Egyptian archaeologists uncover tomb, unopened sarcophagus

Sunday, June 16, 2002

CAIRO, Egypt -- Archaeologists have discovered what may be the oldest intact sarcophagus ever found, belonging to an overseer of workers who built the pyramids, Egypt's top archaeologist said Saturday.

The limestone sarcophagus still had its lid glued to it, which "proves that no one opened it since (about) 4,600 years ago," said Zahi Hawass, who also led the excavation.

The body of the owner is still inside, Hawass told The Associated Press. He said the sarcophagus will be opened in September.

"It may be the oldest intact sarcophagus ever found," said Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Antiquities.

The tomb yielded pieces of pottery showing that it dates back to the 4th Dynasty (2613 B.C. - 2494 B.C.), a statement from Hawass' office said. By contrast, the tomb of King Tutankhamun dates from around 1350 B.C. That tomb was found almost intact by Harold Carter in 1922.

Hieroglyphics found in a tomb recently discovered near the Giza Pyramids revealed that the name of the sarcophagus' owner was Ny-Nsw-Wsert, and that his title was "overseer of the administrative district," meaning he was in charge of the work force, Hawass said.

He said the discovery was further proof that the pyramids were built by Egyptians and not by people of a lost civilization.

The tomb where the sarcophagus was found is 1.25 miles southeast of the Sphinx in a large cemetery for the workmen who built the pyramids and tombs and temples on the Giza plateau, he said.

The overseer's tomb includes a corridor built of stone rubble and is consistent with the interior structure of the Giza Pyramids, Hawass said.

The burial chamber was carved in the rocks and has two openings, possibly to allow the soul of the deceased to communicate in and out of the chamber, the statement from Hawass' office said.

The same structure is found in the burial chamber of Cheops, also known as Khufu, of Great Pyramid fame.

The tomb includes five burial shafts -- one where the sarcophagus was found and the others believed to belong to the family of the overseer.

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