Portraits of Egyptian mummies discovered in ancient Philadelphia

  • Archaeologists have discovered the first color portraits of mummies in more than a century.
  • The researchers also discovered a burial building, documents written on papyrus, pottery and coffins.
  • Finds date from the Ptolemaic period (305-30 BC) through the Roman era (30 BC-390 AD).

Egyptian archaeologists have discovered color portraits of mummies – the first to be discovered in more than a century – the Egyptian government has announced.

Researchers found the two complete portraits of Egyptian mummies and fragments of others at the Gerza excavation site in Fayoum, Egypt, making the works the first of their kind to be discovered in more than 115 years.

English archaeologist Flinders Petrie was the last to find similar works of art when he discovered 146 mummy portraits in a Roman cemetery in 1911, reports Artnet News.

The finds come from a dig site amid the ruins of the ancient city of Philadelphia, which the Austrian Archaeological Institute says is in the northeast corner of the Fayum, about 75 miles southwest of present-day Cairo.

The team investigating the archaeological site of Gerza in Fayoum also discovered a burial building, written documents on papyrus, pottery and coffins dating from the Ptolemaic period, which extends from 305 BC to 30 BC, in through the Roman era, which lasted from 30 BC to 390 AD

The government said the finds provide a fascinating insight into the social, economic and religious conditions of people living in Philadelphia (meaning, in ancient Greek, “City of Brotherly Love”) nearly 2,000 years ago.

The collection of paintings, known as the Fayoum Portraits, depict some of the wealthiest people who existed in these ancient communities. The Philadelphia Colony was home to Greeks and Egyptians during the 600 year period.

Basem Gehad, the Ancient Philadelphia Excavation Project Manager, who led the latest digs, wrote in an email to Artnet News that “nobody really knows the context of these portraits,” but added, “Now we can know for sure where they came from and find more.”

Two coffins found

One of the coffins found

Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Along with these finds, archaeologists have also revealed a rare terracotta statue of the goddess Isis Aphrodite inside a wooden coffin, per Artnet.

Gehad told the outlet that the statue “reflects the influence of the Greeks on Egyptian art as a result of [the] new community living there.

An Egyptian government statement explains that Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309-246 BC) established Philadelphia as an agricultural village intended to secure more food resources for his empire.

Researchers have been digging at the site since 2016, according to the government.


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