Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Egypt and the Birth of Egyptology

video credits:
Ohlone College Art 103A
Professor Kenney Mencher
(Art History Stone Age Technology through the Early Renaissance)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ancient Egyptian chariot trappings rediscovered

Forgotten drawers in Egyptian museum yield 'astonishing' leather find.

by Jo Marchant

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Archaeology meets politics: Spring comes to ancient Egypt

As the country struggles to refashion its government, archaeologists are looking warily towards the future.

23 November 2011

In a secluded stretch of desert about 300 kilometres south of Cairo, hundreds of bodies lie buried in the sand. Wrapped in linen and rolled up in stiff mats made of sticks, they are little more than bones. But their ornate plaited hair styles and simple personal possessions help to reveal details about the individuals in each grave. The bodies date from around 3,300 years ago, when the Pharaoh Akhenaten renounced Egypt's traditional polytheistic religion and moved his capital to remote Amarna, to worship just one god: the Sun disc Aten.

The cemetery offers a window on a unique episode in Egyptian history, a revolution that some see as the birth of monotheism. Barry Kemp, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and director of the Amarna Project, has been working with his colleagues to excavate the skeletons, and says that they are starting to reveal “an alarming picture of a stressful life”. Many Amarnans died young, with retarded growth and signs of multiple injuries. Some young men had marks where their shoulder blades had been pierced, perhaps as part of a brutal ritual.

Kemp can't say much more about the skeletons because he had to flee the site in January, putting his team on flights out of the country and walling up his storehouses as a present-day revolution sent the country into chaos. Although the situation soon calmed — in fact, Amarna did not suffer a single episode of looting — Kemp has spent months waiting for permission to resume excavations. Other teams working in the country tell a similar story. “We've lost a year,” says Frank Rühli, a palaeopathologist from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, who was scheduled to start work in February on human remains at the pyramids of Saqqara, near Cairo, and in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor.

The block on excavations has been the latest in a series of obstacles for archaeologists working in Egypt — the home of perhaps one-third of the world's antiquities, which reveal a vanished culture in unmatched detail.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On This Day: King Tut’s Tomb Discovered

November 26, 2011 06:00 AM

by findingDulcinea Staff

On Nov. 26, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter made a small hole in a sealed doorway and, holding up a candle, shed light onto King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Luxor, Egypt, for the first time in more than 3,000 years.

Tutankhamen’s Tomb Discovered

When Carter first arrived in Egypt, in 1891, as part of a British-sponsored archaeological survey, most of the ancient tombs had been discovered and plundered; it seemed unlikely that any undisturbed burial chambers remained.

Carter, however, believed that the tomb of Tutankhamen, the boy king from 14th century B.C., still laid in the Valley of the Kings, on the eastern side of the Nile River. Sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, a collector of antiquities, Carter began excavating in the area in 1914.

On Nov. 4, 1922, Carter found the first signs of what proved to be Tutankhamen's tomb. But it was not until Nov. 26, after days spent clearing a passage down a long, steep stairway, that
he and Lord Carnarvon reached a second sealed doorway
, behind which were hidden treasures of the boy king’s last resting place.

In his diary, Carter described the inside the tomb as a “
strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another.

“We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all,” he wrote. “Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of Tut.ankh.Amen on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh.”

On Feb. 16, 1923, after three months of removing the treasures, Carter was at last able to unseal the door of the burial chamber,
revealing King Tut’s solid gold coffin and mummified remains.

Though they might seem today to be treasures beyond imagining, the contents of King Tut's tomb were modest by Pharaonic standards. In addition to jewelry and gold, Carter discovered a chariot, statuary and weapons.

The most stunning find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, made of solid gold, was the mummified body of Tutankhamen, preserved for 3,200 years.

Biography: Tutankhamen

Tutankhamen ruled Egypt from 1336 to 1327 B.C. His father Akhenaten left the 9-year-old heir with a country in ruins as a result of religious extremism.

The young king was originally named Tutankhaten, or "the living image of Aten," after the sun god. While he was young, the military and priesthood used him as a puppet while they pushed a return to traditional ways and religion. As a result, they renamed him Tutankhamen, after Amen, a traditional god.

Tutankhamen died suddenly at the age of 19
, and the circumstances of his death are still debated. A 1968 x-ray revealed loose bone fragments in Tut’s skull, which fueled speculation that he was murdered.

Recent scholarship has found that it is unlikely that Tut died of head trauma; the damage to the skull was more likely caused by the embalmers or by Carter’s excavators. Most scientific theories for Tut’s death
focus on disease or infection.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ashmolean museum: the critic's view

Historically important and mesmerising, the Egyptian galleries have something for everyone, writes Jonathan Glancey

"Can you see anything?" whispered Lord Carnarvon as, with the light of a candle, Howard Carter peered for the first time into the tomb of Tutankhamun. "Yes, wonderful things," came the famous reply. Those wonderful things came to light on 26 November 1922, sparking a popular and enduring fascination around the world with all things ancient, mummified and Egyptian.

The Ashmolean, Britain's oldest public museum (founded in 1683), will this Saturday open the doors of six newly refurbished galleries devoted to its collection of some 40,000 Ancient Egyptian and Nubian antiquities – a collection of outstanding quality.

Spanning the Nile's cultural history, from its prehistoric roots to the days of Egypt under Roman rule, the objects on display here are hugely important from a historical point of view. Mesmerising, too. The new galleries mark the completion of a second phase of the £66m renovation and transformation of the Ashmolean by its director, Christopher Brown and his architect, Rick Mather. The first opened to critical acclaim in 2009.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A mummy revealed in Richmond

By Teresa Annas
The Virginian-Pilot
© November 19, 2011


John Taylor has been digging into the background of a guy with a tongue-twisting name - Nesperennub.
That's nez-pair-ren-newb. Nez for short.

Taylor is an assistant keeper, or curator, in the ancient Egypt and Sudan department of London's British Museum. He has gotten to know Nez pretty well, but the curiosity is not reciprocated.

Nez has been dead for nearly 3,000 years. Still, he left a trail of clues.

Picture Taylor as a scholarly Sherlock Holmes, magnifying glass in hand, piecing together the mystery of this man's life, death and afterlife in what was the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes - now Luxor.

Taylor's findings can be examined - bring your own magnifier, if you wish - at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where the international touring show "Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb" goes on view today.

The show, which covers 2,000 years of Egyptian history with about 100 objects, is premiering in Richmond for its only American stop. Next, it goes to Queensland, Australia.

All of the artifacts are on loan from the British Museum, which has the most comprehensive collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt. The exhibition includes everyday items, such as jewelry, and objects related to an ancient Egyptian's afterlife, including canopic jars for storing a dead person's dried organs.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ancient Egypt: Predynastic Period

By Alistair Boddy-Evans

This period corresponds to the Late Neolithic (Stone Age), and covers the cultural and social changes which occurred between the late Palaeolithic period (hunter gatherers)and the early Pharaonic era (the Early Dynastic Period). During the Predynastic Period Egyptians developed a written language (centuries before writing was developed in Mesopotamia) and an institutionalised religion. They developed a settled, agricultural civilization along the fertile, dark soils (kemet or black lands) of the Nile (which involved the revolutionary use of the plough) during a period in which Northern Africa was becoming more arid and the edges of the Western (and Saharan) desert (the deshret or red lands) spread.

Although archaeologists know that writing first emerged during the Predynastic Period, very few examples still exist today. What is known about the period comes from remains of its art and architecture.

The Predynastic Period is divided into four separate phases: the Early Predynastic which ranges from the 6th to 5th millennium BCE (approximately 5500 - 4000 BCE), the Old Predynastic which ranges form 4500 to 3500 BCE (the time overlap is due to diversity along the length of the Nile), the Middle Predynastic which roughly goes form 3500 - 3200 BCE, and the Late Predynastic which takes us up to the First Dynasty at around 3100 BCE. The reducing size of the phases can be taken as an example of how social and scientific development was accelerating.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Unwrapping the ancient Egyptian animal mummy industry

By Jane O'Brien BBC News, Washington

The ancient Egyptian animal mummification industry was so large it put some species in danger of extinction. But as a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC shows, the Egyptians believed they were doing the animals a great honour.
Egypt in the 7th Century BC was not a healthy place to be if you were a cat or a dog.
Puppy farms and other animal breeding programmes were a huge industry - not to produce pets, but to provide a stock of animals to be killed and mummified.
The Egyptians believed that animals held a unique position in the afterlife. They could keep the dead company, they represented the gods, and they were well received as offerings by the gods, Egyptologists say.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ashmolean Opens The New Galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia on 26 November 2011

On Saturday 26 November 2011, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford will open six new galleries for the collections of Ancient Egypt and Nubia (present day Sudan). Building on the success of the Museum’s extension, which opened in 2009, this second phase of major redevelopment redisplays the world-renowned Egyptian collections to exhibit objects that have been in storage for decades, more than doubling the number of mummies and coffins on display. The galleries will take visitors on a chronological journey covering more than 5000 years of human occupation of the Nile Valley.

The £5 million project has received lead support from Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust, along with the Selz Foundation and other trusts, foundations and individuals. Rick Mather Architects have led the redesign and redisplay of the pre-existing Egypt galleries and the extension into the restored Ruskin Gallery, previously occupied by the Museum Shop. The contractor Beard has completed the construction work in the historic building. New openings link the rooms, presenting the collections under the broad themes of Egypt at its Origins; Dynastic Egypt and Nubia; Life after Death in Ancient Egypt; The Amarna ‘Revolution’; Egypt in the Age of Empires; and Egypt meets Greece and Rome.

The Ashmolean is home to some of the finest Egyptian and Nubian collections in the country, with Predynastic and Protodynastic material which ranks amongst the most significant in the world. With new lighting, display cases and interpretation, the project completes the Ashmolean’s Ancient World Floor, comprising galleries that span the world’s great ancient civilisations – from Egypt and Nubia, Prehistoric Europe, the Ancient Near East, Classical Greece and Rome, to India, China and Japan.

“We are enormously grateful to Lord Sainsbury and the Linbury Trust for initiating this transformative project for one of the most important and popular areas of the Museum. Rick Mather’s design for the galleries now allows us to display material that, for reasons of conservation, has not been seen for up to half a century.” Dr Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean.

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said, "These remarkable collections are among the most important outside Egypt and one of the Ashmolean’s most popular attractions. With an exciting series of new galleries, the redevelopment transforms opportunities for using the collections for teaching and research at all levels, and the way they are enjoyed, cared for and integrated within the wider Museum.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Discoveries at Mendes and Theban Tombs Opening More Windows on Ancient Egypt

One might think that the archaeological treasures of ancient Egypt have been pretty much picked over by now. Of all the civilizations that have graced the pages of archaeological romance, ancient Egypt stands arguably on top. For thousands of years, tomb robbers have looted it, and since the 18th century, archaeologists have systematically pored over the remains. Thus it could be said that this field has already seen its heyday.

But for Professor Donald Redford and Dr. Susan Redford of Pennsylvania State University, like other scholars in their field, it offers a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new finds and surprises that continue to excite the imagination of would-be Egyptologists and archaeologists.

For the past two decades, they have directed expeditions to two separate ancient locations in Egypt, one near the west bank of the Nile in the Valley of the Nobles, part of the Theban necropolis opposite Luxor, and the other much farther to the north in the Nile Delta region. Both locations have yielded discoveries that have made archaeology news headlines and have created new questions and avenues of investigation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Great Pyramid shut to avoid 11/11/11 rituals

EGYPT will close the Great Pyramid of Giza later today to avoid any rituals by a group rumoured to have plans to mark the date of 11/11/11 at the site, an official said.

The decision came "after much pressure" from Egyptian Internet users saying strange rituals were going to be held "within the walls of the pyramid on November 11, 2011", said Atef Abu Zahab, head of the Department of Pharaonic Archaeology.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities confirmed the closure of the tourist site in a statement that only referred to the need for maintenance following a busy period during Muslim holidays.

The Pyramid of Cheops is the biggest and most famous of the three Giza pyramids. It houses the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu, and is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Numerologists are anxiously awaiting today, when the digital alignment of ones occurs at 11.11 am, which some believe will lead to unusual events.

Thousands of people plan to meet at the time around the world for ceremonial dances, and several pages devoted to the date have appeared on social networking website Facebook.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oldest Rock Art in Egypt Discovered

Source: Yale

Using a new technology known as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), a team of Belgian scientists and Yale Professor of Egyptology John Coleman Darnell have determined that Egyptian petroglyphs found at the east bank of the Nile are about 15,000 years old, making them the oldest rock art in Egypt and possibly the earliest known graphic record in North Africa.

The dating results will be published in the December issue of Antiquity (Vol 85 Issue 330, pp. 1184-1193).

The rock art sites are situated near the modern village of Qurta, on the east bank of the Nile, about 40km south of the Upper-Egyptian town of Edfu. First seen by Canadian archaeologists in the early 1960s, they were subsequently forgotten and relocated by the Belgian mission in 2005. The rediscovery was announced in the Project Gallery of Antiquity in 2007.

The rock art at Qurta is characterized by hammered and incised naturalistic-style images of aurochs and other wild animals. On the basis of their intrinsic characteristics (subject matter, technique, and style), their patina and degree of weathering, as well as the archaeological and geomorphological context, these petroglyphs have been attributed s the late Pleistocene era, specifically to the late Palaeolithic period (roughly 23 000 to 11 000 years ago), making them more or less contemporary with European art from the last Ice Age, such as, most notably, the wall-paintings of Lascaux and Altamira caves.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ancient Amarna Letters of Egypt Now Online

High-resolution images of the famed Amarna letters, the ancient 14th-century B.C.E. diplomatic correspondence between the New Kingdom pharaohs of Egypt and the kings of various Canannnite city-states, among others, have been placed online by Berlin's Vorderasiatisches Museum, which houses more than 200 of the total of over 300 tablets that define the ancient corpus.

Among the images are those representing letters written by Abdi-Heba, king of Canaanite Jerusalem, to the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. In that correspondence the Canaanite king, allied with Egypt, requests the Pharaoh to send troops to Jerusalem for the defense of the city against other threatening Canaanite kings. In other correspondence, King Biridiya of Megiddo complains about the King of Gezer's attacks on his territory and attempts to improve his status with the Pharaoh. Although these events are but a small portion of the variety of issues and events presented through the ancient writings, they have represented a tantalizing window on the political affairs and times of 14th-century rulers in the ancient Middle East.

The letters, consisting of baked clay cuneiform tablets written primarily in Akkadian (the language of diplomacy for this period), were initially discovered in 1887 in the ruins of Tell el-Amarna (ancient Akhetaten, the capital city founded by the "heretic" Pharaoh Akhenaten), by local Egyptians who secretly dug and then sold them on the antiquities market. The first controlled excavation of the site by archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1891–92 recovered 21 more fragments. Later, additional tablets or tablet fragments were recovered from various sources. The Amarna letters are now scattered among museums in Cairo, the United States, and Europe, although the majority of them are in the possession of the Vorderasiatisches Museum. Spanning a correspondence period of fifteen to thirty years, the tablets have been dated to the period between about 1388 to 1332 B.C.E., which included the reigns of Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, and the first year or two of Tutankhamun's reign. Dating is still a matter of some scholarly debate.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ancient Egypt: The Father Of Time

Part I: The Origin Of The Modern Calendar

By Alistair Boddy-Evans, Guide

The way in which we divide the day into hours and minutes, as well as the structure and length of the yearly calendar, owes much to pioneering developments in ancient Egypt.
Since Egyptian life and agriculture depended upon the annual flooding of the Nile, it was important to determine when such floods would begin. The early Egyptians noted that the beginning of akhet (inundation) occurred at the helical rising of a star they called Serpet (Sirius). It has been calculated that this sidereal year was only 12 minutes longer than the mean tropical year which influenced the flooding, and this produced a difference of only 25 days over the whole of Ancient Egypt's recorded history!

Ancient Egypt was run according to three different calendars. The first was a lunar calendar based on 12 lunar months, each of which began on the first day in which the old moon crescent was no longer visible in the East at dawn. (This is most unusual since other civilizations of that era are known to have started months with the first siting of the new crescent!) A thirteenth month was intercalated to maintain a link to the helical rising of Serpet. This calendar was used for religious festivals.

The second calendar, used for administrative purposes, was based on the observation that there was usually 365 days between the helical rising of Serpet. This civil calendar was split into twelve months of 30 days with an additional five epagomenal days attached at the end of the year. These additional five days were considered to be unlucky. Although there is no firm archaeological evidence, a detailed back calculation suggests that the Egyptian civil calendar dates back to c. 2900 BCE.

This 365 day calendar is also known as a wandering calendar, from the Latin name annus vagus since it slowly gets out of synchronization with the solar year. (Other wandering calendars include the Islamic year.)