Sunday, July 9, 2017

Short Story: The Myth of Red Mercury

The myth of red mercury, a substance supposedly found in the throats of ancient Egyptian mummies, is still widespread in Egypt, writes Zahi Hawass.

The stories of tomb robberies are amazing but also tragic. The robbers do not realise that by cutting scenes and reliefs out from ancient temples and tombs they are damaging not only the history of Egypt but also that of the world as a whole.

During the 25 January Revolution, Egypt went through difficult times. On 28 January 2011, over 1,000 people sneaked into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. That night, the police had left Cairo and the city did not have a single policeman on the streets. We have to thank God for saving the museum, because the people who sneaked inside it did not find the gold room or the room containing the golden mask of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

When we entered the museum the next day, we found many gilded statues thrown on the ground. But the museum as a whole was saved because the mummy room was locked and the building was dark, so the robbers could not find its location. If these people had found the mummy room, the royal mummies could have been destroyed.

“Red mercury”, one of the things the robbers may have been looking for, is a mythic substance for many Egyptians. They believe that in the throats of mummies there is a liquid called red mercury. If someone possesses this liquid, he or she will be able to control the spirits and become rich. Of course, there is no such thing as red mercury, but many people still believe in it all over Egypt. A daughter of a friend of mine called me one day and said that her father had held a zar (a kind of religious ceremony) at his house and brought in a Moroccan magician who had made her father believe that he could summon up the djinn, or spirits, to provide him with red mercury.

The secretary of an Arab prince also once called me and said the prince would like to meet me. I agreed. The prince came and said that he would make the story short. “My mother is very sick, and we have taken her to doctors in Egypt and all over the world, but she is still sick. A sheikh who lives near us told me that the remedy for my mother was in the hands of Zahi Hawass.” I did not know what to say, because I did not understand why he was telling me what he was saying. “I am an Egyptologist and not a doctor,” I said.

A few months later, he called me one evening and said he wanted to see me. On his arrival he said, “I have $100,000 in my bag. If you will give me some of the liquid you have, I have the same amount at my hotel.” I realised that he was referring to red mercury. I told the prince that there was no such thing as red mercury. I found out from the prince that the reason he had come to me was because I had been working on a major excavation called the Valley of the Golden Mummies in the Bahareya Oasis and had found a large cemetery full of mummies dating to the Roman period and covered with gold.

The people of Bahareya had become rich because of the production of wine, and it was wine that everyone in ancient Egypt wanted to drink in the afterlife. The discovery of the mummies happened by accident when the antiquities guard of the Temple of Alexander the Great in the Oasis had been riding his donkey whose leg fell into a hole. He looked inside and saw mummies covered in gold. We excavated the discovery, which the foreign press called the “Tutankhamun of the Greek and Roman Period”... READ MORE.

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