3,200-year-old sarcophagus uncovered near Cairo; hailed as ‘dream discovery’

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Archaeologists excavating an ancient cemetery near Cairo have unearthed a 3,200-year-old sarcophagus belonging to a high-ranking official under Ramses II, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

Archaeologists describe the sarcophagus as a “dream discovery,” since finding a complete sarcophagus in its original tomb is incredibly rare, reports The Guardian.

Ola El Aguizy, emeritus professor of the faculty of archaeology at Cairo University, discovered the sarcophagus in the Saqqara necropolis. The Guardian reports that the sarcophagus is covered in inscriptions dedicated Ptah-em-wia, who headed the treasury of King Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs.

It took a week just to remove all the sand leading to the burial chamber. El Aguizy’s team used a bucket attached to a hand-operated rope winch. El Aguizy “then squeezed herself into that bucket and made a dangerous, slow descent down the shaft,” the Guardian details.

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Ptah-M-Wia’s mummy was not in the sarcophagus. The coffin’s lid was broken; Smithsonian Magazine explains that this suggests grave robbers removed the remains, likely in antiquity. Traces of resin in the sarcophagus indicate that it contained a mummified body at some point, writes Live Science.

Archeologists have been excavating Saqqara for several years, and the site has led to a number of notable discoveries. “Saqqara is one of the most important cemeteries, for both royals and non-royals, throughout the millennia of Egyptian history. This Egyptian team has added yet another important chapter to the history of the site,” said Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology at Harvard University. Manuelian’s forthcoming book, Walking Among Pharaohs: George Reisner and the Dawn of Modern Egyptology is a biography of one of America’s most significant archaeologists and is credited with realizing the importance of Saqqara.

Saqqara served as a burial ground for Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, for over 3,000 years, explains Smithsonian Magazine. The recent discoveries at Saqqara open “a window into a period late in ancient Egyptian history when Saqqara was at the center of a national revival in pharaonic culture and attracted visitors from across the known world.”

The Guardian reports that National Geographic filmed the discovery while shooting its documentary series Lost Treasures of Egypt.

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