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The Valley of the Golden Mummies reveals more secrets...

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We 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.

We 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.

In 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.

One 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 mutinies.

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.

This 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 were maskless.

One 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."

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