Valley of the Golden Mummies

In 1996 the Supreme Council of Antiquities found a large cemetery that appeared to have been formed during the Greco-Roman period near a wine making town in Bahariya Oasis. I would love to try some of the wine from the Bahariya Oasis region – even if it wasn’t the “favored wine” of the time. What was equally interesting about this region was something a guard of “Alexander the Great” tomb discovered while traveling with his donkey. His donkey stumbled into a hole – in which five tombs were located. One hundred and five mummies were recovered and divided into four different socio-ecomonic classes based on how they were preserved and what was buried in their proximity.

The highest of these were sixty mummies located in a large tomb entered via a rock-cut staircase. They were carefully wrapped in linen and covered with gold plated masks on their cartonnage casings and some had gold foil over the chests. The next highest class of mummy was still wrapped in linen but only on their upper parts and they were painted with pictures of Egyptian deities. Paint must have been cheaper than gold. The third highest were wrapped in linen and placed in geometric shapes on the tomb floor. Finally, the lowest burial status mummies were poorly wrapped in linen and had no decorations or paintings.

I find the progression of burial methods interesting in that highest classes of burials were time intensive and value laden, however the lowest level of burial was poorly wrapped in linen. It was as if time itself was or had become a resource not worth wasting even in order to perform the most basic of burial ritual. It would be interesting to find out if the burial methods occurred simultaneously in time and by whom, or if the burial methods declined as the power of the Egyptian kingdom declined and it citizens suffered financial strife?

One thought on “Valley of the Golden Mummies

  1. I find this tomb a very interesting example of the divisions of social class in ancient Egypt. First, the fact that all four of these social classes were found in the same region of tombs amazes me because I would think that such a variety of ranking people would each have their own cemeteries based on status. Between the two highest class people, it makes sense that paint was cheaper than gold since gold was used more intricately on the higher status mummies. However, these second highest class people must still have been pretty important since Egyptian deities were painted on their linens. The next ranked people puzzle me because they were placed in geometric shapes. What was the significance of this placing, and what did these people do in life that made them be buried this way? Lastly, it makes sense that the lowest status mummies were poorly wrapped and had no decorations. Obviously they were not important enough or did not have enough money to be expensively wrapped. You also made a good point that time was very valued and it was not to be wasted on such low class people even though it is an important ritual. As the saying goes today, “time is money,” and that was probably also true back then!

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