Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1418, (15 - 21 November 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1418, (15 - 21 November 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Animal mummies discovered

Dozens of mummified cats and meticulously mummified scarab beetles are the latest discoveries to be made at the Saqqara Necropolis, reports Nevine El-Aref 

Some 30 Arab and foreign ambassadors and cultural attachés to Egypt as well as hundreds of Egyptian, Arab and foreign journalists flocked to the Saqqara Necropolis outside Cairo to see the newly discovered mummies of cats and beetles on Saturday.

Although the graves were originally tombs from the Old and New Kingdoms, they were reused during the Late Period as a necropolis for cats and other animals. 

This highlights the ancient Egyptian attitude to cats, with the cat goddess Bastet having a multitude of powers. She could fend off a variety of evil threats and at the same time she was a goddess associated with music, dancing and pleasure.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany described the discovery as important because it shed light on the Necropolis’ history and highlighted the role that antiquities play in promoting the country and its unique heritage. 

“Although the tombs are not in a very good conservation condition because the necropolis was reused in a later period, its contents could yield clues to other discoveries as another sealed door of another tomb was noticed two days ago before the announcement,” he said.

photo: AFP

El-Enany explained that an Egyptian archaeological mission had made the discovery during excavation work carried out since April in the area located on the stony edge of the King Userkaf Pyramid Complex in the Saqqara Necropolis. 

The mission uncovered three plain New Kingdom tombs that had been used during the Late Period as a cat necropolis, along with four other Old Kingdom tombs, the most important of which belongs to Khufu-Imhat, the overseer of the buildings in the royal palace. 

This tomb can be dated to the late fifth and the early sixth dynasties, El-Enany said. He added that the Egyptian mission had selected the site to excavate because there was a high probability that a collection of Old Kingdom tombs could be uncovered around the ramp of the King Userkaf Pyramid Complex. 

In 2008, the mission had stopped digging and had instead devoted its work to the study, documentation and restoration of some of the discovered tombs. All the projects stopped in 2013.

“This discovery is the first in a series of three upcoming discoveries in two governorates in Upper Egypt to be announced before the end of 2018,” El-Enany said. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that the discovery had created a scientific debate as meticulously mummified scarabs (beetles) had been found within the graves.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the mummified scarabs were the first scarab mummies to be found in the Necropolis. Two large ones were found inside a rectangular limestone sarcophagus with a vaulted lid decorated with three scarabs painted in black, while dozens of smaller sizes were found inside a square limestone sarcophagus decorated with one painted black scarab. 

Studies on these scarabs have shown that they are wrapped in linen and are in a very good preservation condition. 

Dozens of mummified cats were also unearthed, along with 100 wooden statues of cats and a bronze cat dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet. A collection of wooden gilded statues depicting the physical features of a lion, a cow, and a falcon was also unearthed. Painted wooden sarcophagi of cobras with mummies found inside them were also discovered, along with two wooden sarcophagi of crocodiles.

Within the debris, Waziri pointed out, the mission had succeeded in unearthing around 1,000 amulets made of faience dedicated to different deities, including Tawesert, Apis, Anubis, Djehuty, Horus, Isis, Ptah Patek, and Khnum, as well as other faience amulets in the shape of the Udjat eye, the white and red crowns of ancient Egypt, and the Wadjat column. 

Three alabaster canopic jars and writing tools such as ink pots with pens were found, along with several papyri featuring chapters from the Book of the Dead. The names of two women, Subek Sekt and Mafy, were found engraved on a false door for the first time.

Sabri Farag, director-general of the Saqqara Necropolis, said that a collection of baskets and ropes made of papyrus had also been found along with 30 clay pots, a headrest, and alabaster and bronze jars inside a wooden sarcophagus. 

A large number of decorated stone reliefs and blocks, along with parts of false doors, were also found, with two blocks representing a part of the lintel of the tomb of Ankh Mahur, one of the Old Kingdom viziers.

Naguib Sawiris, chairman of the company that sponsored the announcement, said it had sponsored the event because it wanted to show the exceptional richness of Egyptian civilisation and to attract the attention of the world to its magnificent monuments.

Among the attendees at last weekend’s ceremony were the ambassadors of Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Cyprus, Mexico, Italy, Malta, Hungary, France, Ireland, Armenia, South Korea, Tajikistan, Japan, Austria and Belarus. 

Saudi Arabia and Georgia’s vice-ambassadors also attended, as well as Denmark’s general councillor and the cultural attachés of the Czech Republic, Georgia and the US. The heads of the American Research Centre in Cairo and UNESCO were also among the attendees. 

Many foreign ambassadors have participated in archaeological events in Egypt over the past month, including the Abu Simbel Temple solar alignment and tours of the archaeological sites of the New Valley and St Catherine’s in South Sinai.

add comment

  • follow us on