A man and his donkey were walking down a road and his donkey’s leg fell into a hole. So the man looked below the road and found stacks of mummies covered with gold. People told Zahi Hawass, a famous archaeologist from the Discovery Channel, about the mummies in May 1996. Zahi Hawass looked at the mummies. All he could see was gold. Others learned about the discovery’s location but kept it secret for many months. Once Hawass returned to the site, he was ready to do the largest dig ever in Egypt.
Once the secret was out, scientists took photos of the site. The tombs were in good condition. Other tombs’ treasure buried with the dead had been stolen before scientists arrived. The new tombs have no sign of theft.
Hawass’ team explored four tombs containing 105 mummies. Each chamber had its own entrance and a hiding room. The mummies were laid on top of each other in neat stacks. They were made in four different ways. Some mummies’ coffins were carved in a thin layer of gold. Rich Egyptians have masks made of plaster-coated fabric painted with Egyptian gods and goddesses. Others were placed in pottery coffins decorated with human faces. Poor Egyptians were wrapped with strips of fabric.
At the time the mummies were buried, Egypt was ruled by Rome. It belonged to the Roman Empire, which included the western part of Asia and a lot of Europe. Archaeologists were amazed to see the mummies and the treasures were both Roman and Egyptian.
Packed for the Afterlife
People who lived in the area made a good living. It was known throughout the Nile River Valley for making and selling dates and grape wines. The Egyptians had a tradition of surrounding the dead with items they would take to the next life. Bracelets, charms, statues, pots, and figurines of Be, the dwarf god of pleasure and fun, were buried with the bodies. Many mummies were decorated with drawings of a winged figure, which could represent the sky goddess, Nut, or the soul of the person who died. Wall paintings show Anubis, the jackel-headed Egyptian god of mummies, who was believed to guide souls to the afterlife.
Coins inside the tombs helped the scientists estimate when the mummies were buried. One coin shows Queen Cleopatra VII, so they know some mummies were buried after her time.
More Treasure Ahead
Hawass is certain that the 105 mummies are just the beginning. He estimates the cemetery covers about three square miles and may contain as many as 10,000 mummies. The site is now being dug out. He believes the site belonged to the middle class. Tombs of the richer people should turn up later. Who knows what great objects may have been buried with the rich?
Once this huge and well-kept site is finally explored, Hawass and his team expect to have a clearer view than ever before of the Egyptians’ life 2,000 years ago.