Saqqara, the sprawling burial complex to the south of Cairo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site layered with thousands of years of Egyptian history. Not only does it have more than a dozen pyramids, it boasts numerous other tombs, courts and halls – and archaeologists keep discovering more.
In May 2023, government officials announced the unearthing of two new tombs and two facilities once used for embalming.
Ancient Egypt and Mummification
The new embalming facilities date to about 2,400 years ago and contain stone beds where the embalmers placed deceased Egyptians to undergo mummification. At the ends of the beds, the scientists found gutters, as well as clay pots to hold organs and viscera, and various other instruments, including linens and natron salt. During the mummification process, all moisture was removed from the body, to stop decomposition.
One workshop appeared to have been used to embalm animals, a process for which Saqqara is well-known. Underground passages at the site contain thousands of ibis mummies dating to about 300 B.C. Elsewhere, archaeologists have found mummified cats, which the Egyptians believed brought good fortune to their owners. They also built a tomb at Saqqara for sacred bulls, a place now called The Serapeum.
Ancient Tombs at Saqqara
The year-long excavation also uncovered two new tombs that are significantly older than the embalming workshops and date back 4,400 and 3,400 years, to the fifth and 18th pharaonic dynasties, respectively. They belonged to two priests named Ne Hesut Ba and Men Kheber, who joined the countless other kings, and Egyptians of note, buried at the site.
Ne Hesut Ba served as head of scribes and priest of the gods Horus and Maat, and his tomb walls were covered with scenes of daily life, farming and hunting.
Men Kheber also served as a priest, and his tomb contained depictions of himself in the form of rock carvings and a 3-foot-tall alabaster statue.
Just the Latest Saqqara Discovery
Archaeologists have fielded project after project in Saqqara in recent years, discovering 59 new mummies, seven new tombs and thousands of wooden figurines in the process.
The wonders of Saqqara span much of Ancient Egyptian history, during which its proximity to the ancient city of Memphis ensured plenty of new tombs and pyramids. The first, the step pyramid built by Djoser – part of the Third Dynasty – stands as the oldest stone building in the world. The site contains more than a dozen others, many of which are badly crumbling.
The earliest tombs lie in the northern part of the site, in the early dynastic cemetery, where large mud-brick tombs called mastabas date back about 4,900 years. Wonders to behold, Egypt hopes these ancient sites will increase tourism, which has seen a recent decline from COVID-19.
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