Thursday, May 30, 2013

Iron in Egyptian relics came from space

Meteorite impacts thousands of years ago may have helped to inspire ancient religion.

by Jo Marchant 29 May 2013

The 5,000-year-old iron bead might not look like much, but it hides a spectacular past: researchers have found that an ancient Egyptian trinket is made from a meteorite.

The result, published on 20 May in Meteoritics & Planetary Science 1, explains how ancient Egyptians obtained iron millennia before the earliest evidence of iron smelting in the region, solving an enduring mystery. It also hints that they regarded meteorites highly as they began to develop their religion.

“The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” says Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, UK, and a co-author of the paper. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”

The tube-shaped bead is one of nine found in 1911 in a cemetery at Gerzeh, around 70 kilometres south of Cairo. The cache dates from about 3,300 bc, making the beads the oldest known iron artefacts from Egypt.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Earliest Case of Child Abuse Discovered in Egyptian Cemetery

by Joseph Castro, LiveScience ContributorDate: 28 May 2013

A 2- to 3-year-old child from a Romano-Christian-period cemetery in Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt, shows evidence of physical child abuse, archaeologists have found. The child, who lived around 2,000 years ago, represents the earliest documented case of child abuse in the archaeological record, and the first case ever found in Egypt, researchers say.

The Dakhleh Oasis is one of seven oases in Egypt's Western Desert. The site has seen continuous human occupation since the Neolithic period, making it the focus of several archaeological investigations, said lead researcher Sandra Wheeler, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Central Florida. Moreover, the cemeteries in the oasis allow scientists to take a unique look at the beginnings of Christianity in Egypt.

In particular, the so-called Kellis 2 cemetery, which is located in the Dakhleh Oasis town of Kellis (southwest of Cairo), reflects Christian mortuary practices. For example, "instead of having children in different places, everyone is put in one place, which is an unusual practice at this time," Wheeler told LiveScience. Dating methods using radioactive carbon from skeletons suggest the cemetery was used between A.D. 50 and A.D. 450.

When the researchers came across the abused toddler — labeled "Burial 519" — in Kellis 2, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first. But when Wheeler's colleague Tosha Duprasbegan brushing the sand away, she noticed prominent fractures on the child's arms.

"She thought, 'Whoa, this was weird,' and then she found another fracture on the collarbone," Wheeler said. "We have some other kids that show evidence of skeletal trauma, but this is the only one that had these really extreme fracture patterns."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Trip through time: a woman in Egypt

by Takashi Sadahiro

Among the ruins in southern Egypt sits Abydos, a quiet town where the Temple of Seti I is located. Seti I was a pharaoh who reigned from 1290BC to 1279BC.

During a two-hour visit to the town recently, I saw only three European groups touring the temple. It seemed more popular with sparrows who flitted around in the sunshine in front of a relief.

Unlike Luxor, a popular tourist destination that is home to the Valley of the Kings, time seems to pass slowly in Abydos.

The town held such a powerful attraction to one free-spirited British woman that she spent the later years of her life, from 1952 to 1981, living near the temple.

Because she named her son Seti, after the pharaoh enshrined in the temple, she became widely known as "Omm Sety," or mother of Seti. She believed she was the reincarnation of a priestess in the temple 3,000 years ago who had fallen in love with the pharaoh and was forced to kill herself because their love affair was forbidden.

Omm Sety’s real name was Dorothy Eady. When she was 3 and living in a London suburb, she fell down some stairs and afterward began to believe she was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian priestess.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Zahi Hawass

The long-reigning king of Egyptian antiquities has been forced into exile—but he’s plotting a return

By Joshua Hammer
Smithsonian magazine, June 2013

Zahi Hawass doesn’t like what he’s seeing. Clad in his familiar denim safari suit and wide-brimmed bush hat, the famed archaeologist is standing inside the burial vault of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, a six-tiered, lopsided mound of limestone blocks constructed nearly 5,000 years ago. The huge, gloomy space is filled with scaffolding. A restoration and conservation project, at Saqqara outside Cairo, initiated by Hawass in 2002, has been shoring up the sagging ceiling and walls and staving off collapse. But the February 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak—and also ended Hawass’ controversial reign as the supreme chief of all Egypt’s antiquities—is now threatening to unravel Hawass’ legacy as well. With tourists nearly gone, funds dried up and the Ministry of Antiquities leadership reshuffled several times in the past two years, preservation work on the pyramid has ground to a near halt. The new minister has diverted reconstruction money into hiring thousands of unemployed archaeology graduates, claims Hawass, in a desperate move to stop protests. “He has done nothing,” Hawass says, with perhaps a touch of schadenfreude in his voice, scrutinizing the rough limestone ceiling and walls.

Hawass alights on the subterranean floor and shines a flashlight on the Pharaoh Djoser’s granite sarcophagus. I follow him on hands and knees through a low tunnel, part of a network of five miles of passages that workers burrowed beneath the pyramid in the 27th century B.C. The air is redolent of mud and dust. “The dead king had to go through these tunnels to fight wild creatures until he could become Osiris, the god of the underworld,” he tells me, stepping back into the sunlight.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Library's papyrus leads to an ancient detective story

By Gwen Glazer

In 1889, Andrew Dickson White’s extensive travels found him in Cairo, where he purchased an 8-foot-long papyrus scroll found in an ancient tomb. A museum conservator told White it was Spell 125 from the “Book of the Dead,” a traditional Egyptian funeral text.

White shipped it to Ithaca and, trusting his account, no one translated the scroll after it arrived in the library’s archives – until now, when a collections assistant in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) examined it carefully.

A segment of the papyrus on display
Photocredit: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

Fredrika Loew ’12, a Near Eastern studies and archaeology major who knows hieroglyphics and began as a student assistant in RMC, consulted with her colleagues and found something odd about the text.

“It’s written in hieratic, the hieroglyphic equivalent for papyrus, and it’s clear from the drawing that it has something to do with death and burials,” Loew said. “But when I looked at it carefully, the words didn't seem familiar.”

Loew's was right: The scroll turned out to be a unique funerary text. It quotes parts of the “Book of the Dead,” but, as far as scholars know, it is an original text from the Ptolemaic period and dates to around 330-320 B.C.

With Thomas Christiansen, a hieratic scholar in Denmark, Loew is working to understand the text. She, Christiansen and Caitlin Barrett, assistant professor of classics, are also co-authoring a book about the papyrus.

The papyrus belonged to a Ptolemaic priest named Usir-Wer, and it describes what will happen to his body and soul (or “ba”) after death. Part of it reads:

“They will take your ba to the sky and they will take your corpse to the Duat. They will place the cloth of the southern and northern house on your mummy like the follower of Sokar, whom you made into one of the vigilant ones who are watching over the lord, the great god. ... Your ba will appear in a chamber of white gold. Royal linen will descend on your mummy bandages.”

Loew created an RMC exhibition around the papyrus – and several other Egypt-related artifacts from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the library, including its anthropology collections – that will be open until June 15 in the Kroch Library rotunda. The display includes mummified birds, an amulet, a kohl jar and an 1824 book deciphering hieratic and hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone. Also on display are White's photographs from his travels in Egypt, including the excavation of the Sphinx.

The exhibition is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Museum Pieces - Artist's Sketch of Pharaoh Spearing a Lion

Artist's Sketch of Pharaoh Spearing a Lion
Photocredit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New Kingdom, Ramesside
Dynasty 20
ca. 1186–1070 B.C.
Country of Origin Egypt, Upper Egypt; Thebes, Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62), debris near the entrance, Carter/Carnarvon 1920
Limestone, ink
h. 14 cm (5 1/2 in), w. 12.5 cm (4 15/16 in), th. 1.5 cm (9/16 in)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
Accession Number:

In this lively hunting scene, an unidentified Ramesside pharaoh is represented symbolically slaying the enemies of Egypt in the form of a lion. The hieratic text reads: "The slaughter of every foreign land, the Pharaoh—may he live, prosper, and be healthy."

This ostracon, a limestone chip used for sketching, was found in the Valley of the Kings during excavations conducted by Howard Carter on behalf of the Earl of Carnarvon, who received the piece in the division of finds. Although many of the figured ostraca discovered in this royal cemetery were clearly trial sketches made to facilitate an artist's work, this scene is not found in royal tombs, nor do the figures conform to the strict proportions of a formal rendering.

The scene was drawn with great economy of line by the confident hand of a skilled artist who required no grid lines as a guide. It may have been done for the amusement of the maker, or it may graphically represent the artist's hope that the ruler should be a strong protector of Egypt.

Excavated by Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter, 1920. Acquired by Lord Carnarvon in the division of finds; Carnarvon Collection, 1920–1926. Purchased by the Museum from Lady Carnarvon, 1926.


Skeleton of a Roman warrior unearthed in south Egypt

A human skeleton of a young Roman warrior has been unearthed in south Aswan, with the soldier showing signs of being killed in warfare

by Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 16 May 2013

At Bab Al-Heissn  area in south Aswan, which was in antiquity the border between Egypt and Old Nubia, an Austrian archaeological mission has unearthed a well-preserved skeleton of a young Roman warrior.
The mission also uncovered a residential house along with a coin from the reign of Emperor Heracles (741-610 AD).

Erin Forestner Molar, head of the mission, explains that early studies carried out on the skeleton's bones revealed that it is well preserved and belongs to a young warrior who spent his life in the Roman army.

"He probably died at a young age, between 25 and 35 years old, during a war from a stab from a sharp sword," Molar said, adding that until now the mission failed to identify the soldier but that further studies could establish his identity.

"It is a very important discovery," Minister of State of Antiquities Ahmed Eissa told Ahram Online, adding that it reveals a very important moment in Egypt's history. It shows that in antiquity there was conflict from time to time in the area, and likely war.

Adel Hussein, head of Ancient Egyptian Antiquities at the Ministry of State of Antiquities (MSA) pointed out that studies also tell that the stab hit the left thigh and left a very deep wound. It is likely the soldier bled to death.

Hussein continued that the area of Bal Al-Heissn was destroyed in several wars, which makes it difficult for researchers to determine an exact day of the war when the warrior was killed, but that early studies indicate that the war likely occurred shortly after the Arabs invaded Egypt.

Inside the residential house the mission found a fully-equipped kitchen with a large oven and a number of clay pots and pans, as well as the remains of flora inside.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cemetery Reveals Baby-Making Season in Ancient Egypt

by Owen Jarus, LiveScience ContributorDate: 16 May 2013

The peak period for baby-making sex in ancient Egypt was in July and August, when the weather was at its hottest.

Researchers made this discovery at a cemetery in the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt whose burials date back around 1,800 years. The oasis is located about 450 miles (720 kilometers) southwest of Cairo. The people buried in the cemetery lived in the ancient town of Kellis, with a population of at least several thousand. These people lived at a time when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, when Christianity was spreading but also when traditional Egyptian religious beliefs were still strong.

So far, researchers have uncovered 765 graves, including the remains of 124 individuals that date to between 18 weeks and 45 weeks after conception. The excellent preservation let researchers date the age of the remains at death. The researchers could also pinpoint month of death, as the graves were oriented toward the rising sun, something that changes predictably throughout the year.

The results, combined with other information, suggested the peak period for births at the site was in March and April, and the peak period for conceptions was in July and August, when temperatures at the Dakhleh Oasis can easily reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Passing on

The funeral rituals of ancient Egypt and the belief in celestial resurrection have bequeathed an unusual legacy and an essential artistic record for their descendants and for scholars.
Jenny Jobbins shows that although times changed, many of the old funeral customs lingered on

The painting in the Theban Valley of the Nobles, on the south wall of the tomb of Ramose, a governor of Thebes and vizier during the reigns of Amenophis III and Amenophis IV in the 18th Dynasty, shows a group of female mourners wailing in lamentation. Other images of funeral processions show mourners waving palm branches. Palms — a symbol of longevity, rebirth and the afterlife — have long been associated with death. They were cast before Christ as he entered Jerusalem to be tried and crucified, and they are still placed on graves in Egypt, where they are said to bring a blessing on the grave.

Many years ago I discussed this rich heritage with the Egyptologist Kamal Al-Mallakh, who referred to the Mosque of Abu Haggag within the walls of Luxor Temple and the similarity of the events at his moulid (saint’s day), when a model of his boat is ceremoniously carried through the streets of Luxor, to the ancient Feast of Opet when Amun’s sacred boat was carried from Karnak to Luxor Temple. He told me: “There has to be some significance. Isn’t [Abu Haggag’s] mosque right there in the temple? And some of the rights at his moulid are purely pharaonic.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New Theory on Egypt’s Collapsing Pyramids

by Peter James

The author’s first introduction to working in Egypt was a project in Cairo’s historic old quarter following the 1992 earthquake that caused widespread and devastating damage. Cintec International began working on a contract to repair and reinforce a number of badly affected structures, including some 15 notable mosques and maqaads, which were strengthened using the firm’s patented anchoring systems. Following success in the old quarter, the focus moved to the internal reinforcement of the Temple of Hibis in the El-Kharga Oasis, 700 kilometres (434 miles) due south of Cairo. Construction on the Temple began in 672 BC, but unlike most other comparable structures, it had differential settlement problems due to poor soil conditions. Work on these buildings was completed with no damage to the splendor and history of the monuments.

Soon afterwards, Cintec undertook its first pyramid restoration projects. These involved strengthening the connecting burial chamber corridors and ceilings of Egypt’s Red and Step Pyramids. The Red Pyramid is the third-largest of Egypt’s pyramids and was the first "true" pyramid built by Pharaoh Sneferu. Sneferu had built two previous pyramids, but these were not of a true triangular shape, and for structural reasons were not chosen by the Pharaoh as his final resting place.

While work on the Red Pyramid was confined to strengthening the granite slabs immediately above the burial chamber’s corridor, Cintec’s next project, the Step Pyramid required more careful planning and execution due to the very dangerous condition of the burial chamber ceiling. A large portion had collapsed during the 1992 earthquake, and what remained -- a ragged, hanging, inverted group of large and small stones set in mud -- was liable to collapse at any time. Cintec used its unique WaterWall airbags to support the ceiling temporarily without provoking further stone fall, before beginning work on final anchoring processes which are now halfway to completion. These ongoing projects offered insight into the nature of the pyramids’ structural deterioration.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Forgotten Female Pharaoh Comes to Life

by Margaret Regan

If Richard Wilkinson has his way, one day the Egyptian Queen Tausert will be as well-known as Nefertiti.

For the last six years, Wilkinson and the other archaeologists in his University of Arizona Egyptian expedition have been excavating Tausert’s mortuary temple in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

Unlike Nefertiti, who was the queen consort of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, Tausert was herself a pharaoh. It was extremely rare for a woman to rule in Ancient Egypt — only a handful reigned during the 4,000 years the civilization lasted — but Tausert was king in the 19th dynasty, around 1200 B.C. Knowledge of her largely disappeared after her death, and her story has long been buried in the Egyptian sands.

“We’re bringing the queen back,” Wilkinson says animatedly in his office in the UA Department of Classics. “It’s important we bring her back from oblivion. We’re bringing her back into history.”

Named a Regents’ professor in 2008, the renowned Egyptologist has been at the UA for 21 years, first in the former humanities program, then in classics, and now in the new School of Anthropology. He also has an affiliation with the Department of Near Eastern Studies.

Wilkinson is known as a charismatic teacher — his classics colleague and fellow Regents’ Professor David Soren calls him a Pied Piper — and ever since he arrived at the UA in 1989, he’s led his students on his excavations in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. For more than two decades, he’s spent winter breaks and scorching summers digging in the valley, across the Nile River from Luxor, known as Thebes in ancient days.

Friday, May 10, 2013

From rumour to bulldozer

Will Egypt’s illustrious heritage fall into oblivion under the toll of urban and agricultural encroachment? Nevine El-Aref finds that serious problems are facing some of the nation’s famous archaeological sites, while others may be storms in so many teacups

More than two years after the January 2011 Revolution, urban and agricultural encroachment continues to threaten Egypt’s archaeological sites.

The lack of security that overwhelmed the country during and after the revolution has certainly taken its toll. The sanctity of spiritual and archaeological environments have been desecrated, with plundering and destruction by vandals, thieves and neighbouring residents being carried out virtually unchecked.

Well-organised and well-armed gangs of thieves are reportedly plundering archaeological sites, while illegal construction encroaches on and sometimes even covers them.

The rich Islamic site of Istabl Antar in Egypt’s first Islamic capital has been isolated, as have Al-Muizz Street in historic Cairo; the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Dahshour; the Giza Plateau; the New Kingdom site of Matariya; the area of Al-Bordan on the Alexandria-Marsa Matrouh highway and the Hagg Kandil site at Amarna in Minya in Upper Egypt, to mention just a few.

Some building encroachments were removed safely and without damage, but for others help came too late and some areas of historical importance, where genuine objects and important remains are still hidden in the sand, were ruined or looted.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Ancient Library of Alexandria

The West’s most important repository of learning

by J. Harold Ellens   •  05/01/2013

In March of 415 C.E., on a sunny day in the holy season of Lent, Cyril of Alexandria, the most powerful Christian theologian in the world, murdered Hypatia, the most famous Greco-Roman philosopher of the time. Hypatia was slaughtered like an animal in the church of Caesarion, formerly a sanctuary of emperor worship.1 Cyril may not have been among the gang that pulled Hypatia from her chariot, tearing off her clothes and slashing her with shards of broken tiles, but her murder was surely done under his authority and with his approval.

Cyril (c. 375–444) was the archbishop of Alexandria, the dominant cultural and religious center of the Mediterranean world of the fifth century C.E.2 He replaced his uncle Theophilus in that lofty office in 412 and became both famous and infamous for his leadership in support of what would become known as Orthodox Christianity after the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), when basic Christian doctrine was solidly established for all time.

Cyril’s fame arose mainly from his assaults on other church leaders, and his methods were often brutal and dishonest. He hated Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, for example, because Nestorius thought Christ’s divine and human aspects were distinct from one another, whereas Cyril emphasized their unity. At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Cyril arranged for a vote condemning Nestorius to take place before Nestorius’s supporters—the bishops from the eastern churches—had time to arrive. Nor was Cyril above abusing his opponents by staging marches and inciting riots. It was such a mob, led by one of Cyril’s followers, Peter the Reader, that butchered the last great Neoplatonic philosopher, Hypatia.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Britain's largest seize of stolen artefacts since Egypt's revolution

Ahram Online gets an exclusive on the tale of the arrest of a UK-based seller suspected of looting Egyptian antiquities

British police arrest a UK-based businessman on suspicion of looting Egyptian antiquities.

The Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Squad (AAS) made the arrest on Friday, 3 May when international arts auction house, Christie's, reported that it had identified some antiquities which are almost certainly stolen from Egypt recently.

This is one of the biggest operations of its kind since the Egyptian revolution exploded in 2011, well-informed sources confirm to Ahram Online.

Christie's experts, the British museum's Egyptology department, the Egyptian embassy in London and the Art Loss Register worked closely for weeks to identify six stolen objects. The AAS is now trying to determine how these objects left Egypt, how the seller came to possess them and who his accomplices are.

Ahram Online understands that the seller (now in custody) claims he had inherited the Egyptian objects from his uncle.

He told the international auctioneer that his uncle served in Egypt during WWII and stayed on for a few years before returning to the UK in the '50s.

These objects were due to be sold at a Christie's auction on 2 May in London.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Museum Pieces - Tutankhamun His Tomb And His Treasures

All photos by D. van Hoorn 29 April 2013
Tutankhamun His Tomb And His Treasures exhibition at the Amsterdam Expo

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Residents protest looting, construction at ancient necropolis

Young people stage Monday protest at key historical site to demand that authorities put stop to looting, construction that threatens one of Egypt's oldest burial grounds

AP , Tuesday 30 Apr 2013

Illegal construction of a new cemetery has been going on for months in part of a 4,500-year-old pharaonic necropolis. The expansion has encroached on the largely unexplored complex of Dahshour, where Pharaoh Sneferu experimented with the first smooth-sided pyramids that his son Khufu, also known as Cheops, employed at the more famous Giza Plateau nearby, when he built the Great Pyramid.

Authorities issued an order in January to remove the construction equipment, instructing the Interior Ministry's police to implement it, but no action has been taken.

Also, a security vacuum that followed Egypt's 2011 popular uprising has encouraged looters to step up their illegal digs, clashing with guards at the site.

On Monday, dozens of young protesters at the site about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Cairo held up a sign that read: "God does not bless a nation that gives up its heritage."

Ramadan Mohammed, a 20-year old student from the nearby village of Mansheyet Dahshour, said he witnessed looting himself. He said he wanted to show that Dahshour residents were not responsible and should not to be blamed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Uncovered: Ritual public drunkenness and sex in ancient Egypt

By Melissa Healy April 29, 2013

I'll bet you that archaeologist Betsy Bryan's perspective on reality-show behavior is a little longer than most. Since 2001, Bryan has led the excavation of the temple complex of the Egyptian goddess Mut in modern-day Luxor, the site of the city of Thebes in ancient Egypt. And the ritual she has uncovered, which centers on binge drinking, thumping music and orgiastic public sex, probably makes "Jersey Shore" look pretty tame.

At least it was thought to serve a greater societal purpose.

Bryan, a specialist in the art, ritual and social hierarchy of Egypt's New Kingdom (roughly 1600 to 1000 BC),  has painstakingly pieced together the details of the Festivals of Drunkenness, which took place in homes, at temples and in makeshift desert shrines throughout ancient Egypt at least once and, in some places (including at the Temple of Mut), twice a year.

Bryan, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, presents her work in the second of a four-part lecture series tonight, under the auspices of the California Museum of Ancient Art. Under the title "Magic, Ritual and Healing in Ancient Egypt," Bryan's lecture (7:30 p.m. at Piness Auditorium inside Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd.) outlines the meaning and the mechanics of the Drunkenness Festivals.

Lectures Three and Four, on May 13 and 21, will feature two other acclaimed Egyptologists: Francesco Tiradritti of the University of Enna, Italy, and Dr. Benson Harer, past president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Tiradritti will lecture on Isis, Osiris' wife, and her magical powers. Dr. Harer will lecture on women's health concerns in ancient Egypt.

Before her lecture Monday, Bryan chatted with the Los Angeles Times about these widely observed rituals.