The construction of the Aswan High Dam ended the annual Nile flood cycle; archaeological harvests continue at a regular rate. The last offerings taken from the fertile aridities of Egypt come from the necropolis of Saqqara, about fifteen kilometers from Cairo. On May 27, during a press conference given on the site, the Egyptian archaeological authorities announced that they had unearthed two tombs, as well as two new embalming workshops.

Due to the presence of international media, an assortment of the most beautiful objects discovered under the rocks of Saqqara was presented on the sidelines of the press conference. No crumbling half-statues or crude monuments; the sands were generous. The treasures are remarkably beautiful. Let us quote pell-mell a sarcophagus with lightning polychromy, sumptuous chests, statues of horned gods, standing on their base, smaller Horus, in falcons wearing their high feathered crown, beautiful wooden portraits or even a collection earthenware amulets. A multitude of more common antiquities – canopic jars and several broken objects – completed the lot.

“I guarantee you that Egypt and, in particular, the archaeological site of Saqqara have not yet revealed all their secrets!” Said Saturday Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities. The secret, since it is in question, indeed overlooks the necropolis. As is often the case in Egypt, the excavation of these new structures was carried out under almost complete radio silence in order to prevent looting and provide a good announcement effect. The stakes are high: the tourism sector accounts for nearly 10% of Egypt’s GDP. Governor of Giza, Major General Ahmed Rashid also made the trip to the monuments of Saqqara on Saturday. He was accompanied by 47 ambassadors.

Located south of the Giza plateau, opposite the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, the Saqqara necropolis has been the subject of intensive excavation campaigns carried out since 2018 by an Egyptian archaeological mission. Known for housing the step pyramid of King Djoser, the site is indeed much closer to Cairo than the Valley of the Kings and other wonders of Upper Egypt.

The discretion of the archaeologists hid an industrious work. The researchers were able to put a name to the occupants of the two exhumed graves. The first tomb belonged to Men Kheber Ra, a priest of the Phoenician deity Qadesh, who died in the 14th century BC. AD, at the time of the XVIIIth dynasty – that of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. Much older, the second burial, a mastaba, had been built for Ne Hesut Ba. Died under the 5th Dynasty, in the 24th century BC, this chief scribe was high priest of Horus and Maat, the goddess of peace and harmony. According to Mostafa Waziri, his burial place would be nothing less than “one of the most beautiful tombs in the necropolis”.

The broadcast images show a burial chamber adorned with painted bas-reliefs, especially on its exterior walls. A false door – a passageway for the dead to the underworld – adorns the central back of the room. The two tombs are decorated with hieroglyphs as well as images of the daily life of the deceased, which Egyptologists are rightly delighted with. Site officials were less forthcoming about the extensive renovation work, clearly visible in the photographs of the Ne Hesut Ba mastaba.

The two embalming workshops would be the most imposing structures of their kind discovered to date within the necropolis, according to archaeologist Sabri Faraj, head of excavation operations at Saqqara. These buildings have been dated to the XXXth Dynasty, in the middle of the 4th century BC; that is, from the Ptolemaic era of ancient Egypt, which spans from the conquest of Alexander the Great to the Roman annexation of the kingdom.

As several mummies attest, one of the two embalming workshops was intended for humans, the other for animals. By chance of archaeology, these sites devoted to the different stages of the preparation of bodies for eternity – excerebration, evisceration, enemas, etc. – have been relatively well preserved over the millennia. Archaeologists have discovered flax, resin and several tools used by embalmers for their macabre work. Cramped in small rooms, the stone beds on which the dead lay were plastered over and provided with gutters.

According to archaeologists, the various objects discovered at Saqqara in recent months should integrate the collections of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, located at the foot of the pyramids of Giza. Started in 2002, the construction of this major museum has experienced some delays worthy of a new generation EPR. It could be inaugurated later this year, after a ten-year delay.