Egyptian archaeologists have discovered 50 mummies at a communal tomb in Minya, south of Cairo, dating to the Ptolemaic era.

The announcement, made by the antiquities ministry on Saturday, revealed that the mummies included adults, 12 children and six animals that had been laid on the floor in open clay coffins and in a crumbling underground chamber.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the identities of the mummies were still unknown but the graves, discovered during an excavation in February last year, are believed to belong to “a petty bourgeois family”. The mummification method showed that the remains were of important people holding prestigious positions. Some were found wrapped in linen, and others were placed in stone coffins or wooden sarcophagi.

Shards of pottery and papyrus were also found at the site that indicate that the tombs date back to the Ptolemaic period (305-30BC) at a time when there were Greek rulers.

Mummification is a practice associated with ancient Egypt, however it is one that was also used by the ancient Greeks living in the kingdom founded by Ptolemy, a successor of Alexander the Great, that lasted from 323BC to 30BC. Ancient Greek rulers lived in the area until the rise of the Roman empire.

The mummies were unearthed through a joint mission with the Research Centre for Archaeological Studies of Minya University.