A Treasure Trove of Mummies, Coffins – and a Kushite Pyramidion
by Laura Ranieri Roy
“We have never stopped in the face of Corona”. This inspiring motto is the title of a booklet about the Grand Egyptian Museum, that long-anticipated treasure that should – in sha allah — open this year. Yet it is also a headline that could apply to archaeological works, restorations, beautifications – and milestone openings that continued in Egypt in 2020. All along the Nile, industrious teams carried on their projects in pursuit of science, culture preservation — and in hot anticipation of a major onslaught of tourism… mere months or a single year away.
Here are a few of the most notable milestones in Egyptian archaeology, by date, that were hit in the infamous year of 2020.
- Rare 5-6000-year-old Naqada III Burials Found
- February 2020
- Dakahlia Governate (Egypt’s Delta region)
An Egyptian archaeological mission uncovered 83 tombs during excavation work in Umm Al-Khalegan area in Dakahlia Governorate. Half of them were from the 4th millennium BCE – hundreds of years before the pyramid age and Egypt unification. These oval tombs cut into sand contained squat burials and a cache of pottery and burial goods.
It is the first time that a significant find of pottery and sarcophagi dating back to the Naqada III period has been uncovered in this northern Delta region of Egypt.
- Major Burial Cache of Priests & Officials 26th to 28th Dynasties (6-400 BCE)
- February 2020
- Ghoreifa near Tuna el Gebel, Minya Governorate (Middle Egypt)
Egyptian archaeologists headed by the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa Waziri) discovered a warren of communal tombs of priests and senior officials, along with a treasure trove of amulets, faience ushabtis and canopic jars.
In total,16 tombs and 20 stone limestone sarcophagi were found this season. One of them belonged to a son of Psamtik, “Head of the Royal Treasury, priest of Osiris, priest of Nut. Another limestone sarcophagus bore the name of Djehuti-iwf-ankh, the royal treasurer, bearer of seals of Lower Egypt and the sole companion of the king. Five anthropoid wooden coffins were also engraved with the names of their owners, the majority of whom were priests of the Ibis/Baboon god Thoth. In addition to coffins, a vast number of faience ushabtis, 86 canopic jars, 700 amulets some of gold and precious stones along with mummies and skeletal remains were found.
This important discovery will yield important insight into life, people and religion in the 15th nome of Upper Egypt – and underscores how Minya governate in Middle Egypt is a rich untapped area for archaeological finds.
- Rare Pyramidion found at 25th Dynasty Tombs (c. 700 BCE)
- October 2020
- South Asasif Conservation Project, West Bank Luxor
A joint American and Egyptian team led by Dr. Elena Pischikova discovered a pyramidion at their site, South Asasif, the burial ground of the Kushite officials of the 25th Dynasty (c. 700 BCE). It was found in the tomb of Irtieru, a lady who was chief attendant of the Nitocris I, the God’s Wife of Amun. Carved out of sandstone, the pyramidion bears images of god Osiris, RaHorakhty, and images of boats.
Did it adorn an Irtieru’s tomb? Was it preserved from another time and place? Certainly, the Kushites were revivalists who revered architectural forms and beliefs of Old and New Kingdom Egypt. The pyramidion is yet to be published – but some answers should be revealed. It did, however, feature as a star attraction at the 45th anniversary of the Luxor Museum, where it was installed in a spectacular modern exhibit.
- 59 Coffins found, 2500 years old, Saite Dynasty 26
- October 2020
- Saqqara, Necropolis of Memphis
On October 3, an Egyptian team working in Saqqara near the Bubastion announced what they believed would be the find of the year: 59 coffins and ample grave goods dating to the 7th century BCE (Saite dynasty: 672-525 BCE). The cache was found down a series of 3, 10-12-metre-deep shafts. The buried individuals were Saite priests and administrators – native Egyptians that hailed from the north west, many of ancient Libyan extraction. The treasure trove included 28 statuettes of Ptah-Soker, the main god of Saqqara Necropolis, canopic jars/boxes, as well as precious amulets and ushabti figurines. The coffins, all in an excellent state of preservation and fully sealed, were displayed in a large ceremony, where one was carefully pried open, revealing the stunningly intact mummy wrappings.
- 100 more Coffins found of the Saite Dynasty 26 – and later
- November 2020
- Saqqara, Necropolis of Memphis
Just one month later in the same area near the Bubastion, a cache of 100 more coffins were found down adjacent well shafts, these ones of slightly later period individuals, dating from the Saite dynasty right down into Ptolemaic times. Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziri commented some of these individuals were later – but also wealthier than those in the previous cache, as evidenced by several rich gilded coffins. Among the ample treasures of this new find, was notably a carved bronze statue of the god Nefertum, 35 cm., inlaid with valuable precious stones, red agate, turquoise, and lapis lazuli and bearing the name of its owner, BadiAmunis.
Treasures will go to GEM, and other Egyptian museums
Famous Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass commented that this find will not only give us deep insights into the burial practices of the late period but importantly serves to confirm Saqqara as the main cemetery of the 26th dynasty. This vast treasure trove – along with the previous find in October – will be divided between Cairo’s three museums, The New Grand Egyptian Museum GEM, (opening this year), the new Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat, Cairo, and the century-old Egyptian Museum in Tahrir square.
- In addition to these discoveries, 2020 is a notable year in Egypt for many new site opening and important progress on archaeological works. Of special note is the exciting opening of the Step Pyramid itself in March of 2020, after a 14-year restoration costing almost $7 million USD. Nearly 6km of labyrinthine passageways and shafts under the pyramids are now open to be explored by the public. Work also continued in 2020 on important restoration projects, like
- The Great Aten Temple at Amarna, headed by Barry Kemp CBE and Miriam Bertram
- The Thutmosis III temple project, Spanish team headed by Dr. Miriam Seco Alvarez. (will open to public within about 5 years)
- Ramses I tomb in Valley of the Kings – opened early Jan 2021
Theban Mapping Project back online
Finally, at the very end of 2020, it was announced that the new and improved Theban Mapping Project Website – down for more than a decade – is finally back online, with superb resources geared to help scholars and travelers alike navigate the tombs of the valley.
What does this all mean?
Egypt is ready to be rediscovered!
In the humble opinion of this author, big things are afoot in Egypt. Through the work of archaeologist and scientists, we are now able to rapidly accelerate our understanding of the lives, deaths and beliefs of these ancient people, especially during murky late period of 700-400 BCE. More insight too will now be available from the off-the-beaten track regions of Minya in Middle Egypt and north in the Delta.
The great museums in Egypt will have an abundance of coffins, mummies and statuary, fresh from under the sands, to fill gleaming new displays. Egyptian teams of native-born experts are showing their talents and leadership – with the great archaeology digs under their control, no longer the domain of just foreign teams.
Finally, Egypt is ready for a magnificent resurgence. A rebirth. A renaissance. Cairo is being refurbished and its dusty streets made shiny again. Colourful murals line Luxor’s beautiful corniche and new tourism kiosks are set to open. The world anxiously waits for the ribbon to be cut on the largest, and most spectacular museum ever built in the history of man at the foot of the pyramid.
There has NEVER been a more exciting time to plan a trip to Egypt!
If you are thinking of going– please consider coming with us, as part of a small, intelligent, and convivial Egyptologist-led group. We have amazing 2021 and 2022 custom adventures with a few seats left. Please peruse our upcoming tours.
Important resources and links for archaeological projects and websites
- Theban Mapping Project new and improved website.
- The New Egyptian Antiquities and Tourism website
- The Amarna Project, Amarna Trust – and Great Aten Temple Project
- Be part of the Great Aten Temple Fundraising Project (I have bought several blocks)
- Thutmosis III Temple Project
- South Asasif Conservation Project
- Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) (Giza Plateau excavations/conservation)
- Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb – New Netflix Documentary on 4000-year-old Wahty tomb discovery