CAIRO Archaeologists have unearthed the intact sarcophagus of Egypt's Queen Behenu inside her 4,000-year-old burial chamber near her pyramid in Saqqara, chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass announced Wednesday.
The Old Kingdom queen's chamber was badly damaged except for two inner walls covered with spells meant to help her travel to the afterlife, he said in a statement.
Ancient Egyptians believed that the souls of royalty could fly to heaven, or alternatively use stairs, ramps and ladders with the help of religious spells.
Such engraved spells, known as Pyramids Texts, were common in royal tombs during the 5th and 6th Dynasties, Hawass said.
"Pyramid Texts were first discovered inside the burial chamber of King Unas's pyramid at Saqqara, the last king of the 5th Dynasty," he added.
The well-known necropolis of Saqqara, 30 km (20 miles) south of Cairo, served the nearby city of Memphis and was scoured in ancient times by thieves.
The 5th Dynasty is generally understood to have lasted from 2465 to 2323 BC, while the 6th Dynasty ran from 2323 to 2150 BC. The Old Kingdom collapsed soon after, amid famine and social upheaval and a breakdown in centralized power.
Philippe Collombert, who headed the French mission that excavated Behenu's remains, said the team found her sarcophagus within the sprawling necropolis of Pepi I at Saqqara.
"It is a well-preserved granite sarcophagus engraved with the queen's different titles, but says nothing about the identity of her husband," Collombert said.
Archaeologists are unsure whether Behenu was the wife of Pepi I or Pepi II, both 6th Dynasty rulers.
Behenu's 25-meter-long pyramid was discovered in 2007 along with seven queen pyramids belonging to Inenek, Nubunet, Meretites II, Ankhespepy III, Miha, and an unidentified queen.
The state news agency MENA also reported Wednesday that Egypt had received 25,000 artifacts from London, some of which have been on display in the British Museum for more than a century. It said the artifacts would be stored in a museum in Egypt, but did not specify whether they had been sent to Egypt permanently, or on loan.
(Writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Dominic Evans)