Monday, November 14, 2005

Excavations in the Valley - the tombs (Part 2)
Part 2 of Zahi Hawass's occasional column in the Egyptian Gazette: "In 1999, our first season of excavation, we discovered the largest undisturbed burial site, containing over ten thousand mummies. It dates to sometime after 322 B.C., when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and its use continued into the period of Roman rule and perhaps into the fourth or fifth century A.D.The entrances of these tombs lie fifteen to twenty feet below the surface. The chambers are carved into sandstone bedrock and the walls, with one minor exception, are free of decoration. These tombs are family vaults, used by generations.
There are three types of tombs: tombs with staircases, entrance shafts, and surface burials. In both the staircase and shaft tombs, the builders carved stone benches, or mastabas, on which the mummies lay, sometimes up to six bodies on each bench. The surface burials consist of a shallow hole dug into the ground large enough for one mummy. They were placed near these larger tombs so that common people could benefit from the offering and rituals made for the wealthy.
When unearthing a mummy that has been buried for 2000 years, nothing can describe its smell. Over the years, I have become accustomed to this smell and my younger colleagues are shocked that I can continue to work undisturbed. The first time my assistant, Tarek el-Awady, uncovered a mummy in Tomb I, he looked as if he was going to pass out. While digging, he came in contact with black sand, which is caused by resins and decaying materials. It is an indicator you are close to a mummy. The excitement of the discovery makes you work faster, but the closer you get the stench grows stronger. Finally, you glimpse gold and the thrill of the discovery overpowers you unfortunately, so does the smell.
Tomb I contained four mummies, and is an older tomb. The mummy found in the shaft was buried in a coffin with an anthropoid, or human-shaped lid, an earlier style of mummification. Also this is the only tomb that has inscriptions and two-coloured drawings of Anubis, the god of mummification, guarding the burial chamber".

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