World / Science & Health

Egypt expounds on 'exceptional' 30-coffin discovery in Luxor

AP, AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Egypt’s antiquities authorities on Saturday revealed the details of 30 ancient wooden coffins that were recently discovered in the southern city of Luxor.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters the coffins, with inscriptions and paintings, were found in the Asasif Necropolis on the Nile River’s west bank near Luxor.

When discovered a week ago, the coffins were in two layers, with 18 coffins on top of 12 others, he said.

The coffins were for men, women and children from the 22nd dynasty (945-715 B.C.) and had been collected and hidden by a priest for fear of being looted, Waziri said.

Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany said the mummies found in the coffins included 23 adult males, five adult females and two children. He said the coffins were “exceptionally painted and preserved.” His ministry has described them as one of the “biggest and most important” discoveries in many years.

“It is the first large human coffin cache ever discovered since the end of the 19th century,” el-Anany said during a ceremony in Luxor.

Archaeologists opened the coffins of a man and a woman, both wrapped in cloth. Their gender can be distinguished by the shape of their hands, said Waziri, who explained that ancient women were buried with their hands open, while men’s hands were closed.

The two mummies seemed well preserved with the outer wrappings still intact, completely covering their faces and bodies.

Waziri said excavations of the site in the 19th century had revealed royal tombs, but this latest discovery had yielded a collection of priests’ burials.

Despite their age, black, green, red and yellow paintings of snakes, birds, lotus flowers and hieroglyphics that cover the coffins are still clearly visible.

“We only did remedial first-aid on these well-preserved coffins. They are considered to be in great condition because there were hardly any settlements” around the site, local antiquities ministry restorer Saleh Abdel-Gelil said.

El-Anany said further excavations are underway in the necropolis, which includes tombs dating back to the Middle, New Kingdom and Late periods (1994 B.C. to 332 B.C.).

He said the coffins will be moved in November to the Grand Egyptian Museum that Egypt is building near the famed Giza Pyramids in Cairo. The museum has been under construction for well over a decade and is intended to showcase Egypt’s ancient treasures while drawing tourists to help fund its future development. Authorities have said the museum will open next year.

Egypt has sought publicity for a series of archaeological finds in hope of reviving its key tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

“Some people — we don’t have to mention names — don’t want us to have these discoveries … that impress the world,” said el-Anany before throngs of tourists, referring to Egypt’s detractors.

Earlier this month, Egypt unveiled two archaeological discoveries in Luxor, including an industrial zone at the city’s West Valley, also known as the Valley of the Monkeys.

However, critics point to archaeological sites and museums suffering from negligence and poor management.