Excavations along the Nile Delta have unearthed 110 tombs spanning three eras of ancient history, reports Mustafa Marie for Egypt Today.
Per a statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, 68 of the burials date to the late Predynastic Period (around 3300 B.C.), when the Nile Valley was still split into Upper and Lower Egypt. Five date to the Naqadda III culture, which rose to prominence in the decades preceding the unification of Egypt in 3000 B.C., while the other 37 represent an intermediate era (roughly 1782 to 1570 B.C.) between the Middle and New Kingdoms. During this period, the enigmatic Hyksos dynasty ruled for more than a century before ceding control to the returning pharaohs. (For comparison’s sake, the Pyramids of Giza date to about 2500 B.C.)
“This is an extremely interesting cemetery because it combines some of the earliest periods of Egyptian history with another important era, the time of the Hyksos,” says Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo who wasn’t involved in the recent excavation, to Reuters’ Patrick Werr. “[Scholars] are working to understand how the Egyptians and the Hyksos lived together and to what degree the former took on Egyptian traditions.”
Archaeologists discovered the tombs at the Koum el-Khulgan archaeological site in Egypt’s Dakahlia Governorate, around 93 miles northeast of Cairo, reports the Associated Press (AP). Other finds made during the dig include remnants of stoves and ovens, the foundations of ancient brick buildings, pottery, scarab amulets that symbolize renewal and rebirth, and jewelry.
As archaeologist Ayman Ashmawi explains in the statement, the 68 oval-shaped predynastic graves appear to be linked to the Lower Egypt civilization of Buto. The majority of these individuals were interred in a squatting position with their head pointed to the west. Among the deceased was a baby who’d been buried in a jar—a relatively common funerary practice that nevertheless continues to puzzle researchers. (The team also found a second infant interred in a jar in the Hyksos section of the cemetery.)
“You might go to the practical thing and say that the bodies were so fragile, [maybe] they felt the need to protect it from the environment, even though it is dead,” archaeologist Yoav Arbel, who was part of a team that studied a similar ancient burial found in the Israeli city of Jaffa, told Live Science’s Laura Geggel last December. “But there’s always the interpretation that the jar is almost like a womb, so basically the idea is to return [the] baby back into Mother Earth, or into the symbolic protection of his mother.”
Like the Buto tombs, the five Naqadda graves are all oval-shaped pits carved into the sand. Two boast a layer of clay protecting their sides, bottom and roof. In addition to the burials, notes Egypt Today, the researchers unearthed cylindrical and pear-shaped vessels, as well as a bowl adorned with geometric designs.
The richest array came from the Hyksos tombs, most of which are semi-rectangular pits ranging in depth from around 8 to 33 inches. According to Egypt Independent, the deceased were buried faceup in an “extended position,” with their heads pointing westward. One child was laid to rest in a small clay sarcophagus.
Artifacts recovered from the rectangular graves include silver rings, funerary vessels and a seal bearing a hieroglyphic inscription. As Owen Jarus reports for Live Science, ancient Egyptians crafted seals by stamping decorated stones into clay. They then used these objects to “sign” official documents and drawings.
The ministry’s announcement arrives at a critical time for Egypt’s tourism industry. In large part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of tourists who visited the country dropped from 13.1 million in 2019 to 3.5 million in 2020, per Reuters.
To help entice visitors back to Egypt, the country’s government has unveiled a spate of stunning archaeological finds, from a 3,000-year-old “lost golden city” to a mummy with a gold tongue to a 13-foot Book of the Dead scroll. Earlier this month, officials even hosted a lavish livestreamed procession dubbed the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade.
Writing on Twitter, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi praised the event, which centered on the relocation of 18 ancient kings and 4 queens to a newly opened museum, as “new evidence of the greatness of this people, the guardian of this unique civilization extending into the depths of history.”