Researchers find hundreds of mummies buried around Egypt’s oldest pyramid

We all know that Egyptian pyramids were tombs, but Egypt’s oldest pyramid is not just a tomb, it’s a graveyard where hundreds of mummies were buried – And Polish archaeologists have just dug them up.

Thought to have been designed by Imhotep, the Djoser pyramid was built in the 27th century BC and is considered the first pyramid ever built.

Unlike the iconic smooth-sided pyramids at Giza, however, this pyramid is a stepped temple, which looks like giant stairs.

Image via Wikimedia

The pyramid is located at the Saqqara necropolis northwest of Memphis.

But while the pyramid was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser, the surrounding area served as a massive mortuary complex.

According to the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education:

Until now, archaeologists have managed to determine that two necropoles were located west of the grave pyramid complex of Djoser – the first belongs to the nobles of the 6th Dynasty (2345-2118 BC) and consists of burial chapels made of mud bricks and tombs carved into the rock .

Above the older necropolis, archaeologists stumbled upon a vast cemetery from the end of Pharaonic Egypt’s history – the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman Period (6th century BC – 1st century AD).

In total, Polish archaeologists have discovered over half a thousand simple burials there. According to Egyptologists, it was a necropolis on which ordinary people were buried – it was not the then elite of society. Dozens of discovered burials in the last research season were in this part of the ancient cemetery.

Dr. Kamil Kuraszkiewicz of the Department of Egyptology at the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Oriental Studies led the excavation team at the site, and they discovered hundreds of mummies buried beneath their feet, which must have been a rather eerie find.

Kuraszkiewicz and his team found that the mummies were not elite members of society because they were not subjected to intricate preparations like pharaohs.

“Most of the mummies we discovered in the past season were very modest, they were only subjected to basic balming treatments and then wrapped in bandages and placed directly in hollows dug in the sand,” he explained.

In fact, the coffins the mummies were found inside were decorated with some imitation hieroglyphics.

“The artisan who painted it apparently could not read and perhaps tried to reproduce something that he had seen before,” Kuraszkiewicz said. “In any case, some of the painted characters are not hieroglyphic signs of the hieroglyphic writing and the whole does not create an intelligible text.”

They even found unusual images of Anubis.

“There are beautifully clumsy images of Anubis in the form of lying jackals with a completely unusual blue color,” Kuraszkiewicz told the Ministry.

Image via Polish Ministry of Science

Anubis was an Egyptian god of death depicted either in the form of a jackal or a man with the head of this animal. He was connected with mummification and taking care of deceased persons. Presented as a jackal, he was usually black. Perhaps such an unusual color – blue – is a reference to the fact that, according to Egyptian beliefs, the hair of the gods (and in this case the hair of the divine jackal) were of noble blue stone – says Kuraszkiewicz.

Surrounding the pyramid is a ditch, or dry moat, that also may have played a role in Ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife.

“The dry moat could have been a model of a path, which the pharaoh had to cross to reach eternal life, a path with obstacles such as walls with passages located near the top, perhaps guarded by dangerous creatures,” Kuraszkiewicz said.

Thanks to this discovery, archaeologists can now learn much more about Egyptian burial rituals and procedures, despite the fact that many of the mummies are badly decayed.

Clearly, ordinary Egyptians believed in mummification strongly enough that they emulated the practice for their own burials. It’s just that they could not afford the extravagance reserved for royalty and wealthy members of society. So, they did the best they could. And it turns out they did well because their graves are still in decent enough shape to be studied.

Unfortunately, these graves were prone to be looted by grave robbers. One coffin studied by the team showed such signs of looting. It turns out a sculpted funerary mask had been stolen in antiquity.

Of course, this is only one of many landmark discoveries in Egypt that are giving us insight into its ancient past. Archaeologists recently found evidence that the Egyptians built an artificial harbor which helped transport materials and tools used to build the Great Pyramid, the wonder of the world we most recognize today.

The Djoser pyramid may not be as well known, but it is the first pyramid built by the Egyptians and sparked a pyramid building spree that culminated in the triumphant completion of the Great Pyramid in Giza. And like the ground around the Djoser pyramid, the lands surrounding both pyramids clearly still have secrets lying underneath the sand just waiting to be uncovered.

More on the Pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser below:

Featured Image: Polish Ministry of Science

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