Archaeologists from Egypt have unearthed two fully-coloured portraits and fragmentary pieces of a few others in Gerza, located about 120 km from Cairo.
The mummy portraits are the first of their kind to be excavated after their last discovery more than 115 years by English archaeologist Flinders Petrie and are by far the most important finds from the excavation, a press release by the Egyptian government said.
Other artefacts like mummies, papyri, pottery and coffins were also found at the Gerza excavation site, in Fayoum, which dated back to the Ptolemaic era spanning 305 BC to 30 BC followed by the Roman era from 30 BC to 390 AD.
The tenth season of the excavation which started in 2016 has yielded large buildings in the style of funerary houses with “a floor made of colored lime mortar and decorated with interchangeable tiles”, said Adel Okasha, the head of Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in the release.
The building paved the way to a column shed from the southern side which housed the remains of four columns. It also leads to a narrow street of its own, he added.
The village of Gerza, also known as the village of Philadelphia during Ptolemaic Egypt, was established in third century BC as part of a agricultural reclamation project by King Ptolemy II in the Fayoum region for “securing food sources for the Egyptian kingdom,” archaeologists said.
The discoveries at Gerza shed light on the kind of society that people lived in during this time. For instance, the “accuracy and quality of mummification process” depended on the economic and social strata from which the deceased belonged, Dr. Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said.
He also noted that the findings showed “high-quality mummification to burial of simple nature” along with “a group of records made of papyrus with inscriptions in Demotic (Egyptian cursive) and Greek script indicating the social, economic and religious conditions of the inhabitants
of the region during that period.”
The head of the mission, Dr. Bassem Jihad said, “The mission also succeeded in uncovering a number of coffins of different styles, some of them in the human form and others in the Greek form with gabled roof.”
A rare terracotta statue of the goddess Isis-Aphrodite was also found in one of the wooden coffins at the excavation site.
An important characteristic of the Gerza site which distinguished it were the various fixed and movable archaeological finds and tombs that showed the architectural development from the third century BC to third century AD.
It was also a village that reflected the cultural aspects of both its Egyptian and Greek inhabitants, showing the melding of ancient Egyptian and Greek civilisations through artefacts such as the six large mud-brick tombs representing mass graves in the catacomb styles, Dr Jihad noted.