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Ancient Sarcophagus Unearthed Near Cairo, Egypt

Ptahemwia sarcophagus discovery Egypt
Ancient Sarcophagus Unearthed Near Cairo, Egypt. Credit: Rebecca Naunheimer / Windfall Films

In a discovery, hailed by archaeologists as ground-breaking, a magnificent Egyptian sarcophagus has been unearthed at Saqqara near Cairo, Egypt after being buried in sand in its underground burial chamber for thousands of years.

The granite sarcophagus is covered with inscriptions dedicated to Ptahemwia, who presided over the treasury of King Ramses II, the greatest pharaoh of Egypt.

Ola El Aguizy, professor emeritus at the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University, discovered it in Saqqara, an ancient cemetery twenty miles south of Cairo in Egypt. Last year, El Aguizy, who heads the archaeological expedition at the site, discovered the tomb of Ptahemwia at surface level. The burial chamber with the sarcophagus can reveal more information about those who ruled Egypt after Tutankhamun.

Egyptian sarcophagus
Al-Ajizi made a slow and dangerous descent down the shaft in which, once she reached the bottom, she found the ancient sarcophagus. Credit: Rebecca Naunheimer / Windfall Films

At the center of the tomb’s courtyard, El Aguizy’s team spotted the top of a vertical shaft, which suggested a passage to a burial chamber. However, that shaft proved so deep at eight meters that it took the team a week just to remove all the sand using a bucket attached to a hand-operated rope winch. El Aguizy then pressed herself into that bucket and made a slow and dangerous descent down the shaft, in which—once she reached the bottom—she found the ancient sarcophagus.

Discovery of sarcophagus very rare

Discovering a complete sarcophagus in its original tomb is an incredibly rare finding. Hence, the discovery has been deemed as very important for archaeology.

In a statement to The Observer, El Aguizy said: “The discovery of this sarcophagus in its original place in the burial shaft was very exciting because it is the sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb, which is not always the case. Sometimes the sarcophagus is for a different person of a later period, when the tomb was used in later periods. But this time, it is not the case.”

She also said that Ptahemwia’s titles listed in the hieroglyphs emphasize his close relationship to the king, proving that he had “a very important role in the administration of that time.” She added that the sarcophagus is inscribed with emblems of deities, including the sky goddess Nut on the lid, covering the chest with opened wings to protect the deceased.

Cameras from National Geographic filmed the discovery as part of an eight-part documentary series, Lost Treasures of Egypt.

Egyptian sarcophagus
According to El Aguizy, the discovery was very exciting because it is the sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb, which is not always the case. Credit: Rebecca Naunheimer / Windfall Films

The next steps of El Aguizy’s team will be to study the sarcophagus in order to uncover the full story of Ptahemwia’s life.

Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, said: “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.”

Manuelian said of El Aguizy: “I’m always pleased to see Egyptian archaeologists making these discoveries.”

The professor added that “there’s a long history of western archaeologists doing this work. So it’s great to see their own discoveries—and the fact that she’s a woman archaeologist, an Egyptian woman archaeologist, is even more welcome.”

Tom Cook, the documentary series producer, also said of El Aguizy: “She’s a grandmother [who’s…] in her 70s, and she’s still going out there doing this really quite hazardous job.”

Noting that a piece of the lid had been broken off, it is indicated that ancient tomb robbers had potentially stolen burial treasures from inside.

These tombs [were] so frequently raided by tomb raiders that there was no guarantee that anything exciting would be down there,” he said. “So it was only when they reached that final chamber that they realized something spectacular really was there.”

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