Ben Curtis/AP
Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass speaks to the media in Saqqara near Cairo, Egypt.

30 Mummies Discovered in Egyptian Tomb

February 10, 2009 01:31 PM
by Denis Cummings
Egyptian archaeologists uncovered 30 mummies in a 2,600-year-old tomb in the necropolis of Saqqara, one of the most fertile grounds for the discovery of mummies.

Archaeologists Discover “Storeroom” of Mummies

Egyptian archaeologists announced Monday that they had discovered 22 mummies and eight sarcophagi during excavations at the Saqqara necropolis, located south of Cairo. Most of the findings date back to 640 B.C.E., though one limestone sarcophagus is thought to date back 4,300 years.

The necropolis of Saqqara, where the find was made, has yielded a large number of discoveries over 150 years of excavations, including the discovery in December of two tombs for high officials. It is rare, however, to “find intact burials … because thieves scoured the area in ancient times,” reports Reuters.

“These frequent discoveries prove that Saqqara is a virgin site of archeological history,” Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s top archaeologist. “We have merely excavated 30 percent of what is beneath the ground. The remaining 70 percent promise to yield more exciting findings.”

The archeologists have opened one of the eight sarcophagi, reports The Associated Press, which bore the name “Badi N Huri” and contained a mummy inside. They are optimistic that the remaining seven sarcophagi, four of which are tightly sealed, will also contain mummies.

Historical Context: Ancient Egypt

The majority of the mummies were found in a storeroom marked 640 B.C., which was during the 26th Egyptian Dynasty. It was the last independent dynasty in Egyptian history, as it ended in 525 B.C.E. with the conquest of the Persians.

The oldest sarcophagus found dates backs to either the 5th or 6th Dynasty, ranging from roughly 2465 B.C.E. to 2150 B.C.E. The two dynasties, along with the 4th Dynasty, make up the Old Kingdom, a period in Egypt when the government was strong, and the economy and arts flourished. It was during this time that the first “real” pyramids, those that had no steps, were built.

Background: Mummification

Ancient Egyptians developed the process of mummification so that bodies would be preserved in a lifelike state while being protected from wild animals in coffins. The process of mummification began with the removal of the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines, and the embalming of the corpse.

Prior to about 1000 B.C.E., each of the four organs was placed in canopic jars decorated with the four sons of Horus. After 1000 B.C.E., the organs were wrapped in linen and placed back inside the body, though the four canopic jars would still be placed inside the sarcophagus.

The body would be wrapped with strips of linen; amulets and a scroll would be placed in the linen wrapping. Finally, the entire body would be covered in cloth and lowered into a coffin, which would be placed into a stone sarcophagus alongside other valuable objects.

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