» General
 » Hieroglyphics
 » Abu Simbel
 » Karnak
 » Kings Valley 5
 » Philae
 » Make Your
Own Cartouche
 » Buy Posters
 » Favorite Books
 » Daily Papyrus
 » Articles from
around the net
 » Maps of Egypt
 » Write a Papyrus
to the Pharaoh
 » Extended Search
 » Egypt
 » Hieroglyphics
 » Mummies
 » Events Timeline
 » Visual Timeline
 » Gods
 » Pharaohs
 » Journey Through Valley of the Kings
 » Pyramids Galore
 » Mummy Maker
 » Who Killed King Tutankhamun?
 » Build a Pyramid
 » Atlas of the Valley of the Kings
 » Screen Savers
 » Hiero Translator
 » Djoser Pyramid
 » Giza Plateau
 » Unwrapping the Mummies
 » Reincarnator
 » 3D Models
 » Multimedia Video
 » Amarna Period
 » King Tut
 » Seven Wonders
 » Women in Egypt
 » QuickTime Panoramas
 » Book of the Dead
 » Egyptian Myths
 » Love Poems
 » Poetry & Proverbs
 » Alphabet
 » Common Words
 » Determinative
 » Gods
 » Hieratic
 » Kings
 » Numbers
 » Phonetic
 » Lessons
 » Dendera
 » Giza Pyramids
 » Karnak
 » Saqqara
 » Solar Boat
 » Get these Books
 » Make Your
Own Cartouche
 » Calculator
 » Quick Quiz
 » Trivia Game
 » VE Breakout
 » Scarab Puzzle
 » Adopt a Mummy
 » Wallpapers
 » Kids Corner
 » Egyptian Games
 » Egyptian Stationary
 » Egyptian Music
 » Egyptian Encycoledia
 » Live Satellite
 » Space Shuttle
 » Hale-Bopp
 » Egyptologists
 » Rings
 » Old Site
 » Other Links
 » Egypt Sites

Click Here to Create a Custom Cartouche of Your Name or Phrase with the Fun and Popular Hieroglyph Translator
The New York Times -- August 24, 1999

In the 'Valley of the Mummies,' Revelations of a Golden Past


At an oasis 230 miles southwest of Cairo, people in Roman times lived well on the wealth they accumulated making wine from dates and grapes. And in death, their bodies were prepared well for the afterlife, mummified and fitted with elaborate masks and waistcoats covered in gold.

Philippe Plailly/Eurelios
The mummy of a woman, covered in gilded mask, whose gaze is directed at the mummy of her husband. Her hairstyle is Roman, but clothes are Egyptian.
A vivid record of affluence, art and religion in Roman Egypt has been preserved in a large 2,000-year-old cemetery at the Bahariya Oasis, which came to light three years ago -- literally by accident. A donkey being ridden on a dusty road stumbled, and its leg slipped into an opening to one of the many tombs buried there under sand and rock.

After intensive excavations this year, Egyptian archeologists have disclosed the first details of what they say is one of the most spectacular discoveries in Egypt in recent decades. Detailed pictures of the tombs and mummies are being published this week in Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America.

"Never before have such a number of mummies been found in a single site in Egypt," Dr. Zahi Hawass, director of the Bahariya excavations, said in an interview last week. He is Egypt's Under Secretary of State for the Giza monuments, the pyramids near Cairo.

In the four tombs so far explored, archeologists counted 105 mummies of men, women and children. Entire families appeared to be together in repose. Some of the bodies were wrapped in plain linen, but many were decorated with gilded masks and painted scenes on cartonage, which is the pasteboard made of linen and papyrus that served as mummy cases. No two mummy decorations were alike.

Dr. Hawass said the cemetery site included many more multichambered tombs and extended over more than two square miles. He estimated that as many as 10,000 mummies might be uncovered at what is being called the Valley of the Golden Mummies.

Writing in Archaeology, Dr. Hawass described his first impressions of the rows of mummies, many of them surrounded by pottery, amulets and other grave goods. "I could not believe that such beautiful specimens existed," he said. "The eyes of some gazed at me as if they were alive."

His own eyes were drawn to the mummy of a woman, about five feet tall, adorned with a crown with four decorative rows of red curls and a gilded mask that extended over the chest to two circular disks representing breasts. The decorations incorporated images of cobras and the children of gods.

"While the hairstyle was clearly Roman, reminiscent of terra cotta statues of the period," Dr. Hawass wrote, "the iconography of her mask, painted with deities that protected the deceased and ease her passage into the afterlife, was pure Egyptian."

The team of archeologists said the mummies were remarkably well preserved, with the smell of embalming resin still strong in the tombs. But it appeared that the Romanized Egyptians applied less effort on preparing the mummified body itself and more on exterior decorations. The discovery provided new evidence that funerary practices from the last thousand or so years of the pharaohs had continued well into the second century A.D. The Roman rule of Egypt began shortly before the birth of Christ.

The art of mummy paintings, masks and other decorations in Roman Egypt has been familiar to scholars for more than a century. In 1888, the British archeologist William Flinders Petrie found gilded masks at a Roman-period cemetery. "Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt," a recent book published by the British Museum in London, described the practice as being "derived from pharaonic traditions of belief, in which the mask served as a substitute for the head of the deceased, endowing the individual with the attributes of deities and thereby assisting his or her passage to the afterlife."

Philippe Plailly/Eurelios
The mummies of a young boy and girl, believed to be from the same family.
But Egyptologists and other scholars said the new find promised to yield important insights into the lives of affluent Romanized Egyptians, their religious beliefs and funerary traditions.

"It's going to be very exciting," Dr. Roger Bagnall, a classics professor at Columbia University who specializes in Egypt's Roman period, said of the prospects for gaining a better understanding of Egyptian culture.

As beautiful and interesting as the gilded artifacts were, Dr. Bagnall said, he was more impressed by the sheer size and condition of the site.

"This may be the largest known cemetery in Egypt that hasn't been gotten to by plunderers before the archeologists," he said.

Even the most celebrated Egyptian discoveries of this century -- the tomb of King Tutankhamen, opened in the 1920's, and the tomb of the many sons of Ramses II, still being excavated -- were not pristine sites. Looters had left their destructive marks and made off with some of the artifacts. But no one seems to have touched the new-found Bahariya tombs, and no modern community has risen on the site to get in the way of excavations. For now, the tombs are closed to the public and under guard.

Using new tools for pathological examinations, scientists should be able to study the mummy skeletons for information on what the people ate, the diseases they suffered and the causes of their deaths.

The large number of mummies should provide better demographic data, including estimates on infant and child mortality and life expectancy.

The architecture of the Bahariya tombs also intrigued scholars. Dr. Hawass said the four explored tombs, cut into sandstone bedrock, have somewhat distinctive styles, but have similar passages and chambers. The entrance of a typical tomb was a hall about eight feet long. This led to a "room of handing-over," where the family would have delivered the mummy for transfer from the world of the living to that of the dead.

Beyond that were the burial chambers carved from sandstone.

The tombs generally had two chambers, each with several smaller rooms where the mummies were laid out. One tomb had catacomblike burial rooms, one above the other.

The entrance to one tomb was flanked by images of Anubis, the god of embalming. Dr. Hawass said it was the first time he had seen this.

Though the mummies date to the first and second centuries A.D., Dr. Hawass said the site was probably a burial place from the time Alexander the Great was in Egypt, in 322 B.C. A Hellenistic temple stands near the cemetery.

Egyptian archeologists described four general types of mummies found at Bahariya. About 60 mummies excavated so far wear the gilded masks. A second type is characterized by the head-to-waist cartonage, which depicts scenes of various gods such as Isis, Osiris and Toth, who sat in judgment of the deceased. A third type of mummy has no decoration but is resting in a human-shaped pottery coffin. Another type is covered entirely in linen, much as the mummies were in the time of the pharaohs.

Dr. Bagnall of Columbia looked forward to comparing the new discoveries with the mummies French archeologists have excavated in recent decades at Douch, a former Roman military post 120 miles west of Luxor on the Nile River. The funerary practices seem to be similar, he said, but the Bahareya cemetery apparently holds a much richer treasure of mummies.

Egyptian archeologists plan to resume excavations there in November. It may take them a decade to explore the entire cemetery and assemble a clear picture of how the affluent classes of Roman Egypt lived and died.

Related Sites
These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has no control over their content or availability.

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
The Rest Copyright 1998-2012 All Rights Reserved

Copyright and Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | E-Mail the Virtual Pharaoh

Macromedia Flash

Fun with Hiero

Macromedia Flash
Screen Saver
Screen Saver