excavation at Baharia 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
had such a large number of perfectly preserved mummies
been found in Egypt. Mummies inspire both terror and
awe in people probably because they seem to be connected
with a world beyond our own. This unique group, which
dates to the Greco-Roman period, exhibits a variety
of styles and a range of social status. The mummies
are lavishly gilded from head to chest, reminiscent
of the burial of Tutankhamun. Considering the rate at
which graves have been robbed since antiquity, right
up to the present day, it is remarkable that such a
pristine site can still be found undisturbed. 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.
I have excavated all my life around the pyramids at
Giza and made major discoveries, such as the tombs of
the pyramid builders, small pyramids, tunnels and many
other exciting artifacts. I thought that the pyramids
are my only love but excavating at Baharia Oasis, I
found that I have another lover, the mummies.
The story of the discovery of the vizier's tomb began
in 1947 when Ahmed Fakhry, an Egyptian archaeologist,
excavated three tombs dated to Dynasty 26. These were
the tombs of Ta-Nefert-Bastet, Thaty and Bedashtar.
When Fakhry and Steindorff first discovered these three
tombs, they were more interested in moving on to explore
as much ground as they could cover. So they only described
them briefly and then left the tombs unexcavated. Meanwhile,
there was a revolution beginning, and the Egyptians
gained their independence. As government bureaucrats
and rules pertaining to antiquities changed at this
time, archaeological sites foundered. The desert's shifting
sands reburied several sites just as it has done repeatedly
during political transitions for thousands of years.
New people filled posts without knowing what excavation
work was in progress. Sites of importance were forgotten.
So, it was very possible, I realized, that there was
more to this particular group of tombs than we originally
had suspected. It was apparent from the substantial
space beneath the wall which I was looking at that it
was not solid rock.
We had already re-dug everything Fakhry referred to
in his work on the oasis. But I felt that there had
to be another room on the other side. If so, it would
be an area, which had never before, been inspected.
Perhaps, if I was lucky again, it would be an intact
tomb. It could even be the missing tomb of the high
priest Zed-Khonsuef-ankh for which Fakhry had searched.
The day was April 20, 2000. I went to bed right after
the meeting and dreamed of what would happen in the
morning. I had a dream that I was inside a room without
an end. The room was full of smoke, and I could not
see anything. I was afraid, and asked in a loud voice
for help but my voice did not reach anyone. During this,
I saw the face I used to see from the hole. The face
of a man coming towards me. I was ready to fight but
I could not move my hands or my legs. He came closer,
and then I screamed, screamed again… At that moment,
I got up - my face and my body were sweating… I could
not understand the meaning of this dream.
I got up at 5:30 am and took part of my team to Sheikh
Sobi, the town built over the archaeological remains.
I appointed Mahmoud Afifi to be in charge of the work,
Moustafa Abdou El-Kader of restoration, Noha Abdel Hafeez
of the epigraphy, and Abdel Hamied Kotb of the architectural
plan. We talked to the lady who owns the house, and
she agreed to demolish her house. We explained that
we would build another house at our expense in another
place. We did the demolition and started excavating