Archaeologists hail “dream discovery” as sarcophagus unearthed near Cairo | archaeology | Catch My Job


It lay in the burial chamber, undisturbed, for thousands of years. Now an extraordinary Egyptian sarcophagus has surfaced deep beneath the sand near Cairo, to the excitement of archaeologists, who are describing it as an extremely significant “dream discovery”.

The giant granite sarcophagus is covered with inscriptions dedicated to Ptah-em-via, who was in charge of the treasury of King Ramses II, Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh.

Ola El Aguizi, professor emeritus at Cairo University’s faculty of archaeology, discovered it at Saqqara, an ancient necropolis about 20 miles south of Cairo. Last year, El Aguizi, who is leading an archaeological mission at the site, discovered the tomb of Ptah-em-via on the surface. Now she has found his underground burial chamber with a sarcophagus, which could reveal more about those who ruled Egypt after Tutankhamun.

Professor El Aghizi was lowered into the shaft where the sarcophagus was discovered.
Professor El Aghizi was lowered into the shaft where the sarcophagus was discovered.

In the center of the tomb’s courtyard, El Aguizi’s team spotted the top of a vertical shaft, suggesting a passage to the burial chamber. But that shaft turned out to be so deep, at 8 meters, that it took a week just to remove all the sand, using a bucket attached to a hand-powered rope winch. El Aguizi then squeezed into that bucket and made a perilous, slow descent down the shaft. At the bottom, she was amazed to find a sarcophagus.

National Geographic cameras caught it all while filming the final season of the dig for the eight-part documentary series, The lost treasure of Egyptwhich opens in the UK on October 2.

Finding a complete sarcophagus in its original tomb is incredibly rare. El Aguizi said Observer: “The discovery of this sarcophagus in its original place in the burial shaft was very exciting because it is the sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb, which is not always the case.” Sometimes the sarcophagus is for another person of a later period, when the tomb was used in later periods. But this time that is not the case.”

She said that Ptah-em-via’s titles listed in the hieroglyphs emphasize his closeness to the king, proving that he had a “very important role in the administration of the time”.

She added that the sarcophagus was inscribed with emblems of deities, including the sky goddess Nut on the lid, which covers the chest with open wings to protect the deceased.

Her team will now study it to uncover the full story of Ptah-em-vi’s life.

Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, said: “Saqqara is one of the most important cemeteries, both royal and non-royal, throughout the millennia of Egyptian history. This Egyptian team has added another important chapter to the site’s history.

Oxford University Press will soon publish Manueliano’s book Walking Among the Pharaohs: George Reisner and the dawn of modern Egyptologybiography of the greatest American archaeologist, who directed many excavations and understood the importance of Saqqara.

Manuelian said of El Aghizi: “I’m always glad to see Egyptian archaeologists making these discoveries.

Sarcophagus of Ptah-em-via
Sarcophagus of Ptah-em-via: the sky goddess Nut, with wings spread to protect the dead, is inscribed on the chest. Photo: Rebecca Naunheimer/Windfall Films

“There is a long history of Western archaeologists doing this work.” So it’s great to see their own discoveries – and the fact that she’s a female archaeologist, an Egyptian archaeologist, is even more welcome.”

Tom Cook, producer of the documentary series, paid tribute to El Agiza and her “amazing discovery”: “She’s a grandmother, she’s 70 years old and she’s still going out there doing this really quite dangerous job.”

Noting that a piece of the lid had been broken off, indicating that ancient tomb robbers had stolen the grave treasure, he said: “These tombs [were] it was raided so often by tomb robbers that there was no guarantee that there would be anything exciting down there. So it wasn’t until they got to that last chamber that they realized something spectacular was really there.”


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