The Japan Times
April 4, 2000

Queen's pyramid found in Egypt

Written prayers also discovered in 4,000-year-old tomb

CAIRO (AP) French archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 4,000-year-old queen's pyramid south of Cairo, complete with texts of special prayers previously found only with kings.

The finding was one of several announced at the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists, a weeklong conference that was to end Monday and drew about 1,500 archaeologists to Cairo.

The French team, led by Jean Leclant, uncovered the foundation stones March 25 in Saqqara, an ancient royal cemetery about 30 km south of Cairo. The pyramid belonged to Queen Ankh-Pepi, the wife of King Pepi I.

The archaeologists dug into the queen's burial chamber and found a stone bearing pyramid texts, or special prayers to protect the dead and ensure sustenance in the afterlife. Until this discovery, such texts had been located only in the pyramids of kings. It is not known why they were in the queen's burial chamber.

"Who knows what else they may find?" said Gaballa Ali Gaballa, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. The team will work at the site, one of the nation's largest excavation locations, until the end of May.

In another discovery, Egyptian archaeologists said they found a painted tomb in the western desert from a 600 B.C. culture that exported wine to the Nile Valley.

Leading Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who is chairing the congress, said that through a hole in a wall of the tomb, he saw a burial chamber containing a stone coffin. It was roughly 4 meters by 2 meters.

"It may be intact, and inside there is likely a wooden sarcophagus and maybe even a mummy," Hawass said Sunday. "We will start excavating next week."

The tomb is in the so-called Valley of the Golden Mummies in the Bahariya oasis village of Bawiti, 350 km southwest of Cairo.

Archaeologists made the discovery while re-excavating three similar tombs that had been found in the village, Hawass said. Ten houses built above the fourth tomb were removed, and Hawass said the government will relocate the homes and compensate the families.

The oasis made headlines last year when 105 mummies were found during the excavation of a vast cemetery of Greco-Roman tombs.

In a third discovery announced at the conference, a joint expedition of Egyptian and French archaeologists said they found two additional chambers and a corridor in the collapsed pyramid of Maidum. Those ruins, about 90 km south of Cairo, date to about 2600 BC.

MAIDUM, Egypt - Farmers and a donkey pass the pyramid of Maidum on Saturday. Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a French archaeology team announced the discovery of two new chambers and a corridor within the pyramid. AP PHOTO