Archaeologists have unearthed two tombs, containing the mummified remains of a man and woman who died about 2,500 years ago, in the ruins of the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, in what is now El Bahnasa.
During the excavation, the team stumbled upon a unique find: three gold-foil tongues. Adding to the surprise, one of the tombs had never been opened.
“This is very important, because it’s rare to find a tomb that is totally sealed,” Esther Pons Mellado, co-director of the archaeological mission from the University of Barcelona, tells Nada El Sawy of The National.
The sealed tomb, a male sarcophagus made of limestone, held mummified remains and an array of items, including a scarab amulet, four canopic jars that were used in the mummification process, and more than 400 pieces of faience, in the form of small funerary figures made of glazed earthenware. The mummy’s face was also well preserved with a golden tongue still inside his mouth, reports Sebastian Kettley of the Daily Express.
“We are still studying the inscriptions on the vessels that, we assume, will reveal the identity of the buried person,” Maite Mascort, mission co-director with Mellado, tells Sílvia Colomé of La Vanguardia.
In ancient Egypt, embalmers sometimes crafted tongues from gold foil and placed them inside the mouths of the dead to enable them to speak with Osiris, the god of the underworld.
Earlier this year, archaeologists working in Alexandria discovered a mummy with a similar gold tongue dating to around 2,000 years ago, as reported by Isis Davis-Marks for Smithsonian magazine at the time.
The three gold tongues found in the two tombs date to the Roman period that began in 30 B.C.E., reports The National.
Mellado tells The National that gold tongues have only been found at archaeological sites in Alexandria and El Bahnasa.
The other tomb, which had already been raided by grave robbers around the time of burial, held a sarcophagus in the shape of a woman, but the mummified remains were in poor shape, per the Daily Express. Buried alongside the body were beads, a stone headrest amulet and a figure of the falcon-headed god Horus. Two more gold tongues were also found; one inside the woman’s mouth, and another believed to have been placed in the mouth of a child’s remains.
The tombs date to the Saite dynasty, a period that lasted from about 664 to 332 B.C.E.
Prior to the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E., Oxyrhynchus was known as Per-Medjed. Located about 140 miles south of Cairo at the site of the modern town of El Bahnasa, it was an important Egyptian hub during the Saite dynasty, according to the University of Barcelona’s website.
The city connected caravan routes from the west to a port on the Bahr Yussef waterway, allowing the flow of people and goods to the Mediterranean Sea. When Alexander arrived, the city became home to large numbers of Greek colonists and enjoyed a close relationship with Alexandria.
In 640 C.E., Per-Medjed fell into a decline after Arab occupation of the area. More than 1,000 years later, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign of 1799-1802 C.E., French scholars identified the ruins, and the first excavations began in 1897. At that time, the archaeologists discovered a huge collection of ancient documents known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.
Per a translated statement released by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities earlier this month, Jamal Samastawi, director general of the Architects of Central Egypt, commended the mission’s work in the area over the past 30 years. During this time, archaeologists have found many graves that date back to the Sawi, Roman and Coptic era that have been of great importance to the El Bahnasa region, he says, in the statement.
The current excavations, led by the University of Barcelona in cooperation with the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, began in 1992. Scientists hope these new discoveries will allow them to better understand the funerary rights observed during this time period.