It’s not been since 1923 that anyone has uncovered an undisturbed Egyptian mummy’s chamber.
But Czech archeologists did just that – and last Friday, they brought the media to Abu Sir, just south of Cairo to witness the opening of the enormous, 50-tonne stone sarcophagus at the centre of the tomb. It’s believed to hold the remains of Iuf-Aa, a palace priest who died between 525 BC and 404 BC.
Most of the objects originally found inside the chamber were carefully packed away to make room for the 30 journalists and dignitaries in the tiny, 13 square-metre room.
There was an audible gasp when the enormous sarcophagus lid was raised, exposing a second, smaller, ornately decorated casket. The wooden coffin will later be extracted and the body removed.
“The tomb was found beautifully decorated,” says professor Miroslav Verner, director of the Czech Institute of Egyptology. “The inner walls of the burial chamber, except for the vaulted ceiling and the outer walls of the chest of the huge limestone sarcophagus… are densely covered with inscriptions and scenes, vignettes representing life in the nether world.”
The Czech team says the tomb was originally discovered littered with 408 small statues, wooden furniture, pottery and four jars filled with the priest’s internal organs. Those jars were sealed with lids in the shape of human heads.
“This tomb has been undisturbed by robbers. The fact it was found (in its original condition) is unique,” says archeologist Miroslav Barta. “This is a great discovery but it is not as important as the amount of information we will find about the ancient lives of the Egyptians.”
Only three known, undisturbed Egyptian tombs have ever been discovered by Egyptologists, the most famous one being that of King Tutankhamen. While Iuf-Aa’s tomb wasn’t filled with the same gold and riches as Tutankhamen’s, there is still a wealth of information to be learned from the inscriptions and artifacts left behind.
Not a lot is known about Iuf-Aa, but the Czech archeologists believe he practiced under Pharaoh Ankhkaenre Psamtik, whose 26th dynasty was ended by the Persian ruler Cambyses. They say the tomb shows Iuf-Aa was well regarded by his Persians followers.
The tomb was actually discovered in 1996, but it was deemed too delicate to be opened. So for the past one-and-a-half years, Czech architects have been carefully reinforcing the tombs walls and ceiling, preventing their collapse. They even built a dome above the sarcophagus to protect it against any falling rocks.