3,300-year-old ancient Egyptian tombs and chapel with 'amazing' decorations unearthed at Saqqara

This is the largest relief found at the tomb of Panehsy in Saqqara.
This is the largest relief found at the tomb of Panehsy in Saqqara. (Image credit: © Leiden Turin Expedition to Saqqara)

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered several tombs and chapels dating back around 3,300 years in an ancient cemetery at the site of Saqqara. 

The biggest tomb belonged to a man named "Panehsy" who was the "overseer of the temple of Amun," Lara Weiss, a curator of the Egyptian and Nubian collection at the Netherlands' National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and author of the book "The Walking Dead at Saqqara" (De Gruyter 2022), who is one of the excavation leaders, told Live Science in an email. 

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Weiss noted that Panehsy "had a very nice tomb with wonderful reliefs which show large traces of colour." Inscriptions indicate that he didn't have any children, and that an employee arranged for offerings to be brought to the tomb. Human remains were found in Panehsy's tomb, but they seem to be from people buried at a later time and will be studied in detail in 2024, Weiss said. 

A relief found in a tomb whose owner is unknown. It appears to depict a family, but was not completed.  (Image credit: © Leiden Turin Expedition to Saqqara)

Another newly unearthed tomb belongs to a man named "Yuyu," who was a "gold foil maker and hence a specialized artist in the royal treasury," Weiss said. While Yuyu's tomb is smaller than Paneshy's, it has some remarkable artwork that depicts "many interesting details such as many barque [a ship] bearers and a huge procession of mourners," noted Weiss. Four generations of his family are depicted, including "his parents, himself and his wife, his brother with wife and children, his own children and grandchildren," Weiss said. 

Part of the site that the team is working on at Saqqara.  (Image credit: © Leiden Turin Expedition to Saqqara)

One of the other newfound tombs, whose owner is unknown, has statues carved in relief and appears to show four people who likely belong to the same family. The statues appear to be unfinished, but the design of the statues is similar to those found in a nearby tomb belonging to a couple named Maya and Merit who lived about 50 years before this tomb was built, Weiss noted. 

Live Science contacted scholars not involved with the excavation to get their thoughts. Francesco Tiradritti, an Egyptology professor at the Kore University of Enna in Italy, was impressed by the relief. "The quality of this relief is amazing," Tiradritti said, noting that "the artist played on the tridimensionality and frontality of the four figures with a consciousness rare for the art of Ancient Egypt." Tiradritti said that the relief reminds him of monuments found in a necropolis near Memphis that date back to the Old Kingdom (circa 2649 B.C. to 2150 B.C.), a time when pyramids were being constructed in Egypt. 

The work at Saqqara is ongoing and is being conducted by scholars from the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy. 

Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.