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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Queen's pyramid discovered
Madium Pyramid
The pyramid of Maidum revealed new chambers
French archaeologists have discovered the 4,000-year-old remains of an ancient queen's pyramid near Cairo.

The pyramid of Queen Ankh-sn-Pepi, wife of King Pepi I, lies in Sakkara, an ancient royal cemetery just 32 kilometres (20 miles) south of Cairo.

Archaeologists, led by Jean Leclant, found a stone in the queen's burial chamber bearing special prayers to protect the dead and ensure sustenance in the afterlife. Until this discovery, such texts had only been found in pyramids of kings. Why they were placed in the Queen's chamber remains a mystery.

The finding was one of several announced at the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists that has drawn some 1,500 archaeologists to Cairo.

Mummy hope

In another discovery, Egyptian archaeologists said they had found a painted tomb in the Western Desert. It was built by people from a 600 BC culture that exported wine to the Nile valley.

Leading Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass said he saw a burial chamber containing a four metre (13 feet) long stone coffin through a hole in a wall of the tomb.
First showing: A nurse holding four princesses
"It may be intact, and inside there is probably a wooden sarcophagus and maybe even a mummy," said Dr Hawass. "We will start excavating next week."

The tomb is in the Valley of the Golden Mummies, 344 km (215 miles) south-west of Cairo. The area made headlines last year when 105 mummies were found in a vast cemetery of Greco-Roman tombs.

Archaeologists made this latest discovery while re-excavating three other similar tombs. Ten houses built above the newly-discovered tomb were removed and Dr Hawass said the government will relocate the homes and compensate the families.

Mysterious chambers

In a third discovery announced at the conference, a joint expedition of Egyptian and French archaeologists said they had found two additional chambers and a corridor in the collapsed pyramid of Maidum. The pyramid, which lies 90 km (56 miles) south of Cairo, dates back to 2600 BC.

Dr Gaballa said the new chambers had only been viewed through an endoscope, a 30 m (99 ft) long flexible tube inserted through joints in the stones.

He said the purpose of the hidden chambers is not yet known, but they may have been built to lessen the weight on the burial chambers below.

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See also:

14 Jun 99 | Middle East
Golden mummies discovered
01 Apr 00 | Middle East
Mummies yield medical secrets
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Egypt's treasures in danger
17 Feb 00 | Middle East
Ancient sarcophagus discovered
14 Oct 99 | Middle East
Egypt unearths world's oldest stables
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