The Secrets of the Valley of the Golden Mummies
Zahi Hawass

    The excavation at Bahariya Oasis in March of 1999 was amazing. The discovery of 105 mummies in “ The Valley of the Golden Mummies” became the most famous discovery in Egypt occurring before the beginning of the new millennium. Never before has such a large Number of perfectly preserved mummies been found in Egypt. This unique group, which dates to the Greco – Roman, exhibits a variety of styles and a range of social status. The mummies are lavishly gilded from head to chest, reminiscent of Tutankhamun . I estimate that the entire cemetery , which may cover nearly four square miles, contains up to 10,000 mummies and will take fifty years to excavate.

In “ The Valley of the Golden Mummies” I used to stay most of the time where the main camp of the expedition is located. There are two main tents with another area for the guards and the x-ray lab. Our team stayed almost two months, and we did not see a report at all during this time. I believe this is why the discovery did not make any publicity outside of Egypt. The exception was the fox Network program that was televised live on the 23rd of May which showed only three tombs.

    The site continued to be divided into 10 meter x 10 meter squares for excavation. The excavation this year started to the west of the tombs that we dug last year. We excavated only seven tombs this year while last year we uncovered four tombs with 105 mummies inside. This year, we excavated rock-cut tombs with many different architectural styles, including the shape of the ankh sign, the tombs of a cross, a single horizontal axis with various burial chambers on the sides, and tombs cut into the rock for the burial of one person. Different types of mummies were excavated, most of them encased with gold or gilded.

    The first tomb, designated I/A,B, is the largest tomb ever discovered in the valley . it is a group burial consisting of one family of different generations. We found 42 mummies in this tomb. The tomb consists of the following architectural elements:

       1.         Entrance on the north leading to stairs.

       2.         Small room for delivery of the mummy (before being put in chosen place for burial).

       3.         Burial hall in a rectangular shape.

       4.         7 niches for burials.

 There are seven niches cut into the sides of the hall, three each on the east and west sides with one on the south. Nine mummies were found in one of the niches on the west side. The mummy of a lady was discovered in this niche in beautiful condition wearing a golden mask. A cobra is depicted on the forehead of the lady. The royal symbols of the pharaohs, such as the cobra, nemes , and the false beard, were taken over by the rich in the Greco-Roman Period. The chest of the lady is covered with cartonnage, which is painted yellow and has scenes of the four sons of Hours. Another mummy, no.7, is a lady covered with linen in a geometric design and found inside a wooden coffin. A stela was discovered on the feet of the mummy. It is made of wood and represents the eternal gate of the deceased. The lady is depicted in the middle of the gate with her right leg in front as if she is leaving or going to her resurrection. She wears a Roman dress typical of this period.

    The second niche has only three mummies. On the second mummy were found eyes made of blue glass with the eyelid represented. Three big wine jars and a bowl full of ashes were discovered in the eastern niches. Most of the mummies represent young people, including the mummy of a child who could be around two years old.

    In one niche, the mummy of a lady was covered with beautiful geometric linen bandaging. A mask was found on hear head, which has a unique hairstyle. At the back, her hair is in a round shape similar to a cake. We call this style today- the cake style.

    One style of tomb contains a large anthropoid coffin made of pottery in one niche. The coffin is decorated in yellow with mummy found inside. We also found another mummy placed behind a wall. Obviously, they tried to hide it.

    Excavation continued in Kilometer no.7. I believe that the tombs in this area should be dated to the Greek Period because they are near the Temple of Alexander the Great. The tomb that we excavated has a unique architectural style. Most of the mummies have deteriorated, and it seems that the tomb was entered in antiquity. We will continue excavation in this area next season.

    Much information concerning the burial practices in “ The Valley of the Golden Mummies “ can be obtained from the eleven tombs excavated thus far. This includes burial in pottery coffins, an anthropoid coffin, and in a mudbrick mastaba. For the first time, we can determine from this excavation that we have many different styles of mummies. There are mummies completely covered with linen and cartonnage colored from head to foot; mummies covered with linen with a mask of gypsum placed on the face; mummies with masks of gold with scenes of the gods; and mummies covered only with linen without cartonnage or masks.

     This season, we brought the x-ray machine to the site. We were able to find evidence of many diseases, such as cancer.

    Offerings were also discovered in the tombs which were given to the deceased on religious occasions, including wine, dates, figs, beans, olives, and others.

    We also excavated funerary equipment that assured the perpetuation of the deceased in the afterlife. We found pottery vessels used in the daily life as well afterlife, jewelry, statues, and coins. The coins are made of bronze and were placed in the hand of the deceased to give as payment to the ferryman who will transfer the deceased into the afterlife. 

    The excavation revealed much information about life and death of the Egyptians who lived in Bahariya during the Greco-Roman Period since 332B.C. the people became rich through the exportation of wine to the Nile Valley since pharaonic times. Egyptian texts mention that the wine from Bahariya was excellent. Bahariya was also important because it served as a border of Egypt.

    The third season at “The Valley of the Golden Mummies” started two weeks ago and we will continue until the end of April.

    I believe that this excavation will open a new are in the archaeology of Egypt, and this site enrich our knowledge of the importance of Bahariya.  

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