Well preserved coffins hint towards more discoveries in a famed necropolis.
- Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered more than two dozen sarcophagi in the last month.
- Experts predict more discoveries in the coming weeks.
- Their discovery is another credit to Saqqara, the necropolis of the old capital of Memphis.
The combined blows of political instability, terrorist attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on Egypt, driving down its yearly tourist numbers to unacceptably low levels. In response, the county has amplified archaeological work in hopes of keeping tourist interest alive.
The work paid off. This week, investigations of a necropolis south of Cairo revealed more than two dozen mummies buried more than 2,500 years ago.
More mummies than a horror movie
The first 13 coffins were found stacked on top of one another in a shaft 11 meters deep. All of the sarcophagi were completely sealed and apparently hadn't been tampered with since there were buried. In some cases, the paint on the wooden coffins is still visible, giving them a vibrant appearance.
Shortly after that find, the ministry of antiquities announced the discovery of 14 more coffins at the same site in a similar shaft. Similarly to the previous find, these coffins were remarkably well preserved and featured painted hieroglyphics.The finds were also detailed in a Facebook post by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. At the moment, we don't know who these mummies were, what kind of lives they lived, or what items they decided to take to their graves. This information is expected to turn up soon. More details on the mummies are expected next month.
The remains were found at the Saqqara Plateau, known to have housed the necropolis of the city of Memphis during that era of Egyptian history. It is well known for its Step Pyramid of Djoser, perhaps the earliest example of cut stone construction at such a scale in human history. Located a mere 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of the better known Great Pyramid at Gaza, Saqqara has been a site of significant archaeological interest for more than a century.
The earliest burials there date back to the first dynasty, some 5,000 years ago. The site remained in use as a burial ground and religious center to the rise of Islam in the 7th century C.E. It's six thousand years of service has given it a unique collection of monuments, pyramids, and tombs for high ranking officials and pharaohs, alongside galleries for the mummies of pets, statues of Greek philosophers and poets, and the remains of monasteries.
Of course, while the mummies of pharaohs (and the massive wealth they were buried with) capture public interest, mummification was not just for royalty. Many tombs are filled with the remains of middle-class Egyptians, rather than those of royalty, and feature simpler variations of the elite's burial practices.
The Ministry of Antiquities expects more sarcophagi to be found at the site and has already announced further excavations.
Thanks to modern technology, we can reexamine our assumptions about ancient warriors.
- The 2600-year-old remains of a young Scythian warrior are now known to be female.
- The young warrior appears to have been around 13 years old when she died.
- The findings shed light on the Scythian culture.
Throughout the literature of the ancient world, tales of great bands of warrior women captivated listeners' imaginations. From China to Greece, stories of their exploits filled hearts with fear and awe. Recently, historians have begun to accept that the Amazons were real, in a way; they were slightly embellished versions of Scythian warriors.
While we've known for some time that many of the warrior graves their culture left behind were the burial sites of women, modern DNA analysis allows us to review if every skeleton previously thought to be male really is. One such review of a mummy found in 1988 proves that one young warrior was actually a 13-year-old girl.
Joan of Scythia?
The 2600-year-old remains were discovered at Saryg-Bulun in Central Tuva in 1988 when the region was still part of the USSR. Contained in a tightly sealed coffin made of larch trunk, the remains were mummified and well preserved. One report states that a wart on the child's face was still evident. The coffin also contained a battle-ax, a quiver with arrows, a headdress, coat, and various bronze ornaments.
As the young warrior was presumed to be male, the researchers were surprised when they analyzed her genome and discovered the remains belonged to a young woman. Despite how common it is to see the remains of female warriors, this coffin did not contain items typically given to deceased women, such as beads or mirrors.
Excavator Marina Kilunovskaya explained this to Archaeology.org, "This discrepancy in the norms of the funeral rite received an unexpected explanation: firstly, the young man turned out to be a girl, and this young 'Amazon' had not yet reached the age of 14 years."
The research team will now attempt to get a more accurate dating of the remains and will use CT scans to try and learn precisely how this young warrior died. The various artifacts discovered in the coffin will also be analyzed for metal composition and preserved.
Who were the Scythians and why did they have little girls as warriors?
The Scythians were the rulers of the Steppes from Ukraine to Xinjiang and the probable inventors of horseback riding. These nomadic warriors also had a reasonably egalitarian society for the ancient world. Many sources agree that cross-dressing was common in their culture, and some go so far as to suggest their idea of gender was fluid.
Across the steppes, women were trained to be warriors just as men were and could prove fearsome in battle. Skeletal remains proven to be female (about a fifth of all discovered remains) often show the same battle injuries as males. Burial sites with weapons and all the honors of a warrior are common for both sexes. Just last year, the gravesite of other female warriors were found.
They were known as a warlike people, and it is thought entire tribes participated in battles. It was said that no nation could stand against them without outside help. However, they also made beautiful art, had an elaborate religious system, and were known for their unique clothing. They had no written language, but descriptions of their culture endure in the writings of their neighbors.
Even if the Amazons weren't quite real, they were based on an existing culture. As we learn more about how the Scythians lived and died, we're better able to contextualize the stories and myths they appear in. As with all archaeological discoveries, it also allows us to better understand where humanity has been, so we might make a better choice of where we're going.
Researchers confirmed that the mummy known as Takabuti died from a stab wound to the back.
- The mummy Takabuti has inspired a great deal of speculation since it was first unwrapped in 1835.
- Takabuti died when she was between 20 and 30, leading researchers to wonder about her cause of death.
- New techniques have enabled researchers to determine that Takabuti died from a stab wound to the back, among other interesting findings.
2,600 years on and investigators have finally discovered the cause of death of a young elite woman from Thebes: a violent stab wound to her back.
Takabuti's mummy was first unwrapped in 1835 in Ireland, a period of time when mummies were being traded and trafficked across Europe. According to the hieroglyphics adorning Takabuti's mummy case, she had been between 20 and 30 years old, the mistress of a house in Thebes (modern-day Luxor), and her father, called Nespare, had been a priest of the god Amun.
Although Takabuti has been a subject of study since her mummy was first acquired, scanning techniques only recently became advanced enough to determine that the stab wound near her left shoulder was the cause of her death. Retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Loynes performed the CT analysis. "The CT scan reveals that Takabuti sustained a severe wound to the back of her upper left chest wall," Loynes said in a statement. "This almost certainly caused her rapid death. However, the CT scan also reveals unusual and rare features of her embalming process."
In addition to her murder, the researchers identified a variety of other unique features to this particular mummy.
For one, Takabuti possessed two rare mutations — an extra tooth, which appears in 0.02 percent of the population, and an extra vertebra, which occurs in 2 percent of the population. Importantly, she also still possessed her heart, which previous research had asserted was missing.
"The significance of confirming Takabuti's heart is present cannot be underestimated," said Dr. Greer Ramsey, the Curator of Archaeology at National Museums Northern Ireland. "In ancient Egypt this organ was removed in the afterlife and weighed to decide whether or not the person had led a good life. If it was too heavy it was eaten by the demon Ammit and your journey to the afterlife would fail."
Another recently shared discovery is that Takabuti may have been European. DNA tests confirmed that she bore greater similarities to Europeans than modern-day Egyptians. "This indicates European or Caucasian descent," said Egyptologist Rosalie David in an interview with Newsweek, "but it is not possible to confirm from these findings whether she was born in Egypt, or came there from another area."
Insight into a 2,600-year-old woman
The new findings have challenged the popular characterization of Takabuti as resting peacefully — now, it's clear that her last moments alive were anything but peaceful.
"Trawling the historical records about her early days in Belfast it is clear that she caused quite a media sensation in 1835," said bioarcheologist Eileen Murphy in a statement. "She had a poem written about her, a painting was made of her prior to her 'unrolling' and accounts of her unwrapping were carried in newspapers across Ireland."
Takabuti also appeared to be something of an independent spirit, at least when it came to following fashion trends contemporary to her life. "Research undertaken ten years ago gave us some fascinating insights," continued Murphy, "such as how her auburn hair was deliberately curled and styled. This must have been a very important part of her identity as she spurned the typical shaven-headed style. Looking at all of these facts, we start to get a sense of the petite young woman and not just the mummy." What remains beyond our understanding, however, is why somebody had been driven to murder the young Egyptian mistress.