Egypt has announced the discovery of the remains of a lost city thought to be more than 7,000 years old, located in the Upper Egypt province of Sohag.
The ancient residential city, found alongside a nearby cemetery, dates back to 5,316 BC, and is being heralded as a major archaeological discovery that pre-dates ancient Egypt's Early Dynastic Period that began about 5 millennia ago.
A team of archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities found the remains of ancient huts and graves during a dig 400 metres to the south of the mortuary temple of Seti I, a pharaoh who ruled thousands of years later from 1290 to 1279 BC.
Seti I's temple is located in Abydos – one of the oldest known cities of ancient Egypt and the historic capital of Upper Egypt – and the newly found dwellings and graves could be parts of the long-gone capital now resurfaced, or a separate village that was swallowed by it.
"This discovery can shed light on a lot of information on the history of Abydos," antiquities minister Mahmoud Afifi said in a press statement.
The recently unearthed structures are thought to have been home to high-ranking officials and grave builders.
In addition to the foundations of ancient huts, the archaeologists found iron tools and pottery, plus 15 giant tombs – the capacious size of which means their intended inhabitants must have been well-established individuals.
"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.
It's possible that these officials oversaw the construction of royal tombs in nearby Abydos, but the size of their own resting places outside the capital suggests they didn't want to slum it in eternity either.
"About a mile behind where this material is said to be we have the necropolis with royal tombs going from before history to the period where we start getting royal names, we start getting identifiable kings," Egyptologist Chris Eyre from the University of Liverpool in the UK, who wasn't involved with the excavation, told the BBC.
"So, this appears to be the town, the capital at the very beginning of Egyptian history."
According to the researchers, the ancient tools and pottery are the leftover traces of a once giant labour force that was engaged in the considerable feat of constructing these royal tombs – and if you've seen the kinds of structures we're talking about, you'll understand they had a pretty epic responsibility:
The nearby cemetery is made up of 15 mastabas, an ancient Egyptian tomb that takes a rectangular shape, made with sloping walls and a flat roof.
According to lead researcher Yasser Mahmoud Hussein, these mastabas are now the oldest such tombs we know about, pre-dating the previous record holders in Saqqara, which served as the necropolis for another ancient Egyptian city, Memphis.
We'll have to wait for these new findings to be verified by other scientists, but we're excited to see what new insights further excavations will bring.