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Finding the Tomb of the Pharaoh's Vizier in the 'Valley of the Mummies'

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The 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 the site.

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