Archaeologists May Have Uncovered the Oldest Mummy Ever Found In Egypt

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Fadel Dawod / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Fadel Dawod / Getty Images

A team of archaeologists working near the Egyptian capital of Cairo discovered a series of tombs near the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. As it turned out, the tombs held incredibly rich contents, including papyrus scrolls, pottery, and numerous figurines. Undoubtedly, the most incredible of these finds was a mummy in a large sarcophagus which is believed to be the oldest one ever found in the country.

Tomb discovery

The tombs at Saqqara date to the fifth and sixth dynasties. Researchers were able to identify the people buried there. One of them was Khnumdjedef, a noble who worked as an inspector of officials, a priest, and a supervisor of nobles. His resting place was decorated with scenes depicting the daily routines of those living during the 24th century BC.

Man sitting on a rug in the sand with old Egyptian pottery surrounding him.
An Egyptian archaeologist restores antiquities after the announcement of new discoveries in Gisr el-Mudir in Saqqara, January 26, 2023. (Photo Credit: Fadel Dawod/ Getty Images)

Another tomb belonged to the pharaoh’s appointed “secret keeper,” Meri, who was a senior official in the palace with religious responsibilities. The two other known tombs belonged to a priest under Pharaoh Pepi I, and Fetek, who was a writer and judge. The latter was identified after his body was found in a stone coffin at the bottom of a separate 10-meter shaft. His name was discovered through the inscriptions on the lid.

The oldest mummy?

Yet these discoveries pale in comparison to one located at the bottom of a 15-meter shaft. At 4,300 years old, this tomb contained the oldest remains found in the country to date. The famed Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass described the find: “I put my head inside to see what was inside the sarcophagus: A beautiful mummy of a man completely covered in layers of gold.”

Man standing in a dark room with a large sarcophogus in the middle.
An archeologist is seen in a tomb in the historical Saqqara region alongside a sarcophagus, January 26, 2023. (Photo Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/ Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images)

The remains were identified as a man named Hekashepes, who had been placed inside a large limestone sarcophagus sealed closed with mortar. It took the team over two hours to crack the case open. While the discovery of such a unique mummy is always exciting in its own right, this one had the team especially thrilled. As explained by Hawass, who directed of the excavation, “This mummy may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date.”

Waziri papyrus

The incredible discoveries from Saqqara don’t end with the body of Hekashepes. Also found in one of the previously excavated tombs was the first complete papyrus scroll discovered in roughly a century. It was inside one of 250 wooden sarcophagi and was dated by researchers to be at least 2,300 years old – but possibly older. It was given the name the Waziri papyrus.

Interior of an Egyptian tomb with a large white slab of inscriptions on the wall.
A general view of Pharaonic inscriptions at the recently discovered tomb at the site of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, January 26, 2023. (Photo Credit: Fadel Dawod/ Getty Images)

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The entire scroll measured 52 feet long and contained sections of the Book of the Dead. This was a common burial ritual in ancient Egypt. Initially, fragments of the text were painted onto objects or tomb walls, but by around 1475 BC they were copied onto papyrus and buried beside the dead. The contents of the scroll would be selected specifically for what the deceased needed in the afterlife.