Institut für die Kulturen des Alten Orients

The Saqqara Saite Tombs Project: Old Finds and New Discoveries

The Saqqara Saite Tombs Project (SSTP) was launched in March 2016 by Ramadan B. Hussein (1971–2022) with a grant of the German Research Foundation (DFG) at the University of Tübingen, Germany. The project’s purpose was to re-excavate and epigraphically document the sarcophagus-tombs of Padiniset (PA-Dj-n=j-As.t), Psametik (PsmTk), and Amuntefnakht (Jmn-tAy=f-nxt). These tombs are located south and east in the precinct of the pyramid of king Weni.

The sarcophagus-tombs of Psametik, Tjanehebu, Padiniset, Padineith, and Hekaemsaf were already discovered by Alexandre Barsanti, Gustave Maspero’s assistant, in different campaigns between 1899–1903. Between 1940–1941, Zaki Saad further explored the area and he discovered the sarcophagus-tomb of Amuntefnakht. The three tombs of Amuntefnakht, Psametik, and Padiniset allow a tentative reconstruction of their chronology based on the epigraphical and archaeological evidence. They date to the end of the 26th Dynasty to the beginning of the 27th Dynasty. The oldest tomb belong to Amuntefnakht who has lived during the reign of the pharaoh Apries (approx. 589–570 BC). The tomb of Psametik dates to the reign of the king Amasis (approx. 570–526 BC), specifically in the third decade of his reign. The third tomb, Padiniset’s one (fig. 1–2), names a certain Psametik as his father who might have been the previous mentioned Psametik.

Partial re-excavation of the main shaft of Psametik revealed on its northern edge a thick foundation on the bedrock made of rubble and gypsum, which was most likely be prepared for the northern wall of the shaft. Furthermore, a low wall built of irregular limestone blocks was discovered on the eastern wall of Psametik’s main shaft. The debris of the shaft contained inscribed material and small objects dating to the Old Kingdom and the Late Period, as well as a deposit of pottery dating to the 26th Dynasty, which was most likely left behind by the earlier excavators. The main shaft of Padiniset shows similar finds: remains of massive walls mounted the northern, eastern, and western side (2.50×3.00 m). They were made of mixed materials, e.g., irregular limestone blocks and local tafla stones. The structure did not show any evidence of roofing. The southern edge of Padiniset’s main shaft revealed a kind of pavement or platform, which was built of slabs of local tafla stones consisting of three courses of stone blocks (approx. 11.00 m east-west×3.00 m north-south×1.00 m high above the bedrock). On this platform, a dark clayey soil mixed with charcoal, plant remains and seashell make it likely that this area was used for ritual activities. The secondary shaft of Padinest is located approx. 1.00 m to the south of the pavement/platform. The mortuary chapel of Padiniset was built next to the secondary shaft to the west at the south-western corner of the aforementioned platform on an east west axis. The transition from the platform into the chapel is outlined by an entrance, which is formed by low walls. The western side of the chapel is occupied by an altar, which looks like a Htp-offering table and has a kind of drainage channel cut into the bedrock floor. It runs eastwards for approx. 1.00 m. The southern wall of the chapel is entirely lost, only remains of the eastern and western edges, as well as gypsum mortar on the ground reveal its original position. It was built against a low ramp, which starts in the east running westwards that was cut into the bedrock of the plateau.

The Mummification Structures (M23.II and jb.w-like structure)

The shaft M23.II, which is named after its location on the SSTP survey map, is located only 0.90 m to the south-western corner of Padiniset’s mortuary chapel. It measures approx. 1.35×1.30 m and is approx. 12.00 m deep. A ramp, which starts in the east and runs westwards, ends at the eastern edge of shaft M23.II with six rounded shallow holes for pottery jars. In one of these circular bases, a broken 26th Dynasty beaker was found. The ramp is cut into the bedrock, and it is covered with a thin layer of pebbles and gypsum.

The shaft was refilled with clean, yellow sand in antiquity. Several pottery deposits were found in different depths. The mainly globular vessels, which showed blackening on the outer surface (cooking ware), were stuffed with botanical remains mixed with sand. In addition, the archaeological context showed similar finds with botanical remains including tree branches and fragmentary reed mats. The botanical samples were dominated by large amount of cereals, e.g. wheat grains, rachis, and chaff, but also contained lupinus hila, Medicago clover, seeds, date stones and weeds, which contaminate wheat fields. In a depth of 2.00 m, a dog burial was discovered in the middle of the shaft of M23.II. Furthermore, giant water bugs were found together with two pieces of red and white linen in the shaft M23.II.

The shaft M23.II cuts through one of the subterranean galleries at a depth of approx. 9.00 m. The gallery is part of the 2nd Dynasty gallery network, which starts at the north-eastern corner of Weni’s pyramid. It runs south and basically covers the entire area south of Weni. The subterranean gallery opens up to three additional passageways, which are also part of this network. At the end of the shaft of M23.II, a large rectangular room that measures approx. 5.00×8.00×3.00 m opens to the southeast. A rock-cut ledge, which is approx. 0.80 m high, dominates the eastern side of the room. A channel runs around this ledge starting at the eastern wall and it turns west following down the floor along the northern and western wall of the room. Next to the ledge at the southern wall, a huge vessel with removed bottom was placed upside down on the ground (fig. 3). A large pottery deposit with broken and complete vessels, which covered an area of approx. 2.00×2.00×1.00 m, was discovered in the north-western corner of the room (fig. 4). The pottery corpus contained marl clay beakers, red ‘goldfish bowls’, amphorae for natron, torches, plates, two three-legged braziers, and hundreds of potsherds, besides imported Phoenician vessels (fig. 5). Interestingly, these vessels and sherds are inscribed with labels in black ink in Hieratic, Demotic or a mixture of both.

In close proximity of shaft M23.II—1.00 m further to the south—, another mummification facility (?) was discovered (fig. 6). It shows a roughly rectangular outline, and it measures approx. 10.42×9.70×14.29×13.64 m on its sides. The walls, which are only partially preserved, were constructed of irregular limestone blocks and mud bricks made in Saqqara. The entrance is located in the south-western corner and leads to a large open area. At the northern wall, an interesting feature was found: a mud brick ramp was built on the northern wall, which separates this area in two rooms. In the western room, an approx. 0.55 m deep basin, cut into the bedrock was discovered. A low mud brick wall surrounded it and it contained clean yellow sand. The eastern room has an earthen floor made of Nile silt and fine pebbles. It was also surrounded by mud brick walls, of which only the lowermost part has been preserved. The room was filled with dark yellow sand and it contained two marl clay jars. This structure is so far unprecedented in Egyptian archaeology, but similar constructions can be found in depictions in mastabas of the Old Kingdom, the so-called jb.w-tent/tent of purification. The different structure of the western and eastern room make it likely that they were used for dissimilar activities: the jars with the soaked linen found in the eastern room suggest that the space was used to prepare bandages, while the western room with the basin could be functioned as space, in which the body was dehydrated in natron.

The Hypogeum (K24)

The central area of the previous describes mummification facility is dominated by the burial shaft K24 named after the SSTP’s survey grid. It measures approx. 3.00×3.50 m and runs approx. 30.00 m deep. The walls are built of mixed materials, such as irregular limestone blocks and mud bricks on a foundation trench cut into the bedrock without any signs of roofing. The inner walls are lined with mud bricks to depth of 3.00 m. The shaft K24 was refilled with compact clean, dark, yellow sand in antiquities. It contains six tombs cut into the walls at different depths. Furthermore, burials were found in the middle of the shaft in a depth of approx. 16.00 m (fig. 7).

Tomb 1 (Loculus I-West) is located approx. 3.00 m deep on the western side of the shaft. The chamber is coated with white plaster with four lines in Demotic with red ink. The inscription implies a difference in opinion between the wife of the deceased and her mother in law.

Tomb 2 (Loculus II-West) is part of the 2nd Dynasty gallery network, which is cut through in the western wall of shaft K24 in a depth of approx. 8.00 m. The entrance of the chamber was originally walled up with irregular limestone blocks and mortar, but was already removed in antiquities. The gallery was expanded with different loculi and their entrances were blocked in part. The burials were partially disturbed. The ceramics date to the Saitic-Persian Period.

Tomb 3 (Cubicula I-Nord) is located in a depth of approx. 9.00 m on the northern wall, and consists of several smaller chambers (cubicula). The entrance was walled up with irregular limestone blocks, whereby the topmost course was already removed. All the interments were disturbed in antiquity. Besides an unfinished, anthropomorphic sarcophagus, several burials were found, in which mummified human bodies were arranged above each other, only separated by a thick layer of clean sand. All of the cubicula show a similar outline, except for the north-western one: coffin pits and ledges for burials. Several objects could be retrieved, amongst others shabtis, amulets, and ceramics, which also date in the same period.

Tomb 4 (Loculus I-South) is opposite to tomb 3 on the southern wall of the shaft. It is an elongated room, which takes up the entire length of the width of the south wall. Originally, the chamber was walled up—remains of it were still in-situ. The limestone blocks showed one line of a Demotic inscription in red ink, which was similarly repeated above the loculus.

Tomb 5 (Cubiculum I-South) is located in a depth of approx. 20.00 m and consists of one small chamber (2.85×2,25 m, east-west axis). The entrance is in the north and was blocked off by six irregular limestone blocks. Two of them are inscribed with Demotic in black ink. The burials seem to belong to an uncle and his nephew.

Tomb 6 (Cubicula II-North; fig. 8) opens itself to the north in a depth of 30.00 m, and consists of six cubicula (fig. 7). The entrance measures approx. 2.00×2.10 m and leads into a corridor, which is separated into two rooms—loci 1 and 2—with north-south axis (approx. 10.00×5.50 m). Locus 1 opens to the west (locus 3) and to the east (locus 9) in a chamber each. In the second ‘room’ of the hallway (locus 2) is located in the west (locus 4) and in the east (locus 8) two chambers, too. Locus 4 can be entered by a kind of antechamber (locus 5). Two additional chambers are located to the north (loci 6 and 7). All loci, except for locus 7, were walled up with irregular limestone blocks. In the different loci, a number of limestone sarcophagi—partially anthropomorphic, partially rectangular—and wooden coffins, which were very disintegrated, as well as different funerary equipment, such as canopic jars, several shabti sets (fig. 11), amulets, models of bricks and boats made of mud, pottery, and a gilded silver mask (fig. 9–10).

The cachette/burial complex M21:

South-west of the secondary shaft of Psametik, 10 vessels were found—arranged in a line next to each other (fig. 12). The amphorae contained sand, smaller limestone fragments, as well as residue of a blackish substance. This area (grid number M21) has a limestone ground with partially mud bricks on it. To the west, there are remains of a wall made of irregular limestone blocks with north-south axis. In the same area, a shaft was discovered (M21.I), which measures approx. 1.20×1.35 m (fig. 13). In a depth of approx. 9.65 m, the shaft opens to the west in an elongated hallway with an east-west axis, and ends in an irregular chamber (A-a). Within that room, several complete vessels and sherds—partially with Hieratic and Demotic inscriptions—as well human remains were discovered (fig. 14a–b). Another hallway opens to the south (B), which is characterized by several smaller, irregular chambers to the east and west (e.g., B-a, B-b). 

The burial complex L25

Another burial complex is located near the eastern wall of the jb.w-like structure. The shaft is named L25 after its location on the SSTP’s survey grid. The shaft measures approx. 0.9×1.05 m and opens in a depth of 3.49 m to a hallway to the north. In front of the north wall, a sarcophagus was placed in a shallow cutting into the floor. There is a rectangular floor cutting next to the eastern wall, too. In the west, there are two chambers (‘west niche’ 1 and 2). The southern one contained a sarcophagus, also place in a shallow pit. In the north-eastern corner of the hallway, there is an additional small chamber (‘east niche’), just before the rectangular floor cutting, and in the south-eastern corner, a small corridor opens. All the burials were found disturbed and only a few objects were discovered, such as shabtis, remains of stuccoed wood, and amulets.

  • M. Rageot, R. B. Hussein, S. Beck, V. Altmann-Wendling, M. I. M. Ibrahim, M. M. Bahgat, A. M. Yousef, K. Mittelstaedt, J.-J. Filippi, S. Buckley, C. Spiteri, P. W. Stockhammer, ‘Biomolecular Analyses Enable New Insights into Ancient Egyptian Embalming’, Nature 614 (2023), 287–293. (
  • Hussein, R. B. 2020: The Saqqara Saite Tombs Project. An Overview March 2016–December 2019, in: Kamrin, J./Bárta, M./Ikram, S./Lehner, M./Megahed, M. (eds.), Guardian of Ancient Egypt. Studies in Honor of Zahi Hawass, II, Prag, 627–682.
  • R. B. Hussein, and S. Marchand, ‘A Mummification Workshop in Saqqara. The Pottery from the Main Shaft K24. Saqqara Saite Tombs Project (SSTP) – 2019’, Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne 29 (2019), 101–132.
  • M. Lang, P. Kluge, R. B. Hussein, and B. Glissmann, ‘Digital Documentation of the Saite Tombs in Saqqara’, Studies in Digital Heritage 4.1 (2020), 16–31. (
  • M. Lang, R. B. Hussein, and P. Kluge, ‘The 3D Digital Documentation of Shaft K24 in Saqqara’, in R. Lucarelli, J.A. Roberson, and S. Vinson (eds), Ancient Egypt, New Technologies (Harvard Egyptological Studies 17, Leiden), 186–212. (doi:10.1163/9789004501294_009)


Links and online resources:

Lecture: The Saqqara Saite Tombs Project: Re-excavation, Documentation, and New Discoveries - Ramadan Hussein (ARCE)

Lecture: Inside the Tombs of Saqqara: The Ancient Egyptian Burial Site Revealed - Ramadan Hussein (Harvard Museum)

Lecture: Secrets of Saqqara - Ramadan Hussein

Lecture: The Archaeology of Mummification: A Saite-Persian Mummification Complex at Saqqara - Ramadan Hussein

Documentary in memory of Ramadan Hussein


Documentary BBC/National Geographic:

Teaser: Discovering the South East Chamber | Kingdom of The Mummies | National Geographic UK

Teaser: The Hidden Chamber | Kingdom of the Mummies | National Geographic UK

Website: The Kingdom of the Mummies | National Geographic

Project staff:


Ramadan B. Hussein † (Project Director 2016–2022), Susanne Beck (Project Director, since 2022), Christian Leitz, Isa Böhme (Archaeological Supervision), Mohamed Megahed, Mohamed Ismail, Mohammad Refaat, Warda el-Nagar, Shimaa Sayed, Wessam Saad, Mustafa Tolba, Ahmad Emam (Conservation), Osama Saber (Conservation), Matthias Lang (Digital Data Recording and Surveying), Philippe Kluge (Digital Data Recording and Surveying), Carmen Rac (Digital Data Recording and Surveying)

Support staff: