Khalid el-Anany, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, right, and Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, left, stand above a sarcophagus at the Saqqara archaeological site, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, October 3, 2020. El-Anany says at least 59 sealed sarcophagi with mummies inside were found in three wells in the vast necropolis, believed to have been buried there more than 2,600 years ago. (Photo: Mahmoud Khaled, AP)

CAIRO – Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities said on Saturday that archaeologists unearthed dozens of ancient coffins in a vast necropolis south of Cairo.

Khalid el-Anany said at least 59 sealed sarcophagi have been found, with mummies inside most of them, which had been buried in three wells more than 2,600 years ago.

“I believe this is the beginning of a great discovery,” el-Anany said, adding that there are an unknown number of coffins that have yet to be unearthed in the same area.

He spoke at a press conference at Djoser’s famous step pyramid in Saqqara where the coffins were found. The sarcophagi were displayed and one of them was opened in front of reporters to show the mummy inside. Several foreign diplomats attended the announcement ceremony.

The Saqqara Plateau is home to at least 11 pyramids, including the Step Pyramid, along with hundreds of tombs of ancient officials and other sites ranging from Dynasty I (2920 BC-2770 BC) to the Coptic period (395-642).

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said initial studies show that the decorated coffins were made for priests, high officials and elites of the late Pharaonic period (664-525 BC).

He said archaeologists also found a total of 28 statuettes of Ptah-Soker, the main god of the Saqqara necropolis, and a beautifully carved 35cm tall bronze statuette of the god Nefertum, inlaid with precious stones. Its owner’s name, Priest Badi-Amun, is written on its base, he said.

Egyptian antiquities officials had announced the discovery of the batch’s first coffins last month when archaeologists found 13 of the containers in a recently discovered 11-meter (36-foot) deep well.

The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, which includes the famous pyramids of Giza and smaller pyramids of Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1970s.

El-Anany said the Saqqara coffins will join 30 ancient wooden coffins discovered in October in the southern city of Luxor and will be exhibited at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which Egypt is building near the Pyramids of Giza.

The Saqqara discovery is the latest in a series of archaeological finds that Egypt has sought to publicize in an effort to revive its key tourism sector, which was hit hard by the unrest following the 2011 uprising. further blow this year again from the global coronavirus pandemic.

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