While the massive new Grand Egyptian Museum, under construction in Cairo since 2012, is not scheduled to open to the public until next year, a number of intriguing archaeological finds from ancient Egypt have made headlines in recent weeks. Archaeologists discovered the latest one—a carved stone relief, or cartouche, bearing the name of the last native Egyptian pharaoh, King Nectanebo II—underneath a home in Abydos, one of Egypt’s oldest and most sacred cities.
When members of Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police showed up recently at an old house in the Beni Mansour area of the city of Abydos, they caught the house’s owner and some accomplices in the middle of conducting an illegal excavation. After police confiscated the property pending an investigation, a team of archaeologists discovered a carved stone relief, or cartouche, partially submerged in water beneath the house.
Inscribed on the cartouche was the name of the late 30th Dynasty pharaoh King Nectanebo II, who ruled from 360-342 B.C. The last native-born ruler of ancient Egypt, Nectanebo II was known for the ambitious building projects he undertook in Abydos during his reign, including temples to the Egyptian gods Isis and Amun. Hani Abul Azm, the head of the Central Administration for Antiquities of Upper Egypt, told Ahram Online that the cartouche could have been part of a shrine built to King Nectanebo II, or a wall built as an extension of his temple.
The discovery in Abydos comes on the heels of an even more stunning find in the city of Minya, in the Nile Valley. As announced by the Egyptian antiquities ministry last weekend, archaeologists working near the village of Tuna al-Gabal unearthed a necropolis housing at least 17 mummies. Though the site is known for housing a large animal necropolis, tombs and a funerary complex, this was the first human necropolis to be found there, Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said in a press conference.
According to the ministry, the newly found necropolis also dates back to the late period of ancient Egypt, or the 300 years leading up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 B.C. The mummies found inside did not appear to be royals, but the elaborate nature of their burial preparation suggests they may have been priests or officials.
Before these two most recent finds, other notable discoveries in Egypt this spring have included an almost intact funerary collection found in a tomb near the Draa Abul Nagaa necropolis on Luxor’s west bank. Believed to be around 3,500 years old, the eight mummies and other artifacts in the collection have been linked to Userhat, a nobleman who served as chancellor of Thebes during the 18th Dynasty,
Egypt is currently working to revive the tourism sector of its economy, which has suffered in the six years since a revolutionary uprising in 2011 sparked a period of political turmoil. Work on the Grand Egyptian Museum on the outskirts of Cairo, a major part of this effort, began in 2012 after a decade of planning. At nearly 650,000 square feet, it will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization—albeit one that stretched over nearly 3,000 years and produced some of the world’s most impressive artifacts and structures.
According to a report by NPR late last year, the cost of the Grand Egyptian Museum has doubled since the start of construction (to almost $1 billion), and Japan is lending Egypt most of the money for the project. The museum hopes to draw at least 10,000 visitors a day, some five times as those who now visit the famous Egyptian Museum, located in Tahrir Square in central Cairo.
The Grand Egyptian Museum’s partial opening in 2018 will reportedly showcase the iconic mummy of King Tutankhamun and his famously luxurious burial chamber in their entirety for the first time. In fact, as Daily News Egypt reported, a team of Grand Museum workers was at the Egyptian Museum just this week, packing up one of three gold funerary beds built for Tutankhamun for transport to its permanent home.