Sunday, December 30, 2012

Abydos: Egyptian Tombs & Cult of Osiris

by Owen Jarus

Located in Upper Egypt about six miles (10 km) from the Nile River, the site of Abydos played a pivotal role in ancient Egyptian religious life.

The earliest kings of Egypt, including those from the first dynasty of Egypt’s history (3000-2890 B.C.), appear to have been buried at Abydos. Their tombs and funerary enclosures may have been a first step on an ancient architectural journey that would see the Great Pyramids constructed centuries later.

In later times, Abydos would become a cult center for Osiris, god of the underworld. A temple dedicated to him flourished at Abydos, and every year a great procession was held that would see an image of Osiris carried from his temple to a tomb the Egyptians believed to be his (it actually belonged to a first dynasty king named Djer), and back, to great fanfare.

"There's a really neat reference on some of the Middle Kingdom (4,000 to 3,600 years ago) material to hearing the sound of jubilation," archaeologist Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner told LiveScience in an interview on new discoveries at the site. Her team excavates in an area the ancient Egyptians called the “Terrace of the Great God,” which contains a series of private and royal chapels that were built lining this processional route.

Archaeologist Josef Wegner, in an article written in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2001) estimates that Abydos covers about 5 square miles (8 square km). He notes that while many discoveries have been made, much of the site is still unexplored. “The greater part of the site, however, remains concealed beneath the sand, a fact recognized in the Arabic name of the modern town: Arabah el-Madfunah (‘the buried Arabah’).”

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Death of a pharaoh

The enigma surrounding a 3,000-year-old royal murder seems to have been solved.
Nevine El-Aref looks at the latest evidence

Forensic technology has recently been playing a major role in Egyptology. After centuries of ambiguity and mystery surrounding several chapters of ancient Egyptian history, modern science has finally cleared up many of the enigmas and provided a better understanding of some important episodes in this great civilisation.
Modern methods have recently succeeded in identifying several royal mummies, detailing their lineages and recognising the diseases from which they suffered in life as well as solving the paradoxes behind some mysterious deaths.

Among these achievements has been solving the enigma of the early death of the boy king Tutankhamun, including the symptoms that led to his demise in early manhood as well as the identity of the mummies of his two unborn children.

It also identified the mummy of the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten, and proved that he was Tutankhamun’s father by a secondary wife.

The mummies of Queen Hatshepsut and Pharaoh Amenhotep II, the grandfather of Tutankhamun, have also been identified.

This week scientific researches, archaeological reviews, DNA analyses, CT images and forensic, anthropological and genetic studies have put an end to the long-debated mystery over the death of Pharaoh Ramses III, a conundrum that has perplexed Egyptologists ever since the discovery of the king’s mummy in the Deir Al-Bahari cachet in Luxor in 1886. The events recorded on the harem conspiracy papyrus now exhibited at the Turin Museum further deepened the mystery.

Friday, December 28, 2012

To the earth, a sun is born

Jenny Jobbins explores the way in which the peoples of the Roman Empire clung to their old festivals but gave them new meaning 

In the northern hemisphere, the Sun reaches the lowest point of its power in its annual cycle at the end of December. The Winter Solstice, the shortest day, falls on 21 or 22 December, and a few days later the days visibly begin to lengthen. To the people of the ancient world, the guaranteed rebirth of the sun meant a time to celebrate vegetation and — especially in northern climates — a time to feast on the remainder of the harvest that could not be stored, and to kill and eat the livestock that could not be fed over the winter. The ensuing lean period would come to an end with the new growth of crops in Spring.

The Solstice period was celebrated in Rome by the week-long Roman festival of Saturnalia, Saturn being the god of agriculture. Many religions took the post-Solstice emergence of the sun as the time to celebrate the birth of their divinity or their divine leader. The birthdays of Horus in Egypt; the sun god Attis in Phrygia; Krishna in India; Freyr (son of Odin) in Scandinavia; Mithra, the saviour and Light of the World of the Zoroastrians Persians; the sun god of the Greeks, Apollo; Adonis; Dionysus (Bacchus) and Hercules (son of Zeus) were all held on or about 25 December. Mithra was eventually adopted as the main god of the Roman army, and from the latter part of the third century AD he was identified with Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), the sun god of the later Roman Empire whose feast, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, was also celebrated on 25 December. Alexander the Great also claimed that he was born on that day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dynasties of Egypt Part III: Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period

The Middle Kingdom is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, between 2050 BC and 1652 BC.

The period comprises two phases, the Eleventh Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes, and the Twelfth Dynasty onwards, which was centered around el-Lisht. 

The Eleventh Dynasty of Ancient Egypt was a group of pharaohs whose earlier members are grouped with the four preceding dynasties to form the First Intermediate Period, while the later members from Mentuhotep II onwards are considered part of the Middle Kingdom. They all ruled from Thebes.

An inscription carved during the reign of Wahankh Intef II, the third pharaoh of the Eleventh Dynasty, says that he was the first of this dynasty to claim to rule over the whole of Egypt, a claim which brought the Thebans into conflict with the rulers of Herakleopolis Magna during the Tenth Dynasty. Intef undertook several campaigns northwards, and captured the important nome (regional governorship) of Abydos.

Warfare continued intermittently between the Thebans and the Herakleopolitans until the fourteenth year of Nebhetepra Mentuhotep II, when the Herakleopolitans were defeated, and the Theban dynasty began to consolidate their rule. Mentuhotep II commanded military campaigns south into Nubia, which had gained its independence during the First Intermediate Period. Some type of military action took place against Palestine, after which the pharaoh reorganized the country and placed a vizier (high government official) at the head of civil administration for the country.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

AUC’s Salima Ikram excavates the dog catacombs in Saqqara

In the first full excavation of the dog catacombs at Saqqara, Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo (AUC), along with an international team of researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, has estimated that approximately 8 million animal mummies are present at the burial site and is working to establish whether different breeds are represented there. “We are recording the animal bones and the mummification techniques used to prepare the animals,” said Ikram. “In doing so, we hope to identify the dog breeds present at the site. Thus far, our bone measurements indicate that there are different breeds that were mummified there.” The mummified animals at Saqqara are not limited to canines. “There are cat and mongoose remains in the deposit,” explained Ikram. “We are trying to understand how this fits religiously with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated.”
For Ikram, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in the field of mummification with a specialization in archaeozoology, the study of animal mummies offers deep insights into ancient Egyptian culture. “Animal mummies are really manifestations of daily life –– pets, food, death, religion and technology. They cover everything the Egyptians were concerned with,” said Ikram, adding that when Egyptology was becoming established as an academic discipline in the 19th century, archaeologists pushed past hundreds of thousands of animal mummies in their haste to uncover the human ones and, more significantly, their grave goods.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ancient Egyptians sold themselves into temple slavery


2,200 years ago in the ancient Egyptian city Tebtunis, Egyptians voluntarily entered into slave contracts with the local temple for all eternity. And they even paid a monthly fee for the 'privilege'. Egyptologist Kim Ryholt from the University of Copenhagen is the first researcher who has studied this puzzling phenomenon.
"I am your servant from this day onwards, and I shall pay 2½ copper-pieces every month as my slave-fee before Soknebtunis, the great god." This is a translation of a formulaic pledge found in 100 2,200-year-old papyrus slave contracts from the temple city of Tebtunis. University of Copenhagen Egyptologist Kim Ryholt is the first researcher to have analysed these collectively in his recent article "A Self-Dedication Addressed to Anubis - Divine Protection against Malevolent Forces or Forced Labour?" from the forthcoming publication Lotus and Laurel - Studies on Egyptian Language and Religion
Today, it is difficult to comprehend why anybody would voluntarily join the ranks of the temple slaves and even pay the temple a monthly fee. But when you as Kim Ryholt can read the contracts, which were written in the ancient Egyptian language Demotic, a plausible explanation surfaces:
"90 per cent of the people who entered into these slave contracts were unable to name their fathers, although this was normally required. They were presumably children of prostitutes. This is a clear indication that they belonged to the lower classes which the king could subject to forced labour, for example digging canals, if he so desired. However, we know from other contemporary records that temple slaves were exempt from forced labour," says Kim Ryholt.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Polish archaeologists discovered a tomb in Egypt

During excavations in the rock tomb of Ichi, notable who served at the court of Pharaoh Pepi more than 4,000 years ago, scientists found the entrance to an even older burial place. The discovery was made at Saqqara, in the vicinity of the oldest Egyptian pyramid built for Pharaoh Djoser.
"In front of the chapel, we found a stone floor ending with a sharp, vertical edge. What we thought was a sill turned out to be the crowning architrave of a tomb located deeper, certainly much older than the tomb of General Ichi" - explained Prof. Karol Myśliwiec of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures PAS, head of the excavation.

The discovery was made within the so-called Dry Moat, in the rock-hewn gigantic depression which surrounded the pyramid of Djoser at a distance of approximately 200 m. Archaeologists had long wondered whether the high rock "dry moat" walls could contain several floors of tombs from the successive phases of the Old Kingdom period, the time of the pyramid builders, including famous Cheops.

"In fact, none of believed in this hypothesis. Our surprise was all the greater because as this was the first such tomb found in Egypt" - said Prof. Myśliwiec.

This year, archaeologists have uncovered only the upper edge of the entrance to the tomb and peeked inside. The tomb is filled with rubble rock almost to the ceiling. They will explore the interior next year, during the next excavation campaign.

Getting to the newly uncovered tomb was preceded by excavations within the Ichi tomb discovered several years ago by Polish archaeologists. During the rule of Pharaoh Pepi, Ichi was responsible for the organization of long trips to the rocky desert to obtain precious metals.

After four weeks of digging and documenting mummies from the time of Alexander the Great, resting on a layer of sand at the entrance to the chapel, the researchers reached its beautifully decorated facade. It consisted of blocks made of snow-white limestone. According to the scientists, quality of the reliefs showed the highest craftsmanship of artists.

"Hieroglyphic on the blocks contains previously unknown titles of the deceased. Highest of these is +General+, which indicates that Ichi was one of the most elite persons in the court of Pharaoh" - explained the head of research.

It was the 17th excavation campaign conducted by the Polish archaeologists in the quarry from the times of the construction of the oldest Egyptian pyramid.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

King Ramesses III's throat was slit, analysis reveals

By Michelle Roberts

Conspirators murdered Egyptian King Ramesses III by slitting his throat, experts now believe, based on a new forensic analysis.
The first CT scans to examine the king's mummy reveal a cut to the neck deep enough to be fatal.
The secret has been hidden for centuries by the bandages covering the mummy's throat that could not be removed for preservation's sake.
The work may end at least one of the controversies surrounding his death.
Precisely how he died has been hotly debated by historians.
Ancient documents including the Judicial Papyrus of Turin say that in 1155BC members of his harem attempted to kill him as part of a palace coup.
But it is less clear whether the assassination was successful. Some say it was, while other accounts at the time imply the second Pharaoh of the 20th dynasty survived the attack, at least for a short while.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Oops! Brain-Removal Tool Left in Mummy's Skull

by Owen Jarus

A brain-removal tool used by ancient Egyptian embalmers has been discovered lodged in the skull of a female mummy that dates back around 2,400 years. 
Removal of the brain was an Egyptian mummification procedure that became popular around 3,500 years ago and remained in use in later periods.
Identifying the ancient tools embalmers used for brain removal is difficult, and researchers note this is only the second time that such a tool has been reported within a mummy's skull.

The discovery

Located between the left parietal bone and the back of the skull, which had been filled with resin, the object was discovered in 2008 through a series of CT scans. Researchers then inserted an endoscope (a thin tube often used for noninvasive medical procedures) into the mummy to get a closer look and ultimately detach it from resin to which it had gotten stuck.

"We cut it with a clamp through the endoscope and then removed it from the skull," said lead researcher Dr. Mislav Čavka, of the University Hospital Dubrava in Zagreb Croatia, in an interview with LiveScience.

They found themselves peering at an object more than 3 inches (8 centimeters) long that would have been used for liquefying and removing the brain. "It almost definitely would have been used in excerebration [brain removal] of the mummy," Čavka said.

The instrument would have been inserted through a hole punched into the ethmoid bone near the nose. "Some parts [of the brain] would be wrapped around this stick and pulled out, and the other parts would be liquefied," Čavka said.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The sun in their eyes

In ancient Egypt the sun was revered as the giver of life and, in reflection of the waning and waxing of the sun, death and resurrection were the central theme of sun worship.
Jenny Jobbins continues her look at ancient beliefs and their relevance today

The late Christopher Hitchens is often quoted as saying: “Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realise that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”

In regard to the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, two corollaries may be drawn from this tongue-in-cheek observation. First, the ancient Egyptians were among several ancient civilisations who understood that the sun was the bringer of night and day and governor of the seasons that sustained the crops on which all living things depended, and so for much of their history they regarded it as their chief deity. Second, they lavished tributes and attention on the one they regarded as the deity’s representative on Earth, their king, and it was just as a matter of course that he (and his people) believed that he, too, was a god — indeed, a sun god.

It is all too easy, however, to draw a modern picture of events played out thousands of years ago, and archaeologists tread very cautiously when fitting together the jigsaw of the past. They are continuously questioning and updating evidence about our ancestors and their beliefs. In regards to Egypt, scientists are unable to say for certain how far back in time sun worship was adopted, or whether it developed separately there or was part of a cult spread more widely across North Africa that found its way to the Nile Valley with new settlers in predynastic times.

Friday, December 14, 2012

How Did Female Genital Mutilation Begin?

by Rossella Lorenzi 
United Nations Member States recently approved the first-ever draft resolution calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
Hailed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a major step forward in protecting women and girls and ending impunity for the harmful practice, the text is expected to be endorsed by the UN general assembly this month.
How did the practice begin anyway?
Although theories on the origins of FGM abound, no one really knows when, how or why it started.
"There's no way of knowing the origins of FGM, it appears in many different cultures, from Australian aboriginal tribes to different African societies," medical historian David Gollaher, president and CEO of the California Healthcare Institute (CHI), and the author of "Circumcision," told Discovery News.
Used to control women's sexuality, the practice involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia. In its severest form, called infibulation, the vaginal opening is also sewn up, leaving only a small hole for the release of urine and menstrual blood.
While the term infibulation has its roots in ancient Rome, where female slaves had fibulae (broochs) pierced through their labia to prevent them from getting pregnant, a widespread assumption places the origins of female genital cutting in pharaonic Egypt. This would be supported by the contemporary term "pharaonic circumcision."
The definition, however, might be misleading. While there's evidence of male circumcision in Old Kingdom Egypt, there is none for female.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Re-Examining Nefertiti's Likeness and Life

By Matthias Schulz

German excavators discovered the famous bust of Nefertiti in Egypt 100 years ago. As an anniversary exhibition kicks off in Berlin, new findings are altering old ideas about Germany's controversial acquisition of the bust and the story of the legendary beauty herself.

In wartime, the course of the world is often accelerated in odd ways. To the sounds of sword thrusts and the thunder of cannons, entire empires have been dispersed, and fates brought together and accumulated. As if in stop motion, heroes have been born and destroyed once again.

But there was a time when things were completely different. The revolution of the Pharaoh and sun guru Akhenaton, who devised a light theology with his wife Nefertiti and, in 1350 B.C., declared the solar disk "Aton" to be the only god, was followed by a period of sluggish peace, filled with flute music and endless caresses. The whole thing was so odd that Egyptologist Jan Assmann refers to it as the "entry of the improbable into history."

The peculiar rulers of what was then the richest nation on earth lived in the newly founded Nile capital Akhetaton ("Horizon of Aton"). Servants carried them on a throne made of electrum. Pharaoh Akhenaton liked to be portrayed as having a fat stomach, while Nefertiti wore transparent robes that hardly covered her pubic mound.

Then came damnation. Angry successors destroyed the images of the heretics, their names were obliterated and almost all traces were removed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Djoser’s dilemma

Archaeologists are worried that renovations may cause the Djoser pyramid to collapse while the Antiquities Authority has assured the public that the pyramid is in safe hands

by Sara Abou Bakr

For the last six months the pyramid of Djoser has witnessed much controversy over its renovation. Fears that the oldest pyramid may soon fall have been spread by Egyptian archaeologists, professors and antiquities enthusiasts. The six-stepped layered structure stands 62 metres high and was built under the reign of Pharaoh Djoser in 2611 BCE, as his final resting place.
The plan of the pyramid has been attributed to the engineering master of the time, Imhotep, and it was constructed using 11.6 million cubic feet of stone and clay. The pyramid is a world-heritage site listed by UNESCO.
The renovations started late 2006 after a report was filed by Hassan Fahmy, professor of architecture at Cairo University and the Antiquities Authority’s representative currently overseeing the renovations. “The Antiquities Authority hired me to write a report on the conditions of the pyramid after the 1992 earthquake,” he said. “I filed a report recommending immediate intervention to be followed by a renovation process because I saw severe damage; what I’d call critical equilibrium. In 1998 the report was finally given due attention.”
The authority’s projects sector then issued a limited bid, offering possible renovation scenarios. Three universities, a national agency and Fahmy’s consultation office competed over the bid which the latter won, spending three years from 1998 developing their architectural plan.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tomb opens doors to tourism

After four years of restoration, the tomb of King Ramses II’s beloved son Merenptah in the Valley of the Kings is open to the public. Nevine El-Aref entered down its very steep ramp

Luxor has been called the world’s greatest open-air museum, not only for its unique ancient Egyptian monuments, which stretch along the Nile Corniche and dominate the desert on the west bank, but for its agreeable weather and picturesque pastoral and natural scenery. Indeed, Luxor has it all.

Regrettably, however, it sometimes appears that the curse of the Pharaohs has cast its spell over the town.

Although Luxor’s Governor Ezzat Saad announced two weeks ago that tourists were flowing back to Luxor and that the town was slowly returning to normal, with hotel booking rates indicating that the catastrophic downtown in the Egyptian tourism industry was nearing an end, the town is quieter than usual. The airport is empty except for a very few passengers that can be counted on two hands. Luxor residents work in or depend directly or indirectly on the tourist industry, which has been in the doldrums since the 2011 revolution owing to the uncertainty and the lack of security that accompanied the revolution, and they are suffering financially. A stroll along the Corniche and through the bazaars reveals how desperate felucca (boat) owners, hantour (carriage) drivers and shopkeepers have become as they solicit passers-by to buy from them or take a carriage ride.

What happened? Why is Luxor empty apart from its residents and the revolutionaries camped in the Midan Abul-Haggag Mosque in the core of the city?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Qasr Al Agouz temple in Luxor to open next week

The Ptolemaic temple of Qasr Al Agouz on Luxor’s west bank is to open next week

by Nevine El-Aref Nevine El-Aref from Luxor, Thursday 6 Dec 2012

On Luxor’s west bank, in front of Habu Temple stands the small Ptolemaic chapel temple of Qasr Al Agouz -- now awaiting visitors. After seven years of being off Luxor’s tourist map for restoration, Qasr Al Agouz Temple is to be officially inaugurated next week.

Although it encapsulates a very important period in Egyptian history, the temple is virtually unknown to visitors.

It dates back to the reign of King Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and is composed of three oblong rooms, including an offering room and a sanctuary. The temple is dedicated to the god Ibis-Thoth who is represented with a human body and the head of an ibis. It is sometimes depicted wearing the lunar disc with the two phases of a full moon and crescent, sometimes also with a crown.

Two deified mortals of the Late Period showing Imhotep's role as healer and holy Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu are also represented on the walls.  The Ptolemaic dynastic cult is well represented, including the ancestors of Ptolemy (with no mention of the first Ptolemy son of Lagus, who was a commoner) and their queens. Scenes depicting Thoth with other gods and goddesses are also shown.

“Although the temple is architecturally almost intact, its decorations have suffered a high rate of humidity and erosion,” Mohamed Beabesh, inspector chief of antiquities of Luxor’s west bank, told Ahram Online. He explained that scenes of Qasr Al Agouz are painted, not carved, which is very rare in Ptolemaic monuments and reflects the incompleteness of the building, as evidenced by the lack of decoration on the external walls which are not decorated.

The temple was subjected to an epigraphic survey by Dominique Mallet in 1909 from the French archaeological institute (IFAO). The Marc Bloch Institute of Egyptology of the University of Strasburg, solicited by the Supreme Council of the Antiques of Egypt, in collaboration with the IFAO, have carried out comprehensive restoration work since 2002.

The temple and its paintings were subjected to studies and research and in 2005 concrete restoration started.

Beabesh said that cracks spread over the walls have been repaired, the paintings consolidated, the floor covered with bubbles to absorb subterranean water and a new lighting system installed in order to make the temple accessible at night.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Murder and mayhem in Predynastic Egypt

by Renee Friedman and Daniel Antoine, curators,
British Museum

Using some of the latest imaging technology we now know that about 5500 years ago (about 3500 BC) the natural mummy known as Gebelein Man was stabbed in the back.
The ability to determine the cause of death in ancient remains is rare enough, but because his skin and muscle tissue are so well preserved, further detective work has allowed us to trace the trajectory (from above) and estimate the size (about two centimetres across, maximum) of the implement responsible.
Based on this information, the murder weapon was most probably a dagger.
While a projectile point is also a possibility, it is unlikely that it could have been removed without causing further tissue damage, and the cut on his skin is not lacerated. Only if it were a broad-edged transverse arrowhead, like those carried by the men on the Hunters’ Palette, might this be possible.
While this type of arrowhead was common in Predynastic Egypt, it was rarely made in a size matching the wound in Gebelein Man’s left shoulder.
We can probably also rule out flint knives, although they were prevalent throughout the Predynastic period (3800-3100 BC), with various examples displayed in the British Museum’s Room 64: Early Egypt gallery.
From their shape it is clear that they were mainly for cutting and slashing, using their edge rather than their point to inflict wounds. Most are also too wide to fit the forensic evidence from Gebelein Man. Instead, it seems most likely that he was done in by a metal blade.
Tools and weapons of metal (mainly copper but also silver) are rare in Predynastic Egypt mainly because implements of such valuable materials would have been recycled rather than discarded by the living and were among the first things to be robbed from the dead. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that copper was widely used at this time. For example, the central ridge depicted on the lances carried on the Hunters Palette (slightly later in date than Gebelein Man) indicate they were made of metal.
Six dagger blades of copper and silver have been preserved. Some still have their ivory handles, while all have a triangular blade with a mid-rib down the centre, and are 15-16.5 cm long with a maximum width of four-five cm. These blades are so far the best fit for the weapon used against Gebelein Man, and the two cm cut at the rib level suggest such a blade was plunged into his back for most of its length. The composite example shown here gives an idea of the original appearance, and evidence from one Predynastic cemetery suggests they were worn interlaced through armlets on the left upper arm for easy and rapid access.
We will never find the perpetrator responsible for Gebelein Man’s death, or determine his motives (revenge?, a hunting accident?, an act on the battlefield?), but the iconography and artefacts of Predynastic Egypt suggest it was not always a peaceful place.
Already 200-300 years before Gebelein Man met his end, scenes on pottery show human prisoners threatened with stone maces. Mace-heads of hard stone are well-known throughout the period. While they were probably used mainly in hunting, that they were also used against humans is clear from excavations in a cemetery at Hierakonpolis, contemporary with Gebelein Man, where several individuals suffered massive and fatal skull fractures inflicted by such an instrument. Further defensive wounds suggest these injuries were attained in battle.
These may have been minor skirmishes, but shortly after Gebelein Man died, scenes depicting pitched battles begin to appear.
While Gebelein Man may simply have been the unfortunate victim of interpersonal violence, he lived in a time when several regional centres in Upper Egypt, Gebelein being one of them, were beginning to vie for power and territory, in a process that ultimately led to the so-called unification of Egypt and the establishment of the Dynastic Egyptian nation state at about 3100 BC. Diplomacy may have been influential in this process, but there is no doubt that violence also played a major role, as the scene on the Battlefield Palette (about 3200 BC) leaves little to the imagination.
Was Gebelein Man a victim of his times? Recent research, suggesting that he was buried in a large well-endowed grave and with a number of lethal weapons of his own, only adds to the mystery that now surrounds him.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's fit for a king — Egypt's largest sarcophagus, that is


The largest ancient Egyptian sarcophagus has been identified in a tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, say archaeologists who are re-assembling the giant box that was reduced to fragments more than 3,000 years ago.

Made of red granite, the royal sarcophagus was built for Merneptah, an Egyptian pharaoh who lived more than 3,200 years ago. A warrior king, he defeated the Libyans and a group called the "Sea Peoples" in a great battle.

He also waged a campaign in the Levant attacking, among others, a group he called "Israel" (the first mention of the people). When he died, his mummy was enclosed in a series of four stone sarcophagi, one nestled within the other.

Archaeologists are re-assembling the outermost of these nested sarcophagi, its size dwarfing the researchers working on it. It is more than 13 feet (4 meters) long, 7 feet (2.3 m) wide and towers more than 8 feet (2.5 m) above the ground. It was originally quite colorful and has a lid that is still intact.

"This as far as I know is about the largest of any of the royal sarcophagi," said project director Edwin Brock, a research associate at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, in an interview with LiveScience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Two Ptolemaic lion statues found in Fayoum

An archaeological mission discovered two sandstone statues of kneeling lions from the Ptolemaic era in Fayoum, Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Ali announced Monday.
In a statement issued by the Antiquities Ministry, the minister said the two statues were found on the western bank of the Nile, in the area of Dima al-Sebaa in Fayoum Governorate.
The statues were found surrounded by ruins of parts of the temple of the god Sunkobaius.
They were used to decorate the gutter of temple, the minister explains, like those found on the roofs of the Greco-Roman eras temples in Upper Egypt.
A mission from the Italian University of Salento in Lecce discovered the statues.
Ali stressed that the two statues indicate that the temple, which dates back to the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, was built with high quality material, comparable to famous temples built in these eras in Upper Egypt.
This is the first time of its kind that lion-shaped statues were found adorning gutters at a Greco-Roman settlement in Fayoum, he said.
Professor Mario Capasso, head of the mission, said the two statues are in good condition, measuring 1.6 meters long, 0.9 meters deep and 0.8 meters high.
The lions’ facial features significantly simulate nature, but differ from one another in terms of shape and detail.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Karnak: Temple Complex of Ancient Egypt

by Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
30 November 2012

Karnak is an ancient Egyptian temple precinct located on the east bank of the Nile River in Thebes (modern-day Luxor). It covers more than 100 hectares, an area larger than some ancient cities.

The central sector of the site, which takes up the largest amount of space, is dedicated to Amun-Ra, a male god associated with Thebes. The area immediately around his main sanctuary was known in antiquity as “Ipet-Sun” which means “the most select of places.”

To the south of the central area is a smaller precinct dedicated to his wife, the goddess Mut. In the north, there is another precinct dedicated to Montu, the falcon-headed god of war. Also, to the east, there is an area — much of it destroyed intentionally in antiquity — dedicated to the Aten, the sun disk. 

Construction at Karnak started by 4,000 years ago and continued up until the time the Romans took control of Egypt, about 2,000 years ago. Each Egyptian ruler who worked at Karnak left his or her own architectural mark. The UCLA Digital Karnak project has reconstructed and modeled these changes online. Their model shows a bewildering array of temples, chapels, gateway shaped “pylons,” among many other buildings, that were gradually built, torn down and modified over more than 2,000 years.

Karnak would have made a great impression on ancient visitors, to say the least. “The pylons and great enclosure walls were painted white with the reliefs and inscriptions picked out in brilliant jewel-like colours, adding to their magnificence,” writes Egyptologist Heather Blyth in her book "Karnak: Evolution of a Temple" (Routledge, 2006).

“Behind the high walls, glimpses of gold-topped obelisks which pierced the blue sky, shrines, smaller temples, columns and statues, worked with gold, electrum and precious stones such as lapis lazuli must have shimmered in the dusty golden heat.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Science both sacred and mundane

We all think we know the difference between religion and superstition. But how do these relate to magic, and ancient magic in particular? In the first of an occasional series on ancient Egyptian beliefs, Jenny Jobbins looks at how far back we need to go in search of an answer

Perhaps we pray to be delivered from evil: that is religion. We cross our fingers that we don’t catch flu: that is superstition. Or we might place a few items with a written charm in a drawstring pouch and wear during a full moon: that is magic. All different, but all ways to a similar end: the age-old desire for protection.
Perhaps, indeed, the need for protection was where it all began. Protection must have been a primal need, and may have developed with man’s first consciousness. Early humans would have protected themselves by enacting ritual observances, making propitiatory offerings, wearing jewellery and possessing sacred objects. Above them and their world hung the divine protection of the magical, mystical moon, the light that brought a pattern to the skies; that brought females of all kinds into season; that delivered one from darkness; that harnessed creation and seemed to be the point of it all. This was long before the advent of agriculture that many scholars believe issued in sun worship — the notion that death (the sinking sun, or the fallow period after harvest) must occur to ensure the continuance of life (dawn, or the birth of Spring).
By the time the society of the ancient Egyptians evolved, agriculture was the norm. People no longer depended on the moon to govern the fertility of the herds of wild or domestic animals that supplemented a diet of wild plants. Now they worshipped the Sun God (in his various and successive manifestations) whose cult centre was at Iwnw (City of Pillars), the city called by the Greeks Heliopolis, City of the Sun.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The tomb of Egypt's King Ramses II's son open to public

The royal tomb of the 19th dynasty King Merenptah in Luxor’s west bank is officially open to public

Nevine El-Aref from Luxor, Friday 30 Nov 2012

After three years of closing for restoration the tomb of King Ramses II’s beloved son, King Merenptah was officially inaugurated in an attempt to provide more tourist attractions and in a step forward to regain Egypt’s tourism industry, after turmoil in Egypt since the 2011 January revolution.

Restoration works aims at counteracting the deterioration of architectural features and decorations of the tomb resulted from natural causes or the misuse of the tomb visitors. The walls were reinforced, cracks removed, reliefs and colours consolidated. Since then new wooden stairways, flooring, lighting and special ventilation systems have been installed. Glass barriers that cover the tomb reliefs were cleaned or replaced.

Merenptah tomb is one of the most impressive royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings not only for its length, which reached 164,5 metres, but for its distinguished reliefs and the biggest granite sarcophagus ever found in the Valley.

The tomb was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1903. It consists of three slopping corridors; the first one lead to the ritual shaft and the pillared hall with two pillar annex. The second corridor has a stairway.

The tomb is decorated with scenes from the Litany of Ra, Book of Gates, Imydwat, Book of the Dead, and scenes depicting the deceased, opening of the mouth rituals, along with several deities and members of his family.

It has also a very beautiful ceiling painted with golden stars on a blue background and the columns of the burial chamber are decorated with fine religious scenes.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Oldest Pharaoh Rock Art Rediscovered in Egypt

This ancient rock picture near Egypt's Nile River was first spotted by an explorer more than a century ago—and then almost completely forgotten.
Photograph courtesy Hendrickx/Darnell/Gatto, Antiquity
Scientists who rediscovered it now think it's the earliest known depiction of a pharaoh.
The royal figure at the center of the panel wears the "White Crown," the bowling pin-shaped headpiece that symbolized kingship of southern Egypt, and carries a long scepter. Two attendants bearing standards march ahead of him; behind him, an attendant waves a large fan to cool the royal head. A hound-like dog with pointed ears walks at the ruler's feet. Surrounding the king are large ships, symbols of dominance, towed by bearded men pulling on ropes.
The picture, which was engraved on a sheer cliff face in the desert northwest of the city of Aswan, was probably created between roughly 3200 and 3100 B.C., according to researchers who published their discovery in December's issue of the journal Antiquity.
At around the same time that the picture was crafted, northern and southern Egypt were united under the reign of a supreme monarch, or pharaoh. The pharaoh in the picture may be Narmer, the king who overcame the last vestiges of northern resistance to southern rule and is considered by many to be Egypt's founding pharaoh.
This rock art picture, known as tableau 7a, is nearly ten feet (three meters) wide. That makes it the largest of the pictures at the site, called Nag el-Hamdulab after the neighboring village.
Earlier Egyptian art tends to show not kings themselves, but emblems of royal or divine power, said Yale University's John Darnell, one of the paper's authors. An image of a bull or falcon, for example, was often used as a stand-in for the king. When human rulers were shown, they were small and peripheral, as if they didn't count for much.
But here, for the first time, the king is dominant. "It's an amazing depiction, artistically and textually, of the birth of dynastic Egypt," Darnell said.
The change in the king's depiction reflects changes in the nature of kingship at the time, said Yale University archaeologist Maria Gatto, another author of the paper.
"He's not just a regular man like everyone else," she said. "He's a god, someone special who can help you be in contact with the supernatural."
—Traci Watson
Published November 29, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Byzantine coins found in Beheira

Italian excavation mission discovers two well-preserved gold Byzantine coins in El-Baheira

Nevine El-Aref , Monday 26 Nov 2012

An Italian excavation mission headed by Dr. Loredana Sist from Milano University stumbled upon two well-preserved gold coins within the sand at the archaeological site Kom El-Ghoraf in El-Beheira governorate in Delta during routine excavations.

Each coin weighs 4,300 gr. The first coin depicts the figure of a Byzantine Emperor named Phocas (602-610 AD) holding in his right hand a cross. His name is on one side of the cross, while the other side shows the same emperor with a cane in one hand and a cross in the other.

The second coin shows the image of another Byzantine emperor named Heraclinus (610-641 AD) with his two sons, princes Konstantinos III and Heraclinus II, on one side while the other side features a large cross.

Mohamed Ibrahim, Minister of State of Antiquities, said the very important discovery gives Egyptologists a full and complete vision of the shapes, sizes and looks of coins during such an era. It also shows the high skills of craftsmen of the Byzantine period, he added.

Mostafa Roshdi, Director of El-Beheira Antiquities, told Ahram online that the area of Kom El-Ghoraf is a very important archaeological site located between Damanhur and Rosetta. It was previously a part of the seven Nomes of Lower Egyptthe district still little explored. In the Late Period this area was dominated by the city of Metelis, not yet identified.
The vast site was destroyed intensively since the late nineteenth century, as seen from topographical maps of different periods that record the progressive dismantling.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dynasties Of Egypt Part II: Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period

The Old Kingdom is the name commonly given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley (the others being Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom).

The term Old Kingdom, coined during the nineteenth century, is somewhat arbitrary. Egyptians at that time would have seen no distinction between the Old Kingdom and the preceding Early Dynastic Period, since the last Early Dynastic king was related by blood to the first two kings of the Old Kingdom, and the Early Dynastic royal residence at Ineb-Hedj (translated as "The White Walls" for its majestic fortifications) remained unchanged except for the name. During the Old Kingdom, the capital was renamed Memphis. 

The basic justification for a separation between the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom is the revolutionary change in architecture accompanied and the effects that large-scale building projects had on Egyptian society and economy..

The Old Kingdom spanned the period from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty (2,686 BC – 2,134 BC). Many Egyptologists also include the Memphite Seventh and Eighth Dynasties in the Old Kingdom as a continuation of the administration that had been firmly established at Memphis. Thereafter, the Old Kingdom was followed by a period of disunity and relative cultural decline (a "dark period that spanned the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and part of the Eleventh Dynasties) referred to by Egyptologists as the First Intermediate Period.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Egypt celebrates 90 year anniversary of Tutankhamun’s tomb discovery

Ninety years ago on November 22 the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun was discovered in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor in Egypt.

After years of finding smaller archaeological hauls in the area Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, opened the tomb and discovered an abundance of gold and fineries left with the king after his death and mummification.

On Thursday the great-grandson of the 5th Earl, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, Lord Carnarvon attended an event to celebrate this anniversary at Howard Carter’s house which is now a museum a few miles from the Valley of the Kings.

Egypt's ministers of tourism and antiquities were present as were ambassadors to Egypt from the United States and Singapore amongst others.

The current Lord Carnarvon, George, explained the importance of the celebration.

“Well I’m here today in Luxor, indeed in Howard Carter’s house, Castle Carter as it’s known, because it's the 90th year following the first discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. When my great-grandfather and Howard Carter actually broke through the outer sealed door with Tutankhamun’s cartouche and crest on it and when they first saw into the ante-chamber of the tomb. This amazing archaeological discovery that has never been surpassed,” he said.

Carnarvon is a big fan of his great-grandfather but readily admits his wife Fiona is more of an expert on Egyptology than he is, even translating a certain amount of hieroglyphics. He says opening the tomb was a very dramatic moment.

“My great-grandfather says to Howard Carter ‘What do you see?’ and Carter famously replies ‘Just wonderful things.’ And he's looking back at this, in a way perhaps, theatre set of ancient civilization 3,100 years ago, everywhere the glint of gold off those beautiful wooden objects and that's just the start,” said Carnarvon.

The 8th Earl funded Carter's excavation work in the Valley of the Kings for several years. The pair were in their last year of working together when they made by far their greatest discovery: the tomb of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922. It is still the best preserved of the pharaonic tombs in the area.

By Reuters
Friday, 23 November 2012