Archaeologists excavating at the famous Saqqara necropolis in Egypt have announced a list of top-level ancient discoveries. Within a matrix of 52 burial shafts the researchers discovered 50 sealed coffins and a 4-meter-long passage from The Book of the dead. As if this weren’t enough, they also unearthed the lost funerary temple of Queen Nearit, the wife of King Teti, the first pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty of Egypt.

Stacks of sealed coffins found in the burial complex. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Saqqara Necropolis, A Site That Keeps On Giving
Since September last year Ancient Origins has published several news story about discoveries at the Saqqara necropolis, the ancient Egyptian burial complex covering an area of around 7 by 1.5 kilometers (4.35 by 0.93 mi), located about 19 miles (30 km) south of Cairo. Most recently, the discovery of “140 well-gilded, well-painted, well-decorated sealed coffins” added greatly to what is known about this site, which is most famous for its Third Dynasty Pyramid of Djoser.

One of the decorated coffins found in the Saqqara burial complex. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

The Egyptian archaeological mission is working in the Saqqara necropolis in the area located next to the pyramid of King Teti. Resembling a small hill, the smooth-sided Pyramid of Teti was built for the first king of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. It was first opened by archaeologist Gaston Maspero in 1882 at which time the subterranean chambers and corridors were found in an excellent state of repair. Now, excavating next to the pyramid of King Teti,the Egyptian archaeological mission in cooperation with the Ministry of Antiquities and the Zahi Hawass Center at Bibliotheca Alexandrina , have announced a slate of ancient treasures dating back to the New Kingdom.

Shafted in Ancient Egypt
Where to even start with all this! A report in the Daily Sabah says the archaeologists found “52 burial shafts, between 10 to 12 meters deep, containing 50 wooden coffins that date back to the New Kingdom around 3000 BC.” This is the first time that coffins dating back 5,000 years have been found in the Saqqara region. Furthermore, among hundreds of statues, stelae, toys, wooden boats and funerary masks, the researchers found a 4-meter-long papyrus depicting Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead that conceptually helped the deceased pass through the trials faced on the journey to the other world. This copy of the sacred text was once owned by an elite Egyptian called (Pw-Kha-Ef).

Sections of the 4-meter-long papyrus found in Saqqara. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Dr. Zahi Hawass said these findings “rewrite the history of this necropolis,” during the reign of the warrior kings of the early 18th and 19th dynasties of the New Kingdom, during which King Teti was worshiped. Dr. Hawass also announced the discovery of the funerary temple of King Teti’s wife, Queen Nearit, and a depth of 24 meters below ground level they also uncovered a luxurious mud-brick shrine dating back to the New Kingdom. The open court of this particular shaft was paved with “well-polished and shiny limestone slabs.” The Ministry said these discoveries confirmed that the Saqqara area was not only used for burials during the Late Period, but also during the New Kingdom.

A Multicultural Centre Of Burial Rites and Rituals
Speaking of long-distance trade and the multi-cultural nature of Saqqara, the mission found pottery from Crete, Syria and Palestine. Many carefully carved and painted wooden ushabti statuettes and funerary masks were unearthed beside a shrine dedicated to god Anubis (Guardian of the Cemetery). A well-preserved limestone stelae was discovered that had belonged to a man named “Kha-Ptah,” the overseer of the king’s military chariot during the 19th Dynasty, and his wife “Mwt-em-wia.”

Ushabti statuettes and the wooden box they were found in. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Dr. Zahi Hawass confirms that these discoveries will not only rewrite the history of Saqqara during the New Kingdom, but the artifacts highlight the importance in society of worshiping King Teti during the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. And this new social story from the sacred burial complex of Saqqara will hopefully generate a new flow of tourist dollars later this year when the restrictions, hopefully, ease.