For 2,500 years, an Egyptian mayor who thought himself the pharaoh's equal lay hidden in his grave until a small hole revealed his resting place.
Two weeks ago, an archaeological team led by Zahi Hawass was digging in this city - a little over a mile from the temple Djed Khonsu Eus Ankh, the mayor of Bahariya Oasis around 500 B.C., had built for himself.
Suddenly, a hole in a tomb revealed a chamber of a neighboring tomb. Hieroglyphs on the colorfully painted walls proved the crew had found the celebrated mayor's final resting place.
The finding was shown in a live broadcast Tuesday night as Hawass' team led Fox Television along with actor Bill Pullman into the tomb for the opening of the sarcophagi in the two-hour special: "Opening of the Tombs of the Golden Mummies: Live!"
"Everyone was looking for the mayor because he was a very important man," said archaeologist Hawass.
The remains of his body had mostly deteriorated and were lying inside two finely carved sarcophagi - one inside the other - surrounded by amulets.
As the camera showed some bones and artifacts, an archaeologist explained that the mummy had deteriorated over the centuries because of the moisture and humidity in that part of the tomb.
Nevertheless, the personality of the ancient figure was revealed on the walls of his tomb, with drawing that depicted him as a haughty figure that had apparently believed he was on a level with the pharaoh.
The tour took also viewers to the nearby Valley of the Golden Mummies, where Hawass' team continued to unearth dozens of mummies in a 2.32 sq.-mile cemetery dating back approximately 2,000 years.
In several scenes, the explorers first lowered a mini-camera into a small hole into the coffins, clearly showing still-intact, mummified remains.
Last year, the valley, 235 miles southwest of Cairo, captured world attention with the discovery of 105 mummies, most of them covered in gold and plaster-covered linen with hieroglyphics depicting gods, goddesses and funerary scenes.
Hawass said that 102 mummies found in this year's two-month digging season are mostly poor and middle class citizens.
X-rays - performed for the first time at an Egyptian archaeological site - suggest that most of those buried were between 30 and 40 when they died, likely of kidney and liver diseases which Hawass suspects was due to the high level of iron in local water.
"Every day we understand more about the people who lived here," said Hawass. "This is the most scientific excavation ever done in Egypt."
He said the tombs will not be open to the public, and his team is covering up the latest findings as the season ends.
"A lot of our work is about preservation and conservation of the mummies and artifacts," he said. "We leave most as we found them and exhibit some in the Bahariya Museum."
This is Fox's second year broadcasting a live archaeological event from Egypt. Last year, the station followed Hawass into a 4,200-year-old tomb near Cairo's three Giza pyramids.
"(The Fox Show) is not planned as a yearly event," Hawass said. "But it gives us funds for excavation and it is good to educate the public and to show that Egyptian archaeologists make major discoveries." – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)