(FAYOUM, Egypt) -- A huge 2,300-year-old funerary building and a number of mummy portraits were discovered in Egypt's southern province of Fayoum, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of Cairo, the country's antiquities ministry said on Thursday.
The building and the paintings, which are famously known as the Fayoum portraits, date back to the Ptolemaic and Roman eras in the 3rd century B.C. They were found in Fayoum's Gerza village, which was known as Philadelphia during the Roman period.
"The discovered structure is a large building styled as a funerary building with colored gypsum tiled floors," Adel Okasha, who heads the antiquities department in Cairo and Giza, said in a statement. "To the south of it, there is colonnade hall where the remains of four columns were found."
The uncovering of the paintings was also hailed as one of the most important archeological discoveries this year, as it marked the first time such portraits were found in more than 110 years.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, British egyptologist Flinders Petrie excavated at least 150 mummy portraits at a Roman necropolis in in Fayoum's archeological site of Hawara.
"The discovery shows the diversity and difference in quality of the mummification process during the Ptolemaic and Roman times based on the financial status of the deceased," said Mostafa Waziry, the head of Egypt's Supreme Antiquities Council.
Waziry also said a "rare terracotta statue of [ancient deity] Isis Aphrodite was discovered inside one of the burials in a wooden coffin," as well as "papyrus-made records" with Demotic and Greek inscriptions that show the economic and religious statuses of the inhabitants of the area at the time.
Egypt, which has invested heavily in ancient discoveries in recent years, is hoping to revive its ailing tourism industry. The country also plans to inaugurate a state-of-the-art museum near the Giza Pyramids, which Egypt says will be the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization.
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