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Tomb Robbers Lead Archeologists to Graves of 3 Royal Dentists

Archeologists in Egypt have uncovered the ancient tombs of three dentists close to Egypt's oldest pyramid, located just outside Cairo. The tombs were found after a group of thieves was caught digging in the area.

After the thieves were captured, archeologists decided to keep digging where they left off. Buried 10 meters under the sand, they found a burial complex for three dentists who worked in the service of the pharaoh during Egypt's Old Kingdom. Archeologists could identify the profession of the deceased as dentists by the signatory tooth under each hieroglyphic title on the tomb walls. The discovery dates the practice of dental hygiene in ancient Egypt back almost 5,000 years.

Until now, there has been only one other reference to a dentist in ancient Egypt. His name was found engraved on a tomb wall, also signed with a tooth. Egypt's director of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, says the latest discovery is important because it not only offers greater proof that dentistry was practiced in pharaonic times, it also indicates the respect the king had for those who treated him.

Hawass says the dentists' burial next to the king's pyramid indicates they were being honored for their service.

"I believe the discovery of the cemetery of the dentists is very unique," he said. "I don't think like anything like this has been found before. All of these dentists are buried together in one place. It seems like the king gave them the privilege to be buried beside him."

The discovery was made in an area known as Saqqara, which is eight kilometers outside of Cairo. It is perched high above Cairo on a desert plateau that stretches for 70 kilometers around the bustling metropolis. It is the site of Egypt's oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid.

Because of its many pyramids, Saqqara has been described as a giant necropolis. And the sands around the pyramids are believed to be teeming with artifacts. Egyptologists estimate that only 30 percent of the area has been explored.

Antiquities Inspector Ashraf Mohi El Din was part of the team that uncovered the dentists' tombs, as well as the curse on the outside door warning them not to enter.

"Down there, you can see the crocodile and the snake, and we have hieroglyphs - RIF ICH ER CHEY HER SHUT MOO," he said. "It says if you are going to enter my tomb, the crocodile will attack you, the snake with attack you. He believed the crocodiles and snakes would be the guardians of his tomb. It's like nowadays, you have a dog in your house to protect your house."

The reliefs on the tomb walls show the chief dentist had interests besides treating the pharoah. They show him and his family sailing, playing games, as well as presenting offerings to the dead.

This time of year archeologists are very busy in Egypt, and excavation of the just- discovered tombs is at top of their agenda. The archeologists hope that they will soon find other artifacts that will give them more insight into the lives of ancient Egyptians.