Thursday, January 31, 2013

Demotic Dictionary unveils culture of ancient Egypt

Four-decade project deepens knowledge of ancient life and links to modern languages

By William Harms

Janet Johnson’s interest in Egypt has been a lifelong fascination.

“My father was interested in ancient Egypt, so I just read all the books he brought home from the library,” says Johnson, the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor at the Oriental Institute. 

She says as a seventh-grader, after reading a history textbook written by Oriental Institute founder James Henry Breasted, “I already knew I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I was lucky enough to have a guidance counselor in high school who had spent a summer in Chicago and knew of the O.I. and the program, and he suggested it would be a good place for me—and he was right,” she said.

The Oriental Institute was where Johnson as a graduate student first studied Demotic, a language used widely in Egypt from about 500 B.C. to about 500 A.D. In addition to unraveling the puzzle of a language no longer spoken, she became interested in documents that dealt with women and illuminated an area of study that had not received much attention.

“I realized how hugely rich was the volume of material written in the language,” says Johnson, AB’67, PhD’72. “You had legal documents, contracts, religious documents, scientific material, and stories and other kinds of literature.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More discoveries at Djehuty's tomb in Luxor

A wooden 17th Dynasty sarcophagus of a child and collection of 18th Dynasty Ushabti figurines of a priest found inside Djehuty's tomb in Luxor's west bank

by Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 30 Jan 2013

Although the Egyptian sarcophagus does not have any engravings, decoration, or mummy inside, early studies carried out in situ by Jose Galàn, head of the archaeological mission, revealed that it belongs to a yet unidentified child who died during the 17th Dynasty.

A collection of wooden pots and pans was also unearthed beside the sarcophagus in the Draa Abul Naga area in Luxor's west bank, along with a collection of Ushabti figurines (statuettes) carved in wood and wrapped in linen .

Mansour Boreik, supervisor of Luxor antiquities, told Ahram Online that the Ushabti figurines depict the similar facial features of the well-known priest Ahmosa saya Ir, who played a major role in the royal palace during the 18th Dynasty.

Galàn described Djehuty as an important official who lived in the reign of Hatshepsut, but died in the reign of Thutmosis III, because the names of both Pharaohs are written on the tomb wall. However, the name of Hatshepsut is slightly scratched.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Egyptian Mummy's Elaborate Hairstyle Revealed in 3D

by Owen Jarus

Nearly 2,000 years ago, at a time when Egypt was under the control of the Roman Empire, a young woman with an elaborate hairstyle was laid to rest only yards away from a king's pyramid, researchers report.

She was 5 feet 2 inches in height, around age 20 when she died, and was buried in a decorated coffin whose face is gilded with gold. A nearby pyramid, at a site called Hawara, was built about 2 millennia before her lifetime. The location of her burial is known from archival notes.  

High-resolution CT scans reveal that, before she was buried, her hair was dressed in an elaborate hairstyle. "The mummy's hair is readily appreciable, with longer strands at the middle of the scalp drawn back into twists or plaits that were then wound into a tutulus, or chignon at the vertex (crown) of the head," writes a research team in a paper published recently in the journal RSNA RadioGraphics. They note that it was a popular hairstyle at the time, which may have been inspired by a Roman empress, Faustina I, who lived in the second century. 

Credit: Courtesy Victoria Lywood

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Museum Pieces - Painted wooden figure of Osiris

From the tomb of Anhai, Akhmin, Egypt
Late New Kingdom, around 1090 BC
Standing on a plinth in which was hidden Anhai's Book of the Dead
From the Nineteenth Dynasty (about 1295-1186 BC), figures of Osiris were included in the tombs of the wealthy. The body or the plinth was often hollow, and contained the tomb owner's Book of the Dead, the series of spells which were an essential guide to reaching the Afterlife safely. When the Book of the Dead was first produced, it was placed in the coffin with the mummy of the deceased. It was later concealed within a figure of Osiris, whose protection was thereby ensured.
This statue belonging to Anhai shows Osiris in his usual mummified state, wearing the characteristic atef crown, rather like the royal white crown, but with an ostrich feather on either side. He holds the crook and flail of kingship, identifying him as ruler of the dead. Instead of being shown swathed in white bandages, his upper body is covered with a brightly patterned fabric.
C.A.R. Andrews, Egyptian mummies (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

Museum and Photocredit: The British Museum


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Laurent Bricault, Richard Veymiers: Bibliotheca Isiaca II - A Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.01.45

Laurent Bricault, Richard Veymiers (ed.), Bibliotheca Isiaca II.   Bordeaux:  Éditions Ausonius, 2011.  Pp. 486.  ISBN 9782356130532.  €30.00.

Reviewed by Gil H. Renberg, Universität zu Köln

Continuing the valuable new series that began in 2008 with Laurent Bricault as sole editor,1 the second Bibliotheca Isiaca volume prepared by Bricault and Richard Veymiers makes numerous and varied contributions to the study of Egyptian religion in Greco-Roman Egypt and throughout the Greek East and Latin West. The series title does not indicate the true range of these volumes, which are devoted not only to the worship of Isis, but also other gods whose cults originated in Egypt and were often associated with her: primarily Osiris, Sarapis, and Harpokrates, but also Anubis, Apis, Bes, Nephthys and some more rarely attested ones, including even Antinous. The pattern established by the two volumes is for roughly half to be devoted to new studies that draw heavily from material culture and the remainder to new installments of two ongoing epigraphical and bibliographical projects.2 Since the new studies, which have been marked by a high level of quality, could easily find other publication venues, it is the ongoing projects that make the existence of Bibliotheca Isiaca particularly valuable.
The first of these projects is Bricault’s effort to keep up-to-date his essential and exemplary corpus of all Greek and Latin inscriptions pertaining to Isis and Sarapis and their associates that were found outside of Egypt, the Recueil des inscriptions concernant les cultes isiaques (abbrev.: RICIS).3 In both volumes of Bibliotheca Isiaca Bricault has provided an extensive supplement that updates entries for inscriptions in the original work and adds new texts published since its appearance.4 As epigraphical sources are essential to the study of Egyptian religion beyond Egypt, the importance of RICIS, which replaced a less ambitious catalog that was nearly four decades old,5 cannot be understated, and the fact that it is being regularly updated is therefore especially welcome.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dynasties Of Egypt Part IV: New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period

The New Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt. 

The New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC) followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period. It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the zenith of its power.

Possibly as a result of the foreign rule of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom saw Egypt attempt to create a buffer between the Levant and Egypt, and attained its greatest territorial extent. It expanded far south into Nubia and held wide territories in the Near East. Egyptian armies fought Hittite armies for control of modern-day Syria.

The Eighteenth Dynasty contained some of Egypt's most famous pharaohs including Ahmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amunhotep III, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.

The founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Ahmose I (reign 1550-1525 BC) had a turbulent childhood. At the age of seven, his father Seqenenre Tao II was killed, probably while putting down members of the Asiatic tribe known as Hyskos, who were rebelling against the Thebean Royal House in Lower Egypt. At the age of ten, he saw his brother Kamose die of unknown causes after reigning for only three years. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vatican mummy health check: It's never too late for an endoscopy

Written by Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY - Experts have just concluded a two-year study on the seven adult mummies in the Vatican Museums' collections.
The mummies underwent a full battery of X-rays, CT scans, endoscopic explorations, histological exams and a whole spectrum of genetic testing, leading one researcher to joke: "These mummies have gotten more medical attention now than when they were alive."
In fact, scientists can now make the kind of diagnoses ancient Egyptian doctors were probably unable to divine.
The scientific advancements in genetics, imaging technology and nano research also have brought new and unexpected discoveries with minimally and non-invasive techniques -- a far cry from the "unwrapping" autopsies of the 19th century.
For one thing, the mummy Ny-Maat-Re, "who we always referred to as 'she,' is in fact actually a man," said Alessia Amenta, Egyptologist and curator of the Vatican Museums' Department for the Antiquities of Egypt and the Near East.
The hieroglyphics on the mummy's three-dimensional painted coverings made of plaster and linen bandages -- called cartonnage -- had identified it as "the daughter of Sema-Tawi." But 3-D CT scan results from early January showed the never-unwrapped mummy is clearly male, Amenta said.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A walk among Sudan’s Nubian pyramids

Does Sudan have more pyramids than Egypt? In this series, we explore the splendours of the ancient Kingdom of Kush and the legacy it left behind in the land of the Black Pharaohs

by Mohammed Elrazzaz, Monday 21 Jan 2013

The Island of Meroe

Following the Nile as it flows north, some 200 kilometres from Khartoum, one comes close to the last capital of the Kushite Kingdom, one of ancient Africa’s most prominent cultures. The site, known as the Island of Meroe, is no island at all, but rather an expanse of land that stretches between the Nile and the Atbara River. One of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sudan, the archaeological sites of Meroe includes Meroe itself, Naga and Musawwarat es-Sufra.

Visitors to these isolated sites will find pyramids, temples, relics of residential buildings and irrigation infrastructure dating from as far back in time as the eighth century BC.

The Kingdom of Kush, which was heavily influenced by Ancient Egyptian culture, built its own pyramids, over two hundred of them. Whether at Meroe, El-Kurru or Nuri, the unique architecture of these pyramids is self-evident.

Unlike their Egyptian counterparts, the Nubian pyramids are much smaller in size (a base no broader than eight metres), very steep (an angle of seventy degrees) and rather elongated (no higher than thirty metres). Before delving into more details, we start with the first site.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Piece of glass has been identified as part of 3,000-year-old Egyptian vase

by James Rush

A piece of glass on display at Swansea University has been identified as a lost fragment of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian vase at Cairo Museum.

The fragment is believed to have come from a 15in high vase from the tomb of queen Tiye, the wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned from 1386 to 1349BC.
The piece of glass, which is on loan to the university's Egypt Centre from Swansea Museum, is part of an amphora, a kind of vessel usually used for transporting wine.

The rest of the vessel is currently on display in Cairo.

Although it was found in the tomb of the wife of Amenhotep III, the 4cm fragment bears the name of his grandfather Amenhotep II, who is thought to have ruled Egypt between 1427-1401BC and was given to the museum by the family of Harold Jones in 1959. Mr Jones  was an artist in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in the early 20th century.

Photo Credit: D. Legakis Photo/Athena Pictures
The long piece of glass displays two names of the king picked out in red and yellow on a background of brilliant blue.

The names are surmounted by red sun-disks and yellow feathers. The missing piece was originally prefabricated separately and then sunk into the body of the 40cm high glass amphora.

The complete vessel consists of a white amphora decorated with brown and light blue decoration.

Photo Credit: D. Legakis Photo/Athena Pictures

Dr Carolyn Graves-Brown, Curator of the Egypt Centre, said: 'Glass of this date is extremely rare in Egypt and was usually given as diplomatic gifts between the kings of the region.

'Vessels and other artefacts from the reign of Amenhotep II are part of an extraordinary array of sophisticated techniques from an innovative period of glass production.

'Large vessels such as that in Cairo Museum, from which our fragment originated, were not attempted even in later years. At this date the manufacture of glass was a royal monopoly and as valuable as gold and silver.'

Amenhotep III's reign is said to mark the zenith of civilisation in ancient Egypt, for both its cultural achievement and political power.

He is thought to have died around 1354 BC and was buried in a tomb in the secluded western branch of the Valley of the Kings.

The Swansea piece which bears his grandfather’s name would have been prefabricated and placed upon the body of the vessel while it was still in a molten state.

Interestingly, one of the names for glass in ancient Egyptian was ‘the stone that flows’.

Garethe El-Tawab, Curator of Swansea Museum said: 'The loan of this very rare piece of ancient glass by the Museum to our colleagues in the Egypt Centre is a marvellous example of partnership working in international research.'

Visitors will be able to see the rare piece of Egyptian glass for themselves when they come to the centre which is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm and is free to the public.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The lioness for real

A granite statue of the ancient Egyptian warrior goddess Sekhmet was unearthed today in the Mut Temple at Karnak on Luxor's east bank

by Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 16 Jan 2013

During excavation and cleaning works in the Mut Temple at Karnak, a mission from the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) stumbled on a very well preserved statue of the goddess Sekhmet. The statue is 180 cm tall and depicts Sekhmet as a lioness wearing the cobra and the Aten sun disk on her head and holding the ankh sign in her right hand and the lotus flower in her left.

"This is the first time a standing statue of the goddess Sekhmet in her original lioness form was found in the Mut Temple," Mansour Boreik, the supervisor of Luxor antiquities, told Ahram Online. He added that previously discovered statues there depict Sekhmet seated with the facial features of the goddess Mut, the consort of the god Amun Re, not her original lioness figure.

The ARCE mission uncovered this statue within the sands of the Mut Temple's second hall, within the framework of comprehensive restoration work carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA). The project, which began in May 2012, aims at restoring the temple and its surroundings so that it can reopen to the public, as it has been closed since 1976.

The original plan includes the establishment of a visitor centre where a documentary about the goddess Mut and her role in ancient Egypt would be screened alongside photos of the temple before and after restoration.

The Mut Temple is one among several located at Karnak. For many years it stood in ruins beyond the south gate, some 200 meters south of Karnak's 10th pylon. For some time now it has been undergoing restoration. The Napoleonic Expedition recorded one of the earliest plans of the Mut Temple as well as explorers and historians of the 19th century such as Nestor L'Hôte, whose drawings, made in 1839, recorded details of such temple. The Royal Prussian Expedition in 1842, led by Karl Lepsius and the first directors of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt, August Mariette and Gaston Maspero, had their own record of the monument. However, the first excavation and restoration work started in 1895 by two English women, Margaret Benson and Janet Gourlay.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Egypt's Dahshur ancient heritage under immediate threat

Dahshur archaeological site, home of the first ever complete pyramid, is being plundered by vandals and thieves

by Nevine El-Aref , Sunday 13 Jan 2013

A lack of security continues to negatively impact on Egypt’s archaeological sites. A few months ago, Ezbet Kheralla, in Old Cairo, home of early Islamic monuments, was subject to damage by neighbouring residents. Today is the turn of Dahshur.

Inhabitants of Ezbet Dahshur invaded the archaeological zone adjacent to the Black Pyramid of King Amenemhat III with bulldozers and guns. They put their hands on the land and start digging a private cemetery on top of artefacts buried in sand. The area was a cemetery for ancient Egyptian nobles; a German excavation mission unearthed several funerary objects there.

Guards at the site confronted the invaders but their attempts to repell them failed due to lack of arms.

Nasser Ramadan, director general of Dahshur archaeological site, told Ahram Online that he and his team reported the incident to the police but they failed to intervene. Even the minister of state for antiquities failed to take any steps to stop the encroachment.

Ramadan added that Dahshur was subject to thugs and vandals since the January 25 Revolution due to a lack of security, but it was never like this before.
People also dig the sand in search of artefacts, which are sold on the black market, he said.
“Our heritage is in danger and nobody is rescuing it,” Ramadan pointed out, calling on all concerned authorities to move to save and protect Egypt’s ancient heritage.

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim expressed regret that the Tourism and Antiquities Police has insufficient forces to remove any encroachments on archaeological sites. What complicates the situation is that the invaders are armed.

"We will study a new mechanism to compel people not to encroach upon the archaeological area", he said.

Dahshur is a royal necropolis located in the desert on the west bank of the Nile almost 40 kilometres south of Cairo. It is known for its several pyramids, two of which belong to King Senefru, the founder of the 4th Dynasty and father of King Khufu, along with other pyramids and tombs of the Middle Kingdom, including the Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III and the White Pyramid of Amenemhat II.

It also has the 600 feddan wide lake of King Farouk which is filled in September, attracting different species of birds from all over the world.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Museum Pieces - Head from an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut

New Kingdom
Dynasty 18
Joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III
ca. 1473–1458 B.C.
Egypt, Upper Egypt; Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, 2 frags. in "Hatshepsut Hole"/ rest Senenmut Quarry, MMA 1922-23/ 1926-1928
Limestone, paint
H. 85 cm (33 7/16 in)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1931
Accession Number:

This head was once part of a mummiform figure of Hatshepsut that decorated a niche on the west wall of the upper terrace of her temple at Deir el-Bahri. The heads of three of these niche statues are in the Museum's collection. This one wears the tall white crown of Upper Egypt and probably was originally in one of the niches on the south side of the entrance to the sanctuary. The other two heads (31.3.157, 31.3.164) wear the combined "double crown" of Upper and Lower Egypt and probably were in niches north of the sanctuary entrance.

Museum and Photocredit: The Metropolitan Museum Of Art


Friday, January 11, 2013

Out of the sea

Jenny Jobbins looks at the regional myths that ancient Egyptians associated with the creation of the world and finds an uncanny parallel with what science teaches us today

The Egyptians believed that the various ramifications of the sun god — Horus, the rising sun; Ra and Ra-Harakhte, the full sun; and Osiris, the setting sun — governed their lives and the lives of all living animals and plants. But how did they explain the creation of that world?
Their theory of creation depended on where — and, to some extent, when — they lived, and was woven around the cults of the different regional divinities. The main cult centres were in Hermopolis, Heliopolis, Memphis and Thebes.
To some extent there were common factors in these regional myths. In the beginning was chaos, envisaged as a vast ocean called Nu. From these waters rose a primaeval land mound, the pyramid-shaped benben, and at the same time life emerged from the benben’s rich, alluvial soil.

THE ENNEAD OF HELIOPOLIS: If you were born during the Old Kingdom in the area around Heliopolis, just to the northeast of modern Cairo, you would have grown up in the midst of a spiritually and politically charged atmosphere in the shade of the temple at the centre of the cult of Ra-Harakhte. Only one remnant remains today of this temple, Egypt’s first known temple to the sun god: the obelisk of Senusert I.
The people of Heliopolis (ancient Iwnw) attributed the creation to Atum, a deity who was associated with the sun-god Ra. Atum was the first god: he created himself, emerging on the primaeval mound from the water, Nu. According to the Heliopolitan myth, Atum single-handedly created his progeny, each with an element linked to the physical world. First he sneezed the air god with the onomatopoeic name of Shu, and spat out Shu’s sister, Tefnut. Shu and Tefnut were the parents of Geb, the Earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess. Despite being separated by their father, Shu, Geb and Nut nevertheless produced Isis, goddess of motherhood; Osiris, god of vegetation and resurrection; Set, god of the desert and of storms; and the protector goddess Nephtys. These nine gods, the family of the omnipotent Atum, formed the Ennead of Heliopolis. The hierarchy was perpetuated through the Pyramid Texts, which accompanied the deceased pharaoh and instructed him on how to conduct himself on his passage to the afterlife.
Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, and Anubis, son of Set and Nephtys, were the offspring of the last four members of the original Ennead.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Archaeologists unearth five ancient tombs on Luxor's west bank

Collection of tombs from Egypt's turbulent Third Intermediate Period are found in King Amenhotep II's funerary complex by Italian archaeological mission

by Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 10 Jan 2013

An Italian archaeological mission has accidently uncovered a collection of five private rock-hewn Third Intermediate Period tombs while brushing sand from parts of King Amenhotep II’s temple, located on the northern side of the Serapaeum on Luxor's west bank.

Each tomb includes a deep shaft leading to a burial chamber containing a wooden painted sarcophagus. The sarcophagi are decorated with funerary and religious scenes painted in black and red and house skeletons of the deceased.

Mansour Boreik, supervisor of Luxor antiquities, said that 12 very well preserved mud brick and sandstone Canopic jars were also unearthed. These jars, explained Boreik, were used by ancient Egyptians to store and preserve the deceased's bodily organs for use in the afterlife.

They are medium-sized containers covered with lids depicting the heads of the four sons of Horus: Imsety, with a human head to protect the liver; Hapi, with a baboon head for the lungs; Duamutef, with a jackal head for the stomach; and Qebehsenuef, with a falcon head for the Intestines.

The jars are now housed in the area storehouse for restoration and study.

"It's a very important discovery that highlights the importance of King Amenhotep II's temple years after the pharaoh's death," said Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim. He told Ahram Online that King Amenhotep II also had a tomb in the Valley of the Kings that housed a collection of royal mummies discovered in 1882.

King Amenhotep II was the seventh pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.  He inherited a vast kingdom following the death of his father, Thutmose III, and held it by means of several military campaigns in Syria. His reign witnessed the end of hostilities between Egypt and Mitanni, the two major kingdoms struggling for power in Syria.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ancient Carving Shows Stylishly Plump African Princess

by Owen Jarus

A 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of what appears to be a, stylishly overweight, princess has been discovered in an "extremely fragile" palace in the ancient city of Meroë, in Sudan, archaeologists say.

At the time the relief was made, Meroë was the center of a kingdom named Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It wasn't unusual for queens (sometimes referred to as "Candaces") to rule, facing down the armies of an expanding Rome.
Image courtesy Krzysztof Grzymski
The sandstone relief shows a woman smiling, her hair carefully dressed and an earring on her left ear. She appears to have a second chin and a bit of fat on her neck, something considered stylish, at the time, among royal women from Kush.

Team leader Krzysztof Grzymski presented the relief, among other finds from the palace at Meroë, at an Egyptology symposium held recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Researchers don't know the identity of the woman being depicted, but based on the artistic style the relief appears to date back around 2,000 years and show someone royal. "It's similar to other images of princesses," Grzymski told LiveScience in an interview. He said that the headdress hasn't survived and it cannot be ruled out that it actually depicts a queen.