A pair of 4,300-year-old pharaonic tombs discovered at Saqqara indicate that the sprawling necropolis south of Cairo is even larger than previously thought, Egypt's top archaeologist said Monday.
The rock-cut tombs were built for high officials — one responsible for the quarries used to build the nearby pyramids and another for a woman in charge of procuring entertainers for the pharaohs.
"We announce today a major, important discovery at Saqqara, the discovery of two new tombs dating back to 4,300 years ago," said Zahi Hawass, as he showed reporters around the site Monday. "The discovery of the two tombs are the beginning of a big, large cemetery."
The discovery indicates that there is even more to the vast necropolis of Saqqara, located 12 miles south of the capital, Cairo, he added.
In the past, excavations have focused on just one side of the two nearby pyramids — the Step Pyramid of King Djoser and that of Unas, the last king of the 5th Dynasty. The area where the two tombs were found, to the southwest, has been largely untouched.
"This means the royal cemetery is bigger than we thought," said Saleh Suleiman, the archaeologist responsible for the excavation of the two tombs.
Hawass, the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said excavations will continue and further finds should shed light on the 5th and 6th dynasties of the Old Kingdom, which ruled over 4,000 years ago.
One of the tombs, about a yard wide and 2.75 yards long, has a description above the entrance about the man, Yaamat, for whom it was built. The second tomb is twice the size and includes inscriptions and an image of a seated woman.
Aidan Dodson, a research fellow at the University of Bristol's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology in Bristol, England, who was not involved in the dig, said that while the tombs themselves aren't especially significant, the possibility of a much larger cemetery is.
"It shows that the blank areas of the maps of Saqqara aren't really empty at all. It's just that archaeologists haven't got round to digging them," he said.
Excavations have been going on at Saqqara for about 150 years, uncovering a vast necropolis of pyramids, tombs and funerary complexes mostly from the Old Kingdom, but including sites as recent as the Roman era.
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Times of India
EHCA Secretary General Zahi Hawas said one of the tombs belonged to Iya-Maat, who supervised the construction mission of King Unas, the last ruler of the 5th Dynasty.
Iya-Maat brought limestone from the Tura area, granite from the Aswan and red bricks or mafet from the western Desert.
He bore several titles, including "supervisor of the king's property."
The second tomb belonged to 5th Dynasty singer Thinh. A lintel at the front of the tomb is engraved with the singer's various titles, including "supervisor of all singers."
A relief showing such a singer during a performance is found on one of the tomb's walls.
Despite Unas' long rule, very little is known about him and the society where he headed. Some believe the end of his rule marked the end of the golden age of Egypt's the Old Kingdom.
Egypt State Information Service
Egypt has discovered two new tombs at the Saqqara archeological area, 30 km southwest of Cairo, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosni said Sunday 21/12/2008.
An Egyptian mission under Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass found the tombs 400 meters southwest of the Step Pyramid in Saqqara.
Hawwass said the tombs are made of limestone and engraved in rock.