Archaeologists on Sunday opened a number of intact wooden coffins found in a previously overlooked burial shaft in the Sakkara area, about 15 miles south of Cairo. One of the skeletons, lying in the fetal position and facing east, had linen wrapped around parts of the body.
"This is the evidence of the oldest man ever mummified, done only on the legs," Zahi Hawass said.
The burial site is believed to date to the first dynasty of the pharaohs, about 5,000 years ago.
A nearby tomb opened earlier supported that dating, Hawass said. It contained the body of a 35-year-old women with evidence of blood around her. X-rays revealed a broken skull, an indication that she could have been murdered for a sacrifice, Hawass said.
Human sacrifices were used only in the earliest dynasties of Egypt, he said.
Salah Seliman, an antiquities inspector at the site, said perfection of mummification came during much later dynasties.
"These older tombs might not be as fun to look at but they are very important scientifically," he said.
The partially mummified skeleton will be X-rayed and studied to determine its gender and age at death. The wooden casket also will be studied and then treated with natural substances to help preserve its condition.
The area is only partially cleared, so it is not yet known how large it is or how many tombs it contains.
The area was partially excavated in the 1980s, but during routine cleaning and clearing last week, workers found narrow vertical shafts, some as deep as 16-20 feet.
By Mohamed Khalifa