Several weeks ago, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced its country’s largest discovery of 2020: a treasure trove of 59 spectacularly well-preserved wooden coffins that had been buried more than 2,600 years ago.
Adorned with brightly colored hieroglyphic pictorials, the ornately decorated sarcophagi had been excavated from wells in the sprawling burial ground of Saqqara, the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. Archaeologists confirmed that the coffins had never been opened in two and a half millennia.
The coffins were found stacked on top of each other in three separate wells that had been dug to depths of between 32 and 39 feet each. These burial shafts were the resting places for priests, top government officials, and other elites from Egypt’s 26th Dynasty, dating from 664 to 525 B.C.
Earlier this month, the researchers lifted the lid of one coffin to reveal a perfectly preserved mummy wrapped in burial linens that still bear vividly painted hieroglyphic inscriptions. According to a report in Archaeology, the sarcophagus belongs to Djehuty Imhotep, a high priest of Djehuty, the god of writing.
Along with the coffins, the wells contained other objects that reflect the ancient Egyptians’ obsession with the afterlife. These include over two dozen statues of Ptah-Sokar, the god of the necropolis, as well as amulets, masks and oshabti figurines believed to perform agricultural work for the dead in the afterlife. There was also a bronze statuette of the youthful god Nefertum, which bears an inscription on its base identifying its owner as the priest Badi-Amun.
Egyptian archaeologists expect to discover more coffins and other artifacts as excavations continue. “Today is not the end of the discovery, said Khaled al-Anani, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. “I consider it the beginning of the big discovery.”
The newly discovered coffins will become part of the collection of the wildly anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum, which is due to open in 2021. Rising up from the desert floor near the Giza pyramids, the world’s largest archaeological museum will feature a 3-D cinema, an interactive children’s museum, and more than 100,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts, including thousands of objects from King Tut’s tomb.