Archaeology news: ‘Heart stopping moment’ as archaeologists open Egyptian sarcophagus

tomb Tue, Feb. 18, 2020
ARCHAEOLOGISTS experienced a "heart stopping moment" as they opened up a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus belonging to an ancient Egyptian priest.

Researchers from Harvard University made a stunning find as they gently prised open the 3,000 year old coffin of Ankh-khonsu, a doorkeeper in the Temple of Amun-Ra. Inside the coffin was a well preserved painting of the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra-Horakhty, partially obscured by a thick, tar-like coating.

Peter Der Manuelian, Barbara Bell Professor of Egyptology and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, said it “was a heart sopping moment” when experts made the surprise discovery.

The body of Ankh-khonsu was first removed around 100 years ago when the sarcophagus was sent from the Temple of Amun-Ra, located in Luxor, Egypt, to Cambridge.

However, the coffin was resealed soon after and, for reasons unknown, “there was no modern documentation of the coffin’s interior, so we had no idea what to expect, plain wood or an exquisitely painted deity staring back at us”, Prof Der Manuelian said.

He added: “It turned out to be the latter, hiding somewhat beneath a layer of resinous material used in the funeral process.”

Despite the painting being partially covered, it remained in tact with the experts examining the piece able to make it out.

It was a yellow, orange, and blue painting with hieroglyphs that read “Ra-Horakhty, the great God, Lord of Heaven” next to the figure.

Jane Piechota, who works with the Semitic Museum and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, said: “It’s an honour to work on these artefacts up close, and unusual to be able to touch something so old and containing so much history.”

Due to the ancient nature of the coffin, scientists had to be extremely careful when opening the sarcophagus.

Dennis Piechota, also of the Semitic Museum and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, said: “Turning over the coffins is petrifying! They’re heavy, and if we don’t handle them carefully they can be easily damaged.

“Once the lid came off, we looked inside at the construction of the sides and bottom of each coffin. We inspected the joints that keep the wooden pieces together, to make sure they would stay together as we turned them.”

Just last month, scientists were able to recreate the voice of an Egyptian priest who has been dead for 3,000 years.

By 3D printing an electronic larynx which is an exact replica of the mummified priest, experts have been able to recreate the voice of a person who has been dead for 3,000 years.

A team from Royal Holloway, University of London, Leeds Museum and the University of York placed the mummified remains of Nesyamun inside a Computed Tomography (CT) scanning machine to analyse whether the structure of the larynx had remained intact.

To their delight, a large part of the larynx of mummy, who is stored at the Leeds Museum, was almost perfectly preserved, allowing them to 3D print the vocal tract.

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