One of the Golden Mummies. Creative Commons photo courtesy Roland Unger.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. The oasis became famous in 1996 with the discovery of a series of tombs of the Greco-Roman Period (332 BC-395 AD). They were found accidentally when an Antiquities Guard was leading his donkey on a sandy stretch near the Temple of Alexander the Great when the animal’s hoof broke through the surface. Once he extricated the donkey, he peeked inside and saw an underground chamber.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass excavated the site and found several tombs, removing more than 250 mummies. Many had gilded masks like the one pictured above, and the site soon became known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies. Hawass believes that he has uncovered only a tiny fraction of the tombs. A few are on display in Bahariya, including the one above, but photography is forbidden, so I wasn’t able to take any shots for you. How Roland Unger got this shot I’ll leave as a riddle unsolved.
Bahariya was an important place in Greco-Roman times, having good agricultural land that could be cultivated year-round, instead of the Nile valley that flooded every year. Thus it was a good spot for growing grapes to make wine.
Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD. This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.
Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.
Interior of the mastaba of Meresankh III. The row of
statues shows the queen and female members of her family
Not everyone gets a pyramid when they die.
As nice as it would be for everyone to get their own massive stone monument that lasts for all time, it’s really expensive and the one percenters want to have something of their own that makes them feel special.
So for those of us who don’t get to rule over Ancient Egypt with an iron fist, but aren’t so poor that we’re stuck in a shallow pit in the desert, there’s the mastaba, a home away home where we can spend the afterlife.
Mastabas were rectangular buildings made of mud brick or stone containing a few rooms and a burial chamber beneath it reached via a vertical shaft. They were wonderfully decorated on the inside and had a place for making offerings to the dead.
A remarkable exhibition at the British Museum is revealing the secrets hidden inside mummy wrappings.
Ancient Lives, New Discoveries showcases eight mummies from the Nile valley, Africa’s greatest center of ancient civilization. Seven were found in Egypt and an eighth was uncovered in Sudan. They have all been analyzed with the latest model CT scanner at a London hospital to reveal information about the people without their having to go through damaging analysis.