National Geographic : 1999 Oct
ramparts of a military garrison for Greek and Roman soldiers. The scientists have also discovered that Bahariya Oasis is drying up. During the Greco-Roman period the water table lay only 15 feet beneath the surface; today, wells must be sunk 4,500 feet to hit water. Throughout the oasis workers have un earthed more than 7,000 artifacts. One after noon Hawass shows me the provisional museum at the taftish, the antiquities head quarters in nearby Bawiti where many of them are stored. Inside a series of secure buildings near the center of town, curators welcome Hawass like royalty. We walk to a locked room where three mummies rest in glass cases mon itored for temperature and humidity. "We found these mummies last year," he says, "but we realized we'd need a very thor ough excavation, so we closed the tomb until now. These came from one of the excavations we worked on today." One of the mummies wears a headdress with a gilded scene of a flying falcon-probably the god Horus, an ancient symbol of royalty. All three have gilded cartonnages that are brightly painted. "You can tell by the gold, the flying Horus, and the cartonnages that these people were rich," Hawass says. "They were probably from a higher class. They might have been overseers of the desert, managing the farmers who cultivated crops. We have found evidence that Bahariya was a large government wine making center." The mummies' funerary masks, with their curls, long aquiline noses, and wide eyes, reflect the influence of Greek sculpture. And instead of the solid gold of pharaonic masks, each of these masks is made of plaster coated with a thin layer of gold. The reason for the change? Before the arrival of the Greeks, Hawass says, Egyptians bartered for goods and services instead of using money. Then the Greeks introduced coinage, which eventually led to a wider distri bution of wealth. More people could afford to buy burial masks, so workshops began produc ing more of the gilded variety-masks that had the look of royal versions but not the price. Other glass cases hold a dozen unusual foot high statues of wailing mourners found with one gilded mummy. Hawass believes you can tell how important people were by the number CONQUERORS' COINS could be useful in a netherworld infiltrated by their gods. Most of these bronze pieces from a Bahariya tomb are from the Roman period. Guarding trade routes linking the western oases, a Roman fort (right) embodies the centuries of foreign rule that recast Egyptian life-and afterlife.