An ancient Egyptian necropolis dating back thousands of years has yielded a bunch of mummies of the sort you might not expect when you hear the word.
Instead of important personages, the sarcophagi were hiding dozens of mummified cats, and a rare collection of mummified scarab beetles.
And there might be rarer treasure still. While investigating the complex of tombs, archaeologists found a mausoleum door that remains sealed – suggesting that the contents remain intact, untouched for millennia.
The tombs, containing a number of sarcophagi, were found on the edge of the ancient King Userkaf pyramid complex at Saqqara.
There were seven tombs, four of which date back to the Old Kingdom, which ruled from around 2,686 BCE to 2,181 BCE. The most important of these is from the Fifth Dynasty, and belonged to a man named Khufu-Imhat, who was the overseer of the buildings in the royal palace, the Ministry of Antiquities said.
The other three tombs were used much later, in the Late Period that ran 664 BCE to 332 BCE, for the interment of mummified cats. Dozens of moggies and gilded cat statues were discovered, as well as a bronze statue of the cat-headed goddess Bastet.
Mummified cats and other animals actually aren’t unusual – estimates put the number of mummified animals in Ancient Egypt at up to 70 million, usually of sacred animals such as ibis, crocodiles, cats and dogs.
But the tomb complex at Saqqara, believed to have served the then-capital city of Memphis, contained a rarity: mummified scarab beetles, in sarcophagi specially decorated with scarab imagery.
“The (mummified) scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare,” said Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
“A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before.”
The first sarcophagus, carved from limestone with a vaulted lid, contained two large scarabs, wrapped in linen and in a good state of preservation. The second, smaller sarcophagus had simpler decoration and contained a number of smaller scarabs.
They are the first mummified scarabs to have been discovered at the Memphis necropolis, the Ministry of Antiquities said.
But that’s not all. Painted wooden sarcophagi of snakes containing mummies, as well as two wooden crocodile sarcophagi, were also recovered, and hundreds of faience amulets dedicated to various gods.
“Three alabaster canopic jars and writing tools such as ink pots with pens were found, along with several papyri written in demotic and heretic while a third pile has chapters from the Book of the Dead,” the Ministry explained in a Facebook post.
And the names of two unknown ladies were inscribed on a false door: Subek Sekt and Mafy.
The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has recently announced a number of large archaeological discoveries such as this via Facebook, likely to generate renewed tourist interest in the country – and there’s more to come this year, according to Minister for Antiquities Khaled El-Enany.
“This is the first of three upcoming new discoveries in other governorates in Egypt to be announced later before the end of 2018,” he said.
In addition, archaeologists are planning to open the mysterious sealed tomb in the coming weeks.