Egypt’s antiquities ministry says it has found a necropolis with as many as 30 intact mummies near the southern city of Minya, the first such find in the area.
The discovery was made in the village of Tuna al-Gabal, a vast archaeological site on the edge of the western desert. The area hosts necropolises mainly for animals and birds.
The ministry said they belonged to the Late Period, which spanned almost 300 years up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC.
But a spokeswoman said they could also date from the Ptolemaic Dynasty, founded by Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy.
Archeologists believe that it is the first time to unearth a burial tomb with that number of mummies for ordinary people and in catacombs style. Inside the catacomb, Khaled Anani, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities referred to the gaps inside the catacombs saying “The more we drill the more we find.”
The Telegraph was given access to the tomb. Four wells of eight meters deep were unearthed, which lead to catacombs where mummies of men, women and children are laid in good shape.
In one chamber inside the tunnels, human bones and skulls are piled. Most of the mummies were laid in lines in both of its sides. While some them were left in plain stone and wooden sarcophagi, others were piled on top of each other.
“The excavation did not end yet, it’s in the beginning” Mr Anani said, adding that archaeologists expected to find many more.
Egyptologist Salah al-Kholi told a news conference held near the desert site that the discovery was “the first human necropolis found in central Egypt with so many mummies”.The discovery was “important, unprecedented,” Mohamed Hamza, director of excavations for Cairo University said.
The site is close to an ancient animal cemetery.
It was the second discovery of mummies announced with much fanfare by the government in less than a month.
In April, the ministry invited reporters to the southern city of Luxor to unveil eight mummies discovered in a 3,500-year-old tomb belonging to a nobleman.
For the cash-strapped Egyptian government, the discoveries are a boon from the country’s glorious past as it struggles to attract tourists scared off by a series of Islamist militant attacks.
“Antiquities are the soft power that distinguishes Egypt,” Enany said. “News of antiquities are the things that attract the world to Egypt.”
Millions of tourists visited Egypt every year to see its Giza Pyramids – the only surviving monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – and its ancient pharaonic temples and relics.
But a popular uprising in 2011 that overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak ushered in years of unrest that battered the economy and drove away tourists.
Egypt is trying to send message that it its heritage sites are safe, despite terrorist attacks elsewhere in the country.
Mr Anani said that he wanted to send the message that while monuments are looted and destroyed in other Middle Eastern countries, Egypt is restoring and excavating its heritage.
“I believe and trust that the most interesting things, which will bring the entire world’s attention to Egypt and improve its image is any news related to antiquities,” Mr Anani said. “Antiquities is soft power, which distinguishes Egypt.”