New Discoveries and Studies at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
University of Tübingen, Germany
a new burial chamber and the early results of studies and chemical tests of the mummification oils and resins from the Mummification Workshop Complex of the 26th Dynasty (ca. 664-525 BC) uncovered in 2018 at Saqqara, revealed
During excavation work carried out by The Egyptian-German mission of the University of Tübingen, working at Saqqara, a new burial chamber was uncovered at the bottom of the communal burial shaft (30 m. deep) of the Mummification Workshop, discovered along with a large tomb complex with five burial chambers in 2018. After more than a year of excavation and documentation, the mission discovered the sixth burial chamber hidden behind a 2600 year old stone wall. Dr. Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiqwuities announced adding that the newly discovered chamber contained four wooden coffins in bad state of preservation.
Dr. Ramadan Badri Hussein pointed out that one of the coffins belongs to a woman called Didibastett. She was buried with six canopic jars, which contradicts the costume in ancient Egypt to embalm the lungs, stomach, intestines, and the liver of the deceased, and then to store them in four jars under the protection of four gods, known as the Four Sons of Horus. The Mission examined the content of Didibastet’s two extra canopic jars using a computerized tomography (CT) scan, and the preliminary analysis of the images indicates that the two jars contain human tissue. Based on this result, there is a possibility that Didibastet had received a special form of mummification that preserved six organs of her body. The Mission’s radiologist is currently conducting a thorough study of the images in order to identify the two extra organs.
After studying the texts on the coffins and sarcophagi in the burial chambers, the mission identified priests and priestesses of a mysterious snake goddess, known as Niut-shaes. Indications are that the priests of Niut-shaes were buried together, and that she became a prominent goddess during Dynasty 26. Perhaps, she had a major temple in Memphis, the administrative capital of ancient Egypt.
A priestess and a priest of Niut-shaes, who were buried in the same burial chamber, were possibly Egyptianized immigrants. Their names, Ayput and Tjanimit, were common among the Libyan community who settled in Egypt from Dynasty 22 (ca. 943-716 BC) onward. Ancient Egypt was a multicultural society that received immigrants from different parts of the ancient world, including Greeks, Libyans, and Phoenicians among others.
Dr. Ramadan Badri said that the Mission conducted non-invasive testing, called X-ray fluorescence, on the gilded silver mask, which was discovered on the face of the mummy of a priestess of the goddess Niut-shaes. This test determined the purity of the mask’s silver at 99.07%, higher than Sterling Silver at 92.5%. This gilded silver mask is the first in Egypt since 1939, and the third of such masks to ever be found in Egypt.
An international team of archaeologists and chemists from the University of Tübingen, the University of Munich and the Egyptian National Research Centre in Cairo carried out chemical testing of the residue of oils and resins which were preserved in cups, bowls and pots found in the mummification workshop. Early results of these tests give a list of mummification substances, including bitumen (tar), cedar oil, cedar resin, pistachio resin, beeswax, animal fat, and possibly olive oil and juniper oil among others. The team is finalizing a report for scientific publication.
“Mummification was essentially a business transaction between a person and an embalmer, in which the embalmer was a professional, a priest and a business person. We learn from several papyri that there was a class of priests and embalmers who were paid to arrange for the funeral of a deceased including the mummification of her/his body and the purchase of a grave or a coffin.” said Dr. Ramadan Badry Hussein, the Director of the mission of the University of Tübingen at Saqqara.
In July 2018, Dr. Khaled El Enany, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, announced to the world the unprecedented discovery of a mummification workshop complex at Saqqara from Dynasty 26 (ca. 664-525 BC). It included a mummification workshop, an Embalmer’s cachette of pottery, and a communal burial shaft. This shaft is 30 m. deep and has six tombs. The tombs contained ca. 54 mummies and skeletons, five large sarcophagi, a dozen of calcite (Egyptian alabaster) canopic jars, thousands of shawabtis figurines, and a very rare gilded silver mummy mask. This discovery was rated among the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2018 by the Archaeology Magazine and Heritage Daily.
The Mission of the University of Tübingen will resume its full investigation of Dynasty 26 cemetery at Saqqara in the winter of 2020.