Thursday, June 28, 2012

NBC’s Rock Center Reports on Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Looted After Revolution

NBC’s Rock Center Reports on Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Looted After Revolution
Thursday, June 28 at 10pm/9c on NBC

Egypt has a new President, the first ever to be democratically elected. Now, among his many challenges, he must try to stop the systematic looting of some of civilization’s greatest treasures. Richard Engel journeys to the land of the Pyramids to discover why the Arab Spring is turning into a disaster for archaeologists, and for many of history’s most ancient and valuable artifacts. 

U.C. Berkeley archaeologist Carol Redmont, who has been excavating and studying ancient sites in Egypt for over 20 years, speaks with Richard Engel about the dramatic increase in looting and robbery of ancient artifacts on this week’s Rock Center.  The full report airs this Thursday, June 28 at 10pm/9c on NBC.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Egypt's pharaonic temples exhibited abroad relate their stories

Former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser gave away pharaonic temples as thanks for help saving Abu Simbel and other Nubian monuments - Ahram Online investigates whether he was correct to do so

by Mohammed Elrazzaz – Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday 26 Jun 2012

What do New York, Madrid, Leiden and Turin have in common?

As strange as it sounds, all four cities have pharaonic temples. While some Egyptians like to think of these temples as ‘cultural ambassadors’ abroad, others tend to feel uneasy about the fact that Egyptian heritage could be ‘gifted’ without the stakeholders (Egyptians) being consulted.

It was Nasser’s idea to give away Nubian temples to four of the countries that had helped save Abu Simbel and other Nubian monuments in one of history’s most challenging heritage rescue initiatives. In a previous article published by Ahram Online I told the tale of one of these temples, and now I go on with the rest of the story.

A Meeting with Isis and Osiris in New York

New York is a jungle of museums and galleries that lend the city an unparalleled cultural glamour. It is a strange feeling to contemplate an entire pharaonic temple exhibited in a hall inside one of these museums, but such is the case with Dendur, and it is not just any museum: It is the MET (Metropolitan Museum), one of the world’s most outstanding museums.

The temple, as small and aesthetically insignificant as it is, is eclipsed by other parts of the MET, including the Ancient Egyptian collection, but there is something about it that haunts the viewer: the fact that you can see two of the idols of the ancient world, Isis and Osiris, in a modern building symbolic of the ‘New World'.

The temple dates back to the reign of Augustus Caesar (15 BC), and like most of the temples built around that time, it lacks grandiosity and monumentality. However, a man standing next to me was making generous comments about the temple being a marvel: “That thing must be some five-hundred years old!” he said. I could not help correcting him: “it is actually over two thousand years old.”

“Two thousand you say? Man! That’s older than Columbus!”

A more serious point of view came from Jonathan Cape (physician) when I asked his opinion of the temple:
- “I like to think of the legacy left by ancient civilizations as world heritage, and if it’s world heritage, then we are all stakeholders, and we should not make a big fuzz about its presence here.”
- “But don’t you think it is completely out of place here? Like a dead fossil in a glass bowl?”
- “Well, better a dead fossil than no fossil at all!”    
But Dendur is not the only such ‘fossil’.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ptah the god from Memphis

The preeminent God of the city of Memphis, one of the earliest administrative centers of the unified Egyptian nation, Ptah apparently lent his name to the nation itself, at least in the Greek tongue. The Egyptians called their nation Kemi, or something approximating to this, but the Greek name which we have inherited to refer to this land, Aiguptos, appears to be a Greek transliteration of an Egyptian name for the city of Memphis, He[t]-ka-Ptah, ‘House of the spirit of Ptah’. Due to its position at the junction of Upper and Lower Egypt, Memphis is described as “the Balance of the Two Lands, in which Upper and Lower Egypt had been weighed” in the conflict between Horus and Seth, representing Lower and Upper Egypt respectively (Lichtheim vol. 1, 53). Ptah, a God of life, intelligence, speech (especially the word of command) and craftsmanship, is depicted as a standing mummiform man, wearing a skullcap and a broad collar with a large tassel at the back and holding a sceptre combining the ankhdjed, and was (uas) symbols. Ptah is mummiform, not because he has funerary associations, but to symbolize his participation in the state of changeless perfection with which mummification is associated. Ptah’s consort is Sekhmet and Nefertum is his son. The Apis bull was regarded as Ptah’s mortal representative and the deified vizier Imhotep came to be regarded as Ptah’s son as well. In addition, some late depictions of Ptah in magical contexts depict him as a beardless dwarf—fully humanoid, unlike Bes—in most cases holding snakes in his hands; in one instance, this image is labelled “Ptah endowed with life,” (Holmberg, 182). This image is apparently also commonly intended to depict the triune fusion deity Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Ptah is also so frequently allied withTatenen in the fusion deity Ptah-Tatenen that in many cases ‘Tatenen’ seems simply to have become an epithet of Ptah’s, but it is always safer to assume, given Egyptian conservatism with respect to theological formulae, that references to ‘Tatenen’ in texts embed a reference to Tatenen himself.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sun god's disc set to rise

With the help of funds raised by the Hildesheim Museum in Germany, the long awaited Aten Museum in Minya has taken a step nearer to completion, Nevine El-Aref reports

It seems that the spell of the 'curse of the pharaohs' that has hovered over the proposed Aten Museum will be broken when the mseum finally opens its doors overlooking the Nile bank in the Upper Egyptian town of Minya.
Just two years after the construction of the new museum ground to a halt through lack of funds, work will soon resume folowing the announcement this week that the financial campaign begun by the Hildesheim Museum in Germany will raise the LE 60 million fund required to compete the project.

Mohamed Ibrahim, the minister of state for antiquities, announced that according to the protocol of friendship signed between the Aten and Hildesheim Museums, the Hildesheim wouldl help the ministry complete the final phase of the museum through its campaign to raise funds.

Since the German government proposed the design as a gift to the Egyptian government in 1998, according to the friendship protocol signed between the Hildesheim Museum and the Aten Museum, the latter has faced a good many construction and financial problems.

In 1990 the late architect Gamal Bakry carried out some modification to the building design to meet Egyptian building codes, while museological consultant Mahmoud Mabrouk redesigned the landscape to be compatible with the museum's outdoor exhibition as well as the exhibition scenario.

However, Bakry's death and the shortage of funding were the first obstacles to face the construction of the Aten Museum, and except for sand and a large enclosure wall the piece of land allocated for it stood void and waiting for the start sign. Five years later workmen started laying the foundation stones for he museum, but the budget shortfall put it on hold until 2002, when Zahi Hawass took office as the secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) and put the programme for building and rehabilitating Egypt's national and antiquities museums at the top of his agenda.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Talisman of Ancient Googly-Eyed God Discovered

by Owen Jarus

A newly identified googly-eyed artifact may have been used by the ancient Egyptians to magically protect children and pregnant mothers from evil forces.

CREDIT: Photo courtesy Egypt Centre/Swansea University
Made of faience, a delicate material that contains silica, the pale-green talisman of sorts dates to sometime in the first millennium B.C. It showsthe dwarf god Bes with his tongue sticking out, eyes googly, wearing a crown of feathers. A hole at the top of the face was likely used to suspend it like a bell, while a second hole, used to hold the bell clapper, was apparently drilled into it in antiquity.

Carolyn Graves-Brown, a curator at the Egypt Centre, discovered the artifact in the collection of Woking College, the equivalent of a high school for juniors and seniors. The college has more than 50 little-studied Egyptian artifacts, which were recently lent to the Egypt Centre at Swansea University where they are being studied and documented.

Graves-Brown told LiveScience in an interview that at first she didn't know what the object was. It wasn't until she learned of a similar artifact in the British Museum that she was able to determine that it is a faience Bes bell, one of a very few known to exist.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Roots of Art in Ancient Egypt


NEW YORK — How art begins is one of mankind’s greatest enigmas to which an answer has yet to be found.

If there is any hope of discovering the process out of which it emerges, ancient Egypt might be the place that will yield some clues.

The admirable show, “Dawn of Egyptian Art,” put together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Diana Craig Patch, reveals a world of seething artistic creation headed in multiple directions. Much of it bears no recognizable connection to the statuary and objects from Egypt under its historic dynasties.
The most startling revelation is the simultaneous existence by the end of the fourth millennium B.C. of pure abstraction, highly stylized figuration and representational art close to nature.
All three trends are occasionally observed side by side on a single object.
A large earthenware vessel from Naqada, a site north of Luxor in Upper Egypt, is thus painted with some abstract motifs above a group of simplified human figures. Around and below them, desert goats are accurately rendered with their characteristic twisted horns. The vessel was created around 3300-3200 B.C.
During the centuries that preceded it, Egyptian artists had been exploring radically different avenues.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What the Sphinx Said

On Sept. 14, 1822, as legend tells the tale, Jean-François Champollion burst into his brother's Paris office at the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, flung a bundle of drawings upon the desk and cried, "Je tiens mon affaire!" ("I've done it!"). Champollion promptly fainted before he could utter news of the great intellectual feat for which he is still celebrated: the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The story of the young, frail, hotheaded scholar and his volatile time, full of upheavals political and scientific, is a remarkable tale, wonderfully told in Andrew Robinson's "Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion."

The founding father of Egyptology started young and lived a relatively short life. Born in 1790 in southwest France, Champollion became fascinated by Oriental history and languages not long after he was sent to school in Grenoble at age 10, having exhausted local teachers. France was still basking in the exotic glow of Napoleon's Egypt campaign (1798-1801), when scientists as well as soldiers helped introduce the wonders of ancient Egypt into Western consciousness. Images and accounts of pyramids, temples and mysterious hieroglyphs—including those on the recently discovered Rosetta Stone—enchanted the young Jean-François, who soon set his sights on learning the Coptic language of old Egypt.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taweret: An Untraditional Egyptian Goddess


The Ancient Egyptian goddess Taweret, ‘the Great One’, is depicted by scholars and in ancient Egypt as being the protective goddess of mother and child during pregnancy and childbirth. As with many ancient Egyptian deities, she goes by many names throughout. A few of her names have been Ipet, Opet, Reret, Ta-urt, Teweret and Thoueris. She is a composite figure of hippopotamus, crocodile, lion and human and uses her fearsome nature as an apotropaic device against demons who seek to destroy mother and child in their times of weakness. Most scholars suggest that Taweret is pregnant which adds to her symbolism in being the defender of pregnancy; however I find that the figures of Taweret are not pregnant yet are depicted with a swollen abdomen to represent the female form which is able to be pregnant, that is, to be fertile. The features of the swollen abdomen and the pendant shaped breasts are not unique to Taweret, yet are a shared attribute to the god of the Nile, Hapi, and fecundity figures found in temples. I propose that in depicting Taweret with similar attributes to figures of fertility of Egypt her purpose as a goddess is more complicated then a domestic goddess who protects family life. When Taweret is depicted with a swollen abdomen and pendant breasts I believe she is representing a pre-dynastic mother goddess, similar to Hathor Mehet- Weret, and due to her similar depiction to Hapi and the fecundity figures her purpose is not only to protect pregnancy and childbirth but to guard and represent the fertility of Egypt.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Gold mining in ancient Egypt

The historical narrative of South Africa’s mining industry has been and, to a certain degree, continues to be dominated by the story of gold mining – and quite rightly so, considering the fact that it was the discovery and exploitation of gold, particularly on the Witwatersrand in the late 1880s, that largely fuelled the economic development of the country for the better part of a century.
Further, it was the mighty gold mining industry that had a significant influence in the shaping of South Africa’s socioeconomic and political structures in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Thus, it is appropriate that the historical narrative of the South African gold mining industry be dealt with in this column.
However, before turning attention to that subject, it is necessary to reflect on the broader history of gold mining. This, it is hoped, will go some way to explaining humanity’s obsession with the yellow metal and to revealing the central role that gold has played in every major society since the dawn of civilisation.
The history of gold is as old as that of man. There is no doubt that it was one of the first metals known to primitive man, as it exists in nature in an elemental state. Its association with primitive cultures is evidenced by the fact that crude ornaments of gold have been found among the remains of all prehistoric peoples.
However, the first people to use gold on a considerable scale were the ancient Egyptians. Archaeological evidence reveals that the yellow metal came into fairly extensive use during the predynastic period, that is, before 3100 BCE.
Although the origins of gold mining in predynastic Egypt are shrouded in mystery, it is likely that, during that period, the metal was extracted from alluvial deposits.
It was only with the advent of the early dynastic period, from 3100 BCE onwards, that gold began to be extracted by systematic mining. Some of the earliest mining operations were conducted in the granite mountains east of Coptos and further south, in Nubia, between the Nile and the Red Sea, during the early dynastic age.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tomb of the Chantress

by Julian Smith

A newly discovered burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings provides a rare glimpse into the life of an ancient Egyptian singer

On January 25, 2011, tens of thousands of protestors flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. As the “day of revolt” filled the streets of Cairo and other cities with tear gas and flying stones, a team of archaeologists led by Susanne Bickel of the University of Basel in Switzerland was about to make one of the most significant discoveries in the Valley of the Kings in almost a century.

The valley lies on the west bank of the Nile, opposite what was once Egypt’s spiritual center—the city of Thebes, now known as Luxor. The valley was the final resting place of the pharaohs and aristocracy beginning in the New Kingdom period (1539–1069 B.C.), when Egyptian wealth and power were at a high point. Dozens of tombs were cut into the valley’s walls, but most of them were eventually looted. It was in this place that the Basel team came across what they initially believed to be an unremarkable find.

At the southeastern end of the valley they discovered three sides of a man-made stone rim surrounding an area of about three-and-a-half by five feet. The archaeologists suspected that it was just the top of an abandoned shaft. But, because of the uncertainty created by Egypt’s political revolution, they covered the stone rim with an iron door while they informed the authorities and applied for an official permit to excavate.

A year later, just before the first anniversary of the revolution, Bickel returned with a team of two dozen people, including field director Elina Paulin-Grothe of the University of Basel, Egyptian inspector Ali Reda, and local workmen. They started clearing the sand and gravel out of the shaft. Eight feet down, they came upon the upper edge of a door blocked by large stones. At the bottom of the shaft they found fragments of pottery made from Nile silt and pieces of plaster, a material commonly used to seal tomb entrances. Those plaster pieces, together with the age of other nearby sites, were the first sign that the shaft might actually be a tomb dating to between 1539 and 1292 B.C., Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. The large stones appeared to have been added later.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing: Examining the Curse of Tutankhamun


In the early part of the 20th century, the world experienced tumultuous change. At the turn of the century, advances in technology linked humans around the world like never before, political borders changed in the aftermath of one of the deadliest wars known, and the world began to settle into a period of prosperity. In the Valley of the Kings, the early part of the 1920’s brought immeasurable fame with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Howard Carter’s opening of a nearly intact tomb in 1922 revived the popular appeal of ancient Egypt and the history it contained. However, with this fame came notoriety; within four months, Lord Carnarvon, one of the benefactors of the excavations, passed away. News of his death instigated rumors and discussion of a possible curse on the tomb, and subsequent deaths of those involved in the project, whether explained or not, became fodder for curse enthusiasts. Popular depictions of ancient Egypt only added fuel to the fire, with the relationship between ancient Egypt and the occult becoming cemented in the eye of public opinion.

Tutankhamun, more popularly known as King Tut, represents one of the most sensational archaeological finds of the 20th century. The discovery and subsequent research into the tomb’s origins and background have fascinated many, electrified the field of Egyptian Archaeology, and provided as many questions as answers. Tutankhamun’s tomb was unique in that it was unlike any other discovery; the archetypal Egyptian tomb is, of course, the noble Pyramid. Carter’s discovery of a tomb underneath the level of the desert baffled even him. In his own reflections upon the discovery, he details his confusion on the structure of the tomb, stating that the “smallness of the opening in comparison with the ordinary Valley tombs” baffled him1. Further, the tomb remained relatively untouched−Carter found all the artifacts in the tomb intact, making the tomb a very exciting find. From the very beginning, Tutankhamun’s tomb provided a unique air of mystery; in the subsequent excavations, archaeologists began to get a clearer picture of who Tutankhamun was and the reasons for his tomb’s bizarre structure. It is now known that Tutankhamun ruled in politically turbulent period of Ancient Egypt. Born in about 1343 B.C. as Tutankhaten, he ascended to the throne at the age of nine, after the death of his father Akhenaten.2 Akhenaten attempted to change the religion of ancient Egypt to monotheism, following Aten as its sole god−the Egyptian people did not take kindly to this change, which archaeologists believe explains Akhenaten’s untimely death and Tutankhamun’s ascension to the throne at the age of nine. Tutankhaten reversed monotheism during his short rule, and took the name Tutankhamun to signify this reversal.3 Other than his restoration of Amun as chief religious figure, very few details exist on what went on during Tutankhamun’s brief nine year reign. Archaeologists accept that due to Tutankhamun’s age, other individuals held most of the ruling power, but it remains uncertain the extent to which Tutankhamun actually participated in day to day affairs.4 Tutankhamun’s mystique has some basis in the limited information that we have on his life and times, undoubtedly contributing to the emergence of the curse.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Out in the daylight

A NUMBER of artefacts discovered at a tomb in Draa Abul-Naga necropolis on Luxor's west bank is to go on show for the first time in the Luxor National Museum, Nevine El-Aref reports.

After almost 10 years in storage at the Luxor antiquities inspectorate, the very distinguished ancient Egyptian objects will take their place in the permanent collection of the Luxor Museum. They were found in the tomb of Djehuty, the overseer of works at Thebes during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut.

The artefacts include the very well-preserved sarcophagus of a Middle Kingdom warrior named Iker, which means "the excellent one". The sarcophagus was found in the courtyard of Djehuty's tomb in 2007, along with five arrows made of reeds, three of them still feathered. These will also be included in the new exhibited collection.

Some clay vases and bouquets of dried flowers that were thrown inside the Djehuty tomb at his funeral are to be exhibited along with a faience necklaces, gilded earrings and bracelets.
Two clusters of ceramic vases, mostly bottles, with shapes typical of those fabricated during the reign of Tuthmosis III, will also be exhibited.
"These artefacts were carefully selected from the collection unearthed at Djehuty's tomb," said Mohamed Ibrahim, minister of state for antiquities.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

King Meneptah's stelae in Silsila is safe after theft attempt

Thieves were foiled late last night at King Meneptah’s chapel at Al-Silsila in Aswan after they attempted to steal a famed stelae

by Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 7 Jun 2012

Archaeologists and guards at Gabal Al-Silsila archaeological site, 20 kilometres north of Kom Ombo city in Aswan, succeeded in catching a group of thieves who in full view had tried to remove King Meneptah’s stelae from its original position on the wall of his chapel.

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said the theft attempt was discovered late last night when permanent archaeologists at the site realised that four people were in front of King Meneptah’s stelae trying to hack it off the wall with an axe and digging tools. With the help of guards, archaeologists surrounded the criminals and caught them red handed. The Tourism and Antiquities Police came and took the criminals into custody.

Abdel Moneim Saeed, director of Kom Ombo site, said an early inspection of the stelae revealed that it had been partly damaged by the hard tools used in the theft attempt, especially its lower part which is now dotted with holes. But he assures the damage can be restored and the stelae returned to its original condition.

Abdel Hamid Maarouf, head of the ancient Egypt section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), told Ahram Online that the Meneptah stelae is located between two chapels of kings Meneptah and his father, Ramses II. It is a rocky stelae carved in rock and engraved with hieroglyphic text and decorated with a scene depicting King Meneptah offering god Amun Re the sign of justice, Maat.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A New Female Pharaoh for Ancient Egypt?

Queen Arsinoë II ruled Egypt as a female pharaoh long before her more famous descendant, Cleopatra VII, according to a new study. Maria Nilsson of the University of Gothenburg reached this conclusion after studying depictions of Arsinoë’s crown, which was designed to convey her role and influence.

Cleopatra VII has long been considered the only female pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Greek royal family that ruled Egypt from 305 B.C. to 30 B.C. But a recent analysis of a unique royal crown suggests that her lesser-known ancestor, Queen Arsinoë II, held that distinction some 200 years earlier. Conducted by Maria Nilsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the study offers a new interpretation of the official pharaonic succession and underscores the symbolic power of crowns in Egyptian art.
Arsinoë II was born in 316 B.C. to Ptolemy I, a friend and adviser of Alexander the Great who seized control of Egypt after the Greek king’s death. Following the death of her first husband, Lysimachus of Thrace, Arsinoë married her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos, king of Macedonia; the union ended soon after when he killed two of her three sons in a power struggle. She then returned to Egypt and married her full brother Ptolemy II, becoming co-ruler of his empire. The couple adopted the epithet Philadelphus (meaning brother- or sister-loving) to celebrate their shared leadership.
Previous scholars have already established Arsinoë’s strong political influence from textual sources, some of which describe her as power-hungry, scheming and even responsible for the exile of Ptolemy II’s first wife. (Others make reference to her popularity with the people, skill in foreign policy, participation in the Olympic games and expansion of the royal library of Alexandria.) To dig deeper into the life and legacy of this historically significant yet mysterious queen, Nilsson conducted the first comprehensive study of relief scenes featuring Arsinoë, paying special attention to her unique crown while taking contextual details and hieroglyphics into account. She published her findings in her doctoral dissertation, entitled “The Crown of Arsinoë II: The Creation and Development of an Imagery of Authority.”