Egyptian archaeologists have uncovered 30 perfectly preserved mummies in 3,000 year old colourful coffins. The incredible discovery was made last week on the west bank of the river Nile, near Luxor.

It is the first large human coffin cache ever discovered since the end of the 19th century,” explained Khaled El-Enany, the Egyptian Antiquities Minister.

Discovered in the Asasif Necropolis, the “exceptionally painted and preserved” sarcophagi were decorated with brightly coloured geometric patterns and elaborately moulded relief sculptures.

Each coffin was carefully stacked in two layers, with 18 on top of 12 others. During a ceremony last week, two mummies were opened to reveal a man and woman with intact outer wrappings covering their faces and bodies.

This will enrich our knowledge as Egyptologists about their belief of the afterlife, and about the workshops that made all these beautiful scenes,” remarked the former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, Zahi Hawass.

Gender can be determined by the shape of the mummies’ hands; ancient women were buried with their hands open, while men had closed hands. At this site there are thought to be 23 adult males, five adult females and two children.

Archaeologists believe they may have discovered a group of priests and their families, whose bodies were move from their original site to hide them from tomb robbers.

The standard of living for priests was also in decline at the time of their deaths, said Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Perhaps the group could not afford to have a tomb dug out for them and, therefore, elaborately adorned sarcophagi were a cheaper alternative.

Describing the significance of the hoard in an interview with the BBC, Hawass observed that “the colour, the religious scenes, the Book of the Dead, it was for everyone – for the common people, for a king or for a priest and that’s why I believe this discovery is very important.”

Authorities will transport the mummies to the Grand Egyptian Museum near the famous Giza Pyramids in Cairo next month. Intended to showcase Egypt’s most treasured ancient findings, the museum has been under construction for over a decade and is scheduled to open in 2020.

Locals hope this recent ground-breaking discovery will revive the country’s vital tourism industry, which was deeply affected by the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 that saw the fall of longstanding autocrat Hosni Mubarak.