An ancient cemetery containing over a million mummies was recently unearthed in Egypt. A team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University is responsible for the discovery. They have named the ancient burial site Fag el-Gamous, which means “Way of the Water Buffalo.”
The excavation project has already taken the team of archaeologists a painstaking thirty years. In that time, they have uncovered over a thousand mummies and they are confident that these represent only a fraction of the total number of bodies that were buried at Fag el-Gamous. Project Director Kerry Muhlestein said he is fairly certain that the cemetery, which has been estimated at 300 acres in size, is composed of over a million burials.
Archaeologists stress the fact that the bodies they have unearthed are not mummies in the true sense of the word. True mummification is a medical preparation of the corpse. In the traditional Egyptian mummification process, most of the internal organs, including the brain, stomach and intestines but not the heart, were removed. The corpse was then embalmed using a combination of salts and oils. Finally, the mummy would be wrapped in linen from head to toe and placed in a stone coffin known as a sarcophagus.
The bodies that were unearthed at Fag el-Gamous were naturally preserved by the arid environment that is typical in Egyptian deserts, giving them the appearance of mummies. Muhlestein is aware that this is not true mummification and he admits to using the term loosely.
Because most of the dead were buried without jewels or treasures, as members of Egyptian royalty usually were, archaeologists believe that these were average people. Despite this fact, some of the mummies still had bracelets on their wrists. Archaeologists also uncovered bits of glass and linen among the buried.
Muhlestein and his team of archaeologists have dated many of the mummies to sometime between the first and seventh century A.D. and historians believe that the Roman Empire controlled Egypt during this time period. The team from Brigham Young University came across a few surprises during the excavation. For one, they discovered a male mummy that is more than 7 feet tall. Another oddity was the fact that blondes were buried in one area while red-heads were buried in another. This led archaeologists to believe that perhaps certain families or genetic groups were purposefully buried together.
Perhaps the biggest question for the team of archaeologists is where these people came from. There are nearby villages, but they all seem too small to have needed a 300-acre cemetery. The closest ancient town would be Philadelphia, but burial sites have already been uncovered around that area.
Yousef Khalifa, chairman of the Egyptian antiquities sector, finds Muhlestein’s claim of over one million mummies hard to believe. He thinks there could be a few thousand, but that it seems impossible to fit one million burials in the area defined by Fag el-Gamous. Either way, Muhlestein and his team of archaeologists will continue their work unearthing Egyptian mummies in an attempt to learn more about how they got there and where they came from.
By Dac Collins
Photo by Jimmy Smith – Flickr License