In a first for modern archaeology, Egyptian officials opened an intact sarcophagus in front of a cadre of international press on Saturday. The wood sarcophagus dates to the 18th Dynasty (1550 B.C.-1300 B.C.) is in excellent condition, its still-bright paint covering both lid and base. Fortunately for the government and the assembled representatives of the fourth estate, there was something inside. When the lid was raised, the well-preserved mummified remains of a woman, possibly named Thuya, were found inside.
It was discovered by archaeologists from the French Institute of Eastern Archeology (IFAO) and the University of Strasbourg in the necropolis of El-Assasif on the west bank of the Nile just north of Luxor (ancient Thebes). Located between the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings, the Assasif necropolis was used as a burial ground for nobles and important pharaonic officials mainly during the 18th, 25th and 26th dynasties from around 1550 to 525 B.C. Two intact sarcophagi were discovered in Tomb TT33. The other one, which also dates to the 18th Dynasty, painted in Rishi (feather) style, was opened by experts in scholarly privacy without the whole Al Capone’s vault spectacle. It too contained a mummy in apparently good condition.
In the five months of excavations at El-Assasif this year, a third sarcophagus was unearthed by the Egyptian archaelogical mission in Tomb TT28. The tomb was carved into the rock during the Middle Kingdom (1975 B.C.-1640 B.C.), but was reused in the Late Period (664 B.C.-332 B.C.). The sarcophagus dates to the 26th Dynasty, is made of black wood and is intricately carved. The engraved decorations are inlaid with gold foil. Hieroglyphics identify him as Thaw-Inkhet-If, overseer of the mummification shrine of the Temple of Mut, one of the four most important temples in the Karnak Temple Complex.
It was found in a burial chamber painted with vividly colored scenes depicting the tomb’s owner and family. Another chamber in the tomb contained a group of mummies carefully stacked in the small space, likely family members.
All three mummies found in the sarcophagi will be examined further in laboratory conditions. They will be analyzed for more precise dating and X-rayed to discover more about their lives and deaths.