30 mummies discovered in ancient burnt down sacrificial structure in Egypt

Archaeologists have discovered, inside a burned-out structure near the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt, the entrance to a family tomb that is about 2,000 years old. Inside were 30 mummies of varying ages, including several elderly people with arthritis, as well as children and a newborn.

Although researchers have not yet dated the tomb, they suspect that a single family buried their dead in it over generations spanning the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (from the first century BCE to the second or third CE), from according to study co-author Patrizia Piacentini, professor of Egyptology and Egyptian Archeology at the University of Milan.

One of 300 mummies found in tomb near the Nile River. Image: Courtesy of the University of Milan

The site is one of more than 300 recently discovered tombs surrounding the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, a pink granite structure built in the 20th century that sits atop a small hill along the Nile River.

While most of the other tombs have been found underground or excavated into rocky hills, this new one in particular was the only discovery within a larger above-ground structure, which the researchers think was likely used as a sacrificial site.

“It appears that, due to its position along a valley leading to the necropolis, this building was used as a sacred precinct where sacrifices were offered to the god Khnum, creator and protector of the fertile Nile floods, particularly revered in Aswan,” he said. Piacentini in a statement to the Live Science website. "Who better than he could have provided eternal life for those who rested in this necropolis?"

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Among the mummies, one was identified with a necklace

Further supporting its use as a sacrificial site, Piacentini and his team discovered signs of fire on the walls of the structure possibly from the offering of ceremonies. "But some of the fire marks could also have been made by grave robbers," the researcher said.

Anyway, inside that burned-out structure, they discovered animal bones, plant remains, and offering tables. Also hidden was a mummy of a man next to a copper necklace engraved with his name “Nikostratos”.

At the bottom of a staircase leading to the entrance to the tomb — which had been hewn out of the rock — they found a broken offering vessel that still contained small fruit.

Some of the 30 mummies found were very well preserved, such as the remains of a child hidden inside a terracotta sarcophagus, while others had their bandages cut by ancient thieves.

A knife with an iron blade and wooden handle was among the finds, and researchers believe it may have been used by ancient thieves to cut through the mummies' bandages. Image: Courtesy of the University of Milan

The researchers also discovered a knife with an iron blade and wooden handle that may have been used by looters. According to scientists, Nikostratos was probably inside the tomb with the other mummies, but was carried away by the vandals.

The excavation was a partnership between the Antiquities Zone of Egypt, Aswan and Nibian, and the University of Milan, Italy. "The study of the newly discovered structure is just beginning," said Piacentini.

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