Panehsy's tomb is the area's largest (all photos © Leiden Turin Expedition to Saqqara; courtesy Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)

Archaeologists have uncovered a 3,200-year-old cemetery in Saqqara, Egypt. The site served as a burial ground for the important city of Memphis and sheds light on the funerary practices of the Ancient Egyptian elite.

Lara Weiss of the Netherlands's National Antiquities Museum of Leiden and Christian Greco of the Egyptian Museum of Turin in Italy led the dig alongside researchers at Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The Leiden archaeologists announced the discovery on April 11.

The lower carving shows Panahsy and his wife sitting before a priest with leopard skin around his shoulders. The holy figure sprinkles water on the couple and an inscription describes him as a scribe named Piay and an "assistant" to Panahsy.

The team was able to decipher details about the lives of the people who were buried there. The largest tomb belonged to Panahsy, who oversaw the Temple of Amun. He likely did not have children but did have a wife, who is depicted on his tomb and described as the "singer of Amun." Panahsy's large site includes a temple, three small chapels, a courtyard with columns, and underground burial chambers.

The site also has four smaller tomb chapels. One belonged to a man named Yuyu, a gold foil maker for the royal treasury. Yuyu's parents, brother, children, grandchildren, and wife are depicted in the chapel. Weiss pointed out that a "huge procession" of mourners is also engraved into the stone. Another series of carvings show a cow, the animal form of the goddess Hathor, aboard the boat of Seker, a god of the underworld who reigned over the Memphis burial site.

Another chapel describes the familial relationships of its owner but does not identify them by name, and the other two chapels have no inscriptions.

Weiss pointed out that the sculpture reliefs in the anonymous tomb were inspired by a nearby set of statues that have been in the collection of the National Antiquities Museum of Leiden since 1829. The owners of those sculptures were Merit, a high-ranking government official, and his wife Maya, who lived about 50 years before the anonymous Egyptians whose chapel was recently uncovered. Weiss said the decision to copy Maya's and Merit's tomb suggests that their burial style was perhaps ongoing.

"What fascinates me most is thus to study the daily life in this Egyptian cemetery," Weiss told Hyperallergic. Her research has centered on social dynamics in Ancient Egypt. "The choices people made in their tomb decoration, how they were inspired by others, and what all this says about the social relations of people."

Reliefs in an anonymous chapel

Excavations (and looting) at Saqqara have been ongoing for centuries. In January, Egyptian authorities announced the discovery of a 4,000-year-old mummy that may be the country's oldest. Other artifacts from the site are housed in museum collections across the world.

A carving in Yuyu's chapel shows the Hathor cow on the boat of Seker.