Sunday, January 29, 2012

Egyptology as Originally Practiced

Rob Hardy
January 28, 2012

28 January - Quick, name an Egyptologist. For me, the only name I could think of was Howard Carter, who made the sensational King Tutankhamen finds. Because of a witty and instructive current biography, though, there's now another whose name I am glad to know. Belzoni: The Giant Archeologists Love to Hate (University of Virginia Press) is by Ivor Noël Hume, who is himself an archeologist. Hume has books about his own work in more recent archeology, and was the director of Colonial Williamsburg's research program, but he has valuable insider's insights on the work of the almost-forgotten Giovanni Belzoni, who was among the first to bring back treasures from Egypt in the wild days when museums and collectors were glad to get statues and mummy cases and didn't mind that their acquisition came from some sort of smash-and-grab operation. So archeologists do "love to hate" Belzoni, although he cannot be faulted for not having a modern idea of professional propriety. And he was literally a giant, six and a half feet tall at a time when such heights were rarities. How an Italian commoner came to be digging around the Nile for Britain proves to be a lively tale.

Belzoni was born in 1778, one of fourteen children sired by his father, a barber in Padua, Italy. He and his brothers all worked in the barbershop, but Belzoni wanted something more. His father was reluctant to let him go, but at age sixteen he was off to Rome to study hydraulics, although no one knows how he got an interest in such a subject. He was bright and good with his hands, but as he wandered through Napoleonic Europe, he didn't find that there was much call for a hydraulics engineer who spoke Italian. He wound up seeking such work in London, but no one wanted his services there, either. There was no work to be found except using his height and strength in the fairs and circuses as the "Patagonian Sampson." In his act, among other feats, he would carry twelve lesser mortals around the stage. He did well enough in this role that he could call some of his own shots, expanding into conjuring and playing the musical glasses. It was also during this time that he met his wife Sarah. Sarah may have been a tightrope walker; there are many gaps in her history and in Belzoni's (his memoir made no mention of his days as a showman). She helped polish his act, and when he had his career change in Egypt, she was a resourceful helpmeet, artist, and writer. Belzoni had a short life, and Sarah had a long widowhood during which she attempted to keep up the world's fading recognition of the husband to whom she seems to have been devoted.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Revered ancient Egyptian birds were fed — even after death

Provisions suggest welfare of birds in afterlife was important to priests performing embalming


In this case the mummies were sacred ibis birds. In a study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the findings are the first known examples of food placed directly in animal mummies. The primary organs were also removed, as was the practice for humans. It’s thought that the ancient Egyptians wished to preserve these organs for continued function in the afterlife.

“That the birds received treatment for their own continued provision in the afterlife suggests that the afterlife welfare of the birds was important to the priests performing the embalming ritual on them,” lead author Andrew Wade told Discovery News.
“Certainly, in this sense, there appears to be some degree of equality between humans and animals in death,” added Wade, a University of Western Ontario anthropologist. “If that is the case, then the birds may have been deserving of a greater respect in life.”

Wade and his team analyzed a recently excavated mummified sacred ibis. They found numerous snails in his bill. The people who prepared the body inserted the snails.
The researchers also used non-invasive computed tomography to look inside ibis mummies housed at Yale University’s Peabody Museum. One of these mummies was found to contain wheat. Wade said that temple-raised birds were likely fed grain, so again the bird was probably sent off into the afterlife with food for its spiritual journey.
Life was a mixed bag for animals in the ancient world, however. Wade said all of the birds from the study had broken necks and were likely deliberately killed, probably as a sacrifice to the god Thoth.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From Ptolemaic and Roman rule to the Arab Conquest (332 BC - 646 AD)

Ptolemaic Egypt began when a follower of Alexander the Great Ptolemy I Soter declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt in 305 BC and ended with the death of Queen Cleopatra VII and the Roman conquest in 30 BC. The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a powerful Hellenistic state, extending from southern Syria in the east, to Cyrene to the west, and south to the frontier with Nubia. Alexandria became the capital city and a center of Greek culture and trade.

To gain recognition by the native Egyptian populace, they referred to themselves as successors to the Pharaohs. The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life. Hellenistic culture continued to thrive in Egypt well after the Muslim conquest.

Eventually the Ptolemies faced rebellions of native Egyptians often caused by an unwanted regime and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its annexation by Rome.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Egyptologists still digging up past, even with uncertain future

by David B. Nelson
Jan 19, 2012

The Egyptian Revolution that began a year ago continues to create instability in a country rich with antiquity. But most Egyptologists say it’s business as usual, even with the recent return of protestors to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

“The impact has been very minor,” said Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist and research associate at the Oriental Institute, a research center and archaeology museum at the University of Chicago. Teeter, also a representative to the Chicago chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt, was in Egypt as recently as last November. “The biggest disruption has been bureaucratic. Permissions were disrupted because committees weren’t meeting. Basically trying to do advanced planning was very hard,” she said.

Kathleen Scott, director of publications at the San Antonio chapter of the American Research Center, also reported only minor issues unrelated to safety.

“At first some expedition seasons were delayed or held off,” Scott said. “But for the most part our organization, which does a lot of the interface between expeditions and government, has found it to be going reasonably well.”

With anywhere from 10 to 15 expeditions in Egypt at a time, depending on schedules and seasons, the organization also maintains an office in Cairo.

“Obviously the political turmoil is happening, and you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Scott said. “But at the moment we feel fairly confident.”

Most archaeological work occurs not in the major cities, but in less populated places such as Luxor, the site of former Egyptian capital Thebes, where the University of Chicago has a permanent headquarters. Although Luxor was undisrupted, various institutions did send home students as a precaution.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Egyptian tomb holds singer Nehmes Bastet’s remains

Archaeologists working in Egypt have discovered the tomb of a female singer in the Valley of the Kings.

The tomb was found by a team from the University of Basel in Switzerland who came across it by chance.

The woman, Nehmes Bastet, was a temple singer during Egypt's 22nd Dynasty (approximately 945 - 712BC), according to an inscription in the tomb.

The coffin found in the tomb contains an intact mummy from almost 3,000 years ago.

Professor Susanne Bickel of the University of Basel told the BBC that the coffin was opened on Monday and she was able to see the "nicely wrapped" mummy of the woman who was buried in the tomb.

The opening of the coffin was carried out by Prof Bickel and her Basel colleague, field director Elina Paulin-Grothe, together with the Chief Inspector of Antiquities of Upper Egypt, Dr Mohammed el-Bialy and inspector Ali Reda.

Prof Bickel said that the upper edge of the tomb was found on the first day of Egypt's revolution, on 25 January 2011. The opening was sealed with an iron cover and the discovery was kept quiet.

Last week, after the start of this year's field season, the feature was identified as a tomb - and one of the very few tombs in the Valley of the Kings which have not been looted.

'Painted black'

Elina Paulin-Grothe said that the tomb was not built for the female singer, but was re-used for her 400 years after the original burial, according to AP.

There are other non-royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Prof Bickel said, which mostly date from the 18th Dynasty (1500 - 1400BC).

The woman in the coffin was the daughter of the high priest of Amon, Egypt's Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told AFP.

The discovery was important because "it shows that the Valley of the Kings was also used for the burial of ordinary individuals and priests of the 22nd Dynasty", he added.

Egyptian news site Ahram reports that the wooden sarcophagus was painted black and decorated with hieroglyphic texts.

This tomb is only the second found in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of Tutankhamun in 1922, and is referred to as KV64 in the naming system used to label tombs in the valley. It is one of a cluster of tombs without any wall decoration found near the royal tomb of Thutmoses III.

A tomb found in 2006, known as KV63, had seven coffins in it but none of them contained any mummies - it seems to have been used as a burial cache.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New archaeological discovery at the Valley of the Kings

The tomb of Amun Re singer Ni Hms Bastet was discovered in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s West Bank

by Nevine El-Aref , Sunday 15 Jan 2012

A deep burial well was found during a routine cleaning carried out by a Swiss archaeological mission on the path leading to King Tuthmosis III’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The well leads to a burial chamber filled with a treasured collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts.

Mohamed Ibrahim, Minister of State for Antiquities, said that further inside the chamber, excavators stumbled upon a wooden sarcophagus painted black and decorated with hieroglyphic texts, and a wooden stelae engraved with the names and different titles of the deceased.

Early studies carried out by the Swiss team revealed that the tomb dates back to the 22nd Dynasty (945-712 BC) and it belongs to the daughter of Amun Re, lecture priest in Karnak temples and also the singer of the God Amun Re.

Excavations are now in full swing in order to reveal more of the tomb’s treasured collection.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Microbial growth in pharaoh's tomb suggests burial was a rush job

A Harvard expert in cultural heritage microbiology, investigates a “fingerprint” left by ancient Egyptian microbes

Cambridge, Mass, June 8, 2011 - In the tomb of King Tutankhamen, the elaborately painted walls are covered with dark brown spots that mar the face of the goddess Hathor, the silvery-coated baboons—in fact, almost every surface.

Despite almost a century of scientific investigation, the precise identity of these spots remains a mystery, but Harvard microbiologist Ralph Mitchell thinks they have a tale to tell.

Nobody knows why Tutankhamen, the famed "boy king" of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, died in his late teens. Various investigations have attributed his early demise to a head injury, an infected broken leg, malaria, sickle-cell anemia, or perhaps a combination of several misfortunes.

Whatever the cause of King Tut's death, Mitchell thinks those brown spots reveal something: that the young pharaoh was buried in an unusual hurry, before the walls of the tomb were even dry.

Like many ancient sites, Tutankhamen's tomb suffers from peeling paint and cracking walls. In the oppressive heat and humidity, throngs of tourists stream in and out of the cave, admiring it but also potentially threatening it.

Concerned about the tomb's preservation, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities approached the Getty Conservation Institute for help. The Getty, in turn, had questions for Mitchell.

What are the brown spots? Are visiting tourists making them worse? Most importantly, do they present a health hazard?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Culture: The sands of time

By Idris Tawfiq - The Egyptian Gazette
Monday, January 9, 2012 09:08:48 PM
Luxor is one of the most splendid and treasure-filled places on earth. Its temples and tombs are renowned the world over for the civilisation that produced them. Luxor and Ancient Egypt are two halves of the same sentence and visitors flock there throughout the year in search of its mysteries.
Luxor is also a magical place. Travelling there from abroad or arriving from the hustle and bustle of Cairo’s teeming millions, it has the air of a place set apart. On one side of the mighty Nile is the town itself, with its hotels, shops and beautiful Corniche.
On the other side, you leave towns and shops behind and are greeted by camels, sand and the lure of Ancient Egypt. For it is on the West Bank of the Nile that the Valley of the Kings is to be found, the magnificent temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon or the temple of Ramses II.
The view of this side of the Nile as you approach in a ferry boat is so exciting that it takes your breath away.
Thebes, as Luxor was once known, was the capital of Ancient Egypt for centuries. Hardly surprising, then, that it should be packed full of history and be the final resting place of so many Pharaohs, once invincible and all-powerful.
The coach loads of tourists here become so frequent in high season that the only way to visit the tombs and the monuments in any peaceful way is to set off at the crack of dawn and head exactly for the ticket office of where you want to be, well before anyone else has the chance to get there.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crocodiles Museum to open in Aswan by end of January

New Aswan museum to share significance of crocodiles and ancient Egyptian god Sobek ‎in bid to attract tourists

by Nevine El-Aref , Monday 9 Jan 2012

After three years of construction, the Crocodiles Museum in Aswan will share the significance of crocodiles and the ancient Egyptian crocodile god Sobek with visitors by the end of January.

Overlooking the Nile and across from the historic temple of Kom Ombo in the upper Egyptian City, the museum aims to become the next big tourist attraction. Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online that the official inauguration of the museum will coincide with Aswan National Day in January.

The museum boasts a display of forty mummified crocodiles, ranging from two to five metres long, along a crocodile foetus and eggs. Also on show is a collection of wooden and granite crocodile statues and replicas of crocodile holes in rocks.

Ibrahim explained that a visitor’s centre adorned with posters would screen a documentary before entrance to the museum as an introduction to Sobek and crocodiles in Egypt.

Sobek, who was depicted as a crocodile or a man with the head of a crocodile, was viewed as a very powerful ancient Egyptian god; he was even believed to have created the world. Eventually he became a symbol of the Nile’s fertility.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Religion Of Ancient Egypt

Religion played a central role in the daily lives of ancient Egyptians and inspired many of the Egyptian civilization’s most extraordinary vestiges, including temples, pyramids and other wonders. Their rich spiritual world included complex beliefs about the afterlife and multiple deities with specific associations, such as the sun god, Ra, and Osiris, ruler of the underworld. It revolved around the Egyptian pharaoh, who maintained an intermediary position between humanity and the gods, and became fully deified after death or, occasionally, during his lifetime. Ancient Egyptian religion underwent significant changes during its 3,000 years of existence and ultimately faded with the arrival of Christianity in the early centuries A.D.


The Egyptian religion was the indigenous beliefs of ancient Egypt from predynastic times (4th millennium BCE) to the disappearance of the traditional culture in the first centuries CE.

Nature and significance

Egyptian religious beliefs and practices were closely integrated into Egyptian society of the historical period (from c. 3000 BCE). Although there were probably many survivals from prehistory, these may be relatively unimportant for understanding later times, because the transformation that established the Egyptian state created a new context for religion.

Religious phenomena were pervasive, so much so that it is not meaningful to view religion as a single entity that cohered as a system. Nevertheless, religion must be seen against a background of potentially nonreligious human activities and values. During its more than 3,000 years of development, Egyptian religion underwent significant changes of emphasis and practice, but in all periods religion had a clear consistency in character and style.

It is inappropriate to define religion narrowly, as consisting only in the cult of the gods and in human piety. Religious behaviour encompassed contact with the dead, practices such as divination and oracles, and magic, which mostly exploited divine instruments and associations.

There were two essential foci of public religion: the king and the gods. Both are among the most characteristic features of Egyptian civilization. The king had a unique status between humanity and the gods, partook in the world of the gods, and constructed great, religiously motivated funerary monuments for his afterlife. Egyptian gods are renowned for their wide variety of forms, including animal forms and mixed forms with an animal head on a human body. The most important deities were the sun god, who had several names and aspects and was associated with many supernatural beings in a solar cycle modeled on the alternation of night and day, and Osiris, the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. With his consort, Isis, Osiris became dominant in many contexts during the 1st millennium BCE, when solar worship was in relative decline.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Egypt's iconic archeological sites prepare for the second phase of restoration

Minister of state for antiquities visits the Sphinx and Mit-Rahina monuments as the Giza Plateau Development Project moves to the next stage

by Nevine El-Aref , Sunday 1 Jan 2012

Earlier today the Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim led a tour around the Giza plateau to monitor work being done on the Sphinx’s Valley Temple and Mit-Rahina archaeological site, as part of the lead up to the second phase of the Giza Plateau Development Project due to be launched in March.

At the Sphinx’s Valley Temple, workers have been draining the subterranean water that has accumulated under the iconic statue. Ibrahim maintained that they only periodically pumped the water as part of the planned schedule designed to prevent further damage of the Sphinx. At Mit-Rahina, Ibrahim announced an immediate draining project to ensure the subterranean water levels were reduced to their original levels at this historical site.

Ibrahim forged an agreement with the local vendors to rebuild their stalls at a lower level to maintain a clear panoramic view of the historic monuments, as well as promising to build a market for tourists selling replicas and souvenirs at the open air museum.

Ibrahim also visited the Saqqara archaeological site where he inspected the restoration work carried out in the Djoser pyramid area. There Ibrahim announced that the Djoser pyramid restoration work is being carried out according to schedule. To date six of the pyramid's mastabas (flat-roofed tombs) have been archaeologically restored and cleaned. Damaged blocks on Djoser have also either been restored and returned to their original position or replaced with new replicas.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cleopatra. A Sphinx Revisited - Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Margaret M. Miles (ed.), Cleopatra. A Sphinx Revisited.   Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2011.  Pp. xii, 238.  ISBN 9780520243675.  $49.95.  

Reviewed by Robert Steven Bianchi, Fondation Gandur pour l'Art, Genève

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The volume represents the printed versions of papers presented at a symposium held at the University of California, Irvine, in March 1999. The papers by Erich Gruen and Peter Green are reprinted here; that by Sally-Ann Ashton was submitted after the symposium.

Margaret Miles introduces the volume and its themes, describes European interest in ancient Egypt, focuses on the obelisk in New York’s Central Park, briefly mentions underwater archaeological activity at Alexandria, Egypt, and concludes with a survey of recent research on Cleopatra and Egyptomania.