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Egyptian mummies newly unearthed in tomb excavation

CAIRO - A storeroom housing about two dozen ancient Egyptian mummies has been unearthed inside a 2,600-year-old tomb during the latest round of excavations at the vast necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo, archaeologists said yesterday.

The tomb was located at the bottom of a 36-foot deep shaft, said Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass. Twenty-two mummies were found in niches along the tomb's walls, he said.

Eight sarcophagi were also found in the tomb. Archaeologists so far have opened only one of the sarcophagi - and found a mummy inside it, said Hawass' assistant Abdel Hakim Karar. Mummies are believed to be inside the other seven, he said.

The "storeroom for mummies" dates to 640 B.C. during the 26th Dynasty, which was Egypt's last independent kingdom before it was overthrown by a succession of foreign conquerors beginning with the Persians, Hawass said. But the tomb was discovered at an even older site in Saqqara dating to the 4,300-year-old 6th Dynasty, he said.

Most of the mummies are poorly preserved, and archeologists have yet to determine their identities or why so many were put in one room.

The name Badi N Huri was engraved into the opened sarcophagus, but the wooden coffin did not bear a title for the mummy. "This one might have been an important figure, but I can't tell because there was no title," Karar said. Karar also said it was unusual for mummies of this late period to be stored in rocky niches.

Excavations have been going on at Saqqara for 150 years. The area where the current tomb was found, to the southwest, has been largely untouched by archeologists. According to Hawass, only 30 percent of Egypt's monuments have been uncovered.

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