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The Valley of the Golden Mummies


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VOICE ONE:

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I’m Sarah Long.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Bob Doughty. On our program this week, we tell about recent discoveries made by archeologists working in Egypt. The discoveries are said to provide important clues about people who lived thousands of years ago.

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Archeologists in Egypt uncovered the remains of twenty ancient people late last year. Some of the dead were family members who had been buried together. The archeologists say the twenty people lived thousands of years ago during what is called the Greco-Roman period. That is when Greece, and later Rome, ruled ancient Egypt.

The human remains have lasted so long because they were specially treated before burial. Experts covered them with a substance called embalming resin. The treated remains are called mummies.

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The area where the twenty mummies were found is called the Valley of the Golden Mummies. Untold numbers of human remains are buried in the Valley. Its discoverers believe the area holds some of the most important archeological finds since King Tutankhamun.

Last month, research scientists used a device called a C.T. scanner to examine the body of King Tut. The researchers want to learn what killed this young ruler of ancient Egypt.

Scientists are using technology in the Valley of the Golden Mummies and other areas. They use radar to find burial areas and x-ray equipment to study bones. Experts also are performing experiments on the mummies and the objects found with them.

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The Valley of the Golden Mummies is near the Bahariya Oasis, about three hundred eighty kilometers southwest of Cairo, the Egyptian capital. The remains of Romans have been found in the Valley. The Romans lived there between two thousand and two thousand three hundred years ago. The oasis provided them with water in the desert.

The most famous archeologist in Egypt believes that Greeks may have developed the burial place at an even earlier time. Zahi Hawass is head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. He directs archeological projects in places like the famous Pyramids at Giza. Mister Hawass has been directing archeology in the Valley and the nearby town of Bawiti for the past six years.

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The Valley of the Golden Mummies was discovered accidentally in nineteen ninety-six. For this priceless find, science can thank an animal. One day, a donkey was carrying an Egyptian security guard across the desert. Then the donkey missed a step. Its foot slid into the top of a burial place covered with rock and sand.

Researchers soon learned that many people are buried at the Bahariya Oasis. The Valley covers an area of at least ten square kilometers. At least ten thousand mummies are buried there. Some estimates place that number much higher. Mister Hawass says it is the largest ancient cemetery ever found.

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At first, officials kept secret the finding of the Valley of the Golden Mummies. The Egyptian government wanted to prevent ancient objects from being stolen. Three years after the discovery, Mister Hawas led a team that found more than one hundred mummies. They were removed from four structures for the dead, or tombs.

Mister Hawass clearly remembers opening the first tomb. Gold shone brightly as the sunlight broke the darkness of thousands of years. Under the light, he saw the people of Bahariya. They lay in family tombs. Husbands and wives were buried together. Often their children were with them. Their remains were discovered inside painted containers, called coffins. Some had golden head coverings. Money, jewelry, and drink containers were buried with them.

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On a later dig, Mister Hawass and his team found more tombs. They also found wooden structures called stelae (STE-LE). Some were shaped like a religious center, or temple. These stelae had pictures of gods like Osiris and Anubis. They ruled the underworld and the dead. Such pictures were often seen in tombs.

The archeologists unearthed three other tombs in two thousand one. In one place, they saw a uraeus ((you RAY’ us)) on the golden head-cover of a mummy. Mister Hawass identifies a uraeus as a spitting cobra. He says this creature represents a ruling family. He suggests that this probably shows the dead person’s desire to become a ruler after death.

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Mister Hawass led the research team that uncovered the mummies in the Valley of the Golden Mummies last year. The Discovery Channel and Britain’s Channel Five television broadcast programs of the work directly from the Valley.

Television cameras showed twelve mummies lying together. One week earlier, researchers had found the remains in three separate burial areas.

Pieces of money were found near the mummies. Experts say ancient Egyptians believed they needed the money to enter the After World. The archeologists also uncovered small wooden statues of the dead. They also found jewelry, containers for cooking, and objects called amulets. Amulets were worn to protect against evil.

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Not all the remains in the Valley of the Golden Mummies are under the ground. Many individual bones lie on top of the sand.

Margaret Cox is a bone expert. Miz Cox says some of the bones already have provided interesting information. She talked about one head bone, or skull. She said damage to the nose shows that this person probably suffered from the disease leprosy. Teeth connected to the skull were in bad condition. Other physical evidence shows that the person probably died violently.

The Valley of the Golden Mummies has many such secrets about the people who lived in Egypt under Roman rule. Mister Hawass says the burial area may have been used during the rule of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. That began about two thousand five hundred years ago.

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Mister Hawass and his team also dug in areas close to the Valley. In the town of Bawiti, they found a surprise under modern buildings. They found the burial place of a family that governed part of western Egypt in ancient times. The remains were discovered in a container, or sarcophagus, made of limestone. The stone had to be carried to Bahariya from one-hundred kilometers away. Mister Hawass said this showed that the family was rich.

The sarcophagus holds the remains of Badi-Herkhib. The researchers say he was the older brother of a governor of Bahariya. The governor served during the period when the twenty-sixth family of rulers led ancient Egypt. Artwork is found on both sides of this sarcophagus.

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The artwork shows the sign of Maat. Mister Hawass said she was the goddess of justice and truth. Ancient writing also is found the outer cover of the sarcophagus. Mister Hawass said the writing means that the dead man had performed spiritual ceremonies. Perhaps he did so at the temple of Bes. Mister Hawass identifies Bes as the Egyptian god of pleasure and fun.

Governing Bahariya seems to have been a family activity. Badi-Herkhib was the grandson of a former governor named Djed-Khunsu. Djed-Khunsu lived more than two thousand years ago. He served in the administration of Ahmose Second. Ahmose ruled Egypt in the twenty-sixth period of rulers. Djed-Khunsu’s own burial place was found two years ago in another area of Bahariya.

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Mister Hawas says the sarcophagus and its writings show the riches of the Bahariya Oasis during that period. Many of the people became wealthy in the wine trade. This was especially true because people wanted to take wine with them to the After Life.

The wealth from wine products made the people of Bahariya rich enough to buy gold from mines in Nubia. He compared the Valley to the wine-growing area of Napa Valley, in the American state of California.

Zahi Hawass says he has uncovered three hundred-fifty mummies during his working life. But he expresses special pleasure in his work in the Valley of the Golden Mummies and Bawiti. He says he has not just learned about the lives of ancient people. Mister Hawass says he has found the people who lived those lives.

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This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. I’m Bob Doughty.

VOICE ONE:

And I’m Sarah Long. Join us again next week for SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program in V.O.A. Special English.

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