foxnews homefox home

Bill Pullman Chat

Photo Page

Webcast Video
  • 28k
  • 56k
  • 100k
  • 300k

    Map of the Tomb

    360° Tour of Egypt

    Make a Mummy

    Ancient Tomb
    Opened on Live TV

    An Ancient Oasis
    Is Rediscovered

    Producing TV From
    The Middle of Nowhere

    Egypt Has a Long
    History of Grave Robbers

    Disturbing the Dead

    The Pyramids and Sphinx

    Photo Essays
    Cemetery of Anubis

    Tomb Raiders

    Pyramids in Giza

    Cairo Marketplace

    Egyptian Treasures

    Egyptian Pyramids

    Mummy Dearest

    Death Masks

    Related Stories
    Bahariya Circa World
    War II: From English House
    to English Patient

    The Embalming Industry:
    Mummification for Faith
    and Profit

    Bahariya Has Much to Tell
    of Greco-Roman Egypt

    Greco-Roman Egypt Was
    a Culture in Transition



    Map of Bahariya

    Biography: Hugh Downs

    Biography: Zahi Hawass

    Fox Fast Links
    Link to Dr. Hawass' Site

  • Disturbing the Dead
    By Jonathan Broder
    CAIRO — Ever since archaeologists began excavating the Valley of the Mummies last year, their findings have offered an unprecedented glimpse into how people lived and died there some 2,000 years ago.

    William Tolan/
    Zahi Hawass is Egypt's premier archaeologist

    But along with the mummies' clues comes a quandary: How do archaeologists balance their thirst for knowledge with respect for the dead? When does a mummy stop being a dead person and become an archaeological artifact, like a shard of pottery?

    That is a question that has bedeviled both Egyptologists and political leaders for more than two decades.

    For years the perquisites of history took precedence and the bodies of 27 of Egypt's most illustrious kings and queens, including those of Ramses II and Queen Meret Amun, were on public display in the Royal Mummy Room of the Egyptian museum in Cairo.

    Then in 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, repulsed after Iranians displayed the charred remains of eight Americans killed during an abortive attempt to free embassy hostages, closed the room to the public, declaring it disrespectful to the dead.

    But five years ago, in an attempt to find some middle ground, the room was reopened and refurbished to resemble the dimly lit surroundings of a tomb. To maintain a respectful, somber mood, visitors are now prohibited from talking above a whisper.

    Not all of Egypt's mummified rulers have ended up in museums. The contents of the tomb of King Tutankhamen, discovered in 1922, forms the Egyptian museum's most celebrated exhibit. But his outermost coffin, made of gilded wood and containing the mummified body of the child king, still remains respectfully inside the granite sarcophagus in the burial chamber of his tomb in Luxor. The same is true for many of Ramses II's sons, whose tombs were discovered in 1995 in Luxor's Valley of the Kings.

    But that doesn't mean archaeologists and other experts haven't poked, prodded and examined them. Before they were re-entombed, specialists performed carbon-dating tests to determine how long ago these people died, forensic tests to assess the condition of their bodies, and DNA testing to see if they were related.

    Mummy Case of Amonred

    "It's very important to have knowledge about them, to understand the people back then," Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian government's chief archaeologist, told FOX. "Because if you want to make a better future, you have to know your past. Therefore, these people will forgive us if we disturb them a little bit."

    Hawass, who is leading the excavations in the Valley of the Mummies in Bahariya, an ancient oasis in the Sahara Desert about 200 miles southwest of Cairo, told FOX that in only the past few days, new tombs have been discovered.

    And when he opens these tombs and reveals their contents for the first time on FOX TV's two-hour special, Opening the Tombs of the Golden Mummies: Live!, on May 23, he says viewers will see for themselves what makes archaeological discoveries like these so exciting.

    More than 250 mummies already have been discovered in Bahariya, the first findings in a vast and ancient Greco-Roman cemetery that is estimated to contain more than 10,000 mummies. It is believed to be the largest concentration of mummies ever found.

    "I never thought I would be excavating mummies at all," said Hawass, who has spent most of career excavating the Pyramids. "But now, when we excavate and we see mummies every day, our hearts beat with excitement. This never happened before. Before, people discovered one mummy and that's it. But every hour we are finding a mummy, cleaning off the dust and revealing secrets from the sand. And these secrets educate us."

    But even in the midst of his professional zeal, Hawass remains adamant about balancing the needs of archaeology with respect for the dead. He said he will take only five mummies and place them on display in a museum in Bahariya. All the others, he said, will be restored and then placed back in their tombs, which will remain closed to the public.

    "After we finish our excavations, we are keeping them in peace," said Hawass. "I don't like mummies to be shown for a thrill or to scare children. I don't like to see mummies in a museum. I believe you should use mummies for education, not for a thrill."