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Major new discovery of mummies in Alexandria from Greco-Roman era

During the discovery of 16 burial chambers in stone-carved tombs, the Egyptian-Dominican mission found several mummies, remnants of gilded cartonnage and tongue-shaped gold foil amulets.
A general view shows the temple of Tasposiris Magna, which was built in honour of the ancient Egyptian deity Isis in the Greco-Roman period, near Borg al-Arab, 50 kms (30 miles) west of Alexandria, on April 19, 2009. Archaeologists searching for the tomb of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra may be closer to locating the burial site of the legendary lovers, Egypt's antiquities council said. A team led by antiquities chief Zahi Hawass believes the tomb may be located in three possible sites near the temple and will

CAIRO — The Egyptian-Dominican mission of the University of Santo Domingo headed by archaeologist Kathleen Martinez, working at the Taposiris Magna Temple to the west of Alexandria, has discovered 16 burial chambers in stone-carved tombs, which are wall burial holes that were popular in the Greco-Roman era.

The mission also discovered several tombs that contained mummies in poor preservation condition, which is characteristic of mummification in the Greco-Roman era. Remains of gilded cartonnage were found in addition to tongue-shaped gold foil amulets that were placed in the mouths of the dead, a ritual that would allow them to speak in the afterlife before the Osirian court, according to ancient beliefs.

Two of these mummies were particularly important as they still had some bandages and parts of the cartonnage layer; the first mummy still had remains of gilding and bore gilded drawings of Osiris, the god of the underworld, while the other mummy wore the Atef crown, adorned with horns and a cobra snake at the forehead, as well as gilded drawings on the chest area showing a wide necklace with a falcon head, the symbol of the deity Horus.

The Egyptian-Dominican mission has had quite a number of archaeological finds since it started its excavation works 10 years ago, including a funeral mask of a woman, eight gold foil leaves from a wreath, and eight marble masks dating back to the Greco-Roman era, depicting the features of their owners in detail.

A number of coins bearing the name and image of Queen Cleopatra VII were also found inside the temple walls, in addition to several parts of statues that were believed to decorate the temple grounds, not to mention the temple foundation plates, which proved that it was built by King Ptolemy IV. 

Khaled Abu al-Hamd, director general of Alexandria Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that the mission has found since the beginning of the year a number of mummies, most of them in bad condition because of their proximity to the sea and exposure to very high humidity. In addition, a female funeral mask was found, eight golden flakes, eight marble masks dating back to the Greco-Roman era, two golden tongues, gold coins and a lot of gold dust.

He said all the gold discoveries were transferred to the Alexandria National Museum while the pieces of the statues, masks and utensils were transferred to the museum’s storage facilities located to the west of Alexandria.

Abu al-Hamd added, “Abusir city — also known by its ancient name Taposiris — is a very significant location that paints a clear picture of the [ancient] societies living in Egyptian cities and of the centers of the Egyptian deity Osiris in the Greco-Roman era. The Egyptian-Dominican mission is still carrying out excavation works specifically in a temple dating back to the Ptolemaic era.”

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass told Al-Monitor that the latest archaeological discoveries in Alexandria are a great addition to the Greco-Egyptian era collection, noting that many more discoveries are underway since the Egyptian-Dominican mission is yet to finish its work in Alexandria.

Mohammed Hamza, former dean of the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “This is one of the most important discoveries in Alexandria, both in terms of the type of tombs known as Lockley and in terms of the number of burials and their contents, dating back to 332 B.C. and 30 B.C.”

Hamza believes that these discoveries can help reveal more facts and fill some missing gaps in each era.

“The scientific knowledge helps these discoveries in promoting tourism to Egypt by adding a new tourism product that was not previously known. This is possible through good planning, tourism marketing, good monitoring and follow-up, and conducting sustainable tourism development work at the site, as is happening now as part of the Grand Egyptian Museum project, the Pyramids area, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and the Cairo Citadel Aqueduct,” he concluded.

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