Catacomb With Mummies From Ancient Egypt's Roman Period Discovered in Vast Burial Ground

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient catacomb containing mummies and several other items from Egypt's Roman era at the Saqqara necropolis.

The Roman catacomb—a type of underground cemetery with a subterranean gallery—was uncovered during excavations conducted by Nozomu Kawai from Kanazawa University in Japan, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported.

The researchers say that the catacomb dates back to the 1st or 2nd century A.D., when Egypt was under Roman rule.

Egypt became a Roman province in 30 B.C. after future emperor Augustus deposed Queen Cleopatra VII and annexed the Ptolemaic Kingdom to the Roman Empire.

The territory, which encompassed most of modern-day Egypt, had a highly developed economy and was by far the wealthiest province outside of modern-day Italy. It was lost to Muslim Arabs, who completed their conquest in 646 A.D.

The catacomb was found on the eastern rock escarpment of the North Saqqara plateau, according to the archaeologists.

"This area had never been previously investigated by an archaeological mission," Kawai told Al-Ahram.

Saqqara is a vast ancient burial ground—located south of Cairo—that once served as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.

According to Kawai, the catacomb is made up of a vaulted mud-brick structure with a staircase that leads to the entrance and a long chamber cut out of fine limestone, measuring around 50 feet in length and 6.5 feet in width.

Inside this rock chamber, the team found a complete terracotta statue of Isis-Aphrodite standing at about 23 inches tall. This deity is a form of the Egyptian goddess Isis combined with the fertility aspects associated with the Greco-Roman goddess Aphrodite.

This picture taken on April 13, 2019 shows a view of the Djoser (or Zoser) step pyramid at the Saqqara necropolis. MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP via Getty Images

The team also found a stele—a stone slab used for funerary purposes in the ancient world—featuring depictions of the gods Sokar, Thoth and Anubis, as well as some Greek inscriptions. Kawai suggests that this stele had been used multiple times and that the Greek inscriptions were added at a later date.

Close to the stele, the team found five terracotta figurines of Isis-Aphrodite, several pottery vessels and a pair of limestone guardian lion statues measuring about 22 inches in height. Finally, the team said that they had identified human remains and mummies in the catacombs.

"This is the first discovery of a Roman catacomb in Saqqara," Kawai said, noting that the site displayed the marks of both Egyptian and Greco-Roman cultures.