Life of Adventure – Opening one of the Sarcophagi discovered at Gisr el-Muder, Saqqara

Nothing keeps Dr Zahi Hawass awake at night quite like the prospect of being the first person to lay eyes on a millennia-dead Egyptian mummy. I could not sleep with thinking about it all the time, he reveals at the start of Heritage Keys latest fantastic video by Nico Piazza, documenting the opening of an intact tomb at Saqqara. Thinking about the moment that I will come down, he continues, about 11 metres, and begin to open a sealed sarcophagus that no one ever touched since 2,600 years ago.

The camera pans across creepy piles of heavily decayed human bones lying in corners the latest intact tomb located at the massive necropolis of Egypts ancient capital Memphis, located 40 kilometres south of Cairo, is evidently one rich in human remains. The unidentified body found lying inside a giant limestone sarcophagus is the prize of them all.

As the coffin is cracked open in front of the expectantly onlooking media, Dr Hawasss excitement is palpable. Besides a fascinating look at ancient Egyptian burial practices, in this video we also get a revealing insight into the love of archaeology that drives the Director General of Egypts Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), as he gives one of his most revealing interviews yet. You can also purchase Dr Hawass’s book Life in Paradise: The Lost Tombs of Thebes which reveals the magnificent hidden tombs in the Theban complex, of which you can get a glimpse in a Heritage Key video with Dr Hawass and Dr Janice Kamrin (Watch the Video).

The contents of one of the niches inside the Saqqara tomb. Image credit - Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Life of Adventure

If you think a brown fedora is all that Dr Hawass has in common with fictions most famous archaeologist, think again at the start of the video we see him getting lowered into the tomb, which lies not far from King Djosers iconic Step Pyramid, at the end of a rope Indiana Jones-style. There’s not a stunt man in sight.

I came here about three days ago and I opened one coffin and I saw the sealed limestone sarcophagus, he describes, as workers hurriedly chip away at the seal of the sarcophagus in the background. Its size, material and quality give some firm clues as to the wealth and social standing of the individual buried inside. How can you afford to cut a limestone sarcophagus from Tora, which is located at the east of the Nile? Hawass ponders. Because this is very expensive.

Okay, Ready?

Dr Zahi Hawass next to one the newly opened sarcophagi in the Saqqara tomb. Image credit - Supreme Council of Antiquities.Okay, ready? barks Hawass, and the lid is finally lifted. As the first section is removed, its possible to appreciate just how thick and robustly made ancient Egyptian sarcophagi were the lid must be at least 30 or 40 centimetres thick. Once the sarcophagus is opened, Hawass squats down beside it and examines the smooth, almost perfectly embalmed mummy laid neatly inside.

When you open something like this, he confesses quite plainly, in a statement that perhaps hints at why the SCA maintain such a tight control over investigating major archaeological discoveries in Egypt, its so exciting, you have to do it by yourself to feel that.

Hawass tells the assembled camera crews and reporters that they next plan to put the mummy under an X-ray machine (a technique they’ve used on many mummies, including famous ones such as King Tut), which can on occasion expose them to be stuffed with amulets. Sometimes there could be 100 hundred pieces of gold and amulets, Hawass reveals, they put it inside and this can help the deceased to go safely to the afterlife.

A Beautiful Moment

There are 30 different mummies in the tomb in total. Most of the people buried here evidently werent as rich as the individual in the splendid coffin. Were shown four bodies in a corner, embalmed but otherwise simply laid on the floor, side by side. One has been buried next to his dog pets, as we learned in a fascinating interview with Dr Salima Ikram were so sacred to Egyptians they were very often mummified too. Next to another body is the smaller corpse of a child.

It is a beautiful moment in my life, Dr Hawass concludes, rather tenderly, of the experience of finding and investigating this wonderful intact grave at Saqqara. After the credits, another brief snippet of interview reveals why it was so special for the SCA chief. When the workmen were moving the lid, I put my eyes inside and was looking at the unknown! Hawass beams. And when I saw the mummy in that beautiful condition, I was so happy. It is something with a passion. The passion that I have for archaeology.

HD Video: The Discovery of an Intact Tomb at Saqqara (ft. Dr. Hawass)

(Click here to read a transcript of this video)

If you enjoyed this frank chat with Dr Hawass, there are many, many more videos featuring the man bringing the denim shirt back into fashion with a vengeance on our video page. Hes recently been giving us the low-down on such fascinating topics as why Tutankhamuns tomb escaped major robbery, the legendary curse of King Tut, and exploring the famous Step Pyramid Egypts Stairway to Heaven. There are loads more video interviews with Hawass and other top heritage experts besides arriving on the site all the time, including a tour by the 8th Countess of Carnarvon of the wall paintings of the Tomb of King Tutankhamun (Watch the video) sign up to our RSS feed and youll be the first to hear about them.