Archaeologists have unearthed a mummification workshop dating back to the seventh to fifth century B.C. in an ancient necropolis in Saqqara, Egypt.
They believe the new discovery will offer new insight to experts studying how ancient Egyptians conducted the process of making mummies.
Along with the workshop, the archaeologists also found an extremely rare gilded silver mask and a burial complex bearing at least four mummies and several funerary artifacts.
Ancient Mummification Workshop
A team of experts at the Tübingen University at Baden-Württemberg, Germany, found the mummification workshop at the pyramid complex of Unas in Memphis, the capital city of ancient Egypt. Initial analysis reveals the workshop dates back to the 26th Dynasty of the Saite-Persian period in 664 to 404 B.C.
The workshop is a rectangular building built with mud bricks and limestone blocks. In the southwest corner, an entrance opens to an area that contains two basins and a ramp made from mud bricks.
Experts believe the basins were used to contain natron, a salt mixture used to dry the mummy. They may have also been used to prepare the linen bandages that were wrapped around the body.
Beneath the workshop is an underground chamber accessible through a 42-foot-long shaft. The chamber houses bowls, jars, measuring cups, and other pottery vessels labeled with the names of oils and substances used during mummification.
"The importance of such a discovery lies in its relevance to an important issue that the whole world is concerned with, which is mummification with its methods of embalming, workshops, and tools," says Khaled el-Anany, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities.
Gilded Silver Mask
At the center of the workshop is a large shaft that contains several burial chambers, including chambers that were carved into the bedrock at 98 feet below the ground.
The burial chambers are found on the sides of hallways. The first hallway contains an intact chamber where the archaeologists found three wooden coffins lying to the west of a large limestone sarcophagus. They also found another coffin to the north of the sarcophagus and several faience ushabti or funerary figurines.
Inside one of the coffins was a mummy with a gilded silver mask inlayed with semi-precious stones, including calcite, black obsidian, and likely black onyx for the eyes. Experts say this is one of the rarest artifacts from ancient Egypt. Only two other masks made of precious metals have been uncovered in the past.
"The finding of this mask could be called a sensation," says Ramadan Badry Hussein, director of the Saqqara Saite Tombs Project and professor at Tübingen University. "Very few masks of precious metal have been preserved to the present day because the tombs of most ancient Egyptian dignitaries were looted in ancient times."
The coffin where the mask was found is badly damaged, but experts say it was once fully covered with plaster and paint. The remains of the paint suggest the coffin was painted with an image of the goddess Mut.
The owner of the coffin was the Second Priest of the goddesses Mut and Niut-shaes, the serpent form of Mut. Part of his name also includes the name of the goddess Neith, the patron of the 26th Dynasty.
Artifacts From Ancient Egypt
The excavation site has not been explored since 1900. With new technologies such as laser scanning and photogrammetry techniques, archaeologists expect the site to turn out more remarkable remains of ancient Egypt in the near future.
The well in which the mummification workshop was found, for instance, is linked to another well that archaeologists hope to explore next.
Most of the findings will be displayed at the Grand Egyptian Museum, billed to open later this year next to the famed Pyramids of Giza.