There are numerous ancient sites around the town of Bawiti, the principal town of the oasis. Since Bahariya’s fame which came with the discovery of the ‘Valley of the Golden Mummies’ some of the other monuments are now beginning to open up to visitors. At the Antiquities Department in Bawiti, visitors can buy one ticket which gives access to most of the open sites, with the exception of the ‘Golden Mummies’ tombs. Behind the Antiquities Department a small museum housed in a former warehouse contains five of the gilded Graeco-Roman mummies preserved in glass cases, as well as a small collection of other artefacts found in the oasis.

Among the ancient ruins still visible in the streets of Bawiti is an impressive system of aqueducts (called manafis) which runs for almost 3km through the town to gardens and a spring called Ain el-Hubaga. The spring and the aqueducts, which would have supplied water to the town in ancient times for use in the cultivation of crops, were still in use until the 20th century. It is usually assumed that the aqueducts are Roman in origin, but Ahmed Fakhry believed them to date back at least as far as Dynasty XXVI and were probably extended during the Roman occupation. Many of the ventilation shafts can be seen amongst the houses at Ain el-Hubaga.

A little to the north of Ain el-Hubaga on a ridge is Qarat Qasr Salim, where during his excavations in 1938, Fakhry discovered four tombs dating to Dynasty XXVI, two of which were well preserved and decorated. The first of the two inscribed tombs belonged to Djedamun-ef-ankh, an apparently wealthy landowner or merchant of Bahariya and though he held no priestly or political titles he was able to commission a large and elaborate tomb, complete with unusual (for Bahariya) round pillars, several painted false doors and extensive religious scenes. Djedamun-ef-ankh is depicted offering to the gods in his burial chamber and the ceiling is painted with representations of the goddess Nekhbet as a vulture in a starry sky. The tombs are reached via an iron ladder down a deep shaft.

Scene from the tomb of Bannentiu

The second tomb belonged to Djedamun-ef-ankh’s son, also a powerful businessman whose name was Bannentiu. This tomb is even larger and more ornately decorated than the first, having a square-pillared hall and three side-chambers. The tomb has recently been consolidated and restored by the Supreme Council of Antiquities and is stunningly painted in vibrant reds and ochres – the brilliant earth-tones of the oasis. While Horus and Thoth guard the entrance to the burial chamber, the deceased is shown on the plastered walls before a leopard-skin clad Iunmutef priest and an array of gods, including Amun-Re, Horus, Anubis, Wepwawet, Nefertum Re-Horakhty, Khons and others. Both of these tombs had been plundered in antiquity and re-used for collective burials during the Roman Period. They are historically important in that they show that pious nobility of the oasis during the Late Period, if they were wealthy enough, were able to construct elaborate burial places with scenes previously reserved for more lofty individuals. Unfortunately the decoration in Bannentiu’s tomb was damaged some years ago when thieves hacked away some of the reliefs. The culprit was caught and the blocks recovered and taken to Cairo Museum, but they have not yet been restored in the tomb.

In 1947, Ahmed Fakhry uncovered three Dynasty XXVI tombs in another ridge nearby at Qarat el-Subi, whose entrances were subsequently hidden by new buildings on the edge of Bawiti. However, in 1999 the Supreme Council of Antiquities rediscovered the tombs after being alerted to the possibility of locals digging for artefacts in the residential area. After beginning excavations the archaeologists located Fakhry’s three tombs, belonging to Ped’ashtar, a high Priest of Khons and priest of Horus, his grandson Thaty and Thaty’s wife Ta-Nefert-Bastet, who can be seen on reliefs wearing an unusual long white fringed robe in the Libyan style. These tombs had also been robbed and re-used during Roman times. Fakhry knew that the tomb of Bahariya’s famous governor Djedkhonsu-ef-ankh was nearby, he had found traces of the chapel’s walls beneath one of the Bawiti houses but was unable to excavate it at the time. In April 2000 the SCA, under the direction of Dr Zahi Hawass, finally discovered the tomb of Djedkhonsu-ef-ankh, which contains beautiful painted decorations more usually seen in the tombs of the New Kingdom. The burial chamber was found to contain the large limestone sarcophagus of the deceased, an alabaster coffin and the damaged mummy of Djedkhonsu-ef-ankh himself still inside a third coffin. Six gold amulets representing various deities were found on the body. Archaeologists are still investigating this area in the hope that the burials of other members of Djedkhonsu-ef-ankh’s family may yet be found. During excavations in 2002 to 2003 Dr Hawass found the remains of a house of a governor of the oasis near to these tombs.

On the southern edge of Bawiti is an area known locally as Qarat el-Faragi, or the ‘Hill of the Chicken Merchant’, because of the large number mummified birds found there. The galleries of sacred ibis and falcon burials which are contained in the ridge of Qarat el-Faragi actually now lie under the modern cemetery and are not open to the public. Dating from the Late Period to Graeco-Roman times, mummified bird burials were common in Egypt as a way of offering to or petitioning the gods and are often found in extensive warrens of tunnels stretching far underground. Qarat el-Faragi is no exception and here Fakhry found a central gallery with many other galleries branching off, each having recesses in the walls for stacking the jars which contained the mummified birds. He also found inscribed graffiti representing deities on the walls and many votive objects associated with the burials.

Another recent excavation near Bawiti has begun to uncover what is thought to be a Temple dedicated to the Roman god Hercules (Egyptian Herishef), believed to have been constructed or at least decorated during the first century BC, in the name of the Emperor Octavian Augustus. Several images of other Egyptian and Roman deities were also found in the ruins in the form of statuettes and stelae, with inscriptions in demotic and hieratic script as well as Greek. Although the temple is now almost completely destroyed, there are sufficient remains to determine the layout of the structure, which contained three chapels in its sanctuary. In early 2002, three new tombs were found in a local house in Bawiti and subsequently excavated by the Supreme Council of Antiquities who also discovered a temple of Amun-Re for which the SCA had been searching for fifteen years. The mission discovered the walls and columns of the temple on which hieroglyphic inscriptions to Amun-Re were found.

Many more sites around Bawiti are awaiting excavation and there is no doubt that there is a great deal in this area yet to be discovered in the years to come.

#tombs #QaratelSubi #QaratelFaragi #Egypt #Bannentiu #Bahariya #QaratQasrSalim

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