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Mummies: Egypt’s new set of artifacts that need to be preserved

There is long-held belief that mummies are dead bodies of demon-possessed individuals tied with clothes to prevent them from causing harm to the living. Contrary to that belief, mummies are truly dead humans but not necessarily demonic.

Mummies are dead bodies wrapped with linen with their arms across their chest before being buried. They are usually referred to as Egypt’s famously preserved denizens and are mostly from the middle class or high class society of the country. Their outer skin and organs have been preserved for decades using chemicals, exposure to extreme cold and very low humidity, to prevent them from decaying. The use of the word mummy to describe people buried in this way dates back to 1615 AD.

The earliest form of Egyptian mummies were created without the use of chemicals due to the condition of the environment in which they were buried. Before 3500 BC, Egyptians buried their dead in graves dug like a pit and the burial had nothing to do with the status of the dead in the society. These graves were usually shallow and therefore allowed the dead to naturally mummify due to the dehydration that occurs from the hot and dry ground. This preservation formed a huge part of the ancient Egyptian culture and religion because Egyptians attributed the preservation of the bodies as a prerequisite for enjoying a good afterlife

The country, being one of the first African countries to enjoy civilisation and development, saw this method of burying the dead as a symbol to recognise the wealthy, royal and high status individuals after death. This differentiated the rich from the poor and created a cultural hierarchy that led to the creation of elaborate tombs and preservation of the bodies using the best oils and minerals, a more sophisticated method of embalming. The poor could also be mummified using a different embalming method and a less elaborate tomb.

For over three years, there have been various discoveries of mummies in Egypt. In February 2015, a number of mummies with sarcophagi were found floating and retrieved from sewage water near El Minya, Egypt. A week before they were found, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities had recovered two Greco-Roman era mummies buried in tombs in a small village in northeastern Egypt. The remains recovered from the water was very few due to the damage caused to the sarcophagi. No one could say how the remains got to the water but experts at the ministry had suspected they might have been dumped there by looters and smugglers during illegal excavations.

Also, in November 2018, authorities in Egypt opened the sarcophagus of a woman mummified 3,000 years ago, one of the two ancient coffins found by a French-led mission near El-Asasef, close to the Valley of the Kings archeological site in south eastern Egypt.

After a few days, eight other mummies dating back to the same date were discovered inside limestone coffins. They were found in the southeastern area of King Amenemhat II’s pyramid in Dahshur Necropolis, near the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. These mummies were later kept in Dahshur’s storehouse for conservation.

Also, in December 2018, Egyptian archaeologists discovered the private tomb of a royal high priest named Wahtye. Since the priests were seen as important people and pleasing the gods was a priority  in ancient Egypt, the tomb was built for Wahtye. It was later found in the Saqqara pyramid complex near Cairo, untouched for 4,400 years and was filled with colourful hieroglyphs and statues of pharaohs. The tomb has however managed to escape looters because it was located in a buried ridge.

Recently, the first discovery of 2019 was made and this was the discovery of a burial site in Egypt which had over 40 mummies out of which 12 were children. These mummies which date back to the Ptolemaic era, were found in Minya’s archeological site of Tuna El Gebel during an excavation. The discovery included the remains of men, women and children most likely from the same wealthy family or elite middle class family, according to Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, Khaled El-Enany.

These mummies which are of different age groups are still in good condition, with some of them bearing traces of Demotic handwriting, and fragments of colored cartonnage covering near their feet.

According to the head of the mission, Dr. Wagdi Ramadan, the work at the tombs which started a year ago began with the discovery of a tomb engraved in a rock.

Meanwhile, after about ten years, Egypt conservators have revealed the newly restored tomb of King Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut. He became the 12th pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty at the age of nine and ruled for only 10 years before dying at the age of 19.

King Tut’s tomb which was discovered by Howard Carter, a British archaeologist in 1921 had been affected by humidity, dust and carbon-dioxide which left the murals and the paintings on the tomb looking dirty. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities collaborated with the Getty Conservation Institute to clean up the murals and renovate the tomb to depict the life of the king. They have also inserted an air filtration and ventilation system into the tomb to prevent humidity. A full-sized replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb was built in Egypt in 2014 to counter tourist damage.

With these discoveries, it is obvious that the ancient African Arab nation has added mummies to its list of attractions and this has begun to draw the attention of tourists from far and wide to the country. However, it is feared that if the tourists and visitors are not controlled, the preservation of the bodies might not last due to the wreck frequent visitation to the site of discoveries might cause.

Also, as exciting as these discoveries are, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities need to secure the artifacts from being looted and smuggled out of the country. According to experts, looters are likely to strip Egypt of most of its archaeological heritage within the next 25 years unless they are prevented by providing adequate security measures. More than 4,000 archaeological sites in Egypt have been examined using Google Earth satellite imagery through a satellite survey project, funded partly by the National Geographic Society. As a result, thousands of looting pits have been found across these sites.

This problem may be aggravated by possible treason from the guards employed at the archaeological sites in Egypt. They could be bribed by looters or scared off by armed treasure hunters who now use heavy machines and dynamite in place of the usual old tools to perform illegal excavations.

Conclusively, more than ever, the conditions of the discovered mummies and sarcophagi at the El Minya need to be restored and guarded. Just as the ministry was able to save King Tut’s tomb by preventing people from entering the tomb regularly, new barriers can also be created to limit entry into the tombs and provide a good view for visitors to the sites without entering the tombs. The guards also need to be well paid and well armed so as to be able to reject bribes and fight armed smugglers.