IN the past few days it has been revealed that 30 wooden coffins – known as sarcophagi and whose brightly coloured decorations are still brilliantly visible – have been found in what was the heart of ancient Egypt in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor.

Two of the coffins were opened in front of the world's media to show how the mummified bodies inside the wooden sarcophagi have been incredibly well preserved.

The discovery was made under a mound of sand at El-Asasif, a large, specially designed cemetery known as a necropolis – Greek for city of the dead – on the west bank of the River Nile in what was once West Thebes. The coffin site at the necropolis has been dubbed the "cachette of the priests" because it seems fairly certain that a high priest ordered the concealment of the coffins under the sand rather than in a tomb.

The find has sent archaeologists and Egyptologists into raptures because of its incredible rarity. As the Egyptian antiquities minister Khaled El-Enany said: "It is the first large human coffin cache discovered since the end of the 19th century."


THERE was indeed, but those were a "mere" 2400 years old or less, dating back to the Ptolemaic era of 305-30BC when a Macedonian Greek royal family ruled much of Egypt.

The mummies found at the Tuna El-Gebel site south of Cairo – about 200 miles north of Luxor – were deep inside a pharaonic tomb and only a few were inside sarcophagi so that they were not as well preserved as the latest coffins which, because they were hidden in the sand, are in a much better condition.


THERE are a few reasons, the main one being the sheer age of the sarcophagi and their mummies. They date back almost 3000 years to the time of the 22nd dynasty, founded by Pharaoh Shoshenq I around 945 BC. Shoshenq is named in the Old Testament as Shishak, the Egyptian king who sacked Jerusalem.

The mummies inside the coffins included 23 adult males, five adult females and two children, and they are thought to be priests and their families.

Since they were so well concealed under sand, the usual problem for wooden sarcophagi did not happen – many coffins have been found in poor condition because of termites.

Given the mummies' age and the exquisite decorations on the sarcophagi, including hieroglyphics, scientists hope to learn much more than we already know about the 22nd dynasty, though the Egyptologists face a long process to decipher the mass of new material.

When they were discovered last week, the coffins were in two layers, with 18 coffins on top of 12 others. Experts were able to immediately identify the gender of the mummies – at that time men were buried with their hands closed but women were buried with their hands open.