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Oldest mummies unearthed in Egypt

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Archaeologists with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) have discovered a shaft tomb containing the remains of some thirty individuals at Saqqara.

Archaeologists with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) have discovered a shaft tomb containing the remains of some thirty individuals at Saqqara.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA and director of the excavation, said that the mummies, most of which have deteriorated to little more than skeletons most likely date to the 26th Dynasty (ca. 688-525 BC). The shaft tomb was found within the 6th Dynasty (Old Kingdom, ca. 2323-2150 BC) mastaba tomb of man named Sennedjem. Although the mastaba dates to a much earlier period, the shaft tomb is intrusive, having been dug during the 26th Dynasty.

Two sarcophagi of fine white limestone and four wooden coffins were found on the floor of the burial chamber, which lies at the foot of an 11-meter deep shaft. The remainder of the mummies placed in five niches within the walls of the burial chamber and on shelves along its western wall. One of the wooden coffins was still sealed and untouched since the days of the Pharaohs. Hawass opened this coffin yesterday to reveal a body mummified in the typical style of the 26th Dynasty. It was covered in linen and resin.

Hawass believes that there are probably funerary amulets hidden among the wrappings. From the finely carved inscription on the coffin, he was able to determine that the mummy belonged to a man named Padi-heri, the son of Djehuty-sesh-nub and the grandson of Iru-ru. One of the limestone sarcophagi also remains sealed with mortar. Hawass plans to remove its heavy lid later this week.

The mastaba of Sennedjem is in the Gisr El-Mudir area of Saqqara. The site, whose name means “bridge of the director,” lies to the southwest of the 3rd Dynasty Step Pyramid complex of King Djoser (ca. 2630-2611 BC). Over the course of the last year, SCA archaeologists have located a previously unknown Old Kingdom cemetery in the Gisr El-Mudir area. The discovery of two other Old Kingdom tombs in the same cemetery was announced at the end of 2008. One belonged to a chief of singers, while the other was constructed for an official involved in the construction of the pyramid of Unas.

In November last year, Hawass unearthed a 4,300-year-old pyramid in the same area of Saqqara, the sprawling necropolis and burial site of the rulers of ancient Memphis. The pyramid is said to belong to Queen Sesheshet, the mother of King Teti, first king and founder of the 6th Dynasty of Egypt’s Old Kingdom. The Saqqara pyramid dates back over four millennia ago. It is five meters high, although it must have been about 14 meters originally. Sesheshet’s pyramid was buried under 60 feet of sand. The casing of the pyramid measures three meters in length. Dr. Hawass said it is the most important pyramid discovery of his life.