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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK

World: Middle East

Golden mummies discovered

'Valley of the mummies' is the biggest of its kind

Archaeologists in Egypt have announced the discovery of at least 200 mummies, some of them with golden masks, in a huge cemetery in the Western Desert.

The BBC's Daniela Relph: Magnificent designs
The burial ground, near a desert oasis, is believed to contain more than 10,000 mummies, making it the biggest ever uncovered, Egypt's Middle East News Agency said.

The area, within the city of Bawiti, 300 kilometres (185 miles) southwest of Cairo, has been renamed "Valley of the Mummies", it added.

[ image:  ]
Fifty mummies were found in each of four rooms in the six-mile long cemetery which dates back to the early Graeco-Roman era 2,000 years ago.

They included wealthy people and some rulers, Gaballah Ali Gaballah, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said.

'Magnificent designs'

Cairo and Giza antiquities director Zahi Hawass said the first 200 mummies were uncovered after a four-year excavation.

Barbara Plett: "Egypt has so many mummies, the antiquities department sometimes can't keep up"
He told the news agency that some of the mummies wore golden masks ''with magnificent designs of ancient Egyptian divinities on their chests''.

Others were coated in plaster or covered with linen and some lay in terracotta sarcophagi bearing representations of the human head.

Mr Hawass said work would continue until the rest were uncovered.

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