Photos show ancient Egyptian artifacts and skeletons found in a ‘lost golden city’ built by King Tut’s grandfather

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An ancient Egyptian artifact at the site of the newly discovered “lost golden city” in present-day Luxor.

  • Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed a 3,400-year-old “lost golden city” in Luxor over the last seven months.
  • In 1935, a French excavation team searched for the city – which may be the largest ever built in Ancient Egypt – but never found it.
  • The city, named “tehn Aten,” or the dazzling Aten, was built by Amenhotep III, King Tut’s grandfather. He is considered the wealthiest Pharaoh who ever lived.
  • Photos from the site show colored pottery, scarab-beetle amulets, jewelry, wine caskets, mud bricks, and an ancient bakery. Only one-third of Aten has been uncovered so far.
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On the banks of the Nile River, 300 miles south of Cairo, sits the city of Luxor. It’s adjacent to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, where archaeologists discovered King Tutankhamen’s tomb a century ago.

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Former Egyptian minister of antiquities and archaeologist Zahi Hawass stands amongst the ruins of a newly discovered ancient city in Luxor, April 10, 2021.

Somewhere nearby, King Tut should have a mortuary temple, where priests and relatives left gifts and tribute for the pharaoh to enjoy in the afterlife. But it was never found. 

In September, archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian minister of antiquities, set out to find it.

 

Hawass’ team began searching an area of Luxor where Tut’s successors, Ay and Horemheb, built their mortuary temples. But instead of Tut’s temple, they uncovered an enormous, well-preserved metropolis.

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Walls of an ancient city found in Luxor, Egypt, April 8, 2021.

Within weeks of the start of their dig, Hawass’ team uncovered mud bricks stamped with Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s name. That helped them estimate the city was built 3,400 years ago, since Amenhotep III ruled between 1391 BC and 1353 BC.

“I called the city ‘the golden city’ because it was built during the golden age of Egypt,” Hawass told Insider.

Amenhotep III was King Tut’s grandfather, and “the wealthiest Pharaoh who ever lived,” according to Betsy Bryan, an Egyptologist from Johns Hopkins University.

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The funerary mask of Tutankhamen, or King Tut, in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Amenhotep III ruled during a time of peace, which helped him amass unprecedented wealth, Bryan told Insider.

“He was never at war. All he did was sit back and count money for 40 years, so he built constantly,” she said.

Archaeologists knew the Pharaoh had funneled some of his riches into building a city in this area of Egypt: “This is a place we knew existed,” Bryan said. But its precise location had eluded diggers for almost a century.

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Egyptian excavation workers stand in front of the ruins of the newly discovered “lost golden city” in Luxor.

“Many foreign missions searched for this city and never found it,” Hawass said in a press release, adding it may be the largest ancient city ever found in Egypt.

In 1934 and 1935, a French excavation team searched Luxor for the “lost golden city” but came up empty, Hawass said.

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The Colossi of Memnon in Luxor, May 18, 2015.

That effort failed because the French archaeologists had been looking in the wrong place, Hawass added. Figuring the city would be clustered around buildings dedicated to the Pharaoh who built it, the group searched next to the Collosi of Memnon: twin statues that depicted Amenhotep III. The Pharaoh’s mortuary temple was nearby as well — but they had no luck finding the city.

“It never occurred to them to look slightly south,” Bryan said.

The lost city, it turns out, was located to the south and west of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple.

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Workers carry a fish covered in gold found in Luxor, April 10, 2021.

So far, Hawass’ team has uncovered remnants of the city in an area that’s at least half a square mile.  

But the city is likely far larger, Bryan said, stretching all the way to the Pharaoh’s palace at Malkata, which is almost 2 miles south of the Colossi of Memnon.

In addition to the city’s size, Hawass said, “the huge amount of artifacts” his team uncovered there makes this an unprecedented archaeological find.

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Egyptian excavation workers prepare to display ancient Egyptian artifacts like pottery vessels found in Luxor.

“It will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the ancient Egyptians at the time where the empire was at its wealthiest,” he said in a press release.

The city’s streets are flanked with buildings, some of which have walls 9 feet tall.

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A new archaeological discovery is seen in Luxor, Egypt, April 8, 2021.

Scattered throughout those structures, Hawass’ team found rooms filled with pottery, glass, metalwork, and weaving tools. Ancient Egyptians once used these objects in their day-to-day lives, but the tools had lain untouched for millennia. 

Hawass’ excavation team also found a large cemetery north of the city.

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An Egyptian excavation worker removes a cover from a skeleton found at the “lost golden city” in present-day Luxor.

They haven’t figured out how big the cemetery is yet, but the team discovered a cluster of underground tombs with stairs leading to each tomb entrance.

In one part of the cemetery, the diggers found a grave holding a skeleton with a rope wrapped around its knees.

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A skeleton uncovered at the “lost golden city” in present-day Luxor.

Hawass is still investigating why the body was buried in this manner.

The city seems to be divided into industrial and residential areas. In the south, archaeologists found an ancient bakery with a cooking and meal-preparation area, ovens, and pottery used for storing food.

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Egyptian excavation workers carry pottery vessels into storage.

Another neighborhood had multiple workshops: one for producing mud bricks used to build temples, and another for producing amulets.

Another part of the city was all houses. 

“For those of us interested in the people and how they did stuff, this place is a treasure trove,” Bryan said.

Nearby the cemetery, Hawass’ team found a piece of pottery containing 22 pounds of dried meat, likely from a butcher at a slaughterhouse.

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Egyptian excavation workers prepare to display ancient Egyptian artifacts ahead of a press conference on April 10, 2021.

The vessel had an inscription indicating that the meat was for a festival celebrating the continued rule of Amenhotep III.

The city dwellers were skilled craftsmen, Bryan said – they made fancy ceramic vessels, glassware, and temple decorations in the name of Amenhotep III.

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A scarab-beetle amulet and other amulets discovered in the “lost golden city” at Luxor.

“It really is like peeking into the king’s private storage unit,” she said. “That kind of specialization was rarely seen anywhere.” 

Hawass’ team also uncovered scarab-beetle amulets, rings, and wine caskets in the city.

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Rings of blue stone found in the “lost golden city” in Luxor.

According to Bryan, the city was Amenhotep III’s love letter to the god Aten.

“When ancient Egyptian kings built, they would dedicate their construction to a deity and associate themselves with that deity,” she said.

Aten was depicted as a sun disc. Archaeologists typically associated the deity with Amenhotep III’s son, Akhenaten, who worshipped Aten instead of the chief Egyptian god of the sun and air, Amon.

This discovery shows that Amenhotep III believed in Aten too, Hawass said — which explains why the Pharoah named the city “tehn Aten,” meaning the dazzling Aten.

After taking over from his father, Akhenaten – King Tut’s father – briefly lived in Aten. Then he moved 250 miles north to a city called Amarna, along with his people. That’s where King Tut was born.

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An ancient pottery vessel discovered in Luxor, Egypt.

Akhenaten’s exodus to Amarna could be why so many tools and artifacts were left behind in Aten. 

“When you pick up and move, you’re not going to take the ceramics,” Bryan said.

According to Hawass, Akhenaten fled to Amarna and built that city to escape the priests of Amon, who were displeased that their Pharaoh was worshipping a different god than their own.

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Temple of the Aten in Amarna, Egypt.

Akhenaten was branded a heretic. Following his death, King Tut’s family moved to Thebes, another city in the Luxor area that served as the ancient Egyptian capital.

It’s unclear whether Aten was ever reoccupied.

Hawass said there’s plenty more to find of the “lost golden city,” since only one-third of it has been uncovered so far.

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Former Egyptian minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass speaks during a press conference on the newly discovered “lost golden city” in Luxor, April 10, 2021.

“We still think that the city has an extension to the west and to the north, and that is our goal by next September,” Hawass said. 

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A legendary 3,000-year-old ‘lost golden city’ of the Pharaohs has just been discovered in Egypt

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The city was found after seven months of excavating.

  • The archaeology team began excavating in September 2020, and have now found entire neighborhoods.
  • So far, they have found residential districts, complete rooms and walls, and even a bakery.
  • Dated to the reign of Amenhotep III, the team expects to uncover further parts of the ancient city.
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Archaeologists have discovered what is believed to be the largest ancient city ever found in Egypt, hailing the discovery as one of the most important finds since Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Dubbed “the lost golden city” by Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, the site was unearthed near Luxor, home of the Valley of the Kings, which lies 300 miles south of Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The city was known as the Rise of Aten, the archaeology team said.

As reported by the Guardian, the team said in a statement: “The Egyptian mission under Dr Zahi Hawass found the city that was lost under the sands. The city is 3,000 years old, dates to the reign of Amenhotep III, and continued to be used by Tutankhamun and Ay.”

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The city has ten feet high walls that are still intact.

The archaeologists also said that Betsy Bryan, Professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, hailed the find as the “second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun.”

The team said that the city has been “untouched for thousands of years, left by the ancient residents as if it were yesterday.”

The team began excavations last year in September, beginning between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III. Hawass said that many “foreign missions” have searched for this ancient city before, but had been unsuccessful.

After seven months of excavations and searching, the team unearthed the city and have so far found several neighborhoods, with 10 feet high walls that are still intact. They even found a bakery that has ovens and storage pottery.

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The team found a bakery in the ancient lost city.

“Within weeks, to the team’s great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions,” the team’s statement read of the unearthing.

“What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.”

Other valuable ancient items have been discovered in the city, too, including jewelry, pottery, scarab beetle amulets, and mud bricks with the seals of Amenhotep III.

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A skeleton was found in the ancient city.

Known as Amenhotep the Magnificent, he was the ninth Pharoah of the 18th dynasty, and his reign was known as a time of splendor, style, and riches wherein Egypt reached new levels of artistry and international power.

This could just be the surface of further finds, according to the team, who also discovered a collection of tombs via “stairs carved into the rock.”

“The mission expects to uncover untouched tombs filled with treasures,” the team’s statement read.

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The city dates back to the reign of Amenhotep III.

Meanwhile, Bryan hopes that the city will “give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time where the empire was at his wealthiest.”

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Archaeologists unearthed 210 sarcophagi in an Egyptian city of the dead. They’d remained undisturbed for at least 2,500 years.

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A sarcophagus found near Queen Nearit’s funerary temple in Saqqara, which was unveiled on January 17, 2021.

More than two millennia ago, ancient Egyptians were laid to rest in Saqqara, an ancient city of the dead. Their organs were removed, and their bodies wrapped in linens. Priests placed them inside coffins adorned with intricate hieroglyphics.

The mummies stayed buried in those sarcophagi for thousands of years – until their recent discovery by Egyptian archaeologists. In the last four months, researchers have discovered a trove of at least 210 coffins entombed deep within shafts below the Saqqara sand.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the most recent finding on Sunday: 52 burial shafts containing more than 50 wooden coffins that are estimated to be 3,000 years old. The sarcophagi brought the total number of human coffins found since September from at least 160 to 210 or more.

The sarcophagi were “completely closed and haven’t been opened since they were buried,” according to the ministry. Egyptologists have opened a few of them to analyze and display the mummies inside.

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A mummy is displayed during the official announcement of recent findings from Saqqara on January 17, 2021.

The photos below show how archaeologists found the coffins and other artifacts buried beneath Saqqara.

Many of the newly discovered coffins are decorated with illustrations of Egyptian gods and excerpts from the “Book of the Dead.”

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One of the 50 wooden sarcophagi found and displayed at Saqqara in January.

“The Book of the Dead” is an ancient manuscript that guides souls through the afterlife.

In one of the burial shafts, alongside the coffins, archaeologists discovered a 13-foot-long, 3-foot-wide papyrus scroll. It contained an excerpt from the “Book of the Dead.”

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Findings from inside the Saqqara burial shafts. The far right table contains the 13-foot-long excerpt from the Book of the Dead.

The archaeologists also discovered artifacts in the shafts, including a bronze axe from a leader of a pharaoh’s army, bird-shaped sculptures, a limestone tableau, and a set of ancient board games.

This new discovery marks the first time 3,000-year-old sarcophagi have been found at Saqqara, according to the ministry.

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Decorated wooden sarcophagi from Saqqara on display during the official announcement of the discovery on January 17, 2021.

The 50 coffins are roughly 500 years older than the most ancient sarcophagi previously found in the city.

The coffins’ age confirms that Egyptians buried their dead in Saqqara during the New Kingdom era, between the 16th and the 11th centuries BCE. That’s far earlier than Egyptologists initially thought.

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The underside of a wooden sarcophagus discovered at Saqqara.

The discovery will “rewrite the history of this region,” Zahi Hawass, head of the Saqqara archaeological mission, said in a statement.

Most of the coffins found at Saqqara are about 2,500 years old. Mostafa Waziri, the general director of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, unveiled at least 100 such sarcophagi in November.

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Colored coffins from Saqqara on display October 3, 2020.

That added to the total of 59 Saqqara coffins that had been found in September and October.

Archaeologists picked one sarcophagus to open live in front of an audience at a small event on November 14.

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Archaeologists examine a mummy inside a newly discovered coffin on November 14, 2020 in Saqqara, Egypt.

Then they conducted an immediate, real-time X-ray of the mummy inside.

The live X-ray event showed the mummy was a male with perfect teeth who was between 5-foot-4 and 5-foot-7.

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An Egyptian archaeologist restores a newly discovered ancient sarcophagus at Saqqara, November 14, 2020.

He was buried with his arms crossed over his chest — a position, Waziri said, that symbolizes royalty. 

 

“Very rich, elite, high ranked people” owned some of the Saqqara coffins, Waziri told NBC News.

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Khaled El-Enany, Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities, and Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, inspect a mummy during a press conference at Saqqara, November 14, 2020.

Many of the Saqqara coffins were “well-gilded, well-painted, well-decorated,” he said.

November wasn’t the first time that archaeologists publicly opened a coffin: Egyptian officials also opened one on stage in an October press conference.

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Newly discovered ancient coffins on display during a November 14, 2020 press conference in Saqqara.

The November 14 event was, however, was the first time researchers had X-rayed the mummy inside.

In November, archaeologists also unearthed more than 40 artifacts in three burial shafts, according to Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities.

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An Egyptian archaeologist restores a newly discovered ancient statue during a press conference at Saqqara.

These included gilded statues and funerary masks. El-Enany said the artifacts and coffins will be distributed to three museums in Cairo for display.

Those artifacts are merely a fraction of the items found in a string of discoveries at Saqqara.

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Khaled El-Enany and Mostafa Waziri peer at a sarcophagus in Saqqara.

El-Enany announced in September that a set of 13 sarcophagi had been found at the bottom of a 36-foot-deep shaft.

He said on Twitter that finding that first coffin cache was “an indescribable feeling.”

The shaft had three offshoots branching away from it, so El-Enany predicted at the time that more undiscovered sarcophagi were likely still buried in the shaft. He was right.

Two weeks later, the ministry announced that archaeologists had found 14 more sarcophagi. That brought the total to 27.

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A sarcophagus discovered in Saqqara, Egypt.

In a statement on Facebook, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the finding is “the largest number of coffins with one burial” discovered since a group of 30 coffins were unearthed at Al-Assasif cemetery in Luxor the prior year.

Archaeologists kept finding more sarcophagi in the weeks that followed. On October 3, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of another 32 coffins.

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A 2500-year-old coffin discovered in a burial shaft in the desert near Saqqara necropolis in Egypt.

That brought the total to 59.

Despite being buried for 2,500 years or more, most of the Saqqara sarcophagi have retained a lot of their original paint and hieroglyphics.

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Mostafa Waziri looks at a 2,500-year-old coffin discovered in a burial shaft near Saqqara necropolis.

With the exception of the handful of coffins opened by Egyptian officials and archaeologists, the coffins have been sealed since their burial.

The identities of the people inside the sarcophagi “have not been determined,” the ministry said in September. But Waziri said the X-rayed mummy was likely someone wealthy.

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Multiple coffins discovered in a burial shaft in the desert near the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt .

The coffins were mostly found stacked on top of each other in various burial shafts.

Archaeologists have uncovered troves of artifacts in almost every burial shaft they’ve excavated.

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Mostafa Waziri looks at a statue found in one of the 2,500-year-old coffins discovered in a burial shaft in the desert near Saqqara necropolis.

In September, they uncovered a wooden obelisk just over a foot tall that’s adorned with paintings of Egyptian gods and goddesses, CNN reported.

The ancient Egyptians buried their dead in Saqqara – which is 20 miles south of Cairo in the Western Desert – for some 3,000 years.

People enter the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara outside Cairo.
People enter the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara outside Cairo.

Saqqara was the necropolis, or city of the dead, for the ancient capital of Memphis. Its name likely derives from Sokar, the Memphite god of the dead.

Not all Egyptians were buried under the necropolis’s sand: Pharaohs like King Teti and their wives were entombed in pyramids.

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Workers excavate a site at Saqqara, January 17, 2021.

Archaeologists discovered a pyramid belonging to one of Teti’s wives at Saqqara in 2010, but her name wasn’t mentioned on the walls inside.

That gave rise to a mystery about the ancient woman’s identity — she was an unknown member of Egyptian royalty who ruled more than 4,200 years ago. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced Sunday that excavators had finally discovered the wife’s identity.

Diggers uncovered a funerary temple near Teti and his wife’s burial pyramids with a name on the wall: Queen Nearit.

“I’d never heard of this queen before. Therefore, we add an important piece to Egyptian history about this queen,” Hawass told CBS News.

Saqqara is home to one of Egypt’s oldest pyramids: the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which was built about 4,600 years ago.

The pyramid was built in 2650 BC for King Djoser, third dynasty, the site of Saqquarah. The site was discovered in 1926 by French architect Jean Philippe Lauer.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara.

The architect Imhotep built the pyramid to house the remains of King Djoser, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh from the Third Dynasty.

It was the first building ever made of stone, and it paved the way for other pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Another tomb found in Saqqara, this one 4,400 years old, belonged to a royal purification priest who served during the reign of King Nefer-Ir-Ka-Re.

A journalist tours inside the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, on March 5, 2020.
A journalist tours inside the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt’s Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, on March 5, 2020.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that finding in 2018.

Researchers also unearthed a huge cache of animal mummies at Saqqara in November 2019.

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A feline mummy displayed after the announcement of a new discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, November 23, 2019

They found two rare mummified lion cubs, as well as mummified birds, crocodiles, cats, cobras, and an enormous mummified scarab beetle.

Ancient Egyptians mummified and buried millions of animals, often treating creatures like hawks, cats, and crocodiles with the same reverence that they would a human corpse.

The mummified lion cubs are about 2,600 years old.

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A mummy of a cat displayed after the announcement of a new discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, November 23, 2019.

The cubs were only eight months old when they were mummified. Other mummified wildcats were found alongside the two lions. 

It was the first complete mummy of a lion or lion cub ever found in Egypt, according to Waziri.

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The head of cat statue displayed after the announcement of a new discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, November 23, 2019.

The Egyptians believed animals were reincarnations of gods, so they honored them by mummifying the creatures and worshipping these animals in temples. Mummified animals could also serve as offerings to those gods.

Saqqara will likely yield even more discoveries in the coming months.

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A newly discovered sarcophagus from Saqqara, January 17, 2021.

“Actually, this morning we found another shaft,” Hawass told CBS News on Monday. “Inside the shaft we found a large limestone sarcophagus. This is the first time we’ve discovered a limestone sarcophagus inside the shafts. We found another one that we’re going to open a week from now.”

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published in September 2020.

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