Egypt: Golden Mummies - The Roman Settlement at El Haiz

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

The Roman Settlement at El Haiz

When in 1940 the archaeologist Ahmed Fakhry began to conduct a cursory excavation of the ancient settlement known as El Haiz, he found only a few artifacts, but concluded that "Undoubtedly, the larger oasis fifty kilometers north of El Haiz was also thriving during the new Kingdom and will reap much new

information about this time in our history." As we have seen, Fakhry was correct in his estimation. The area around El Bawiti to which he referred was for centuries a crucial caravan station for Bedouin traders, merchants, and soldiers, as well as for foreign settlers who lived between Bahariya and Farafra Oasis to the southwest. Bahariya served as a crossroads for various cultures and, as a result, the site represents a cross section of the different types of people who passed through or settled there.

It is literally a gold mine of information about religious and social customs from ancient times to the Christian era.

The most prominent monument in El Haiz is the large fortress. Dated to the Roman Period, the fortress apparently served as a garrison. On a knoll opposite the garrison, Fakhry found the remains of a large Coptic church. The ancient church is currently being restored to its original beauty by local Moslems with the support of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which seems fitting in light of the fact that a few of the famous mosques in Cairo had actually been built centuries ago by Coptic architects.

Our preliminary survey in 1993 of the area around the fortress revealed a maze of mud-brick walls covering four acres and the remains of a long wall surrounding the entire structure. From architectural features, I concluded that this was a very large Roman palace, the likes of which we have not yet seen in Egypt. Once the rooms are fully excavated, the architecture and frescoes will greatly enrich our knowledge of this Roman settlement.

In the future, we plan to excavate the palace and the surrounding cemetery at El Haiz, an area that we believe was inhabited by Romans, Egyptians, and Egyptian Christians. By excavating the palace and cemetery, we hope to obtain information regarding the transition to Christianity and to explore the paleopathology of the people who lived during that time. It is possible that we may find evidence of diseases, such as leprosy, which have been alluded to in surviving Christian documents.

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