Category: World / November 14, 2012 5:31 PM EST
A team of Czech and Egyptian archaeologists are continuing to excavate a recently discovered tomb complex that includes the tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess from the Old Kingdom.
The excavations have yielded a treasure trove of statues that archaeologists say are some of the finest examples of their kind.
The findings were made near the Abu Sir necropolis in Saqqara, a burial site for high officials of the Old Kingdom, when the Egyptian capital was still located in Memphis.
The famous Saqqara 'step' pyramids were built as tombs for members of ancient Egyptian royalty.
Last week the 4,500-year-old tomb of princess Shert Nebti was unveiled, and archaeologists excavating the site say that her tomb and three others discovered nearby, are some of the most significant finds in recent years.
Miroslav Barta, a Czech archaeologist heading the mission, said that it is apparent from inscriptions on the four pillars in the temple courtyard, that Sherit Nebti was royalty.
"Right now we are standing in the centre of this fascinating cemetery which is 45 centuries old. All the monuments around us developed during the fifth dynasty and belonged to several powerful families. One of the leading persons that was buried here is the princess Sherit Nebti. The excavation is not finished yet but still what we have at the moment is this unique pillared courtyard, which contains four pillars which were originally roofed, and inscriptions which say that Sherit Nebti,' the nose of two ladies', belonged to a royal family, a royal family of the kings that were buried northward in the pyramid field of Abu Sir," he said.
Barta said that hieroglyphs on the four pillars in the temple courtyard indicate that Sherit Nebti was the daughter of King Men Salbo.
Another notable temple at the site belonged to a high official named Nefer or 'the Beautiful One'. One of the most impressive finds in Nefer's tomb is a well-preserved passage that archaeologists say served as a gateway to the Underworld.
The doorway, with its still vivid painted hieroglyphs, was a kind of 'passport' to the underworld, which contains the name and titles of Nefer.
During feast times, says Czech archaeologist Barta, Nefer would cross back into the land of the living to participate in the offerings, and then return to the land of the dead.
The chief inspector for Northern Saqqara, Hamdi Amin, says that there are still countless discoveries waiting to be made in Abu Sir.
"We have a lot of treasure we find this season, nine statues, intact ones, limestones, good preserved colour, intact colours. Now they are situated in the magazines [storehouses] of Saqqara. Here we have a very big site for a new area. Abu Sir, we considered it to be a virgin area which is still keeping a lot of secrets," he said.
Egypt's antiquities authorities say that four sarcophagi have been excavated from the site, and that a series of highly detailed and finely preserved statues have now been moved from the tomb to nearby storehouses.
"The statues are important for two principle reasons - one of them is the mastery of their execution and the second important thing is that they represent a very huge new corpus of Old Kingdom unique statuary," says Barta.
Egypt's tourism industry has suffered a serious downturn since the revolution that toppled long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
But the country's antiquities authorities are hoping that spectacular discoveries like Princess Sherit Nebti's tomb may remind holiday-goers of the country's impressive, and still unfolding heritage.