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More Golden Mummies Emerge From Egyptian Valley

From the sands of Egypt's western desert, a hoard of "golden mummies" is bringing to light new information about the Greco-Roman era of Egyptian history, which dates from 332 B.C. to A.D. 395.

Golden mummy

Bahariya, an oasis city in Egypt's western desert, has yielded more than 200 "golden" mummies from the Greco-Roman period. This mummy was discovered in 1999.

Photograph by Reuters NewMedia Inc./Corbis

Last week Zahi Hawass, Director of Egypt's Giza Pyramids, announced the discovery of 11 new mummies at the Bahariya, an oasis city located 300 miles (480 kilometers) southwest of Cairo.

"The new mummies found this season are unique. They have golden masks and the faces are beautifully realistic," said Hawass in a recent press release.

Hawass believes that this season he will discover the tombs of Bahariya's Greco-Roman upper class.

Valley of the Golden Mummies

To date, Hawass and his team have excavated more than 200 Greco-Roman–era mummies from the Bahariya oasis.

Bahariya's treasure trove of mummies was discovered in 1996, when a donkey stepped thrugh a hole in the ground and its owner, a guard at the nearby Temple of Alexander the Great, spotted a glint of gold.

"[Bahariya] has opened a new era for archaeology—it is a site that could be more important than sites like Luxor," Hawass told National Geographic News in October.

During its height, Bahariya was a bustling trading center that specialized in exporting sweet wine. It was strategically important as a defense along Egypt's western border.

According to Hawass, the Bahariya mummies show a blending of Egyptian and Greco-Roman cultures.

Though mummified in the traditional Egyptian fashion, as many as 40 mummies are buried in a single tomb, and do not follow the Egyptian custom of facing east. Many of the mummies clutch a coin in their hand to pay the ferryman to the underworld, a Greco-Roman tradition.

Surprise Find

In October, Hawass said that excavations at Bahariya could continue for many years. Hawass estimates the site could contain as many as 10,000 mummies, though it may not be necessary to excavate all of them.

"We'll excavate until we understand more about the people and their lives," he said.

The team discovered the tomb of Bahariya's governor last May and hope to uncover the governor's mummy sometime soon. A surprise this year was finding the tomb of the governor's mother. Hawass discovered her sarcophagus and about 220 shawbtis, statuettes placed in a tomb to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife.

Hawass says he plans to open the sarcophagus soon.

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