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One of eight brightly decorated sarcophagi discovered at the Dahshur necropolis, Egypt

Eight Remarkable But Glaringly Out of Place Mummies Found At Dahshur Necropolis

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities have announced a visually stunning find at a well-known archaeological site. Experts have discovered eight limestone sarcophagi with mummified remains in each. They were found in an area near the Pyramid of Amenemhat II in the Dahshur necropolis. However, the colorful sarcophagi are also raising questions as they are from the Late Kingdom period and yet they were found in a site that dates back to the Middle Kingdom and even earlier.

Invaders of an Old Necropolis

The sarcophagi were found ‘about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the capital Cairo’ according to CTV News . They were discovered near the famous White Pyramid of Amenemhat II,  a member of the 12 th Dynasty. This is situated at the Dahshur necropolis, near the Great Pyramids of Giza. In the necropolis there are several important early Pyramids’ but it was extensively looted and even quarried for stone down the centuries.  Dahshur is the final resting place of aristocrats and officials from Memphis which was the political and religious center of Egypt during the Old and the Middle Kingdom.

The Dahshur necropolis near the Pyramid of Amenemhat II,  where the sarcophagi have been located. (Ministry of Antiquities)

The Dahshur necropolis near the Pyramid of Amenemhat II,  where the sarcophagi have been located. (Ministry of Antiquities)

The eight limestone coffins were discovered by a team from the Supreme Council of Antiquities, ‘led by Dr Mustapha Waziri’ reports the Daily Mail . The team began to excavate an area to the south-west of the White Pyramid last August. Here they came across the eight tombs and they all had mummified remains, but only three of them were intact and in good condition.

The mummies inside the tombs are spectacular despite some of them being in poor condition. The mummified remains were covered with a layer of papier-mache and plaster, a technique known as cartonnage. The layer was then painted with bright colors to ‘resemble a human form’ according to the Daily Mail . It seems likely that the sarcophagi held the mummies of members of the elite, as Dahshur was, “the burial site for courtiers and high-ranking officials such as courtiers and senior officials” reports APA News .

Three of the eight sarcophagi are said to be well-preserved. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Three of the eight sarcophagi are said to be well-preserved. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Why are Late Period Mummies in an Old Kingdom site?

The mummies were removed from the site and a preliminary examination revealed them to be from the “late era of Ancient Egypt which spanned from 1085-332 BC’’ reported CTV News . This is a long period from the fall of the New Kingdom to the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great and is typically seen as a period of decline when the land of the Pharaohs was frequently occupied by foreign powers. However, there was a problem and that was that the Dahshur necropolis was built during the Old Kingdom period, when the Pharaohs and the White Pyramid was erected in the Middle Kingdom.

The discovery of Late Period burials would seem to upset the accepted chronology of the site, which dates to the Old Kingdom (2500-2150 BC).  While the Pyramid of Amenemhat II  (died 1185 BC) was built over a millennium before the mummies were likely interred in their sarcophagi. Moreover, the capital of Egypt had moved north to the Delta and Memphis was no longer politically significant with few members of the elite residing there during the Late Period.

These Late Period burials were found amidst a much older burial ground. (Ministry of Antiquities)

These Late Period burials were found amidst a much older burial ground. (Ministry of Antiquities)

However, Dahshur, remained very important in Egyptian religion and had enormous cultural prestige. The National Geographic quotes Sarah Parcak, as saying that, “it was still considered a sacred landscape.” This meant that members of the elite were still willing to be buried in the necropolis and explains why the Egyptian team found Late Period burials in a site that dates from a much earlier period.

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has put the mummies in a specially designed storage facility to ensure their preservation. It is expected that after they are examined by a committee they will be placed on display. There are hopes that they will be exhibited in two new museums that are being built. The Ministry hopes that if the mummies are exhibited at these new museums that it will help to establish their reputation so that they can attract large numbers of visitors. The find at Dahshur is the second important discovery of mummies announced in Egypt this week, as two tombs were also uncovered in the Valley of the Kings .

Top image: One of eight brightly decorated sarcophagi discovered at the Dahshur necropolis, Egypt           Source: Ministry for Antiquities

By Ed Whelan

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