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Sunday, March 1, 1998 Published at 03:43 GMT

World: Middle East

Lifting the lid on a rare mummy
image: [ The mummy was in a casket inside this giant 20-tonne sarcophagus ]
The mummy was in a casket inside this giant 20-tonne sarcophagus

Archaeologists have found the mummy of a palace priest in an underground tomb in Egypt.

The remains, which were recovered from a sarcophagus, have lain undisturbed for more than 2,400 years.

The mummy was found in what is one of only three tombs from the time of the Pharaohs to be unearthed intact in the modern era. The discovery was made inside a shaft extending about 28 meters (92 feet) into the ground.

[ image: A 3-tonne lid had to be lifted to reveal the mummy's inner casket]
A 3-tonne lid had to be lifted to reveal the mummy's inner casket
The tomb in Abu Sir, 12 miles (20 km) south of Cairo, is believed to date from between 525 BC and 404 BC.

Dignitaries and journalists gathered on Friday to see the lid lifted off the limestone sarcophagus with a hoist.

That revealed a smaller basalt sarcophagus, which contained a decayed wooden coffin.

Miroslav Verner of the Czech Institute for Egyptology says work is only beginning (0'20")
The mummy was wrapped in decayed, brown rags. Facial features could be seen, including what appeared to be a grimace.

Faruq Hosni, the Egyptian Minister for Culture, said that according to inscriptions found in the tomb, the casket contained the mummified remains of Iuf-Aa - "a priest with administrative responsibilities" and "the head of the royal court"

"Objects of worship had been placed with the corpse to protect it from evil spirits," Mr Hosni said.

Zawi Hawass, head of the Giza pyramids says Egypt's sands hold many mysteries (0'23")
Littered around the sarcophagus were 408 statuettes to assist the priest in the afterlife, and canopic jars containing the dead man's intestines. They have been left in their place since the desert tomb was opened in 1996.

The tomb has been kept shut since then because it was deemed structurally unsound.

[ image: Grave robbers raided almost every ancient Eyptian tomb.]
Grave robbers raided almost every ancient Eyptian tomb.
Architects worked for months to brace the walls and ceiling to prevent the possibility of a collapse. They also installed stairs and ventilation ducts, and covered the walls to preserve the still-vivid paintings.

Unlike the famous Tutankhamen' tomb, which was discovered unopened in 1922, there were no treasures unearthed.

But archaeologists said the new tomb is significant because it provides information on burial practices and religious beliefs in the early Persian period of Egyptian history - a time about which historians still know very little.

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