A pharaonic tomb containing a mummy wrapped in gold-covered sheet may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date.
It has been discovered at Saqqara, near the Step Pyramid. Estimated to be 4,300 years old, the man named Hekashepes was found inside a 50-foot-deep (15 m) well alongside a trove of beautiful statues carved to resemble servants, men, women, and families, all in some way related to or dated to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties of Egyptian rule.
“I stuck my head inside to see what was inside the sarcophagus: a beautiful mummy of a man completely covered in layers of gold,” announced Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, speaking of this exciting mummy find. "Unfortunately, the expedition did not find any inscriptions that could identify the owners of these statues," he noted.
Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, director of the Egyptian excavation team, looking at a sarcophagus that was discovered inside a shaft at Saqqara in Egypt. (Ali Abu Desheesh)
Unearthing the keeper of secrets
The non-royal corpse was found inside a pit at the burial site where three other graves were also found. One of these tombs belonged to a so-called "secret keeper" named Meri, a man charged with performing special religious rituals, among other powers.
The largest of the mummies unearthed at this site belonged to Khnumdjedef, a priest, inspector and overseer of nobles, BBC News reported. He acted as a priest in the pyramid complex of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. This is also one of the most important tombs on the site, decorated with scenes of everyday life.
The 4,300-year-old "golden mummy" of Hekashepes inside its limestone sarcophagus at Saqqara. (Ali Abu Desheesh)
Two wells were discovered at the site. One reached 30 feet deep (just over 9 meters) and contained the remains of Hekashepes and led to three other tombs and numerous statues. The other shaft was 33 feet deep (10 m) and led to the tomb chamber of Meri who, in addition to being the Keeper of Secrets, was an assistant to the great leader of the palace.
Meri, the Pharaoh's trusted right-hand man, oversaw the filing of documents, was fluent in words and letters, and was associated with magic and cosmic knowledge, a great asset and blessing in an illiterate Egyptian society.
“These statues are quite unique,” Hawass said. "This is the first time this century that such a large number of statues have been found in Saqqara." The discovery of the golden mummy of Hekashepes and other statue-filled tombs at Saqqara is definitely exciting. "Today's discovery tells us more about art in the Old Kingdom, mummification, and also about the people who worked there."
Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, director of the Egyptian excavation team, works at the site of Djoser's step pyramid at Saqqara, where the golden mummy and states were found. ( Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )
Extraordinary wooden statues from the second well of Saqqara
The second pit also contained a total of 14 beautiful wooden statues, dating to the Old Kingdom or the Pyramid Age, approximately 2700-2200 BC. These are probably older than the golden mummy of Hekashepes.
They include three wooden statues of Fetek (judge and writer), standing next to an offering table, with a stone sarcophagus containing his mummy. This shaft also had many amulets, stone vessels and tools for daily use, The Daily Mail reported. There are also pottery shards, which still need to be reconstructed to understand what they originally were.
Some of the wooden statues were made in such a way that they looked like servants. There were also statues of Ptah-Sokar, a funerary deity formed as a fusion of Ptah, the creator god of Memphis, with Sokar, patron of the Memphis necropolis.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt. (Eleseus/Adobe Stock)
Evaluation of the Golden Mummy and associated discoveries
“This discovery is so important because it connects the kings with the people who live around them,” said Ali Abu Deshish, another archaeologist involved in the excavation of the golden mummy. The lives of ordinary Egyptians have rarely been explored in archaeological excavations fully connected to the lives of the elite of Egyptian society.
This revelation caps off a busy week for Egyptian authorities who announced a series of exciting findings. These included a mummified teenager draped in gold amulets from 300 BC. C., a dozen burial sites from Luxor and even the ruins of an ancient Roman city. This will be a boost to the stagnant tourism industry, on which Egyptians heavily depend.
Top image: Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian excavation team, works at the site of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, where the golden mummy and states were found. Source: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities