Egyptian tomb discovery highlights overlooked archaeological wonder

Archaeologists from Cairo University have discovered the tomb of a royal scribe named Ptah Mes, who worked for the pharaohs Seti I and Ramses II from 1203-1186 BC.

The tomb was originally discovered in the nineteenth century by artifact hunters who took the best things and left. They forgot where the tomb was and the desert sands covered it over once again. Archaeologists have rediscovered it near the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, visible on the far left in this image courtesy of Hajor via Wikimedia Commons.

Saqqara is often missed by tour groups whizzing through Egypt. While sites such as the Pyramids at Giza are perhaps more impressive, Saqqara is just as important to Egyptian history. It was a religious and mortuary center from the beginning of the Old Kingdom, through the Middle and New Kingdoms, and continued to be used during Egypt’s decline in the Roman Period.

It has the first pyramid ever built in Egypt–the Step Pyramid of Djoser (in the center of the above photograph) constructed from 2667 to 2648 BC. There are even earlier tombs at the site called mastabas, which are low buildings that look like benches. “Mastaba” is the Arabic word for bench. A later addition around about 1390 BC was the Serapeum, a tomb for holy bulls. The wide underground corridors and giant sarcophagi are highly atmospheric. Saqqara is only 30 km south of Cairo and easily reached by taxi or minibus.

Excavations at the tomb are continuing. Several long hallways and chapels have already been cleared of sand. The team hopes to discover the main chamber and a mummy the original discoverers reported seeing but said they didn’t take.

The Global Arab Network has published some intriguing photos of the tomb.