In Egypt, Debate Rages Over Scans of King Tut’s Tomb (May 9, 2016)
CAIRO, EGYPT. Never underestimate the mysterious, unpredictable, and slightly insane power of Egyptology.
This was the lesson of this past weekend’s Second Annual Tutankhamen Grand Egyptian Museum Conference in Cairo, where attendees may have been lulled by a lineup of sessions that included “Tutankhamen’s Embroidery,” “A Constructive Insight of Some Plant Species from Tutankhamen’s Tomb,” and “The Golden Pendant of Tutankhamen: A New Interpretation of the Epithet of Wertethekau.” If only the epithets had stopped with Wertethekau.
On the third and final day of the conference, more than a hundred people watched two former government ministers sit onstage and angrily accuse each other of trying to drill holes into World Heritage Sites without proper permission. Other exchanges were friendlier, if no less passionate. A couple of scholars bantered about the shape of Queen Nefertiti’s lips, and there was a running debate about whether adult male pharaohs wore earrings during the 14th century B.C., when Tut ruled.
But nothing compared to the news about the boy king’s tomb. After months of speculation about the possibility of hidden chambers in the tomb, officials revealed another surprise: that two different radar scans of King Tut’s burial chamber have resulted in contradictory conclusions.
“Until now, we don’t have a conclusive result,” Khaled El-Enany, the minister of antiquities, announced on the final day of the conference. He called for the formation of a committee to decide the next step, which will likely include further examination by radar and other high-tech methods. On his way out of the lecture hall, El-Enany continued: “This is my message—that science will talk.”
But how will people interpret what it’s saying? Science and technology first gave birth to the theory, which was based on the results of a laser scan that portrayed the texture of the burial chamber’s walls in unprecedented detail. Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist, studied the scans and noticed a series of striking door-like features hidden beneath the painted scenes that decorate the north and west walls. Last July, Reeves published a paper speculating that the tomb may actually contain another intact burial—in his opinion, the tomb of Queen Nefertiti. Nefertiti is widely believed to have been Tut’s stepmother, and in recent years there’s been a growing acceptance of the idea that she preceded him as pharaoh.
Last fall, a thermographic scan of the north wall revealed anomalies that seemed to correspond to the features in question, and a physical examination of the tomb was also encouraging. From the beginning, most Egyptologists were skeptical of the idea that Nefertiti in particular might be buried there, but they became more receptive to the possibility of additional chambers last November, when a radar scan seemed to detect the presence of voids behind the north and west walls.
Those scans were conducted by Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, who claimed that his equipment also sensed metallic and organic objects within those voids. Afterwards, Mamdouh Eldamaty, the minister of antiquities at the time, announced at a press conference that he was “90 percent positive” that another chamber lies behind the north wall.
In March, a second team of radar technicians, organized by National Geographic, conducted a follow-up scan to see if Watanabe’s results could be replicated. But they failed to locate the same features, as Zahi Hawass, the former minister of antiquities and one of Egypt’s most prominent scholars, noted during the weekend conference. “If there is any masonry or partition wall, the radar signal should show an
After claiming that radar has never led to a single discovery in Egypt, Hawass said, “We have to stop this media business, because there is nothing to publish. There is nothing to publish today or yesterday.” But then he promptly gave the media business something to publish by accusing Eldamaty of secretly submitting paperwork to the authorities in order to drill a hole in Tut’s tomb and insert a fiber-optic camera.
“Why did you say it secretly like this?” Hawass said, while the two men were seated side by side on the stage.
“It is said where?” Eldamaty responded angrily.
“Why didn’t you announce that you took a permission?”
“I said several times I will not do anything before I am 100 percent!” Eldamaty said. He then countered with an accusation of Hawass’s conduct during his own time as minister: “You did the drill in the pyramid and you took permission after!”
Void Behind Wall “Just Doesn’t Exist”
If the circle of Egyptologists is small and intense, there’s an even tighter ring that encompasses those who specialize in the archaeological application of ground-penetrating radar (GPR). Ever since March, when Watanabe released some images from his scans, other radar experts have offered a great deal of criticism.
“I tell you, everybody I talked to who is in the GPR business just rolled their eyes and said, ‘There’s nothing here at all,’” Lawrence Conyers, the author of Ground-Penetrating Radar for Archaeology, said. A number of experts said that radar can’t distinguish “organic” material, as Watanabe claimed.
The second scan was carried out by an engineer named Eric Berkenpas, and then the raw data was sent out to be reviewed by multiple experts in the United States and Egypt. Dean Goodman, a geophysicist who developed the GPR-SLICE software used by many specialists, analyzed the data and found no evidence of hidden chambers. All of the other analysts came to the same conclusion.
“If we had a void, we should have a strong reflection,” Goodman said. “But it just doesn’t exist.” He also couldn’t recognize signs of masonry in the locations where Reeves proposed the existence of blocked-over doorways. “Radar data can often be subjective,” Goodman said. “But at this particular site, it’s not. It’s nice at such an important site to have clear, convincing results.”
Goodman noted that Watanabe has not released his raw data for review. When interviewed at last weekend’s conference, Watanabe said that after more than 40 years of working with radar, he has customized his equipment to such a degree that its data is unreadable to others. “When someone says that they want to check the data, I am so sad,” he said, through a translator. But he expressed no doubts about his results. “I trust my data completely,” he said.
Watanabe is in his mid-seventies, and a number of experts have criticized him for using Koden-brand machines that haven’t been on the market for more than two decades. Izumi Shimada, an anthropologist at Southern Illinois University who worked with Watanabe in the past, said that he has always been a controversial figure in Japan.
“Maybe he uses his personal experience more than relying on software or cutting-edge technology,” Shimada said. “However good the software is, it’s still a human interpretation of what you see on the monitor. There is a great deal of subjectivity.” He said that Watanabe has a history of success: “He has worked in many archaeological settings, and he has found things that archaeologists were looking for and that they hadn’t been able to find.”
Shimada also said that Watanabe has a tendency to become “too enthusiastic” about preliminary results. He noted that Watanabe isn’t an academic, with a background originally in industry. Nevertheless, Shimada decided to enlist Watanabe’s services because “there was no doubt that he has worked in a most diverse range of settings.” They collaborated for more than a decade on the northern coast of Peru, where Watanabe’s radar helped Shimada carry out a series of extremely successful excavations of tombs from the Sicán culture.
When informed of the contradictory radar results from Tut’s tomb, and the fact that other specialists were questioning Watanabe’s findings, Shimada said, “I don’t think I heard about the cases of his predictions being wrong like that.”
“No Individual Decisions!”
In Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, Barry J. Kemp writes, “All people’s knowledge of most things—their everyday ‘working knowledge’—is throughout akin to myth, and is in part truly myth.” You flip a switch and have faith that light will appear, when in fact you can’t explain an electric current, a transformer, a power station. For Kemp, the ancient “avenues of thought” still course throughout the modern mind.
Some of our casual thinking about science, for example, may not be so different from the ways in which ancient Egyptians believed that their gods animated the world. Of course, even if basic human mental patterns are similar, we now have infinitely more resources at our disposal when we decide to investigate something. Kemp writes, “Progress gives us choice in our myths, and the power to discard those that we find inappropriate.”
At some point in the coming months, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities will probably approve another series of scans in Tut’s tomb, and the results will push Reeves’s theory, in our minds, toward either truth or myth. El-Enany, the antiquities minister, said that he is going to appoint a committee that will decide how to proceed. No doubt he took note of the angry exchange between his predecessors; immediately afterwards, he mentioned the committee to a reporter and said, “No individual decisions!”
The most prominent conference participants, even Hawass, advocated additional tests by radar and other technologies. Still, all the brave talk of science couldn’t quite hide the range of eternal human qualities that were on display in the lecture halls: curiosity and stubbornness, pride and ambition, companionship and distrust.
It was also striking how many technical things failed to function on Sunday. Much of Watanabe’s presentation was effectively lost, because nobody could connect his computer to the auditorium’s sound system. There were problems with lights; a number of computers crashed. At one point Yasser Elshayeb, a professor of rock mechanics at Cairo University, struggled with his computer at the podium and announced, “This proves that technology does not work all the time.” After the laughter had subsided, he called out to somebody in the audience: “Can I get your computer? It seems that it’s the only computer that is working.” And then Nicholas Reeves stood up and handed it over.
News from the Second International Tutankhamen Conference (Sunday, May 8, 2016)
It is essential to perform more scans using other devices at the Tutankhamen Tomb (KV62) at the Valley of the Kings- Luxor using more technical and scientific methods and radar devices’ is one of a number of recommendations reached at the end of the Second International Tutankhamen Conference that was held at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC).
Antiquities Minister Dr. Khaled El-Enany emphasized at the open scientific discussion that came at the end of the conference that no drilling will be done at the tomb’s walls unless we are 100% certain that there is a cavity behind them. Egyptology and radar experts participated in the final session among them former antiquities ministers Dr. Zahi Hawas and Dr. Mamdouh Eldamaty, the Japanese radar expert Prof. Watanabe, Dr. Yaser El-Shayeb from the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University and a number of Egyptian archaeologists and stakeholder.
In his lecture, former Antiquities Minister Dr. Zahi Hawas said that radar scan is not sufficient alone to make a new archaeological discovery stressing that he is against the British scientist Nicholas Reeves’ hypothesis that Queen Nefertiti’s tomb exist behind that of King Tut’s. Hawas added that a scientific committee consisting of archaeologists, radar experts and remote sensing experts should be formed immediately to supervise the works inside the tomb.
Former antiquities minister Dr. Eldamaty also gave a lecture entitled “the Rediscovery of the Tutankhamen Tomb” in which he summed up all the work steps that have been made at the radar scan project at the Golden Pharaoh’s tomb, expressing that the results reached so point out that there is a 50% possibility of a cavity behind the Tomb’s walls.
In a related context, Dr. Tarek Tawfik – General Supervisor on the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) Project added that among the recommendations of this conference came the formation of an Egyptian Archaeological Committee with the assistance of foreign experts aiming at drawing a road map for the transfer process of the Golden Pharaoh’s fragile artifacts that are sensitive to light and motion. Also the Tutankhamen’s Research Center that was established last year will be provided with a web channel to publish all the researches and studies related to the Boy King” – Ministry of Antiquities press release via the Egyptologists’ Electronic Forum.
Tutankhamen Tomb Scans To Continue (March 25, 2016)
Radar surveys of Tutankhamen’s burial chamber have revealed further evidence of another concealed resting place.
For almost a century after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, nobody — even its discoverer British Egyptologist Howard Carter —imagined that its excavation was still essentially unfinished.
However, based on a theory launched in August last year, the Ministry of Antiquities conducted the first-ever radar scans last November of the north and west wall of the burial chamber. British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves had claimed that the burial place of Queen Nefertiti is hidden inside the tomb of her son-in-law, the golden boy-king Tutankhamen.
Reeves came up with his theory after a close examination of high-resolution 3D laser scan photographs taken by the Spanish Factum Arte Organization to create a replica of Tutankhamen’s tomb, now erected in the area adjacent to the rest-house of its discoverer on Luxor’s west bank.
After four months of technical studies in Japan, radar expert Hirokatsu Watanabe sent a detailed report to Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty asserting, with more than 90 per cent certainty, that both walls of Tutankhamen’s burial chamber conceal behind them void spaces that could be two previously unknown chambers.
In a press conference held at the ministry’s premises in Zamalek earlier this week, Eldamaty announced that the radar scans have not only revealed the void spaces, but have also shown objects of different materials and spots of different colors.
Solid and empty spaces had been found behind the walls, he said, as well as lintels and curves that indicate the existence of doorways.
“Organic and metal materials were detected inside the empty spaces, but until now we have not been able to determine what they are,” Eldamaty said. “I cannot ascertain what these organic materials might be. They could be a mummy, a sarcophagus or something else. But there is something behind the walls.”
Dark and light spots were also found, Eldamaty said, explaining that the dark spots were the original bedrock of the Valley of the Kings while the light ones were empty spaces. “A difference in thickness has also been noted,” he said.
Eldamaty added, “Egypt is about to see the discovery of the century. If the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb was the discovery of the 20th century, its rediscovery might lead us to the discovery of the 21st century.”
He said that the results of the radar scans represent another crucial step towards a new understanding of one of the most famous tombs and most perplexing ancient Egyptian kings.
He could not speculate further about the things that may lie within the void spaces, or even if these spaces are burial chambers or not. In order to correctly select a second step to reveal more about the tomb, he said he is about to conduct another radar scan of the north and west walls of Tutankhamen’s burial chamber in order to re-investigate and confirm the results of Watanabe’s survey.
“The new radar scanning is to be carried out on 31 March in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University and a foreign expert whose nationality I will not reveal,” Eldamaty told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He described the new scan as a very important step in an attempt to explore the two walls and find correct and safe methods to uncover what lies behind them.
“I cannot now give a determinate solution, as we have to conduct the new radar survey to be 100 per cent sure of the results, as well as consult other scientists, technicians and archaeologists, in addition to members of the current research team, to find an appropriate method to reveal the hidden chambers without damaging the painted walls of Tutankhamen’s burial chamber,” Eldamaty said.
He suggested that one idea is to probe the walls using a fiber-optic camera, but a way will have to be found to investigate them without causing damage. During the probing process, Eldamaty said samples of the air inside, as well as the rocks, will be taken to carry out comprehensive analyses.
The probing could also be undertaken from an antechamber of the burial chamber that has unpainted rough walls, he said. A probe could be inserted from the top of the cliff, from the ground outside the tomb, or even from the ends of the walls, which have less painting.
“But I think the ideal place to insert the camera to reach the north wall is the treasury room. The magic brick niche is the best place for the probing to reach the west wall. I think this would be the safest place to guarantee the complete preservation of the paintings,” Eldamaty said, adding that these are all ideas that will have to be discussed by the ministry’s permanent committee.
Eldamaty does not believe that the concealed burial chamber that might lie behind the north and west walls of Tutankhamen’s burial chamber belongs to his stepmother, Queen Nefertiti, since she, along with her husband Akhenaten, abandoned the Amen cult for the god Aten, and Thebes is the city of Amen.
They built their royal tombs in Tel Al-Amarna, where they were buried, he said. In their tombs there is a border relief bearing an oath in which Akhenaten and Nefertiti swear that they would never leave Amarna, neither in life nor in death.
Eldamaty said the hidden chamber could be that of another woman, such as Tutankhamen’s sister Meritaten or his mother Kiya or grandmother Tiye.
For his part, Reeves commented on the radar scans in a phone call with the Weekly, saying that the results support his theory because they show concealed chambers behind both walls.
“The radar has also revealed that the tomb’s ceiling extended behind the northern and western walls, which confirms my theory and suggests the existence of two uncovered chambers. Everything is adding up,” he said.
Abbas Mohamed, professor at the National Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics in Cairo, told the Weekly that although the results were promising, “we cannot be 100 per cent sure of the data given by the radar until it has been studied in order to provide an accurate result.”
If Watanabe was sure that the north wall had a void space behind it, he said “I think from my reading of the given radar data that it is not that big and could be only a hole. We have to be cautious before announcing any results. The data has to be completely analysed in order to know the shape that appeared on the radar screen and whether it was a result of the existence of a void or any disturbance in the soil.”
Mohamed said that the bedrock of the Valley of the Kings was made of choky limestone, which contains cracks, gaps and fractures. It is also soluble in water and can easily form caves. “Therefore, we have to eliminate various theories in order to be sure that the void space is a result of the existence of a chamber and not the result of a rocky component,” he said.
He said that radar would reveal much more than any other type of scan and that it was likely to capture any blocked-over partition or doorway. “It should be very clear and accurate after analyses and comparisons have been made,” he added.
Radar scanning is a non-invasive and non-destructive means not only of exploring archaeological sites but also of detecting caves, infrastructure and petrol resources, among other things.
Some foreign and Egyptian Egyptologists do not support the research as they see it as “only speculation”. One foreign Egyptologist speaking on condition of anonymity this week told the Weekly that Egyptologists should be cautious about the results of the radar scans because they cannot be depended on alone.
“Scientific and archaeological discussion has to take place, as well as more radar scans,” he said.
Have Two Chambers Been Discovered in King Tut’s Tomb?
March 17, 2016
The existence of hidden chambers in King Tutankhamen’s burial chamber may be more likely, as new radar scans have found empty cavities behind the tomb’s north and west walls, Egypt’s antiquities ministry announced this morning (March 17).
Some archaeologists even think Queen Nefertiti, King Tutankhamen’s stepmother, could be lurking in one of those spaces.
Scans carried out by Japanese radar technologist Hirokatsu Watanabe “suggest the presence of two empty spaces or cavities beyond the decorated North and West walls of the Burial Chamber,” officials at Egypt’s antiquities ministry said in a statement released to media. The scans also suggest the “presence of metallic and organic substances,” and show what could be door lintels that indicate the presence of doorways, they said.
New Scans of King Tut’s Tomb May Reveal Hidden Burial Chamber
On April 2, a new series of radar scans will be performed on King Tutankhamun’s tomb to search for hidden chambers that may contain an undiscovered royal burial, Egypt’s antiquities ministry has announced.
The announcement comes after stories were published in numerous media outlets last week claiming that Egypt’s tourism minister, Hisham Zazou, had told the Spanish news outlet ABC that the chambers had been proven to exist and contain numerous treasures.
“The Ministry of Antiquities has not issued any statement concerning the results that have been reached so far,” the ministry said in a statement released to Live Science. “Further radar examinations will be performed on April 2, and a press conference will be held afterwards to announce the results of the scan.”
Last year, University of Arizona Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves published findings suggesting that there are hidden chambers behind a wall in Tutankhamun’s tomb. These chambers, he believes, hold the burial of Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten, a pharaoh who was Tutankhamun’s father.
“We could be faced, for the first time in recent history, with the intact burial of an Egyptian pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings,” Reeves told Live Science last year.
Scans performed by Factum Arte, a company commissioned to scan Tutankhamun’s tomb, show unusual lines and abnormalities in the plaster of the tomb, Reeves said, adding that these features indicate that a wall was built over a doorway in ancient times.
Some of the artifacts in Tutankhamun’s tomb were originally made for Nefertiti but were buried with Tutankhamun after the boy king’s death, Reeves found.
Radar scans performed on the tomb last year suggest that a void could exist behind the wall. Egypt’s former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, urged that the claims be viewed cautiously. He noted that the geology of the Valley of the Kings can lead radar to produce false positives showing a tomb when, in fact, there is only a natural feature.
Reeves did not immediately respond to Live Science’s requests for comment on the latest developments.
Tourism has long been a major industry in Egypt. Since the revolution that toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt’s tourism industry has struggled, archaeologists have told Live Science. The political instability over the past five years has meant that the number of visitors to Egypt has yet to return to its pre-revolution levels.
Additionally, recent terrorist attacks — including the bombing of a Russian plane in the Sinai Desert, an attack carried out by the Islamic State group, or ISIS — have made it difficult for the Egyptian government to convince tourists that the country is safe to visit, according to these archaeologists.
Egyptian officials hope that, if a hidden tomb is discovered, it will spur tourists to Egypt, bringing badly needed revenue and jobs to the country.
The World’s Oldest Papyrus and What It Can Tell Us About the Great Pyramids
Ancient Egyptians leveraged a massive shipping, mining and farming economy to propel their civilization forward
Following notes written by an English traveler in the early 19th century and two French pilots in the 1950s, Pierre Tallet made a stunning discovery: a set of 30 caves honeycombed into limestone hills but sealed up and hidden from view in a remote part of the Egyptian desert, a few miles inland from the Red Sea, far from any city, ancient or modern. During his first digging season, in 2011, he established that the caves had served as a kind of boat storage depot during the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, about 4,600 years ago. Then, in 2013, during his third digging season, he came upon something quite unexpected: entire rolls of papyrus, some a few feet long and still relatively intact, written in hieroglyphics as well as hieratic, the cursive script the ancient Egyptians used for everyday communication. Tallet realized that he was dealing with the oldest known papyri in the world.
Astonishingly, the papyri were written by men who participated in the building of the Great Pyramid, the tomb of the Pharaoh Khufu, the first and largest of the three colossal pyramids at Giza just outside modern Cairo. Among the papyri was the journal of a previously unknown official named Merer, who led a crew of some 200 men who traveled from one end of Egypt to the other picking up and delivering goods of one kind or another. Merer, who accounted for his time in half-day increments, mentions stopping at Tura, a town along the Nile famous for its limestone quarry, filling his boat with stone and taking it up the Nile River to Giza. In fact, Merer mentions reporting to “the noble Ankh-haf,” who was known to be the half-brother of the Pharaoh Khufu and now, for the first time, was definitively identified as overseeing some of the construction of the Great Pyramid. And since the pharaohs used the Tura limestone for the pyramids’ outer casing, and Merer’s journal chronicles the last known year of Khufu’s reign, the entries provide a never-before-seen snapshot of the ancients putting finishing touches on the Great Pyramid.
Experts are thrilled by this trove of papyri. Mark Lehner, the head of Ancient Egypt Research Associates, who has worked on the pyramids and the Sphinx for 40 years, has said it may be as close as he is likely to get to time-traveling back to the age of the pyramid builders. Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian archaeologist, and formerly the chief inspector of the pyramid site and minister of antiquities, says that it is “the greatest discovery in Egypt in the 21st century.”
Tallet himself is careful to speak in more measured terms. “The century is at the beginning,” he says at one of his digs along the Red Sea. “One must not enlarge this kind of find.” Was he very emotional when he came upon the cache of papyri? “You know, when you are working like that all the day for one month you cannot realize at once what happens.”
Tallet has been toiling quietly on the periphery of the ancient Egyptian Empire—from the Libyan Desert to the Sinai and the Red Sea—for more than 20 years without attracting much notice, until now. He finds it both amusing and mildly annoying that his discoveries are suddenly attracting attention in the scholarly press and popular media. “It’s because the papyri are speaking of the Pyramid of Khufu,” he says.
We are standing in an encampment in a desert valley a couple of hundred yards from the Red Sea near the modern Egyptian resort town called Ayn Soukhna. Tallet and his crew—part French, part Egyptian—sleep in rows of tents set up near the archaeological site. Above the tents is a steep sandstone hillside into which the ancient Egyptians carved deep caves, or galleries, in which they stored their boats. Tallet leads us up the hillside and clambers on a rocky trail along the cliff face. You can see the outlines of a set of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs carved delicately into the stone. There is the royal seal of Mentuhotep IV, a little-known pharaoh who ruled for just two years in about 2,000 B.C. And right below there are three lines of a hieroglyphic inscription proclaiming the achievements of the pharaoh, which Tallet translates: “In year one of the king, they sent a troop of 3,000 men to fetch copper, turquoise and all the good products of the desert.”
On a clear day you can see the Sinai Desert about 40 miles away across the Red Sea from where we stand. Before these recent excavations, the ancient Egyptians were not widely known to be notable sea travelers, and were thought to confine themselves to moving up and down the Nile or hugging the Mediterranean coast. The work that Tallet and others have done in the last two decades has shown that the ancient Egyptian Empire was as ambitious in its outward reach as it was in building upward in its colossal monuments at Giza.
Tallet, a short, almost bald man of 49, wears wire-rimmed glasses and, on this day, a tan wool sweater vest. He looks like someone you would be more likely to encounter in a Paris library or office than in a desert camp. Indeed he is soft-spoken, choosing his words with scholarly scruple and carefully citing the contributions of other scholars, and he likes working in remote locations far from the hubbub at the monumental sites, royal tombs and palaces and necropolises that have generally captured the world’s attention. “What I love are desert places,” he says. “I would not like to excavate places like Giza and Saqqara.” (Saqqara is where early Egyptian pharaohs built some of their tombs before beginning the pyramid complex at Giza.) “I am not so fond of excavating graves. I like natural landscapes.” At the same time, he has professional reasons for preferring remote sites over famous monuments. “Most new evidence is found in the periphery,” he says.
Tallet’s taste for the periphery goes back to the beginning of his career. Tallet grew up in Bordeaux, the son of a high-school French teacher (his father) and a professor of English literature (his mother). After studying at Paris’ famous École Normale Supérieure, Tallet went to Egypt to do an alternative military service by teaching in an Egyptian high school; he stayed on to work at the French Institute, where he began his archaeological work. He scoured the edges of the Egyptian world—the Libyan desert on one end, the Sinai Desert on the other—looking for, and finding, previously unknown Egyptian rock inscriptions. “I love rock inscriptions, they give you a page of history without excavating,” he says. In the Sinai he also found abundant evidence that the ancient Egyptians mined turquoise and copper, the latter essential for making weapons as well as tools. This, in turn, fit with his discovery of the harbor at Ayn Soukhna that the Egyptians would have used to reach the Sinai. “You see,” he says, “there is a logic in things.”
The area was not recognized as an ancient Egyptian site until 1997 when the cliffside hieroglyphs were noted by an Egyptian archaeologist. Ayn Soukhna has gradually become a popular weekend destination, and since the construction of a larger, faster highway about ten years ago, it is now only about a two-hour drive from Cairo. Across the road from Tallet’s site is an older Egyptian hotel closed for renovation, which allows his crew to work in peace, sifting through the area between the boat galleries up in the hillside and the sea. They are finding the remains of ovens for smelting copper and preparing food as well as quotidian objects such as mats and storage pots.
Sixty-two miles south of Ayn Soukhna, along the Red Sea coast, is Tallet’s second archaeological site, at Wadi al-Jarf, and it’s even more obscure. Among the only landmarks in the vicinity is the Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite, a Coptic Orthodox outpost founded in the fifth century near the cave, which had been inhabited by their hermitic patron saint. The area is almost the definition of the middle of nowhere, which is probably why it long failed to attract the attention of either archaeologists or looters. The remoteness also helps explain why the papyri left in the desert there survived for thousands of years. Precisely because administrative centers like Memphis and Giza were occupied and reused for centuries—and then picked over or looted repeatedly in the intervening millennia—the survival rate of fragile papyri from the early dynasties there has been close to zero.
Among the few people to take note of the place before Tallet was the British explorer John Gardner Wilkinson, who passed by in 1823 and described it in his travel notes: “Near the ruins is a small knoll containing eighteen excavated chambers, beside, perhaps, many others, the entrance of which are no longer visible. We went into those where the doors were the least obstructed by the sand or decayed rock, and found them to be catacombs; they are well cut and vary from about 80 to 24 feet, by 5; their height may be from 6 to 8 feet.”
Perhaps associating the area with the monastery, Wilkinson took the gallery complex to be a series of catacombs. But the description of this series of carefully cut chambers carved into the rock sounded to Tallet exactly like the boat storage galleries he was busy excavating at Ayn Soukhna. (They also looked like the galleries at another ancient port, Mersa Gawasis, then being excavated by Kathryn A. Bard of Boston University and Rodolfo Fattovich of the University of Naples L’Orientale.) Moreover, two French pilots who were based in the Suez Gulf in the mid-1950s had noted the site, but didn’t associate it with the harbor. Tallet tracked down one of the pilots and, using his notes, Wilkinson’s description and GPS technology, figured out the location. It was two years later that Tallet and his crew began clearing out a small passageway at the entrance to the boat galleries, between two large stone blocks that had been used to seal the caves. Here they found entire papyrus scrolls, including Merer’s journal. The ancients, Tallet says, “threw all the papyri inside, some of them were still tied with a rope, probably as they were closing the site.”
Wadi al-Jarf lies where the Sinai is a mere 35 miles away, so close you can see the mountains in the Sinai that were the entry to the mining district. The Egyptian site has yielded many revelations along with the trove of papyri. In the harbor, Tallet and his team found an ancient L-shaped stone jetty more than 600 feet long that was built to create a safe harbor for boats. They found some 130 anchors—nearly quadrupling the number of ancient Egyptian anchors located. The 30 gallery-caves carefully dug into the mountainside—ranging from 50 to more than 100 feet in length—were triple the number of boat galleries at Ayn Soukhna. For a harbor constructed 4,600 years ago, this was an enterprise on a truly grand scale.
Yet it was used for a very short time. All the evidence that Tallet and his colleagues have gathered indicates that the harbor was active in the fourth dynasty, concentrated during the reign of one pharaoh, Khufu. What emerges clearly from Tallet’s excavation is that the port was crucial to the pyramid-building project. The Egyptians needed massive amounts of copper—the hardest metal then available—with which to cut the pyramid stones. The principal source of copper was the mines in the Sinai just opposite Wadi al-Jarf. The reason that the ancients abandoned the harbor in favor of Ayn Soukhna would appear to be logistical: Ayn Soukhna is only about 75 miles from the capital of ancient Egypt. Reaching Wadi al-Jarf involved a considerably longer overland trip, even though it was closer to the Sinai mining district.
After visiting Wadi al-Jarf, Lehner, the American Egyptologist, was bowled over by the connections between Giza and this distant harbor. “The power and purity of the site is so Khufu,” he said. “The scale and ambition and sophistication of it—the size of these galleries cut out of rock like the Amtrak train garages, these huge hammers made out of hard black diorite they found, the scale of the harbor, the clear and orderly writing of the hieroglyphs of the papyri, which are like Excel spreadsheets of the ancient world—all of it has the clarity, power and sophistication of the pyramids, all the characteristics of Khufu and the early fourth dynasty.”
Tallet is convinced that harbors such as Wadi al-Jarf and Ayn Soukhna served mainly as supply hubs. Since there were few sources of food in the Sinai, Merer and other managers were responsible for getting food from Egypt’s rich agricultural lands along the Nile to the thousands of men working in the Sinai mine fields, as well as retrieving the copper and turquoise from the Sinai. In all likelihood, they operated the harbor only during the spring and summer when the Red Sea was relatively calm. They then dragged the boats up to the rock face and stored them in the galleries for safekeeping until the next spring.
Ancient Egypt’s maritime activities also served political and symbolic purposes, Tallet argues. It was important for the Egyptian kings to demonstrate their presence and control over the whole national territory, especially its more remote parts, in order to assert the essential unity of Egypt. “Sinai had great symbolic importance for them as it was one of the farthest points they could reach,” Tallet says. “In the Sinai the inscriptions are explaining the mightiness of the king, the wealth of the king, how the king is governing its country. On the outer limits of the Egyptian universe you have a need to show the power of the king.”
In fact, their control of the periphery was rather fragile. Distant and inhospitable Sinai, with its barren landscape and hostile Bedouin inhabitants, represented a challenge for the pharaohs; one inscription records an Egyptian expedition massacred by Bedouin warriors, Tallet says. Nor were the Egyptians always able to hold on to their camps along the Red Sea. “We have evidence from Ayn Soukhna that the site was destroyed several times. There was a big fire in one of the galleries….It was probably difficult for them to control the area.”
Apparently all parts of Egypt were involved in the great building project at Giza. Granite came from Aswan far to the south, food from the delta in the north near the Mediterranean, and limestone from Tura, about 12 miles south of Cairo on the Nile. The burst of maritime activity was also driven by the monumental undertaking. “It is certain that the shipbuilding was made necessary by the gigantism of the royal building projects,” Tallet writes in a recent essay, “and that the great majority of the boats were intended for the navigation of the Nile and the transport of materials along the river, but the development of Wadi al-Jarf exactly in the same period allows us to see without doubt the logical extension, this time toward the Red Sea, of this project of the Egyptian state.”
Working on the royal boats, it seems, was a source of prestige. According to the papyri found at Wadi al-Jarf, the laborers ate well, and were provisioned with meat, poultry, fish and beer. And among the inscriptions that Tallet and his team have found at the Wadi al-Jarf gallery complex is one, on a large jar fashioned there, hinting at ties to the pharaoh; it mentions “Those Who Are Known of Two Falcons of Gold,” a reference to Khufu. “You have all sorts of private inscriptions, of officials who were involved in these mining expeditions to the Sinai,” Tallet says. “I think it was a way to associate themselves to something that was very important to the king and this was a reason to be preserved for eternity for the individuals.” Clearly these workers were valued servants of the state.
The discovery of the papyri at such a distant location is significant, Tallet says: “It is not very logical that [the writings] should have ended up at Wadi al-Jarf. Of course [the managers] would have always traveled with their archives because they were expected always to account for their time. I think the reason we found [the papyri] there is that this was the last mission of the team, I imagine because of the death of the king. I think they just stopped everything and closed up the galleries and then as they were leaving buried the archives in the area between the two large stones used to seal the complex. The date on the papyri seems to be the last date we have for the reign of Khufu, the 27th year of his reign.”
The work that Tallet and his colleagues have done along the Red Sea connects with Lehner’s work at Giza. In the late 1980s, Lehner began a full-scale excavation of what has turned out to be a residential area a few hundred yards from the pyramids and the Sphinx. For centuries, travelers had contemplated these amazing monuments in splendid isolation—man-made mountains and one of the world’s great sculptures sitting seemingly alone in the desert. The paucity of evidence of the substantial number of people needed to undertake this massive project gave rise to many bizarre alternative theories about the pyramids (they were built by space aliens, by the people from Atlantis and so forth). But in 1999, Lehner began uncovering apartment blocks that might have housed as many as 20,000 people.
And many of the Giza residents, like the boatmen at the Red Sea, appear to have been well-fed. Judging by remains at the site, they were eating a great deal of beef, some of it choice cuts. Beef cattle were mostly raised in rural estates and then perhaps taken by boat to the royal settlements at Memphis and Giza, where they were slaughtered. Pigs, by contrast, tended to be eaten by the people who produced the food. Archaeologists study the “cattle to pig” ratio as an indication of the extent to which workers were supplied by the central authority or by their own devices—and the higher the ratio, the more elite the occupants. At Lehner’s “Lost City of the Pyramids” (as he sometimes calls it), “the ratio of cattle to pig for the entire site stands at 6:1, and for certain areas 16:1,” he writes of those well-stocked areas. Other, rather exotic items such as leopard’s teeth (perhaps from a priest’s robe), hippopotamus bones (carved by craftsmen) and olive branches (evidence of trade with the Levant) have also turned up in some of the same places, suggesting that the people who populated Lehner’s working village were prized specialists.
Sailors may have figured among the visitors to the pyramid town, according to Merer’s papyrus journal. It mentions carrying stone both up to the lake or basin of Khufu and to the “horizon of Khufu,” generally understood to refer to the Great Pyramid. How did Merer get his boat close enough to the pyramids to unload his cargo of stone? Currently, the Nile is several miles from Giza. But the papyri offer important support for a hypothesis that Lehner had been developing for several years—that the ancient Egyptians, masters of canal building, irrigation and otherwise redirecting the Nile to suit their needs, built a major harbor or port near the pyramid complex at Giza. Accordingly, Merer transported the limestone from Tura all the way to Giza by boat. “I think the Egyptians intervened in the flood plain as dramatically as they did on the Giza Plateau,” Lehner says, adding: “The Wadi al-Jarf papyri are a major piece in the overall puzzle of the Great Pyramid.”
Tallet, characteristically, is more cautious. “I really don’t want to be involved in any polemics on the building of the pyramids at Giza—it’s not my job,” he says. “Of course it’s interesting to have this kind of information, it will deserve a lot of study.”
Tallet believes that the Lake of Khufu, to which Merer refers, was more likely located at Abusir, another important royal site about ten miles south of Giza. “If it is too close to Giza,” Tallet says, “one does not understand why it takes Merer a full day to sail from this site to the pyramid.” But Tallet has been persuaded by Lehner’s evidence of a major port at Giza. It makes perfect sense, he says, that the Egyptians would have found a way to transport construction materials and food by boat rather than dragging them across the desert. “I am not sure it would have been possible at all times of the year,” he said. “They had to wait for the flooding, and could have existed for perhaps six months a year.” By his estimate the ports along the Red Sea were only working for a few months a year—as it happens, roughly when Nile floods would have filled the harbor at Giza. “It all fits very nicely.”
After two nights of tests in the Valley of the Kings, new evidence reinforces the theory that undiscovered rooms may lie behind the painted walls on 11/29/2015.
Dear friends of Egyptology and archaeology. The following doesn’t get more interesting than this. This was posted on Fb on 10/2/2015.
Ministry of Antiquities
Outcomes of the “Burial of Nefertity” ’s International conference
Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh Eldamaty declared that the evidences that the British Scientist “Nicholas Reeves” relied upon using a new technology to which previous generations had no access, to come up with his new archaeological hypothesis might lead us to a phenomenal archaeological discovery that could be similar to that of discovering the Tomb of Tut Ankh Amun itself. The declaration came in the international press conference held yesterday October 1st 2015 at the State Information Service, an event witnessed by a huge number of Egyptologists, scientists, reporters and journalists from all over the world.
Eldamaty pointed out that he agrees with Reeves in his theory concerning the possibility of the presence of some hidden chambers that might embrace the burial of a Royal Lady, probably “Kia” mother of King Tut Ankh Amun or “Merit Aten” wife of “Semenkh ka Re” brother of the Boy King and his successor. Eldamaty expressed his sincere wishes that the rear wall of Tut Ankh Amun’s Tomb might reveal Nefertity’s Tomb as anticipated by Reeves, emphasizing that the Ministry of Antiquities is doing its best to facilitate the work performed by Reeves. He also said that this file will be discussed immediately by the Permanent Committee to take the necessary procedures.
Eldamaty added that actual works inside the Tomb is expected to start within one to three months after studying and deciding which is the best technical procedure to be used in order not cause any harm to the original Tomb.
On the other side, the British Scientist Nicholas Reeves outlined the details of his archaeological hypothesis and the evidences he relied upon yielded by a new technology; the digital scanning of surfaces, which in this instance has revealed the seeming presence of two intact doorways behind the painted decoration of the Burial Chamber’s west and north walls. It looks – according to Reeves – as if one of these doorways may lead to the burial of Neferity herself. Reeves said that a study of his appeared only 2 months ago under the title “The Burial of Nefertiti” which has taken him almost 18 months to write, test and recheck of evidence.
Within the evidences Reeves displayed came the evidence of the functional piercing of the Tut Ankh Amun’s famous mask ears which indicate that the mask had once carried earrings, a form of jewellery never worn by kings beyond enfancy. Reeves suggests that the famous gold mask had never been intended for Tut Ankh Amun at all. Another evidence is the cartouche that has been altered. Reeves explained that comparison with traces of text inside the King’s four gold canopic coffinettes reveals the woman in question to have been Nefertity – the original owner of as much as 80% of Tut Ankh Amun’s burial furniture.
Reeves finally added in his speech that the old story of Nefertity being dead before Akhenaten and was buried at El-Amarna appears now to be mistaken: she “disappears” from the records simply because she changed her name to be a junior ruler alongside Akhenaten and then, after his death, to the role of fully independent pharaoh with the name Smenkhkare. Tut Ankh Amun’s Tomb was first prepared – according to Reeves – for Nefertity but the plan was changed after the sudden death of the Boy King. The external parts of Nefertity’s tomb were redeveloped to be used as a tomb for the Boy King. Therefore, all indications point out that Nefertity’s burial actually lie beyond the north wall of Tut Ankh Amun’s Tomb.
(c) Ministry of Antiquities, Press Office
wrote : Gehad Elrawy
Translated by: Eman Ministry of Antiquities
Ahram Online of 10/1/2015 Posted this tantalizing article
INTERVIEW: Nicholas Reeves “60% sure” ahead of Nefertiti announcement
The British archaeologist has been conducting field work with Egypt’s antiquities minister after putting forth a theory locating Nefertiti’s crypt
Nicholas Reeves is leaning on the entrance to Tutankhamun’s tomb as he catches his breath. The British archaeologist has just finished a frantic couple of hours touring four royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
They belong to Horemhab, Ay, Amenhotop and another tomb is given the number KV 55, all are contemporaneous to Tutankhamun and Nefertiti. But it is Nefertiti’s long-lost resting place that is causing a stir, and Reeves thinks he knows where it is.
Ahead of a press conference on Thursday where results from recent investigations will be announced, Ahram Online speaks to the man himself.
Why did you insist on conducting examinations of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber before getting the security clearance from a radar device?
I wanted to inspect, and to look for features on the west and north walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber which are not present in the digital photos on which I based my theory.
I also wanted to examine the ceiling of the burial chamber because it could provide an initial indication of my theory’s accuracy.
Since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 nobody has ever examined the ceiling.
What were your observations and to what extent do they confirm your theory?
Investigations of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber ceiling prove that it extends beyond the northern and western walls, which suggests that something is hidden behind those walls.
Also the four magical niches, installed on the walls of the burial chamber to protect the deceased, are not placed in precise locations in the middle of every wall of the burial chamber as usual. On the contrary, they are all over the place. This indicates that the ancient Egyptians have tried to avoid putting them on the partition walls in order to hide something.
Why did you examine the tombs of kings Ay, Horemhab, Amenhotep II and KV55, given that you think Tutankhamun’s tomb could house Nefertiti’s resting place?
I visited them because they belong to the same era as Tutankhamun and Nefertiti and are connected to them in one way or another.
Inside these tombs I investigated the paintings, the interior design, the architecture and the location of the magical niches in order to compare them to those in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
My examinations revealed that in the tombs of Amenhotep II and Ay the magical niches are evenly positioned as they should be, unlike in Tutankhamun’s where they all over the place. This means that in Tutankhmun’s tomb they are likely hiding something.
In Horemhab’s tomb the wall at the far side of the well gives a good sense of what I think is going on with the northern wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.
The wall in Horemhab’s tomb was originally completely decorated and hid access to deeper parts of the tomb. Hence most people who entered the tomb would not have realized there was a tomb behind that wall.
I think that is the situation in Tutankhamun’s tomb, where we have a kind of blind wall which uniquely is still in one piece. If what I predict is correct, whatever stretches out behind it remains intact.
To what extent did these observations confirm your theory?
I think 60 percent but we’re still in a hypothetical stage, and people should be excited until the end of November when scientific tests and radar investigations will take place. The world should stand still.
Where we have got to now is just step one. In my opinion it is a brilliant theory, but concrete evidence could show it to be false. The best theories don’t always work.
Have your field examinations confirmed that it is Nefertiti’s crypt?
Not at all, but I didn’t find anything that changed my opinion. All the features on the mummy depicted on the northern wall point to Nefertiti. It is unlikely you would have a wall with an image that look likes Nefertiti. The wrinkles of the face and the concave neck show the mummy belongs to a woman not a man.
Meanwhile, the man in the scene carrying out the opening of the mouth ritual, labeled here as Ay, has the facial features of Tutankhamun when he was a child. It is an Amarna period child. We know that Tutankhamun succeeded Smenkare – who I hold to be Nefertiti – therefore I cannot find any other answer to explain this.
Would radar scans give concrete answers?
Radars are tricky, especially in this kind of stone terrain with lots of reflections and cracks inside. We need skilled and experienced radar experts.
We’re talking with a Japanese expert who I think is outstanding. He is also an archaeologist who has uncovered several sites in Japan and South America. Here in the Valley of the Kings, tomb number KV 63 was uncovered by an American archaeologist thanks to radar survey.
How can you be sure of the radar’s findings?
I will go wherever evidences and radar results take me. If the radar indicates the existence of chambers behind the walls, we will confirm the investigations.
We have to be very careful inserting the device as the vibrations from probing could cause damages to the cliff, the tomb or even to an undiscovered tomb. The Valley of the Kings still hides secrets.
If the radar does show hidden chambers, how would you display them to the public?
The scientific and archaeological committee of the project would find an appropriate method of displaying them without damaging the painted walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.
One idea is to cut the fresco paintings off the walls and display them in a museum, perhaps in collaboration with Italian experts who used the technique in Pompeii. That is no easy task but could be done if necessary.
What you will say in the press conference tomorrow?
Antiquities minister Mamdouh Eldamaty will talk about the results of our examinations.
I will give a 45 minute lecture including a Powerpoint presentation of data concerning the west and north walls of the tomb. I’ll go further and explain step-by-step how finding a new section will bring us closer to Nefertiti’s final resting place.
So people will understand my theory better and form their own conclusions.
What would you say to those archaeologists who claim your theory is old and was previously launched by British Egyptologist John Romer, who didn’t find anything?
I don’t remember that. What I do know is that Romer was interested in uncovering the tomb of Harihor of the 21st dynasty. I was not aware that Romer was interested in the Amarna period.
Tutankhamen’s Tomb Investigation continues to heat up
Check out this post by Bernard M. Adams that was on Fb on 9/29/2015
“What a wonderful and exciting morning at the Kings Valley. People gathered at the shelter in front of KV62. Those people included the Press from BBC TV, National Geographic, French TV and many Newspaper journalists. Then the dignities arrived and everyone got the chance to ask question and to discuss with Dr. Nicholas Reeves his theories and research. The morning went very well with everyone enjoying the moment and perhaps, all hoping in the realisation of their being at the beginning of something big in history.
We all had the chance to enter the tomb, take photos and to roughly see where the proposed Hidden Rooms might be, according to Dr. Reeves. In the tomb there were many officials, some wearing the SCA (Supreme Council of Antiquities) white coats. These men were mostly in the small anti chamber to the East of the tomb and the burial chamber where they were checking the laser images against the walls.
Those attending the public relations meeting were, Dr. Mamdouh El-Damaty – Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Sayed Bard – Governor of Luxor, Ahmed Khalifa – Director of Public Relations, Ahmed Nouby Moussa – SIS Manager and other officials and Directors from different areas.
Dr. Mamdouh El-Damaty, Minister of Antiquities, agrees that Dr. Reeves has found something because they have found already the changes that show us that behind these walls we have to find other chambers. But, Nefertiti “I doubt”. He thinks we have another discovery and says, why not the Queen Tiye? (Tut’s Mother) It’s another theory, or it could be a Prince or another royal member of the family of Tutankhamun. It’s a double tomb but which one? Which person? We will have to wait until we see the results.
Dr. Nicholas Reeves explained his ideas and theory for there being further rooms in Tut’s tomb. He says “I go where the evidence takes me” and the evidence at the moment suggests two things, it suggests there may be another doorway behind the West wall of the burial chamber. There may be another doorway behind the North wall. The West wall, if there is a chamber behind the West wall, then that corresponds to a Tutankhamun period storeroom. So there would be another Tutankhamun storeroom that has not been discovered before. If there is a chamber behind the North wall, the answer is of who or what is behind it. If you look at the Horemheb tomb TT57, you go down, you reach the well and on the opposite wall, you have a painted decoration, which has been broken down in antiquities time but you can see that the God Horus is cut through, you can see that this original decoration, the entire wall has been a disguise to hide its existence. If I am right, I think this is a similar situation. This is a disguised wall. Dr. Reeves had also stated that after his investigations of the tombs ceiling, it shows that it went beyond the North and West walls. He is now convinced his theory of further rooms is correct.
A Japanese team will arrive within a few months after permissions are granted from the authorities. They will use GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) The Japanese Archaeologist has had great success in South America using this method, it was also used here in the Kings Valley at KV63. Dr. Mamdouh Al-Damaty has promised that on the 4th November, the day the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter, the radar results will be announced.”
Anticipation grows at possibility of Tutankhamun tomb’s hidden chambers
Just in case you have been sleeping under a rock for the past several months, Nicholas Reeves of the University of Arizona published a fascinating article proposing that Tutankhamen’s tomb has several more chambers. (Click here for link to article) He even argues that behind one of the walls, the burial of Queen Nefertiti might be found. Heady stuff for the field of Egyptology to be sure.
Not surprisingly, Reeves’ research theory has caused quite a stir within the field: predictably some of his colleague’s have scoffed at the notion; but remarkably the Egyptians have chosen to move with unexpected swiftness.
Below is the latest news out of Cairo as of September 28, 2015.
Antiquities minister Mamdouh Eldamaty announced on Monday that the first examinations carried out by himself and British archeologist Nicholas Reeves in Luxor on Tutankhamun’s tomb have revealed that the tomb’s northern and western walls both hide chambers.
There are scratching and markings on both walls like those found on the entrance gate of Tutankhamun’s tomb when it was discovered in 1922, Eldamaty explained.
“This indicates that the western and northern walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb could hide two burial chambers,” Eldamaty told Ahram Online.
Nicholas Reeves said their investigations showed the tomb’s ceiling extends behind the northern and western walls. He is now almost convinced his theory suggesting the existence of two undiscovered chambers is correct.
“After our first examination of the walls we can do nothing more until we receive the all-clear from the radar device to confirm the our findings,” Reeves told Ahram Online.
Eldamaty has promised that on 4 November, the same day Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered, the radar results of scans on the two walls will be announced.
Reeves believes the northern wall painting in Tutankhamun’s tomb depicts the boy king completing a death ritual for queen Nefertiti. Mainstream scholarship says the painting shows king Ay doing the ritual for Tutankhamun. Now studies of wall paintings in the tombs of Ay and Tutankhamun will test Reeves’ theory.
In August Reeves published a paper suggesting the western and northern painted walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb have secret passageways leading to two chambers, one of them containing the remains of Nefertiti — queen of Egypt and the chief consort and wife of the monotheistic King Akhenaten, Tutankhamun’s father.
At the footsteps of Tutankhamun’s tomb Reeves enthusiastically told Ahram Online that although they must wait for the radar results, they were able to look for other features not present in the digital photos he had been using.
The photos were taken by art organization Factume in order to reconstruct a replica tomb of Tutankhamun. They found several such features; the extended ceiling, the traces of two doorways and royal stamps.
“I am pretty sure that a very important discovery is to be made soon inside Tutankahmn’s tomb,” Reeves confirmed.
Eldamaty told Ahram Online he now thinks it very likely there are hidden chambers, but disagrees with Reeves when he says they could house the crypt of queen Nefertiti.
Eldamaty believes she will have been buried in Tel Al-Amaran, the ancient capital of Akhenaten’s kingdom.
“I am very enthusiastic about this work and I’m sure something is going to be discovered behind those two controversial walls,” Eldamaty said.
Dashur Investigations Shed New Light on the Pyramid Complex
A garden and a brick structure uncovered at the Dashur Necropolis have changed views of the functions of a pyramid complex.
In the parched desert of the Dashur Royal Necropolis, the southernmost area of the Memphis Necropolis, a number of pyramids are revealing the changes in ancient Egyptian architecture that occurred during the Third and Fourth Dynasties, with step pyramids giving way to the first true pyramids.
There is the Bent Pyramid, the first attempt at building a complete pyramid carried out by the Fourth Dynasty King Senefru, who took pyramid construction to a new level. There is also the Red Pyramid, the first truly smooth-sided pyramid.
Several kings of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties also built pyramids at Dashur, among them Amenemhat II, Sesostris III, and Amenemhat III, who built a pyramid encased in black stone.
A military zone until 1996, the site remained untouched for many years, except for excavations carried out by Egyptologist Ahmed Fakhri in the 1950s, and later by German Egyptologist Reiner Stadelmann. Although several tombs and funerary structures were unearthed, Dashur still retains many of the secrets of the ancient Egyptians.
The site recently attracted the attention of a mission from the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, which started comprehensive excavation work in 2010. The work was concentrated in the area north of the Valley Temple of the Bent Pyramid, previously explored by Fakhri, who stumbled upon a brick building that he dated to the Middle Kingdom.
Stadelmann later thought it could be a magazine or vestry of the Valley Temple. The brick structure was then reburied in sand.
In 2012, a re-examination of the site using a magnetometric survey showed that the building was actually older than the Bent Pyramid Valley Temple and its remains more extensive than previously thought.
“The major aim of the project was to investigate this earlier building in its entirety and gain as much archaeological evidence as possible on its original layout, date and function as well as having a better understanding of the whole landscape of this area especially after a recent magnetic survey detected a settlement with orthogonal streets,” project field director Felix Arnold said.
After removing 15 cm of sand, excavators not only rediscovered Fakhri’s brick structure, but also found the remains of an extensive garden which once featured more than 350 plants arranged in long parallel rows enclosed within a five-meter thick wall.
The garden site is spread along the area inside the enclosure wall, and its west side includes four rows of 26 tree pits, which range from between 2.2 to 2.4 m in size with diameters ranging from between 50 to 100 cm. An irrigation channel that once watered the roots of the plants was also discovered around the pits.
In most cases, Arnold said, the space between the pits was covered by a thin layer of earth, allowing smaller plants to grow. Only in one segment was the earth limited to narrow strips, possibly serving as flower pits. Additional rows of tree pits were arranged along the east side of the enclosure, though apparently more densely spaced, while another two rows were found on the northern side. An area of 150 m in the core of the enclosure wall was left free of plants.
“A few remains of plant roots are clearly visible,” Arnold said, adding that the remains revealed that the whole garden was once planted with palm trees, sycamores and cypress trees.
“This is the first time we have found a cypress tree in Egypt,” Arnold said, adding that it could have been imported from Syria. He said that studies have suggested that all the trees were planted as adult plants, meaning that they were planted somewhere else and later transported to Dashur at one or two years old.
“It seems at first that the trees used to grow in the garden, as we can see the roots going into the sand. But regretfully this did not last long,” he said, saying that the growing process had lasted for just a few years.
The ancient Egyptians must have brought water in pots to irrigate the plants in pits every day or every week as the water of the Nile was not extended to Dashur. “There could have been more rain at that time, but never enough to irrigate a whole garden,” Arnold said. The site would have been filled with workers busy building the Bent Pyramid, so it would have been very possible to bring extra water, he added.
Arnold explained that the field excavations revealed that the ground level of the garden was not entirely horizontal as its southern part was more than one metre higher than the northern side. On this elevated ground, Arnold said, a brick building was constructed, part of which was discovered by Fakhri.
Very little of the building is preserved, only the traces of the foundations. It was constructed directly on the natural surface of the desert, in the north on stone and in the south on a compact layer of sand. The building turns out to have been surrounded by a massive, rectangular five-meter-thick enclosure wall running 80.5 m from north to south and 55.8 m from east to west.
“Walls of these dimensions were only made for a king, and they are known from the so-called funerary enclosures of the Early Dynastic Period at Abydos, as well as from the city temples of the Old Kingdom, such as at Bubastis,” Arnold said.
He said that the mission has not yet unearthed any entrance for the building, but that early studies suggest the existence of at least two gates, one near the south end of the east side and the second in the centre of the south side.
The southern part of the building consists of three entrance rooms, and its northern part has a courtyard. The main entrance lies at the southern end of the east side and was set into the back of a shallow niche. Behind the door, the direction of the entrance was bent twice, leading through a passage into a columned hall. Along the foot of the walls of the rooms deep pits were found.
“They possibly served as emplacements for offering vessels,” Arnold suggested, adding that a third squared room with a depression in its middle was located to the west side of the hall and it could have served as a space for washing or ritual purification.
“During its period of use the building was refurbished and reformed,” Arnold said, adding that a wing of rooms was added to the west, giving the building a square ground plan. The extension occupied an area formerly occupied by part of the garden, the plants now being covered by the floor of the building. In a third stage, the new wing was subdivided into at least two spaces and an entrance added at the south end of the west side.
Additions were also made in the area surrounding the building, he said. A building was constructed adjacent to the enclosure wall, and another smaller structure was built into the southwest corner of the enclosure, but the northern half of the enclosure remained free of buildings.
Traces of a gypsum floor were found, indicating that it was used as a courtyard. “The purpose of the enclosure and the structures in its interior remains unclear,” Arnold said, adding that it was not a chapel or a palace or a regular temple. There are three theories about its original use, as it was built during the life of the king and used during his lifetime and not after his death, like the Valley Temple of his Pyramid Complex.
Due to the age of the root remains of the trees, Arnold said that the building could have been used for just five years. “It was a temporary structure,” he concluded.
The first theory, the best one, says that the structure could have been a temple where special festivals or ceremonies for a living king were held and not for eternity like in the Valley Temple. “It could have been a place to celebrate the renewal of the king, for example,” Arnold said.
The second theory says that the complex is a direct predecessor of the limestone Valley Temple built later in its vicinity, though its ground plan does not share any features with the temple, such as the wing of entrance rooms in the south and the courtyard in the north.
The third theory is that the building was a temple for the cult of the king with a garden, but missing the features of a regular temple as it was constructed entirely out of brick. No chapel has been found or any kinds of stelae, statues or false doors.
It cannot be ruled out that the king was present in the building as a living person, rather than as a statue. In this sense the structure could have been related in purpose and meaning to the funerary enclosures of the First and Second Dynasty at Abydos or the sacred enclosures familiar from depictions of burial rituals.
“The brick building can be dated to the middle of the reign of king Senefru,” Arnold said, adding that it could have been erected at the time that work started on the Bent Pyramid in the eighth year of Senefru’s reign. The building could thus have been used until the Valley Temple was erected in the 15th year of Senefru’s reign.
The construction of the Valley Temple respected the location of the brick building, and the earlier structures do not seem to have been used after the temple was completed. Most of the brick walls are covered with the building debris of the temple. The thick enclosure wall was later entirely removed and replaced by a new, much thinner wall. The new enclosure wall did encompass most of the space formally occupied by the brick enclosure, however.
The garden was also extended to the north along the slope of a low hill. Two additional rows of plants were added. In several cases the roots of bushes have been preserved in this part of the garden. How much of the original garden remained in use is unclear. In some areas, plants were added later, sometimes replacing earlier ones.
“It is a very important discovery that could change ideas of the function of the Pyramid Complex, especially the Valley Temple,” Arnold said.
While the specific function and meaning of the structure remains unclear, he said the building adds a new facet to our knowledge and understanding of the origins of pyramid temples at the beginning of the Old Kingdom and the purposes behind their construction.
“Though possibly related to other building types of the period, the structure in its design, and especially in its extensive integration of plants, is something new and so far unique,” Arnold said.
“Buildings of a similar kind may indeed have existed in the vicinity of the valley temples of other pyramid complexes, but no one has yet unearthed one.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO KING TUTANKHAMUN’S DEATH MASK?
Allegations of the mistreatment of antiquities have resurfaced in Egypt, as journalists discover something awry with the legendary mask of Tutankhamun at the Egyptian Museum…
London-based Arabic news site Al Araby Al Jadeed has released an exposé, accusing those in charge of Egypt’s precious antiquities of negligence, after they were tipped off that something wasn’t quite right about the legendary mask of King Tutankhamun, currently residing in the newly-refurbished Egyptian Museum. Upon arrival, the hall that plays home to the priceless relic was notably dimmer than the rest of the museum. On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the famous blue and gold braided beard – a symbol of royalty and divine ranking in ancient mythology – has been glued on to the boy king’s chin. On the left side of his chin appears to be considerable damage.
So what happened? Speaking anonymously to Al Araby Al Jadeed, a museum employee admitted that during the renovation of the iconic museum in October 2014, the team were ordered to clean the mask of Tutankhamun, when it was accidentally damaged, causing the beard to break off from the chin. Usually, when unintentional breakages occur, it is compulsory to report it to the Ministry of Antiquities so that specialists can be deployed to fix it professionally. However, in this case, the source at the museum explained that these procedures were not followed. Instead, the head of the renovations team, Elham Abdelrahman, is alleged to have panicked and called her husband – also working on the renovation of the Egyptian Museum – who decided he’d repair the mask himself, using epoxy glue which can be purchased at any DIY store, and cannot become unstuck. To make matters worse, the glue was used abundantly, and spilled over, drying visibly on the left-hand side of the beard and chin. To “fix” this glaring evidence that the mask had been tampered with, the team attempted to scratch off the residue, only damaging it further.
Pharaonic Rock Carving of Obelisks Found in Gebel el-Silsia Quarry
CAIRO: A rock inscription portraying the rare transfer of two obelisks from a quarry has been unearthed at Gebel el Silsila, Egypt’s largest sandstone quarries located to the north of Aswan, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty announced Monday.
The discovery is the result of the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project, an epigraphic survey mission of Lund University, Sweden that has been active in the site since early 2014, according to the statement.
Scenes depicting the phases and the technique of detaching blocks, loading them in sailing boats before sending them to their destinations through the River Nile, have been also discovered in the site.
“The work technique shows a notable cooperation among the workers and the workshops at the quarry. The scenes of the rocks, which were precisely cut, confirm the advanced skills of ancient Egyptian labor,” Director General of Aswan Antiquities Department Nasr Salama said.
Stables, several rock-cut shelters along with a sphinx, similar to those aligned at the Sphinx avenue connecting between Luxor and Karnak temples, have been discovered in the site, according to Dr. Maria Nilsson, director of the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project.
“The project basically aims to document Gebel el Silsila’s epigraphic material in order to develop a database, catalogue and a topographic map for the site to have a better understanding of the area, its ancient visitors and what function and meaning the quarry marks had. The project also focuses on quarry marks and textual inscriptions carved upon the sandstone quarry faces,” said Nilsson.
Gebel Silsila is a rocky gorge between Kom Ombo and Edfu villages, where the Nile narrows and high sandstone cliffs come down to the edge of the river. Several shrines were cut in the area by the New Kingdom Pharaohs Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, and Horemheb.
MAN DISCOVERS MORTUARY CAUSEWAY OF THE GREAT PYRAMID – under his house!
Sometimes, breaking the law has its perks.
An Egyptian citizen, identified as “Nagy”, was illegally digging in his backyard, when he found a tunnel leading to the Pyramid of Khufu. The pyramid, nicknamed the Great Pyramid, is the oldest and largest of the three Giza Pyramids.
Nagy, a resident of the El Haraneya village, near the Giza Plateau, dug 33 feet beneath his house before he found the corridor, made from stone blocks. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities sent archaeologists to the scene, and a committee confirmed the passage to be the pyramid’s legendary causeway.
Archaeologists have searched for decades for the passage to the pyramid. The causeway is mentioned in the Histories by the Greek Herodotus, who claims to have visited it in the fifth century B.C. Herodotus wrote that the passage was enclosed and covered in reliefs, but before Nagy’s excavation, only small remnants of the causeway had been found.
The Khufu pyramid complex is known to have connected to an undiscovered mortuary temple near the Nile River. Thanks to the new discovery, archaeologists believe that this temple may be buried beneath the village of Nazlet el-Samman.
Tomb of Previously Unknown Pharaonic Queen found in Egypt
Czech archaeologists have unearthed the tomb of a previously unknown queen believed to have been the wife of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4,500 years ago, officials in Egypt said Sunday.
The tomb was discovered in Abu Sir, an Old Kingdom necropolis southwest of Cairo where there are several pyramids dedicated to pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty, including Neferefre.
The name of his wife had not been known before the find, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty said in a statement.
He identified her as Khentakawess, saying that for the “first time we have discovered the name of this queen who had been unknown before the discovery of her tomb”.
That would make her Khentakawess III, as two previous queens with the same name have already been identified.
Her name and rank had been inscribed on the inner walls of the tomb, probably by the builders, Damaty said.
“This discovery will help us shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids,” he added.
Miroslav Barta, who heads the Czech Institute of Egyptology mission who made the discovery, said the tomb was found in Neferefre’s funeral complex.
“This makes us believe that the queen was his wife,” Barta said, according to the statement.
An official at the antiquities ministry said the tomb dated from the middle of the Fifth Dynasty (2994-2345 BC).
Archaeologists also found around 30 utensils, 24 made of limestone and four of copper, the statement added.
ARCHAEOLOGISTS DISCOVER MYTHICAL TOMB OF OSIRIS IN EGYPT
Archeologists have discovered an ancient tomb modeled after the mythical Tomb of Osiris as described by Egyptian lore in the necropolis of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, on the West Bank at Thebes. The complex includes a shaft that connects to multiple chambers, including one with demons holding knives.
The tomb, which was built following the descriptions of the Tomb of Osiris, like the Osireion in Abydos, one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt, is centered around a statue of the god of the afterlife, Osiris. The emerald skinned deity is sitting in a central vaulted chapel facing a staircase with a 29.5-foot (9-meter) shaft in it. The shaft (in the center in the diagram below) connects to another room with a second shaft that goes down for 19.6 feet (6 meters) into two rooms.
Drawing of the tomb’s architecture made by Raffaella Carrera, of the Min Project.
The funerary room with the reliefs of demons holding knives is located west of the central chapel (on the left in the picture above.) It’s connected to a 23-foot (7-meter) shaft right in front to another empty room. At the bottom of the same shaft there are two rooms full of debris.
Talking to the Spanish news agency EFE, the leader of the Spanish-Italian team that has uncovered the tomb, Dr. María Milagros Álvarez Sosa, said these demons are there to protect the body of the deceased. According to Alvarez Sosa, it’s a tomb of “great importance.”
The main chamber. You can see the statue of Osiris at the back, with the stairs and central shaft going down.
The entrance of the main structure of the tomb.
The tomb was initially catalogued by Philippe Virey in 1887. Later in the 20th century there were some attempts to draw a plan of the main structure. Tomb Kampp -327- however (marked in red in the plan below) was never described and published. Álvarez told EFE that her team will start revealing the chambers during the next archaeological campaign, in the fall of 2015.
Included for reference, from left to right: Osiris, Anubis, protector of graves, and Horus, god of the sun, war and protection.
Saving Khufu’s Second Boat
A Japanese-Egyptian team is reconstructing Khufu’s second solar boat, 4,500 years after it was buried to ferry the pharaoh to eternity
The southern side of Khufu’s Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau is a hive of activity these days. Dozens of workers, Egyptologists and restorers are removing piece by piece the wooden beams of the pharaoh’s second solar boat, which has remained in situ for 4,500 years after it was buried to ferry him to eternity.
Restorers are cleaning the timber, oars and beams, while Egyptologists are busy documenting them in the laboratory recently established at the site to rescue the different parts of the boat.
The boat was discovered along with the first one inside two pits neighboring each other in 1954, when Egyptian archaeologists Kamal Al-Mallakh and Zaki Nour were carrying out routine cleaning on the southern side of the Great Pyramid.
The first pit was found under a roof of 41 limestone slabs, each weighing almost 20 tons, with the three westernmost slabs being much smaller than the others leading them to be interpreted as keystones. On removing one of the slabs, Al-Mallakh and Nour saw a cedar boat, completely dismantled but arranged in the semblance of its finished form, inside the pit. Also inside were layers of mats, ropes, instruments made of flint, and some small pieces of white plaster, along with 12 oars, 58 poles, three cylindrical columns and five doors.
The boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of restorer Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat. The task resembled the fitting together of a giant jigsaw puzzle, and the completed boat is now on display at Khufu’s Solar Boat Museum on the Giza Plateau.
The cedar timbers of its curved hull are lashed together with hemp rope in a technique used until recent times by traditional shipbuilders on the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
The boat’s prow and stern are in the form of papyrus stalks, with the one on the stern bent over. It is essentially a replica of a type of papyrus reed boat, perhaps dating back to the pre-dynastic period in Egypt. It is not difficult to find many objects of a similar style made in the Old Kingdom in more durable material. The boat has a cabin, or inner shrine, which is enclosed within a reed-mat structure with poles of the same papyrus type. It also has a small forward cabin that was probably for the captain.
Propulsion was by means of 10 oars, and it was steered using two large oar rudders located in the stern. There was no mast and therefore no sail, and the general design of the boat would have not allowed it to be used other than for river travel.
On the walls of the pit were several builders’ marks and inscriptions, including some 18 cartouches containing the name of Khufu’s son, Djedefre. This suggested to many Egyptologists that some parts of his tomb complex were not completed until after Khufu’s death. One scholar has theorized that the two boat pits were built by Djedefre as a gesture of piety connected with the establishment of the local divine cult of his father and founder of the royal necropolis in Giza. However, if the boats were used at the funeral of Khufu, it would have been natural for Djedefre to bury them with his cartouches.
In the neighboring pit, the second boat remained sealed up until 1987 when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the Egyptian Office for Historical Monuments.
They bored a hole into the limestone beams covering it and inserted a micro-camera and measuring equipment. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements made, after which the pit was sealed again.
It was thought that the pit had been so well-sealed that the air inside would be as it had been since ancient Egyptian times, but sadly this has not been the case, as natural air leaked into the pit and mixed with the air inside. This has allowed insects to thrive and affect some parts of the wooden beams.
Youssef wrote in his diary at the time that several parts of the second boat had been lost in the sand and its wooden beams were drastically deteriorated and it was too risky to remove them from its original pit. This, Youssef wrote, was the reason that led the American team to cancel their rescue project for the second boat.
Regretfully, water also leaked from the nearby museum housing the first solar boat and affected a small part of the wood, making it necessary quickly to finish the studies and restore the wood.
In 2009, a Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University headed by Sakuji Yoshimura offered to remove the boat from the pit, restore and reassemble it and put it on show to the public. The team cleaned the pit of insects and inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling in order to examine the boat’s condition and determine appropriate methods to restore it.
Images were obtained showing layers of wooden beams and timbers of cedar and acacia, as well as ropes, mats and the remains of limestone blocks and small pieces of white plaster.
Yoshimura, Cairo bureau chief from the Institute of Egyptology at Waseda University, told Al-Ahram Weekly that a large hanger had been constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hanger inside to cover the top of the boat itself.
The hangers were designed to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A temporary magazine and laboratory has also been established inside the hanger to use during the restoration process. State-of-the-art equipment such as a device to adjust the temperature and humidity vital to the preservation of the wooden boat’s remains has been installed. A laser scanning survey has documented the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit. A solar electricity system has been installed at the site to save energy during chemical treatments.
According to Yoshimura, while the filling around the sides of the covering stone was being cleaned, the team uncovered the cartouche of Khufu inscribed on one of the blocks and beside it the name of Djedefre. This, he argued, meant that this boat has been constructed during the reign of Khufu and not, like the first boat, during the reign of Djedefre.
“In 2011, the Japanese-Egyptian team lifted aside the first stone block, weighing 16 tons, to start uncovering Khufu’s second boat and began concrete restoration work,” Yoshimura told the Weekly. He continued that the on-site team had developed a new technique to lift the blocks. They had first inserted a chemically-treated piece of wood beneath the cover stone and then lifted it.
Restoration work supervisor Eissa Zidan said the beams, timbers, ropes and oars of the boat were buried in sand on 13 levels that housed approximately 1,200 pieces of the boat. 250 pieces had been removed from the pit, he said, and 50 of them restored. Fifteen had been removed to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and another 30 pieces would be transferred later this week.
“When we first started the restoration work, we realized that the boat’s wooden beams were in a very bad conservation condition,” Zidan said, adding that some of the beams had turned into powder. The high rate of humidity due to the leakage of water from the neighboring museum had had a negative impact on some beams, transforming them into powder.
Restorers had removed the beams from the pit piece by piece and covered them in situ with a special chemical solution in order to protect them from the atmosphere outside the pit. In the laboratory, restorers had first reduced the rate of humidity of the beams until it had reached 55 per cent and then subjected them to treatment and consolidation. 3D documentation of every piece of the boat was also carried out in order to document all the pieces, helping in the reconstruction of the boat. Zidan said that 12 oars had been removed from the pit, only one of them complete.
Yoshimura said that the project would last until 2018 in order to complete the restoration and start the reconstruction of the boat. He said that the recent restoration work has been carried out as “first aid” and the complete restoration would be done when the boat was reconstructed.
The team had removed 200 pieces and restored them in situ. “When they are restored and transferred to the GEM, the team will remove another 200 pieces from the pit and so on,” Yoshimura said, adding that studies were taking place in order to select the best method to reconstruct the boat.
One way would be to reconstruct the boat on a polymer structure in order to protect it and give viewers a complete view of the boat even with the missing parts. Archaeological supervisor of the project Afifi Rohayem told the Weekly that each piece of the boat had been documented to assist in the restoration being carried out on it. Each piece had been given a number and accurately documented, photographed and drawn before and after restoration in order to help in the reconstruction.
“A comparative study between the first and second boat is also being carried out in an attempt to identify the shape of the second boat and if it is similar to the first one or not,” Rohayem said. He said that if 80 per cent of the piece of the boat was in a very good preservation condition, after restoration the boat would be reconstructed like the first one. But if only 70 per cent of the boat was in good condition, it would be reconstructed on a polymer fiber glass structure.
The two pits are not the only ones to have been found, since five boat pits have been discovered in total, three boat-shaped pits with narrow prows and sterns on the east side of the pyramid, and the other two on the southern side that are rectangular in shape and were cut to house full-size wooden boats that had been dismantled.
Two of the boat pits on the east side are now empty. Their walls were probably surfaced with limestone slabs, which reduced their width and simplified construction of a roof to cover them. The British archaeologist Flinders Petrie found some roofing blocks covering the end of the southern trench some time ago, but some scholars think that they were never covered, since pillars would have been needed to help span their width.
The third boat pit, also empty, is located on the upper north edge of the causeway, and therefore at the very threshold of the mortuary temple. It has a convex floor and is accessible by way of an ancient staircase with 18 steps. Though these pits probably did at one time hold boats, some scholars have speculated that they could themselves have simulated boats, rather than containing real ones.
However, cordage and pieces of gilded wood have been found inside the third pit along the causeway, indicating that a boat had once been present.
According to archaeologist Mark Lehner, the boat pits on the southern side of the complex differ from the others since they are long, narrow and rectangular, rather than boat-shaped, and they contained the disassembled parts of real boats. The fact that the pits were built no later than the end of the Fourth Dynasty is demonstrated by the observation that they lie partially under the pyramid’s southern enclosure wall, which is dated to the end of the dynasty.
According to Egyptologist John Darnell of Yale University in the US, new research into the second boat could fill in some blanks about the significance of the vessels and help determine whether they ever actually plied the River Nile or were of purely spiritual importance.
“In ancient Egypt, almost everything real had its counterpart meaning or significance in the spiritual world. But there’s a lot of debate as to whether these vessels were ever used or not,” Darnell said.
There are three schools of thought concerning the function of the pits and the boats they contained. The first, propounded by archaeologist Jaroslav Cerny, is that four of them were ritual boats for carrying the king to the four cardinal points and the fifth was the boat in which the body of the king was transported to Giza.
The second school, originally expressed by archaeologist Walter Emery in reference to the First Dynasty mastaba at Saqqara and then adopted by Egyptologist Selim Hassan, holds that they were solar boats and thus carried the king to visit the sun god Re, or accompanied him in his voyage across the sky.
The third concept, expounded principally by Egyptian Egyptologist Abdel-Moneim Abu Bakr, suggests that all the boats were originally used in the king’s lifetime for pilgrimages and other ceremonies.
Some Egyptologists argue that the boats may have touched water, pointing to rope marks on the wood that could have been caused by the rope becoming wet and then shrinking as it dried.
However, former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass believes that these were symbolic vessels, not funerary boats, and were not used to bring Khufu’s embalmed remains up the Nile from the ancient capital of Memphis for burial in the Great Pyramid.
He said that solar symbols found inside the second pit offered more evidence that those who disassembled and buried the boats believed Khufu’s soul would travel from his tomb in the pyramid through a connecting air shaft to the boat chambers, and that he would then use the boats to circle the heavens, like the sun god, taking one boat by day and the other by night.
Eighteenth Dynasty temple discovered during illegal excavations
Giza men arrested for carrying out illegal excavation work under a house found the remains of an Egyptian temple from the reign of New Kingdom King Tuthmose III.
Seven residents of a Giza district have been arrested after they illegally excavated the area beneath their home and found the remains of an ancient Egyptian temple.
The huge limestone blocks, engraved with hieroglyphic texts, date from the reign of the New Kingdom’s King Tuthmose III, and were found in the Hod Zeleikha area of Al-Badrasheen district.
The find was made two weeks ago, according to Major General Momtaz Fathi, an aide to the interior ministry and a director in the tourism police.
A unit from the tourism and antiquities police heard of the illegal excavation work and arrested the seven men – two of whom are Palestinian, Fathi said.
The police also found diving costumes, oxygen cylinders and diving masks with the detainees.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damaty said that the unearthed blocks are genuine and belong to a huge temple from the reign of King Tuthmose III.
Seven reliefs and two marble columns were unearthed along with a huge red-granite armless colossus of a seated person, El-Damaty.
The items have been brought to the Saqqara site for restoration and further study, the minister said, adding that the Hod Zeleikha area has now been declared an archeological site and under the control of the ministry in order carry out more surveys nearby and unearth more of the temple. – via Ahram Online.
Australian study finds Egyptian mummies may date back to 4,500BC
New research shows ancient mummification practice was happening 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.
The ancient Egyptian practice of mummification may date back 1,500 years earlier than previously thought, an Australian-led study has discovered.
The findings, led by Macquarie University researchers and based on studies of bodies found in ancient Egyptian graves from up to 6,000 years ago, is published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Previous research suggests that mummification began about 2,200BC, but the new research indicates the practice was already happening between 4,500BC and 3,350BC. “We’ve found experimentation in preservation was taking place in a tribal, prehistoric society some 1,500 years before the practice was regularly accepted to have begun,” said Dr. Jana Jones of Macquarie University.
Jones said the artifacts the team studied were excavated from tombs in Badari and Mostagedda in Egypt in the 1920s and 30s, and displayed in Britain’s Bolton Museum. She visited the museum and found that the samples, some dating back to 4,500BC, had not been archaeologically analyzed in 80 years.
Jones found signs of a complex, processed mixture in the funerary linen samples that included aromatic plant extract, a plant gum and a natural petroleum source – a resin commonly used for mummification much later on. “There was no fundamental change in the embalming mixture used some 3,000 years later,” she said. “The differences lay in substitution of an ingredient, but it already contained the empirical science that would become true mummification.”
Jones was allowed to take 92 samples back to Australia for more analysis. The bodies were found in the more extravagant graves, suggesting only the privileged people in this ancient society were preserved. “They were in graves that had more offerings than others,” Jones said. “Such as a child buried with a pet gazelle and a lot of jewelry. “I believe they were special members of a society.”
Jones said bodies were not completely mummified in these findings. “Certain parts of the body such as head or the hands were treated in this [preservation] mixture,” she said. “We’re looking at a time that was 1,000 years before writing, but we’re understanding [that] they really had an understanding of the science.”
Tomb of the Chantress
Archaeology Volume 65 Number 4, July/August 2012
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
A wooden coffin holding the remains of a temple singer sat inside a tomb undisturbed for nearly 3,000 years. It is the first unlooted burial to be found in the Valley of the Kings since 1922. (Courtesy © University of Basel Kings’ Valley Project)
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.
Although stones blocked the entrance, there was a hole just large enough to admit a small digital camera. Bickel, Paulin- Grothe, and the chief of the Egyptian workmen each took turns lying on the ground, head pressed against the shaft wall, one arm through the hole, snapping pictures. The surprising images revealed a small rock-cut chamber measuring 13 by 8.5 feet, filled to within three feet of the ceiling with debris, leaving little doubt they had found a tomb. On top of the debris rested a dusty black coffin carved from sycamore wood and decorated with large yellow hieroglyphs on its sides and top. “I’ve never found a coffin in as good condition before,” Bickel says.
The hieroglyphs describe the tomb’s occupant, named Nehemes-Bastet, as a “lady” of the upper class and “chantress [shemayet] of Amun,” whose father was a priest in the temple complex of Karnak in Thebes. The coffin’s color and hieroglyphs match a style that dates to between 945 and 715 B.C., at least 350 years after the tomb was built. The coffin shows that the burial chamber had been reused, a common practice at the time.
The only other artifact dating to the same period as the coffin was a wooden stele, slightly smaller than an iPad, painted with a prayer to provide for her in the afterlife, and an image that is believed to be of Nehemes-Bastet in front of the seated sun god Amun. The white, green, yellow, and red paints hadn’t faded a bit. Bickel says, “It could have been taken from a storeroom yesterday.” The rubble that filled the chamber held the remnants of the original Eighteenth Dynasty burial, she adds, including pottery, wood fragments, and parts of the unwrapped and dismembered mummy who first occupied the tomb. It also must be noted that before the discovery of Nehemes-Bastet’s, the last unlooted tomb found in the valley was the famous burial of Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter.
The coffin was carved from sycamore wood and decorated with hieroglyphs. (Courtesy © University of Basel Kings’ Valley Project)
People have been claiming there was nothing new left to find in the Valley of the Kings for almost as long as they have been digging there. The Venetian antiquarian Giovanni Belzoni believed he had emptied the last of the valley’s tombs during his 1817 expedition. Theodore Davis, who excavated there a century later, came to a similar conclusion—right before Tutankhamun’s burial was found. Of course, other discoveries have been made in the valley. In 1995, a team led by Kent Weeks, now retired from the American University in Cairo, was investigating a tomb used by the family of Pharaoh Rameses II.* They found previously unknown corridors, leading to the resting place of Rameses II’s sons, which extended to more than 121 rooms. Unfortunately, the rooms had been looted in antiquity and damaged by flash floods. In 2005, a team led by Otto Schaden of the Amenmesse Project discovered an unlooted chamber, which held seven coffins and 28 jars containing mummification materials. The chamber, however, contained no bodies, so it is unlikely that it was a tomb.
Before Bickel’s team could take Nehemes-Bastet’s coffin out of the burial chamber for further study, they had to open it to make sure that nothing inside would be damaged when it was moved. It took a professional restorer a day to remove the nails that held the lid closed. Inspector Ali Reda and Mohammed el-Bialy, chief inspector of antiquities of Upper Egypt, joined Bickel and Paulin-Grothe for the opening. Inside they found a carefully wrapped female mummy, about five feet tall. It was blackened all over—and stuck to the bottom of the coffin—by a sticky fruit-based syrup used in the mummification process.
Even in the short time since its discovery, the tomb is already providing intriguing insights into the life of the woman who was buried there. The time of Nehemes-Bastet’s burial (sometime between 945 and 715 B.C.) was long after Egypt had reached the peak of its power and influence. The Great Pyramid was more than 1,500 years old, and the prosperous days of the New Kingdom were gone. Nehemes- Bastet lived during the Third Intermediate Period, a time when Egypt was split by intermittent wars between the pharaohs in Tanis and the high priests of Amun in Thebes, who rivaled the traditional rulers in wealth and power. “It must have been a pretty unsettling period,” says Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist and research assistant at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. “There was fighting among these factions around her time.”
“It’s interesting that in this period even a wealthy girl was buried with quite simple things,” Bickel says, comparing Nehemes-Bastet’s coffin and stele with the elaborate pottery, furniture, and food found in earlier tombs. “Her wooden coffin was certainly quite expensive,” she says, but nonetheless, it lacked the elaborate inner coffins found in similar burials. More details on Nehemes-Bastet’s daily life can be drawn from a wealth of paintings, texts, and reliefs carved on statues and stelae of the time, says Teeter. As a chantress, or singer, in the temple of Amun, she probably lived in the 250-acre Karnak temple complex located in Thebes. Her name, translated as “may Bastet save her,” indicates that she was under the protection of the feline goddess and “divine mother” Bastet, the protector of Lower Egypt. Nehemes-Bastet’s occupation, however, was to worship Amun, the king of ancient Egyptian gods.
Music was a key ingredient in Egyptian religion. Teeter explains that it was believed to soothe the gods and encourage them to provide for their worshippers. Nehemes-Bastet was one of many priestess-musicians who performed inside the sanctuaries and in the courts of the temples. “The hypothesis is that these women would sing, act, and take part in festivities and big ritual processions that were held several times a year,” Bickel says. The musical instruments that chantresses typically used were the menat, a multi-strand beaded necklace they would shake, and the sistrum, a handheld rattle whose sound was said to evoke wind rustling through papyrus reeds. Other musicians would have played drums, harps, and lutes during religious processions.
An inscription states the name and title of the coffin’s occupant— Nehemes-Bastet, Chantress of Amun (Courtesy © University of Basel Kings’ Valley Project):
“For years people have debated what kind of music it was,” says Teeter. “But there’s no musical notation left, and we’re not sure how they tuned the instruments or whether they sang or chanted.” Some scholars have suggested it may have sounded like an ancient ancestor of rap, she adds. The emphasis was definitely on percussion. Images often show people stamping their feet and clapping. Examples of song lyrics are recorded on temple walls. This one from Luxor refers to the Festival of Opet, when the cult images of the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu were brought by boat down the Nile to renew the pharaoh’s divine essence.
Hail Amun-Re, the primeval one of the two lands, foremost one of Karnak, in your glorious appearance amidst your [river] fleet, in your beautiful Festival of Opet, may you be pleased with it.
The title “Chantress of Amun” belonged to women of the upper classes, Teeter says. Genealogies show multiple generations of women held the title, with mothers probably teaching the profession to their daughters. “It was a very honorable profession,” says Teeter. “These women were well respected in society, which is why [Nehemes-Bastet] was buried in the Valley of the Kings.” As was the case with the priests, temple singers were paid from the income generated by the huge tracts of land that Amun “owned” across Egypt. Some priests and priestesses served in the temples only a few months out of the year before returning home. There’s little information about what women like Nehemes-Bastet would have done while at home, Teeter says, but it probably wasn’t too different from other women’s traditional duties of the time: running the household, raising children, and supporting their husbands.
To learn more about Nehemes-Bastet, Bickel’s team needed to move the mummy to their lab. After reinforcing the coffin and securing the mummy, Bickel’s team carefully removed them from the burial chamber and transported them across the Nile to Luxor, where they are being fully restored. The team has emptied and sealed the tomb, but plans to return to complete an architectural analysis so they can learn more about its construction. The bodies from both of the tomb’s burials will be examined in detail. Bickel hopes to find the name or at least the title of the tomb’s original Eighteenth Dynasty occupant. In addition, a CT scan of Nehemes-Bastet is planned for later this year or early 2013. Preliminary reports will be published by the end of 2012, she says, but final analyses of the tomb and its artifacts will probably take four to five years. As surprising as finding Nehemes-Bastet’s tomb was, archaeologists believe it probably isn’t the last major discovery that will be made in the Valley of the Kings. “The valley has many nooks and crannies,” says Otto Schaden, “so it is still premature to set any limits on the possibility of finding more tombs.
El-Kab’s Hidden Treasure: Kushite Raid upon Egypt!
A 17th dynasty inscription found three months ago in Upper Egypt uncovered a critical and previously unknown Kushite attack on Egypt.
During the 19th century boom in Egyptian archaeology the tomb of El-Kab’s 17th-dynasty governor Sobeknakht was discovered. Though its whereabouts were published it was subsequently neglected. Until recently it continued to sit undisturbed upon the cliffs overlooking the Nile south of Luxor, accrued grime and soot obscuring many of its internal inscriptions. Only this year have the tomb’s soiled walls been cleaned to reveal an inscription relating a hitherto unknown Kushite raid upon Egypt that has been abuzz with superlatives and speculation among Egyptologists.
Earlier this year a number of British and Egyptian conservators under the aegis of the British Museum began work at the tomb in response to concerns about its deteriorating condition. In the process of cleaning the walls between the tomb’s inner and outer chambers they stumbled upon an inscription believed to be the first evidence of a huge attack from the south on Elkab and Egypt by the Kingdom of Kush and its allies from the land of Punt, during the 17th dynasty (1575-1525 BC). The newly discovered inscription is a biographical text painted in 22 horizontal red hieroglyphic lines that narrate the Kushite attack on Egypt and Sobeknakht’s successful counter- attack that expelled the invaders. “It is a very important military and religious inscription that was previously unknown,” Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told Al Ahram Weekly and asserted that it is the most significant piece to emerge about the 17th dynasty since the famous Kamose Stela, now on display at the Luxor museum.
Though Egyptologists had known that tension existed between the Kingdom of Kush, which lay along the Nile in present-day southern Sudan, and Egypt during the period in question, they had no evidence of the kind of clash reported by the inscription.
“This is completely unparalleled,” affirmed Vivian Davies, who headed the mission, in an interview from London with the Weekly. Davies initially assumed that the inscription was a religious text because it was near the burial shaft where the spirit of the dead rose to begin its spiritual life. However, as conservators continued to clean the inscription it was clear that it was not a routine funerary text but a biographical text chronicling events from the life of the tomb’s owner Sobeknakht.
The text recounts his role in the crisis, from his command to strengthen the defenses of El-Kab to his mustering of a force to combat the Nubians to his successful counter-attack southwards which destroyed an enemy force through the aid of El-Kab’s vulture-goddess Nekhbet. The inscription ends with an account of celebration in the presence of the Egyptian king, who is not identified by name, and of the temple of Nekhbet’s endowment with a sacred boat.
Evidence corroborating the general scheme of these events have also recently been found in Sudan, where archaeologists discovered a vessel that was once in Sobeknakht’s tomb. Davies stated that this vessel proves that during the invasion Sobeknakht’s tomb was already prepared for the old governor’s death. Early studies on the inscription revealed that it was a late addition to the tomb, as it was painted in red on the outer chamber, which, according to the Ancient Egyptian taboo, made it untouchable. Davies added that as the tomb’s decorations were completely finished by the time of the Kushite attack the corridor between the two chambers was the only space left to record such an event.
Davies is not alone in his feeling that the inscription forces a reconsideration of Egyptian history. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the supreme council of antiquities (SCA), stated that it sheds new light on the extent of Egypt’s vulnerability during that period, when the native Upper-Egyptian 17th dynasty centerd in Thebes was engaged in a war of independence against the Lower-Egyptian Hyksos who were based in Avaris in the Nile Delta.
“It was a pincer movement on Egypt,” Hawass told the Weekly. He said that success by either Kush or Hyksos would have changed the face of Egypt, even up to the present day. Mamdouh El-Damadi, the director general of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, also emphasized how important the inscription is for understanding Kushite ambitions in Egypt. Davies chimed in on this point in stating, “We always thought that the Hyksos were the greatest of Egypt’s enemy but Kush was as well.” The defeat of the Kush-led invasion represented in Sobeknakht’s tomb may come to be interpreted a critical event in Egypt’s subsequent defeat of the Hyksos and expansion of its nascent empire into Palestine and Sudan.
The dramatic nature of this discovery begs the question of what revived interest in a site that was catalogued over a century ago and then essentially ignored.
Two years ago, as part of the Egypt and Sudan Department of the British Museum’s substantial archaeological program covering Nile Valley sites and monuments threatened by modern development or in dire need of conservation, Sobeknakht’s tomb was finally put on a scientific agenda. Its inclusion in this program is due to its distressing material condition and its status as the only surviving tomb datable to this crucial transitional period in Egypt’s history.
“For us the tomb was like a patient in dire need of urgent care,” said Lameya El-Hadidi, one of two Egyptian conservators on the British Museum team. After difficulties finding a solution that would clean the walls without damaging the inscriptions, the team finally settled on small pieces of cotton dampened with distilled water as the best option. However, El-Hadidi explained that the tomb was suffering from not only the accumulation of grime and soot but also from bat waste and bee hives. Among the other obstacles to the tomb’s conservation were poor lighting and ventilation, with the effect of the latter being that the conservators were forced to breathe foul air peppered with dust and bat excrement. However, the fruits harvested of this labor went beyond the discovery of the inscription discussed above.
El-Hadidi confirmed that, “what made us put behind our fatigue was the beautiful illustrations that appeared piece by piece while cleaning.”
Scenes featuring Sobeknakht with his children and wife were among the iconic ornamentation found. A number of monkeys, some in symbolically erotic poses, are also engraved on the tomb’s walls.
A particularly striking scene shows monkeys sitting on the offering table eating the deceased’s food.
“It is a cheeky scene,” Davies told the Weekly, suggesting that the tomb’s artist had a unique sense of humor.
Ritual Public Drunkenness and Sex in ancient Egypt
The goddess Mut’s temple complex led archaeologist Betsy Bryan to unearth a ritual of binge drinking and orgiastic sex called the Festival of Drunkenness. Here, a statue of Mut’s head is unveiled at the Egyptian Museum in 1999.
By Melissa Healy
I’ll bet you that archaeologist Betsy Bryan’s perspective on reality-show behavior is a little longer than most. Since 2001, Bryan has led the excavation of the temple complex of the Egyptian goddess Mut in modern-day Luxor, the site of the city of Thebes in ancient Egypt. And the ritual she has uncovered, which centers on binge drinking, thumping music and orgiastic public sex, probably makes “Jersey Shore” look pretty tame.
At least it was thought to serve a greater societal purpose.
Bryan, a specialist in the art, ritual and social hierarchy of Egypt’s New Kingdom (roughly 1600 to 1000 BC), has painstakingly pieced together the details of the Festivals of Drunkenness, which took place in homes, at temples and in makeshift desert shrines throughout ancient Egypt at least once and, in some places (including at the Temple of Mut), twice a year.
Bryan, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, presents her work in the second of a four-part lecture series tonight, under the auspices of the California Museum of Ancient Art. Under the title “Magic, Ritual and Healing in Ancient Egypt,” Bryan’s lecture (7:30 p.m. at Pines Auditorium inside Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd.) outlines the meaning and the mechanics of the Drunkenness Festivals.
Lectures Three and Four, on May 13 and 21, will feature two other acclaimed Egyptologists: Francesco Tiradritti of the University of Enna, Italy, and Dr. Benson Harer, past president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Tiradritti will lecture on Isis, Osiris’ wife, and her magical powers. Dr. Harer will lecture on women’s health concerns in ancient Egypt.
Before her lecture Monday, Bryan chatted with the Los Angeles Times about these widely observed rituals.
Q. What were these festivals of drunkenness about?
A. These rituals were related to the cult of the Egyptian lion goddess. In ancient Egyptian myth, the sun god is unhappy with mankind. He finds they are rebellious. And he orders, together with the Council of Gods, mankind’s destruction. He calls on his daughter, Hathor, to become a lion, whereupon she turns into Sekhmet (which simply means magical power — female power). The sun god sends her down to kill mankind, which she does in this lion form, running up and down the Nile River Valley eating people.
Eventually her father tells her to stop. But by this time, she has developed a lust for blood and she won’t stop killing. To foil her, the Council of Gods floods the fields of the valley with beer that has been tinted red, to look like blood, with ocher. Blood-thirsty Hathor drinks it, becomes inebriated and falls asleep, and mankind is safe.
It’s almost always a request about ensuring the well-being and protection of the people and the land. And it also goes back and forth heavily between we want the goddess’s love or we want the goddess to punish those against whom we are engaged in hostilities.
Q. And how did these festivals play out?
A. What’s really distinctive about these rituals is their communal nature, their participatory aspect. We have tons of well-preserved evidence for rituals in temples, and they’re organized around hierarchical principles: the priests or leaders would typically act on behalf of the people, rather than the people acting for themselves.
But we know that while these festivals took place in temples, people also engaged in them in their own homes with groups of people and in shrines in the desert where they would get together. The people in attendance were everybody from the highest elites to groups of far more modest members of ancient Egyptian society.
This was an early means by which people confronted their deities directly, rather than through their priests or leaders.
The destruction wrought by Hathor is the background to the level of drinking that goes on in the festival: It’s not just to drink but to drink to pass out. A hymn inscribed in a temple associated with the lion goddess describes young women, dressed with floral garlands in their hair, who serve the alcohol. It is described as a very sensual environment.
Then, everybody awakes to the beating of drums. You can imagine how they must have felt after all that drinking, with the noise. The priests are carrying a likeness of the goddess Hathor, and they express their requests to the goddess.
Q. And what was the sex about?
A. The sex is about the issue of fertility and renewal, and about bringing the Nile flood back to ensure the fertility of the land as well. The festival of drunkenness typically occurred in mid-August, just as the Nile waters begin to rise.
We don’t have the same kind of clarity as to why the sex is included as we have with the drinking. When I first speculated there was a sexual component to these rituals, I got a lot of push-back from colleagues who didn’t believe it.
There were songs — their words were found on the sides of pots that appeared to be used in these rituals: “Let them drink and let them have sex in front of the god.”
We do know people left texts that refer to the ritual’s sexual component. We have one dating back to 900 BC, saying, “I remember visiting the ancestors, and when I went, anointed with perfume as a mistress of drunkenness, traveling the marshes.” “Traveling the marshes” is a euphemism for having sex (marshes being the place from which life springs). Another was written by a man who is a priest who identifies himself as having been conceived in this context. Much later, in the Ptolomeic and Roman periods, 330 BC to 27 BC, there are a number of people identified as orphans who are gifts to the temple.
Q. Were these festivals at all controversial?
A. I found substantial evidence that these festivals of drunkenness were frowned upon by many in society. This was something Egyptians struggled with — the alcohol making them lose control. For them, this ritual is designed to bring chaos as close as it could possibly come without upsetting the world order. They allow themselves to slip to the very brink in participating in this.
The Czech mission working in Abu Sir, directed by Dr. Mirislav Barta, discovered a skelton of a high official called “Nefer” from the time of King “Neferirkare” of the 5th Dynasty. The tomb was discovered last year in November and this season the excavation continued.
The mummy was found when the stone sarcophagus was opened to find the skelton and a stone headrest under the head.
Ali Asfar, head of the ancient Egyptian department said, “The tomb of Nefer is an unfinished stone tomb in a funerary complex of four corridors. The eastern corridor belongs to Nefer and a family member; it includes 5 shafts and a false door with inscriptions of Nefer titles.
Nefer was the Priest of the funerary complex of King Neferirkare, he held many titles including, “Overseer of scribes of the royal documents, overseer of the golden house and Secret keeper.”
Nefer’s wife was called Nefert Hathor and she held a title of “Hathor Priestess.”
Alaa Shehata, director of Sakkara antiquities said, “A group of Symbolic pots were found as well as 31 small faience and gold jewelry pieces beside fingers and toes stalls, which were all transferred to the warehouse No. 1 in Sakkara.”
As for Dr. Miroslav Barta, the head of the Czech mission working on the site, he said, “The work is not finished yet and we hope to discover more inscriptions and antiquities of this important historical era of the Old Kingdom.”
Ancient Egyptian Ruins unearthed of a once bustling Barracks and Port unearthed next to the Giza Pyramids
What was once believed to be a camp for the Pyramid builders in Giza may have actually been barracks for the Pharaoh’s military troops. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of barracks close to an ancient port suggesting the settlement could have been home to soldiers or sailors. The findings call into question previous theories that thousands of workers would have set up camp in the region, while building the pyramid of Giza.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of what is believed to be ancient barracks, pictured, close to the site of a port near Giza in Egypt. The location of the barracks to this port suggests the settlement could have been home to soldiers or sailors.
Researchers from Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) based in Massachusetts have been excavating the site, situated approximately 1,300 feet south of the Great Sphinx of Giza, since 1988. Last year, they discovered a large collection of animal bones, evidence of an ancient slaughter house for animals and a cemetery, thought to have been full of the bodies of pyramid workers.
The site is popularly known as the Lost City of Pyramid Builders, or Heit el-Ghurab and is believed to date back to the reign of Pharaoh Menkaure at around 2550 BC. Menkaure was the son of Khafra and the grandson of Khufu and commissioned the final pyramid in Giza to be built, known as the Pyramid of Menkaure or Netjer-er-Menkaur, which means “Menkaure is divine.”
This reconstruction of the ancient barracks shows how troops might have lived and worked in the three-story settlement. The total size of the site is said to cover almost ten football pitches. AERA believes that it would have been built in the 35 to 50 years that spanned the reigns of Pharaohs Khafre and Menkaure.
Excavators also found a large basin, pictured, near the site of the barracks, suggesting the area may have been a port. This was bolstered by the fact the basin was found approximately half a mile away from a channel of the River Nile. However, more recent findings near this site, close to a monument dedicated to what is said to be Menkaure’s daughter Queen Khentkawes, suggest the area may have indeed been a port. AERA director Mark Lehner and his team also found charcoal remains of trees that came from the Levant, a region in the eastern Mediterranean, along with pottery and jars for the same location.
This reconstruction shows how the galleries might have looked. It is thought that sailors may have traveled to and from the barracks from the Levant, since the researchers found charcoal remains of trees and pottery from the Levantine region at the site.
Elsewhere, on the site of the Lost City, the archaeologists found evidence of long buildings called galleries, pictured, that could have been used to house visitors to the port. The galleries would have been approximately 113 feet long and 23 feet tall. Materials used to build the pyramids in the region could have been transported along the Nile to this port, and may have been distributed via the settlement harbor. It is thought that sailors may have traveled to and from the Levant, or troops used to guard the pharaoh and his family and friends.
Researchers from Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) based in Massachusetts have been excavating the site, marked at A, situated approximately 1,300 feet south of the Great Sphinx of Giza, since 1988. The galleries would have been approximately 113 feet long and 23 feet tall.
In 2012, researchers found the hip of a hippo. A ritual in ancient Egypt among troops involved hunting and harpooning hippos, and the discovery of the hip adds weight to these claims troops occupied the area at some time.
The total size of the site is said to cover almost ten football pitches. AERA believes the development of the urban complex would have been “quite rapid”, and happened in the 35 to 50 years that spanned the reigns of the Pharaohs Khafre and Menkaure.
Archaeologists Uncover a New Pharaoh in Egypt
Archaeologists in Abydos, Egypt have discovered the tomb and remains of Woseribre Senebkay, a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3,600 years ago.
Archaeologists in Egypt believe they have discovered the remains of a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3,600 years ago. The skeleton of King Senebkay were uncovered at South Abydos in Sohag province, about 500 km (300 miles) south of Cairo, by a University of Pennsylvania expedition working with the government, the Egyptian antiquities ministry said.
Never before heard of in ancient Egyptian history, King Senebkay’s name was found inscribed in hieroglyphics written inside a royal cartouche, the ministry said in a statement.
Photographs released with the statement showed what appeared to be a heavily damaged sarcophagus in a burial chamber with no roof. Its stone walls were decorated with painted images. The photos also showed the pharaoh’s skeleton laid out on a white sheet. “He was originally mummified but his body was pulled apart by ancient tomb robbers,” said the caption.
Although robbers ripped apart Senebkay’s mummy, Wegner’s team was able to recover and reassemble the pharaoh’s skeleton. Preliminary examination indicates he was about 1.75 m (5’10) tall, and died in his mid to late 40s.
Furthermore, “No funerary furniture was found in the tomb, confirming it had been robbed in the ancient pharaonic ages,” the statement said, quoting Ali al-Asfar, an antiquities ministry official. In the statement written in Arabic, Josef Wegner, head of the expedition, added: “The modesty of the size of the tomb points to the decline of economic conditions in this period.”
Archaeologists in Abydos, Egypt have discovered the tomb and remains of Woseribre Senebkay, a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3,600 years ago.
The find dates King Senebkay’s rule to 1650 BC during a time known as the Second Intermediate Period, when central authority collapsed and small kingdoms sprung up between the end of the Middle Kingdom and the start of the New Kingdom.
King Tut Penis, Mummified & Erect, May Point To Ancient Religious Struggle
Egypt’s King Tutankhamun was embalmed in an unusual way, including having his penis mummified at a 90-degree angle, in an effort to combat a religious revolution unleashed by his father, a new study suggests.
The pharaoh was buried in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings without a heart (or a replacement artifact known as a heart scarab); his penis was mummified erect; and his mummy and coffins were covered in a thick layer of black liquid that appear to have resulted in the boy-king catching fire.
These anomalies have received both scholarly and media attention in recent years, and a new paper in the journal Études et Travaux by Egyptologist Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo, proposes a reason why they, and other Tutankhamun burial anomalies, exist.
The mummified erect penis and other burial anomalies were not accidents during embalming, Ikram suggests, but rather deliberate attempts to make the king appear as Osiris, the god of the underworld, in as literal a way as possible. The erect penis evokes Osiris’ regenerative powers; the black liquid made Tutankhamun’s skin color resemble that of Osiris; and the lost heart recalled the story of the god being cut to pieces by his brother Seth and his heart buried.
Making the king appear as Osiris may have helped to undo a religious revolution brought about by Akhenaten, a pharaoh widely believed to be Tutankhamun’s father, Ikram said. Akhenaten had tried to focus Egyptian religion around the worship of the Aten, the sun disc, going so far as to destroy images of other gods. Tutankhamun was trying to undo these changes and return Egypt back to its traditional religion with its mix of gods. Ikram cautions that her idea is speculative, but, if correct, it would help explain some of the mysteries surrounding Tutankhamun’s mummification and burial.
Tutankhamun’s erect penis
Tutankhamun’s mummified penis eventually broke off from his body after the mummy was discovered, at one point leading to media speculation that it had been stolen. Ikram has yet to encounter another Egyptian mummy buried with an erection. “As far as I know, no other mummy has been found thus far with an erect penis,” she told LiveScience in an email.
The imagery of King Tutankhamun’s erect penis has a connection to the god Osiris, Ikram said. “The erect penis evokes Osiris at his most powerfully regenerative moment, and is a feature of ‘corn-mummies,’ the quintessential symbols of rebirth and resurrection,” she writes in her paper. Corn-mummies were nonhuman artificial mummies created in later periods in honor of Osiris. They were made of a mix of materials, including grain.
Tut on fire
Evidence revealed in a recent documentary suggests that literally Tutankhamun’s mummy went up in flames, something apparently brought about by the large amount of black oils and resins applied to his body.
The embalmers applied an abnormally large amount of this black goolike material to Tutankhamun’s body for the time period in which he lived and they also applied it to the pharaoh’s coffins. In October 1925, Howard Carter, an archaeologist who led the team that discovered the tomb in 1922, wrote, “the most part of the detail is hidden by a black lustrous coating due to pouring over the coffin a libation of great quantity.”
Using large amounts of this black liquid, which turned King Tut’s skin a blackish color, may have been a deliberate attempt to depict the pharaoh, as literally as possible, as Osiris.
“The mass of oils and resins applied to Tutankhamun’s body might also allude to the black color associated with Osiris as lord of the land of Egypt, dark with the rich soil of the inundation, and the source of fertility and regeneration,” Ikram writes in the paper.
A missing heart
Another mysterious anomaly is the absence of the pharaoh’s heart and lack of a heart scarab to serve as a replacement. “This organ was a key component for the successful resurrection of the body,” Ikram wrote, noting that in Egyptian mythology, the heart was said to be weighed against the feather representing the god Maat to determine if one was worthy of resurrection.
The absence of Tutankhamun’s heart or heart scarab does not appear to be the result of theft, she noted, but, instead, may be an allusion to a famous story in the legend of Osiris when his body was cut apart by his brother Seth and the god’s heart was buried.
A cut typically used to remove a mummy’s internal organs was unusually “brutal” and large on King Tut, Ikram noted, another allusion, perhaps, to Seth’s butchery of Osiris.
Other pieces of evidence also point to Osiris. For instance, the burial chamber’s north wall shows King Tut as Osiris through its decoration.
“Tutankhamun is shown as a fully fledged Osiris — not simply a wrapped mummy,” Ikram noted. “This representation of the king as Osiris is unique in the Valley of the Kings: Other tombs show the king being embraced by Osiris or offering to him.”
In a sense, Ikram’s idea, if it is correct (Ikram is careful to note that her idea is speculative), brings the investigation of Tutankhamun’s mummy full circle. It was Carter who first noted the pharaoh was being depicted as Osiris.
“[P]erhaps Carter’s emphasis in his notes during the unwrapping and examination of the mummy is more correct than even he thought: the king was indeed being shown as Osiris, more than was usual in royal burials,” Ikram writes in her paper. Tutankhamun, and/or those who embalmed him, may have been pressured to do this in reaction to the failed religious revolution attempted by his father. “One can speculate that at this delicate historical/religious time, it was thought that the usual modes for the transformation of the king were not sufficient, and so the priest-embalmers prepared the body in such a way so as to literally emphasize the divinity of the king and his identification with Osiris,” Ikram writes.
Tomb of chief beer-maker discovered in Egypt’s Luxor
The tomb of a master brewer of the goddess Mut was recently discovered in the Al-Khokha area on Luxor’s west bank.
A Japanese mission from Waseda University uncovered the tomb of Khonso-Im-Heb, who was the head of beer production for goddess Mut and the head of the galleries during the Ramesside era.
The discovery occurring during routine cleaning work carried out at the frontcourt of tomb number TT47, which belongs to a top official in the reign of the New Kingdom king Amenhotep III.
The tomb of Khonso-Im-Heb is T-shaped with two halls and a burial chamber. It is also connected to an unfinished tomb of an as-yet unidentified person called Houn.
Jiro Kondo, head of the Japanese mission, said that the tomb is well preserved and is fully painted with scenes depicting the tomb’s owner with his family members and in front of different ancient Egyptian deities.
Scenes of the “Open Mouse” ritual also figures on one of the tomb’s wall while the ceiling is decorated with geometrical paintings with vivid colours. A solar boat is depicted at its core.
Minister of State of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online that security has been tightened around the tomb until the completion of the excavation works there. He said that a comprehensive restoration would be carried out after it is fully excavated to allow visitors.
Scientists Rewrite Timeline of Ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty
British archaeologists led by Dr Michael Dee from the University of Oxford have been able for the first time to set a robust timeline for the first eight kings of ancient Egypt.
This image shows the Palermo Stone, an Egyptian stele found in Memphis that records the names of the Egyptian rulers from the First through Fifth Dynasties.
Ancient Egypt was the first territorial state to be brought under one political ruler, and the new dating evidence suggests that this period of unification happened far more quickly than previously thought.
The first kings and queens of Egypt in order of succession were Aha, Djer, Djet, Queen Merneith, Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet and Qa’a. They would have ruled over a territory spanning a similar area to Egypt today with formal borders at Aswan in the south, the Mediterranean Sea in the north and across to the modern-day Gaza Strip in the east.
Dates for accession years of the First Dynasty and cultural transition dates for the Naqada and Badarian periods. Modeled durations for each period are also given. The duration of the Naqada period is taken to be the time from the end of the Badarian to the accession of Aha.
Until now scientists had relied on archaeological evidence alone, using the evolving styles of ceramics excavated at human burial sites to try to piece together the timings of key chronological events in the Predynastic period and the First Dynasty.
Using the fresh radiocarbon dates combined with existing archaeological evidence, Dr Dee and his colleagues’ mathematical model pinpointed the likeliest date for each king’s accession. The date for each king is thought to be accurate to within 32 years – with 68 per cent probability. The modeled timeline reveals lengths of reign that are approximately what you would expect in terms of lifespan, say the study authors. The results appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
Faience vessel garment inscribed with the name of the Pharaoh Aha, the first king of ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty.
The Egyptian state is often defined as starting when King Aha acceded to the throne. According to the new model, this is likely to have happened between 3111 BC and 3045 BC.
It also shows that the Predynastic period – when inhabitants along the River Nile started to form permanent settlements and concentrate on crop farming – was shorter than previously thought.
Left: accession dates – first regnal year – obtained by the team for the first eight rulers of Egypt. Right: intervals between the accession dates as indicated. The marginal posterior density functions are shown with the corresponding 68% and 95% highest posterior density ranges beneath.
It had been widely assumed that the Predynastic period started around 4000 BC. However, this model suggests it was probably closer to 3800 – 3700 BC, and the Neolithic period that preceded it lasted longer and finished later.
“The origins of Egypt began a millennium before the pyramids were built, which is why our understanding of how and why this powerful state developed is based solely on archaeological evidence. This new study provides new radiocarbon dating evidence that resets the chronology of the first dynastic rulers of Ancient Egypt and suggests that Egypt formed far more rapidly than was previously thought,” Dr Dee said.
The Ancient City of Heraklion Is Discovered Underwater. What They Found Will Change History Forever
The city of Herakleion was engulfed underwater 1500 years ago. This grand city had been mentioned by the Greek writer Herodotus, the 5th-century BC historian. He had told a wonderful tale of Helen of Troy, who traveled to Herakleion, then a port of ‘great wealth’, with her Trojan lover, Paris.
When French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio stumbled upon some relics, it led them to one of the greatest finds of the 21st century; a city underwater. The discovery took place when Goddio had been in search of Napoleon’s warships from the 1798 Battle of the Nile, when he had been defeated by Nelson in these very waters, but to his surprise, he stumbled upon this magnificent discovery.
Here the team retrieves the statue of the god Hapi
More and more statues are brought to surface, still in excellent condition
The discoveries include the colossal statues of the Egyptian goddess Isis, the god Hapi, and an unidentified Egyptian pharaoh, all preserved in excellent condition by their muddy burial shroud. Along with these 16ft statues there are hundreds of smaller statues of Egyptian gods, among them the figures that guarded the temple where Cleopatra who was inaugurated as Queen of the Nile. Dozens of sarcophagi have also been found, containing the bodies of mummified animals sacrificed to Amun-Gereb, the supreme god of the Egyptians. Many amulets, or religious charms, have been unearthed, too, showing gods such as Isis, Osiris and Horus.
A red granite sculpture of a Ptolemaic queen
A gold vessel, which is a shallow dish used throughout the Hellenistic world for drinking
A bronze statuette of a pharaoh of the 26th dynasty
An ancient lamp is discovered during the search
Here an archaeologist measures the feet of a colossal red granite statue
The god Hapi was the god of the flooding of the Nile, a symbol of abundance and fertility
A 1.9m inscribed stele, commissioned by Nectanebo I (378-362 BC)
Evidence shows that Heracleion slipped into its watery grave sometime in the 6th or 7th century AD. The discovery of Heracleion will now add depth and detail to our knowledge of the ancient world, because among the discoveries, there are perfectly preserved inscribed pillars decorated with hieroglyphics.
Archaeologists Explore Egypt’s Valley of the Kings
LUXOR, EGYPT—New excavations and ground-penetrating radar studies in the Valley of the Kings suggest that multiple tombs have yet to be discovered. “The consensus is that there are probably several smaller tombs like the recently found KV63 and 64 yet to be found. But there is still the possibility of finding a royal tomb. The queens of the late Eighteenth Dynasty are missing, as are some pharaohs of the New Kingdom, such as Ramesses VIII,” said archaeologist Afifi Ghonim of the Ministry of State for Antiquities. The team, made up of Egyptian scientists and members of the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research, has collected so much data that it will take years to analyze it all. In particular, faults in the natural features of the Valley of the Kings can produce false positives in radar instruments. They have already identified a deep channel that the ancient Egyptians used for a short period as a flood control system to protect the tombs from water and debris.
Egyptomania Exhibit. A Celebration of Cleopatra’s Needle Opens at the Met
By Jennifer Maloney
Sally Miller’s ‘Memorial painting,’ ca. 1811. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In 1880, New Yorkers were captivated by the arrival of an ancient Egyptian obelisk known as “Cleopatra’s Needle.”
Some 9,000 Freemasons paraded up Fifth Avenue with its pedestal, before the 69-foot, 220-ton shaft was dragged across Manhattan from the banks of the Hudson River—a process that took 112 days—and installed just west of the recently opened Metropolitan Museum of Art building. Crowds thronged the museum for a ceremony marking the gift from the Egyptian government to the U.S.
The Met on Tuesday will open an exhibition on Cleopatra’s Needle, charting the history of Egyptomania over the centuries, from Roman emperors and a Renaissance pope to 18th-century Europe and, finally, America.
Cleopatra’s Needle on the East Side of Central Park, which is the subject of a new exhibit. Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal
The exhibition coincides with an obelisk restoration project launched earlier this year by the Central Park Conservancy. The conservancy, with assistance from the Met’s staff, have completed a laser scan of the 3,500-year-old granite monolith and an assessment of its condition. Conservation work to clean and stabilize the surface of the obelisk is scheduled to begin in the spring, pending city approval.
New York’s obelisk is one of a pair erected by Thutmose III around 1450 B.C. at the entrance of a sun temple in the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis. Its twin is now in London.
In ancient Egypt, an obelisk—a column with a triangular, pointed tip—was a symbol of the sun god, connecting the earth to the sky and radiating protection, said Diana Craig Patch, curator-in-charge of the Egyptian art department, who organized the exhibition. In later eras, the obelisk took on new meanings, used as a symbol of antiquity and eternity.
The exhibition, Ms. Patch said, explores a question that struck her as she was planning the show: “Why are obelisks so important to everyone?” The Met’s exhibition traces this fixation, starting in ancient Egypt and spreading to Rome and beyond.
‘The Apotheosis of Washington’ by Henry Gardiner. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, “was fascinated by obelisks,” Ms. Patch said. After annexing Egypt, he moved some of them from Egypt to Rome. He moved the pair at Heliopolis to a temple in Alexandria built by Cleopatra VII to honor the deified Julius Caesar. Both obelisks—the one that ended up in New York and the one that went to London—would become known as Cleopatra’s Needle.
In the Renaissance, as a symbol of his eternal papal power, Pope Sixtus V placed ancient Egyptian obelisks as focal points in public squares that served as hubs for a new system of arteries through the city.
The exhibition includes a 1586 etching detailing how an engineer hired by Sixtus V moved an obelisk to St. Peter’s Square. (Nearly 300 years later, Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, an engineer hired by railroad magnate William H. Vanderbilt, studied the etching while devising his plan for moving Cleopatra’s Needle to New York.)
In 18th-century Europe, the obelisk “just shows up everywhere,” Ms. Patch said. Examples in the show include tapestries, paintings, a garden design and a blue-and-white Delft ceramic piece. By the time Cleopatra’s Needle arrived in New York, interest in all things Egyptian had swept across the Atlantic.
The exhibition includes an obelisk dip pen and mechanical pencil, a souvenir obelisk needle case, an Egypt-themed mantel piece by Tiffany & Co. (on loan to Yale University until January), and the baton carried by the leader of the Freemasons’ parade up Fifth Avenue in 1880.
It is topped with a miniature replica of Cleopatra’s Needle.
More Evidence that Tut was a lead foot. The Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun may have died from a collision with his chariot
The Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun may have died from a collision with his chariot, so say British scientists confronted with the death of the famous pharaoh.
The conclusions of an examination made by the Egypt Exploration Society Sunday were shown in a documentary by the British Broadcaster Channel 4.
The injuries of the young pharaoh, who died at 19, were compared in a computer simulation with injuries that could occur in an accident with a chariot.
It shows that the Tutankhamun’s chariot may have been hit while he was on his knees, which shattered his pelvis and ribs, which in turn struck against his vital organs.
The Woman Who Would Be King
by Kara Cooney
Ancient civilization rarely suffered a woman to rule. Historians can find almost no evidence of successful, long-term female leadership from antiquity—not from the Mediterranean nor the Near East, not from Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, nor the New World. In the ancient world, a woman only came to power when crisis descended on her land—a civil war that set brother against husband against cousin, leaving a vacuum of power—or when a dynasty was at its end and all the men in a royal family were dead. Boudicca led her Britons against the aggressions of Rome around 60, but only after that relentless imperial force had all but swallowed up her fiercest kinsmen. A few decades later, Cleopatra used her great wealth and sexuality to tie herself to not one but two of Rome’s greatest generals, just as Egypt was on the brink of provincial servitude to the empire’s insatiable imperial machine. It wasn’t until the development of the modern nation-state that women took on long-lasting mantles of power. After the fall of Rome, the Continent was held in a balance by a delicate web of bloodlines. In an ethnically and linguistically divided Europe when no man could be found to continue a ruling house, finding a female family member was generally preferred to handing the kingdom over to a foreigner.
In all antiquity, history records only one woman who successfully calculated a systematic rise to power during a time of peace: Hatshepsut, meaning “the Foremost of Noble Women,” an Egyptian king of the Eighteenth Dynasty who ruled during the fifteenth century BC and negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority. It is not precise to call Hatshepsut a queen, despite the English understanding of the word; once she took the throne, Hatshepsut could only be called a king. In the ancient Egyptian language, the word queen only existed in relation to a man, as the “king’s woman.” Once crowned, Hatshepsut served no man; her husband had been dead some seven years by the time she ascended the throne.
Hatshepsut’s legacy includes her temples, such as the tiered mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri—hieroglyphic texts on the structure were first translated in the nineteenth century, revealing the substance of her reign—and her red quartzite sanctuary from Karnak. Her tomb in the Valley of the Kings was decorated with spells to the sun as he traversed the hours of night, and her statuary reveals the essential duality of her reign: some show her as a woman, others as a man. Egyptologists remain divided about the identification of her mummy; there are a number of candidates for the valuable corpse that would reveal the wear and tear life dealt her. It is characteristic of ancient Egyptians that they would have forever preserved Hatshepsut’s body but that they recorded so little from her mind. Instead her story must be pieced together from thousands of broken fragments—temples, ritual texts, administrative documents, countless statues and reliefs of herself, her daughter, her stepson, her favored courtiers—a scattered portrait of human life. We don’t know the details of her relationships, if she was loved or reviled. Egyptology reveals the trappings of kingship, but it is very hard to locate the king. Egyptian kings were meant to be living gods on earth, shrouded in idealism and dogma, and those in power played their politics close to the vest—the throne took precedence over any individual and his or her emotions, wants, or desires. Gossip was almost unheard of among the elite and powerful of ancient Egyptian society; public scandal was never recorded into official documents or even unofficial letters. The lives of these mortal gods could only be spoken of in hushed tones.
Hatshepsut was around twenty years old when she methodically consolidated power and catapulted into the highest office in the land. Her youth was unremarkable in a world where tuberculosis, dental abscesses, diarrhea, food poisoning, parasites, cholera, and childbirth might regularly kill a woman; adulthood began early and life ended early (Tutankhamen famously died while still a teenager). Hatshepsut remains the only ancient woman able to claim power when her civilization was at its most robust. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, the Egyptian empire experienced a renaissance—gold poured into the country like water and new building projects were underway, including many of the sprawling temples of Karnak and Luxor so enthralling to tourists today. It was Hatshepsut who began to transform the grandest temple complexes from mud brick to stone, thus promoting each temple’s continued and creeping growth, reign after reign, as future kings made their mark on the sacred landscape with new pylons and gateways, colossal statues and obelisks, sanctuaries and columned halls. Karnak saw structures in sandstone for the first time, and it was here that she added no fewer than two pairs of red granite obelisks, miracles of human ingenuity and energy. (The architecture of her reign was arguably so influential that later New Kingdom pharaohs, including Amenhotep III , Tutankhamen, and Ramses II , were influenced by her choices.) And she achieved this in Egypt, where the very theological tenants of royal power stood against a woman claiming such a position—and where, close to twenty years after her death, the success of her reign could well be the reason that many of her statues, images, as well as her hieroglyphic name were subject to annihilation.
According to Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasty documents, an Egyptian woman was afforded such seemingly modern freedoms as an ability to step beyond the walls of her household, own her own property, and obtain a divorce—yet she remained nothing without connections to her father, husband, or brothers. Documents from Egyptian villages dating from a similar period tell us that a widow was one of the most vulnerable members of society, subject to being thrown out of her own home by a daughter-in-law, but court proceedings also record charges of rape and abuse brought by women against men, and Egyptian women practiced the power to file legal complaints for mistreatment.
A royal woman had less rights than the average Egyptian, it could be argued, since it was impossible to divorce a king, the Golden Horus himself. A woman in the royal household only existed in relation to her king—as king’s daughter, king’s sister, king’s wife, or king’s mother. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, when Hatshepsut lived, royal women could only marry within the boundaries of the palace itself, shuttering dozens of women in a golden prison. Historical evidence from temples, stelae, and statuary indicates that a king’s daughter could only marry the next king—a man who was, more often than not, her own brother or half-brother. Some Egyptian princesses even had the misfortune of extremely long-lived fathers, a circumstance that forced them into marriage with their own fathers, lest they age beyond their childbearing years.
Like any other princess during the Eighteenth Dynasty, Hatshepsut was born into a royal world of social strictures and expectations. She was a king’s daughter, a king’s wife, and a king’s sister—critically, the only royal title she would lack in her lifetime was king’s mother, as she never bore a son. This failing was likely a bitter disappointment for Hatshepsut, but it was also a twist of fate that would pave the way for her inconceivable and serendipitous rise in fortune.
Hatshepsut’s first taste of power came when, just a young girl, she was appointed the god’s wife of Amun. In this hallowed position, she served as a priestess of the greatest importance. If the descriptions of Amun’s rituals of re-creation are to be believed, Hatshepsut was responsible for sexually exciting the god himself, presumably in his statue form. One of her priestess titles was actually “God’s Hand.” If we are to take the agenda of this title literally Hatshepsut was essentially responsible for facilitating the masturbatory act of the god in his holy shrine, instigating a sacred sexual release that allowed for the re-creation of the god, and his entire store of creative potential. As god’s wife, Hatshepsut used her feminine sexuality to enable the god’s continued renewal of the universe itself—it didn’t hurt that the position of god’s wife of Amun came with lands, servants, and palaces. It was a lot of power for a ten-year-old girl to take in.
When Hatshepsut’s father Thutmose I died, she became chief wife to Thutmose II , her own half-brother, at around the age of twelve. The result of this marriage was at least one daughter, a girl named Neferure, and perhaps another daughter who died young. Hatshepsut was denied the son that would have continued her family’s dynasty, and this would define the rest of her life, as Thutmose II may have died as soon as four years later, leaving a very young heir from one of his lesser wives.
Thutmose III, an infant, suddenly sat upon the throne of Egypt, perhaps gnawing on his crook and flail during lengthy religious ceremonies, and was not expected to live long given the high rate of infant mortality. The Egyptians had a solution for such political complications, appointing a regent to oversee the affairs of state until the young king came of age. In Egypt, the king’s regent was normally his own mother, a woman who could have no formal ambitions for herself without harming her own son’s best interests. In the case of Thutmose III, however, the mother seems to have been an inappropriate regent. All evidence suggests that Thutmose III ’s mother Isis did not seem to possess the lineage or connections to bear such authority, that she was really nothing more than a pretty concubine. Hatshepsut saw an opportunity: she had been the previous king’s chief wife; she was the highest-born woman in the royal family; she was god’s wife of Amun; she had been trained in the halls of power and in the religious mysteries since her childhood. At around sixteen, she ruled unofficially on behalf of a mere toddler king. Soon she would formally take the throne. For over twenty years she would rule unmolested, but she never ruled alone.
Although we have thousands of temple reliefs, obelisks, pylons, gateways, statues, and inscribed papyri describing this young king, his character and relationship to his aunt Hatshepsut remain shrouded in mystery. Thutmose III was not her child, but it seems that she safeguarded him nonetheless, rearing him for future rule. She transformed herself not into king’s mother, but astoundingly, into a kind of king’s father, a senior king who fostered the education of her royal ward. Granted, for most of her tenure as king, Thutmose III was only a child. But during the last five or six years of her reign, when he had reached his majority, the arrangement became a real partnership. In her temples and stelae, she used her nephew Thutmose III’s regnal year dates. Whenever she depicted herself in the presence of her co-king, she often took the senior position. Yet he was constantly there, lurking in her shadow.
During the next seven or so years as regent, Hatshepsut systematically cemented her path to the kingship. One of her first steps was to gain a throne name, a move which may very well have stunned some officials and nobles, because no Egyptian woman had ever assumed such an honorific without claiming the kingship first. She received the name Maatkare, which is hard to translate but may mean “Truth is the Soul of the sun god Re,” a claim that reinforced her royal power as divinely ordained and offered a guarantee for the continued prosperity that all Egyptian elites were currently enjoying. As regent, Hatshepsut accrued other royal epithets and markers that linked her person to the kingship itself, never so quickly that officials and courtiers would balk, instead waiting patiently to advance another step, until one day around the seventh year after the death of her husband, according to her coronation text, she was formally crowned in the temple of Karnak, in the presence of the god Amun-Re himself.
Egyptian politics were nothing if not religious and conservative; Hatshepsut needed to take her time and exercise patience in order to create an ironclad image of kingship as the divine will of the gods. With only temple reliefs to consult, the reasons for this massive political move remain cloaked. Indeed, without a logical justification for her kingship, many Hatshepsut scholars have deemed her a greedy, scheming shrew who took power that was not rightfully hers, wresting the instruments of rule from a helpless baby. However, since no evidence for this hysterical, ravenous self-indulgence can actually be found in the historical record one way or the other (she did protect the throne for her nephew Thutmose III , after all), some Egyptologists have since explored another logical explanation for a woman holding such high office: she had the help of a man, and it was his idea for her to claim the throne in the first place.
One of Hatshepsut’s most loyal supporters during her tenure as regent and then as king, and maybe as early as her time as queen, was a man named Senenmut—a man who rose to become overseer of the entire household of the god Amun-Re, making him chief administrator of what were likely the richest lands and holdings besides those of the crown. Many scholars have concluded that Senenmut must have been her lover, and at the very least he seems to have been the closest person to Hatshepsut beyond her family. Evidence from his tombs and statues also suggests that he never married, which was unusual among Egyptian patricians who hoped to pass down their wealth and influence to their children. Because Senenmut’s parents were of lower birth and had little to no influence at court, this man’s political existence depended on his relationship with Hatshepsut and her daughter Neferure. They seem to have been mutually dependent on the other, she using his reliance on her for her own gain, he using her lack of trust in others for his own advancement. Whether they ever consummated this successful working relationship is a debate left to Egyptologists.
Hatshepsut’s sexual life is almost completely shielded from our eyes. We know that she was sexually active at one point in her life and that she bore at least one, and possibly two, daughters to her husband, Thutmose II . After his death, there is no mention of subsequent children, but a lack of babies does not mean a lack of sex, particularly for a powerful woman in command of men. Hatshepsut was a young woman, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility that she acted as most humans of that age do—engaging in sexual activity and falling in love, having crushes and flirting. Even though no economic records or graffiti or letters record any of Hatshepsut’s conquests, did she have to visit the palace doctor to weigh her options? While Egyptian medical texts describe herbal prescriptions for both birth control and abortions, there are no known private documents that mention their use by any particular woman. We know nothing about this aspect of her life except that Hatshepsut would not have included a romantic partner in any of her formal activities as king. Her official cohorts were family members intimately connected to her kingship: her junior king Thutmose III and her daughter Neferure, who fulfilled the functions of both queen and priestess. A formally recognized male partner would have compromised her theological position as king of Upper and Lower Egypt and as the offspring of Re. From the very beginning Hatshepsut must have known that her femininity was a problem, and step by step she had to erase the most obvious aspects of her womanly self.
Egyptian kingship was inherently masculine; religious texts clearly link masculine sexual potency with transformation. The god Atum created himself from nothing by means of a sacred act of sex between his own hand and phallus. Osiris was said to return from the dead through the same act of self-gratification. Re was believed to impregnate his own mother with his future self at the moment of his death in the western horizon. One of Amun-Re’s titles was “Bull of his Mother,” evoking the potential of this god to create himself before he had even existed, and the Egyptian king was believed to be the son of Re and thus the inheritor of these sacred sexual abilities. A king’s capacity to create offspring through his sexuality wasn’t just a guarantee of the continued existence of the kingship, it was a mythical cycle as potent as the circuit of the sun, the seasons of the year and the annual flooding of the Nile. The Egyptian king was his father before him and his son after him simultaneously. His royal essence was passed down in an unbroken line of sacred dynastic succession. Given that the king on earth was nothing less than the human embodiment of the creator god’s potentiality, Hatshepsut must have been all too aware that her rule posed a serious existential problem: she could not populate a harem, spread her seed, and fill the royal nurseries with potential heirs; she could not claim to be the strong bull of Egypt.
As she aged, Hatshepsut embarked upon a premeditated and careful ideological transformation of her feminine self. Early statuary and imagery show her as a woman in a dress, breasts clearly visible, but also wearing masculine kingly regalia. One statue depicts her wearing not a dress but only a kilt to cover her lower body. Her naked upper body betrays the narrow shoulders and feminine breasts that were a natural characteristic of her sex, and the statue is shocking in its suggestion that Hatshepsut may have actually taken part in religious rituals in this state of undress, breasts clearly visible for all to see.
Yet most images of her after her coronation show her as a man—wide shoulders, trim hips, and no hint of breasts. But throughout these visual changes, she retained her feminine name Hatshepsut, “Foremost of Noble Women,” as well as the feminine pronouns “she” and “her” in many of the concomitant Egyptian texts. It’s as if she knew that those who could read—educated elites and courtiers—knew full well that she was a woman, so why bother hiding it from them, or, for that matter, from the gods? In the ancient world, a woman in her thirties was approaching old age. Fittingly, the loss of Hatshepsut’s youthful beauty and sexual attraction to men coincided with her construction of a masculinized female king. By the time of her death, when her mature woman’s body was placed into a king’s sarcophagus in the hidden crevices of the Valley of the Kings, her mortuary temple included dozens of statues of her as a muscular, masculine ruler, presenting offerings to the god.
In many ways Hatshepsut’s unconventional kingship was an exercise in conformity. She fit herself into the patterns of kingship with which she had grown up, at least those in which a woman could conceivably participate. Like any successful king, she waged imperial warfare to bring the spoils of war to Amun’s temple; she ruthlessly exploited the population of Nubia to enrich her gods and her people with a metal that evoked the flesh of the sun god; she participated in the respected system of co-regency in which an elder king fostered a junior king in a divinely inspired partnership, thus protecting the future kingship of Thutmose III ; she created a masculine identity for herself so that she could perform and participate in religious rituals that demanded such a persona of herself; she constructed temples and obelisks according to accepted traditions; she left behind more stone temples and monuments than any previous king of the New Kingdom; she made no revolutionary breaks with tradition, but instead attempted to link herself with the unending line of masculine kings who had come before her.
Perhaps the removal of her names and images from Egypt’s monuments some twenty years after her death is an indicator of her success as king, because even after death she could threaten her successors, but that is perhaps wishful thinking. The Egyptian system of political and religious power simply continued to work for the benefit of male dynasty. Hatshepsut’s kingship was a fantastic and unbelievable aberration. Ancient civilization didn’t suffer a woman to rule, no matter how much she conformed to religious and political systems; no matter how much she ascribed her rule to the will of the gods themselves; no matter how much she changed her womanly form into masculine ideals. Her rule was perceived as a complication by later rulers—praiseworthy yet blameworthy, conservatively pious and yet audaciously innovative—nuances that the two kings who ruled after her reconciled only through the destruction of her public monuments.
Ancient Egyptian Undertaker’s Burial Collar Reconstructed
A collar with “almost pristine” colours that would have been worn by a mummy has been discovered in small pieces in an Egyptian tomb in Thebes and put back together again.
|This 2,300-year-old collar, which was worn by a mummy, was discovered in fragments in a tomb in Thebes. The falcons in the top corners signify the god Horus, while the “Ba-bird” at top center represents the immortal soul of the deceased mummy [Credit: Susan Redford]|
People in ancient Egypt wore collars called “wesekhs” made of beads when they were alive. This painted collar is made of a different type of material called cartonnage (a plastered material) and was meant to be worn by a mummy after death. A clay seal found near the collar suggests that it was worn by the mummy of a wealthy undertaker.
Dating back around 2,300 years ago and found in modern-day Luxor, the collar is painted in a vivid array of colors, designs and images that show elements of ancient Egyptian religion. The god Horus is signified by two falcons wearing red sun-disk crowns on the top corners, while at top center is a human-headed bird (called a “Ba” bird) that represents, in essence, the immortal soul of the deceased mummy.
Additionally, in the center of the design, there is a drawing of a golden shrine with two goddesses, possibly the sisters Isis and Nephthys, facing a deity in the center that may be the jackal-headed Anubis. The collar is about 8.7 inches (22 centimeters) high (not including the falcons) and about 16.5 inches (42 cm) in width. Near the bottom of the collar lotus blossoms are shown flourishing.
Complex Tomb Environment
The tomb that it was found in is a complex place. Originally it was built more than 3,300 years ago for a butler named Parennefer who served the pharaoh Akhenaten. Then, sometime later, an official named Amenemopet excavated his own tomb into part of the butler’s courtyard. As the centuries went on more individuals (the precise number is unknown) were buried at the site, one of them being interred around 2,300 years ago with this colorful collar.
The re-use of tombs was a common practice in Thebes. “I guess it was much more economical to use these old derelict tombs than to excavate out new tombs at that time,” Susan Redford, of Penn State University, told LiveScience in an interview. She and her team found hundreds of cartonnage fragments in excavations at the site, the fragments that made up this collar being discovered in 2000 and 2002. The team’s artist, Rupert Nesbitt, carefully put the collar back together again, along with several other coverings that belong to different mummies.
“These pieces could range from about palm-sized to dime-sized,” Redford said. “It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” added Redford, who detailed the collar discovery in a paper in Archaeological Research in the Valley of the Kings & Ancient Thebes: Papers Presented in Honor of Richard H. Wilkinson (University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition, 2013).
Archaeologists cannot say for sure whom this collar belonged to. In addition to being re-used multiple times the tomb site has been robbed in both ancient and modern times and, until recently, was even used to hold dead animals.
Egyptian tombs and temples tended to be very colorful places and the collar reflects that, Redford said.
An undertaker’s collar?
The mummy who wore this collar is now gone or otherwise part of the various humans remains found in the tomb. However, an inscription written in a mud-clay seal was found near the fragments of the collar. The seal would have held together the string or binding of a papyrus scroll. While the scroll itself is mostly destroyed, the inscription from the seal says that it is for a man named “Padihorwer,” reading (in translation) that he was “privy to the mysteries and god’s sealer, ‘embalmer,’ scribe, prophet of the ‘desert’ (necropolis) of Qus,” which is located north of Thebes.
An ancient archival record also survives, telling of “a man of Qus” being buried at Thebes in the same period that the collar has been dated to, Redford said.
Padihorwer was basically an undertaker, a profession that could bring some level of wealth. “He’s a little higher than just an ordinary necropolis worker,” she said, noting that these ancient undertakers arranged for embalming and burial, were paid by families and generally ran their affairs like a business. “We think that they had a guild of sorts,” she said, “it was a business just like undertakers are today.”
If this collar, with its elaborate decorations, was worn by Padihorwer, it would suggest that his business prospered and that he was a relatively wealthy undertaker at the time he was buried.
King Tut Was Likely Killed in a Chariot Crash
It’s been a mystery for nearly a hundred years. Now, the question of how King Tutankhamun died may have finally been answered. Easily the most well-known of the Egyptian Pharaohs, King Tut died at the age of 18 or 19 more than 3,000 years ago. But was he killed? Did he die accidentally? Was there some medical issue?
Turns out, it was likely a case of a chariot race gone bad. Researchers recently had the opportunity to study the body, which was discovered in 1922, and came to two intriguing conclusions. First, Tut was likely killed in a chariot race when he fell from his ride. Experts, performing a “virtual autopsy” found that Tut’s injuries were consistent with someone whose body was smashed by a chariot. His ribs and pelvis were shattered and his heart was crushed. And second, his body was burned due to a botched mummification and embalming procedure that caused the flesh to spontaneously combust.
Researchers discovered that embalming oils combined with oxygen and linen caused a chemical reaction which “cooked” the king’s body at temperatures of more than 200C. Dr. Chris Naunton said: “The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation.”
Fifth Dynasty Tomb of Pharaoh’s Doctor Found
The tomb of a prestigious ancient Egyptian physician, who counted pharaohs among his clients, is believed to have been found in a vast necropolis southwest of Cairo.
Part of a large plot measuring roughly 70 feet by 46 feet, the tomb of Shepseskaf-Ankh was unearthed this week in Abusir near modern-day Giza. The site is a burial place for many important figures from the Fifth Dynasty, which existed about 4,000 years ago.
“This discovery is important because this is the tomb of one of the greatest doctors from the time of the pyramid builders, one of the doctors closely tied to the king,” Antiquities Minister Ibrahim Ali said.
The Czech team, led by Egyptologist Miroslav Bárta, confirmed the find. After analyzing carvings on the tomb’s false door, the archaeological team from the Czech Institute of Egyptology were able to identify the doctor, listed as Head of Physicians of Upper and Lower Egypt.
An impressive final resting place, Shepseskaf-Ankh’s tomb appears to be a family plot and includes a courtyard area and eight burial chambers for members of the doctor’s relatives.
Located in northern Egypt, Abusir is the site of three pyramids built by the Fifth Dynasty kings Sahure, Neferirkare, and Neuserre between 2465 B.C. and 2325 B.C. In the shadow of these monuments, other kings also built their own sanctuaries, with particular reverence being paid to Re, the sun god.
Team leader Bárta has been working in the Abusir area for many years. His research in the region has supported his theory that the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom began in the Fifth Dynasty.
First Pharaoh ruled Ancient Egypt 500 years LATER than first thought: Math model and radiocarbon data rewrite history
British archaeologists found the first ruler, King Aha acceded to the throne between 3111 BC and 3045 BC – 500 years later than previous estimates
A new timeline shows the original territorial state developed from primitive beginnings in as little as six hundred years
The University of Oxford research also shed new light on the origins of Egypt began a millennium before the pyramids were built
British archaeologists have pinpointed when the original ‘pharaohs’ ruled Ancient Egypt for the first time. Using mathematical models, radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence, researchers found the first ruler, King Aha acceded to the throne between 3111 BC and 3045 BC – up to five hundred years later than some previous estimates. A new timeline shows the original territorial state developed from primitive beginnings in as little as six hundred years.
The pharaohs, who are understood to have started with King Aha, ruled Ancient Egypt for more than three thousand years and the story of the very last pharaoh, Cleopatra, is famous to this day. But it will be another thousand years before we are as far removed from her as she was from her earliest predecessors who remain shrouded in legends and conjecture, known only from a handful of frustratingly incomplete sources.
Archaeologist Dr Michael Dee, of the University of Oxford, said: “There are no records before the Third Dynasty, so we have had to guess exactly when the vital First Dynasty, which led to the development of writing and agriculture, happened.”
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, also found the Predynastic Period when inhabitants along the River Nile started to form permanent settlements was probably closer to 3700 BC than 4000 BC, with the stone age Neolithic era preceding it lasting longer and finishing later.
Dr Dee said: “The origins of Egypt began a millennium before the pyramids were built, which is why our understanding of how and why this powerful state developed is based solely on archaeological evidence. This new study provides new radiocarbon dating evidence that resets the chronology of the first dynastic rulers of Ancient Egypt and suggests Egypt formed far more rapidly than was previously thought.”
Aha is believed to have become pharaoh at the age of 30 and ruled until he was about 62. Legend has it that he was killed by a hippopotamus while hunting. His ‘chief wife’ was Benerib, whose name was written on his tomb at Abydos, but he also had another wife, Khenthap, with whom he became father of Djer, Egypt’s second king. Then came King Djet, Queen Merneith, King Den, King Anedjib, King Semerkhet and King Qa’a, whose reign began between 2906 BC and 2886 BC. Dr Dee said they would have ruled over a territory spanning a similar area to Egypt today with formal borders at Aswan in the south, the Mediterranean Sea in the north and across to the modern day Gaza Strip in the east.
Until now scholars had relied on archaeological evidence alone, using the evolving styles of ceramics (pictured) excavated at human burial sites to try to piece together the timings of key chronological events in the Predynastic period and the First Dynasty.
Scientists have pinpointed when the original “pharaohs” ruled Ancient Egypt for the first time.
This is the first robust timeline for the first eight dynastic rulers of Egypt because until now there have been no verifiable records for this period or the process leading up to the formation of the state.
The chronology of early Egypt between 4500 and 2800 BC has been reset thanks to more than 100 fresh radiocarbon dates obtained from hair, bone and plant samples excavated at several key sites including the tombs of the kings and surrounding burials.
Egypt was the first territorial state to be brought under one political ruler and the new dating evidence suggests this period of unification happened much faster than previously known.
Until now scholars had relied on archaeological evidence alone, using the evolving styles of ceramics excavated at human burial sites to try to piece together the timings of key chronological events in the Predynastic Period and the First Dynasty. For example, among the most significant pieces of evidence surviving today are two mud seals excavated at the royal tombs at Abydos, containing lists in successive order of the First Dynasty kings.
Using the fresh radiocarbon dates combined with existing archaeological evidence, the researchers’ mathematical model pinpointed the likeliest date for each king’s accession. The date for each king is thought to be accurate to within 32 years.
The data supports a shortening of the Egyptian Predynastic; the period over which state formation occurred, to between 600 and 700 years. “This finding accentuates a contrast with neighbouring southwest Asia, where the transition from cereal production to state formation took somewhere between four to five millennia,” the researchers said.
“It reinforces the suggestion that, despite their geographical proximity, prehistoric societies in Africa and Asia followed very different trajectories to political centralization,” they added.
Dr. Linus Girdland Flink, co-author and postdoctoral research assistant at the Natural History Museum, London, said the museum houses human remains from the First Dynasty royal tombs of Abydos, Egypt, many of which were excavated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. “We were surprised to see how well preserved the specimens are. Preservation of organic materials from hot desert climates is usually poor but we were able carryout radiocarbon dating using organic residue from most of the specimens.”
Flink said Abydos is a key archaeological site for understanding the prehistory of Egypt as most of the early rulers are buried there. “The remains housed at the Museum come from the burials of courtiers who were likely sacrificed to accompany their king into the afterlife. Importantly, this practice was unique to the First Dynasty and these remains provide a unique opportunity to gain broad understanding of life during that time.”
The Ransacking of the Malawi Antiquities Museum
Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 file photos, a damaged object lies on the floor of the Malawi Antiquities Museum after it was ransacked and looted between the evening of Thursday, Aug. 15 and the morning of Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, in Malawi, south of Minya, Egypt, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013. The theft of about 1,000 artifacts spanning some 3,500 years of history from a small antiquities museum south of Cairo showcases the tenuous security in the provinces. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper)
CAIRO (AP) — As violent clashes roiled Egypt, looters made away with a prized 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry and more than 1,000 other artifacts in the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in living memory.
The scale of the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya laid bare the security vacuum that has taken hold in cities outside Cairo, where police have all but disappeared from the streets. It also exposed how bruised and battered the violence has left Egypt.
For days after vandals ransacked the building Wednesday, there were no police or soldiers in sight as groups of teenage boys burned mummies and broke limestone sculptures too heavy for the thieves to carry away. The security situation remained precarious Monday as gunmen atop nearby buildings fired on a police station near the museum.
Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a “masterpiece”. Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth, a deity often represented with the head of an ibis or a baboon.
The museum’s ticket agent was killed during the storming of the building, according to the Antiquities Ministry.
Under the threat of sniper fire on Saturday, Hanna and a local security official were able to salvage five ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, two mummies and several dozen other items left behind by the thieves.
The museum was a testament to the Amarna Period, named after its location in southern Egypt that was once the royal residence of Nefertiti. The area is located on the banks of the Nile River in the province of Minya, some 190 miles (300 kilometers) south of Cairo.
When Hanna asked a group of teenagers wielding guns to stop destroying the artifacts that remained, they said they were getting back at the government for killing people in Cairo, she said.
“I told them that this is property of the Egyptian people and you are destroying it,” she said in an interview Monday. “They were apparently upset with me because I am not veiled.”
After managing to chase them away, a group of men began opening fire to try to force her and the security official to leave. She said the men were apparently also in charge of the boys, who had burned one mummy completely and partially burned another, while pushing around a half-ton statue from the Old Kingdom of the third millennium B.C.
“We were working and lowering our heads so they do not fire on us. There were snipers on rooftops,” she said.
The two were able to salvage some 40 artifacts and thousands of broken pieces that Hanna said will take archaeologists years to put back together. The Egypt Heritage Task Force, a group of Egyptian archaeologists who use social media to try to raise awareness about illegal digging for artifacts and looting, said 1,050 pieces were stolen from the museum.
The head of museums for the Antiquities Ministry, Ahmed Sharaf, said two statues were returned Monday. He told The Associated Press that police and ministry officials will not press charges or arrest anyone who comes forward with looted items and that a small financial reward is available for returned artifacts.
He said that until now, police have been unable to secure the museum. He accused members of ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, who have been spearheading protests against the government, of being behind the looting and attacks on the nearby police station.
Hanna said the looting was more likely carried out by heavily armed gangs of thieves who took advantage of the lawlessness to target the museum.
The chaos erupted Wednesday when security forces in Cairo, authorized by the new military-backed government, cleared out two Islamist-led sit-ins demanding Morsi be reinstated, igniting violence that has killed more than 1,000 people.
The Great Pyramids west of Cairo and the Egyptian museum in the heart of the city were closed during the country’s bloodiest day last week. At least 30 tanks line the streets outside Egypt’s main museum in Cairo.
Some looting occurred during the 18-day uprising in early 2011 against autocratic President Hosni Mubarak. More than 50 items were stolen from the Cairo museum, but Sharaf said around half have been recovered.
Never, though, was the looting then or at any other time since on the scale seen last week, according to archaeologists and ministry officials.
In the past two years of instability since Mubarak’s ouster, illegal digs have multiplied and illegal construction has encroached on ancient, largely unexplored pyramids.
Also threatening sites is the view held by some hard-line religious allies of Morsi who view Egypt’s ancient history as pagan.
The Malawi Museum was in many ways a tribute to the heritage of Minya and home to chests, coffins, masks and hematite stone with Hieroglyphic inscriptions used for measuring. The looters also made away with sculptures associated with the deity Thoth, who ironically, is known as an arbitrator of disputes.
Vanishing Treasures: Tomb Raiders Exploit Chaos in Egypt
Egypt’s cultural heritage is in danger. Grave robbers, sometimes heavily armed, are taking advantage of political chaos to plunder its poorly guarded archaeological sites. Authorities feel powerless to stop them and fear that ancient treasures might be lost forever.
A few hundred meters from the pyramids of Dahshur, the sandy-brown earth is full of holes. Dozens of open shafts lead into the depths, some up to seven meters (23 feet) long. Grave robbers have been at work. Lying belowground here in Dahshur is one of the oldest burial grounds in all of Egypt — tombs, possibly full of treasures from the age of the pharaohs. Archaeologists have partially mapped it but never exhumed its contents, as is the case at many sites in Egypt.
From the pharaohs and Romans to the Greeks, Copts and Fatimids, Egypt bears the traces of many ancient civilizations. Not all of the treasures have been discovered and secured. Egypt has admittedly always had to grapple with the problem of grave-robbing. But since the revolution in 2011, “this phenomenon has increased even more,” laments Abdel-Halim Nur el-Din, a professor of archaeology and the former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the authority responsible for ancient relics and archaeological excavations in Egypt. “We are losing our cultural heritage piece by piece,” he adds.
Gangs of Thieves Plunder at Will
In January 2011, the world-famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo was looted. Rioters destroyed priceless treasures. But valuable ancient relics went missing far from the capital, as well, due to a lack of supervision at historical sites. After the uprising, the repressive security apparatus withdrew everywhere, and the guarding of historical sites was neglected.
Two-and-a-half years later, the police are slowly venturing into the streets. But they are mainly concerned with ongoing protests. Elsewhere, some Egyptians are behaving as if the state and its laws have ceased to exist.
The army has placed two armored vehicles at the pyramids in Dahshur to deter grave robbers. But, so far, the thieves are undaunted. “We wanted to catch them,” says a guard in Dahshur who asked to remain anonymous. “But then they opened fire on us with automatic weapons.” He and his fellow guards were only armed with pistols. They jumped for cover, and the grave robbers carried on with their plundering.
The gangs are also getting bolder. At the pyramids of Saqqara, they advanced with weapons and cleared out a state-owned storehouse. According to the SCA department head in charge of the facility, it contained small statues. There have even been illegal excavations in the tourist centers of Aswan and Luxor, which experts attribute to organized gangs. Instead of shovels, some even bring along small excavators.
“Antiquities theft is a very profitable business,” says Professor Nur el-Din. “The government must make it a priority to stop the illegal excavations.” Guarding antiquities sites should be the focus, he adds. For everything else, such as excavation or restoration, there is simply no money anyway.
Stolen Artifacts Irrevocably Lost
Still, the recent thefts are not even the most pressing concern for the SCA. Its offices are suffering from one of the country’s all-too-familiar power shortages. Employees are sitting in the dark, their computers switched off. Temperatures hovering around 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) are not helping matters, either.
Osama Mustafa Elnahas heads the division tasked with recovering stolen artifacts. He is aware that illegal excavations are going on up and down the country. “They have become a daily occurrence since the revolution began,” he says.
The SCA still doesn’t know the actual extent of the lootings. Deborah Lehr, who runs the Paulson Institute, a Chicago-based think tank, has suggested that the US government should support the investigation by providing satellite images of the sites. But such plans have gotten stuck in the pipelines of the Egyptian bureaucracy.
As for the artifacts that have already been stolen, it’s likely they are irrevocably lost. Egyptian experts assume that many of the relics will end up abroad — beyond the reach of Cairo — and sold to collectors at places such as international auction houses.
“If we want to reclaim an artifact, we have to prove that it was registered as stolen in Egypt,” says Elnahas. A proper inventory of the stolen relics is something that the authority is unlikely to get around to, however, given the speed at which the plunderers are currently operating.
Lettuce has been harvested for millennia—it was depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of tombs dating back to at least 2,700 B.C. The earliest version of the greens resembled two modern lettuces: romaine, from the French word “romaine” (from Rome), and Cos lettuce, believed to have been found on the island of Kos, located along the coast of modern day Turkey.
But in Ancient Egypt around 2,000 B.C., lettuce was not a popular appetizer, it was an aphrodisiac, a phallic symbol that represented the celebrated food of the Egyptian god of fertility, Min. (It is unclear whether the lettuce’s development in Egypt predates its appearance on the island of Kos.) The god, often pictured with an erect penis in wall paintings and reliefs was also known as the “great of love” as he is called in a text from Edfu Temple. The plant was believed to help the god “perform the sexual act untiringly.”
Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo who specializes in Ancient Egyptian food explains Min’s part in lettuce history. “Over 3,000 years, [Min’s] role did change, but he was constantly associated with lettuce,” she says. The first of these depictions appeared around 1970-80 B.C. in the The White Chapel of Senusret I, though there may be earlier examples, Ikram says.
This relief, from the funerary temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, for example, depicts Min’s harvest festival. At the center is a statue of Min. Behind him, a procession of priests holds a small garden of lettuce. Min is also sometimes depicted wearing a long, red ribbon around his forehead that some say represents sexual energy.
“One of the reasons why [the Egyptians] associated the lettuce with Min was because it grows straight and tall—an obvious phallic symbol,” Ikram says. “But if you broke off a leaf it oozed a sort of white-ish, milky substance—basically it looked like semen.” When the butt of modern Romaine lettuce is cut off, a similar substance oozes from the plant and gives it a bitter flavor. Lettuce’s scientific classification lactuca sativa, is derived from the Latin word for milk and shares the same root as lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. (Ed. — corrected thanks to feedback from reader joelfinkle) (While we’re talking etymology, raw lettuce dishes known as herba salata (“salted greens”) gave rise to the English word “salad.”) Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book provides further options for what the lettuce milk of the “ithyphallic god of increase.” Lettuce was sacred to him because of the “straight vertical surge” of their growth, milky juice they exude which could be taken as a symbol of mothers’ milk or semen.
Ancient Egyptians used the lettuce differently than those who would come later. The leaves had a greenish blue color and were often removed from the plant due to their bitter taste. Instead of being part of a meal, the seeds from the bud of the flowers were harvested and pressed for their natural oils which were used for cooking, medication—even mummification. Lettuce oil was a standard in the Egyptian materia medica and even today is used as a traditional remedy for hair regrowth.
The Greeks and Romans later popularized the leafy veggie as an appetizer during the 81-96 A.D. reign of Domitian. When they first introduced a set order of courses, the meal included a salad at the beginning to stimulate the appetite and also at the end to encourage digestion, according to author Gil Marks. It was still considered a medicinal goldmine by the Greeks and Romans, but for a different reason than the Egyptians—they believed it helped people sleep. Under Domitian’s reign, as the story goes, the ruler would force his guests to eat lettuce before the meal so as to make them struggle to remain awake for the remainder of the visit.
According to Dr. Mostafa Amin, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, a team of specialists from the Minister of Antiquities in co-operation with the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, starts today moving two wooden planks of two funerary boats belong to the era of King “Den,” also known as “Hor-Den, Dewen and Udimu.” Den, his birth name was Khasty, “He of the two deserts,” is best known as the first Pharaoh to use the title “King of Lower and Upper Egypt” and the first depicted wearing the double crown. He was also the first Pharaoh to have an elegant tomb at Abydos – with steps down into it and a red and black granite floor.
On the other hand, he was one of the last rulers to be accompanied in death by real people – 136 burials of men and women were found around the tomb; they had been strangled. Later kings made do with shabtis. No doubt removing so many useful people from the court became increasingly unjustifiable as Egypt grew in wealth and status, and needed to maintain continuity in administration and the army.
The wooden planks were discovered last week in the early dynastic cemetery to the north of Mastaba No. 6 in Abu Eawash area. The first plank is 390 cm long while the other is 70 cm long beside another wooden sheet belongs to the boat which was discovered last year and it is 120 cm long. Dr. Mostafa Amin explained that the wooden pieces are in bad condition and they will be transported to the restoration center at the Grand Egyptian Museum to analyze in order to restore using the latest techniques.
Unique Egyptian Sphinx Unearthed in Northern Israel (Tel Hazor).
Base of a Sphinx statue found by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologists at the excavations at Tel Hazor, Israel, north of the Sea of Galilee. A hieroglyphic inscription ties the Sphinx to an Egyptian king, who was one of the builders of the Giza pyramids, approximately 2500 BCE. The statue is unique in that it is the only one anywhere bearing the pharaoh’s name.
Part of an ancient Egyptian king’s unique sphinx was unveiled at a dig in northern Israel on Tuesday, with researchers struggling to understand just how the unexpected find ended up there.
The broken granite sphinx statue—including the paws and some of the mythical creature’s forearms—displayed at Tel Hazor archaeological site in Israel’s Galilee, is the first such find in the region.
Its discovery also marks the first time ever that researchers have found a statue dedicated to Egyptian ruler Mycerinus who ruled circa 2,500 BC and was builder of one of the three Giza pyramids, an expert said. “This is the only monumental Egyptian statue ever found in the Levant – today’s Israel, Lebanon, Syria,” Amnon Ben-Tor, an archaeology professor at the Hebrew University in charge of the Tel Hazor dig. “It is also the only sphinx of this particular king known, not even in Egypt was a sphinx of that particular king found.”
Ben-Tor said that besides Mycerinus’s name, carved in hieroglyphics between the forearms, there are symbols reading “beloved by the divine souls of Heliopolis”. “This is the temple in which the sphinx was originally placed,” Ben-Tor said of Heliopolis, an ancient city which lies north of today’s Cairo.
Tel Hazor, which Ben-Tor calls “the most important archaeological site in this country,” was the capital of southern Canaan, founded circa 2,700 BC and at its peak covering approximately 200 acres and home to some 20,000 Canaanites. It was destroyed in the 13th century BC. “Following a gap of some 150 years, it was resettled in the 11th century BC by the Israelites, who continuously occupied it until 732 BC,” when it was destroyed by the Assyrians, Ben-Tor said.
He said the find was approximately 50 centimetres (20 inches) long, and estimated the entire statue was 150 centimetres (60 inches) long and half a metre (20 inches) high”. How, when and why it reached Tel Hazor remains a mystery. “That it arrived in the days of Mycerinus himself is unlikely, since there were absolutely no relations between Egypt and this part of the world then,” said Ben-Tor. “Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, so they skipped” today’s northern Israel, he said.
Another option is that the statue was part of the plunders of the Canaanites, who in the late 17th and early 16th century BC ruled Lower Egypt, the expert said. “Egyptian records tell us that those foreign rulers… plundered and desecrated the local temples and did all kinds of terrible things, and it is possible that some of this looting included a statue like this one”. But to Ben-Tor the most likely way the sphinx reached Tel Hazor is in the form of a gift sent by a later Egyptian ruler.
“The third option is that it arrived in Hazor sometime after the New Kingdom started in 1,550 BC, during which Egypt ruled Canaan, and maintained close relations with the local rulers, who were left on their thrones,” he said. “In such a case it’s possible the statue was sent by the Egyptian ruler to king of Hazor, the most important ruler in this region.”
Shlomit Blecher, who manages the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin, was the archaeologist who actually unearthed the find in August 2012. The statue’s incrustation was meticulously removed over a period of many months by the excavation’s restorer, before the intricate carvings and hieroglyphics were fully visible. “It was the last hour of the last day of the dig,” she said of the find. “We all leapt with joy and happiness, everyone was thrilled.”
“We hope the other pieces are here and that we find them in the near days,” she said. Ben-Dor said the statue was most likely deliberately broken by new occupiers at Tel Hazor in an act of defiance to the old rule.
Finding the sphinx was “unexpected,” said Ben-Tor, “but fits” archaeological facts and findings. “When you’re in a bank, you find money,” he said. To Ben-Tor, however, the true coveted find would be archives buried somewhere on Tel Hazor that could serve as an inventory to the ancient city’s content. “I know there are two archives,” he said. “We already have 18 documents from two periods, the 17th and 14th century BC. If I found those archives, people would come running here.”
Massive Statue of the Pharaoh Taharqa Discovered Deep in the Sudan
No statue of a pharaoh has ever been found further south of Egypt than this one. At the height of his reign, King Taharqa controlled an empire stretching from Sudan to the Levant.
A massive, one ton, statue of Taharqa that was found deep in Sudan. Taharqa was a pharaoh of the 25th dynasty of Egypt and came to power ca. 690 BC, controlling an empire stretching from Sudan to the Levant. The pharaohs of this dynasty were from Nubia – a territory located in modern day Sudan and southern Egypt.
The Nubian pharaohs tried to incorporate Egyptian culture into their own. They built pyramids in Sudan – even though pyramid building in Egypt hadn’t been practised in nearly 800 years. Taharqa’s rule was a high water mark for the 25th dynasty. By the end of his reign a conflict with the Assyrians had forced him to retreat south, back into Nubia – where he died in 664 BC. Egypt became an Assyrian vassal – eventually gaining independence during the 26th dynasty. Taharqa’s successors were never able to retake Egypt.
In addition to Taharqa’s statue, those of two of his successors – Senkamanisken and Aspelta – were found alongside. These two rulers controlled territory in Sudan, but not Egypt.
Dr. Julie Anderson of the British Museum is the co-director for the Dangeil excavations. This project is an archaeological mission of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Sudan. It is also co-directed by Dr. Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed.
Dr. Anderson confirmed that no statue of a pharaoh has ever been found further south of Egypt than this one. “That’s one reason it’s so exciting and very interesting,” she said. The discovery was such a surprise that one colleague of Anderson’s didn’t believe it at first saying that the statues “can’t possibly be (at) Dangeil.”
Dangeil is near the fifth cataract of the Nile River, about 350 kilometers northeast of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. There was a settlement at the time of Taharqa, but little of it has been excavated. Most of the finds discovered at Dangeil, so far, date to the time of the Kingdom of Meroe (3rd century BC – 3rd century AD).
While this is the furthest south that a pharaoh’s statue has been found, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Dangeil is the southern border of Taharqa’s empire. It’s possible that he controlled territory further up the Nile.
The statue of Taharqa is truly monumental. “It’s a symbol of royal power,” said Dr. Anderson, an indicator that Dangeil was an “important royal city.”
It’s made of granite and weighs more than one ton. It stood about 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) when it had its head. In ancient times it was smashed into several pieces on purpose. This was also done to the two other statues. It’s not known who did this or why. It happened “a long time after Taharqa,” said Anderson.
One idea is that there was a dynastic struggle. A group came to power in Nubia that was determined to eliminate reminders of Taharqa’s reign and that of his successors. Another possibility is that in 593 BC an Egyptian military force, led by pharaoh Psamtek II, succeeded in reaching Dangeil and decided to damage the statues.
The largest piece of Taharqa’s statue is the torso and base. This part of the statue is so heavy that the archaeological team had to use 18 men to move it onto a truck.
“We had trouble moving him a couple hundred meters,” said Anderson. The move was “extremely well planned,” with the team spending eight to nine days figuring out how to accomplish it without the statue (or the movers) getting damaged.
Given the lack of moving equipment the team resorted to “traditional methods.” Anderson and Ahmed say that “the back of the statue was first protected with sacking after which a heavy plank of wood was attached to the back pillar. Trenches were dug under the statue to facilitate the attachment of the wood backing,”
The team than rotated the statue so that it rested on this wood. A platform of red-brick and silt was created beneath the statue. “The statue was raised upwards, one brick’s thickness at a time (approximately 80 mm), using wooden and iron levers.” A team of 18 men then brought it to a truck, dragging it over an ancient wall.
Taharqa’s ancient statue movers would have had an even rougher job. The nearest granite quarry is at the third cataract – hundreds of kilometers up the Nile. The trip was “certainly many days” said Anderson, consisting of a river ride and in “some places dragging.”
The construction of the statue and the painstaking effort to move it to Dangeil “demonstrates how powerful he (Taharqa) was.”
The Ancient Egyptian Economy
The economy of pharaonic Egypt has been called an ancient command economy, but one should always remember that such modern definitions are not as apt as one would hope for. Still, there was a specialized bureaucracy which monitored or controlled much of its activity, one of the hallmarks of planned economies. On the other hand, in general the officials—as state employees and not as private landowners or managers of state farms—probably did not tell farmers what to grow and these continued to do what their predecessors had done. But they remeasured and reassigned the land after every inundation based on past assignments, assessed the expected crops, collected part of the produce as taxes, stored and redistributed it to those on the state’s pay lists. Storage and redistribution were generally done on a local basis. Regional facilities provided produce in case there was a shortfall in one of the local centers.
Bureaucrats were also in charge of public works which were mostly religious in character and involved at times tens of thousands of workers and administrators.
Egypt was a patchwork of mostly autarkic households and domains. After the taxes were paid, domain administrators and successful householders stored surpluses for future use or exchanged them by barter on the market, an institution the nature of which is remarkably badly understood. The percentage of produce and even manufactured goods which reached markets was probably small. It may have been of marginal importance to the survival of the individual producer, but provided part of the economic base for the developing Egyptian high culture.
Much of the trade beyond local exchanges is thought to have been in the hands of wholesale merchants acting for the crown or the great temple estates. The extent to which private individuals were involved in trading cannot be estimated. Market forces seem to have played a role above all during the periods when the administration broke down.
Major changes to the early barter system began to occur only with the influx of foreigners and the introduction of coined money in the Late Period.
The vast majority of the population, probably more than nine tenths during the first two millennia of Egypt’s history, lived on the land  in mostly self sufficient village communities and, in early times at least, in a state close to serfdom. The land they worked belonged in theory to the gods, Osiris and after his demise to Horus and his earthly incarnation, the pharaoh. In practice a virtual ownership evolved, a development which culminated in the Late Period, when land could be freely bought and sold.
Apart from the tenant peasants, a large section of the population worked as farm laborers on the estates of noblemen and of the temples. During the New Kingdom perhaps a third of the land was in the hands of the Amen priesthood, with a proportionally large number of workers and slaves.
Administrators, priests, traders and craftsmen lived mostly in the cities along the Nile, which could be supplied with victuals relatively easily and cheaply by boat.
Sources of Wealth
Farming and Fishing
Agriculture created most of Egypt’s wealth. Grain, vegetables, fruit, cattle, goats, pigs and fowl were grown, and fish from the Nile were caught, and eventual surpluses, after deduction of the various taxes, were sold on the markets.
Thanks to the yearly inundations the soil remained fertile. But agricultural techniques were not very efficient. Improvements were rare, implements remained primitive and the breeding of better livestock was haphazard.
Pisciculture appears to have had existed on a very small scale. But practically all the fish consumed were caught in the Nile. Hunting, a leisure activity to the rich, and gathering played a small economic role over all, but may have been crucial to the survival of the poorest.
A large part of the manufactured goods came from the families which produced the raw materials. Labor was divided according to gender, with the processing generally left to the women. While the men grew flax, their women spun it into thread and wove the linen. A sizable proportion of the grain produced was used for beer production. The fish caught by the men had to be cleaned and dried, which was generally done by women, to be of much use in the hot climate of Egypt, unless they were consumed immediately.
In the towns small factories appeared, often financed by rich noblemen: bakeries, breweries, carpentry workshops and the like with a few dozen employees. In these manufactories weaving, for instance, became a largely male occupation with the introduction of upright looms during the New Kingdom.
Most of the things mined were of little interest to anyone but a small number of rich people. Precious metals were not in general circulation until the Late Period and even then remained in the hands of few. The metals used for tools – copper, bronze and, from the Late Period onwards, iron – were expensive and the implements fashioned from them were beyond the reach of many. Poorer people continued to use stone and wooden tools for most purposes well into the Bronze and even beyond into the Iron Age. Gems too remained in the possession of a wealthy minority and the stone quarried for temples and tombs served the same class of people and profited only the craftsmen involved in building.
Natron needed for the embalming process, was mined in the Wadi Natrun. Embalming was too expensive for all but a few.
Commerce and Banking
Most of the produce was consumed by the producers themselves. What was left after landlords and tax-collectors had taken their share, could be sold by barter on the free market either directly to consumers or to professional traders. Little is known about these merchants. It is generally assumed that they were, at least until the Late Period, for the most part agents of the crown or the great estates.
Some of the wheat harvested and belonging to private owners was stored in state warehouses. So was much of the grain collected as taxes. Written withdrawal orders by owners of lots of grain were used as a kind of currency. These grain banks continued to serve growers and traders even after the introduction of coined money in the latter half of the first millennium BCE. Under the Ptolemies, a central bank at Alexandria recorded all accounts of the granary banks dotting the country. Payments were transferred from account to account similar to the modern giro system. Credit entries were recorded with the owners name being in the genitive or possessive case and debit entries in the dative case.
Since the second half of the first millennium BCE gold, silver, and copper in specie were used mostly in dealings with foreigners, be they mercenaries or merchants.
High interest rates did not encourage commerce and during the first millennium BCE they may well have put Egyptian merchants at a disadvantage vis-á-vis foreign traders who were funded from abroad. During the Saite Period monthly interest rates could reach 10%.
The main energy source of ancient times was muscle power provided to a large extent by humans, but domesticated animals played an important role. The animals used in agriculture were donkeys for transporting produce and cattle for plowing and other heavy work. Harnessing was inefficient. The yoke resting on the animals’ shoulders was unknown, and the shafts of the ploughs were fastened to the horns of the cows.
Horses were introduced into Egypt during the Second Intermediary Period and never achieved economic importance. Expensive to keep, they were only employed by the aristocracy and the military for pulling chariots and later for riding. Vehicles with light-spoked wheels came into use during the New Kingdom and served mostly for warfare and sport. Anything transported by land, even in arid desert regions, was either carried by humans or donkeys, or dragged on wooden sledges.
Wind energy was exploited only by ships and even there quite inefficiently: The square sails used enabled only sailing before the wind. The Egyptians were fortunate in that the Nile flowed from south to north. The prevailing winds were northerly and sufficed to blow the ships upriver. They were let to drift downriver with furled sails. But often a destination could only be reached through rowing which required large crews.
Fire was needed for cooking and baking food, smelting and casting metal, glassmaking, burning pottery and very rarely for making bricks. For the working of metals high temperatures had to be achieved and this was done quite possibly with charcoal. No coal was available in ancient times and wood was not very plentiful. One suspects that ordinary fires were fed with any dry vegetable or animal matter that was at hand
The heat of the sun on the other hand was put to very good use in the production of mud bricks, which were the perfect building material in a practically rainless country like Egypt.
Military ventures can be a source of income – as long as one is successful. Egypt was fortunate in this respect until the Late Period, when it came under the domination of foreign powers. What began with relatively benign occupations by the Libyans, Kushites, Assyrians and Persians, would become oppressive under the Roman Empire, which exploited its provinces ruthlessly. The attempts of Cleopatra VII to retain independence were unsuccessful and the country fell prey to Octavian. For as long as Rome ruled the Mediterranean, Egypt was little more than its bread basket.
Unlike the much vaunted empire of the New Kingdom in the Levant, which was mostly a string of subject states in Lower Retenu run by local potentates, Nubia and Kush, the important conquests in the south, were closely integrated into the Egyptian culture. Lower Nubia at least was directly ruled and exploited by the Egyptians for most of the second millennium BCE. Its importance as supplier of gold, slaves and luxury goods was underlined by the appointment of viceroys to rule Kush directly. No other region conquered by Egypt was economically and culturally as dependent, nor retained this affinity for centuries after Egypt’s power had declined in the first millennium BCE.
Bravery in battle was rewarded with appointments, decorations in the form of golden necklaces and bracelets, and gifts of land and slaves, part of the booty plundered from vanquished enemies. Tribute was imposed on defeated nations and the ‘exchange’ of gifts between the pharaohs and the kings of client states was generally in Egypt’s favor.
The practice of slavery was practically ubiquitous in ancient times. In Egypt it was seemingly less harsh and widespread than in other societies. Still, some branches of the economy like mining depended to some extent on the labor and expendability of slaves, above all during the New Kingdom, when warfare and trade greatly increased the number of enslaved foreigners.
Ancient Egypt is considered by some to have been the most heavily taxed nation and to have collapsed under the weight of the levies imposed on the populace. But, with a few minor interruptions, its society existed peacefully and basically unchanged for more than two millennia. Even in its days of decadence Herodotus thought it provided better living conditions–if health is anything to go by–than most others he had seen,
… they think that all the diseases which exist are produced in men by the food on which they live: for the Egyptians are from other causes also the most healthy of all men next after the Libyans.
one of the other causes being the climate.
The state relied on revenues in the forms of labor and taxes paid in kind. Grain was the most important produce hoarded by the authorities, as it could be stored with relative ease and was vital in years of bad harvests.
The Beneficiaries of the System
A major part of the levies imposed on the people was used to stabilize society. A bureaucratic administration, at first native and in the Late Period increasingly foreign, enforced order throughout the country during most of its history. Three millennia of mainly quiet development point to the success of this policy: Grain was stored which could be distributed in times of famine. Corvée workers were fed from these stores during the months of inundation when work in the fields was impossible. Artisans constructing public buildings found employment, paid by the royal treasury. Even the offerings at the temples were at least partially used to feed the poor.
Of course, different classes of people benefitted to different degrees, but care was taken not to leave too many people with nothing to lose, a lesson the Spartans and the Romans for instance never learned. While famines affected the poor much more than the rich, in normal times there was not that much difference as regards health, survival of ones’ children or even longevity.
Peasant villagers, on the whole the poorest segment of the population, hardly ever travelled far and their knowledge of what lay beyond their own community was limited. They came into contact with low ranking scribes and overseers, who were not much better off than they themselves. But by thrift and hard work they could hope to gain additional property and rise on the social ladder.
The Upper Class
In a society where precious metals were not considered a special means of exchange and were mostly in the hands of the pharaohs and the temples, wealth was synonymous with possession of land.
Theoretically all the land belonged to the pharaoh who could dispose of it at will. Large tracts were given to the military, above all during times of unrest when the kings needed their support and were unable to recompense them in any other way. Officials were also beneficiaries of such royal munificence. But most of the land came to be owned outright by the temples and the peasantry.
A considerable amount of wealth was invested in the building of tombs and the services following burial, which were supposed to go on forever.
The gods had to be propitiated by offerings and rituals celebrated by great numbers of priests. To maintain this clerical establishment, large parts of Egypt were donated to the temples. By the New Kingdom they appear to have owned as much as a third of the arable land and were exempt from paying taxes. Even the people in their employment were protected by law against impressment. This concentration of wealth may have contributed to the decline of the state under the 20th dynasty.
DATING THE LOST CITY AT GIZA
How old is the Lost City?
How do we know that the settlement located at the foot of the Giza Plateau belongs to the same period of time as when the Egyptians were building Khufu’s Great Pyramid and the other pyramids? Two kinds of evidence tell us that we are excavating a 4th Dynasty site (2575-2465 BC): ceramics and sealings.
The Giza Plateau Mapping Project specialists collect and analyze all cultural material that we retrieve from our excavations at the site. At last count (in 2002) our ceramics specialist, Ania Wodzinska, had processed over half a million pottery fragments, of which over 150,000 are diagnostic (fragments like rims, bases, and handles that allow us to determine the type of vessel).
Possible bread jar.
Like all material culture—modern cars for example—ancient Egyptian pottery changed over time. Just as an automobile expert can easily tell the difference between a 1950s-era Ford from a 1990s-era Ford, pottery specialists who study Egyptian culture can tell an Old Kingdom beer jar from a Middle or New Kingdom beer jar.
And we do not need the entire vessel. Those who know automobiles can tell a particular model just from the fender, or a piece of the fender. So it is with pottery studies in archaeology.
With well over half a million pottery shards (or “sherds” as archaeologists say), if our site had been inhabited later than the 4th Dynasty, the pottery would be shouting this at us.
An ancient bread mold.
Instead the pottery almost all dates from the middle to the late 4th Dynasty, when the Egyptians were building the Second and Third Giza pyramids for pharaohs Khafre (2520-2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490-2472 BC).
We already know that bread molds comprise the majority of our ceramic corpus. But it is interesting to see the frequencies of different types of ceramics across the site. These patterns might tell us how the inhabitants used various parts of the site. We are creating a Geographic Information System database to help us study the distribution of artifacts and features.
The second most numerous ceramics on our site are crude red-ware jars. These are often called “beer jars” and are found throughout Egypt at ancient settlements and cemeteries.
An ancient beer jar
The third most numerous ceramics we find are bowls. Of these, a type designated CD7 is particularly interesting, because it seems to be unique to Giza. Preliminary comparisons with pottery collected at other sites find few if any other examples of CD7 anywhere else in Egypt.
While their hemispherical body resembles Meidum-ware bowls (a type of red-coated and very well-polished vessel), the surface of the CD7 is covered with a white wash, a rare feature in Old Kingdom pottery.
These white carinated (having a ridge or bend) bowls were produced in large quantities, perhaps in one locality—Giza—during a very short span of time. There is no evidence for the production of such bowls either before or after the 4th Dynasty. Their occurrence was probably the result of the demand of the local community for vessels which could be used for a very specific purpose.
Bowl Type CD7
What was that purpose? Does it relate in any way to the special pyramid-building purpose of this entire community?
Numerous tomb scenes show carinated bowls used for food presentation and serving, eating, and drinking. Very often they were placed on stands and covered with a basketry lid. Occasionally, they could also be used as cooking pots or to serve food.
But the white carinated bowls seem rather to have been most suitable for daily food consumption.
With such a large body of ceramics, we would expect to find later Old Kingdom ceramics if they existed here. The only other Old Kingdom sherds that we have found have been in a later intrusive deposit in a cairn built over the Royal Administrative Building.
This ceramic evidence indicates that our site was occupied during the middle to late 4th Dynasty and then abandoned.
An Inscribed Royal Sealing from the Lost City
In Egypt’s 4th Dynasty, kings took four names. One of these, called the Horus name, identified the king as an incarnation of the falcon god of Kingship. This name can be a key to dating because it might have been in use only while the living king reigned. Other names taken by the king carried on in use after his death in the service to his pyramid temples and royal estates.
We have found the Horus names of Khafre and Menkaure on mud sealings at our site.
Mud sealings offer important clues to the past. These chunks of hard, dry mud, roughly the size of a rubber eraser, served as a kind of security system.
Using clay seals like more modern cultures used wax letter seals, ancient Egyptians would smear mud over the lids of storage pots, door fasteners, bags, and boxes in order to seal their contents and deter unauthorized opening.
An ancient cylinder seal
The surface of the mud was often impressed with an inscribed stone cylinder. When the material being sealed belonged to the royal institutions, the pharaoh’s name would be etched on the cylinder seal and thus impressed on the mud.
Although using royal inscriptions to date both the sealing fragments and the feature in which they were found is tempting, it is not that straight forward.
The nomen, one of the king’s four names, was often incorporated into the name of the monarch’s pyramid or into the personal names of the people who served in the dead king’s cult. Seals with those names could date to well after the king’s death.
Since these institutions could function for centuries after the death of their founder, there is no guarantee that a name on a sealing was actually the name of the reigning king.
The Horus name, however, can be a key to dating. It almost never appears in the names of other people or institutions, and, therefore, can be used to date the seal that made the impression.
Yet, it is possible that a cylinder for impressing seals may have been used and reused long after that king had died. If this were true at Giza, we would expect to see in our collection not just the names of all the 4th Dynasty rulers, but also those of earlier kings. This, however, is not the case.
We would also expect to see the names of later kings in long-lived settlements and institutions like Menkaure’s mortuary settlement at Giza.
An ancient sealing with the name of Khafre
George Reisner, working in the early 20th century, found the names of 5th and 6th Dynasty pharaohs near a crucial doorway into the inner sanctuary of the upper temple of the Menkaure Pyramid. This shows the door had been sealed and reopened through many generations and many kings’ reigns.
We have found thousands of sealing fragments at the Lost City site. Out of hundreds that are inscribed, many have the legible royal names of Khafre (2520-2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490-2472 BC).
The remaining fragmentary inscriptions can be restored to one or the other of these kings. We have recognized no other royal names on our sealings.
The AERA team recovered more than 300 sealings in the first weeks of the 2005 field season alone. The inscriptions included:
- 6 Ka-khet, (the Horus name of Menkaure).
- 1 Ka-khet with a possible hem-netjer (priest).
- 5 Wsr-jb (the Horus name of Khafre).
- 2 with the title “royal scribe.”
- 4 Khafre cartouches.
- 3 with a figure of the king.
- 2 more royal scribes.
- 2 khenty (-she?) signs.
Of them, the most unusual sealing was fired, almost like a pot sherd. It measures about 5 cm x 3.5 cm (2 inches x 1.3 inches) and is inscribed with the name of Wsr-ib Khafre with the king wearing the red crown and holding a scepter.
The Lost City clearly did not last as long as the three-hundred-year span of Menkaure’s mortuary settlement attached to the front of his Valley Temple. In fact our pyramid-builders settlement had a relatively short life of two or three generations.
Despite deep deposits and rather complex reuse and rebuilding at our site, the material we have processed points to an occupation during the middle to late 4th Dynasty (2551-2472 BC).
During that time, the city was built, modified, and finally dismantled. It is as though the 4th Dynasty Egyptian state stepped down and left its footprint upon this site and moved on, revealing patterns of human resource and material organization in the passing.
FEEDING PYRAMID WORKERS
The ancient bedja
How did the ancient Egyptians feed thousands of workers at Giza? We know from ancient texts that a staple diet of bread and beer were disbursed as rations in royal labor projects. What kind of bread did the pyramid builders eat? In September and October 1993, The National Geographic Society funded our experimental archaeology project to help answer this question.
Pyramid Builders’ Diet
Hieroglyphic texts tell us that Old Kingdom food production and storage facilities fell under an institution called per shena (written with the house and plow signs, roughly translated to “house of the commissariat”). This term indicates a food production establishment that included bakeries, breweries, and granaries.
In AERA‘s 1991 season we found two bakeries, at that time the oldest known bakeries from ancient Egypt. These bakeries are the archaeological counterparts of the bakeries depicted in many scenes and limestone models from Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC) tombs.
Large, crude ceramic bedja bread molds.
The tomb scenes indicate that bread baking and beer brewing were part of the same production process, probably because lightly baked dough (in which the yeast was activated but not killed by the heat) was used for the beer mash. Froth from the beer may have gone back into the dough.
Fragments of the large, bell-shaped bread pots like those we see in the tomb scenes litter the Lost City in the hundreds of thousands. Labeled bedja in the tomb scenes, the largest weigh up to 12 kilograms each (26.5 pounds). We have found many intact examples at our site as well.
Evidence discovered from Elephantine Island in southern Egypt all the way to Palestine indicates that bread baking in bedja was a common and wide-spread practice for nearly 500 years.
Two Giza Bakeries (1991-92)
We excavated two bakeries in 1991. Low, stone walls surrounded the two bakeries, which were filled with homogenous black ash under a layer of mud brick tumble.
Opposite the southern entrance to each bakery, large ceramic vats were embedded in the floor of the northwest corner.
The ancient bakers had broken the bottoms of these vats, possibly by kneading the dough with their feet, but they continued using the vats by reinforcing them with pieces of limestone and granite.
Marl clay floors were packed around the vats up to more than half their height, which would have made it difficult and tiring for the bakers to bend over their vats to do their work. It is possible that someone actually stood in the vats to mix the contents with their feet.
At Elephantine Island our German colleagues excavated a bakery in which the bakers allowed the ash to accumulate nearly to the roof. The accumulated ash preserved the columns, about 28 cm (11 inches) in diameter, to their total height of 3.20 meters (10.5 feet).
Hearths and Depressions
Ancient tomb scene of break-making
Old Kingdom tomb scenes depict bedja stacked upside-down over an open fire so they can be preheated before baking. Open fireplaces stood in the southeastern corners of the ancient bakeries at our site and interestingly, both of them still contained an upside-down bedja.
Ancient scenes also show workmen pouring batter into upright bedja whose rounded bottoms had been set into some sort of base.
In our bakeries, two rows of depressions (looking like oversized egg cartons) had been dug into the floor to serve as receptacles for the preheated bedja.
Tomb scenes show a secondary bedja placed upside-down as a cover over the filled bread mold. We think the covers were pots that had been preheated on the open hearth. Hot ashes were probably piled around the two pots to complete the baking process, as suggested by the abundant ash and charcoal fill of the depressions.
Archaeologists have found that ancient Egyptian food production facilities are generally attached to some kind of household—the household of the king (a palace), the household of a god (a temple), the household of a governor (a manor), or the household of a private person.
Ancient bakeries located in A7
The bakeries we found at our site, on the other hand, appear to belong to industrial-scale production. They are at the back of the easternmost gallery inGallery Set IV, and they are near other bakeries in the production zone we call EOG (East of Galleries), which stretches directly north of the Royal Administrative Buildling.
Ancient Egyptian households typically had a variety of specialized work spaces attached to them: granaries, bakeries, butcheries, weaving, carpentry shops, etc. The inhabitants of this pyramid city seem to have reached for large-scale production by enlarging bread molds and replicating household production facilities many times over.
These bakeries were certainly part of a large, specialized production center—a state institution of the royal house.
We have here the clearest physical example of the kind of state (or estate) bakery labeled as per shena, like that in the tomb scenes of the 5th Dynasty official, Ty, at Saqqara. We found a possible corrupt writing of per shena etched crudely on a sherd (pottery fragment).
It is interesting to note that apparently, as the inhabitants used the bakeries, they allowed them to simply to fill up with ash. By the final days of the bakery, the ash filled each room to the brim of the vats.
At Elephantine Island our German colleagues excavated a bakery in which the bakers allowed the ash to accumulate nearly to the roof. The accumulated ash preserved the slender, wooden columns, about 28 cm (11 inches) in diameter, to their total height of 3.20 meters (10.5 feet).
Egypt is a desert country that does not have large forests to provide wood for fuel. Although wood was an expensive resource, the Old Kingdom Egyptians seemed to have burned it with abandon at Giza for a variety of purposes.
Stack heating replica bedja over a fire
Cooking and baking bread on the scale that the Egyptians were doing at the Lost City would have required a constant supply of fuel. The fuel was mostly acacia, which grew naturally in Egypt along the low desert.
Add to this the fact that the builders of the pyramids were burning wood to make gypsum to use as mortar for construction and to make and harden copper tools. We extracted small samples of gypsum out of the Giza Pyramids themselves in order to do radiocarbon dating in 1984 and 1995.
The ancient builders were probably also consuming vast amounts of acacia, which produces a hot fire, for the preparation of copper tools. Indeed, they may have amassed the largest concentration of copper anywhere in the world during the third millennium BC for all the tools need to build the giant pyramids.
At Giza, instead of building for an economy of scale (building one large industrial-capacity bakery) the Egyptians built many household-sized bakeries.
This fits in many ways with the kind of social structure that permeated all of ancient Egypt. Most production was done on a household level: cooking, pottery making, agriculture, metal working, and textile manufacturing, etc.
In a settlement the size of the Lost City, there must have been an almost permanent haze of cooking smoke across the low desert below the pyramids.
Altogether we can say that between cooking, making mortar, and working metal, the Lost City was a thermodynamically expensive site: the inhabitants burned a lot of resources to produce food and material for pyramid construction.
Recreating an ancient bakery
One way to create a link between discovery and theory in archaeology is to experiment. We wanted to replicate as closely as possible the activities of ancient people. This kind of experimentation can provide great insights into long-lost arts as well as a better understanding of elementary structures of everyday life.
The bakeries we found at Giza raised some specific questions:
- Why were the bedja stack-heated prior to baking?
- Did the bedja act like miniature ovens?
- Was ash raked around the preheated pots?
- What kind of bread was ultimately produced?
The AERA/National Geographic team faithfully reproduced a Giza bakery in the fields beneath the bluffs of Saqqara. We baked bread using emmer and barley flour (provided by bread and yeast specialist Ed Wood). We used pots that only approximated bedja specifications.
We discovered that the low walls of the ancient bakery rooms were probably intended to be low and flat, providing essential working surfaces, like our modern kitchen work surfaces.
Higher walls would have trapped and held all the smoke and ash generated during baking, making the small space intolerable to work in.
The emmer wheat and barley available to the ancient Egyptians contained very little gluten, the protein which gives modern breads their light, airy texture.
The volume of our bread molds indicates that bread cooked in them must have been leavened. But a lack of gluten would suggest that these loaves would be so heavy as to be almost inedible.
There is a question about the presence of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) in ancient Egypt. According to older views, the species was not present in Egypt until the Greeks brought it in.
However, as more archaeobotanists (archaeologists who study ancient plants) look carefully at ancient plant remains from various ancient Egyptian sites, more evidence of bread wheat throughout Egyptian history has come to light.
Emmer and barley were clearly the staple cereals but bread wheat does turn up occasionally and we have even found a little at Giza (though not enough to say that it was used for bread making at our site).
For our experiment, we leavened our bread with local, wild yeasts captured at Giza by Ed Wood, a retired pathologist, who has devoted much of his life to studying wild yeasts and the sourdoughs made from them.
Ed tried various combinations of emmer and barley as described in his book World Sourdough Breads from Antiquity (Ten Speed Press, 1996).
We found that the bread baked best when covered with a preheated bedja, as shown in ancient tomb scenes. Without the cover, the bread did not bake through all the way.
It is possible, however, that the scenes depicting pots stacked over fire are actually showing a process to temper the pots to effect a non-stick surface. Perhaps they were even firing the ceramic.
We think that the pots were set into the depressions and surrounded by charcoal. Then the bakers would light grassy tinder around the pots.
This might explain the greenish-gray accretion on the outsides of our ancient bread molds. We analyzed the accretion as vitrified phytoliths, the siliceous inclusions in plants and grasses.
Experimental Taste Test
The bread that we made in our bakery model was a heavy sourdough loaf. It was less-than-delightful to eat and more importantly, it obviously was not quite the right formula.
We let the dough stand too long and the lactobacilli, which live alongside the yeast, took over and made the sourdough bread too sour.
AERA patron, Dr. Nathan Myrhvold (physicist and master chef) is also interested in ancient breads and baking techniques. It is very clear from ancient depictions that the dough was poured into the bread molds. Nathan thinks that perhaps the dough was more like a biscuit or muffin batter than a spongy dough.
We are looking forward to more experimental archaeology in ancient culinary arts. We would like to recreate the bakeries again to better answer some of the questions that are so important to understanding the diet that sustained the builders of the pyramids, because it is on just such basics of everyday life that great civilizations—and pyramids—were built.
Like so many issues surrounding the Giza Pyramids, it is often the little details, like how the ancient bakers made bread and fed thousands of workers, that are most important in understanding pyramid building. These are often some of the most fascinating questions to us as archaeologists.
A ROYAL GUARD?
Who slept here?
Looking NW across the Gallery Complex
The largest structures at the Giza Plateau Mapping Project dig site are four great blocks of galleries (the Gallery Complex). These galleries occupy an area of 12,375 square meters (40,600 square feet) at the center of our exposure of the Lost City.
Securely dated to the 4th Dynasty (2551-2472 BC), the long structures include areas for sleeping and cooking. But for whom?
The galleries appear to have been a barracks for the laborers who built the Giza pyramids, or perhaps for a royal guard or paramilitary force like the barracks found at Middle and New Kingdom sites.
To the east of the Gallery Complex is the Eastern Town, an area of typical small, mud brick houses. (We do not know how far to the east the settlement extends because it disappears underneath the modern village.) To the southwest of the galleries is the Western Town, a maze of walls that may comprise a series of contiguous larger houses for the elite residents.
An Eastern Town House
The galleries are very different from the houses of Eastern and Western Town, and very different from most ancient Egyptian houses. Each gallery has certain basic elements of ancient Egyptian houses, but they are uniquely stretched out in a width-to-length ratio of 1:7.
Except for Gallery Set I, which was 55 meters (180 feet) long and badly eroded and damaged in antiquity, the gallery sets are about 34.5 meters (113 feet) north to south. Sets II and III are about 52 meters (170.6 feet) east to west, excluding areas on the east ends which contain large house elements that we call the Manor in Set II and the Hypostyle Hall in Set III.
While each of the four of gallery sets is unique in its details, they conform to a somewhat standard plan typical of ancient Egyptian housing:
- Columned halls.
- Domestic space with sleeping platforms.
- Cooking and baking areas.
Each gallery set contains eight galleries. Most of the galleries are characterized by long main rooms that are divided by a low, north-south wall or narrow bench about two meters (6.5 feet) from the galleries’ outer walls. These long rooms have doorways opening onto the ancient street.
The ancient builders set stone column bases in the low benches that divide each gallery. They then set wooden columns, onto the stone bases and molded the low bench around the columns. When the site was abandoned, they removed the valuable wood, leaving holes in the benches, sometimes with a plaster rim that indicates the diameters of the columns.
The column bases were generally made of limestone, basalt, or even just hard clay and small stones. The columns were 23 to 25 centimeters (9 to 10 inches) in diameter.
The columns could have supported a light roof, possibly made of removable mats. The roof would have provided shade and protection from wind. Part of the long front end of each gallery could have been left open for air and light.
The side walls of the galleries are unusually thick, up to 1.57 meters (5.15 feet). Mud brick walls one meter thick have supported two- and three-storied structures.
It is not yet clear to us why the ancient builders felt the need to build such thick walls in these galleries. We have found no surviving roofing materials in the galleries so far and the actual kind of roof remains uncertain.
View of the Hypostyle Hall
The eastern end of Set III is an area we call the Hypostyle Hall (a roof resting on rows of pillars or columns). The column bases here were more finely crafted than those in the rest of the galleries. Except for a symbolic hypostyle in the Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara, this may be Egypt’s oldest-known hypostyle hall, an architectural feature used continuously throughout the rest of ancient Egyptian history.
The hall is 15 x 25 meters (49 x 82 feet), oriented north-south. Three sets of three plastered benches each run lengthwise through the hall. We found a great many fish bones embedded in the floor deposits here (see also NOVA Online Adventure).
The gallery sets are curious buildings. Why did the 4th Dynasty planners elongate the familiar elements of a house into a long corridor and repeat the pattern in a series? During our 2001-2002 season, team member Ashraf Abd al-Aziz excavated an entire gallery, III-4, to find out.
The people living here would have entered the gallery by stepping across the sloping threshold from the higher paved surface of Main Street. During cold weather, a wooden door, set into a limestone pivot socket in the floor, gave some protection from the elements.
The Galleries could hold 40-50 people
The doorway opened into a foyer of thin walls of mud and stone. Between the foyer and the west gallery wall was a low platform formed of mud, one meter (3.2 feet) wide and sloping from 8 cm to 20 cm (3 to 7.9 inches) in height.
Four more of these platforms still exist along the 21.5 meter-long (69 foot-long) front of the gallery. We believe these are sleeping platforms.
During the height of occupation, the galleries may have been a crowded, smoky place. Ashy layers overlay the floor throughout the galleries, including the length of the northern colonnade. The estimated 40 to 50 people that each gallery may have housed (an ancient Egyptian phyle or gang?) would have required constant cooking and baking to provide enough bread and beer to sustain them.
Cooking and Crafts
Ancient tomb scene of domesticated cattle
Surprisingly for a worker’s settlement, remains of high-quality animals are abundant. Faunal specialist, Dr. Richard Redding, estimates that 11 cattle and 30 sheep/goat slaughters took place here each day, enough to provide meat for several thousand over a period of three generations. Prime cuts of cattle were being served on a regular basis too.
Analysis of the distribution of animal bone across the site shows that fish and meat remains (perch and cattle) are more concentrated in the large houses, which are located at the ends of the streets running between the great blocks of galleries. The larger houses may have been overseers’ residences.
The galleries contain high concentrations of goat bone. There is evidence that the animals were butchered on the spot, as though authorities occasionally provisioned each gallery with fresh meat.
The southern end of Sets II and III are divided into structures that resemble small houses. The ground plan of the houses in nine of the galleries includes a small vestibule, a main room, and a small niche—possibly a sleeping room.
Thick deposits of concentrated ash and charcoal in the rear southern chambers of the houses suggest cooking, baking, and roasting activities. A wall always divided the rear area into two chambers, east and west, and both show evidence of burning from cooking in adjacent hearths.
Several of the ash layers in the back chambers contained large numbers of bread mold sherds and had floors pitted with trenches and sockets that the occupants used as baking pits. In places the walls were reddened by fire and at some point, ancient residents covered these burnt spots with plaster.
Sometimes the ash layers are separated by thin layers of marl (desert clay). One can imagine that the gallery occupants threw the marl down wet to contain the powdery ash.
The rear eastern chamber of Gallery II-4 was undoubtedly a bakery, similar to those we excavated in 1991, which were attached to the southeast corner of the Hypostyle Hall.
Gallery III-8 seems to have been the site of copper-working for small household items. Here, craftsmen used old bread molds as crucibles or small furnaces. Along with abundant copper slag, charcoal, and ash, we found a copper fish hook and a needle.
The eastern side of Set II is a large house-like compound that occupies the width of three galleries. Some rooms in the manor were decorated. Fragments of marl plaster had thin red paint layers, indicating perhaps a dado (the lower portion of a wall, decorated differently from the upper portion).
We found ample evidence of cooking and baking in the western chambers of the manor. Additionally, two bakeries are attached to the eastern side of the manor with their own entrances through the north street wall.
The southernmost gallery set is close to the building we call the Royal Administrative Building (RAB). We have uncovered evidence that suggests that the galleries were somehow associated with the RAB.
While the galleries could have housed from 1,500 to 2,000 men, their proximity to the Royal Building suggests a special function. If the RAB was a royal residence (yet to be determined), the galleries may have housed a royal guard.
In any case, we are certain that the RAB housed the central storage for the many bakeries within the Gallery Complex. Although we have identified dozens of bakeries, there is no obvious facility for storing the grain. In 2002 we found a sunken court with the bases of silos in a series along the sides of the court. Each silo was 2.62 meters (8.5 feet, five royal cubits) in diameter.
Ancient inhabitants could have filled the once-domed silos from a parapet wall around the perimeter of the court, and let the grain out as needed from an opening at the base of each silo, close to the sunken floor.
It is possible that the Gallery Complex, with its regimented ground plan and large capacity was designed to enable quick access along the broad streets. Once inside the galleries, people’s movement must have been highly confined, and there is the very legitimate, as-yet-unsolved question of toilet facilities.
Whatever their true function, the galleries were abandoned suddenly like the rest of the settlement. Archaeological and historical sources indicate that the royal funerary complex, and so too perhaps the royal center of administration, moved away from Giza to Saqqara under pharaoh Shepseskaf (2472-2467 BC) at the end of the 4th Dynasty.
Already within the Old Kingdom, forces of erosion cut the ruins of the abandoned city down to waist or ankle-level. The drifting sands blew in to cover the site until the Late Period (747-525 BC) when the Lost City became a cemetery.
A ROYAL BUILDING
The thick, limestone foundation wall of a large, ancient building occupies the southeastern corner the Lost City site at Giza. This is certainly a royal complex.
It is 45 meters (147 feet) wide, extends more than 35 meters (115 feet) north to south, and disappears under a modern soccer field.
Evidence within the structure indicates 4th Dynasty inhabitants used this building for administration and storage. For convenience we call this the Royal Administrative Building (or RAB).
It may seem odd in this ancient culture that prized the durability of stone for its temples and royal tombs, and who believed their kings to be semi-divine, that the Egyptians built royal residences and associated buildings using mud brick. All of the palaces known from ancient Egypt were made of mud brick with stone details.
But temples were residences for the gods. Royal memorial temples were “Mansions of Millions of Years.” Royal compounds were just the earthly home for a temporal monarch.
There is evidence that pharaohs kept multiple households throughout the Nile Valley. Some Egyptologists believe that the three kings who built the Giza Pyramids might have had residences at Giza during construction.
Inside the RAB
Was the RAB part of a royal residence situated between the Eastern and Western Town? We are as yet unsure of all of the functions of the RAB, but we have ample evidence of storage and some kind of administration.
A prominent feature is the sunken court of round silos, each about five ancient Egyptian cubits (2.62 meters or 8.5 feet) in diameter. We found seven mud-brick silos and they continue under the soccer field.
This must have been the central storage for the dozens of bakeries associated with the Gallery Complexes. A trench from a parapet wall remains around the silos. It is possible that RAB workers could walk upon this wall and fill the silos through holes in the tops. When they needed grain, they could let it out from openings near the floor level.
In a series of small courts and chambers that we have excavated in the northwest corner of the RAB, we found sealings, the little fragments of fine, hard clay the Egyptians used to seal bags, boxes, jars, and doors.
Our excavations in the RAB yielded an unusually large numbers of these sealings, some with the royal names Khafre (2520-2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490-2472 BC). This is one of the largest collections of inscribed material anywhere on our site.
As of 2005, most of the RAB still lies beneath the modern Abu Hol Soccer Club. We have done subsurface sensing over the soccer field, and the data reveal what might be the southwest corner of the RAB, giving the building a total length of 100 meters (328 feet). We hope to excavate there when a new soccer field is built for the residents of the adjacent village.
NW corner of the RAB
Approaching the RAB from the west within the Gallery Complex, ancient occupants of the pyramid city would have walked along the southernmost of three main thoroughfares: South Street.
On the right, just before reaching the RAB, were a series of nine magazines (some of which may have been bakeries) divided by fieldstone walls. We call these the South Street Magazines. We found some of these chambers tightly packed with pottery, mostly bread moulds.
The southernmost block of galleries, Gallery Set IV, lay across South Street from the magazines.
At the northwest corner of the RAB, South Street was intentionally narrowed to less than one meter (3.28 feet), probably to restrict access to production and storage areas.
Wall between South Street and RAB Street
RAB Street appears to have been the major conduit between the Eastern and Western Towns. Traffic must have consisted of people on foot, possibly on donkeys, or even small herds of sheep and goat.
The Enclosure Wall strictly separated anyone passing through RAB Street from anyone moving down South Street inside the Gallery Complex. If the Enclosure Wall rose above head height, pedestrians on either side of it would not have been able to see each other.
Whatever the function of the Royal Administrative Building and the magazines, access to them was strictly controlled and restricted.
Who were these townspeople, moving west to east across our site? Did different classes of people use the two routes? Were they otherwise segregated in the settlement?
Wear patterns show that RAB Street was very well traveled. When people and animals rounded the northwest corner of the RAB, they habitually hugged the inside of the turn. This pedestrian traffic wore down the roadbed, creating a deeper pathway just at the base of the outer corner of the RAB wall.
At the same time, more refuse accumulated along the outside of the turn. The result was a roadbed that sloped down from NW to SE, into the corner, like a racetrack.
Our excavations suggest diverse activities in the RAB. Clearly storage was a major function of the portion we have cleared so far.
Little balls of clay with finger marks and pieces pinched off might indicate sealing preparation, often evidence of administration. Sealings were used as security devices to prevent unauthorized opening of important goods or messages.
We found little mud tokens that might have been used as counters. They take various shapes including bread loaves and haunches of beef.
Bone points and rods found in the RAB were probably used for weaving and deposits in a small corridor yielded evidence of copper and alabaster workings.
An Older Complex Underneath
The Royal Building in plan
In 2004 and 2005 we excavated down to a phase of architecture that existed before the inhabitants built the RAB. This consists of 14 rectangular chambers of various sizes flanked along the east by a long open court.
The RAB builders incorporated parts of the walls of the earlier complex into the new courts and chambers and partly demolished and covered the remains of the earlier walls.
Three small, rectangular chambers at the northern end of the older complex might have been magazines or storage chambers, approximately one by two meters (3.28 X 6.5 feet) in size. The magazine floors were littered with the following artifacts.
- A spouted vessel.
- Red pigment.
- Red painted plaster fallen from a wall.
- Sandstone pieces (perhaps abraders).
- The broken end of a small saddle quern.
- Yellow ochre pigment from the tumble layer above the floor.
- A limestone pivot socket.
- Parts of flat round bread baking trays.
- A straight-rim jar.
- Three cylindrical jar stands.v
- A stone hammer.
- A lump of basalt.
- Pieces of worked flint.
- A pillow stone. The small, rectangular stones form a class of artifact with examples from across the site. We do not know their function.
Abandonment & Demolition
Before the end of the 4th Dynasty, the RAB silos were cut through and partially demolished. Tons of broken stone from the wall around the sunken court toppled onto the ruined mud-brick silos. A significant quantity of this stone is granite, which is not native to Giza and must have come from Aswan.
In fact, there is evidence of substantial granite working both here and at the east end of the Wall of the Crow (WCE). The evidence at WCE was tons of granite dust, the byproduct of a great deal of stone finishing work. The granite in the area of the RAB shows signs of the initial stages of dressing large blocks: large flakes and chunks.
The collapsed stone filled the lower, sunken court of silos. The stone surface eroded into a level platform; late in the Old Kingdom, someone removed the collapsed stone along the west end of this platform and piled up a cairn over the corner of the sunken court.
A pit in the middle led down to a simple grave containing a child burial. This cairn, or funerary tumulus, contained some of the few late Old Kingdom pottery sherds that we have found across the site.
More to Do
The RAB is one of many features at Giza that we have been privileged to help save. Workers from nearby riding stables had removed the protective ancient overburden right down to the surface of the ancient ruins.
One of our archaeologists, Ashraf Abd al-Aziz, is working on a typology of the mud bricks at our site. Already we see patterns indicating that our brick culture is very different than even that of the bricks at the nearby ancient town built for the cult of Queen Khentkawes.
What other functions did the royal house carry out here, in this great stone-walled enclosure between the Eastern and Western Towns? In the future, when the soccer field is moved, we look forward to learning more about the Royal Administrative Building.
THE WALL OF THE CROW
There is a massive, ancient stone wall that stands a few hundreds yards south of the Sphinx. But because it lay partially buried and overshadowed by the larger, more famous Great Pyramid, Sphinx, and other pyramids, tourists have hardly noticed it.
Known locally as the Wall of the Crow (Heit el-Ghourab) it is 200 meters (656 feet) long, ten meters (32.8 feet) high, and ten meters thick at the base. The Wall is the northwest border of a tract of low desert that we designated Area A: our excavation site.
We suspected that the Wall of the Crow dated to the Old Kingdom 4th Dynasty (2575-2465 BC), like the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx, but we do not know why the Egyptians built it. Evidence suggests that they never completed the mammoth undertaking. They never dressed the masonry to produce a finished face to the structure, as was their standard practice with pyramids, tombs, and temple walls.
We can now say for certain that the Wall of the Crow was built as part of our 4th Dynasty (2551-2472 BC) complex and the archaeology has led us to form some ideas as to its function.
Gateway to the Sacred?
Wall of the Crow Gate from Vyse, 1840.
The great gateway in the Wall of the Crow may be one of the largest gateways from the ancient world. It has been visible for the last 4,500 years and yet very little has been written about it.
Once we cleared away a thick, sandy overburden, we discovered what an impressive structure the gate is—2.5 to 2.6 meters wide (about 8.5 feet or five ancient Egyptian cubits) and about 7 meters (23 feet) high. Because the base of the Wall is more than 10 meters thick, the gate is actually a short tunnel.
The ancient roadway going through the gate was paved with worn or abraded ceramic fragments and laid out with a subtle camber—the sides slope down and away from the center—a common feature of ancient roads.
Wall of the Crow Gate near the Great Pyramid
Along the length of the south side of the wall east of the gate, we cleared a ramp-like slope on the surface of an embankment of limestone chips. This mason’s debris must have been waste from building the wall.
It also may have been used as a ramp to drag the massive lintels up over the top of the gate. After placing the stones, the builders left the debris immediately in front of and inside the gate. Upon this debris, traffic formed a path that slopes down 2 to 3 meters (6.56 to 9.84 feet) from north to south. The path passes through the gate to a broad terrace formed of compact sandy masons’ debris that extends at least 30 meters north of the gate.
Wall of the Crow Gate in Relation to Giza
Why did the builders put so much effort into an immense stone structure that was not part of a pyramid complex nor connected to other structures at Giza?
The builders shaped and hauled a huge number of massive blocks to form something more like a dike than a wall. In contrast, the rest of our settlement is mostly built of mud brick or broken stone from the nearby Maadi Formation.
The Wall may have separated the sacred precincts of the pyramid plateau from the precincts in which the workers lived. The Enclosure Wall that bounds the Gallery Complex on the west nearly abuts the Wall of the Crow, and the regulated passageways out of the settlement—especially Main Street, the principle axis—led right to the massive gateway in the Wall of the Crow.
In 2002 we found clear evidence that the Gallery Complex (at least Gallery Set I) predated the Wall of the Crow. Until then we were not certain where the Wall ended on the east. The eastern end of the Wall slumped in two layers of large stones, the result of collapse and robbing in late antiquity (we found Late Period burials under the lowest layer of toppled stones).
The remains of the gallery walls were about waist to chest-high at the eastern end of the Wall, but about three meters to the east (10 feet), the gallery ruins were cut down to ankle level in a great depression.
A massive deposit of granite dust and chips filled this big depression. The granite was from large-scale work nearby, possibly cuttings from the granite casing on the Menkaure Pyramid.
But what force cut this depression through the mud brick gallery walls well before the end of the 4th dynasty occupation on our site? Perhaps a flash flood.
Geoarchaeologist Karl Butzer, who studied the environmental history of our site, believes that the 4th Dynasty Egyptians built their settlement on the outwash of a wadi, a stream bed that occasionally carried heavy floods running off the high desert. The Wall of the Crow stands just to the south of the stream bed and could have served to deflect the floodwaters.
East end of the Wall of the Crow
If the inhabitants built the massive stone wall for protection against desert flooding, why not extend it across the northern end of the whole Gallery Complex? Perhaps they thought that the thick, mud brick northern wall of Gallery Set I could withstand the wadi floods. The Wall of the Crow might then have been meant to protect the western flank of the Gallery Complex.
In fact, an earlier settlement here might actually have succumbed to flash floods. In the lowest layers, those predating the Gallery Complex, we found settlement debris—mud bricks, pottery fragments, and limestone rocks—mixed with mud and pebbles washed down from the natural gravel in the high desert.
We continue to look for evidence to support a hypothesis that the Wall may have served as flood-control to protect the workers settlement.
Late Period burials sprawl in a large cemetery across the northwestern portion of our site, with grave upon grave cut into the Old Kingdom deposits. Toward the eastern end of the Wall of the Crow, the graves increase in density like the epicenter of a galaxy.
Burial at the Wall of the Crow
The Late Period (747-525 BC) residents of nearby towns must have considered the area around the Wall of the Crow as sacred ground. The burials extend right up to the east end of the Wall, with some of the dead interred in the sand above rocks that tumbled from the Wall. These burials post-date the collapse of the eastern end of the Wall.
Caches of animal bone that we encountered in the same sand layer as some of the nearby Late Period burials are another sign of the Wall’s sanctity.
One cache included two skulls—from a bovine and a smaller animal, possibly a goat. Another cache contained two cattle skulls. In the spring of 2000, when we began clearing the southern side of the Wall of the Crow near the east end, we encountered a third cache—a bovine skull and a Late Period amphora tucked into a niche between the blocks of the Wall.
Next to the eastern end, the percentage of child burials is higher than in other areas: 60% compared with, for example, 27% in a nearby square.
Many of these children were adorned with jewelry and amulets, while adult burials contained no grave accoutrements. We do not yet understand the significance of these special child burials.
The Wall of the Crow Today
Archaeologists working at the Wall of the Crow
The area around the Wall of the Crow is still a burial ground. An Islamic cemetery engulfs the west end of the Wall and a Coptic Christian cemetery lies just south of it. During funerals, the deceased is carried in a procession through the great gate in the Wall.
It is possible that this part of our site was a burial ground from late Roman to early Christian times. The first Muslim graves, the tombs of sheikhs (learned Muslim men), were built north of the west end of the wall.
Both cemeteries—Coptic and Muslim—have wells; water sources are often associated with sacred traditions.
The Wall of the Crow is also associated with fertility even today. Until recent years, women hoping for children would squat near a nail (a bronze survey peg pounded into the Wall by a surveyor many years ago), and then walk around the raised limestone blocks seven times.
Through the millennia that the Wall of the Crow has laid half-buried, it has maintained its sacred aura and perhaps become even more mystical. We certainly look in awe upon this massive structure poised between the worlds of the living and dead, both ancient and modern.
‘World’s oldest port’ found in Egypt – complete with scrolls revealing everyday life for Ancient Egyptians
Archaeologists have stumbled upon what is thought to be the world’s oldest port. The harbor, discovered on the Red Sea coast, is believed to date back 4,500 years, to the days of the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops) in the Fourth Dynasty. Teams believe it was once of one of the most important commercial ports of ancient Egypt, and would have been used for the export copper and other minerals from the Sinai Peninsula.
The world’s oldest port is believed to have been found at Wadi el-Jarf area, south Suez, Egypt, alongside hieroglyphic papyri.
They includes details of the arrangements for getting bread and beer to the workers heading out from the port. One tells of an official named Merrer, who was involved in building the Great Pyramid of Giza. Alongside it were pieces of ancient papyri, which include fascinating details about the daily lives of ancient Egyptians.
Egyptian authorities said the archaeologists found a variety of docks, as well as a collection of carved stone anchors, NBC reports. Part of the port at Wadi el-Jarf. Egyptian authorities said the archaeologists found a variety of docks, as well as a collection of carved stone anchors.
The harbor, which was built on the Red Sea shore in the Wadi al-Jarf area, 112 miles south of Suez, was discovered by a team from the French Institute for Archaeological Studies. It is thought to be 1,000 years older than any other port structure in the world.
Pieces of worked wood, oar, tenons, pieces of wooden boxes, ropes found at Wadi el-Jarf.
The harbor, discovered on the Red Sea coast, is believed to date back 4,500 years, to the days of the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops) in the Fourth Dynasty. The team also discovered a collection of 40 papyri offering a fascinating insight into the daily lives of ancient Egyptians during the 27th year of Pharaoh Khufu’s reign. Khufu died around 2566 B.C. It includes details of the arrangements for getting bread and beer to the workers heading out from the port.
Egypt’s antiquities minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said they were the oldest papyri ever found in Egypt. He said one ancient papyrus tells of the activities of an official named Merrer, who was involved in building the Great Pyramid of Giza, the tomb of Khufu. “He mainly reported about his many trips to the Turah limestone quarry to fetch block for the building of the pyramid.Although we will not learn anything new about the construction of the Cheops monument, this diary provides for the first time an insight on this matter.”
Hathor House for South Sinai heritage to Open Soon
The Documentation Centre for Sinai Heritage will soon open in Serabit Al-Khadim, aiming to be a model of community-focused preservation
Overlooking the Red Sea coast where Serabit Al-Khadim area is located in South Sinai stands a rosy concrete cylindrical building displaying Sinai’s varied heritage.
Named “Hathor House,” the Documentation Centre for Sinai Heritage (DCSH) has finally seen the light of day after four years of construction work carried out by the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT) under the supervision of the Regional Development Program for South Sinai (RDPSS) and financed by the European Union (EU).
CULTNAT aims at documenting the various aspects of Egypt’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage as well as its natural heritage.
This involves the implementation of the national plan of action, making use of the most up-to-date information technology in collaboration with national and international specialized organizations. The centre is affiliated with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and supported by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
Yasser El-Shayeb, director of CULTNAT, said that the construction of Hathor House aims at maintaining and developing the local community through activities consistent with their needs; to protect and preserve the cultural and natural resources of South Sinai as well as promoting local participation in project activities and to support entrepreneurial initiatives in the community.
The project, he went on, developed a model for cultural resource management (CRM) of the cultural heritage of South Sinai through the survey, documentation, preservation and management of archaeological sites, with and for the local community of Bedouins.
“This has helped us create a sort of model for cultural resource management in this region and thus further apply it to more sites,” Yasser asserted. The outcome of these activities is to be a locally managed node serving as a small museum to house the artefacts found from nearby excavations and serve as a tourist information centre relating the history of South Sinai through documentaries, drawings, maps and photos. The centre also houses a small exhibition of South Sinai folkloric heritage.
A 3D replica of Hathor Temple is also on display at the entrance of the DCSH in order to provide visitors with an glimpse of the most important archaeological sites in the area.
Serabit El-Khadim was the mine of turquoise in antiquity and the house of the ancient Egyptian goddess of turquoise, Hathor, who was also the protector goddess in desert regions.
In addition to turquoise mines, Serabti El-Khadim was home to a large temple dedicated to Hathor where almost 30 incidences of incised graffiti in proto-Sinaitic script were found. The script has graphic similarities to Egyptian hieratic script.
DIMENSIONS OF ANCIENT EGYPT: KARNAK PROKECT – A CUTTING-EDGE APPROACH TO ANTIQUITY.
A virtual tour of the Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak, one of the largest archaeological sites in Egypt.
The Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak isn’t the most famous ancient site in Egypt—that honor goes to the Pyramids at Giza—but newly developed reconstructions using 3-D virtual reality modeling make clear its architectural importance and rich history.
Elaine Sullivan, a visiting assistant professor, worked with her colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, to digitize 100 years of analyses and excavation records to create an interactive historical document of the architectural phases of the Karnak temple. Sullivan presented her work Wednesday in a Science Center lecture titled “The Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak: 2000 Years of Rituals and Renovations in 3-D.”
“You can’t go back in time,” Sullivan said. “You can’t remove monuments that are still standing. But we can simulate it. We can reconstruct the objects and buildings that have been completely lost or destroyed to history.” The Amun-Ra temple, which was active for more than 1,500 years, is a mega-temple, Sullivan said. “It was so extensive, and was added to by so many different kings, that it provides us with examples of structures not normally seen in every other temple in Egypt.” The temple’s rich architectural features and history—its hypostyle hall and sphinx-lined processional; sacred pool and towering obelisks; the inner sanctum where the statue of Amun-Ra would have stood—are now available for multidimensional investigation.
What’s most important, though, said Sullivan, is to be able to think about specific moments in the history of an ancient site, “not just the last moment in time, that moment we see when we go to the site.” The Karnak model depicts the temple from its earliest hypothesized form in the Middle Kingdom, about 1950 B.C., through the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. It allows the viewer to trace the changes of the temple over time, considering how each new stage of construction was a response to the existing landscape, Sullivan said. The temple underwent dramatic changes, expanding from a small limestone structure to an enormous complex covering a huge area. “Buildings were renovated, pulled down, and replaced in a seemingly constant stream,” Sullivan said. With only two of 17 still upright, the visual importance of the site’s obelisks has been mostly lost. But in the model, the obelisks dominate Karnak’s virtual skyline. “They would have been some of the only structures seen outside the walls,” Sullivan said. The 3-D models are “terrific tools for teaching and also terrific research tools, because you begin to ask questions that were not possible before,” said Harvard’s Peter Der Manuelian, the Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology. Manuelian was a key player in the Giza 3-D project, a re-creation of the Giza Plateau, engineered by Waltham-based software design firm Dassault Systèmes in collaboration with Harvard and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Manuelian and his staff digitized 100 years of research, using real data to reconstruct the Giza necropolis, from its temples to its underground burial chambers. Though Giza and Karnak are hundreds of miles and thousands of years apart, both projects reveal new research opportunities, Manuelian said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship. You build these things that become great teaching tools, that become research tools, and they lead you in great new research directions.” A huge challenge for Egyptologists like Sullivan and Manuelian comes with deciding what era to depict in their models. “Is it the monument in the fourth dynasty or in the 18th dynasty? Or how it was when it was excavated in 1920, or the monument as it exists today? “Ideally,” Manuelian said, “you have the time and the people and the money to do all of this.” Sullivan sees the possibilities of 3-D modeling expanding. “Anyone working on ancient material can get new views of landscape, the built landscape, and the ritual landscape by using these models.”
Who Was King Tut’s Mother?
There appears to be a lot of mystery surrounding King Tut mother’s life, and there are several reasons for this obscurity. It could partly be to King Tut’s father, Akhenaten, bringing radical changes to politics and religion during his reign; therefore, causing much turmoil amongst the population. It seems that most of the royal records that held the key to Tutankhamen’s family lineage were destroyed soon after Akhenaten’s death. Akhenaten upset the balance of the culture and region so much so, that many pharaohs after him went to great lengths to erase him from history. It looks as if his son also partook in this practice.
So who was King Tut’s mother? Many Egyptologists concur that it is most likely Nefertiti or Kiya. Nefertiti was the famous queen often depicted with Akhenaten and logically could be Tutankhamen’s mother. She is often seen in many portraits with Akhenaten portrayed as “near” status to the pharaoh. The other woman is known as Kiya. Little is known about her origins or her life. It was believed that she was a foreign princess that became and remained Akhenaten’s second wife. She appears to be an important figure in Ancient Egypt and for the Pharaoh Akhenaten and was often referred to as, “The greatly beloved wife of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt.”
The jury is still out as to which one of these great women was truly King Tut’s mother. Many say it is Nefertiti; however, others believe it is Kiya. As more evidence comes to light, the facts seem to point to Kiya. A great belief is that Nefertiti was nothing more than a step-mother to King Tut. This is due to the fact that many of the tomb paintings and reliefs of Nefertiti do not show her with King Tut as a child; although, she is often depicted with Akhenaten and their six daughters.
Because Nefertiti’s mummy has not been discovered as yet, scientists cannot compare Tutankhamen’s DNA to determine if this queen was the true mother. For this reason alone, many will continue to refer to Nefertiti as King Tut’s step mother until more evidence can disprove this theory.
More things seem to point to Kiya being King Tut’s true mother. New evidence has even come to light that now proves the young pharaoh was most likely a product of incest. This new DNA evidence from samples taken in 2008, suggests that Kiya and Akhenaten were siblings. This would not have been out of the ordinary as many Ancient Egyptian monarchs wanted to ensure that their bloodlines remained royal; therefore, common practice was to marry within families. It should be noted that King Tut was also married to his half-sister Ankhesenamun, which further substantiates this incestuous practice.
If the two siblings were the product of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, this would then exclude Queen Kiya from being a foreign princess. It should also be noted that many other experts believe “inappropriate analysis techniques” were used to determine these facts; therefore, dispelling these family-tree theories.
King Tut mother’s tomb is believed to have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings; however, no mummy was actually located. The tomb is next to King Tut’s burial site but remains shrouded with mystery due to the absence of an actual body. The tomb is known as KV63 and was found as a cache filled with coffins and storage jars. Many of the coffins yielded nothing except the sixth one which contained six pillows. These pillows remain a mystery as well, but it is thought these pillows could have been important items belonging to the queen during her lifetime and could have been used as bedding while her body went through the mummification process. Of course this is all still speculation; however, if this embalming storage was in fact King Tut’s mother’s tomb, it would have been in conjunction with King Tut’s final wishes; that he be buried next to his mother.
Up-Close and Personal with Pharaoh – An Interview with G.J. Shaw, Egyptologist
The civilization of ancient Egypt is at once timeless and ethereal with remarkable cultural continuity and towering monuments. From the time of the semi-mythological Menes to the Roman Diocletian, it was also a civilization was guided by the rule of the legendary pharaohs. A king, priest, judge, and warrior, all in one, the pharaohs played a defining role in shaping Egyptian life and culture for thousands of years.
In this special feature interview, James Blake Wiener speaks with Dr. Garry J. Shaw, a British Egyptologist, who teaches at the Egypt Exploration Society in London, UK. Shaw’s latest work is The Pharaoh: Life at Court and on Campaign, which highlights the multifarious roles the Egyptian Pharaoh fulfilled within ancient Egyptian civilization.
JW: Dr. Shaw, thank you so much for taking the time to speak about your latest work!
When most people ponder the word “ancient,” many immediately conjure images of ancient Egypt with its pyramids, mummies, and resplendent temples. Yet many of these architectural marvels and socio-cultural practices would not have been possible without the vigor and dynamism of Egypt’s pharaohs. I thought that it might be prudent to begin our interview with a question about the political responsibilities of the pharaoh: how can we characterize their responsibilities as statesmen (and occasionally stateswomen), and what does this reveal about ancient Egyptian government?
GS: Thank you for having me and allowing me to share my passion for the pharaohs.
Your question is a quite tricky, because the personal involvement of the king in political matters probably changed depending on period and individual interest. From a purely ideological point of view, the Pharaoh made every decision in government, sitting at the top of a vast bureaucracy divided between the administration, military, and priesthood; he had to protect Egypt’s population and borders; ensure that the gods received offerings in their temples (which he had to embellish); maintain laws; and make sure that maat (the Egyptian concept of divine order and justice) was continuously upheld. Furthermore, he had a duty to destroy evil.
Theoretically, the king chose all of his courtiers, but often, especially in times of weakened kingship, courtiers could pass their offices to their children, leading to mini-dynasties; conversely, times when established families suddenly lose power in favor of relative unknowns (such as under Amenhotep II, r. 1427-1401 or 1397 BC, who appointed his childhood friends) provide evidence for an increase in royal influence. Commands came to the pharaoh from the gods, and he ensured that their wishes were carried out; the courtiers simply existed to fulfill his will and enforce his laws; they could advise, but the Pharaoh’s decision was final and always absolute.
We are told that every morning, the king met with his highest officials to be informed about the current state of the land, and gave his directives for the day; to what extent he actually had any input into the many extant royal decrees or commands is impossible to know, however; many lack individual personality, and though some say that the decree was “sealed in the presence of the king,” it is difficult to know how to interpret this. Was it sealed literally beside the king (and did he read it)? Could it have been sealed in a room beside the throne room? Sealed in a building near the palace? Sometimes objects–such as royal scepters–could represent royal presence, so was it sealed in front of such an object? The king was the ultimate judge in the land, but he did not preside over all cases, even ones directly related to him; he was, however, kept informed of what was going on. The pharaoh was also the only person allowed to assign the death penalty.
Although it sounds like the government could tick along quite nicely without the pharaoh, his role in the cosmos was fundamental and vital; without him acting as intermediary between mankind and the gods, the universe would become unstable and maat could not exist. Put simply, the government needed the Pharaoh; at all times, someone had to occupy that divine office.
JW: Dr. Shaw, I was wondering if you might perhaps offer a comment or two on the religious obligations of the pharaohs? After reading your book, I feel that one of the biggest misconceptions the public has of the pharaohs is that the ancient Egyptian populace saw them as “divine.” The situation is a bit more complex and nuanced than this.
GS: Absolutely! Generations of scholars have grappled with the nature of ancient Egypt’s divine kingship. Early scholars assembled evidence that showed the pharaohs to be absolute gods on earth, but this was turned on its head when it was shown that these individuals had based their conclusions entirely on religious texts; the king was, after all, the highest priest in all the land, the middleman between mankind and the gods, therefore and shown performing all offerings in all temples. If you utilize only religious texts to build a picture of him, he will certainly seem like a god on earth. In the 1960s, the French Egyptologist, Dr. George Posener (1906-1988), argued that if the pharaohs were gods, they were gods who could die, and who had limitations on their powers. They were gods who were fallible, could get drunk, and angry, and had to perform annual rituals to renew their powers. Though Posener took us to another extreme, he at least reopened the discussion.
Today, Egyptologists see the king as a man imbued with a divine energy–the royal ka-spirit that merged with his body during the coronation. Just as a god inhabiting a statue was limited by this physical form, the divine kingship was limited by the human body, meaning that the populace did not expect him to be capable of outright supernatural acts. He was a human occupying a divine office, himself occupied by a divine force, and when he died, the eternal divine ka simply passed to another body.
JW: Your new book explores some of the daily routines of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Could you share with us, which of these routines you believe most would find curious or even surprising? Additionally, could you comment on which daily activities remained more or less continuous for thousands of years?
GS: It is quite difficult to reconstruct the king’s daily routines in absolute detail, though one routine event is the morning meeting with the highest courtiers, as mentioned above. Preparing himself for this meeting must have been an important daily ritual, and we know that there was a vast array of courtiers involved in getting him ready. The Chief of Secrets of the House of the Morning took charge of the king’s washing and rising, and oversaw men charged with the king’s shaving, anointing, and purification. There was a Director of Wig-makers, a Lord of the Royal Wardrobe, men connected with royal linen, men who handled crowns and headdresses, and even a director of royal loincloths if you can believe it! The simple act of getting up seems to have involved an army of staff, and surely followed the same rigid routine each morning! I imagine this remained unchanged throughout the Pharaonic Period.
JW: The life of an Egyptian pharaoh was defined by ritual as much as routine. You underscore the affluence associated with the most important court ceremonies–royal coronations, funerals, holidays, and marriages–in conjunction with the harsh set of decorum expected of members of the royal court.
I was curious if you could go further and share how such protocol became established: were there occasions when protocol was more relaxed and less formal? What punishments awaited those who offended the pharaoh by breaching protocol?
GS: The king’s physical body was believed to be “inhabited” by the royal ka-spirit from the moment of coronation; this changed the nature of the man, divinizing him. So, when approaching the king, you were approaching a deity, and had to behave accordingly. Such ideas seem to have been around from the beginning of Pharaonic kingship, so it is not really possible to say specifically when this protocol became established. The moment you start treating a man as a god, however, you set him apart, and more and more complex rules are going to appear regarding how to deal with him. Nevertheless, there are rather entertaining glimpses into pharaohs behaving outside of the boundaries of established protocol.
A literary tale, The Prophecy of Neferti, presents the king and courtiers holding their morning meeting in a very formal style. They are then dismissed, but the king then calls them back in an informal manner and asks them to suggest some entertainment for him. Similarly, one king is presented making fishing nets with his courtiers, while others are described drinking, eating, and hunting with their friends. Despite being pharaoh, these men still lived their lives like anyone else, enjoying the company of friends and having pastimes. Still, it does seem that it was a bad idea to touch the king; one text describes the king pardoning one of his courtiers after the poor individual tripped over the king’s staff. It is possible that rather than pardoning him for interfering with a royal ritual, he was letting the man off for coming into contact with him.
JW: As I read your book, I could not help but think that while the pharaohs certainly exercised enormous powers, they were still quite human. They had pets, relished their leisure time, enjoyed song and dance, and spent time with their family. This “human” element strongly resonated with me and I wondered if you felt the same way as you researched this book?
GS: It did indeed, James, very much so. To reach the pharaoh’s human side was one of the main motivations behind the book; it was also the aim behind my PhD research. All too often, people have focused on the king’s ideal presentation, promulgating the royal myth that the ancient Egyptians themselves wished to present; my aim was to try as much as possible to glimpse the human behind the myth. This was difficult thanks to the rules of decorum followed by Egypt’s elite; basically, if you were going to mention the king in your tomb, let’s say in your tomb autobiography (a major source of information for Egyptologists), you had to talk about him in a very particular way, always highlighting his prime role, and even assigning your own achievements to him. Soldiers, for example, could not say they killed enemies, only the king could kill because it was his divine role as protector of Egypt. In this way, the human element gets lost behind the façade of an ancient ideal. By focusing on examples of royal pets, banquets, music, etc., I hoped to try and reclaim some of the king’s humanity.
JW: A pharaoh needed a consort or “Great Royal Wife” for reasons of national security and ceremonial ritual. What were their roles within the court and how influential were they politically? Likewise, what specific obligations were expected of the pharaoh as a husband?
GS: Although the king could marry as many women as he wished, there was only ever one Great Royal Wife. She was a female counterpart to the king, who owned her own estates, and performed high level priestly acts in temples; she could even be shown alongside the king in temple scenes making offerings to the gods. In addition to her religious role, the Great Royal Wife also held political power, though it is impossible to say how much simply due to a lack of evidence. When king Ahmose I (r. 1550-1525? BC) was too young to rule independently–at the start of the 18th Dynasty–his mother Queen Ahhotep (c. 1560-1530? BC) seems to have ruled as queen regent. Similarly, the famous Queen Hatshepsut (r. 1479-1458 BC) governed for Thutmose III (r. 1479-1425 BC), and eventually proclaimed herself pharaoh.
Except for the Great Royal Wife, who will have spent the majority of her time travelling around the country with the king, the pharaoh’s other wives lived in so-called “harem” palaces dotted around the country and had no ritual role. These women were allowed to come and go as they pleased, and managed their own staff, which included men. They seem to have spent a lot of time involved in weaving; the royal women would wear the fine linen clothing produced, and could send some of it to be used by the royal court. Harems were also stocked with fine jewelry and flowers, so no one missed the finer aspects of life.
JW: Which pharaoh(s) were the most successful in your estimation? Is there a pharaoh who is vastly underrated and merits further attention? On a lighter note, do you have one pharaoh in particular which you would regard as a “favorite”? If so, whom and why?
GS: As far as which pharaohs were most successful, I am a little biased in that my specialty is the 18th Dynasty (c. 1550-1292 BC), so I am going to choose them as a whole. These kings had to rebuild Egypt following the 2nd Intermediate Period (1650-1550 BC), when Egypt was divided by foreign enemies called the Hyksos, who ruled the north. Despite having lived under the shadow of foreign occupation, within a few generations, Egypt had become stronger and richer than it had ever previously been.
In terms of underrated kings, I would say Psamtik I (r. 664-610 BC) of the 26th Dynasty (685-525 BC). Most people probably have not heard of him, but he lived in a time of great turmoil brought on by the Assyrian invasion of Egypt. He was left to control Egypt in the name of the Assyrians, but turned his back on them, and, with the aid of Greek mercenaries, brought Egypt’s various squabbling governors together under his rule. His acts ended Egypt’s 3rd Intermediate Period (1070-664 BC) and began a period of cultural renaissance. He is still not my favorite pharaoh, however; that honor goes to Amenhotep II.
I say he is my “favorite” because he is a king I like to mention frequently in my lectures, I cannot seem to avoid him; he is one of the pharaohs whose character, I believe, shines through in the evidence, and not in a good way! If he is not sending enemies to be hung from the walls of Karnak, he is burning people in a ditch, or making sure that everyone knows he is the best sportsman ever to have lived. He appointed some of his childhood friends to the highest positions in the land, including the vizierate, removing certain families from power that had held influence for generations. In short, Amenhotep II (even in his own propaganda) comes across as a spoiled king, fond of cruelty, getting his own way, and making sure everyone knows he is the best. Though I cannot imagine he was fun to be around, his personality does seem to shine through, which is more than can be said for many pharaohs.
JW: I was surprised to learn that Cleopatra VII (r. 51-30 BC) should not be considered the last pharaoh in your opinion; instead, you posit that the Roman emperor, Diocletian (r. AD 285-305), is the last “pharaoh.” Could you explain why in short detail?
GS: One thing I absolutely wanted to include in the book was the Roman pharaohs; most books disregard this phase of Pharaonic kingship, but the Egyptian priests certainly did not, so why should we? Roman emperors were depicted in just the same way as earlier kings and received royal names written in cartouches. I especially wanted to highlight the Roman emperors visited Egypt, and what they accomplished when there. Whilst researching the book, I realized that not only was Diocletian the last Roman emperor to set foot in Egypt, but he was also the last one to have his name written in a cartouche and receive a full titulary, as well as the last one to be referenced in dates (normally when a new pharaoh came to the throne, the year reset to “year 1″ under that king).
To avoid using the names of Christian emperors, the Egyptian priests preferred to have an everlasting reign of Diocletian: the last known hieroglyphic inscription refers to year 110 of Diocletian (c. AD 415), and the last known Demotic inscription dates to year 169 of Diocletian (c. AD 474). This dating system was eventually taken up by Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who referred to it as the “Era of Martyrs”–a reference to the Christians persecuted under Diocletian’s reign. This dating system is still used today, and so, from a certain point of view, Diocletian’s reign never ended; he still rules as Egypt’s last pharaoh.
JW: Dr. Shaw, I would like to conclude this interview with a question on the experiences that led you to become an Egyptologist: had you always been drawn to Egypt or did you become enthralled with Egypt over time? What is it about ancient Egypt that captivates you the most?
GS: My interest began when I was quite young; I distinctly remember having to make a cardboard pyramid at school and mummifying a clothes peg to “bury” inside! During my teens, I started reading everything I could about Egypt, and eventually decided to study archaeology at Liverpool University, where I could focus most of my attention on ancient Egypt. I went on to study my MA and PhD, completely immersed in Egyptology, and here I am today. I am not sure what initially drew me to Egypt over any other ancient civilization; it is probably cliché to say that there seemed something adventurous about exploring the desert, about finding mummies and mystery.
Today, I enjoy trying to bring the ancient Egyptians more and more into focus; I like learning those odd little facts that make us seem so similar, but also those details that underline the differences. By assembling this information, I hope to bring the character of the ancient Egyptians and the reality of their environment back to life, not just as some romantic vision of pyramids, temples, and tombs, but as a place where real people lived and died.
35 ANCIENT PYRAMIDS DISCOVERED IN SUDAN NECOPOLIS
At least 35 small pyramids, along with graves, have been discovered clustered closely together at a site called Sedeinga in Sudan. Discovered between 2009 and 2012, researchers are surprised at how densely the pyramids are concentrated. In one field season alone, in 2011, the research team discovered 13 pyramids packed into roughly 5,381 square feet, or slightly larger than an NBA basketball court.Among the discoveries are pyramids with a circle built inside them, cross-braces connecting the circle to the corners of the pyramid. Outside of Sedeinga only one pyramid is known to have been built in this way.
They date back around 2,000 years to a time when a kingdom named Kush flourished in Sudan. Kush shared a border with Egypt and, later on, the Roman Empire. The desire of the kingdom’s people to build pyramids was apparently influenced by Egyptian funerary architecture.
At Sedeinga, researchers say, pyramid building continued for centuries. “The density of the pyramids is huge,” said researcher Vincent Francigny, a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an interview with LiveScience. “Because it lasted for hundreds of years they built more, more, more pyramids and after centuries they started to fill all the spaces that were still available in the necropolis.”
The biggest pyramids they discovered are about 22 feet (7 meters) wide at their base with the smallest example, likely constructed for the burial of a child, being only 30 inches long. The tops of the pyramids are not attached, as the passage of time and the presence of a camel caravan route resulted in damage to the monuments. Francigny said that the tops would have been decorated with a capstone depicting either a bird or a lotus flower on top of a solar orb.
The building continued until, eventually, they ran out of room to build pyramids. “They reached a point where it was so filled with people and graves that they had to reuse the oldest one,” Francigny said.
Francigny is excavation director of the French Archaeological Mission to Sedeinga, the team that made the discoveries. He and team leader Claude Rilly published an article detailing the results of their 2011 field season in the most recent edition of the journal Sudan and Nubia.
The inner circle
Among the discoveries were several pyramids designed with an inner cupola (circular structure) connected to the pyramid corners through cross-braces. Rilly and Francigny noted in their paper that the pyramid design resembles a “French Formal Garden.”
Only one pyramid, outside of Sedeinga, is known to have been constructed this way, and it’s a mystery why the people of Sedeinga were fond of the design. It “did not add either to the solidity or to the external aspect [appearance] of the monument,” Rilly and Francigny write.
A discovery made in 2012 may provide a clue, Francigny said in the interview. “What we found this year is very intriguing,” he said. “A grave of a child and it was covered by only a kind of circle, almost complete, of brick.” It’s possible, he said, that when pyramid building came into fashion at Sedeinga it was combined with a local circle-building tradition called tumulus construction, resulting in pyramids with circles within them.
An offering for grandma?
The graves beside the pyramids had largely been plundered, possibly in antiquity, by the time archaeologists excavated them. Researchers did find skeletal remains and, in some cases, artifacts.
One of the most interesting new finds was an offering table found by the remains of a pyramid. It appears to depict the goddess Isis and the jackal-headed god Anubis and includes an inscription, written in Meroitic language, dedicated to a woman named “Aba-la,” which may be a nickname for “grandmother,” Rilly writes. It reads in translation:
Oh Isis! Oh Osiris!
It is Aba-la.
Make her drink plentiful water;
Make her eat plentiful bread;
Make her be served a good meal.
The offering table with inscription was a final send-off for a woman, possibly a grandmother, given a pyramid burial nearly 2,000 years ago.
Lost Tomb of Amenhotep Found
After a sounding dug in 2006, followed by an excavation started in 2009, the Archaeological Mission in the Theban Necropolis (MANT) of the Université libre de Bruxelles and Université de Liège discovered the lost tomb of Amenhotep and his wife Renena (TT C3), located on the south slope of the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. Amenhotep, who was “deputy overseer of the seal bearers” and “companion of the king in foreign countries,” probably lived during the reign of Thutmose III. The granite false-door of this high ranking official has been known since its publication in 1980 by Cl. Traunecker; it was reused in the pavement of the rear chapel of the Khonsu Temple at Karnak, and has since been stored nearby the Sheikh Labib storeroom. New fragments of granite undoubtedly belonging to the same false-door of Amenhotep have been uncovered by MANT, allowing further restoration. Under the auspices of Mr. Mansour Boraik, Director of Antiquities of Upper Egypt and Co-director of CFEETK, and with the support of Mr. Ibrahim Soliman, Director of the Temples of Karnak, the false-door was returned to the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna and will soon be placed back in its original location.
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN DEMONOLOGY
For those of you interested in investigating the various practices of ancient Egyptian demonology, you can now go to: http://www.demonthings.com/category/daily-demon/. There, you will find articles on ancient Egyptian demonology. Depicted here is an enemy with an ax embedded in his head.
Ancient tombs unearthed in Egyptian city of Luxor
Italian archaeologists have unearthed tombs in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor that are more than 3,000 years old.
Egypt’s antiquities ministry says the tombs were found under the mortuary temple of the Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who reigned from 1427 BC to 1401 BC. The temple is located on the western bank of the River Nile.
The ministry said remains of wooden sarcophagi and human bones were found inside the tombs. Jars used to preserve the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines of the deceased were also found, decorated with images of the four sons of the god Horus. The figures – which have the heads of a human, a baboon, a jackal and a falcon – were believed to help the soul find its way to heaven.
Wafaa Elsaddik, a professor of Egyptology, told the BBC the find was significant because it showed that temples were not just used for worship, but for burial as well. She said the jars were of very good quality which suggested that the tombs had belonged to wealthy people.
(Another press release on the same subject)
Life-long archaeologist Angelo Sesana, now head of the mission carrying out excavations on the western bank of the Nile in Luxor, says with unabashed excitement that ”it moves you like little else to bring back to life someone who sought immortality 4,000 years ago.” The mission is being conducted by the Centre of Egyptology Francesco Ballerini (CEFB) in the Egyptian city best known for the Valley of the Kings and in the area corresponding to the temple of the Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who reigned during the 18th dynasty (1427-1401 B.C.). Today the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that his mission had found a necropolis and a group of canopic vases, in which the mummified innards of the dead were kept. The finds are in perfect condition. Sesana’s excavations have been underway for the past fifteen years and have proved very fortunate, as the archaeologist and orientalist admits. ”When we began digging, the area was only a mound of debris.
We were in no way certain of what we would find. We only knew that, according to information provided by archaeologists at the end of the 1800s, the temple of Amenhotep II, son of Thutmosi III, was there,” Sesana said, noting that in the 12-kilometre-square area, the last to ”scratch” – and not conduct serious excavations with modern-day scientific methods – was the British archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie.
His excavations date back to 1894-1895. ”Since then no one else has carried out excavations,” noted the archaeologist, saying that the mission’s activities include cleaning up the area, excavating and drawing up a plan of the area in which necropolises have surfaced from a number of eras, even ones before the pharaoh’s temple was built.
Sesana’s mission brought to light burials from the Middle Kingdom (1800 B.C.) through the Third Intermediate Period (1000-700 B.C.) to the Ptolemaic Era. The canopic vases are thought to have come from the tomb of a woman. They date back to the period between 1075 and 664 B.C. and, Sesana notes, were laid out in the manner of two on one side and two on the other of the burial, inside of which a sarcophagus and skeleton were found. The archaeologist said that they were unidentified. ”But another time, and it was such a strong emotion that I began jumping up and down, I found canopic vases with the inscription of the name of the dead. It was the same name as that of a sarcophagus I had identified six years before.” ”This year has been one of incredibly great finds. Five days ago we found the tomb of a child, with a small sarcophagus in terracotta and stupendous tableware, bowls and plates. It dates back to the Middle Kingdom, 1800 B.C. Another unique find was the monumental ramp that we are in the process of consolidating. It is grandiose, spectacular,” said Sesana, who will tomorrow be going back to Italy. But he will be coming back again to Luxor and its temple.
For Dog Lovers Only: Eight Million Dog Mummies Found in Saqqara
During routine excavations at the dog catacomb in Saqqara necropolis, an excavation team led by Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo (AUC), and an international team of researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University have uncovered almost 8 million animal mummies at the burial site.
Studies on their bones revealed that those dogs are from different breeds, but not accurately identified yet. “We are recording the animal bones and the mummification techniques used to prepare the animals,” Ikram said.
Studies on the mummies, Ikram explains, revealed that some of them were old, while the majority were buried hours after their birth. She said that the mummified animals were not limited to canines, but there are cat and mongoose remains in the deposit. “We are trying to understand how this fits religiously with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated,” she added.
Ikram also told National Geographic, which is financing the project, that “in some churches people light a candle, and their prayer is taken directly up to God in that smoke. In the same way, a mummified dog’s spirit would carry a person’s prayer to the afterlife”.
The Saqqara dog catacomb was first discovered in 1897, when well-known French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan published his Carte of Memphite necropolis, with his map showing that there are two dog catacombs in the area. However, mystery has overshadowed such mapping as it was not clear who was the first to discover the catacombs nor who carried out the mapping, and whether they were really for dogs.
“The proximity of the catacombs to the nearby temple of Anubis, the so called jackal or dog-headed deity associated with cemeteries and embalming makes it likely that these catacombs are indeed for canines and their presence at Saqqara is to be explained by the concentration of other animal cuts at the site,” Nicholson wrote on his website. “These other cults include the burials of, and temples for, bulls, cows, baboons, ibises, hawks and cats all of which were thought to act as intermediaries between humans and their gods.”
Despite the great quantity of animals buried in these catacombs and the immense size of the underground burial places, Egyptologists have focused on the temples and on inscriptional evidence rather than on the animals themselves and their places of burial.
The mysteries behind De Morgan’s mapping were unsolved until 2009 when this team started concrete excavations at the cemetery in an attempt to learn more about the archaeological and history of the site. “Results at the first season showed that De Morgan map has substantial inaccuracies and a new survey is under way,” Nicholson said.
“The animal bones themselves have been sampled and preliminary results suggest that as well as actual dogs there may be other canids present. Furthermore the age profile of the animals is being examined so that patterns of mortality can be ascertained.”
Pharaoh’s murder riddle solved after 3,000 years
An assassin slit the throat of Egypt’s last great pharaoh at the climax of a bitter succession battle, scientists have discovered while investigating the 3,000-year-old royal murder.
Forensic technology suggests Ramses III, a king revered as a god, met his death at the hand of a killer, or killers, sent by his conniving wife and ambitious son. And a cadaver known as the “Screaming Mummy” could be that of the son himself, possibly forced to commit suicide after the plot, they added. Computed tomography (CT) imaging of the mummy of Ramses III shows that the pharaoh’s windpipe and major arteries were slashed, inflicting a wound 70 millimeters (2.75 inches) wide and reaching almost to the spine, the investigators said. The cut severed all the soft tissue on the front of the neck.
“I have almost no doubt about the fact that Ramses III was killed by this cut in his throat,” palaeopathologist Albert Zink of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy told AFP. “The cut is so very deep and quite large, it really goes down almost down to the bone (spine) – it must have been a lethal injury.”
Ramses III, who ruled from about 1188 to 1155 BC, is described in ancient documents as the “Great God” and a military leader who defended Egypt, then the richest prize in the Mediterranean, from repeated invasion. He was about 65 when he died, but the cause of his death has never been clear. Sketchy evidence lies in the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, which recorded four trials held for alleged conspirators in the king’s death, among them one of his junior wives, Tiy, and her son Prince Pentawere.
In a year-long appraisal of the mummy, Mr. Zink and experts from Egypt, Italy and Germany found that the wound on Ramses III’s neck had been hidden by mummified bandages. “This was a big mystery that remained, what really happened to the king,” he said. The study was published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). “We were very surprised and happy because we did not really expect to find something. Other people had inspected the mummy, at least from outside, and it was always described (as) ‘there are no signs of any trauma or any injuries.'”
It is possible that Ramses’s throat was cut after death, but this is highly unlikely as such a practice was never recorded as an ancient Egyptian embalming technique, the researchers said.
In addition, an amulet believed to contain magical healing powers was found in the cut. “For me it is quite obvious that they inserted the amulet to let him heal for the after-life,” said Mr. Zink. “For the ancient Egyptians it was very important to have an almost complete body for the after-life,” and embalmers often replaced body parts with sticks and other materials, he said.
The authors of the study also examined the mummy of an unknown man between the ages of 18 and 20 found with Ramses III in the royal burial chamber. They found genetic evidence that the corpse, known as the Screaming Mummy for its open mouth and contorted face, was related to Ramses and may very well have been Prince Pentawere. “What was special with him, he was embalmed in a very strange way…. They did not remove the organs, did not remove the brain,” said Mr. Zink. “He had a very strange, reddish color and a very strange smell. And he was also covered with a goat skin and this is something that was considered as impure in ancient Egyptian times” – possibly a post-mortem punishment.
If it was Pentawere, it appears he may have been forced to hang himself, a punishment deemed at the time as sufficient to purge one’s sins for the after-life, the researchers said. History shows, though, that the plotters failed to derail the line of succession. Ramses was succeeded by his chosen heir, his son Amonhirkhopshef.
NEW PRINCESS FOUND!
CAIRO — Czech archaeologists have unearthed the 4,500-year-old tomb of a Pharaonic princess south of Cairo, in a finding that suggests other undiscovered tombs may be in the area, an official from Egypt’s antiquities ministry said today.
Mohammed El-Bialy, who heads the Egyptian and Greco-Roman Antiquities department at the Antiquities Ministry, said that Princess Shert Nebti’s burial site is surrounded by the tombs of four high officials from the Fifth Dynasty dating to around 2,500 BC in the Abu Sir complex near the famed step pyramid of Saqqara.
“Discoveries are ongoing” at Abu Sir, El-Bialy said, adding that the excavation was in a “very early stage” and that the site was closed to the public.
Inscriptions on the four limestone pillars of the Princess’ tomb indicate that she is the daughter of King Men Salbo (second image above).
“She is the daughter of the king, but only her tomb is there, surrounded by the four officials, so the question is, are we going to discover other tombs around hers in the near future? We don’t know anything about her father, the king, or her mother, but hope that future discoveries will answer these questions,” El-Bialy said.
On Friday, Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said that the antechamber to the princess’ tomb includes four limestone columns and hieroglyphic inscriptions. The current excavation has also unearthed an antechamber containing the sarcophagi of the four officials and statues of men, women, and a child, he said in a statement.
The Czech team’s discovery marks the “start of a new chapter” in the history of the burial sites of Abu Sir and Saqqara, Ibrahim added.
The archaeologists working at the site are from the Czech Institute of Egyptology, which is funded by the Charles University of Prague. Their excavation began this month.
The discovery comes weeks after the Egyptian government reopened a pyramid and a complex of tombs that had been closed for restoration work for a decade.
(Another report on the same find)
The tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess has been discovered south of Cairo hidden in bedrock and surrounded by a court of tombs belonging to four high officials.
Dating to 2500 B.C., the structure was built in the second half of the Fifth Dynasty, though archaeologists are puzzled as to why this princess was buried in Abusir South among tombs of non-royal officials. Most members of the Fifth Dynasty’s royal family were buried 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) to the north, in the central part of Abusir or farther south in Saqqara.
The researchers aren’t sure whether the remains of the princess are inside tomb, as the investigation is still in progress, Miroslav Bárta, director of the mission, told LiveScience. Even so, they also found several fragments of a false-door bearing the titles and the name of Sheretnebty, the king’s daughter.
“By this unique discovery we open a completely new chapter in the history of Abusir and Saqqara necropolis,” said Bárta, who heads the Czech mission to Egypt from the Czech Institute of Egyptology of the Charles University in Prague.
Bárta and colleagues think the ancient builders used a naturally existing step in the bedrock to create the princess’ court, which extends down 13 feet (4 meters) and is surrounded by mastaba tombs above it. A mastaba is a type of ancient Egyptian tomb that forms a flat-roofed rectangular structure.
A limestone staircase descends from north to south along the burial court; four limestone pillars that once supported roofing blocks hold carved hieroglyphic inscriptions reading: “King’s daughter of his body, his beloved, revered in front of the Great God, Sheretnebty.”
The four surrounding tombs were cut into the rock of the south wall of the court and of a corridor that runs east from the southeast corner of the court. The two tombs in the south wall, dating to the time of Djedkare Isesi, the seventh ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, belong to Shepespuptah, the chief of justice of the Great House, and Duaptah, an inspector of the palace attendants. The other pair is situated along the corridor, with one belonging to an official named Ity.
“We are very fortunate to have this new window through which we can go back in time and to follow and document step by step life and death of several historically important individuals of the great pyramid age era,” Bárta said in a statement.
Cultural Egyptology Parks: Boon or Billion Dollar Boondoggle?
The GDGID SAE group plans an “informal” Conference on December 5 in Cairo – to present Master Plans for two massive projects called Cultural Egyptology Parks: 1) “THE GLORIES OF EGYPT,” to be built on 250 acres; and 2), “CLEOPATRA’S ALEXANDRIA,” to be built on 150 acres including a 400-acre plus harbor. Commissioned in 1999 by the Governor of Alexandria Abd Al-Salam Mahgoub, designs are now complete – to be built over the next 5 years in Egypt at a cost of over U$ 6 Billion.
The two parks and their contents have been conceptualized and designed by archaeologists, with insistence on scientific academic accuracy foremost in the designs and content. The founding premise has been that while ancient cities, temples and sites will be distilled and scaled to a quintessential replication, accuracy will prevail. Inscriptions will be exact replicas of existing inscriptions; architectures will be exact in dimensions and style though scaled. All statues will be from original casts where possible – we have access to over 700 museum-made statue casts, and many other replica resources. All artifacts will be exact copies.
The premise is that all re-created streets and centers, and inside our seated-conveyance story rides – accuracy will be so perfect that any university professor may teach class in either park – using the surrounding ambience. While the ultimate concept of the parks is to be exciting spectacular world-class entertainment equal to the best theme park experiences we all know – the highest industry standard – our absolute commitment to scientific Egyptology drives every aspect of design and content.
Content specifically tells the stories which answer the most urgently asked questions of tourists and even academics about Egypt’s astonishing cultural ruins and artifacts. The educational answers to these questions have been turned into “theme park style” story-rides and shows, answering the most profound questions in Egyptology through exciting, fun formats. We ask forgiveness beforehand, for making an academic re-creation of ancient pharaonic Egypt and Ptolemaic Alexandria as exciting, entertaining and fun as Disneyland – but truly, what better way to teach Egyptology?
We will be working hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Antiquities, in perfecting every design throughout both parks; and, The Ministry of Antiquities will itself be a major recipient of funds generated in these two parks, which funds will be annually transferred to the Ministry of Antiquities to fund conservation, preservation and exploration of the monuments and artifacts of Egypt. We started this work in 1999 during the tenure of the famous Zahi Hawass, and have continued since his resignation in July 2011 through the several brief changes in office up to the current Minister.
These two new world-class Egyptology theme parks – which will entertain as they educate –are designed to bring millions of additional Cultural Tourists to Egypt. They will create hundreds-of-thousands of new, permanent jobs in tourism services all over Egypt. This is our biggest motivation – to bring back the tourists to Egypt, especially for Cultural Tourism, creating jobs.
Mummy Portraits meet Forensic Reconstructions
Call it the coldest case ever. New York researchers have used modern-day forensic science to reveal the faces of four ancient mummies from the 1 st century A.D. “It was pretty exciting,” said Bob Brier, an Egyptologist at Long Island University and lead author of a new study published in the journal ZÄS. “We didn’t know what we were going to find.”
Brier and colleagues used a CT scanner to produce physical models of the mummies’ skulls. Then a crime artist, who only knew the mummy’s age and gender, used the models to recreate the mummies’ faces. The painstaking process took seven days per mummy. “We were dying to see what it looked like,” Brier said.
The team then compared the faces to painted portraits entombed with the bandaged bodies. Two of the four match-ups were strikingly similar. “It is believed that they were almost certainly painted during the lifetimes of the individuals and clearly were not idealized images,” Brier said of the portraits.
But one face didn’t match the portrait at all, leading the researchers to believe the ancient embalmers might have wrapped the mummy with the wrong portrait. “It is possible that during the mummification procedure, when several bodies were being mummified at the same time, a mismatch occurred,” Brier said. The fourth mummy’s nose looked more refined in the portrait than in the researchers’ prediction, but his “other facial features and proportions were so consistent between the reconstruction and portrait that no mix-up was indicated here,” Brier said.
The study sheds light on the purpose of the portraits, which represented a shift from symbolic art to realistic art after the Romans conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. “This study convinced us that some of these portraits were dead-on,” Brier said, adding that some portraits were likely styled to be more flattering to the deceased.
“This is a very sound manner of testing the hypothesis that the mummy portraits were made when the individual was alive,” said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. “It enhances our understanding of the concept of portraiture and its importance at this time.”
Brier would like to extend the study to include more mummies. But while there are more than 1,000 mummy portraits, less than 100 are still attached to the people they depict, he said. “The difficulty is finding portraits that are still bound to the mummy,” he said. “Many portraits were taken off the mummies and sold during the 19th century and early part of the 20th century.”
Dentistry, ancient Egyptian-style: Mummy found with teeth stuffed with linen in attempt to cure agonizing tooth-ache
- Experts believe man from Thebes died in excruciating pain
- Researchers found linen ‘filling’ dipped in medicine inside infected tooth
- Say find could prove that dental experts were constantly trying new techniques
Scientists performing CT scans on the head of an Egyptian mummy say they have found one of the worst cases of dental problems ever seen – a unique treatment to try and treat it.
Researchers CT scanning a 2,100 year old mummy were stunned to find evidence of a sinus infection caused by a mouthful of cavities and other tooth problems. They also came across a unique find – a cavity filled with linen.
Researchers used a CT scanner to see inside the man’s mouth, and created a 3D reconstruction showing the worn incisors. Using a piece of linen, which may have first been dipped in a medicine such as fig juice or cedar oil, a form of ‘packing’ in the biggest and most painful cavity, located on the left side of his jaw between the first and second molars, was inserted.
This acted as a barrier to prevent food particles from getting into the cavity, with any medicine on the linen helping to ease the pain, the study researchers said. The man, whose name is unknown, was in his 20s or early 30s, and lived at a time when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies.
Andrew Wade, at the University of Western Ontario, used new high-resolution CT scans of his teeth and body, according to the International Journal of Paleopathology. Researchers said this is the first known case of such packing treatment done on an ancient Egyptian.
The dental treatment, filling a large inter-proximal cavity [a cavity between two teeth] with a protective, likely medicine-laden, barrier is a unique example of dental intervention in ancient Egypt,’ the team writes in their journal article.
The dental packing described here is unique among ancient Egyptian mummies studied to date, and represents one of only a few recorded dental interventions in ancient Egypt.
Dentistry was relatively commonplace in Egypt, and records indicate that it was being practiced at least as far back as when the Great Pyramids were built. However, this finding has led researchers to believe experts may have practiced advanced techniques. Dental problems were not unusual, as the coarsely ground grain ancient Egyptians consumed was not good for the teeth.
The team say the find add weight to the theory that dentists were commonplace in Egypt. Such a finding lends further support for the existence of a group of dental specialists practicing interventional medicine in ancient Egypt.
While the physical evidence, to date for other interventions, may be scarce, the findings presented here should underline the need to continue to look for evidence of dental packing as well as other therapeutic dental interventions in the ancient world.
The small linen mass was initially found during a scan in the mid-1990s, but the scanning resolution of the time was too low to allow a full analysis. The high-resolution scanner his team used for their latest study was six times as powerful. The young wealthy man from Thebes was nearing the end of his life when his dental problem hit, researchers believe.
The man, whose name is unknown, was in his 20s or early 30s, and had ‘numerous’ abscesses and cavities, conditions that appear to have resulted, at some point, in a sinus infection, something potentially deadly, the study researchers said, although they could not pinpoint his cause of death.
When he died he was mummified, his brain and many of his organs taken out, resin put in and his body wrapped. Embalmers left his heart inside the body. After being mummified he was likely put in a coffin and given funerary rites befitting someone of his wealth and stature.
Where he was laid to rest in Thebes is not known, as his body was not seen again until 1859 when James Ferrier, a businessman and politician, brought the mummified body to Montreal, where today it lies in the Redpath Museum at McGill University.
Experts say the pain the young man suffered would have been excruciating, and say his problems would have been a ‘serious health risk’ for modern dentists. Despite the help, he succumbed shortly after, perhaps in just a matter of weeks.
Egypt reopens the historic Saqqara Necropolis!
In Saqqara– considered as the richest archeological city in Egypt, the Serapeum, also known as the Apis bull was reopened on Thursday after it was renovated. It is a long corridor with granite or basalt tombs on both sides where Egyptians used to bury the sacred Apis bull.
The Serapeum, whose origin dates back to around 1400 BC, was discovered in 1851 by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, founder of the first department of Egyptian antiquities.
They used to perform embalmment rituals that were actually performed for kings. Some of the tombs were engraved with symbols characterizing the daily life of ancient Egypt.
It was closed temporarily in 2001 because of water seepage and earth movements.
The renovation project cost around twelve million Egyptian pounds and included strengthening the foundations of the rooms and fixing dismantled walls, in addition to designing ventilation, lighting and surveillance system.
The site contains huge subterranean galleries in which are contained the large tombs of some 30 sacred bulls, accompanied by steles bearing inscriptions providing information on the reigns under which the animals lived.
“This archeological site is linked to very old beliefs regarding ancient Egypt, when they declared the sacred Apis Bull to represent the responsibility of Egypt’s ruler that was to guarantee the fertility of the land and its animals,” Mohammed Ibrahim, the secretary of state for antiquities said.
In addition to the Serapeum, two tombs were inaugurated: Ptahhotep, the visior in the fifth dynasty, and Mereruka the son in law of King Teti. It is the largest individual tombs in the ancient Egypt era.
Ibrahim said Egypt was working to open to the public other Pharaonic sites in a bid to revive tourism which has been hit by political instability for more than 18 months.
“Egypt has not stopped working after the revolution” that ended the regime of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, he told reporters, adding that “this opening must be followed by others.”
“We hope that this will help revive domestic and international tourism in Egypt,” he added. After more than ten years of renovations, the Apis Bull tombs, also known as the Serapeum are now opened to the public. This tomb was discovered in the mid of the nineteenth century. This discovery and its registration was the first of its kind in Egyptology.
‘Looted’ Egyptian sarcophagus gets the New Jersey jackknife treatment!
Egypt formally requests return of 3,000-year-old items, which authorities believe were smuggled into Israel during the recent Egyptian revolution
Israel Antiquities Authority officials have seized two ancient Egyptian coffin covers found while inspecting a shop in Jerusalem’s Old City, the IAA revealed in a press release on Tuesday. It is suspected that the sarcophagus pieces were looted sometime during last year’s revolution in Egypt, then brought into Israel for authentication in preparation for being sold abroad.
The two pieces, made of palm wood and plaster with elaborate painting, were cut in half to facilitate fitting into a regular suitcase, an act the IAA says caused “irreparable damage.” Carbon-14 dating has confirmed that the covers are thousands of years old: one dates between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE, the other from the 16th to 14th centuries BCE.
According to the IAA, “until recently antiquities dealers and other entities have exploited loopholes in the law whereby they brought antiquities into the country for the purpose of ‘laundering’ them.” In Israel owners of stolen artifacts can obtain documentation that would enable them to be sold in the open market as “artifacts… ostensibly of Israeli provenance.”
A new law, to take effect April 20, aims to curtail the practice. “The new regulation will provide us with the tools… to prevent the importation into the country of antiquities that were stolen or plundered in other countries, thus enabling us to thwart the international cycle of robbery and trade in stolen archaeological artifacts,” said IAA official Shai Bar-Tura.
Egypt has requested the return of the sarcophagus covers, and the “legalities are currently being examined in order to return the objects to their country of origin.” In the meantime the items are being held by the IAA in climate controlled conditions in Jerusalem.
Possible Egyptian pyramids found using Google Earth
One of the complex sites contains a distinct, four-sided, truncated, pyramidal shape that is approximately 140 feet in width. This site contains three smaller mounds in a very clear formation, similar to the diagonal alignment of the Giza Plateau pyramids.
The second possible site contains four mounds with a larger, triangular-shaped plateau. The two larger mounds at this site are approximately 250 feet in width, with two smaller mounds approximately 100 feet in width. This site complex is arranged in a very clear formation with the large plateau, or butte, nearby in a triangular shape with a width of approximately 600 feet.
The sites have been documented and discovered by satellite archaeology researcher Angela Micol of Maiden, North Carolina. Angela has been conducting satellite archaeology research for over ten years, searching for ancient sites from space using Google Earth. Angela is a UNC Charlotte alumnus and has studied archaeology since childhood. Google Earth has allowed her to document many possible archaeological sites, including a potential underwater city off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula that has sparked the interest of scientists, researchers and archaeologists. Angela is also a board member of the APEX Institute, founded by archaeologist William Donato, who is pioneering underwater archaeological research in the Bahamas. Angela has been assisted by Don J. Long, fellow APEX researcher and colleague.
The sites have been verified as undiscovered by Egyptologist and pyramid expert Nabil Selim. Nabil’s discoveries include the pyramid called Sinki at Abydos and the Dry Moat surrounding the Step pyramid Complex at Saqqara. Nabil has stated the smaller 100 foot “mounds”, at one of the proposed complex sites, are a similar size as the 13th Dynasty Egyptian pyramids, if a square base can be discovered.
The Egyptian sites have been sent to Egyptologists and researchers for further investigation and “ground truthing”. Angela has stated, “The images speak for themselves. It’s very obvious what the sites may contain but field research is needed to verify they are, in fact, pyramids and evidence should be gathered to determine their origins. It is my hunch there is much more to these sites and with the use of Infrared imagery, we can see the extent of the proposed complexes in greater detail.” This is just one site of many Angela has identified that may contain ancient ruins. “My dream is to work with archaeologists to release sites that I have identified over the past ten years of research. This research is the frontier of discovery and it’s just beginning to advance views of our ancient past”, states Angela.
Many of the documented areas will remain undisclosed until proper officials are notified and the sites can be protected. Angela and the APEX Institute are raising funds for a documentary that will include many of the undiscovered sites that have been identified using Google Earth. Angela is also forming a non-profit organization to promote satellite archaeology and remote sensing. A select, small portion of the sites can be viewed online with Google Earth by visiting Angela’s “anomaly collection” at http://www.googleearthanomalies.com.
DID QUEEN HATSHEPSUT MOISTURIZE HERSELF TO DEATH?
Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt’s greatest female pharaoh, might have moisturized herself to death, according to controversial new research into the dried up contents of a cosmetic vial.
Researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany, found a highly carcinogenic substance in a flask of lotion housed at the University’s Egyptian Museum.
The vessel, which featured an inscription saying it belonged to Hatshepsut, was long believed to have held perfume.
“After two years of research, it is now clear that the flacon was a kind of skin care lotion or even medication for a monarch suffering from eczema,” the University of Bonn said in a statement.
The skin lotion’s ingredients included large amounts of palm and nutmeg oil, polyunsaturated fats that can relieve certain skin diseases, and benzopyrene, an aromatic and highly carcinogenic hydrocarbon.
“Benzopyrene is one of the most dangerous substances we know,” said pharmacologist Helmut Wiedenfeld.
Banned in today’s cosmetics, the cancer-causing tar residue can be found in burnt substances and foods such as barbecue, coffee, cigarette smoke, and coal tar.
“We have known for a long time that Hatshepsut had cancer and maybe even died from it,” said Michael Höveler-Müller, the collection’s curator.
“We may now know the actual cause,” he said.
He added that cases of inflammatory skin diseases that tend to be genetic are known in Hatshepsut’s family.
“If you imagine that the queen had a chronic skin disease and that she found short-term improvement from the salve, she may have exposed herself to a great risk over the years,” said Wiedenfeld.
Undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary women in recorded history, Hatshepsut was the daughter of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I and wife of Tuthmosis II, her half-brother.
When her husband-brother died, she became regent for the boy-king Tuthmosis III, the child of Tuthmosis II and a concubine.
But hieroglyphic carvings suggest that Hatshepsut did not put up with that state of affairs for long: Wearing the royal headdress and a false beard, she proclaimed herself pharaoh.
She reigned from 1473 to 1458 B.C. as the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, whose later members included Akhenaton and Tutankhamun.
Under her rule, Egypt enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous time. Yet after her death, the female pharaoh was scorned, her images and inscriptions mutilated and her monuments demolished by the jealous successor Tuthmosis III.
Hatshepsut’s mummy was long lost, and some scholars even hypothesized that Tuthmosis III destroyed it. But in 2007, Egyptian authorities announced they identified the female pharaoh’s mummy in KV60A, a mummified female body found by Howard Carter in 1903 as he entered tomb KV60.
The mummy showed an overweight woman just over 5 feet tall, bald in front but with long hair in back, who died at about 50.
It appeared that the powerful woman who challenged ancient Egypt’s tradition of male supremacy, experienced poor health, at least in the last part of her life.
Obese, plagued with decayed teeth, the mummy also suffered from cancer, as a metastatic deposit in the pelvic bone revealed.
However, other experts are not convinced that Hatshepsut poisoned herself to death while trying to soothe her itchy skin.
“The finding of the substance in an oil she used is not the same as to autopsy the body and find traces of the same substance poisoning in the bone marrow,” said Paula Veiga, a researcher in Egyptology.
It is not even certain that skin disease affected Hatshepsut and members of her family.
Although Hatshepsut’s mummy appeared to have a rather disgusting skin disease on the face and neck, researchers were not able to establish beyond a doubt that it was a dermatosis.
Indeed, certain resins used in the mummification process could have been responsible for the eruptions found on the skins of Hatshepsut, as well as on her father Thutmose I, her half-brother and husband Thutmose II, and Amenhotep II, Thutmose I’s grandson.
Other experts on the Facebook group Forensic Egyptology are skeptical about the flask. X-rays would show that the vessel is built of two parts, which “has never appeared so far in ancient Egyptian ceramics,” said Veiga. “So it could be a forgery,” she added.
CLEOPATRA AND ANTONY’S CHILDREN REDISCOVERED
Cleopatra’s twin babies now have a face. An Italian Egyptologist has rediscovered a sculpture of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, the offspring of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII, at the Egyptian museum in Cairo.
Discovered in 1918 near the temple of Dendera on the west bank of the Nile, the sandstone statue was acquired by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo but has remained largely overlooked.
The back of the 33-foot sculpture, catalogued as JE 46278 at the Egyptian museum, features some engraved stars — likely indicating that the stone was originally part of a ceiling. Overall, the rest of the statue appears to be quite unusual.
“It shows two naked children, one male and one female, of identical size standing within the coils of two snakes. Each figure has an arm over the other’s shoulder, while the other hand grasps a serpent,” Giuseppina Capriotti, an Egyptologist at the Italy’s National Research Council, told Discovery News.
The researcher identified the children as Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, Antony and Cleopatra’s twins, following a detailed stylistic and iconographic analysis published by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.
Capriotti noticed that the boy has a sun-disc on his head, while the girl boasts a crescent and a lunar disc. The serpents, perhaps two cobras, would also be different forms of sun and moon, she said. Both discs are decorated with the udjat-eye, also called the eye of Horus, a common symbol in Egyptian art.
“Unfortunately the faces are not well preserved, but we can see that the boy has curly hair and a braid on the right side of the head, typical of Egyptian children. The girl’s hair is arranged in a way similar to the so-called melonenfrisur (melon coiffure) an elaborated hairstyle often associated with the Ptolemaic dynasty, and Cleopatra particularly,” said Capriotti.
The researcher compared the group statue with another Ptolemaic sculpture, the statue of Pakhom, governor of Dendera, now on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, USA.
“Stylistically, the statues have several features in common. For example, the figures have round faces, little chins and big eyes,” Capriotti said.
Since the statue of Pakhom was dated to 50-30 B.C., she concluded that the twin sculpture was produced by an Egyptian artist at the end of the Ptolemaic period, after Roman triumvir Mark Antony recognized his twins in 37 B.C.
The babies weren’t the firsts for Cleopatra. The Queen of Egypt had already given birth in 47 B.C., when she bore Julius Caesar a child, Caesarion. In 36 B.C. she presented Antony with another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
At the time of their birth in 40 B.C., the twins were simply named Cleopatra and Alexander. When they were officially recognized by their father three years later, as Antony returned to Antioch, in present Turkey, and Cleopatra joined him, they were named Alexander Helios (Sun), and Cleopatra Selene (Moon).
“Antony’s recognition of the children was marked by an eclipsys. Probably for this reason, and to mythologize their twin birth, the children were added those celestial names. Although in Egypt the moon was a male deity, in the sculpture the genders were reversed according to the Greek tradition,” Capriotti said.
Little is known of the children Cleopatra and Mark Antony left behind after their suicides in 30 B.C. following defeat in battle.
While Caesarion was murdered under Octavian’s orders, the lives of the three offspring of Cleopatra and Antony were spared.
Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios, then aged 10, and Ptolemy Philadelphus, then aged four, were moved to Rome and put under the care of Octavian’s sister, Octavia whom Antony was married to.
Some years later, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus would disappear without a trace.
Only Cleopatra Selene survived. Married to King Juba II of Mauretania, she had at least one child, Ptolemy Philadelphus, likely named in honor of her little brother.
Her image was minted on coins along with Juba’s, suggesting that she ruled as an equal partner.
“Now we have her portrayed as a child with her twin brother. Blending Egyptian myths and Greek culture, this sculpture fully represents Egypt at Cleopatra’s time,” Capriotti said.
Ancient Egypt’s Lure
It’s slightly macabre but our fascination with the mummified bodies of men, women and children from ancient civilizations continues to draw captivated audiences to exhibitions here and around the world.
Numbers of visitors to the Queensland Museum are expected to swell significantly when a new exhibition from the British Museums Egyptology collection opens to the public on Thursday.
The well preserved mummies, sarcophagi and statues await eager eyes and fascinated history buffs to view the thousands of year old antiquities in their humidity controlled glass houses in the exhibition – Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb.
But the question of why we continue to be intrigued by this ancient culture remains.
Assistant Keeper in the department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum and curator of the exhibition John Taylor says part of the allure is because their culture was so carefully preserved.
“You can get a really, really comprehensive view of what life was like 3000 years ago.
“What this reveals to the public is really how the Egyptians would make their way into the next life. This is the technology they used, the magic that they thought they could activate to get them to eternal life.
Head of visitor programs at the Queensland Museum Bernadette McCormack agrees.
“I think it’s because when you actually come and see artifacts like this you look at them and you still can’t quite understand how people three thousand years ago actually did these exquisite things.
“There is still that awe and mystery around it – and even though we can now read hieroglyphics and with show’s like this and cat scanning – there’s still that unknown that fascinates people.
Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb tells the story of life and death in ancient Egypt through the virtual unwrapping of Nesperennub, a priest who lived and died in Egypt nearly 3,000 years ago.
Mr. Taylor says the exhibition is enhanced by the use of modern technology, which gives the audience a detailed insight into Nesperennub at the time of his death.
“We’ve used CT scanning and 3D visualization to look underneath the wrappings of a really important Egyptian mummy, so what you see is the mummy completely untouched in the case.”
He says it was important that the accompanying pieces (including amulets, canopic jars, sarcophagi, statues, and sections from the book of the dead) were selected for the exhibition to tell the narrative of “how you get from the life on earth into the next life.”
“For the ancient Egyptians there was a very clear path for doing that.
He says after reviewing the British Museum’s extensive Egypt collection a number of pieces are chosen to interact with each other in the exhibition space.
“We need to make sure we’re not duplicating too much of the same kind of imagery or inscriptions – we want things that will pick up different aspects of the subject.
While the scale of grandeur of the Pharaoh’s that stretched across the dynasties leave audiences in awe Mr. Taylor believes Queensland audiences may connect more with the story of Nesperennub.
“I think it’s one that’s easier for people to connect with. The great kings – very impressive but they’re kind of remote figures in a way.
“Here, you come face to face with the Egyptians who are – if you’d lived in Ancient Egypt yourself, maybe they’re the kind of people you would have been.
He says the star of the show – Nesperennub – is one of the best preserved mummies in the British Museum’s collection, but gives an insight into a very human world.
“On top of his head is a clay bowl inverted over the back part of his skull – very strange, we’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else on an Egyptian mummy.
“We think that actually what this represents is a bit of a botched job of embalming where they accidentally got this bowl stuck with sticky resin and they couldn’t remove it so they wrapped him up quickly and left it inside.
“That’s the human interest aspect of this whole process…we think of the ancient Egyptians as a people governed by ritual – the practical side of it is they were very human, they made mistakes like anybody else.”
Ancient Egyptian Cotton Unveils Secrets of Domesticated Crop Evolution
Scientists studying 1,600-year-old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication.
The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today’s domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.
The researchers, led by Dr Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, examined the remains of ancient cotton at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt’s Upper Nile using high throughput sequencing technologies.
This is the first time such technology has been used on ancient plants and also the first time the technique has been applied to archaeological samples in such hot countries.
The site is located about 40 km from Abu Simbel and 70 km from the modern Sudanese border on the east bank of what is now Lake Nasser.
They also studied South American samples from sites in Peru and Brazil aged between 800 and nearly 4,000 years old.
The results showed that even over the relatively short timescale of a millennia and a half, the Egyptian cotton, identified as G. herbaceum, showed evidence of significant genomic reorganisation when the ancient and the modern variety were compared.
However closely-related G.Barbadense from the sites in South America showed genomic stability between the two samples, even though these were separated by more than 2,000 miles in distance and 3,000 years in time.
This divergent picture points towards punctuated evolution — long periods of evolutionary stability interspersed by bursts of rapid change — having occurred in the cotton family.
Dr Allaby said: “We think of evolution as a very slow process, but as we analyse more genome information we can see that there’s been a huge amount of large-scale proactive change during recent history.
“Our results for the cotton from Egypt indicate that there has been the potential for more adaptive evolution going on in domesticated plant species than was appreciated up until now.
“Plants that are local to their particular area will develop genes which allow them to better tolerate the stresses they find in the environment around them.
“It’s possible that cotton at the Qasr Ibrim site has adapted in response to extreme environmental stress, such as not enough water.
“This insight into how domesticated crops evolved when faced with environmental stress is of value for modern agriculture in the face of current challenges like climate change and water scarcity.”
For archaeologists, the results also shed light on agricultural development in the ancient world.
There has long been uncertainty as to whether ancient Egyptians had imported domesticated cotton from the Indian subcontinent, as had happened with other crop
“It’s not possible to identify some cotton varieties just by looking at them, so we were asked to delve into the DNA.
“We identified the African variety — G. herbaceum, which suggest that domesticated cotton was not a cultural import — it was a technology that had grown up independently.”
SHINY BLUE STONE “TOMB OF OSIRIS” FOUND 100 FEET BELOW THE SPHINX
The “Tomb of Osiris” is one of the most incredible finds ever. It is located 95 feet underground behind the back of the sphinx. It is not really a tomb, but according to archaeology it is a symbolic type of tomb, for the God Osiris, who they also think did not really exist and was only a god in myth. Strange then that we should be expected by archaeologists to assume that the Pyramids are actual literal tombs but the Osiris tomb is only a symbolic tomb. Some researchers have observed that the Great Pyramid tomb resembles a baptismal font more than a tomb. It really is incredible to think about how such massive chambers could be constructed so far below ground.
In the tomb, below a stone sarcophagus there is, at least now anyways, a pool of water. But what is not always known is there is another alleged sarcophagus below the water which is a shiny blue color of stone. And it does go down deeper, what is below that is not known.
CANADIAN ARCHAEOLOGISTS UNEARTH A RARE WOODEN STATUE OF A PHARAOH
A rare wooden statue of an Egyptian pharaoh, believed to represent the female king Hatshepsut, was unearthed last summer by a team of Canadian archeologists led by University of Toronto professor Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner.
A team of Canadian archeologists has unearthed a rare wooden statue of a pharaoh in southern Egypt at Abydos, and clues suggest the figure may be an important new representation of Hatshepsut — the great female king who enjoyed a long and successful reign about 3,500 years ago, but was almost erased from history by a male successor trying to secure his own power.
Researchers led by University of Toronto archeologist Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner also exposed two previously unknown religious buildings and found dozens of animal mummies — including cats, sheep and dogs — during a hugely successful excavation last summer near the ancient city of Abydos.
Pouls Wegner said that the discoveries, made in the midst of modern Egypt’s ongoing political revolution, led to some “tense moments” as the Canadian researchers negotiated with Egyptian antiquity experts and security officials about how best to unbury the statue and ensure its preservation during a period of national upheaval.
“We couldn’t believe it,” she said, recalling the day the statue was unearthed at the ancient cult centre near a famous temple dedicated to Osiris, god of the afterlife. “It was lying face down and we were really excited, but we wanted to make sure it would be safe. And because of the unrest, the chain of command was not entirely clear.”
The royal statue — thought to have been used as a lightweight alternative to stone for ritual processions — and the other artifacts found at Abydos were placed under guard and eventually given crucial attention by conservation experts.
The pharaonic figure is not obviously a female, said Pouls Wegner, but is notable for its “smaller waist” and the “more delicate modeling of the chin.”
These attributes were typically reserved for female subjects in Egyptian art. And because Hatshepsut was traditionally depicted in the manner of a male pharaoh, such subtle clues are often used by experts to confirm her identity in stone statues and other imagery, she said.
But relatively few depictions of Hatshepsut have survived because of a concerted effort by her stepson and immediate successor — Thutmose III — to erase all prominent images of the female ruler. Many experts believe the campaign of destruction was carried out so Thutmose could claim credit for Hatshepsut’s achievements and suppress challenges towards the legitimacy of his own rule.
Hatshepsut had initially assumed power in Ancient Egypt after the death of her husband, Thutmose II, and before Thutmose III was old enough to perform his kingly duties.
But she soon consolidated her position as pharaoh and ended up ruling for about 22 years, directing wars, key trade agreements and the construction of many major monuments.
“I do think there was a problem with having two rulers at the same time,” said Pouls Wegner, explaining why Hatshepsut’s successor may have felt compelled to obliterate his stepmother from Ancient Egypt’s pharaonic iconography.
But “she is one of the most fascinating rulers,” Pouls Wegner noted, “first because she was a woman and second because so many of her monuments have been defaced.”
Pouls Wegner said she hopes to pursue further research aimed at identifying the type of wood used to carve the statue and to conduct carbon dating on the object to more precisely pin down its age.
Pouls Wegner’s research team included three archeologists from the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, U.S. illustrator Tamara Bower and University of Toronto graduate students Meredith Brand, Amber Hutchinson, Christina Geisen and Janet Khuu.
TEN DIE IN EGYPT WHILE DIGGING FOR ANCIENT TREASURES
Treasure hunters are buried alive north of Luxor on Monday while undertaking illegal dig
Ten people were killed when the soil caved in on them as they were illegally digging for ancient treasures under a house in a central Egyptian village, police officials reported.
The 10, including four brothers, were buried alive when the walls of the dig collapsed in the village of Arab Al-Manasra, north of the historic city of Luxor.
Rescue services were working to recover the bodies, the official said, adding that two people were also injured in the incident.
Ambitions of making money quickly have incited many to turn to illegal archaeological digging, particularly in antiquities-rich locations such as Luxor, Aswan and Cairo.
“We have to work on many levels to stop these get-rich-quick schemes, where people are digging for an illusion,” so said Mansur Boreik, head of the Luxor antiquities department.
The Rape of El-Hibeh
El Hibeh archaeological site on the east bank of the Nile lies in a particularly impoverished area of Egypt, three hour’s drive south of Cairo. For the past 9 months a gang has been systematically and openly looting the site while the local police seemingly turn a blind eye.
The remains at the site date from the late Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and early Islamic periods – approximately 11th century BCE to eighth century CE. El Hibeh is of special importance because it is one of very few relatively intact town sites remaining in Egypt. It contains extensive archaeological deposits dating to the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt’s last “Dark Age” and an era particularly poorly known archaeologically.
Dr. Carol Redmount, an eminent archaeologist based at the University of California, Berkeley, arrived in Egypt in February to continue her archaeological work at the site after obtaining permission from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities which controls all excavations in the country.
However, twenty-four hours before departing for the site her permits were revoked by the provincial police service with no explanation. Inquiries revealed that a mafia-like gang led by an escaped criminal has been ruthlessly looting the site since at least June 2011. Dr. Redmount has not been allowed to visit the site but eye witnesses confirm that looting continues on a daily basis and have photographed the gang at work and the devastation they have wreaked upon the site, including the ripping apart of mummified bodies in an attempt to find artifacts.
The site occupies about two square kilometres and includes cemeteries and the ruins of a walled ancient provincial town with a limestone temple, industrial facilities, houses and possible fort and governing residence.
“Hibeh is vitally important to understanding the character of ancient Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period, a very confusing and confused historical era for which only limited archaeological resources exist. Looting is obliteration, it destroys an irreplaceable, non-renewable cultural resource that belongs to humanity,” says Dr. Redmount.
Tossed down a slope, this ransacked mummy is left for the dogs. Image: provided by Dr. Carol Redmount
Redmount’s team of six researchers from UC Berkeley is currently unable to carry out any of its proposed academic program at El Hibeh.
Dentist to probe ‘cavities’ inside Great Pyramid – and unlock the Pharaoh’s last secret chambers, unseen for 4,500 years
A Hong Kong dentist is wielding forceps to help solve the last mystery of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He is part of a team that hopes to to solve the mystery surrounding the doors blocking two narrow shafts in the pyramid, which is the tomb of the Pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu.
The shafts have puzzled archaeologists since they were found in 1872 – with some speculating that Khufu’s burial chamber lies beyond, with fabulous treasure possibly within.
Ng Tze-chuen, 59 has designed a tiny ‘gripper’ for an insect-sized robot which will finally reach beyond the doors inside the pyramid.
The robot will travel up the shafts, which are so narrow only a small robot could fit, to eventually drill through the two doors. It carries a camera to record what it finds.
The international team, which will take the name Djedi – after the magician with whom Khufu is thought to have consulted for the pyramid layout – plans to use the robot this spring, depending on when the license to do so will be issued, Ng said.
‘The Chinese have more experience with chopsticks. And a dentist has more experience in gripping with forceps,’ said Ng.
‘Why Egypt is so interesting, it’s because of the hieroglyphics. It’s like a detective story. It’s all waiting for me to use my grippers.’
Inspired by dental forceps – he has designed 70 of his own to properly grip the tricky crevices of patients’ teeth – Ng said his team will mount tiny grippers on an insect-sized robot expected to gently trek the winding shafts of the pyramid without causing damage to the walls.
The Great Pyramid, the largest and oldest of the three pyramids at Giza, stands 482 ft) and was completed around 2,500 BC.
The two shafts, which rise from a chamber in the pyramid, and their doors have puzzled archaeologists since they were first discovered in 1872.
The expansive Giza plateau is a far cry from Ng’s office in a high rise amidst the concrete jungle of Hong Kong, where he said dentists prefer to talk about money and expensive cars rather than ancient Egypt or Mars, another of his passions.
‘I want to test my grippers in the most secretive places,’ said Ng. ‘I want to see my tools used on sea, land and space.’
He already has an impressive record and says he was behind the concept to use a rock sampling tool on board the Beagle 2 mission to Mars in 2003.
A self-described maverick as a child, with an adamant allergy to schoolwork, Ng said he was an avid daydreamer who imagined playing marbles on Mars and feels he lived on Mars in a previous incarnation.
‘I always think that I was a Martian crab in my past life,’ added Ng, whose home is stacked with cat drawings, volumes on ancient Egypt, and books by Carl Sagan. On the walls are plaques and newspaper clippings recognising his contribution to a number of projects.
The Great Pyramid is only one of 10 missions Ng plans to finish before the age of 65. Future plans include a German rover to sample soil on the moon, a submarine rescue cutter, and a search for Cleopatra’s tomb – all scrawled in marker pen on the inside of his mobile phone cover so he is constantly reminded of his dreams.
‘Egypt is one of the testing grounds for my toys,’ he said.
Even talk of the apocryphal ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ said to cause the illness or death of anybody who disturbs the mummy of an ancient Egyptian doesn’t faze him – much.
‘No matter, curse or no curse, I just want to take a peek. That’s it,’ he said. ‘And then I will run.’
The shafts are just eight inches across – and thus can’t be explored by human explorers. Many experts believe that the shaft was designed to provide an ‘exit’ for the Pharaoh’s spirit into.
The pyramid is the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing, and is thought to have been built as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu, who ruled in the Fourth Egyptian Dynasty and died in 2566 BC.
Khufu had the Great Pyramid of Giza built as a monumental tomb, inside of which are tomb chambers, ante-rooms, chambers, ventilation shafts and access tunnels.
There are three main chambers: The King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery.
The King’s Chamber has two shafts connected to outside, but two tunnels from the Queen’s Chamber deep inside the widest part of the pyramid have two stone doors.
Some experts now believe this may indicate a secret chamber, further still within the pyramid.
It is not the first time robots have been used within the pyramid to gather evidence about the inner depths of the structure.
In 1993 a robot discovered a small door set with metal pins, the first time any metal had been found inside the pyramid, igniting speculation that the pins were keys or door handles.
In 2002 a different robot filmed a small chamber blocked by a stone after managing to drill through the first stone block.
The latest robot, built by UK company Scoutek, is a ‘micro-snake’ armed with a camera, designed to explore small spaces.
Designer Whitehead also worked on sensors for the Beagle 2 Mars exploration craft.
The door which still puzzles experts can be seen to be polished, thanks to the bendy camera, marking it out as an important part of the structure rather than simply as something to stop debris entering the chamber, says camera designer Shaun Whitehead.
Egyptologist Kate Spence of Cambridge University says the tunnels may purely be symbolic and relate to the stars.
Although she is not involved directly in the study of the Giza pyramid, Spence does not believe there is a further, hidden chamber behind the door, suggesting instead that the shafts could have been built to allow the Pharoah’s spirit to cross to the afterlife.
Smithsonian adds mummies to display of spiritual life in ancient Egypt
“Eternal Life in Egypt,” Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Ancient Egyptians tried to send their dead into the next world equipped with all the comforts of terrestrial existence. But they clearly left out one thing: moisturizer. Now on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, “Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt” examines the afterlife of the people who built the pyramids, both from a spiritual perspective (intricately ornamented masks, sarcophagi and jewelry) and a physical sense (ancient mummies). The artifacts are beautiful, but it’s hard to pay attention to trinkets, however exotic, when there’s an actual dead body in a glass case just a few feet away, even if it’s a very shriveled 2,000 years old.
The museum has four human mummies on display; before a renovation that was completed in November, there were just two. There are also some mummified animals, including a bull, an animal sacred to the Egyptians’ temple priests.
Recently, scientists have used CT scans to take a peek at mummies’ insides without disturbing their fragile bodies and linen wrappings, helping to determine the corpse’s age, sex and general health, and some of those images are included in the exhibition. Interestingly, when the scientists have turned their gaze on the mummified animals — many of which were sold in markets as sacred offerings — they found some to be empty fakes. It seems that the ancient world was not without its grifters.
In Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners
Early humans, possibly even pre-human ancestors, appear to have been going to sea much longer than anyone had ever suspected.
That is the startling implication of discoveries made the last two summers on the Greek island of Crete. Stone tools found there, archaeologists say, are at least 130,000 years old, which is considered strong evidence for the earliest known seafaring in the Mediterranean and cause for rethinking the maritime capabilities of pre-human cultures.
Crete has been an island for more than five million years, meaning that the toolmakers must have arrived by boat. So this seems to push the history of Mediterranean voyaging back more than 100,000 years, specialists in Stone Age archaeology say. Previous artifact discoveries had shown people reaching Cyprus, a few other Greek islands and possibly Sardinia no earlier than 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
The oldest established early marine travel anywhere was the sea-crossing migration of anatomically modern Homo sapiens to Australia, beginning about 60,000 years ago. There is also a suggestive trickle of evidence, notably the skeletons and artifacts on the Indonesian island of Flores, of more ancient hominids making their way by water to new habitats.
Even more intriguing, the archaeologists who found the tools on Crete noted that the style of the hand axes suggested that they could be up to 700,000 years old. That may be a stretch, they conceded, but the tools resemble artifacts from the stone technology known as Acheulean, which originated with pre-human populations in Africa.
More than 2,000 stone artifacts, including the hand axes, were collected on the southwestern shore of Crete, near the town of Plakias, by a team led by Thomas F. Strasser and Eleni Panagopoulou. She is with the Greek Ministry of Culture and he is an associate professor of art history at Providence College in Rhode Island. They were assisted by Greek and American geologists and archaeologists, including Curtis Runnels of Boston University.
Dr. Strasser described the discovery last month at a meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. A formal report has been accepted for publication in Hesparia, the journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, a supporter of the fieldwork.
The Plakias survey team went in looking for material remains of more recent artisans, nothing older than 11,000 years. Such artifacts would have been blades, spear points and arrowheads typical of Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.
“We found those, then we found the hand axes,” Dr. Strasser said last week in an interview, and that sent the team into deeper time. “We were flummoxed,” Dr. Runnels said in an interview. “These things were just not supposed to be there.”
Word of the find is circulating among the ranks of Stone Age scholars. The few who have seen the data and some pictures — most of the tools reside in Athens — said they were excited and cautiously impressed. The research, if confirmed by further study, scrambles timetables of technological development and textbook accounts of human and pre-human mobility.
Ofer Bar-Yosef, an authority on Stone Age archaeology at Harvard, said the significance of the find would depend on the dating of the site. “Once the investigators provide the dates,” he said in an e-mail message, “we will have a better understanding of the importance of the discovery.” Dr. Bar-Yosef said he had seen only a few photographs of the Cretan tools. The forms can only indicate a possible age, he said, but “handling the artifacts may provide a different impression.” And dating, he said, would tell the tale.
Dr. Runnels, who has 30 years’ experience in Stone Age research, said that an analysis by him and three geologists “left not much doubt of the age of the site, and the tools must be even older.”
The cliffs and caves above the shore, the researchers said, have been uplifted by tectonic forces where the African plate goes under and pushes up the European plate. The exposed uplifted layers represent the sequence of geologic periods that have been well studied and dated, in some cases correlated to established dates of glacial and interglacial periods of the most recent ice age. In addition, the team analyzed the layer bearing the tools and determined that the soil had been on the surface 130,000 to 190,000 years ago.
Dr. Runnels said he considered this a minimum age for the tools themselves. They include not only quartz hand axes, but also cleavers and scrapers, all of which are in the Acheulean style. The tools could have been made millenniums before they became, as it were, frozen in time in the Cretan cliffs, the archaeologists said.
Dr. Runnels suggested that the tools could be at least twice as old as the geologic layers. Dr. Strasser said they could be as much as 700,000 years old. Further explorations are planned this summer.
The 130,000-year date would put the discovery in a time when Homo sapiens had already evolved in Africa, sometime after 200,000 years ago. Their presence in Europe did not become apparent until about 50,000 years ago.
Archaeologists can only speculate about who the toolmakers were. One hundred and thirty thousand years ago, modern humans shared the world with other hominids, like Neanderthals and Homo heidelbergensis. The Acheulean culture is thought to have started with Homo erectus.
The standard hypothesis had been that Acheulean toolmakers reached Europe and Asia via the Middle East, passing mainly through what is now Turkey into the Balkans. The new finds suggest that their dispersals were not confined to land routes. They may lend credibility to proposals of migrations from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. Crete’s southern shore where the tools were found is 200 miles from North Africa.
“We can’t say the toolmakers came 200 miles from Libya,” Dr. Strasser said. “If you’re on a raft, that’s a long voyage, but they might have come from the European mainland by way of shorter crossings through Greek islands.”
But archaeologists and experts on early nautical history said the discovery appeared to show that these surprisingly ancient mariners had craft sturdier and more reliable than rafts. They also must have had the cognitive ability to conceive and carry out repeated water crossing over great distances in order to establish sustainable populations producing an abundance of stone artifacts.
Gate found in Karnak Temple adds new name to ancient kings’ list
Engraved limestone gate unearthed in Karnak temple complex on Luxor’s east bank bears name of King Ahmose’s previously unknown great-grandfather
During routine excavations on the northern side of the Amun-Re Temple in Luxor’s famous Karnak temple complex, a team from the French-Egyptian Centre for the Study of the Karnak Temples this week unearthed a gate that they say has led to a significant breakthrough in archaeologists’ understanding of Egypt’s enigmatic 17th Dynasty. It was this dynasty that launched the military campaign that eventually succeeded in ridding Egypt of the tribe of invaders known as the “Hyksos.”
The gate, carved out of limestone, is engraved with the name of a king called “Sen-Nakht-En-Re.” Mansour Boreik, general supervisor of monuments in Luxor, told Ahram Online that this king’s name was previously mentioned twice – during the Rameside period and during the reign of King Ahmose, the latter of whom is traditionally given credit for expelling the Hyksos from Egypt.
Boreik went on to note that, despite these earlier references to Sen-Nakht-En-Re, archaeologists had believed him to be an imaginary king, since no monuments had ever been found bearing his name. The recent discovery of the pharaoh’s name on the gate in Karnak, however, strongly suggests that the king was, in fact, once a ruler of ancient Egypt.
In addition to Sen-Nakht-En-Re’s cartouche, the gate is also engraved with hieroglyphic writing, according to which the king had the gate built from limestone blocks transported from Tura (modern Helwan, south of Cairo), which had been under Hyksos rule at the time.
Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim described the recent find as “a groundbreaking discovery” that promised to shed further light on the history of the 17th Dynasty. “It is also adds another king to the long list of ancient Egyptian pharaohs,” he said.
Ibrahim has asked Christophe Thiers, head of the archaeological mission, to continue excavations of the gate so as to learn even more about the period in question. “The Temple of Karnak, which has not yet been fully excavated, no doubt still contains many secrets,” Ibrahim concluded.
Khufu’s Second Boat Update
Giza plateau was crowded on Monday as journalists, TV anchors, photographers and antiquities officials flocked to the northern side of King Khufu’s Great Pyramid to witness Japanese scientists and archaeologists taking samples from different parts of Khufu’s second solar boat, which is still buried in sand after 4,500 years.
The boat’s wooden beams are to be subjected to laboratory analysis to determine the types of fungi, insects and viruses that are affecting the boat, as well as the amount of deterioration that has taken place, so that an appropriate method can be selected to restore it and place it on display beside King Khufu’s first boat, which is on display in a museum especially constructed for it on the plateau.
“This is the third phase of the five-year project to restore Khufu’s second boat,” Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim who told journalists. The first phase began 20 years ago, when in 1992 a Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University in collaboration with the Japanese government, offered a grant of $10 million to remove the boat from its original pit, restore and reassemble it and put it on show to the public.
The team cleaned the pit of insects, but found that water had leaked from the nearby museum which housed the first solar boat. This had affected a small part of the wood, hence the necessity quickly to finish the studies and restore the wood. The Japanese team, under the direction of Professor Sakuji Yoshimura, inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat onto a small TV monitor on the site. Images screened showed layers of wooden beams and timbers of cedar and acacia, as well as ropes, mats and remains of limestone blocks and small pieces of white plaster. The camera allowed an assessment of the boat’s condition and the possibility of restoration.
A large hanger has been constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hanger inside to cover the top of the boat itself. The hangers were designed to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A laser scanning survey also documented the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit.
According to Yoshimura while the fillings around the sides of the covering stone were being cleaned the team uncovered the cartouche of King Khufu of the Fourth-Dynasty inscribed on one of these blocks, and beside it the name of the crown prince Djedefre. This, he argued, meant that this boat was constructed during the reign of King Khufu and not, like the first boat now on display at a special museum on the plateau, during the reign of his son and successor Djedefre.
Yoshimura said that restoration and reconstruction work would last for five years. A special small museum will be constructed for it at the entrance of the Giza plateau on the Cairo-Fayoum road, while the first boat will be transferred to the planned Grand Egyptian Museum.
The second boat was in a much better state of preservation than was the first when it was discovered in 1954, when Egyptian architect and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh together with Zaki Nour were carried out routine cleaning on the south side of the Great Pyramid. The first boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of the master of restorers Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat. The second boat remained sealed in its pit up until 1987, when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the Egyptian office for historical monuments. They bored a hole into the limestone beams that covered it and inserted a micro camera and measuring equipment. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements taken, after which the pit was resealed.
It was thought that the pit had been so well sealed that the air inside would be as it had been since ancient Egyptian times, but sadly this was not the case, as air had leaked into the pit and mixed with the air inside it. This had allowed insects to thrive and affect some parts of the wooden beams.
MUMMY REVEALS ITS SECRETS!
A Swiss team has uncovered a mummy in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings – the first of its kind since the exhumation of Tutankhamen in 1922.
The Valley of the Kings is like a Holy Grail for Egyptologists. Situated on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Luxor, it is the burial site of many pharaohs and members of royal families or powerful nobles of the Egyptian Empire.
It was here, in 1922, that the most famous discovery in the history of Egyptology was made: the tomb of Tutankhamen, which until now has been the only intact example of its kind.
The latest find, which has created quite a stir, began on January 25, 2011, as part of clean-up work by a team of researchers from Basel University.
“On this famous January 25, we were cleaning a previously discovered tomb,” Susanne Bickel, professor at Basel University and head of the Swiss archaeological team, told swissinfo.ch.
“We were building a low wall around the tomb when all of a sudden we hit the upper edge of something…”
Bickel said they first thought they were dealing with rubble or an unfinished building.
“Imagine our surprise when we realized it was probably another tomb. We’d never have thought two tombs could be so close to each another.”
But initially the find remained in the sand. At the beginning of 2011, Egypt was in full revolution; rumors of pillaging spread. Out of concerns for their safety, the team returned to Switzerland. A metal cover was placed over the opening to the tomb and the experts waited for a more favorable time to go exploring.
This turned out to be January 2012, when the team received official authorization from the Egyptian authorities to carry on with the excavation.
“We were in a hurry to find out what was in the tomb,” Bickel said. “It took us four days to cross a well shaft. We managed to slide an arm in to take some photos with a camera. We saw an untouched tomb and a sarcophagus which was completely intact – unlike most of the ones we usually see.”
The team, protected from the searing desert sun by a tent, described a sarcophagus which was quite soberly decorated, without any embellishments.
“There’s no decoration on the sides,” said one researcher. “It’s very thick, very beautiful wood. We knew the tomb had been built in the 15th century BC, but we’ve discovered that the sarcophagus dates from the ninth century BC.”
This meant they could deduce two significant facts, he added.
“We’ve concluded from the fact that the tomb dates from the 15th century BC that there was a second burial 500 years later,” he said.
“Second, the simplicity of the sarcophagus makes us think that in the ninth century, during the 22nd Dynasty, a burial consisted of a humble sarcophagus and a simple stela [a sort of gravestone]. Unlike in the 15th century, during the 18th Dynasty, when ceramics and personal property were very popular.”
Having examined the inscriptions, which have yet to be completely decrypted, the scientists say they are dealing with a woman called Nehemes-Bastet, which means “May the goddess Bastet protect her”.
“What is astonishing is that the sarcophagus is two meters long, but the mummy, which is perfectly preserved, is only 1.55m,” Bickel said.
“We think the deceased was a singer for Amun-Ra [one of the most widely recorded Egyptian gods]. Her title shows she was part of the elite. She probably acted as a priestess from time to time during major processions.”
Bickel said it was the first time a tomb had been found in the Valley of the Kings of a woman who was not linked to the royal families.
The aim of the Basel University project is to analyze the non-royal tombs found in the side valley leading to the tomb of Thutmose III, the sixth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. Until now, these tombs have hardly been studied.
“Many are even completely unknown,” Bickel explained. “We search them, document their architecture and try to find among the tons of debris some signs that enable us to say what they were used for – and possibly the person or people who had the privilege of being buried in this valley, near the pharaohs.”
The discovery of the sarcophagus belonging to Amun-Ra’s singer turns the spotlight on another period of the valley’s history: that of the ninth century BC, when the tombs were re-used for a second time.
The mummy has yet to be analyzed. Much remains to be learnt from the woman who escaped the pillages and struggles of the time to reach us intact and reveal a few of her secrets.