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Egyptian archeologists unveil ancient burial ground near Cairo

An Egyptian worker brushed dust off a wooden coffin containing a linen-wrapped mummy near the Illahun pyramid. An Egyptian worker brushed dust off a wooden coffin containing a linen-wrapped mummy near the Illahun pyramid. (Tarek Mostafa/ Egypt Society via Reuters)
Associated Press / April 27, 2009
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ILLAHUN, Egypt - Egyptian archeologists yesterday unveiled mummies, brightly painted sarcophagi, and dozens of ancient tombs carved into a rocky hill in a desert oasis.

The 53 tombs - some as old as 4,000 years - were discovered recently on a sandy plateau overlooking farming fields in the village Illahun, in the Fayoum oasis about 50 miles southwest of Cairo.

Archeologists gave journalists a rare tour of the ancient burial site, which is next to the nearly 4-millennia-old pyramid of Pharaoh Sesostris II.

"At the beginning of the excavation I said that we may rewrite the history of the site, and I was right," said Abdel-Rahman el-Ayedi, the deputy secretary of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities who oversaw the dig.

Three slim wooden sarcophagi believed to be holding female mummies were laid out in one of the tombs.

The innermost coffins were painted to resemble the deceased using blue, yellow, rust, and black dyes.

In another tomb, workers slowly removed the lid of one inscribed with hieroglyphic prayers to reveal a colorful mummy case that Ayedi said belonged to a woman named Isis Her Ib, the daughter of one of Illahun's mayors nearly 4,000 years ago.

Not much was known about who used the ancient necropolis. Ayedi said some of the tombs were just 2,800 years old, while others were from the Middle Kingdom, which dates to 2061-1786 B.C.