The Discovery of the Valley of the Mummies
by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Director of the Giza Pyramids and Saqqara,
Undersecretary of the State for the Giza Monuments
Accidental Discoveries in Egypt
Many major discoveries in Egypt have occurred entirely accidentally, just as in the case of our Valley of the Golden Mummies. For example, a stumbling horse played a significant role in Carters excavation of the Valley of the Kings in 1899, before the discovery of Tutankhamuns tomb. When Carter was returning to his rest house on the West Bank at the end of the day, his horse fell and exposed a shaft in the ground. Upon investigating the shaft, Carter found a sealed chamber that contained an empty coffin bearing no inscribed name; this chamber is known today as the Tomb of Bab el Hosan, "The Tomb of the Door of the Horse."
Inside the tomb, Carter found a statue wrapped in a linen shroud, resting beside the coffin. It is presumed to be a statue of Mentuhotep, the first king of Dynasty II. The king is shown wearing the red crown of the Delta and a short skirt with an Osirid-shape. The function of this statue remains unexplained by Egyptologists, but it is now on display at the Cairo Museum.
Around the same time, a second major discovery was made by a similar accident in Alexandria. In 1900, the site of Kom El-Shokafa was used as a quarry. One day as Ahmed Kasbara was riding his donkey, the leg of the animal fell into a hole in the desert floor. The incident revealed a labyrinth of underground tunnels that later came to be known as the Catacombs of Kom El-Shokafa.
A horse has also led the way to one of my most significant discoveries. This occurred in August 1990. An American woman was riding a horse southeast of the Sphinx when her horse stumbled to the ground after hitting its leg against a small mud-brick structure. That structure turned out to be the first of a huge series of tombs of the pyramid builders. Although excavation of this site has only just begun, it is estimated to be one of the largest ancient Egyptian cemeteries ever found. I had been searching for this very same cemetery only months earlier but had closed our original excavation due to a lack of decisive findings. Ironically, the horse discovered the first tomb in this cemetery only 9 meters from my original excavation location.
Of course, the most recent discovery made by a donkey was the amazing Valley of the Golden Mummies at Bahariaya Oasis. Bahariya is among the most beautiful oases of Egypt. It falls under the Giza governorate, and therefore it is within the jurisdiction of the Giza Department of Antiquities.
This excavation revived the adventurous spirit of archaeology inside all of us who worked at Bahariya, because we were not merely uncovering the objects used by people or the tombs they were buried in, we were uncovering the very people who made them.