Archaeology 2,500 years old, and as fresh as the day she was buried

Discussion in 'Archaeology' started by mscbkc070904, Mar 4, 2005.

  1. mscbkc070904

    mscbkc070904 Premium Member

    Hidden in a sprawling tomb behind a pair of ancient statues in the capital of ancient Egypt, a team of Australian archaeologists has found one of the best-preserved mummies, reports Anne Penketh
    03 March 2005


    The green eyes stare out unblinkingly from the beaded mask. The woman's dark eyebrows and terracotta face look as fresh as they ever did.

    Yet the figure covered in turquoise beads and swaddled in black linen, nestling in a wooden sarcophagus, is believed to be 2,500 years old.

    Egypt's chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, yesterday proudly unveiled what he described as probably one of the best-preserved mummies ever.

    He stood among the treasures that were uncovered by accident by an Australian team of archaeologists in Saqqara, the burial site of Memphis, once the capital of ancient Egypt.

    The Australians, who were exploring a tomb dating back 4,200 years, pushed aside a pair of ancient statues last week and found a door which led them to the tomb containing three cedar coffins, each containing a mummy. Inside one was the magnificently preserved beaded woman. Wooden boxes next to the coffins contained vital organs.

    "The chest of the mummy is covered with beads. Most of the mummies of this period - about 500BC - the beads are completely gone, but this mummy has them all," Dr Hawass told journalists at the site.

    For many people, the tourist trail to Egypt means taking a trip to the pyramids and the sphinx at Giza, perilously close to the encroaching Cairo suburbs, before embarking on a slow cruise down the Nile to Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.

    But further off the beaten track lies Saqqarah, the vast necropolis spread out in the desert sands 30 miles south of Cairo. Its most commanding pyramid is the world's oldest major stone structure, built around 2630BC for King Djoser. But its tombs were constructed over thousands of years, and many of its secrets have still to be discovered.

    Excavations at Saqqara have been going on for the past two centuries. In 2001, Dutch archaeologists found a new tomb. In 2002, an Egyptian mission made a major discovery of seven mud-brick tombs of high-ranking officials who lived in the New Kingdom (1550-1069BC). Naguib Kanawati, the head of the Australian team from Sydney's Macquarie University, which made the astonishing discovery of the mummies from the 26th Dynasty (664-525BC), said their site had been under excavation for 10 years. The door was hidden behind statues of a man believed to have been Meri, the tutor of King Pepi II who was the last ruler in Egypt's 6th Dynasty, and the tutor's wife.

    After Pepi II's rule, the site was covered by 50 feet of sand, until it was used again as a cemetery 2,600 years later. "By that time the art of mummification was perfected to the extreme," Professor Kanawati said.

    The identity of the mummies has not yet been ascertained, and they are to undergo ultrasound and X-ray testing, which may reveal their age, signs of disease and the possible cause of death. But there is speculation that the mummies may be teachers.

    "These were not particularly wealthy people. They are not commoners ... They are middle-class people, but not royalty," Professor Kanawati said.

    All three bodies were extremely well preserved. Two coffins contained male mummies, wrapped in dark linen bandages and painted or covered in beads from their head to their knees. The third coffin, which was in worse condition than the other two, contained the woman.

    "We cannot and we don't want to unwrap them because that would start the deterioration," Professor Kanawati stressed. The mummies will be handed over to the Egyptian authorities once Australian researchers have fully studied the bodies. Inscriptions on the body-shaped coffins will also be studied.

    "I believe this discovery can enrich us about two important periods in our history, the Old Kingdom, which dates back to 4,200 years, and the 26th Dynasty, that was 2,500 years ago," Dr Hawass said.

    Source: Independent News UK