Egypt: How 90-tonne coffin was blown open exposing something ‘like nothing before’

The tomb was found in the vast, ancient burial ground of Saqqara more than a century ago, but details are still coming to light thanks to a new series. Bettany Hughes revealed during Channel 5’s “Egypt’s Greatest Treasures” how archaeologist Auguste Mariette uncovered the Serapeum of Saqqara close to the Pyramid of Djoser. The site dates back to the reign of Amenhotep III, the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty – in around 1350 BC.

In 1850, Mr Mariette found the head of a sphinx sticking out of the shifting desert dunes, cleared the sand and followed the boulevard to the site. 

After paving his way through a series of tunnels, Mr Mariette found one undisturbed tomb, and Dr Hughes took viewers to see it in all its glory earlier this month.

She said: “There are hundreds of metres of tunnels built to create something incredible.

“This is an underground palace and it’s no ordinary palace, this is a palace of the dead.

The archaeologists had never seen anything like this before

Bettany Hughes

“What you are looking at here is the most enormous coffin. 

“It’s made of solid granite and, together, this weighs around 90 tonnes.

“So you have to ask yourself, ‘what creature would be buried in something like this?’”

Dr Hughes went on to explain how researchers discovered something bizarre.

She added: “The archaeologists had never seen anything like this before and were desperate to find out what was hiding inside.

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“All of the coffins had been robbed, but then they realised there was just one intact. 

“The team used dynamite to open it up and what they discovered inside was a massive mummified bull.

“They realised that the ancient Egyptians had built these huge coffins and this entire site has an underground cemetery for enormous, prized bulls.”

Dr Hughes revealed how the colossal animals were a central part of ancient Egypt.

She added: “The bulls were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians who thought that they were supernatural beings with magical powers. 

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While alive, each bull was treated to a five-star lifestyle.

“It was given a special diet and even had its own harem of cows and in death, it was buried with all the pomp and circumstance of a pharaoh.

“In total there are 24 of these monstrous stone coffins, just think of the superhuman effort to get them down here.

“And with only a fraction of Saqqara’s City of the Dead excavated so far, who knows what might be discovered next.”

During the same series, Dr Hughes also explained how the body of Ramses III was recently put through a CT scan, revealing some shocking details about his death.

“Doctor Ahmed Samir explained to viewers how medical imaging exposed the real truth in a discovery that stunned scientists in March 2016.

He said: “After we made a CT scan around his neck, we found bandages as you can see here. 

We didn’t know why the bandages are a little bit thicker than the other bandages.

“After we made the CT scan we found that he had been assassinated by cutting his throat.

“He could not survive it because it’s big enough to cut the neck and to make the King die within a few minutes.

“This is a very amazing kind after 3,000 years, we revealed the secret bout which way he had been assassinated.”

Watch Egypt’s Greatest Treasures with Bettany Hughes on My5

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