Archaeologists hail ‘dream find’ as sarcophagus unearthed near Cairo | Archeology


He lies in a burial chamber, intact, for thousands of years. Today, a remarkable Egyptian sarcophagus has emerged from the depths of the sand near Cairo, much to the excitement of archaeologists, who describe it as a hugely significant ‘dream find’.

The giant granite sarcophagus is covered in inscriptions dedicated to Ptah-em-wia, who ruled the treasury of King Ramses II, Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh.

Ola El Aguizy, professor emeritus of Cairo University’s faculty of archeology, discovered it at Saqqara, an ancient necropolis about 20 miles south of Cairo. Last year, El Aguizy, who heads the archaeological mission to the site, discovered the surface tomb of Ptah-em-wia. Now she has found her underground burial chamber with the sarcophagus, which may tell more about who ruled Egypt after Tutankhamun.

Professor El Aguizy descended into the well where the sarcophagus was discovered.

In the center of the tomb courtyard, El Aguizy’s team spotted the top of a vertical shaft, which suggested a passage to a burial chamber. But this well turned out to be so deep, at 8 meters, that it took a week to remove all the sand, using a bucket attached to a manual rope winch. El Aguizy then sank into this bucket and made a dangerous and slow descent into the well. In the background, she was surprised to find the sarcophagus.

National geographic cameras captured it all while filming the final season of excavations for an eight-part documentary series, Egypt’s Lost Treasureswhich begins in the UK on October 2.

Finding a complete sarcophagus in its original tomb is incredibly rare. El Aguizy told the Observer“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 from a later period, when the tomb was used in later periods. But this time, that’s not the case. »

She said Ptah-em-wia’s titles listed in the hieroglyphs underscore his closeness 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 open wings to protect the deceased.

His team will now study it to find out the full life story of Ptah-em-wia.

Peter Der Manuelian, Professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, said: “Saqqara is one of the most important burial grounds, for royals and non-royals alike, throughout millennia of history. Egyptian. This Egyptian team added another important chapter to the site’s history.

Oxford University Press is set to publish Manuelian’s book Walking Among the Pharaohs: George Reisner and the dawn of modern Egyptologya biography of America’s greatest archaeologist, who led many excavations and realized the importance of Saqqara.

Manuelian says of El Aguizy: “I am always delighted to see Egyptian archaeologists make these discoveries.

The sarcophagus of Ptah-em-wia
The sarcophagus of Ptah-em-wia: the sky goddess Nut, with outstretched wings to protect the dead, is inscribed on the chest. Photography: Rebecca Naunheimer/Windfall Films

“There is a long history of Western archaeologists doing this work. So it’s great to see their own findings – and the fact that she’s a female archaeologist, an Egyptian archaeologist, is even more appreciated.

Tom Cook, the producer of the documentary series, paid tribute to El Aguizy and his “fabulous discovery”: “She’s a grandmother, she’s 70 years old and she continues to do this really quite dangerous job.”

Noting that a piece of the lid had been broken, indicating that ancient grave robbers had stolen grave goods, he said: “These graves [were] so often plundered by grave robbers that there was no guarantee anything exciting would be found there. So it wasn’t until they reached that final chamber that they realized something spectacular was truly there.

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