The Egyptian government has with immediate effect revoked the digging rights of an American university team’s archaeological expedition in that country following the publicity given to an announcement by that team’s leader that thousands of blond and red-haired mummies have been discovered in the Fag El Gamous site.
Making the announcement, Dr. Youssef Khalifa, head of Ancient Egypt department for Ministry of Antiquities, said that the announcement by the University’s mission “violated the rules and regulations of the agreement with the Ministry of Antiquities concerning making press statements and that’s why the committee of the ancient Egypt department took the decision to stop their permission to work at the site.”
The basis of the dispute allegedly lies over the definition of what constitutes a “mummy.” As the original announcement by the Brigham Young University (BYU) stated, the remains unearthed were not artificially preserved mummies in the traditional sense of the word, but rather naturally preserved corpses in a commoner’s graveyard.
Dr. Khalifa said in this statement that a mummy “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 that the BYU mission had failed to respect the ministry’s regulations and had broken the law, which stipulates that no foreign mission is allowed to announce a discovery without the approval of the ministry’s permanent committee.
The BYU mission announced that its excavators were working in an ancient necropolis dating back some 2,000 years which contains an estimated one million burials. The mission has been working on the site for 28 years.
In his response, BYU team leader Dr. Kerry Muhlestein said that he believed there “have been some misunderstandings. I would like to work this out with the Ministry, for whom I have the greatest respect.”
An earlier blanket statement issued by Dr Muhlstein elaborated further on the finds:
“The cemetery is largely a Roman period cemetery, located in the Fayoum area of Egypt. The burials are not in tombs, but rather in a field of sand. The people in the cemetery represent the common man. They are the average people who are usually hard to learn about because they are not very visible in written sources. They were poor, yet they put a tremendous amount of their resources into providing beautiful burials.
“The cemetery is densely populated. In a square that is 5 x 5 meters across and usually just over 2 meters deep, we will typically find about 40 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, though we cannot be certain of this without further exploration and a thorough academic review process.”
It is unknown if the announcement about the large number of blond and red-haired mummies was the spark which persuaded the Egyptian antiquities commission to withdraw the BYU’s digging permission—but it is an established fact that the current Egyptian government is extremely hostile to any suggestion that the ancient Egyptian civilization was made by any other race except the present-day population.
The former Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass, for example, even went as far as to outlaw DNA tests on the mummies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, saying they were “unreliable.”
Given this background, the claim that the BYU team’s permission has been withdrawn over the semantic definition of a “mummy” appears very dubious.