egypt tomb
© Amr Nabil / AP
Saeed Abdel Aal, an excavation worker, stands at the recently uncovered tomb of the Priest royal Purification during the reign of King Nefer Ir-Ka-Re, named "Wahtye," at the site of the step pyramid of Saqqara, in Giza, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.
The stunning tomb displays clues to the life of a royal official, with more discoveries likely.

During Egypt's pyramid age, a well-connected man named Wahtye died and was laid to rest in the vast royal cemetery that now occupies the desert west of modern Cairo. His colorfully decorated tomb, apparently intact, has recently come to light some 16 feet (five meters) beneath the sand at the archaeological site known as Saqqara.


Comment: Rome also had to be excavated from massive layers of dirt buried.


This burial is "one of a kind in the last decades," said Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, at a press conference that announced the discovery earlier today. "The color is almost intact even though the tomb is almost 4,400 years old."

egypt tomb
© Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
The deceased, a priest named Wahtye, sits at an offering table with his wife in a relief from his tomb.
The tomb owner served King Neferirkare, who ruled during the Old Kingdom's fifth dynasty. In addition to the name of the deceased, hieroglyphs carved into the stone above the tomb's door reveal his titles: royal purification priest, royal supervisor, and inspector of the sacred boat.

The grave's rectangular gallery-measuring 33 feet (10 meters) wide north to south, 10 feet (three meters) east to west, and about ten feet tall-is covered in painted reliefs, sculptures, and inscriptions, all in remarkably good shape after so many centuries.

The reliefs depict Wahtye himself, his wife, Weret Ptah, and his mother, Merit Meen, as well as everyday scenes that include hunting, sailing, making offerings, and manufacturing goods such as pottery and funerary furniture. Large painted statues of the priest and his family fill 18 niches, while 26 smaller niches near the floor hold statues of an as yet unidentified person either standing or seated with legs crossed, as a scribe.
egypt tomb
© Amr Nabil, AP
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, shows off the small statues in niches that appear at the base of a wall.
egypt tomb
© Amr Nabil, AP
Niches in the tomb hold statues of the priest as well as his family.
The team of Egyptian archaeologists working here found five shafts in the tomb. One was open and held nothing inside, but the others are sealed-a situation that offers exciting possibilities. Work on the sealed shafts could begin as early as tomorrow, according to news reports.

"This shaft should lead to a coffin or a sarcophagus of the owner of the tomb," said Waziri, indicating his best guess for the location of finds to come. Other shafts might hold the grave goods of the deceased.

The high priest's tomb lies along a ridge that has been only partly excavated. Even more discoveries may turn up when digging resumes there in January.
egypt tomb
© Amr Nabil, AP
An Egyptian team, including head worker Mustafa Abdo, uncovered this finely decorated tomb of a priest.
egypt tomb
© Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
Painted reliefs on the walls of the tomb include these scenes of workers carrying out a variety of everyday tasks during the life of the deceased.