Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mummy unwrapping brought Egyptology to the public

Mummies have been objects of horror in popular culture since the early 1800s -- more than a century before Boris Karloff portrayed an ancient Egyptian searching for his lost love in the 1932 film The Mummy. Public "unwrappings" of real mummified human remains performed by both showmen and scientists heightened the fascination, but also helped develop the growing science of Egyptology, says a Missouri University of Science and Technology historian.
Dr. Kathleen Sheppard, an expert in the history of science, particularly archaeology and Egyptology, and an assistant professor of history and political science at Missouri S&T, says that while mummy unwrappings served as public spectacles that objectified exotic artifacts, they were also scientific investigations that sought to reveal medical and historical information about ancient life.
Sheppard wrote about this intersection between science and showmanship in an article titled "Between Spectacle and Science: Margaret Murray and the Tomb of the Two Brothers." It will be published in the December issue of the journal Science in Context.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hidden Treasures in the delta

By Sayed Ahmed
Egypt has been the seat of different civilisations since nearly the beginning of human history. Remnants across the country bear witness of the greatness of its ancients and historical events that changed and enlightened humanity. To this day there are many areas that have not revealed their archaeological secrets and one of these spots is Tanis or San Al Hagar.
San Al Hagar is a village in the Sharqeya governorate. It was the religious and political capital during the 21th and 22th Dynasty of ancient Egypt and in hieroglyphic it was called Sobaat Maht, meaning the big city in the end of the east.
King Semendes, the founder of the 21th dynasty, made San Al Hagar his capital, so he could control the Mediterranean and the politics that came with it. He was followed by other great kings that expanded their control to cover the delta, until King Shenishq founded the 22th dynasty and renamed the capital Tanis.
San Al Hagar remained the main centre of power and seat of the kings for over 145 years, and many stories that are connected to the location are the reason for controversy between historians, like the claim that Moses was raised in this city by King Ramses II.
San Al Hagar was built from sandstone that came from Aswan and it is believed the city was abandoned in the sixth century CE after the nearby lake threatened to flood the town. Its destruction inspired a myth of a fierce battle between the gods Ra and Ammon, but a plausible explanation is that erosion and desertification caused the temples and tombs to be buried under the sand.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Modern Science Unravels Ancient Mummy Mysteries

Reported by Dr. Julielynn Wong:
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 1st 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.

A mummy from the British Museum was a small woman in her early 20s with delicate features, a narrow face and thick lips. Her face appears to match the features of her portrait. (Image credit: Caroline Wilkinson/University of Dundee Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Penn Museum opens conservation lab to the public

Written by Margie Fishman Gannett 

In ancient Egypt, the prayer for the afterlife could be simple or complex, depending on the deceased’s financial wherewithal. Family members selected from among 1,200 “magical spells” to protect their loved ones, carved in chicken-scratch script on coffins. Requests included a wish for plentiful bread and beer, a nice burial in the western desert, or traveling for eternity on the roads of the gods. 

Before there was Greece, Persia or Rome, there was ancient Egypt thriving along the Nile 7,000 years ago. What the powerful civilization left behind — in the form of elaborate coffins, funerary masks, shrouds and mummified remains — informs the story of humanity.

Now, the Penn Museum is giving the public a behind-the-scenes tour of the meticulous conservation process — an integral step before artifacts can move from storage to the exhibition floor.

Housed in a glass box in a third-floor gallery, “In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies,” allows visitors to interact with conservators stripping away millennia of grime to uncover the world’s first picture frames, fairytales and graffiti art. Twice a day, the team slides open a window to answer questions about the 2,000-square-foot exhibition. An interactive whiteboard details their tasks for the day, supplemented by a blog at

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dynasties of Egypt Part I: Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Period

Predynastic Period

The Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3100 BC) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy starting with King Narmer. However, the dates of the Predynastic period were first defined before widespread archaeological excavation of Egypt had taken place, and recent finds which show the course of Predynastic development to have been very gradual have caused scholars to argue about when exactly the Predynastic period ended. Thus, the term Protodynastic Period, sometimes called Dynasty 0, has been used by scholars to name the part of the period which might be characterized as Predynastic by some and Dynastic by others.

The Predynastic Period is generally divided into cultural periods named after the places where a certain type of Egyptian settlement was first located. However, the same gradual development that characterizes the Protodynastic Period is present throughout the entire Predynastic Period, and individual "cultures" must not be interpreted as separate entities but as largely subjective divisions used to facilitate easier study of the entire period.

The Protodynastic Period of Egypt (generally dated 3100 - 3000 BC) refers to the period of time at the very end of the Predynastic Period, equivalent to the archaeological phase known as Naqada III. During the Protodynastic Period, Egypt took the first steps toward political unification, leading to a truly unified state during the Early Dynastic Period. Also during this time, we see the Egyptian language first being recorded in hieroglyphs. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hundreds witness solstice at King Ramses II temple

Tourists gather at Aswan's Abu Simbel to witness bi-annual solstice when sun's rays fall directly on temple of King Ramses II

Dawn breaks on statues of Pharoah Ramses II (R) and Amun, the God of Light (L), in the inner sanctum of the temple of Abu Simbel (Photo: Reuters)

A phenomenon that happens twice a year in Aswan's Abu Simbel took place on Monday when the sun’s rays fell directly onto the King Ramses II temple to mark his birthday.

A solstice takes place each year between 20 and 22 February, when the king was crowned, and between 20 and 22 October, when he was born.

In celebration of the historic moment, Abu Simbel hosted cultural shows and popular bands on Sunday and Monday. The celebration was attended by tourists and local officials.

Ahmed Abdullah, general manager of Abu Simbel and the Nuba temples, told the Al-Ahram Arabic website that the phenomena usually attracts more than 1,300 tourists from all over the world.

"Tourists who attend this unique event say it confirms that ancient Egyptians were pioneers in astrology," he added.

According to Abdullah, this is one of 4,500 astronomical phenomena that were celebrated by ancient Egyptians.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New tourist magnets

Khafre's Pyramid and several Old Kingdom tombs on the Giza Plateau are now officially open to the public, part of the effort to encourage tourists to return to Egypt, as Nevine El-Aref finds out

Six tombs in the vicinity of King Khufu's Great Pyramid, as well as the second pyramid, that of Khufu's son Khafre, have been reopened as part of the government's strategy to encourage tourists to come to Egypt in the wake of plummeting tourist numbers following the revolution in January last year.

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim officially inaugurated the six royal and noblemen's tombs at a gala ceremony last Thursday morning at the foot of the Khafre Pyramid.

The tombs, which all date from the Old Kingdom, are located at the eastern and western cemeteries on the Giza plateau and have undergone extensive restoration.

Work on the second pyramid, which has been going on since 2009, was deemed necessary because the humidity rate inside soared to 80 per cent and salt encrustation was seen to be causing rapid deterioration.

Ali Al-Asfar, director-general of the Giza Plateau, explained that each visitor to the pyramid exhaled about 20 grammes of water vapour. The salt this contained accumulated and caused cracks in the pyramid's inner walls.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Luxor: Rediscover Egypt’s jewel of the Nile

A closer look at one of the most attractive tourist destinations

By Sarah Loat

As the searing heat of the Egyptian sun releases its grip on Luxor a little, now is the perfect season to venture back to the beginning of time.
Post-revolutionary Luxor has been hit hard. This ancient capital of Egypt has been left bereft of tourists and the economy is struggling. Little else has changed; the temples still stand as they have for millennia and the Nile still enchants.
All the reasons why Luxor has attracted tourists for centuries and why it should definitely be on your bucket list – never has there been a better time to get a reduced-rate hotel room, from back packer’s lodges up to 5 star luxury. And Luxor needs you now!
The city is a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian wonder and has some of the world’s most awe-inspiring sights. Luxor has, somewhat unfairly, built a reputation for being the hassle capital of Egypt. It is true, it can be intimidating to have feluccas and caleche rides and West Bank tours thrust at you, seemingly by every person you pass in the street. But greet them with humour and politeness and remember, they are only trying to make a living.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hibis Temple is back on Egypt's tourist path

Hibis Temple, the best preserved temple in the Western Desert, is to be officially reopened to the public Sunday in a ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Hisham Kandil

by Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 18 Oct 2012

After almost six decades of restoration, the 27th Dynasty Hibis Temple at Kharga Oasis regains its original allure and will open its doors to visitors Sunday.

The inauguration is due to be attended by Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim, as well as top governmental officials and archaeologists.

Hibis Temple was closed for restoration in the late 1980s and declared off limits to visitors. Ibrahim said the deterioration of the temple started as early as 1958 when the level of ground water in Kharga Oasis rose, endangering the temple. Efforts were then made to control the subterranean water that had risen because of irrigation projects in the surrounding area. A drainage channel was excavated to direct the excess water. The former sacred lake of the temple was re-dug to contain the water.

But, Ibrahim said, these solutions were only temporary as the temple continued to weaken under water leakages. Cracks spread all over the temple’s walls, columns tilted and reliefs were damaged.

In 1980s, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (now the Ministry of State for Antiquities) suggested physically removing the temple and rebuilding it on higher dry ground to stop any further damage. The suggestion was ultimately rejected.

A committee of archaeologists, engineers and restorers rejected the relocation plan fearing the collapse of the temple during the dismantling and reconstruction process.

The committee pointed out that half of the blocks and columns of the temple were in a critical condition. The committee suggested restoring the temple in situ.

Restoration work began in early 2000s. Columns and walls were consolidated, cracks repaired and reliefs restored. To protect the temple from drainage and underground water, insulation materials were used as a protective layer between the ground and the foundation of the temple. New lighting systems were installed to allow access to the temple at night.

Hibis Temple is the best preserved temple in the Western Desert. It was built by King Darius I. It was also used as a garrison until 330BC, and it contains evidence of use in later periods, including the early Christian period.

There are also signs that it was used by Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A tour in the bulls’ tombs

by Steven Viney
Saqqara is renowned for being one of Greater Cairo’s most alluring locations for archaeologists and tourists alike. One of the main reasons many prefer this archaeological site to the Giza Pyramids north of it is that it’s home to antiquities that date from the earlier kings of ancient Egypt all the way to the Greco-Roman period — a time span of almost 3,500 years.
Amid the slump in the site’s visitors since last year’s uprising, the Antiquities Ministry officially inaugurated the Serapeum in Saqqara at the end of September, hoping to send out a message to tourists that Egypt is safe again, with new sites to see.
The Serapeum, originally known as the Apis bull tombs, was where ancient civilizations would mummify and bury bulls in vaulted tombs and sarcophagi with jewels, to worship gods such as Osiris, Apis, Ptah and, later, the Greco-Egyptian Serapis, who was a combination of Osiris and Apis. The evolution of the types of gods and worship practices highlighted in the Serapeum’s inscriptions is testament to how much history is contained in the Saqqara antiquities site — and particularly the Serapeum.
This burial site is not newly discovered — it has actually been under restoration for almost three decades. Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Ali says the Serapeum is the first of many new restoration projects around Egypt intended to entice new tourists.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ancient Egypt City Aligned With Sun on King's Birthday

by Stephanie Pappas

The Egyptian city of Alexandria, home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, may have been built to align with the rising sun on the day of Alexander the Great's birth, a new study finds.
The Macedonian king, who commanded an empire that stretched from Greece to Egypt to the Indus River in what is now India, founded the city of Alexandria in 331 B.C. The town would later become hugely prosperous, home to Cleopatra, the magnificent Royal Library of Alexandria and the 450-foot-tall (140 meters) Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Today, more than 4 million people live in modern Alexandria.

Ancient Alexandria was planned around a main east-west thoroughfare called Canopic Road, said Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Politecnico of Milan. A study of the ancient route reveals it is not laid out according to topography; for example, it doesn't run quite parallel to the coastline. But on the birthday of Alexander the Great, the rising sun of the fourth century rose "in almost perfect alignment with the road," Magli said.

The results, he added, could help researchers in the hunt for the elusive tomb of Alexander. Ancient texts hold that the king's body was placed in a gold casket in a gold sarcophagus, later replaced with glass. The tomb, located somewhere in Alexandria, has been lost for nearly 2,000 years.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Story of Nefertiti

As queen of Egypt married to the iconoclastic pharaoh Akhenaton, Nefertiti helped in the temporary transformation of the cultures traditional religion into a monotheistic cult of sun worship. She also had an important role in ruling the empire and inspired standards of female beauty.

Akhenaton, Nefertiti and children

Early Life

Nefertiti was born in the royal city of Thebes on the Nile River in Upper Egypt; her name means "the beautiful one has come." Her origins and much about her life are unclear. Her supposed mother or stepmother, Tiy, was also described as her "nurse" and "governess." Her putative father was Ay, at first a scribe and keeper of the king's records. Eventually, Ay was to become grand vizier, or chief minister, as well as commander of the king's chariotry.
Perhaps her father's ascendancy made it possible for Nefertiti to secure an entrée to the court and to become friendly with the king's oldest son, the younger Amenhotep, a year her senior. Amenhotep happened to have her father, Ay, as tutor. Nefertiti had a younger sister, Mudnodjme, whom some scholars posit became the chief wife of King Horemheb, a view contested by others.
Given her father's presumed ambitions and the young prince's affection for her, at age eleven Nefertiti already appeared to have been groomed to be queen. It is agreed that she spent much of the her childhood in the royal palace at Thebes, a magnificent city beautified by Ay, this time in his capacity as chief architect to King Amenhotep III, the prince's father.
After the young King Amenhotep IV ascended the throne at about age sixteen upon his father's death, he married Nefertiti, then fifteen. She thus became Queen Nefertiti, empress of the two Egypts, Upper and Lower. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, royal couples were considered the intermediaries between the people and their gods; Amenhotep and Nefertiti, according to custom, were thus ascribed near-divine attributes.
The new king, however, broke rank with his predecessors. He evinced little interest in hunting, the affairs of state, or warfare. Rather, his focus was primarily theological. In fact, the sovereign became a religious reformer and was eventually considered a heretic. In contrast to his ancestors, Amenhotep IV replaced Amun-Re, the supreme god of all Egyptian gods, with a new paramount, powerful, and eventually sole god, Aton, whose manifestation was the sun-disk, the physical embodiment of the planet. Until then, Aton had been only a minor Theban god. Symbolically, in Year 5 of his reign, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaton. Because of mounting opposition to his iconoclasm and to his closure of the temples of the other gods, Akhenaton decided to build a new capital, Akhetaton (the modern Tell el-Amârna, on the Nile in Middle Egypt some 250 miles north of Thebes). The royal family and a good part of the court then moved there.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

After a 10-year-break, Khafre's pyramid and 6 royal tombs open on Giza plateau

Following years of arduous efforts by scientists to rehabilitate Egypt's middle pyramid and tombs first discovered in 1927, people can dive into heart of Old Kingdom again

by Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 11 Oct 2012

Dozens of journalists, photographers, TV anchors as well as top government officials at the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) gathered Thursday at a large tent erected at the void area in front of the Khafre pyramid in Giza to celebrate the official re-inauguration of Egypt's second largest pyramid and six Old Kingdom royal and noblemen tombs.

“I am very happy today to reopen these tombs which were closed for more than ten years due to restoration,” an ecstatic MSA chief Mohamed Ibrahim told reporters.

The restored historic site includes the tomb of King Khufu’s granddaughter, along with those of five Old Kingdom noblemen. 

The tombs, which were discovered in 1927 by American Egyptologist George Reinser, have been closed for restoration on more than one occasion in the past. In one of those endeavours, a site management plan was implemented at the Giza plateau the early 1990s to preserve these historic treasures.

The newly inaugurated tombs are located at the eastern and western side of Giza necropolis. They bear impressive facades, more like temples, and large chambers with rock-hewn pillars.

“Although these tombs may be sparse in decoration, they are rich in architectural features,” Ali El-Asfar, the director general of Giza antiquities department told Ahram online.

The first tomb, located at the eastern cemetery, which includes the Old Kingdom’s royal tombs, belongs to Princess Mersankh, the granddaughter of the builder of the Great Pyramid King Khufu. This tomb was originally intended for Mersankh's mother, Queen Hetepheres II, but was assigned to the daughter upon her sudden death. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mummy with Mouthful of Cavities Discovered

By Owen Jarus, LiveScience

Around 2,100 years ago, at a time when Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Greek kings, a young wealthy man from Thebes was nearing the end of his life.

Rather than age, he  may have succumbed to a sinus infection caused by a mouthful of cavities and other tooth ailments, according to new research on the man's odd dental filling. Recently published CT scans of his mummified body allowed researchers to reconstruct details of his final days.

The man, whose name is unknown, was in his 20s or early 30s, and his teeth were in horrible shape. He 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.

The pain the young man suffered would have been beyond words and drove him to see a dental specialist. Dentistry was nothing new in Egypt, ancient records indicate that it was being practiced at least as far back as when the Great Pyramids were built. Dental problems were also not unusual, the coarsely ground grain ancient Egyptians consumedwas not good for the teeth. 

A modern-day dentist would have a hard time dealing with the young man's severe condition and one can imagine that the ancient dentist must have felt overwhelmed. The researchers noted that even today infections associated with the teeth pose a "serious health risk."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Horus, The Hawk-headed God

(Sometimes Heru, or in compounds Hor-, Har-, Her-) Among the most ubiquitous of Egyptian Gods, Horus embodies kingship, victory, righteousness, and civilization. Horus is depicted either as a hawk-headed man or as a hawk, probably a peregrine falcon, except when he is depicted as a child (Harpocrates) in which case he is depicted anthropomorphically. From the earliest period, the king of Egypt was identified to some degree with Horus, and each pharaoh bore a ‘Horus name’ to which was later added a ‘Golden Horus name’. The Eye of Horus, known as the ‘Sound Eye’ or wedjat, from the word w-dj- (cf. Wadjet), meaning healthy, flourishing, or prosperous, or, as a verb, to proceed or attain, ranks as one of the most important and recognizable symbols in Egyptian religion. The typical consort of Horus is the Goddess Hathor, whose name means ‘House of Horus’. (In magical contexts, however, Tabithet and/or similar Goddesses may be his consort.)

The two primary aspects of Horus from which the rest can be derived—not as an historical matter, but for conceptual purposes—are Haroeris and Harsiese. The former is the Hellenized phonetic rendering of the name Hor-Wer, ‘Horus the Elder’ or ‘Horus the Great’, the latter the phonetic rendering of Hor-sa-Ise, ‘Horus son of Isis‘. Haroeris is conceived as the sky, with the sun and the moon as his right and left eyes respectively, but we may regard forms of Horus which strongly emphasize his solar aspect (often expressed by fusion with Re, on which see below) as pertaining generally to this side of his character. This aspect of Horus is relatively autonomous in relation to the Osirian mythos and may represent the form of Horus worshiped in the earliest period before he was fully incorporated into the Osirian narrative, if indeed there ever was such a time. The purpose of drawing such a distinction is not to make this claim, but simply to facilitate the analysis of the many aspects in which Horus is manifest. Harsiese, by contrast, is the son of Isis and Osiris, who, with his mother’s help, vindicates his father (hence he is called Harendotes, from the Egyptian Hor-nedj-atef[-f], ‘Horus-savior-of-[his]-father’) and is awarded the cosmic sovereignty after a lengthy conflict with his uncle Seth. This conflict, in which Horus receives constant assistance from Isis, is fought on many levels—magical, juridical, cosmic, medical—and is, aside from the conflict between Re and Apophis, the principal symbol of conflict as such in Egyptian religious thought. When Egypt’s pharaoh strives against enemies foreign or domestic, it is as Horus against Seth; when a person suffers from an illness or from the poison of a snake or scorpion, the spells which are applied identify the sufferer with Horus and the forces against which s/he strives with Seth. Animal products offered up to the Gods, because of the violence involved in their production, are linked to the recovery of the Eye of Horus stolen by Seth in the form of a wild animal (paradigmatically an oryx). When Horus and Seth fight, Horus receives an injury to his eye, Seth to his testicles (see, e.g., BD spell 99, “O Ferryman, bring me this which was brought to Horus for his eye, which was brought to Seth for his testicles.”)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cairo's Egyptian Museum After The Looting

by Jean Newman Glock (posted 26-9-2012 Huffingtonpost)

One of the most enduring events of the Egyptian uprising occurred late one night when local citizens formed a human chain to protect the Egyptian Antiquities Museum on Tahrir Square from those seeking to damage or steal its priceless contents. Sadly, this followed reports that the museum had been looted. Now, some 21 months later, the museum is attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy.
Tahrir Square, the focal point for Arab Spring in Egypt and subsequent protests, is once again calm. Few signs of the latest protest after the embassy riots remain. The large Ritz-Carlton sign announcing the opening of the new hotel on the site of the former iconic Nile Hilton flanks beside both the Egyptian Antiquities Museum and the still-empty burned out National Party headquarters, physical reminders of the continuing contradictions of post-revolution Egypt.
At the center of the Square, in the center of Cairo, sits the museum. It is arguably the finest repository of ancient treasures in the world, save those removed by others, both legally and illegally (think Napoleon). This single museum represents the finest antiquities from Egypt's Pharaonic past. It chronicles a civilization that remains the pinnacle of ancient learning, sophistication, art and creativity. Protection of the treasures here and throughout the country is a matter of great Egyptian national pride and international concern.
During the tumultuous days of late January 2011, Zahi Hawass, the swashbuckling Minister of Antiquities and international face of all that was Egypt, announced that though the museum security had been breached, no antiquities had been stolen and that 10 small artifacts and two mummies that were damaged had all been recovered. He noted that the biggest threat to the Museum was from fire at the headquarters of Mubarak's ruling party next door. The world was not to fear that Egypt would be an Afghanistan, a comment referring to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban. Egypt would protect her treasures.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Archeologist Reeves Reveals Tutankhamun’s Last Secret

by  on October 3, 2012

Revelations: Tutankhamun’s famous death mask wasn’t really his. It just got co-opted from someone else after the boy king died unexpectedly. Same with many of the artefacts in his tomb.

This was the thrust, then carefully proved—as best one can after 3,000 years—by archeologist Nicholas Reeves, Ph.D., Tuesday night at Town Hall. Titled Tutankhamun’s Last Secret, this was the first of a series of seven in the Ancient Egypt Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series presented this fall atTown Hall by the Pacific Science Center in conjunction with its ongoing exhibition Tutankhamun, The Golden King and the Great Pharoahs (through January 6, 2013).

Dr Reeves is associate curator in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The content of his hour-long lecture was so absorbing and the slides so fascinating that his unemphatic delivery and his reading of his lecture didn’t matter much.

Reeves put Tutankhamun’s tomb into context by describing the discovery by Howard Carter, his team, and his patron, the Earl of Caernarvon, on Sunday November 26, 1922, after years of dedicated and enthusiastic tomb exploration in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings had failed to find anything new which had not already been vandalized by tomb robbers over the past millenia. This tomb had never been found, as was shown by the unbroken seals on the entrance.

Tutankhamun was a shortlived pharoah who died in his teens. The puzzle is that his tomb is small, just four rooms, but in it was found a multitude of every item a king could need on his funerary journey, much of it sublime works of art in gold.

Reeves showed some of these, but zeroed in on the gold death mask, a gorgeous item which weighs in at ten-plus kilos. Pointing out that just before Tutankhamun’s reign it had recently been turbulent times in Egypt, and that the king had apparently died suddenly, he described some of the discrepancies in the mask. The gold of the surrounding headpiece is better quality than that of the face. The blue stripes in the head piece are glass, in the face (such as the eyebrows) the blue is lapis lazuli. The entire mask is made up of eight pieces riveted together and maybe it was originally built for a woman, maybe Nefertiti, as decided by tiny holes for earrings which had been covered up with gold leaf, with just the face replaced with Tut’s. Nefertiti’s tomb has never been found.

It’s history and mystery together, with science playing an increasing role in deciphering the mysteries.

Reeves’ talk ended with question time and in each answer he brought out more fascinating details. The last question came from a small boy, who wanted to know how the brain got removed in embalming. Reeves informed the child and the audience that the Egyptians didn’t consider the brain of any importance or realize it had anything to do with thinking, that to them the heart was the center of every thought. Then he described the messy procedure of how they extracted the brain after death without damaging skull or face.

The audience was not large for this first lecture in the series, but will likely increase as word gets around. They are all on Tuesdays, with three more in October, and after a two-week hiatus, three more in November.

Note: for more info about the lectures check the Agenda section at this site:

And check out the Video section at this site for another lecture by Nicholas Reeves:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Visiting Ancient Egypt, Virtually

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Egyptian Toes Likely to be the World’s Oldest Prosthetics

The results of scientific tests using replicas of two ancient Egyptian artificial toes, including one that was found on the foot of a mummy, suggest that they’re likely to be the world’s first prosthetic body parts.

The University of Manchester researcher Dr Jacky Finch wanted to find out if a three part wood and leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 BC found on a female mummy buried near Luxor in Egypt, and the Greville Chester artificial toe from before 600 BC and made of cartonnage (a sort of papier maché mixture made using linen, glue and plaster), could be used as practical tools to help their owners to walk. Both display significant signs of wear and their design features also suggest they may have been more than cosmetic additions.
Dr Finch says: “Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence. There are many instances of the ancient Egyptians creating false body parts for burial but the wear plus their design both suggest they were used by people to help them to walk. To try to prove this has been a complex and challenging process involving experts in not only Egyptian burial practices but also in prosthetic design and in computerized gait assessment.”
Dr Finch, who is based in the Faculty of Life Sciences’ KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, recruited two volunteers who were both missing their right big toe. Design replicas of the ancient toes were made to fit each volunteer along with replica leather ancient Egyptian style sandals.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Egyptian artifacts, between the Met and the mathaf

by Marie-Jeanne Berger
If you’ve ever been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and looked at the labels describing its many Egyptian artifacts, you would think they were all discovered in Europe. The Rogers Fund, gifts of Edward S. Harkness, gifts of the Egyptian Exploration Fund (a group of wealthy English travelers and adventurers) and the museum itself, among others, are thanked for bestowing such an expansive collection of antiquities to visitors of the Dawn of Egyptian Art wing. Apparently, the dawn of Egypt came when Europeans arrived to witness it.
At 9:30 am on mid-July day, the Met was already filling with tourists and their cameras. After a very long year living in Cairo, I went into the Egyptian art wing hoping to find another reason to be impressed by this ancient part of the world where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I wasn’t disappointed.
The wing is a shrine to all that is beautiful in Egypt’s history, and tourists come to pay pilgrimage. Egyptians with “Call me Dave!” or “Hi, I’m Peter!” pinned to their chests speak with Queens, a New York borough, and New Jersey accents. They lead large groups through the warrens of the exhibit, weaving biblical history into their explanations of certain objects and antiquities.
Each item is carefully displayed. Walls have been lovingly shellacked to house the small shards of a mural that once decorated the inside of a tomb. They are spaced far apart from each other; curators and Egyptologists have filled in the lacunae with simple line drawings that illustrate the complexity of the mural. A large plaque below the piece explains where it came from, who discovered it, what the hieroglyphs mean and why these paintings were created in the first place.
Another wall is home to a beautifully transcribed length of papyrus from the Book of the Dead. After thousands of years, the black ink inscribing the pages still looks dark and unfathomable, almost wet on the onionskin parchment. This papyrus snakes purposefully through a long hallway. Small excerpts are translated throughout, giving the reader a glimpse of the intricate ritual surrounding the commemoration of death — like the death of a history in one place, and its resurrection in another.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Airbag engineering helps save world's first pyramid

A Welsh engineering firm that has been involved in restoration work at Buckingham Palace and the White House is helping to save the world’s first pyramid in Egypt.
Enlisted to restore the ceiling of the burial chamber of the Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Pyramid, which was at risk of collapse following an earthquake in 1994, Cintec International, the British structural engineering company behind the works, is now in the second stage of the advanced process which began in January 2011.
Other contracts in Egypt include 13 historic mosques and buildings in Cairo, a temple in the Western Desert and the Red Pyramid near Giza.
The company, based in Newport, Wales, has maintained structures such as Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Ironbridge Gorge and countless castles and churches in the UK. It has also worked on the White House and the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the USA and the Canadian Parliament Building using its highly advanced and innovative engineering systems.
The latest stage of the pyramid work, which is worth £1.8m, follows the stabilisation of the ceiling using specialist Cintec airbags, and involves testing a lime grout mixture compatible with the interior of the pyramid and pointing this around the jagged stones in the ceiling to stabilise individual stones.
These stones are then drilled and a specialist anchor inserted 4m or more into the structure to knit the stones together, thus preventing further collapse and protecting the structure for hundreds of years.