The El-Asasef necropolis, which sits between the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens in Luxor, Egypt, was once used to bury the nobles and senior officials who were close to ancient Egyptian rulers. Earlier this month, a French-led team of archaeologists working at the site unearthed a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus—and in an unusual move, officials opened the coffin in front of the press, revealing a woman’s well-preserved remains.
According to Owen Jarus of Live Science, the sarcophagus was discovered in one of the largest tombs ever found in Luxor. The deceased woman was named Pouyou or Pouya, the University of Strasbourg said in a statement, adding that “only the tip[s]” of the mummy’s feet are missing. The style of the sarcophagus suggests that it dates to Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, which spanned from 1540 to 1295 B.C. and encompassed the reign of Tutankhamun.
This is the first time that Egyptian authorities have opened an ancient coffin before an audience of international media, Reuters reports. Egypt has been enthusiastically promoting its archaeological discoveries in an effort to entice visitors to the country and bolster its tourism industry, which has waned in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak.
A second sarcophagus, found near the one containing the mummified woman, was opened at an earlier date and examined by antiquities officials. This coffin is older, dating to the 17th Dynasty (1571 to 1540 B.C.), and the remains within have not yet been identified. Archaeologists also discovered several mummies outside of sarcophagi, and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has said that the bodies may belong to members of the same family, Jarus reports. The remains have not been dated, and it is as yet unclear if “Pouyou” was related to them.
More stunning discoveries were made when archaeologists explored a nearby tomb, where they found several additional sarcophagi, along with the remnants of around 1,000 “shabti” figures—small statuettes made of wood, clay and faience that were thought to assist the dead in the afterlife, taking on the menial tasks ordered by the gods.
Fascinatingly, experts were able to pin-point the identity of one of the deceased. Hieroglyphs on a sarcophagus indicated that the coffin belonged to Thaw-Irkhet-if, a priest who oversaw the embalming of pharaohs at the Temple of Mut at Karnak, a temple complex in modern-day Luxor.
But for the most part, little is known about the recently unearthed remains. Excavations of the tombs and analyses of the mummies are still ongoing, so further revelations may till come to light in the future.