Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

False announcement?

Egypt cancelled the excavation license of a US archaeological mission after it announced, falsely, the discovery of one million mummies in Fayoum, Nevine El-Aref reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, Brigham Young University, working in Fag Al-Gamous area in Fayoum, south of Cairo, announced the discovery of one million mummies in a Roman cemetery there. The announcement, which proved false, led to the cancelation of the excavation license of the university’s mission in Egypt.

The Ministry of Antiquities accused the mission of making false statements in newspapers and breaking the ministry’s regulations, which stipulate that no foreign mission is allowed to announce a discovery without approval of the ministry’s permanent committee.

Head of the ministry’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Section, Youssef Khalifa, described the statement made by the US mission as “unfounded”. He went on saying that the mission unearthed only one mummy at the site, in 1988, and that it is now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. What the mission discovered, he continued, are thousands of human skeletons and remains of human bones that are in a very poor state of conservation.

Ahmed Abdel-Aal, head of the Fayoum Antiquities Authority, explained that the million figure is an estimate number, registered in research presented to an academic conference in Toronto last month by mission head Kerry Muhlestein, and is not a concrete number. He continued that the mission had been based in Fag Al-Gamous area for 34 years and during that time had excavated torn textiles and late period and Roman human remains. “No mummies were found except one discovered in 1988, inside a wooden anthropoid coffin with a gilded mummy mask,” he said.

Archaeologist Affifi Rohayem, head of the second Khufu solar boat project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that from the archaeological point of view it is impossible to stumble upon one million mummies at once in one cemetery. He explained that the necropolis at Fag Al-Gamous is a burial ground common during the Roman period.

The Romans, Rohayem said, used to bury their ancestors in a chamber inside their residential houses, but when the number of corpses increased they took their ancestors’ remains and buried them in land outside their houses.

“I am pretty sure that the burials found in Fag Al-Gamous is one of those necropoli, but the mission does not know much about it,” he asserted.

In response, Muhlestein told the media that he believes there have been misunderstandings that he would like to settle with the ministry, for whom he has the greatest respect.

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