Mr. Waziri said his ministry had excavated 10 other sealed sarcophaguses in Minya, south of Cairo, this year. Some contained mummies, others had beads, amulets or religious statues, he said. “So what about this one?” he said. “It might be nothing special. We will only know when we open it.”
Egyptian officials have learned to be cautious about making sweeping predictions. Three years of excited speculation about a hidden chamber in the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen, which some experts said could contain the remains of Queen Nefertiti, ended in disappointment in May when radar scans proved conclusively that there were no hidden cavities after all.
Otherwise, though, it has been a good year for discoveries in Egypt. Archaeologists have found a hidden network of tombs in Minya and a rare Greco-Roman temple in the western desert, while the authorities have stepped up efforts to recover ancient treasures smuggled abroad.
In the past month alone, the Ministry of Antiquities has recovered nine precious items from France, including colored coffins and statues of cats, and a giant haul of smuggled antiquities was seized at an Italian port, including gold-plated mummy masks, wooden model boats and 21,660 coins.
Thousands of artifacts, including much of the Tutankhamen collection, have been transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum, a spectacular $1 billion project being built near the Giza pyramids outside Cairo.
After years of uneven progress, construction is now proceeding apace, and Egyptian officials say the building should be completed by the end of 2018, with a public opening sometime next year. Officials say it will be the world’s largest museum devoted to a single civilization.
Whether the contents of the mysterious black sarcophagus in Alexandria find their way to the museum is likely to be determined in the coming days, Mr. Waziri said, when officials prize open its lid.
“If we find an inscription, it will be lovely. If we find the owner, even better,” he said. “But no guessing, please. Archaeology depends on evidence.”