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VALLEY OF THE GOLDEN MUMMIES
Western Desert, Egypt
Lat: 28°15'0.00"N Lon: 28°56'60.00"E
The Valley of the Golden Mummies is an ancient necropolis located about three hours southwest of Cairo in Egypt's Western Desert and is one of the most important archaeological finds in the world. None other than Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former Minister of Antiquities, guided me through the site. It is an overwhelming place to explore and I simply can't imagine being one of the archaeologists responsible for documenting it.

This was a huge day for me. I possess shamefully thin knowledge of ancient Egyptian history and, thus, I was utterly humbled by the opportunity to tour this amazing site with a man of such formidable reputation. Whatever you may have heard about Dr. Hawass, especially in light of Egypt's revolution and all that we know about power and corruption under Mubarak, he is a man of undeniable importance in the world of archaeology and antiquities. As far as my own first-hand experience, the man was only kind and genuine to me, on and off-camera, and strikingly passionate about Egypt's treasures and the need to preserve them for future generations. At the outset of my day with Dr. Hawass, I prepared to be dominated by an iconic, larger-than-life ego. At the end of the day, I felt I'd made a friend.

But the mummies! Yes, back to them. The mummies date roughly from Egypt's Roman Period, which began in 30BC and lasted for hundreds of years. During this era, Egypt served primarily as a Roman trading colony for the production of wheat, dates, papyrus, and gold, among other vital exports. The Bahiriya Oasis in the Western Desert was the source for a fortified wine famous throughout the Mediterranean. It was this product that made the oasis' population very, very rich. Think the Napa Valley of Ancient Egypt.

When people of any era become wealthy they often emulate the moneyed society that came before them. Thus, the new mercantile class of these desert settlements adopted the funereal practices of the Pharaohs and as a result mummification businesses flourished throughout the region. The Valley of the Golden Mummies was a central necropolis for this industry. As I explored the place with Dr. Hawass, it became clear just how big a business it had really become. In this corner of the antiquity, a lot of money was being shelled out to properly put the dead to rest.

But, as opposed to whole pyramids dedicated to a single ruler, these tombs are home to entire families of mummies, many of which wear death masks made of gold--hence, the valley's name. They were discovered, draped in various fineries along with currency and rare gems on their person. These offerings to the gods served to gain the dead person clear passage to the afterlife. It is fascinating to consider that, two thousand years later, not all that much has changed in the way we preserve our own dead, sending them off with our own commercialized funeral industry, costing a coin or two.
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