Written by Laura M. Holson
Dozens of newly discovered mummies from the Ptolemaic era were unveiled at an Egyptian burial site this weekend, one of a number of sites the country plans to disclose this year, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.
The site, which was described as a family burial chamber, was discovered a year ago hollowed out of rock at Tuna el-Gebel, an ancient burial ground not far from the city of Minya in central Egypt. The area is known for its archaeological finds, including the tomb of Petosiris, an ancient Egyptian priest, and a catacomb filled with mummified falcons, ibises and baboons.
Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities posted information about the site on Facebook and Twitter, and invited foreign dignitaries and journalists to tour the tomb Saturday.
The tomb consisted of numerous chambers that dated from 323 B.C. to 30 B.C. and that were accessible through a corridor and sloping set of stairs. Khaled El-Enany, the minister of antiquities, said in the presentation that the tomb belonged to a family, most likely from the elite middle class, and contained the bodies of more than 40 men, women and children.
Some of the adult mummies still had painted fragments of cartonnage at the base of their feet that were used for decoration and, in the Ptolemaic era, were made of old papyrus scrolls. Some of the children were wrapped in linen decorated with ancient Egyptian script.
The ministry also displayed bowls and other items and found family artifacts from the Roman and Byzantine eras.
The site was excavated by the ministry and archaeologists from nearby Minya University. Wagdi Ramadan, who the ministry said headed the mission, said Saturday that some of the sarcophagi were tucked into niches in one large chamber, a burial style common at Tuna el-Gebel. Bodies were encased in wooden or stone sarcophagi, while others were tucked in sand or laid on the floor, wrapped in linen.
The tomb was first discovered in February 2018 and, according to El-Enany, the first announced discovery this year. He said he expected to announce more finds in the coming months.
Egypt’s cultural and political underpinnings have long been associated with its archaeological past.
“Egypt always announces when it has a big find,” said Sharon Waxman, author of “Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World.” “Ancient Egypt is an integral part of modern Egypt’s identity.” (Waxman is a former reporter for The New York Times.)
One reason is that archaeological treasures drive tourism, a major industry that keeps Egypt’s economy afloat. After the Arab Spring revolution swept across parts of the Middle East in 2011, Americans stayed away and have only begun to tiptoe back into the country.
In a report published by the World Tourism Organization last summer, Egypt led tourism growth in the Middle East in 2017, with many tourists coming from Western and Central Europe. If tourists stay away, the economy suffers.
“Tourism, in part, is what fuels the country,” Waxman said. “The big problem in Egypt is that they have such a massive amount of antiquities, they are hard to maintain.”