Million mummy mystery: Egyptian cemetery with 1mn bodies stumps scientists
"We are fairly certain we have over a million burials within this cemetery. It's large, and it's dense," said Project Director Kerry Muhlestein, an associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University (BYU). Muhlestein presented his findings at the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Scholars Colloquium, held in Toronto in November, Live Science reported.
Archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, have been exploring a mysterious cemetery in Egypt for about 30 years. They excavated about 1,700 mummies within the project in Egypt so far. But there is still much work to do.
The archaeologists say that many of the mummies date back to the times when Egypt was a Roman province, from the 1st century BC onward.
Scientists say a nearby village seems too small to produce all these large burial sites. A small pyramid is situated near the cemetery. But it was built more than 4,500 years ago, about 2 millennia before these million mummies were buried.
People buried at the cemetery, which is now called Fag el-Gamous (Way of the Water Buffalo), did not belong to royalty, concluded the researchers. There were no coffins. And the internal organs of the deceased were rarely removed.
"I don't think you would term what happens to these burials as true mummification. If we want to use the term loosely, then they were mummified," Muhlestein said, adding that they were in fact mummified by the arid natural environment.
According to Muhlestein, “the burials are not in tombs, but rather in a field of sand.”
“The people in the cemetery represent the common man,” he said in an email to RT. “They are the average people who are usually hard to learn about because they are not very visible in written sources.”
However, researchers still found some beautiful items at the burial site. The objects include linen, glass and even colorful booties for a child.
"A lot of their wealth, or the little that they had, was poured into these burials," Muhlestein said.
The scientists said it is a large burial site and is densely populated.
“In a square that is 5 x 5 meters across and usually just over 2 meters deep, we will typically find about 40 burials. The cemetery is very large, and so far seems to maintain that kind of burial density throughout,” he added to RT.
Giants and blondes
During excavation the archeologists discovered a mummy of a 18 months old girl which was “beautifully wrapped in a tunic and with other nice wrappings,” the scientists wrote on BYU in Egypt Facebook page.
The researchers say there was evidence that they tried “much of the full mummification process.”
“The toes and toenails and brain and tongue were amazingly preserved. We found a wonderful necklace and two bracelets on each arm. The jewelry makes us think it was a girl, but we cannot tell.”
“She was buried with great care as someone who obviously loved her very much did all they could to take care of this little girl in burial. Very sad. But they succeeded, it was a beautiful burial.“
The scientists found one mummy with a height of more than 2 meters, Muhlestein told the audience in Toronto. The mummy was discovered long before Muhlestein became the project director.
"We once found a male who was over 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall, who was far too tall to fit into the shaft, so they bent him in half and tossed him in," he said.
The researcher later told Live Science that “even with great nutrition, it's really unusual" as generally common people didn’t have enough food at that time.
One more mystery of the mummy burials was the large number of blonde and red-headed mummies.
According to Muhlestein, the researchers can use the database to "show us all of the blonde burials, and [it shows] they are clustered in one area, or all of the red-headed burials, and [it shows] they're clustered in another area."
‘Perhaps we have family areas or genetic groups [in certain areas], but we're still trying to explore that," he added.