Over 100 Egyptian Coffins Have Been Discovered in Ancient Burial Complex

It’s not often that ancient Egypt is a hotbed of breaking news activity, but 2020 has been a huge year for Egyptologists (an archeologist who specializes in the study of ancient Egypt). More than 100 coffins, mummies, and burial statues in just the last several months have been pulled from the sands of time.

According to CNN, the wooden sarcophagi are of exceptional quality with intricate paintings. Many contained golden masks and various amulets and some even had fully wrapped mummies. “So this is something that makes this discovery special — the quantity and quality of the coffins,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said. 

It was only back in September that archeologists discovered a trove of 13 coffins and mummies — and a month later, 59 more were discovered. The coffins and mummies were unearthed from the Saqqara burial ground south of Egypt’s capital city of Cairo.

As for the age of the sarcophagi, Waziri told The New York Times that some are around 2,500-years-old and because of their exceptional quality, they were likely made for wealthy nobles. One of mummies pulled from a coffin was put through an x-ray and revealed a man who likely stood between 5’4 and 5’7 and was in good health until his death in his mid-40s. 

Because of the age of the coffins, Egyptologists pin them to ancient Egypt’s 26th Dynasty, which lasted from mid-600s B.C. to 525 B.C. However, the burial ground of the discovery had been in use for thousands of years, going back to the First Dynasty 3150 B.C. It was designated as a world heritage site in the 1970s, as it contained the first known burial pyramid. 

The historical jackpot will eventually be exhibited at the country’s yet-to-open Grand Egyptian Museum near the Giza pyramids as well as several smaller museums.

The first glimpse on a 400-year-old discovery

The recent discovery of the coffins and mummies of the Saqqara burial ground will be examined for decades to come, but they’re hardly the only exciting news regarding ancient Egypt. In 1615, three mummies were discovered in a rock tomb at the same burial ground, and scientists have only now been able to put them through a CT (computed tomography) scan. 
Unlike the mummies mentioned above, these mummies are unique in their very own way because they’re the only “stucco-shrouded portrait mummies” from the burial ground. Whereas other mummies were buried in wooden or stone coffins, these mummies were placed on a board and covered with plaster after being wrapped. The plaster was then adorned with precious metals and an entire body portrait was painted of the deceased individual.

So as not to destroy the beautiful portrait of the dead, archaeologists decided not to unwrap the mummies. Recently, though, Stephanie Zesch, a physical anthropologist at the German Mummy Project at Reiss Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany and her team were able to use CT scans on the mummies.

An x-ray journey into past lives

The CT scans provided an x-ray of the mummies, revealing a glimpse back in time of the ancient individuals. For example, one of the mummies still had several of its organs, including the brain. 

All three mummies, a male and two females, were from Egypt’s Roman period of 30 B.C. to A.D. 395. Their carefully wrapped bodies were adorned with beautiful jewelry and artifacts for their journey into the afterlife, such as coins they may need in order to pay a toll to Roman and Egyptian deities.

Besides the inner organs and personal belongings of the mummies, the CT scans also revealed that none of them made it to old age. They were most likely young adults or teenagers at the time of mummification. For instance, the male mummy is believed to have died before age 30 and had poor teeth at the time of his death. One of the two females was younger than the other and likely was somewhere between the ages of 17 and 19 at the time of her death.

Photos via Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities,  Sculpture Collection, Dresden State Art Collections

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