It’s not the first time that this has happened, but we still get a bit surprised every time. Archaeologists excavating at the Qwaisana Archaeological Compound in Egypt unearthed several ancient mummies, and some of them had golden tongues in their mouths — a possible mythological token to the afterlife whose purpose we don’t really understand.
Egypt’s government revealed the discoveries in a Facebook post. Mustafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council for Archaeology, said the mummies are in a poor state of preservation. Some had golden tongues, while others were covered with thin sheets of gold and others were glazed with gold on the bone under the linen wrap.
Last year, archaeologists found a mummy with a golden tongue while conducting excavations at the temple of Taposiris Magna in western Alexandria. The researchers believe that removing the tongue during embalming and then replacing it with the gold object was common practice so the deceased could speak to Osiris in the afterlife.
Osiris was the god of the afterlife, according to Egyptian mythology. When he was killed, he was hacked into pieces that were spread across Egypt. However, after gathering all the pieces, Isis, his sister and wife, was able to resurrect him. It’s believed that the gold tongue would allow the dead to ask Osiris to show mercy on their souls.
A new discovery
The new discovery was done at the Qwaisana necropolis in the central Nile Delta. The site, originally found in 1989, is believed to have been occupied during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (from about 300 BCE to 640 CE). The site has three different levels that show different burial habits, likely explained by the toms from different periods.
Gold was a popular material in ancient Egypt, used to make ornaments for funerary rites. The element was considered to be the flesh of the gods, especially the skin of the Sun God, Ra, and was associated with the concept of eternity. Ra was the creator of everything, the leader of all the ancient Egyptian gods, and was closely tied with Osiris.
As well as finding the golden tongues, the researchers discovered the mummies were buried with small gold lotus flowers and golden cockroaches. The flowers were a symbol of creation and rebirth in ancient Egypt, while the cockroaches could have been placed there to ensure elements in a mummy were consumed to be then reborn.
When interpreted together, the flowers, the cockroaches and the tongues refer to the soul’s transformation after it successfully negotiates a stay in the afterlife with the judge and lord Osiris, according to the researchers. However, they said more research still needs to be done, as we are barely scratching the surface of what life was like in Ancient Egypt — rituals like this one are almost a complete unknown.