Western Desert Oases Feature

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The Golden Mummies

In 1996, an Egyptian antiquities guard on a donkey stumbled into a hole in the ground, accidentally discovering the first of a series of important Greco-Roman era mummies (from the 4th century BC to early 4th century AD). The uncovered mummies were in excellent condition, providing archaeologists with a rich seam of evidence and information about life in the waning days of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and practices. Particularly striking are the funerary masks of the mummies. Many have gilded faces—which inspired the popular name of the site, Valley of the Golden Mummies—with gold paint covering their face. Others have flesh-color stucco masks, but all were sculpted to show an image of the person during life, with painted hair and differing facial expressions. Some masks were made from casts of the individuals. The finest examples have gilded fingernails and toenails added to the bodies after mummification. They are encased in highly ornate sycamore-wood sarcophagi, usually depicting scenes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Archaeologists are particularly excited about studying the details of the mummification process and funerary rituals and how they differ from those used in earlier periods.

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