Copyright © 1997 - 2001 Macquarie University
Original location:

Six new Egyptian tombs discovered by Macquarie archaeologists

Archaeologists from the Australian Centre for Egyptology at Macquarie University have discovered six previously unknown tombs – dating back to 3000 BC – at the ancient cemetery of Helwan on the southern outskirts of modern Cairo.

knifeThis 100 ha site is regarded as the necropolis of Egypt’s first capital city, Memphis, and the six new tombs discovered there over the Australian summer (2000/2001) were built hundreds of years before the Pyramids.

“In Egypt today, discovering unexcavated tombs of such an early date is very rare. After four years of tough fieldwork we have finally hit pay dirt.” project director Dr Christiana Kohler said.

Amongst the six new tombs to have been excavated is that of a mature female who was buried in a large wooden chest. The richness and number of her grave goods suggest that she was a wealthy matron of early Memphis.

Dr Kohler said the most significant discovery was an intact 30 centimetre long flint knife.

“Very few of these beautifully crafted knives have survived, and its presence helps us to date this tomb to the First Dynasty of the Kings of the ancient Egyptian state.” (A photograph of Dr Kohler holding this flint knife is available on request).

Another tomb discovered contained the well-preserved skeleton of a young female who was aged between 16 and 18 years when she died. In the simple wooden coffin her family had placed small calcite juglets, jars and bowls for scented oils and cosmetics as well as an ivory spoon and bone spatula in the belief that she would want to apply make-up and be well groomed in the afterlife.

Why she died so young remains a mystery, but her bones will be studied by a physical anthropologist next season for clues to the cause of death.

These two new tombs and three others are located around or underneath a much larger tomb of 10 by 17 metres which was also found in the 2000/2001 season. Its full exploration also awaits the next field season.

After finishing the on-site work in late January this year, Dr Kohler and her team of Macquarie students and Egyptologists worked for a month in the Egyptian Museum (Cairo) where they drew and photographed around two hundred pieces of jewellery originally from Helwan.

This museum work is part of the on-going efforts of Dr Kohler to analyse, photograph and draw for the first time the several thousand objects that were found in the 1940’s and 1950’s by the first excavator of the Early Dynastic cemetery at Helwan, Egyptian archaeologist Zaki Saad.

Dr Kohler believes that the careful study of these finds, combined with continuing excavations on-site will allow a detailed picture of early Memphis’s social structure, funerary customs and history to be developed.

For further information, contact:
Christiana Kohler  phone: 9850 8851
email address:

Any enquires from the media should be directed to:
Charmaine Newton  phone: 9850 9658
email address:

Back to the front page

Text Only Version
Copyright © 1997 - 2001 Macquarie University

a) The Early Dynastic Cemetery. The first and second archaeological field seasons at the early Dynastic cemetery site of Helwan took place in 1997 and 1998. Work was conducted in four operations and included the excavation of seven tombs, two of which in Operation 4 had not been previously excavated, and recording their archaeological features and finds.

b) Recording and analysis of Early Dynastic objects from Helwan in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Work in the Egyptian Museum was conducted in January/February 1997 on objects on display. During this period 156 crates with objects from Helwan were located in the basement of the Museum and negotiations initiated with the authorities to open these boxes. In early 1998 permission was granted to study the contents of the crates and almost 200 individual artefacts, such as musical instruments, jewellery, metal and stone vessels, were recorded.

Dr E. Chr. Köhler