during the rituals — all of this costs a lot of money.”

The mega-tomb was soon established as the largest concentration of coffins ever unearthed in Egypt — three times bigger than anything previously found.

Khaled el-Anany, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities minister, told a news conference at the time that the items dated back to the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt for some 300 years from about 320 BC to about 30 BC, and the Late Period (664-332 BC).

The discoveries were just the latest in a string of ancient finds in early 2020.

Antiquities authorities had revealed at least 140 sealed sarcophagi, most with mummies inside, in the same area of Saqqara.

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