Monday, February 9, 2009

Big Headlines Today: 30 Mummies Discovered In Egypt

(Some headlines seem to indicate 20 mummies). This was all over the news today: Egyptian Archaeologists Find 30 Mummies In Saqqara Posted on: Monday, 9 February 2009, 13:10 CST The Egyptian government released a statement on Monday saying archaeologists there have found about 30 mummies and at least one unopened sarcophagus in a burial chamber about 4,300 years old. The chamber was uncovered in the desert on the western side of the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, one of the earliest large stone structures in the world, dating from about 2,650 BC. Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, said the tomb was located at the bottom of a 36-foot deep shaft where twenty-two mummies were found in niches along the tomb's walls alone. Hawass' assistant Abdel Hakim Karar said eight sarcophagi were also found in the tomb, although only one has been opened, so far. The recently discovered mummies appear to range in age. Hawass said one dates from about 640 BC, while the unopened sarcophagus, which is made of limestone and sealed with plaster, is probably much older. "We think it is Old Kingdom, maybe Fifth Dynasty," Karar told Reuters. The Fifth Dynasty ruled Egypt from about 2,494 BC to 2,345 BC. He said many of the mummies were poorly preserved and archeologists have yet to find out their identities or how they ended up there. Karar also said it was unusual for mummies of this late period to be stored in rocky niches. One opened sarcophagus showed the name Badi N Huri engraved into it, but the wooden coffin did not bear a title for the mummy. "This one might have been an important figure, but I can't tell because there was no title," Karar said. Archaeologists have excavated tombs in Saqqara for over 150 years, uncovering a necropolis of pyramids and tombs dating mostly from the Old Kingdom. Hawass said the "storeroom for mummies" dates back to 640 B.C. during the 26th Dynasty, which was Egypt's last independent kingdom before it was overthrown by a succession of foreign conquerors beginning with the Persians. However, the tomb was discovered at an even older site in Saqqara that dates back to the 4,300-year-old 6th Dynasty. He added that it was unusual to find intact burials in well-known necropolises such as Saqqara, because grave robbers got to most of the area in ancient times. Only around 30 percent of Egypt's monuments have been uncovered, with the rest still under the sand, Hawass said.
So many questions - and no answers! It seems that the original carved tomb dates back to the Old Kingdom's 5th Dynasty, but contained mummies (how many, uncertain at this point) that date to the 26th Dynasty, and possibly the original occupant of the 5th Dynasty tomb in an unopened sarcophogus. I know that other "storerooms for mummies" have been discovered in Egypt. I don't recall a lot about them - it seems that in times of danger, or in tombs that had been previously ravaged by grave robbers, the often overwhelmed priests periodically gathered mummies and re-interred them. I do not know what rituals, if any, accompanied such reinterrments, but I do know the priesthood was fighting a losing battle. And yet, they continued to battle to preserve the ancient, sacredness of the mummies right up until the time they were finally disbanded by force of sword of Christianity in the early 400s CE. Just a few hundred years later - long enough for the language of the hieroglyphics to be lost - the country was overswept by the Islamists and has been in their control ever since. I can envision that during this time of danger (the imminent Persian invasion) the priests gathered what mummies they could and put them into a tomb (more likely, several tombs) they thought might be preserved safely, and did their best to cover up their tracks. At least in the case of this tomb uncovered at Saqqara, they were successful, as it was swalled up by the desert sands for the next 2600 years.

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