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Ancient Egypt

Rare Persian-Era Mummy

Edited from BBC News, 1 March 1998

The mummy of a palace priest was discovered by archaeologists, lying in an underground tomb in Egypt.

The remains, which were recovered from a sarcophagus, had lain undisturbed for more than 2,400 years. The mummy was found in what was one of only three tombs from the time of the pharaohs to have been unearthed intact in the modern era (to date). The discovery was made inside a shaft which extended about twenty-eight metres into the ground.

The tomb in Abu Sir, twenty kilometres south of Cairo, was believed to date from between 525 BC and 404 BC. Dignitaries and journalists gathered at the end of February 1999 to see the lid lifted off the limestone sarcophagus with a hoist.

The unveiling revealed a smaller basalt sarcophagus, which contained a decayed wooden coffin. The mummy was wrapped in decayed, brown rags. Facial features could be seen, including what appeared to be a grimace.

Faruq Hosni, the Egyptian Minister for Culture, said that according to inscriptions found in the tomb, the casket contained the mummified remains of Iuf-Aa, what he described as a 'priest with administrative responsibilities' and 'the head of the royal court'.

Objects of worship had been placed with the corpse to protect it from evil spirits. Littered around the sarcophagus were 408 statuettes which were placed there in order to assist the priest in the afterlife, and canopic jars which contained the dead man's intestines. They had been left in their place since the desert tomb had first been opened in 1996.

Since then the tomb had been kept sealed because it was deemed to be structurally unsound. Grave robbers had raided almost every ancient Egyptian tomb, but they had managed to miss this one.

Architects worked for months to brace the walls and ceiling to prevent the possibility of a collapse. They also installed stairs and ventilation ducts, and covered the walls to preserve the still-vivid paintings.

Unlike the famous tomb of Tutankhamun, which was discovered unopened in 1922, there were no treasures to be unearthed from this tomb. But archaeologists said the new tomb was significant because it provided information on burial practices and religious beliefs in the early Persian period of Egyptian history - a time about which historians still knew very little.



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