A team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Utah have had their excavation license revoked by the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry after claiming to have discovered "one million mummies."
Last week, BYU team leader Kerry Muhlestein announced the discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of many ordinary citizens located at the Fag el-Gamous cemetery southwest of Cairo. The team unearthed a densely populated cemetery in which 40 individual burials could be found within a 16.4 x 16.4 feet (5 x 5 meter) area and 6.5 feet (2 meters) deep.
Muhlestein made the claim last week in Toronto at the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Scholars Colloquium. A number of news outlets picked up the story, including the Daily Mail where he was quoted as saying, "[The] maths suggests that there are over a million mummies in the cemetery, though we cannot be certain of this without further exploration and a thorough academic review process."
Muhlestein's team added that a lot of wealth, "as little as they had, was poured into these burials," and that the bodies date from between the 1st Century and 7th Century AD when Egypt was controlled by Romans and Byzantines.
Youssef Khalifa from the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry refutes these claims saying there are thousands and not millions of bodies, and that they're not really mummies. The Luxor Times recently spoke to Khalifa:
"What was published in the newspaper is not true. There are no million mummies, a mummy definition to begin with means a complete mummified body and there is only one mummy found at the site of Fag El Gamous in 1980 which is at the Egyptian museum since then." Dr. Youssef added "In the past few seasons of the mission's work at the site, only poor skeletons were found and some thousands of bone's remains. The mission violated the rules and regulations of the agreement with the Ministry of Antiquities concerning making press statements and that's why the committee of the ancient Egypt department took the decision to stop their permission to work at the site after 28 years of working at the site and the last season finished last March."
In response, Muhlestein is quoted as saying, "I believe there have been some misunderstandings. I would like to work this out with the Ministry, for whom I have the greatest respect."
So, what do you think? A true misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to mislead? Or is this all just a silly case of semantics?