Archaeologists working at a burial site in Egypt have unearthed ancient mummies with golden tongues.
The team, headed by Kathleen Martinez of the University of Santo Domingo, were working at the Taposiris Magna Temple in western Alexandria when they discovered 16 burial shafts dating from the Greek and Roman eras.
Tongue and masks of gold
The tongue was made of gold foil, according to a statement from the Egyptian ministry, which added that it was meant to ensure that the deceased person would be able to “speak in the afterlife.”
Archaeologists found other golden artifacts, too, including a funeral mask with golden flakes arranged in the shape of a wreath and some gilded decorations depicting Osiris, considered to be the ancient Egyptian god of the dead.
During the time of the pharaohs, gold was often used to decorate the funereal masks of rulers like King Tutankhamen. It had also been molded to encase the fingers and toes of the dead.
Golden tongues, too, have been found in Egyptian remains before, said Jennifer Houser Wegner, a curator of Egyptian artifacts at the Penn Museum in the US, where several of these tongues are housed. “For the Egyptians, gold was a material that had qualities of everlastingness,” Dr. Wegner said. “It never tarnished. It always shone brilliantly.”
According to the Egyptian ministry of tourism and antiquities, the tongue found at Taposiris Magna was meant to help the deceased converse with Osiris on their way to the afterlife.
Not well preserved
The mummies found there were not particularly well preserved. They date to a period more than 2,000 years ago, when Egypt was ruled by Greek Macedonians, and later Romans. The temple itself, according to the ministry, appears to have been built during the reign of King Ptolemy IV, a Macedonian king who ruled in the third century B.C (Before Christ era).
Queen Cleopatra VII, who reigned for about two decades before her death in 30 B.C, was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty before the Romans took over, and coins depicting her face have also been found in the temple.
The team, led by Kathleen Martinez, has been working for years to find Cleopatra’s tomb, and has focused their efforts on Taposiris Magna. But the burial site of the famous queen, who reigned from Alexandria and was said to have died there, has not been found yet.
“The stated goal of the team that found the golden tongued mummies is to find the burial of Cleopatra at Taposiris Magna,” experts said. “Many scholars believe, however, that the burial place of Cleopatra was within a royal burial complex, perhaps associated with the palace district, now lost underwater in the Alexandria harbor.”
The latest discovery comes as Egypt is making a concerted effort to draw visitors to the country, which depends heavily on tourism. In recent years, archaeologists have unearthed more than 100 delicately painted wooden coffins at the ancient burial ground of Saqqara, a 4,400-year-old tomb with rare wall paintings near Cairo, the Egyptian capital.