Egyptian archaeologists are searching for what they hope will be a treasure trove of tombs near the Saqqara pyramids, the early, stepped versions of ancient burial monuments. The possibility of finding the largest cemetery from the Old Kingdom was raised by the recent discovery of two tombs, revealing vivid paintings and new information about daily life in pharaonic Egypt.
The archaeologists uncovered the tomb of a royal scribe and overseer, named Shendwas, and his son. Their burial site dates back about 4,200 years to the Sixth Dynasty. The complex, double grave was built with false doors meant to foil grave robbers. They were not completely successful, with the tomb of the son ransacked long ago. But what remains has the researchers thrilled, providing details on the inner workings of the pharaonic courts.
"The tomb of his son is beautiful," said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top archaeologist. The false door shows illustrations of an offering table topped with depictions of the official in different shapes.
Archaeologists also have found artifacts in the tombs, including a small limestone obelisk - a sign of respect for the sun god Ra. There also are several alabaster and stone vessels in the shape of ducks. But Hawass said the most striking discovery are the tombs' paintings. "The color is so beautiful," he said, "showing that this could be the most colorful, beautiful tomb ever found at Saqqara."
Workers have been digging at the site, just southwest of Cairo, for three years and have uncovered six tombs. As for what else might be at the site, Hawass added, "Who knows what the sands of Egypt hide?"