CAIRO • Egypt has unearthed a more than 7,000-year-old city and cemetery dating back to its First Dynasty in the southern province of Sohag, its Antiquities Ministry said.
The find could be a boon for Egypt's ailing tourism industry, which has suffered endless setbacks since an uprising that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but remains a vital source of foreign currency.
The city likely housed high-ranking officials and grave builders who may have been engaged in the construction of royal graves in the nearby sacred city of Abydos. Its discovery may yield new insights into Abydos, one of the oldest cities in ancient Egypt, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Experts say Abydos was Egypt's capital towards the end of the Predynastic Period and during the rule of the first four dynasties.
The discovery was made 400m away from the temple of Seti I, a New Kingdom period memorial across the River Nile from present- day Luxor.
Archaeologists have so far uncovered huts, pottery remains and iron tools as well as 15 huge graves, some of which were larger than the graves of kings in Abydos, the ministry said in a statement.
"The size of the graves discovered in the cemetery is larger in some instances than royal graves in Abydos dating back to the First Dynasty, which proves the importance of the people buried there and their high social standing during this early era of ancient Egyptian history," the ministry said.
Egypt's tourism industry has struggled to recover since the bombing of a Russian plane carrying 224 people from a Red Sea resort in October last year.
More than 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010. This dropped to 9.8 million in 2011. In the first quarter of this year, just 1.2 million tourists travelled to Egypt, down from 2.2 million a year earlier.