BYU archaeology dig license revoked after controversial ‘mummies’ find
Professor Kerry Muhlestein of BYU - courtesy of Dash Morgenstern via Flickr

CAIRO: The Antiquities Ministry has suspended an excavation license given to a Brigham Young University archaeology team following a story in The Daily Mail newspaper quoting the team’s leader saying they may have discovered “one million mummies,” a claim the ministry has challenged, and called “inaccurate news.”

The BYU team made its claimed discovery excavating in Fag el-Gamous cemetery southwest of Cairo, according to a statement on the ministry’s Facebook page Friday.

Kerry Muhlestein, the director of the archaeology team, announced Wednesday the discovery of a mass grave on the site containing the remains of huge numbers of ordinary citizens, The Daily Mail reported.

“A lot of their wealth, as little as they had, was poured into these burials. The cemetery is very large, and so far seems to maintain that kind of burial density throughout. Thus the math suggests that there are over a million mummies in the cemetery,” Muhlestein was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

He added the bodies date from between the 1st century and 7th century, when Egypt was controlled by the Roman and Byzantine empires.

The ministry, however, appears to have taken umbrage not with the BYU team’s discovery of large numbers of human remains, but instead with its claim that all the remains belonged to mummies.

“What was published in the newspaper is not true,” said Youssef Khalifa, the head of the Ancient Egypt Department, in a statement on the ministry’s Facebook page.

“A mummy definition to begin with means a complete mummified body and there is only one mummy found at the site of Fag el-Gamous in 1980, which is at the Egyptian Museum since then,” he added, before describing the bodies at the site as “only poor skeletons and plenty of bones, some of which are wrapped in textiles.”

Mummification was an expensive process that only pharaohs and royals were able to afford. The materials used in mummifying a dead body depended on the wealth of the deceased, archaeologist Sherif el-Sabban told The Cairo Post Saturday.

“There are many attempts by low class people trying to preserve their bodies through mummification, but none of them can be compared to the well-preserved royal mummies, especially those in the mummies room of the Egyptian Museum,” Sabban said.

According to ancient Egyptian mythology, a well-preserved body was important for the deceased’s soul to recognize their body when they were resurrected, he said.

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  1. Kirsty
    December 22, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Why take a permet away because of a news story? That is not a very good reason for doing it. It was just an estmet after all.

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