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Egypt official denies ‘million-mummy’ find

A team of American archeologists claimed to have discovered more than a million mummies in an ancient Egyptian cemetery

Shounaz Meky

Published: Updated:

An Egyptian antiquities official denied on Saturday claims by a group of U.S. archaeologists of having recently discovered a massive cache – possibly more than a million – mummies at a cemetery in Egypt.

A team of American archeologists from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah claimed this week to have discovered more than a million mummies in an ancient Egyptian cemetery.

The remains reportedly date back to the Roman and Byzantine empires that ruled Egypt from the first century to the seventh century A.D.

If true, the find would have likely been one of the most significant in modern history.

“It is not true,” said Yousef Khalifa, chairman of the Egyptian antiquities sector, refuting the claims.

“The cemetery contains many skeletons, [but] not a million mummies,” he told Al Arabiya News. “A few thousand skeletons” were found at the most, Khalifa said.

The dead bodies were found in a cemetery called Fag el-Gamous – which means “Way of the Water Buffalo” – located 96 kilometers south of Cairo, in Fayoum.

They appeared to be of ordinary people, thus lacking any precious grave goods, Khalifa added.

“Only one mummy was found in that cemetery in 1980 and it is now presented at the Egyptian Museum,” he said. “The rest of the findings were remains of dead bodies.”

Mummification

Earlier in the week, a professor from BYU, which has had a team excavating Fag el-Gamous for about 30 years, said “over a million” bodies have been found in this cemetery.

“We are fairly certain we have over a million burials within this cemetery. It's large, and it's dense," project director Kerry Muhlestein, an associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU, told Live Science.

Muhlestein’s statements “loosely” described the discovered bodies as mummies.

“I don't think you would term what happens to these burials as true mummification,” Muhlestein said.

“If we want to use the term loosely, then they were mummified,” he told Live Science.

He said the bodies have naturally mummified due to the dessert they were buried in.

The team also found a body of a “mummified child,” which they say has laid to rest in this cemetery for more than 1,500 years ago.

True mummification, or the practice of preserving the human body, happens through a sophisticated process, Khalifa noted.

He pointed that the recently found burials were poorly preserved, and that it is inaccurate to describe them as mummies.

He also said the archeologists had breached the Antiquities Ministry’s regulations regarding the announcement of new discoveries, which require coordination between Egyptian officials and the research team.