Egypt unveiled ancient treasures found at the Saqqara archaeological site south of Cairo, including sarcophagi over 3,000 years old, a discovery that “rewrites history”, according to famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass.
Saqqara is a vast necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to more than a dozen pyramids, ancient monasteries and animal burial grounds.
A team led by Hawass found the pyramid of King Teti, the first pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom.
More than 50 wooden coffins dating to the New Kingdom (16th to 11th centuries BC) have been found in a burial shaft.
“This discovery re-writes the history of Saqqara and more specifically the history of the New Kingdom, which began 3,000 years ago,” Hawass said.
He said his team discovered a total of 22 axes. “One of the coffins belonged to a soldier. We found the axe that he used to fight,” Hawass said.
He added, a stone coffin was also found, as well as “a papyrus around five metres long containing the 17th chapter of the book of the dead… masks, wooden boats, games the ancient Egyptians used to play”.
The games, called Senet and Game 20, were placed in graves so the dead could play in the afterlife, he said.
Winners at Senet “will go to the afterlife, to the fields of Aaru – this was the paradise of ancient Egypt”, Hawass said.
He added: “It is a rare and new discovery because most of the artefacts we found are dated back to the New Kingdom, whereas in Saqqara, it’s usually more around 500 BC.”
Objects including human skulls and bones were shown to the media on Sunday, while excavation work at the site was underway.
Hawass said the artifacts the team had unearthed so far represented only 30% of what was expected, adding that 70% were still buried under the Saqqara sand.
Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism on Saturday announced “major discoveries” at Saqqara, which has had a series of excavations in recent years.’
The ministry said the team had also discovered “the honorary shrine of Queen Nearit, wife of King Teti, which has been partially discovered in recent years”.
Three brick warehouses were also found on the site and were used to store ritual offerings to the gods, it said.
The Saqqara site is also home to the stepped pyramid of Djoser, one of the earliest pyramids built in ancient Egypt.
Later this year, and after several delays, authorities hope to inaugurate a new museum – the Grand Egyptian Museum – on the Giza plateau, home to the famous Giza pyramids.
Egypt hopes archaeological discoveries will boost tourism, a sector that has suffered many shocks, from the 2011 uprising to today’s coronavirus pandemic.