In 1996 a donkey owned by a guard at Alexander’s Temple stumbled into a hole in the desert 6km southwest of Bawiti, alerting its master to what turned out to be the largest cache of mummies ever found in Egypt. Surveys revealed that this Greco-Roman era necropolis (no public access) covers ten square kilometres and may contain ten thousand mummies, stacked in family vaults – hundreds have been found so far. Whereas most are simply wrapped in linen, others are in terracotta coffins adorned with human faces, their bodies covered in gilded cartonage and their faces with stucco masks. These Golden Mummies caught the imagination of the public, and TV networks paid millions of dollars to film the opening of a series of burial chambers. It is widely rumoured that Egypt’s former antiquities supremo Dr Zahi Hawass enriched himself with backhanders and by secretly selling the mummies abroad.

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