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New discovery of mummies, burial shaft in Egypt sheds light on embalming process

The new find reveals details of exactly what types of oils were used in the mummification process thousands of years ago.
Image: Mummy mask
A gilded silver mummy mask found on the face of the mummy of the second priest of Mut is displayed during a press conference in front of the step pyramid of Saqqara, in Giza, on July 14, 2018.Amr Nabil / AP

SAQQARA, Egypt — In the shadow of Egypt’s oldest pyramids, the Saqqara Step Pyramids, Egyptian and German archaeologists have uncovered an embalming factory that sheds new light on how ancient Egyptians were mummified.

Ramadan Hussein, director of the Saqqara Seites Tomb Project, called it a “goldmine of information” on ingredients used to preserve mummies for thousands of years.

The recent discovery included a complex of building, including an embalmer's cachette and a mummification workshop.

Image: Saqqara necropolis
A general view of the research site at the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt, on July 14, 2018.Mohamed Hossam / EPA

"But the most important thing is a communal burial place in the form of a deep shaft," Hussein said. "The embalmer cachette has vessels in the form of measuring cups also bowls all inscribed with the names of oils and substances that were used in the mummification. Now we’ve found a goldmine of information about what exactly are the kind of oils that we’re dealing with."

The treasure trove lay hidden under the sand for 2,600 years until archaeologists discovered them while mapping a site last excavated in 1899.

“We had to do cleaning in order to map and produce our survey map,” said Hussein, "and, of course, every great discovery in Egyptian archaeology happens by accident."

In the new find, archaeologists opened one of five sarcophagi which have been sealed since burial. It revealed the mummy of a second priest to the Goddess Mut and was adorned with a rare silver and gold gilded mask, beaded netting and gilded images of Pharaonic gods.

Image: Mummy mask
A recently discovered gilded mummy mask is displayed during a press conference in front of the step pyramid of Saqqara, in Giza on July 14, 2018.Amr Nabil / AP

They archaeologists also uncovered 35 other mummies, a coffin, dozens of blue ushepti statuettes to serve the deceased in the afterlife and alabaster canopic jars to hold their organs.

The find shows that even in preparation for the afterlife, money and position mattered.

“We have so many mummies that were discovered: Some buried with nothing, others buried with objects that are moderate in terms of value. Others with very, very expensive objects like the gilded mask that we are putting on display today,” Hussein said.

The shaft, 100-feet deep, has still more secrets to reveal.

“This is just the beginning of the discovery”, said Mostafa Al Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Next season, they will open the four remaining sealed sarcophagi. Across the country, the latest technology has spurred the speed of discoveries as archaeologists revisit old sites to unearth new ancient wonders.