Egypt: Golden Mummies - Part VII

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

We opened four squares and excavated four tombs. Every two archaeologists were in charge of one square with 15 workmen. At the same time, an architect was preparing a site map, the electrician was rigging the place with electricity, and the restorers and conservators were ready with chemicals, waiting for the mummies to appear.

I was giving directions in every square. The first square was very interesting because we could see the brilliance of the gold in the sun and the yellow color was shining in our eyes. The mummies with gold began to appear. The first was the mummy of a female. The height of this lady is about 1.55 m. It was apparent that this mummy's face and waistcoat were covered with gold; the decoration of the waistcoat was divided into three section but with addition of two circular disks representing breasts.

The central section of the lady mummy begins at the top with a scene of a box or coffin from which appears a head with two wings. This scene may represent the soul of the deceased during her rebirth. Five decorative circles define the base of this register. The second register shows the recumbent figure of the god Anubis, "god of Embalming," with a band of decorative triangles below. The lower register was composed of two superimposed squares, one gold and the other light red, with a black ox painted in the center. I stopped describing the wonderful mummy of the lady, resting the pen against my forehead. I looked on my left and right sides and saw that lots of mummies had appeared. There were mummies of children, men, and women, many in good condition. I told Noha Abdel Hafiaz, the only lady in our expedition, to count the mummies of this tomb.

I continued the description of the first mummy and found that the left side of the mummy has, in the top register, three cobras bearing the sundisk on their heads. A band of five circles creates a decorative division between this scene and the next scenes, which depict the four children of the god "Horus". The woman has a beautiful crown with four decorative rows of red-colored curls. The hairstyle is similar to the style of the hair in statues known as Terracotta. Behind her ears appears the goddess Isis on one side and Nephthys on the other. They protect the deceased with their wings. The face is covered with plaster and a thin layer of gold.

I moved to the third square and where we discovered a beautiful pottery coffin. We archaeologists call this type of coffin "Anthropoid coffins" because the face of the deceased is represented in shape of a man and the rest of the coffin is in the shape of a body. It is divided into two parts: the head and the body. Inside the coffin we found another mummy.

The excavation continued. Every day we started our work early at 6.30 a.m. We moved, ate and slept, and we dreamed of mummies.

The first square began to be finished. The style of the tomb was clear and Noha come to me and informed me that this tomb contained 43 mummies. No one can describe such a scene it was a festival of mummies.

I walked in tomb No 54 which contained the 43 mummies. The tomb is cut into the sandstone.
Architecturally, the tomb consists of an entrance and the "room of handing over," or the delivery room. In this room stood two people to hand the mummies to another two men inside the tomb. Inside, two burial chambers were cut in the sandstone.

I looked at a corner and found two very interesting mummies. A lady lay beside her husband, her head turned towards her husband in an expression of love and affection. It seems that her husband died before his wife. She must have asked the family to bury her near him where she could look at him forever.

There were artifacts scattered everywhere near the mummies, such as statues of women in mourning. They are posed raising their hands up in the air, in the same manner as is done after the death of a person. We also found earrings, bracelets with different amulets, and many different style of pottery, including food trays and wine jars. We also found many Ptolemaic coins, the most interesting of which is a coin depicting Cleopatra VII on it. I gave directions on the cleaning, photography, and conservation of all the mummies.

I moved to square No 2 and met with Mahmoud Afifi, my assistant. We started the cleaning of cartonage on the chest. I asked Afifi to continue the excavations and clear the other mummies in this square. I took the brush and cleaned each space in the mummy; then I began the written description of this mummy.

It is a mummy of a man, completely wrapped in linen with a waistcoat covered with cartonage. Both the mask and waistcoat are covered with a thin layer of gold. The face is long and seems to depict a fifty-year-old man. The crown includes a fillet worn across the forehead. It is decorated and inlaid with many different colors such as blue, dark red and turquoise. On the right and left sides of the crown are scenes of plants and also depictions of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys who protect the deceased with their wings.

The waistcoat decoration is molded in bas relief. The decoration is organized in three distinct sections. The central section, beginning from the chin, is separated from the other sections, flanking it with two inlaid with colors such as turquoise, dark red and blue in a design that recalls the crown.

The linear decoration of the central section begins at the top with a horizontal line colored blue and red. The band is beautifully inlaid with small squares decorated with a lotus flower and a fine geometrical scene of three rectangular pieces, possibly representing precious stones.

Beneath this decorative band the first register presents a winged human figure that could represented the Ba (soul) of the deceased. Others believed that it represent the goddess Nut (the goddess of the Sky). Within the second register are two children of Horus, Imesty and Dewa-Mautef. As we know in the pharaonic period, Imesty is connected with Isis while Dewa-Mautef is connected with the goddess Nit.

Eight small circles decorated a band separating the children of Horus from the next register, which depicts a seated bird figure. This bird may represent the Ka as leaving the body. Below the bird is a series of Triangles creating a decorative band.

Decoration bordering the mummys left side is divided into four registers. The first scene at the top shows one of the children of Horus, Hapy, with Nephthys. Imesty follows in the second register. The third register shows Hapy and Imesty as standing figures. The last register contains a recumbent Anubis holding the key to the cemetery.

The mummys right side bears decoration with Kebeh-snewef who is connected with Serket. Beneath, the register depicts Imesty. Thereupon the decoration presents mirror images of the opposite side, showing the two standing figures of the children of Horus and the recumbent Anubis, the god of Embalment.

I never did an excavation as exciting as this one, because when I moved to another square, I saw for the first time a figure of the god Anubis depicted on the left and right side of a tomb entrance. This is the only tomb to have a black figure drawn like this; Anubis is guarding the tomb. The other part of the tomb is cut in the sandstone and contains many mummies inside.

The most interesting experience was when I saw the other tomb. This tomb consists of rooms similar to the catacombs, with one room stacked above the other one. Inside this room we found a mummy of a child which was, interestingly enough, also gilded. In other room, we found another mummy covered completely with linen. This mummy is similar to the New Kingdom mummies and also recalls the mummies that Hollywood uses in its movies.

When, in the evening, I went to El-Beshmo hotel, I sat in the courtyard of the hotel, and, thinking of the mummy of the lady, I began to write some remarks on this mummy.

The headdress of the first mummy displays rows of curls ending with spirals framing the forehead and extending behind the ears to the both sides; a braid surrounds these curls. These features were what led some to believe that the mummy belongs to a woman. It has also been suggested that the decoration should be analyzed from the bottom to the top, just as we read scenes displayed on temple walls.

The scenes on the lower register of the mask depict two figures. The one on the left holds a standard crowned by an jackal signifying Wepwawat. The figure on the right, however, is wearing a uraeus on the forehead and is holding a symbol. Although unclear, the figure could represent the god Horus. Between the two figures stands the god Toth in the from of an Ibis, wearing the double crown with two horns.

I thought also of the other mummy and I can see in it how the god Toth is here represented in the form of an Ibis. In this case, however, he is flanked by two figures of the god Anubis who possibly holds the key to the underworld. These mummies tell us a lot about the life of the people at Bahariya Oasis in the Roman period. They also give us much information about mummification and the afterlife.

The people in Bahariya were very rich because all the mummies show that the people could afford to have gilding and even cartonage depict beautiful scenes. I can imagine the style of workshops in Bahariya. It would seem that workshops were everywhere and artisans were one of the main profession in Bahariya. We know that the population in Egypt during the Roman period was about 7 million. Therefore I believe that the population in Bahariya during this period was about 30,000 people. Today the people of Bahariya number some 450,000 individuals.

The main industry in Bahariya was the production of wine, which they made from dates and grapes. They exported wine every where in the Nile valley, and I believe that this was the reason for the wealth of the people in the Oasis. Today, Bahariya is a very quiet place. The people take every thing easy and they are very peaceful people. I believe that this was the same situation in the past.

The people started to build these tombs in 332 B.C., when the temple of Alexander the Great was built in this area. This temple is located about 1 km from the mummies. This is one of the many temples in Egypt built for Alexander the Great. He is shown in the temple sanctuary giving an offering to the god Amon-Re and his cartouche is also shown. I think that Alexander went to Memphis through Bahariya; therefore, they honored him by building this temple for him and Amon.

Mummification in this period reached its peak, contrary to what is claimed about the deterioration of mummification in the Roman period. The most important point about mummification is that they started to put sticks made of reeds on the right and left side of the mummy and cover the mummy with linen. This method made the mummy very stable and can last even longer that those mummies of the Pharaonic period.

The preparation of mummies was done inside a workshop, called by the Egyptians "Wabt." The god Anubis witnessed the entire procedure and behind the bed were the jars that have on top the four children of Horus.

According to Egyptian religious beliefs, the heart of the deceased will be placed on a scale and on the other side of the scale is the feather of "Maat," the goddess of truth. If the scale is not balanced, there is a huge animal is waiting to eat the deceased. But if it balanced, the god Horus will take the deceased to meet the god Osiris (god of the afterlife and agriculture) and the goddess Isis. Then the deceased will enjoy the life in the fields of paradise of the Egyptians.

I made two key decisions on the morning of my departure from Bahariya. The first was to move 5 mummies to a room within the Inspectorate of Antiquities: two female mummies, one man, and two children.

The second decision was to transport the mummy with linen to the X-ray lab in Cairo. The team was surrounding me, and the workmen were moving the tents. The conservators were wrapping the mummy and putting it inside a wooden box. The workmen put the mummy in the truck to go to Cairo.

Ashry Shaker asked me, how we are going to identify the mummy? I said: Mr. or Mrs. X.

The next day, I went to my office near the great pyramid and met with Dr. Azza Sari El Din, the X-ray expert. We went to the lab and saw the mummy. Aza brought the X- Ray, which revealed that this was Mr. X who died at the age of 35 without any disease .

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