Archaeologists open ancient Egyptian sarcophagus on live TV

Live-streamed sarcophagus opening reveals the ancient remains of Egyptian high priest wrapped in linen and surrounded by gold, in network of tombs containing 40 MUMMIES from the ‘noble elite’

  • Discovery Channel’s ‘Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live’ aired a live sarcophagus opening from Minya, Egypt
  • The mummy was one of roughly 40 recently found inside a network of tombs and tunnels at the site
  • Experts say the mummy was that of a high priest of Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and magic 

A sarcophagus containing an Egyptian high priest was opened on live TV Sunday during a special two-hour broadcast by the American channel Discovery.

‘Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live’ aired from the site outside Minya, which is along the Nile River south of Cairo and its Giza pyramids.

Archaeologists recently discovered a network of vertical shafts at the site which led to tunnels and tombs containing 40 mummies ‘believed to be part of the noble elite.’

After exploring other tombs — finding artifacts like statues, amulets, canopic jars used to store organs, and other mummies including one that had decomposed to a skeleton — they crawled to the chamber containing the intricately carved sarcophagus.

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An archaeologist brushes a newly-discovered mummy laid inside a sarcophagus, part of a collection found in burial chambers dating to the Ptolemaic era (323-30 BC) in February 2019

The buried priest was found with a massive gold cross laid over the body, as seen above. It’s thought mummy was that of a high priest of Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and magic, and dated to Ancient Egypt’s 26th dynasty — the last native dynasty to rule until 525 BC

It took the strength of several people to open.

And the team’s efforts had not gone to waste: inside was a pristinely linen-wrapped mummy surrounded by treasure including gold.

‘I can’t believe this, this is incredible,’ exclaimed Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist and former antiquities minister, who had taken charge of the expedition with American explorer Josh Gates as the host of the broadcast.

A Discovery spokesman previously told AFP that the project was set up in collaboration with Egypt’s antiquities ministry.

Gates said the mummy was that of a high priest of Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and magic, and dated to Ancient Egypt’s 26th dynasty — the last native dynasty to rule until 525 BC.

‘Toward the end of Ancient Egypt, the power really was with the high priests and you can see this… almost feels like a royal burial,’ Gates said.

Cairo has sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism hit by turmoil after the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Asked by AFP about a possible financial deal between the channel and the Egyptian state for permission to film and open the grave, the spokesman for Discovery refused to comment.

‘It’s a media spectacle in the end — but it could make people love antiquities and is a good promotional opportunity for tourism, if done right,’ an Egyptian archaeologist who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

However, she asked: ‘If money is being paid by a major channel to the ministry to show antiquities, where is it going to end up?’

‘Will it go in the state’s purse-strings or end up elsewhere? We need more transparency on where the money is going.’

 A Discovery spokesman previously told AFP that the project was set up in collaboration with Egypt’s antiquities ministry. Dozens of mummies are contained within the tombs, such as those seen above

Cairo has sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism hit by turmoil after the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has overseen a crackdown on dissent, banning protests and jailing Islamists as well as liberal and secular activists.

He regularly evokes political stability to draw foreign investment.

The tourism sector has begun to return, with arrivals reaching 8.3 million in 2017, according to government figures.

That still falls far short of the 14.7 million in 2010.

Discovery’s broadcast also comes with global interest in Egyptian archaeology generated by a ‘once in a generation’ exhibition about the pharaoh Tutankhamun, which opened in Paris last month and will tour the world.

WHAT IS EGYPT’S VALLEY OF THE KINGS?

The Valley of the Kings in upper Egypt is one of the country’s main tourist attractions and is the famous burial ground of many deceased pharaohs.

It is located near the ancient city of Luxor on the banks of the river Nile in eastern Egypt – 300 miles (500km) away from the pyramids of Giza, near Cairo.

The majority of the pharaohs of the 18th to 20th dynasties, who ruled from 1550 to 1069 BC, rested in the tombs which were cut into the local rock.

The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period.

The majority of the pharaohs of the 18th to 20th dynasties, who ruled from 1550 to 1069 BC, rested in the tombs which were cut into the local rock. Pictured are statues of goddesses at the site

Almost all of the tombs were opened and looted centuries ago, but the sites still give an idea of the opulence and power of the Pharaohs.

The most famous pharaoh at the site is Tutankhamun, whose tomb was discovered in 1922.

Preserved to this day, in the tomb are original decorations of sacred imagery from, among others, the Book of Gates or the Book of Caverns.

These are among the most important funeral texts found on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.

The Valley of the Kings in upper Egypt is one of the country’s main tourist attractions. The most famous pharaoh at the site is Tutankhamun, whose tomb was discovered in 1922

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