Mummies, jewels and sarcophagi are among the 3,500-year-old treasures discovered in a goldsmith’s tomb in necropolis.
A remarkable ancient Egyptian tomb has been discovered in the necropolis of Draa el-Naga, near Egypt’s famous Valley of the Kings.
The tomb consists of a small room at ground level and a burial chamber eight metres below containing four mummies. Its principal occupant was a goldsmith named Amenemhat from the 18th Dynasty (1550BC to 1292BC), the time of Tutankhamun, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut.
The tomb also contains skeletons, funerary artefacts, including 150 ushabti statues, intended to be servants in the afterlife, and four wooden sarcophagi, jewellery and funerary cones.
According to Zahi Hawass, one of the world’s leading Egyptologists and Egypt’s former minister of antiquities, the discovery of a tomb containing an identifiable nobleman such as this could be of great significance.
Of the 50 funerary cones discovered, 40 belong to four other officials from the period whose bodies have not yet been found. “This is a good sign,” said Mostafa Waziry, who is leading the excavation. “It means if we keep digging in this area we’re going to find four more tombs.” The find was hailed by the present Egyptian minister of antiquities, Khaled Alnani, as “an important scientific discovery”.
The tomb was reused during the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period (1070BC to 664BC) and another shaft was discovered nearby with three mummies in two coffins from the Middle Kingdom (2050BC to 1800BC). Alnani said that this means there are a number of mummies to be analysed and researched, as well as sarcophagi, artefacts and poetry. “It has significance in all fields,” said Alnani.
The excavation of the area began with the discovery of the tomb of a judge a few months ago. Alnani expects to make further discoveries. “The work is not finished,” he said. “We hope to be making a new announcement next month.”
There have been a series of finds in 2017, which Alnani has called “a year of archaeological discoveries”. Headlines were made in March when an eight-metre quartzite statue of Psamtek I was unearthed and initially mistaken for the famous pharaoh Ramses II. The statue of the late-period king was found in the crowded east Cairo suburb of Mataria, not far from Ain Shams University.
“Modern Egypt is built on top of ancient Egypt,” said Hawass. “Sometimes you excavate in your courtyard like in Aswan or Heliopolis and find monuments.” He added: “Until now we’ve only found 30% of the Egyptian monuments; 70% is still buried.”
Other discoveries include a Roman-era tomb, uncovered last month near the Upper Egyptian town of Minya, and more than 1,000 wooden funerary statues that were found in a 3,500-year-old tomb near Luxor. In April a pyramid was discovered at the Dahshur necropolis.
The recent discoveries come after a stagnant period for archaeology in Egypt, following the Arab spring protests in 2011 and subsequent drop in tourism, as visitors stayed away due to terrorism and political instability. Last year 4.8 million people visited Egypt, less than a third of the number for 2010.
Tourism figures plummeted during the protests that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, and were further hit by the bombing of a Russian passenger jet in October 2015, which killed all 224 on board. Tourism to cultural sites along the Nile valley has been worst hit, with the Antiquities Ministry reporting in 2014 that revenue from ancient monuments had declined by 95%.
The Egyptian government has made a huge effort to get visitor numbers back to pre-2011 levels, last year hiring a New York-based PR firm to run a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to boost tourism. So far, such efforts are yet to yield much improvement.
The loss of revenue has left the ministry struggling to pay for much-needed maintenance projects. “You need to maintain these monuments,” said Hawass. “I used to spend 1.3bn Egyptian pounds a year in the construction of museums and restoring the monuments. You don’t have this money now and the ministry is in a very critical condition.”
Other big projects in need of funds include the Grand Egyptian Museum, still under construction at the Giza plateau. The museum, which Hawass calls “the most important cultural project of the 21st century”, is years overdue and its total cost is currently estimated at $1bn (£750m), millions over budget.