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The Tomb of the Palace Official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The world of the Pharaohs is undoubtedly one of charm and imagination. Despite the small number of tombs that have been discovered intact and untouched since burial, the world of the Pharaohs is still rich for the public’s imagination and writer’s imagination. In forthcoming articles, we will be dealing with key archeological discoveries from the Pharaonic age and the stories that accompanied every new discovery that at times, were more interesting than the discovery itself.

When I published my book, Secrets from the Sand, that contained stories and tales that took place before and after my discoveries at the Giza pyramids, Saqqara or the Valley of the Golden Mummies at Bahariya Oasis, the public showed extraordinary interest in those stories that brought them closer to the exciting mysterious world. A few years ago, a Czech expedition headed by Egyptologist Miroslav Verner discovered a tomb that had not been touched by man for over 2,500 years. The tomb, which belonged to palace official Iufaa, was discovered in Abu Sir, a site located between the Giza pyramids and Saqqara and contains over 11 pyramids called the forgotten pyramids. The tomb dates from the so-called Saite period—the period of the 26th dynasty.

The tomb was found in a 30-meter deep shaft and its ceiling was in very poor condition. Verner and I agreed that we should build a dome above the tomb for protection. The dome, made of concrete, took one year to complete and was a miniature version of the dome built in Abu Simbel that was covered with sand to give it a natural look and to which the [Great] Temple of Ramesses II was later relocated. Verner visited my office in the area of the pyramids and told me that they had found an intact tomb that had never been touched by a human being. He asked me to join him in revealing the tomb. We found approximately 408 ushabti figurines (also called answerers) that ancient Egyptians placed beside the tomb to answer questions and serve the deceased in the afterlife, (hence we found a specific figurine for every day of the year and there were also 35 statues representing the supervisors of the ushabti figurines and were supposed to oversee the ushabti and ensure that they performed their duties, as well as eight chiefs for each statue.) The pleasant surprise was the 60-tonne limestone sarcophagus that was found in good condition in the middle of the tomb. When I examined the sarcophagus, I found that it had been sealed since the body was buried inside it.

I met with Culture Minister Faruq Husni and informed him of the discovery. We agreed to hold an international press conference in Abu Sir to announce the discovery. I recounted the story of the opening of King Sekhemkhet’s coffin in Saqqara in the presence of President Gamal Abdel Nasser and several reporters and that the coffin was empty with no mummy inside. We agreed that the coffin should be opened first before the discovery was announced. I went to Abu Sir and participated in the opening of the sarcophagus before the press came.

Talal and Ahmad al Kariti who are brothers and are skilled in opening sarcophagi and moving rocks and statues, a skill they inherited from their forefathers who, in turn, inherited it from the ancient Egyptians, helped with the opening. Through the difficult but exciting process, we began to open the sarcophagus. It took us approximately one week. One wonders how the ancient Egyptians managed to get the sarcophagus through the 30-meter deep shaft. To our surprise, after we opened the sarcophagus, we found another finely shaped basalt coffin, the lid of which was decorated with a man’s face and engraved with hieroglyphic inscriptions. We dusted off the second coffin and slowly began to open it to discover what was inside. We held our breath at that moment and everyone remained silent whilst the sound of machines used to open the coffin overwhelmed the atmosphere. Then there it was. We had found an extraordinary beautiful mummy that was covered with green beaded cloth. Reporters came the next day and we announced the significant discovery. It was odd, however, that the deceased was the palace official, but thankfully he did not cast his curse upon us.

Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass is a world-renowned archaeologist. He serves as secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, and is also director of excavations at Giza, Saqqara and the Bahariya Oasis.

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