About 30 Egyptian mummies found in ancient cache

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian archaeologists have found about 30 mummies and at least one unopened sarcophagus in a burial chamber about 4,300 years old, the government said in a statement on Monday.

They found the chamber in the desert on the western side of the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, one of the earliest large stone structures in the world, dating from about 2,650 BC.

The mummies appear to vary in age. One dates from about 640 BC while the unopened sarcophagus, which is made of limestone and sealed with plaster, is probably much older.

“We think it is Old Kingdom, maybe Fifth Dynasty,” archaeologist Abdel Hakim Karar told Reuters. The Fifth Dynasty ruled Egypt from about 2,494 BC to 2,345 BC.

It is unusual to find intact burials in well-known necropolises such as Saqqara, which served the nearby city of Memphis, because thieves scoured the area in ancient times.

The archaeologists expect to open it later this week and they may find amulets among the mummy wrappings.

The statement said another sarcophagus, made of wood, had not been opened since pharaohnic times but Karar said ancient grave robbers probably reached it first.

Inside it , the archaeologists found the complete mummy of a man called Badi Enhery, according to the inscriptions on the sarcophagus, Karar said.

Most of the mummies were in niches in the walls of the chamber, which is about 11 meters (34 feet) below ground level.

Writing by Jonathan Wright; Editing by Janet Lawrence