The world is in awe over the recent dazzling archeological discoveries at the Saqqara Necropolis announced by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in October and November, the latter being described as the biggest in 2020. Saqqara is the site where several prominent discoveries were made in recent years. However, these finds represent only one percent of its hidden antiquities.
This article tackles the importance of such discoveries for Egypt, human knowledge, and how the world perceives Egypt.
The path leading to the greatest discovery
The Egyptian mission excavating in the Saqqara Necropolis was made up of archeologists, restorers, craftsmen and workers. Their excavations resulted in the discovery in November of three 12-metre deep shafts, closed for more than 2,500 years, containing 100 intact sealed and painted anthropoid coffins for senior statesman, priests and members of the elite from the 26th Dynasty.
Prior to this discovery, the mission was able in October to uncover 59 coffins, 40 gilded statues, a group of 28 statuettes of Ptah-Soker, the main god of Saqqara Necropolis, a group of amulets and ushabti figurines, a bronze statue of god Nefertem, the god of healing and beauty, adorned with precious stones, 130 statues of different sizes, a large number of gilded objects, wooden statues, and colored gilded masks in a very good condition.
Why are anthropoid painted coffins an exciting discovery?
Ancient Egyptian afterlife beliefs were centred around a variety of complex rituals. Coffins played a central, sacred role in the protection of the body after death. In addition to protection, the coffin had several religious and symbolic functions that changed over time.
The idea of anthropoid coffins began during the Old Kingdom, during the Middle Kingdom and at the end of the 12th Dynasty, when wooden anthropoid coffins appeared, and continued to be used in the New Kingdom.
The importance of the discovery of these 2500-year-old coffins is that their contents will be closely examined. This study shall explore the chronology of historical periods, the social aspects and the religious beliefs of those buried in the coffins, and finally the social transformations in trade, international relations and economic relations of the period being studied.
How was life in Saqqara?
The Saqqara Necropolis, 40 km southwest of Cairo, is one of the richest and most important archeological sites in Egypt. It was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979. It is also an important part of the Memphis cemetery, which was used from the era of the First Dynasty (3000-2890 BC) until the Roman era. Saqqara’s name was derived from Soker, the Memphite god of the dead.
Saqqara is an open-air museum, one that has all of ancient Egyptian history on display, from the beginning of Egyptian history to the end of the Greek and Roman eras. Kings and noblemen from the very first two dynasties (c.3100–2686 BC) were buried here. The pyramids of some of the most important kings of the Old Kingdom’s Fifth (c.2494–2345 BC) and Sixth (c.2345–2181 BC) Dynasties are located in Saqqara. One of these is the pyramid of Unas (2375–2345 BC).
Saqqara also features tombs from the First Intermediate Period (2181–2050 BC), Middle Kingdom (2050–1710 BC), and New Kingdom (1550–1077 BC). The city remained as important from the 18th Dynasty (1550–1295 BC) to the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BC).
Saqqara’s dazzling archeological discoveries are of great importance to Egypt and to the entire human knowledge, for the following reasons:
- They shed light on the impact of Egypt’s ancient civilization, culture, and history on the Egyptian people until present.
- They fuel hopes for the revival of tourism, which is one of the most important sources of national income in Egypt. For example, when the tomb of nobleman Khoy, the supervisor of the royal palace in the late Fifth Dynasty, was discovered in Saqqara in April 2019, the American Archeology Magazine announced its selection among the 10 most important archeological discoveries in 2019.
Another example is when the joint Egyptian-Japanese archeological mission in North Saqqara uncovered a Roman catacomb tomb, spanning back to the first and second centuries AD. That tomb was the first Roman-era tomb discovered in Saqqara.
- They brought Egypt to the centre of the world’s attention. International media representatives flocked to Saqqara to witness the announcement of the biggest discovery of 2020 at the press conference held by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The 36 foreign ambassadors who attended the announcement were dazzled and most of them celebrated the discovery on their Twitter accounts.
In spite of all chaos in the world, the recent discoveries garnered worldwide attention, which tells of the importance of the ancient Egyptian civilization in particular, and history in general, to the whole world and the international media. German philosopher Hegel believed that history was embodied in specific nations, among them the Egyptian ancient civilization.
- They set a distinction between Egypt’s past and present before the whole world, as they correct the wrong image perceived by many nations of Egypt’s present. For example, 50 percent of Egyptian issues covered by the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, revolve around Egypt’s ancient civilization. Moreover, movies and other works of art always depict Egypt as a desert or a land of mummies. These wrong depictions affect the mental image of Egypt in the minds of other peoples, and urge us, Egyptians, to exploit the current media momentum to shed light on Egypt’s real present.
- They entrench Egypt’s foreign policy, which is based in part on Egypt’s historical relations with other countries. For example, the “Nostos: Back to the roots” conference between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece was held in Alexandria, Egypt. Another example is Egypt and China, the oldest civilizations known to mankind, that have well-established political relations. This way, historical ties become a cornerstone for present partnership and cooperation.
- They, along with all historical discoveries, are important to the entire human knowledge, as they reveal the philosophies and the scientific and intellectual achievements of ancient civilizations. They also disclose the political and economic relations between ancient civilizations and the Old World.
At present, many countries rely upon the historical relations between the ancient civilizations that they belong to and the Old World, such as China’s recent Belt and Road Initiative – the New Silk Road – and the present regional political ambitions of Turkey, Iran, and Israel.
In conclusion, the present and upcoming archeological discoveries are highly significant to Egypt and the whole world. They are a remarkable opportunity for Egypt to show the world its fascinating civilization and the creative, innovative and artistic aspects of the Egyptian people. Furthermore, studying the finds adds up to the entire human knowledge and provides a tool for understanding the present.