Archaeologists excavating Saqqara, an ancient necropolis south of Cairo, have unearthed a 3,200-year-old sarcophagus crafted out of pink granite. The coffin belonged to Ptah-M-Wia, a high-ranking official who held multiple administrative titles during the reign of Ramses II, according to a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Ptah-M-Wia’s mummy was long gone by the time archaeologists from Cairo University discovered his empty sarcophagus. The coffin’s lid was broken, suggesting grave robbers removed the remains, likely in antiquity, reports Live Science’s Owen Jarus. Traces of resin in the sarcophagus testify that it once contained a mummified body.
Per a translation by Agence France-Presse, Mustafa Waziri, who oversees Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, says hieroglyphs inscribed on the sarcophagus indicate that Ptah-M-Wia was a “royal secretary, chief overseer of cattle and head of the treasury” at Ramses’ funerary temple in Thebes. The official was also in charge of “divine offerings to all the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt.”
In the statement, Waziri attributes the find’s significance to Ptah-M-Wia’s relationship with Ramses, who ruled from roughly 1292 to 1190 B.C.E. As Nevine El-Aref reports for Ahram Online, Ptah-M-Wia’s tomb is located in a section of Saqqara that houses the burials of prominent New Kingdom officials, including royal ambassador Basir, military commander Eurkhi and mayor of Memphis Ptah-Mas.
In May, excavators uncovered 250 sarcophagi and 150 bronze statues at the ancient burial site. In late 2020, they discovered over 100 intact wooden coffins with hieroglyphs and well-preserved mummies inside. Experts also unearthed carved statues, mummified cats and numerous works of art.
These treasures open “a window into a period late in ancient Egyptian history when Saqqara was at the center of a national revival in pharaonic culture and attracted visitors from across the known world,” wrote Jo Marchant for Smithsonian magazine last year. “The site is full of contradictions, entwining past and future, spirituality and economics. It was a hive of ritual and magic that arguably couldn’t seem more distant from our modern world. Yet it nurtured ideas so powerful they still shape our lives today.”
Located about 20 miles southwest of Cairo, Saqqara served as a burial ground for Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, for more than 3,000 years. Unesco designated Memphis’ ruins a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Ramses, who had the second-longest reign in Egyptian history, is widely regarded as one of the New Kingdom’s most powerful pharaohs. During his six decades in power, Ramses oversaw numerous building programs, expanding Egypt’s cities, temples and monuments. He also led Egypt through times of war, famously defeating the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1275 B.C.E.
As Ramses’ head treasurer, Ptah-M-Wia was a key member of the pharaoh’s government.
“We know things that Ramses left as official records of his reign, but then we have this much, much larger body of material of people who worked for the administration,” Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist and associate of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, told Smithsonian’s Emma Schkloven earlier this year. “We know about the men who were building the royal tombs. We know about the priests, about the craftsmen. It was this enormous bureaucracy.”