Egypt — Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed several mummies, colourful wooden sarcophagi and more than 1,000 funerary statues in a 3,500-year-old tomb near the city of Luxor, hailing an "important discovery". The 18th dynasty tomb containing at least eight mummies was discovered in the Draa Abul Nagaa necropolis near the famed Valley of the Kings, the antiquities ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
It belonged to a nobleman named Userhat who worked as the city judge. It was opened to add more mummies during the 21st dynasty, about 3,000 years ago, to protect them during a period when tomb-robbing was common, Mostafa Waziri, the head of the archaeological mission, said at the site.
"It was a surprise how much was displayed inside," Egypt’s antiquities minister, Khaled el-Enany, told reporters outside the tomb. "We found a large number of ushabti [small carved figurines], more than 1,000 of them. This is an important discovery." Ushabti figurines were often placed with the deceased in ancient Egyptian tombs as they were believed to help with responsibilities in the afterlife.
Antiquities officials had initially said six mummies along with partial remains were discovered near the southern city, but said they had later identified two more mummies. "There are 10 coffins and eight mummies. The excavation is ongoing," Waziri said. Inside the tomb, archaeologists wearing white masks and latex gloves inspected the sarcophagi, which are covered with intricate drawings in red, blue, black, green and yellow, and feature the carved faces of the dead.
The coffins are mainly well-preserved, though some have deteriorated and broken over the years. Archaeologists were also examining a mummy wrapped in linen that was inside one of the coffins. White, orange, green and patterned pots were also found in the tombs.
The necropolis is located across the Nile from Luxor, on the west bank, where many of the famous ancient Egyptian pharaohs were buried, including Tutankhamun.
The age of the tomb was determined "through the drawings on the ceiling", Waziri said. "It is a T-shaped tomb, which consists of an open court leading into a rectangular hall, a corridor and an inner chamber."
A 9m-shaft inside the tomb held the ushabti figurines, as well as "wooden masks and a handle of a sarcophagus lid", the ministry said. "The corridor of the tomb leads into an inner chamber where a cachette of sarcophagi is found."
Waziri says, "It’s evident that someone with a conscience, the priests or a high-profile government official ... made an opening to the chambers, and they put the coffins there." Another room in the tomb was also discovered, though it has not yet been completely excavated. Archaeologists were able to enter the tomb "after removing almost 450m of debris from the open court", the ministry said.
The tombs and ancient temples of Thebes, the capital of ancient Egypt during its later periods and now the city of Luxor, were a major tourist attraction, but tourism here has dropped in the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak. Enany said he hoped these new discoveries would help attract tourists again.
Nevine el-Aref, spokeswoman for the antiquities ministry, said "There is evidence and traces that new mummies could be discovered at the site in the future."