SAQQARA, Egypt: Guests enter a newly-discovered tomb at the Saqqara necropolis yesterday. – AFP

SAQQARA, Egypt: Egypt unveiled a well-preserved 4,400-year-old tomb decorated with hieroglyphs and statues south of Cairo yesterday, and officials expect more discoveries when archaeologists excavate the site further in coming months. The tomb was found in a buried ridge at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara. It was untouched and unlooted, Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters at the site. He described the find as “one of a kind in the last decades”. The tomb dates from the rule of Neferirkare Kakai, the third king of the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom.

Archaeologists removed a last layer of debris from the tomb on Thursday and found five shafts inside, Waziri said. One of the shafts was unsealed with nothing inside, but the other four were sealed. They are expecting to make discoveries when they excavate those shafts starting today, he said. He was hopeful about one shaft in particular. “I can imagine that all of the objects can be found in this area,” he said, pointing at one of the sealed shafts. “This shaft should lead to a coffin or a sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb.”

The tomb is 10 metres long, three metres wide and just under three metres high, Waziri said. The walls are decorated with hieroglyphs and statues of pharaohs. Waziri said the tomb was unique because of the statues and its near perfect condition. “The color is almost intact even though the tomb is almost 4,400 years old,” he said. The tomb lies in a buried ridge that has only partially been uncovered. Waziri said he expects more discoveries to be made there when archaeologists start more excavation work in January.

The tomb belongs to “Wahtye”, a high priest who served during the reign of King Neferirkare, the antiquities ministry said. His tomb is decorated with scenes showing the royal priest alongside his mother, wife and other members of his family, the ministry said in a statement. It also contains more than a dozen niches and 24 colorful statues of the cleric and members of his family, it said.

The Fifth Dynasty ruled Egypt from about 2,500 BC to 2,350 BC, not long after the great pyramid of Giza was built. Saqqara served as the necropolis for Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt for more than two millennia. Ancient Egyptians mummified humans to preserve their bodies for the afterlife, while animal mummies were used as religious offerings. Egypt has revealed over a dozen ancient discoveries this year. The country hopes the finds will brighten its image abroad and revive interest among travelers who once flocked to its iconic pharaonic temples and pyramids but who fled after the 2011 political uprising.
In November, archeology officials announced the discovery in Saqqara of seven sarcophagi, some dating back more than 6,000 years, during excavation work started in April by the same archaeological mission. Three of those tombs contained mummified cats and scarabs. The Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo is home to the famous Djoser pyramid, a more than 4,600-year-old construction which dominates the site and was Egypt’s first stone monument. The tomb, built by the master architect Imhotep for the Pharoah Djoser, stood 62 m tall originally and is considered the oldest building in the world built entirely of stone. – Agencies