Burial shafts containing dozens of coffins, games to keep the dead busy and a giant papyrus scroll bearing chapter of the Book of the Dead have all been unearthed at Saqqara.
Published: 2021-01-19 09:40 am
4,200-year-old queen's identity among remarkable new finds in Egypt

Cairo — Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities has revealed details of the latest landmark discoveries to emerge from the Saqqara necropolis, south of Cairo. The vast burial grounds sit in what was once Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to more than a dozen pyramids, including Egypt's oldest, the Pyramid of Djoser.

The site has yielded thousands of artefacts over decades of excavation, but among the biggest rewards for Egyptologists in this latest round of discoveries was the identity of a queen who died around 4,200 years ago.

Her tomb was discovered at a site adjacent to the pyramid of King Teti, the first pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, the era between about 2680 and 2180 BC known as the Age of the Pyramids. 

A sarcophagus is displayed during the official announcement of the discovery by an Egyptian archaeological mission of a new trove of treasures at Egypt's Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo, January 17, 2021. The discovery includes the funerary temple of Queen Neit, wife of King Teti, as well as burial shafts, coffins, and mummies dating back 3,000 years to the New Kingdom. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty

"The excavation started in 2010, when we discovered a pyramid of a queen next to the pyramid of King Teti, but we didn't find a name inside the pyramid to tell us who the pyramid belonged to," leading Egyptologist and former minister of antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass told CBS News.  

About a month ago they discovered a funerary temple, and now researchers finally have a name for the ancient female monarch: Queen Neit, the wife of King Teti. Her name was finally found, carved on a wall in the temple and also written on a fallen obelisk in the entrance to her tomb.

Egyptologist Dr.v Zahi Hawass poses during an event announcing the discovery by the archaeological mission he leads of a new trove of treasures at Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of Cairo, January 17, 2021. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty

"I'd never heard of this queen before. Therefore, we add an important piece to Egyptian history, about this queen," said Hawass, who heads the archaeological mission. He said the recent discoveries would help "rewrite" the history of ancient Egypt.

His team also discovered 52 burial shafts, each around 30 to 40 feet deep, inside of which they found have more than 50 wooden coffins dating back to the New Kingdom, around 3,000 years ago.

Unearthed adorned wooden sarcophagi are displayed during the official announcement of the discovery by an Egyptian archaeological mission of a new trove of treasures at Egypt's Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo, January 17, 2021.  KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty

"Actually, this morning we found another shaft," Hawass told CBS News on Monday. "Inside the shaft we found a large limestone sarcophagus. This is the first time we've discovered a limestone sarcophagus inside the shafts. We found another one that we're going to open a week from now."

The team also found a papyrus about 13 feet long and three feet wide, on which Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead is written in hieroglyphics, with the name of its owner recorded on it. The Book of the Dead is an ancient manuscript that explains how to navigate through the afterlife to reach the field of the Aaru — paradise, to ancient Egyptians.  

The remains of a papyrus, bearing Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead, found in a burial shaft at the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt are displayed on tables in an image provided by the Ministry of Antiquities. Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

Hawass said it was the first time such a large papyrus had been discovered inside a burial shaft.  

Other finds from the site include numerous wooden funerary masks, a shrine dedicated to the god Anubis (Guardian of the Cemetery), statues of Anubis, and games that were buried with the dead, to keep them busy in the afterlife. One of them was a game called "Twenty," found with its owner's name still visibly written on it.

Another game, called "Senet" (cross), was found in the shafts. It's similar to chess, but if the deceased player wins, they go safely into the afterlife.

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