Two Golden Tongues Discovered In Mummies Buried In Ancient Egyptian Town

Golden tongues were thought to give someone the ability to speak to the gods after their death.

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Dr. Russell Moul

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology.

Science Writer

Edited by Holly Large
Holly Large - Editorial Assistant

Holly Large

Jr Copy Editor & Staff Writer

Holly is a graduate medical biochemist with an enthusiasm for making science interesting, fun and accessible.

A photo of one of the golden tongues found in the mouths of mummies Oxyrhynchus. The tongue is shaped like a leaf and has grooves running diagonally from a central line that runs up the middle of the object. These grooves are similar to the veins on a leaf and are a lighter whiter colour.

Two more golden tongues have been recovered from tombs in the ancient city, and eventually, the town, of Oxyrhynchus – but that's not all there was.

Image credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity

Archaeologists have unearthed two more Egyptian mummies with golden tongues at the ancient town of Oxyrhynchus, around 100 miles from Cairo. This brings the total number of specimens to 16, all of which have been recovered from this site.

Oxyrhynchus, otherwise known as the "City of the Sharp-nosed Fish", has been a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists for some time. From late 1896 to 1907, excavation teams discovered thousands of pieces of papyrus buried in ancient rubbish mounds at the site. The surrounding areas have been almost continuously excavated ever since, and have continued to yield various important finds, including papyrus texts from the Ptolemaic Kingdom (305-30 BCE) and Roman Egypt (30 BCE to 641 CE).


But in recent years, archaeologists have recovered even more intriguing artifacts: golden tongues.

During the Roman period, golden tongues were put into the mouths of some mummies in the belief that the precious object would aid the deceased in the afterlife. By having a gold tongue, it was thought the dead would be able to communicate with the god Osiris in the underworld. This was because gold, to the ancient Egyptians, was the “flesh of the gods”.

The tongues were discovered by archaeologists from the University of Barcelona, who were led by Drs Maite Mascort Roca and Esther Pons Mellado.

In 2021, the same team found three other golden tongues at Oxyrhynchus, but the latest finds were not the only discoveries of note.

A photo of two of the mummies recently discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The mummies are laid in two shallow pit-like sarcophagi that are next to one another. The sides of the pits are surrounded by piles of excavated rubble.
Two of the 30 mummies recovered from Oxyrhynchus in 2023.
Image credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity

In addition to these spectacular objects, the team identified three large hypogea, underground burial chambers, that date to the Ptolemaic period. Inside were nine sarcophagi, two of which had not been opened by tomb robbers.

The chamber contained over 30 mummies wrapped in “colorful rolls”, some of which also had “colorful funerary masks”, according to a statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. It was within the mouths of some of these mummies that the tongues were found.

The mummies were also accompanied by terracotta figurines of Isis-Aphrodite, a goddess that blended together the Egyptian goddess of healing and magic, with the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was associated with beauty.

"It is the first time that we have found in Oxyrhynchus terracotta with the image of Isis-Aphrodite and the first time that [these] kind[s] of pieces appear in this area of the middle Egypt," Pons Mellado told Live Science.

Pieces of terracotta statues of Isis-Aphrodite. There is a head of the figure on the far left with traces of paint on it. Then there's a broken piece below it. In the middle, there are two other heads with large shells-like features that look like headdresses. On the far right is a body of the goddess missing its head.
Terracotta statue pieces of Isis-Aphrodite, a blend of the goddesses from Ancient Egypt and Greece.
Image credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity

At the moment, it is unclear who these mummified individuals were, but they would have been important in their day, given they had been mummified and buried with such valuable possessions.


  • tag
  • mummification,

  • mummies,

  • discovery,

  • archaeology,

  • ancient egypt,

  • golden tongues