National Geographic : 1999 Oct
at' OR H . IMS EW L LEAR AL MORE ABOU EGP DUIN THE GRE AN ROMAN PERIODS" of symbolic mourners buried with them. We step through another door to a brightly lit laboratory where some of Bahariya's antiquities are repaired or cleaned, revealing the history beneath two millennia of sand and dirt. Hawass picks up a four-inch-high faience falcon, fired to a rich greenish blue. The bird is perfect. Its individual feathers are visible and detailed. Its wings fold to a grace ful V behind its back; its hooked beak looks ready to rip open the next unlucky prey locked in its talons. Emanating both elegance and antiquity, the falcon is one of the most beautiful objects I've ever seen, and I can't help but wonder who was the last person in ancient times to hold it. Who, like me, regarded it as so perfect that he wouldn't want to depart for the afterlife with out it? Did he die with it in his hands? Before I can ask these questions, Hawass puts the sculpture back on the table and lifts an eight-inch square of limestone etched with concentric circles. "Look at this," he says, handing me the slab, heavy as a brick. "It's an early board game found in the tomb with the gilded mummies. Can't you imagine the ancient Egyptians playing this very game?" The bull's-eye has been scooped out, and a small cube of etched limestone-a die teeters in it. I hold the game gently, careful not to tilt it and roll the die. Who made this? And how many days and nights did they spend hud dled over it, immersed in contests full of teas ing, bickering, and maybe even wagering? "There were not the social diversions here that existed in the cities," Hawass explains, tak ing the slab from my hands and returning it to the table. "So they played games, had parties. Can't you see them eating dates and olives, drinking wine? This is why I love my job so much," Hawass says, pausing to ignite one last smile. "Each time we find an artifact like this, it helps bring a whole world back alive." [i Excavating burial sites: Are we trespassing on sacred ground? Comment online at www.nationalgeograph ic.com/ngm/9910.