The mummies of Minya
The first human necropolis to be discovered in Minya changes our understanding of the Tuna Al-Gabal archaeological site
Early last week, a mission from Cairo University stumbled upon a cachette of non-royal mummies of men, women and children buried in catacombs eight metres below ground level in the desert neighbouring the bird and animal necropolis at the Tuna Al-Gabal archaeological site.
Professor and head of the mission Salah Al-Kholi told Al-Ahram Weekly that the cachette included 32 human mummies, 17 of which were in a very good state of conservation.
"The cachette was found by chance in a radar survey carried out in collaboration with experts from the university's Faculty of Science in early 2016 that had revealed deep, hollow ground," Al-Kholi explained.
He said the mummies had been found inside a deep burial shaft along with a collection of eight limestone sarcophagi, two of which were carved in clay and with anthropoid lids. Two baboon coffins, fragments of wooden sarcophagi decorated with funerary inscriptions, clay amphora, two papyri written in demotic ancient Egyptian, and the remains of a gilded funerary mask were also found.
A golden decoration shaped like feathers was found, Al-Kholi suggesting it could have been a decoration for the tiara one of the mummies was wearing.
"The elaborate style of mummification indicates that the mummies could belong to a group of top officials or priests from the area," Al-Kholi told the Weekly, adding that at a neighbouring site the mission had uncovered a number of Roman tombs. Inside, it had found coins, lamps and other domestic items.
Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany described the discovery as important because it was the first made in the area since the discovery of the bird and animal necropolis by Egyptologist Sami Gabra between 1931 and 1954.
After descending the eight-metre burial shaft to the catacombs where the cachette is located, the Weekly came face-to-face with the mummies within a maze of corridors. They were lying on the sandy floor in different positions. Some were in plain stone or wooden sarcophagi, while others were piled on top of each other. At one side of the shaft a chamber was found filled with piles of mummified human remains.
"The excavations have not finished yet, and the work is only at a preliminary stage," El-Enany told the Weekly, adding that archaeologists expected to find many more remains. "The more we drill, the more we find," he said.
He said that the discovery added to a spate of recent finds at sites across Egypt. Over the last few months, many discoveries have been made. In the Gabal Al-Selsela area in Aswan, 20 tombs were discovered by a team from Lund University in Sweden, while in Luxor an Egyptian-Japanese mission discovered the tomb of a royal scribe. An Egyptian-German mission in Matareya outside Cairo made international headlines when it discovered fragments of a colossal statue of the Pharaoh Psamtick I.
An Egyptian-international mission working at the Colossi of Memnon and Temple of Amenhotep III at Luxor uncovered 109 statues of the goddess Sekhmet, most of which are life-size, as well as a beautiful alabaster statue of queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep, carved on the side of a colossal statue of the king. A team from Jaen University in Spain also discovered a tomb of an official in Aswan.
A mission from the Ministry of Antiquities stumbled upon the almost intact funerary collection of Userhat, chancellor of Thebes during the 18th Dynasty, in the Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis at Luxor. A Spanish mission, also in western Thebes, discovered the remains of a funerary garden, a first in the area's history.
Finally, El-Enany said an Egyptian mission from the ministry had discovered the inner parts of a pyramid from the 13th Dynasty and last week had uncovered the remains of a burial that would have once been inside this pyramid.
"These finds are not a matter of luck, but are the result of the hard work of archaeologists across the country working in sometimes very difficult conditions," he concluded.
"Antiquities are the soft power that distinguishes Egypt," El-Enany told the Weekly, adding that news of antiquities always catches the headlines and the attention of the whole world.
"Although the new discovery is in its preliminary stages, announcing it now is a message to the world that while monuments are looted and destroyed in other Middle Eastern countries Egypt is restoring and excavating its heritage," he said.
"I believe that the most interesting things, those that will bring the world's attention to Egypt and improve its image in the news, are related to antiquities," El-Enany told reporters at a press conference held on the site to announce the discovery.
The conference was attended by Minya Governor Essam Al-Bedewi, the ambassadors of Belgium, Hungary and Serbia to Egypt, and a number of officials from the ministry and Cairo University.
"Let everyone talk about Egypt. This is what we need," El-Enany said.
It seems that the minister's wish may be coming true, as the discovery attracted the attention of Hollywood film star Tom Cruise, who is to launch his new film The Mummy in June. Cruise posted a tweet last week, jokingly warning of opening the newly discovered sarcophagi.
Sherif Abdel-Moneim, assistant to the minister of antiquities for archaeological sites, told the Weekly that Tuna Al-Gabal was known in ancient time as "Tahni", which means "the lake", because a lake was formed there during the Nile floods. In the Graeco-Roman era, it bore the name "Tawns", or tuna in Arabic. Later the name "Al-Gabal" was added because the site is in a deserted hilly area.
Abdel-Moneim said the oldest monument in the area was one of the boundary stelae of the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten on top of the cliffs and protected by a glass booth to prevent further erosion. The catacombs in which the mummies were found were dug under the necropolis and were used to store thousands of sacred mummies of falcons, baboons and ibis birds.
The site also houses the tomb of the fourth-century priest Petosiris, a temple-shaped tomb resembling the Temple of Dendara. The outside walls are decorated in typical Late Period style, while the outer court is ornamented in Greek style.
The tomb and chapel of Isadora, a wealthy and beautiful young woman who fell in love with a soldier, is also at the site. According to the stories about her, the couple wanted to get married, but her father refused, and they decided to elope. Isadora drowned while crossing the Nile, and her father built her an elaborate tomb featuring a poem of 10 lines inscribed in Greek elegiac couplets.
At some time after her death, a cult developed around her tomb. Isadora's mummified remains are still present at the site, encased in glass in her mausoleum.
-- Sent from my Linux system.