(ORDO NEWS) — A very large and previously unknown family tomb has been discovered and excavated in Aswan, Egypt, by the Egyptian-Italian Mission at West Aswan (EIMAWA), the archaeological mission directed by Patrizia Piacentini, Professor of Egyptology and Egyptian Archaeology at the State University of Milan, and Abdelmoneim Said, Director General of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities (SCA). The discovery was made during a long mission that engaged the archaeologists between May and October 2021.
The joint Italian-Egyptian team has been working since 2019 in the area surrounding the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, on the western shore of Aswan, where there are more than 300 tombs dating from the sixth century BC to the fourth century AD.
The latest find is a large tomb (designated AGH032) dating from the Graeco-Roman period, which, although looted in antiquity, still has about 20 mummies and many interesting materials. The tomb was hidden by a well-preserved rectangular structure that shows important traces of a mysterious fire that also affected the burial.
A huge dump containing animal bones (mainly mutton), pottery fragments, offering plates and slabs inscribed in hieroglyphics covered the east wall of the structure, suggesting its use as a votive site. This is the first structure of its kind found in the Aga Khan necropolis.
In particular, archaeologists found the mummy of a man adjacent to the east wall of the structure and, next to it, a copper necklace with an engraved plaque in Greek mentioning his name, Nikostratos. Originally, he had been laid in the tomb that was discovered soon afterwards under the structure and later taken out by ancient thieves.
A staircase partly flanked by carved blocks and covered by a mud-brick vault leads to the entrance, which was enclosed by a complex system of slabs and stone blocks found in the original place that had been erected above the staircase. In front of the entrance a large offering vessel was found, unfortunately in a fragmentary state, which still has some sycamores in it.
The tomb has a hall overlooked by four burial chambers carved deep into the rock. In the hall, opposite the entrance, an earthenware sarcophagus containing the mummy of a child and a beautiful cartonnage (a kind of decorated papier-mâché that covered the mummies) was discovered. Another child’s mummy, found in one of the burial chambers, has been X-rayed and shows a plaque on the inside of the chest.
Inside the four galleries carved into the rock were almost 30 mummies, some in an exceptional state of preservation, others with bandages and cartonnage cut by ancient thieves, who probably used a knife that was discovered among the mummies. Some mummified bodies were of elderly people, as evidenced by the visible arthritis, others were of women or small children, including an infant.
The Egyptian-Italian Mission at West Aswan also carried out anthropological and radiological analyses on 45 individuals discovered in 2019 in tomb AGH026 in addition to the 30 individuals found in 2021 in tomb AGH032. The aim was to assess age, sex and possible diseases. A portable X-ray machine was used directly at the site.
The team discovered that in tomb AGH026 30% of the individuals were children, from the neonatal period to an age of about 10 years. Many of the remaining bodies were female. At least three families were found (mother, father and son buried next to each other). Bone analyses showed that some of them suffered from infectious diseases and some metabolic disorders.
The femur of one adult showed clear signs of amputation, which the person must have survived since there is evidence of an osteo-reparative callus. Other bodies show evidence of arthrosis, a sign of death in old age.
A survey of the area led to the discovery of several well-preserved sarcophagi, made of stone or clay, dating from the Late Pharaonic to the Roman period. Some of them still show beautiful colours. Two sarcophagi of children and three of adults, together with parts of other sarcophagi, were collected and safely stored in a warehouse.
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