are excavating now for the third season in the Valley
of the Golden Mummies at Bahariya Oasis. The site is
located about 220 miles southwest of Cairo and it is
the Smallest of the five oases in Egypt.
The Golden Age of Bahariya covered two periods. The
first was during the 26th Dynasty, about 500 BC, and
the second was during the Roman period, about 30 BC.
The people at Bahariya depended on the wine that they
produced, made both from grapes and from dates. The
date wine was a sweet wine. Texts from the Ramesside
period, 1300 BC, state that all Egyptians wanted a glass
of Bahariya wine to enjoy in the afterlife. The trade
route started at Bahariya in the east and ran in an
easterly direction for about 100 miles to El-Bahnass
in Middle Egypt. At that point, the trade route veered
to follow the Nile in a northerly direction, all the
way up to Atfieh, a site near Giza and the centre of
trade between North and South Egypt. Donkeys were used
for transportation in the Pharaonic period, while camels
were used in the Roman period. There were many merchants
who controlled the trade, many of which were based in
Bahariya. The wine production made the people of the
oasis quite wealthy, and that in turn enabled them to
decorate their mummies with gold.
The first season of excavations in Bahariya started
in 1999. The Egyptian team included archaeologists,
conservators, restorers, an epigrapher, architect, and
draftswoman under my direction. In the first season,
we excavated four tombs, which contained 108 mummies.
Most of the mummies were cased in gold. Many artefacts
were found beside the mummies, such as bracelets, necklaces,
earrings, wine jars and coins. The coins were found
placed in the hand of the deceased, and are thought
to have been designated for use as payment in the afterlife.
did a survey at the site to try to determine the approximate
dimensions of the cemetery. We found that the site is
about six kilometres square. Based on what we have excavated
so far, I estimate that it contains more than 10,000
mummies yet to be discovered. The temple of Alexander
the Great was built to the north of the cemetery in
332 BC, and the people may have chosen this site as
their cemetery in order to be near the great leader.
This is the only temple for Alexander the Great to be
built in Egypt.
the second season, we excavated seven tombs, in which
we found 103 mummies. One single family tomb contained
41 mummies. Many lovely artefacts were discovered, such
as a wooden panel found on the feet of a lady. It depicts
a beautifully coloured temple with a lady dressed and
standing between two pillars of the temple. Two large
snakes are standing wearing the crown with cobras depicted
on the top. The panel is spectacularly coloured. Other
wooden panels were also discovered in the shape of a
temple, inside of which the deceased stands in the shape
of Osiris, flanked by the gods Anubis and Horus.
of the coins found has the shape of the famous Queen
Cleopatra VII and shows her with a beautiful figure.
Ceramic statues of mourning women were found near the
The third season started in March of 2001, and we excavated
three tombs holding 22 mummies. The number of mummies
found in the valley now total 233 specimens.
is the first time in Egyptian archaeology that such
a great number of mummies have been discovered in one
site. The story of the discovery of the first tomb is
quite interesting. We found a hole in the rock, and
based on previous accounts of tombs in this area, we
were hopeful that an intact tomb might be discovered.
For-two days, we worked on removing the sand until we
found a dark niche. Taking a flashlight my assistant
Tarek peered inside and said, "It is wonderful! I see
beautiful faces, I see mummies." The entrance of the
tomb was closed with sandstone blocks covered with mud.
That was evidence that the tomb was intact and had not
been disturbed before us, since this is the way that
ancient Egyptians sealed their tombs 1700 years ago.
The tomb contained three niches full of mummies. The
mummies were beautiful and looked almost alive. The
heads of the mummies were oriented to the inside of
the niches, and the legs were pointing outside. Some
of the mummies had beautiful coloured masks, while others
niche contained two mummies next to each other. One
of them had a mask made of gypsum, still clear and in
good condition. The other was covered in linen. Other
mummies were found covered with coloured cartonage and
depicted religious scenes. One of the mummies was just
a baby, with a coloured face. Dots had been drawn under
his eyes to show that he was crying, so we called this
tomb by the name of "The Crying Baby."