A Pharaonic tomb containing a mummy wrapped in a gold-covered leaf may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date. It has been uncovered in Saqqara, near the Step Pyramid. Estimated to be 4,300 years old, the man called Hekashepes was found inside a 50-foot-deep (15 m) shaft alongside a trove of beautiful statues carved to resemble servants, men, women and families, all in some way related or dated to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties of Egyptian rule.
“I put my head inside to see what was inside the sarcophagus: a beautiful mummy of a man completely covered in layers of gold,” announced the Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass when discussing this exciting mummy find. “Unfortunately, the expedition did not find any inscriptions that might identify the owners of these statues,” he pointed out.
Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the director of the Egyptian excavation team, peering into a sarcophagus which was discovered within a shaft at Saqqara in Egypt. (Ali Abu Desheesh)
Unearthing the Keeper of the Secrets
The non-royal corpse was found within a shaft at the burial site where three other tombs were also found. One of these tombs belonged to a so-called “secret-keeper” called Meri, a man tasked with performing special religious rituals, amongst other powers
The largest of the mummies unearthed at this site belonged to Khnumdjedef, a priest, inspector and supervisor of nobles, reported BBC News . 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 at the site, decorated with scenes of daily life.
The 4,300-year-old “golden mummy” of Hekashepes within his limestone sarcophagus in Saqqara. (Ali Abu Desheesh)
Two shafts were discovered at the site. One went 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 went 33 feet deep (10 m) and led to the tomb chamber of Meri who, apart from being Keeper of the Secrets, was assistant to the great leader of the palace.
A trusted right-hand man of the pharaoh, Meri oversaw the archive of documents, had mastery over words and letters, and had an association with magic and cosmic knowledge – a major advantage and boon in an illiterate Egyptian society.
“These statues are quite unique,” Hawass said. “This is the first time in this century that such a large number of statues was found in Saqqara.” The discovery of the golden mummy of Hekashepes and other statue-filled tombs at Saqqara is definitely exhilarating. “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, the director of the Egyptian excavation team, works at the site of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara where the golden mummy and states were found. ( Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities )
Remarkable Wooden Statues from the Second Saqqara Shaft
The second shaft also contained a total of 14 beautiful wooden statues, dated to the Old Kingdom or the Age of the Pyramids, roughly between 2700 and 2200 BC. These are likely older than the golden mummy of Hekashepes.
They include three wooden statues of Fetek (a judge and writer), found alongside an offering table, with a stone sarcophagus containing his mummy. This shaft also had many amulets, stone vessels and tools for everyday use, reported The Daily Mail . There are pottery fragments too, which are yet to be pieced back together to understand what they were originally.
Some of the wooden statues were made in such a way that they resembled 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 Memphite necropolis.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt. ( Eleseus / Adobe Stock)
Evaluating the Golden Mummy and Associated Discoveries
“This discovery is so important as it connects the kings with the people living around them,” said Ali Abu Deshish, another archaeologist involved in the golden mummy excavation . The lives of ordinary Egyptian people have rarely been explored in archaeological excavations connected entirely with the lives of the elite of Egyptian society .
This unveiling caps a busy week for the Egyptian authorities who announced a series of stimulating finds. These included a mummified teenage boy wrapped in golden amulets from 300 BC, a dozen burial sites from Luxor, and even the ruins of an ancient Roman city . This will prove a boost for the stagnating tourism industry, which Egyptians are heavily dependent upon.
Top image: Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the director of the Egyptian excavation team, works at the site of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara where the golden mummy and states were found. Source: Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities
By Sahir Pandey