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Archaeologists Uncover an Unprecedented 250 Mummies Among Other Ancient Artifacts

posted on: Jun 8, 2022

Archaeologists Uncover an Unprecedented 250 Mummies Among Other Ancient Artifacts
The recently unearthed treasures, including several ornate sarcophagi, are displayed at a makeshift exhibit at the feet of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara. (Photo: Reuters)

BY: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer

Fresh out of the dry sands of Giza, archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of ancient commodities, including statues, sarcophagi, and mummies that have been well-preserved for nearly 2500 years. The discovery comes right on the heels of a forecasted economic decline in Egypt, and it is hoped that this will help to boost Egypt’s tourism sector.

What was found?

The discovery includes several painted statues honoring the pantheon of Egyptian gods, such as Isis. (Photo: Associated Press)

Saqqara, the necropolis of ancient Egypt, is today located within the governorate of Giza (of pyramid fame). Found just outside of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara is the site of some of the most high-profile burials of the ancient Egyptian world, which makes it a hotspot for archaeological expeditions. Last week’s find was no different.

Archaeologists were able to uncover over 250 ornately painted sarcophagi, most of which contained a preserved mummified body and many with burial artifacts and treasures. One of these treasures includes, for the first time, “a complete and sealed papyrus,” according to Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. This papyrus, presumed to be the instructions to an ancient Egyptian burial ritual, will offer fresh insight into the beliefs of the Egyptians and how they viewed death and the post-life. It is monumental for historians and hobbyists alike.

In addition to the mummies, discovered along with them were nearly 150 bronze statues, religious paraphernalia, and ritual instruments. Varying in size, shape, and color (or lack thereof), the objects are presumed to have been used in spiritual havens such as temples, as well as burial rituals (how they ended up with the mummies in the first place). Many of them appear to be in the style of the cult of Isis, goddess of fertility and healing and wife to Osiris, lord of the dead. Isis has had connections to the dead of Ancient Egypt before, so the findings simply confirm her association with the burial rituals of the time.

These findings, including the bodies, have been dated to around 500 B.C.E.

What do we learn from these artifacts?

Each item offers its own insight into the time period it emerged from. For the bodies, we can study them to learn more about the lifestyles of ancient Egyptians, from what they ate to their genetic predispositions. Even at 2500 years old, the remains serve as a snapshot of what the physique of ancient Egyptians were, from their physical fitness, to what ethnic population they are related to, to how they interacted with each other.

The statues, on the other hand, teach us more about ancient Egyptian spirituality. They all served as honors to the gods, and their structure is critical in picturing exactly how these people viewed their gods- what form they took, what divine symbolism they hold, and how they interact with the rest of the pantheon. Not only that, we can see what actions they took to worship their gods through the wear on the statues, as well as through the trove of ritual instruments that were left with the statues.

Most excitingly, the papyrus will surely offer explicit, unambiguous insight into the religious practices of Ancient Egyptians. Since they are written in words, it leaves no room for speculation or misinterpretation. It is a crystal clear missing puzzle piece in the mystery of Ancient Egyptian spirituality.

Egypt’s Saving Grace?

Types of Tourism in Egypt
Visitors outside the Abu Simbel Temples, a monument to the great ancient king Ramses II from around 1400 B.C.E. (Photo: Reuters)

In recent years, Egypt’s economy has taken a massive hit in the form of a declining tourism industry, which makes up a prominent portion of its economy. Like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has annihilated foreign tourism, dropping its role in the Egyptian economy from 15% pre-pandemic to less than 3% in 2021. In other global affairs, the conflict in Ukraine has halted tourism from Egypt’s largest audiences in both Ukraine and Russia. Domestic political instability has also deterred foreign visitors. In short, Egypt has had an incredibly difficult time overcoming the obstacle that current global events have caused them.

Despite all of these barriers, Egypt is hopeful that the recent findings will rehabilitate their dying tourism sector. Only time will tell if the treasures will have enough sway to coax foreign markets into visiting the nation to take in the new sights; if they can, the discovery could prove as valuable to the nation as it is to academia.

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