Friday, August 30, 2013

The eloquent peasant

Egyptologist Bassam Al-Shamaa tells  Abeya
El-Bakry about the history of revolt in Egypt

January 2011 was not the first revolution in Egypt in the last 100 years. Unlike the July 1952 Revolution and the regime to which it gave birth, the January Revolution was not military. It was a civil revolution calling for civil rights and civil government. But nor was the July Revolution in any way unprecedented. As the Egyptologist, tour guide and writer who launched the 2005 Save the Sphinx campaign Bassam Al-Shamaa explains, there was a precedent for the January Revolution in the workers’ strike of 1155 BC. Al-Shamaa traces the Egyptians’ revolutionary character and how it has changed over an incredibly long period of time, indicating that at least some native traits have endured. Of course he is aware of the fact that revolution goes by many names, including “coup d’etat” when it involves military intervention. In ancient Egypt it was called sbi, he explains, meaning roughly rebellion; but by the time the army officer Ahmed Orabi led major protests in 18th century Egypt, it was known by the Arabic word hoga, literally meaning “frenzy” but perhaps more accurately translated as uprising, for which the accepted English term for the Arab world — following Palestinians protests — is “intifada”.

Revolutions were frequent before the unification of upper and lower Egypt, Al-Shamaa says, in the time of what he calls “the very ancient Egyptians”. There were two places in Upper Egypt — the southern half of the country — particularly known for protests: a city whose location is in the present-day town of Ballas, and Naqqada, 27 kilometres north of Luxor. “History works in steps, in my opinion,” Al-Shamaa says. “There is no such thing as an invention, only progress.” King Menes is credited with unifying the country but in fact there were several figures associated with this achievement when “the Lord of the Land(s)” became “the Lord of the Two Lands” and the double crown emerged. This period was in fact very similar to the situation we currently have with the breakdown in security and sharp polarisation between supporters and opponents of General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. At the time, Al-Shamaa says, governors and district heads seceded from the central government, which almost happened twice in the last year, in the cities of Al-Mahalla and Port Said.

Monday, August 26, 2013

One Mummy, Many Coffins: Egyptians Intended to Transform Deceased from Human to Deity

Aug. 23, 2013 — The Egyptian elite was buried in a coffin placed inside another coffin -- in ensembles of up to eight coffins. This was intended to ensure the transformation of the deceased from human to deity, according to Anders Bettum, Egyptologist.

"Boxes and other forms of containers are technologies that arise at given points of time in various cultures. Everybody knows the ancient Egyptian practice of mummifying their dead. What is perhaps less known is that they placed the mummies inside layer upon layer of coffins," says Anders Bettum, Egyptologist at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo.
A similar idea can be found with Russian dolls, Chinese boxes and even Norwegian poetry traditions.
"The Egyptian coffin sets are based on the same principle that we can observe with Chinese boxes and Russian nested matryoshka dolls, where objects are nested inside each other to constitute a complete ensemble," he says.
Ancient Egyptian history encompasses a period of nearly three thousand years, up to the Roman conquest in the year 30 BCE. Today, museums all over the world possess mummies or coffins that have contained mummies of more or less prominent men and women.
The child king Tutankhamun (1334-24 BCE) was buried in as many as eight coffins, according to Bettum.
"For men and women who were members of the ancient Egyptian elite at that time, three or four coffins were not unusual," he adds.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Museum Pieces - Cosmetic Vessel of Meretnubt

Photocredit: The Walters Art Museum

This small cosmetic vessel is carved with an openwork frieze of heraldic birds flanking a cartouche with the name "King's daughter, Nubet-meryt." Meretnubt was a daughter of King Thutmose I (1504-1492 BC). Separating the two heraldic groups are two snakes flanking a column. Above the openwork frieze is carved a series of alternating open and closed lotus flowers which ring the neck of the vessel. The glaze is particularly green in appearance.

Period: ca. 1500 BC (New Kingdom)
Medium: steatite with glaze
Accession number: 48.1388
Measurements: 2 1/8 x 2 1/8 in. (5.4 x 5.4 cm) (h. x diam.)


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Confirmed: Ancient Egyptian Jewelry Was Made From Meteorites

Barraging ancient beads with tests tells archaeologists that jewelry came from space-rocks--and that iron-working was an older job than we thought.

By Colin Lecher Posted 08.19.2013

If you want to track down meteorite debris, UCL Qatar professor Thilo Rehren explains in a phone interview, you have a couple options: your best bet is to scour for the black chunks of rock in the white plains of Antarctica, "but the second best place to hunt meteorites is the Sahara Desert," where it's relatively easy to find space rocks amid the expansive, light sands. About 5,000 years ago, that's where the Egyptians likely looked.

Rehren and a team of archaeologists have been studying Egyptian jewelry first uncovered from a grave in 1911--specifically, a set of beads from around 3,200 B.C. (The markings on ceramics and other finds at the site indicate the general time period.) The beads don't look like much more than decaying chunks of metal (which they are), but they were ceremoniously strung together on a necklace and wrapped around the deceased inside the tomb.

The beads are the earliest known iron artifacts ever found. So old, in fact, that the beads pre-date iron smelting, where metal is produced from raw ore. That technique is what ushered in the Iron Age, when stronger tools and weapons altered the course of human history. It's long been suspected that iron trinkets from well before the Iron Age came from meteorites, and now it's been confirmed "beyond reasonable doubt," Rehren says. That means iron working was practiced thousands of years before it was widespread.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ransacked! Egypt's Malawi National Museum

AP released some photos yesterday from the ransacked Egyptian antiques museum Malawi National Museum. Apparently 1040 of the 1089 objects were stolen from the museum last thursday.

The following photos by AP show what is left of the museum after the looting.

For more info about the stolen objects:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Egypt's archaeological sites and museums closed indefinitely

Following violence across the country as security forces move to break up pro-Morsi sit-ins, minister announces archaeological sites and museums closed

by Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 14 Aug 2013

Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) has closed all archaeological sites and museums across Egypt, as well as the ministry’s administrative premises.

The decision came in response to violence in Egypt following police attempts to break up Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in Nasr City and Al-Nahda Square in Giza.

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim established an emergency operation room to follow up on security measures taken at archaeological sites and museums across the country, in order to protect them from looting or encroachment.

During clashes, pro-Morsi protesters destroyed guard kiosks at the entrance to the National Museum of Alexandria, and at the Malawi National Museum in the Upper Egypt city of El-Minya.

Ibrahim told Ahram Online that both museums are safe, however. "Thank God, nothing happened to the museums themselves," he said.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mummy Code

Ancient-DNA researchers have long clashed over work on Egyptian mummies, but next-gen sequencing might resolve their debates.

By Dan Cossins | August 1, 2013

In 2010, researchers analyzed DNA from the ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamen and 10 of his relatives (JAMA, 303:638-47). It was a blockbuster study. Revealing family relationships among the 3,300-year-old royals and identifying the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in several of the corpses, the research grabbed headlines and was even the subject of  a 3-part documentary aired by the Discovery Channel, which partly funded the project.

But the work drew criticism from some ancient-DNA experts, who claimed that the results could be explained by contamination from modern humans. The ensuing row deepened a long-standing rift among researchers who aim to coax genetic secrets from the mummified denizens of bygone civilizations. “For sure it is a highly debated field,” says Carsten Pusch of the University of Tübingen in Germany, who was part of the team that analyzed King Tut’s DNA. “The tone of the arguments is sometimes a little bit strong.”

On one side are “believers,” who claim to have analyzed DNA from dozens of Egyptian mummies. On the other side, skeptics view such claims as highly problematic. DNA breaks down more quickly in hot conditions, causing many to doubt whether fragments long enough to enable reliable analysis can survive for thousands of years baking in the Egyptian desert.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Museum Pieces - Tomb relief of Kheti

This relief carries a depiction of the funerary offering in a naive kind of sunk relief, still with most of its colours preserved. A standing couple is shown receiving an ox leg from a man standing opposite. In front of the pair is an offering table laden with gifts, and next to the woman some toilet articles are depicted. The father Kheti [Akhtúy] and his son Montu-hetepu [Menthútpe] are depicted with short hair, without wigs, as well as collars and short kilts. The woman is called Henet; she is wearing a dress suspended by two shoulder straps. Upon the offering table are the following items: a wild goose, a closed ceramic jug, a bunch of grapes, a calf's head, an unidentified white object with white stripes, a round cake, a bunch of spring onions, a flat dish with figs, and a gherkin covered by a palm leaf. Beneath the table a closed jar and a plate on a stand are shown. The toilet articles of the woman consist of a mirror in a slip case and a box with an eye-paint container and a jar of ointment. The entire scene has been overlaid with a grid according to the classical canon of proportions, which divides the standing human figure into eighteen hand widths between the soles of the feet and the brow. The stela dates to the early Middle Kingdom, when this version of the canon had only recently been introduced.

Inventory number: 202
Dating: 11TH DYNASTY (not before); 11TH DYNASTY ?; 12TH DYNASTY (not after)
Archaeological Site: UNKNOWN
Category: RELIEF
Technique: HEWN; CARVED
Height: 44 cm
Width: 77.2 cm
Depth: 11 cm


(1) An offering which the king gives, thousands of bread and beer, meat and poultry, for the Ka of the venerable Kheti, born of Ibi; his wife, whom he loves, Henet, born of Senet true of voice.
(2) His son whom he loves Montu-hetepu, born of Henet.


Satzinger, H., Ägyptisch-Orientalische Sammlung, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. museum (1987) 13.
Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM), Wien. Führer durch die Sammlungen (1988) 24.
Hein, I. & H. Satzinger, Stelen des Mittleren Reiches einschließlich der I. und II. Zwischenzeit, Teil II. Corpus Antiquitatum Aegyptiacarum (CAA).
Satzinger, H., Das Kunsthistorische Museum in Wien. Die Ägyptisch-Orientalische Sammlung. Zaberns Bildbände zur Archäologie 14. Mainz. 1994.
Seipel, W. (ed.), Götter Menschen Pharaonen, Speyer (1993) = Dioses, Hombres, Faraones, Ciudad de México (1993) = Das Vermächtnis der Pharaonen, Zürich (1994).


British Museum and archaeologist confirm identity of stolen Egyptian artefact

With 1 stolen artefact identified and saved from a Christie's auction, officials continue to investigate 5 more in the largest-known theft since the January 2011 revolution

Amer Sultan in London , Friday 9 Aug 2013

Archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian and the British Museum have identified the exact provenance of one of six artefacts allegedly looted from Egypt and meant to be auctioned through Christie's in London on 2 May.

British Museum Assistant Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department Marcel Marée recounts to Ahram Online that he and his colleagues spotted the stolen ancient Egyptian objects from Christie’s latest catalogue listing antiquities up for sale, among which were the six artefacts that are claimed to have been in a private UK collection since the 1940s. "But I had reason to doubt this," he reveals.

The British Museum relies on an extensive network of Egyptologists who are helping trace the provenance of the possible stolen antiquities, including Hourig Sourouzian, who used to work for the German Archaeological Institute and has been conducting excavations at the Amenhotep III mortuary temple on Luxor's west bank for many years now.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ancient art fills in Egypt's ecological history

Mammal populations shrank during three abrupt climate shifts over the past 6,000 years.

by Virginia Gewin

Ancient Egyptian rock inscriptions and carvings on pharaonic tombs chronicle hartebeest and oryx — horned beasts that thrived in the region more than 6,000 years ago. Researchers have now shown that those mammal populations became unstable in concert with significant shifts in Egypt’s climate.

The finding is based on a fresh interpretation of an archaeological and palaeontological record of ancient Egyptian mammals pieced together more than a decade ago by the zoologist Dale Osborn1. Thirty-eight large-bodied mammals existed in Egypt roughly six millennia ago, compared to just eight species today.

“There are interesting stories buried in the data — at the congruence of the artistic and written record,” says Justin Yeakel, an ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, who presented the research this week at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For example, the philosopher Aristotle said 2,300 years ago that lions were present, though rare, in Greece; shortly thereafter, the beasts appeared in the local art record for the last time, Yeakel says.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cleopatra The Eternal Diva - Exhibition at the Bundeskunsthalle in Germany

BTOY, Cleopatra IV, (composing) 2009 © 2012 BTOY
Few historical figures divide public opinion as much as Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Ancient Egypt (69–30 BC). More than 2000 years after her death, her eventful life and enigmatic character seem to have lost none of their fascination. The selection of some 200 outstanding paintings, sculptures, photographs, films and video works shown in the exhibition allow viewers to get a better understanding of the complex nature of this eternal diva.

The exhibition´s central thesis is that every era created its own distinctive image of Cleopatra – and that every era created the image of Cleopatra it deserved. That the cultural memory has long since turned the last Ptolemaic queen into a ‘mythical sign’ is amply demonstrated by the countless ways in which the Cleopatra myth has been refigured and recycled since antiquity.

The exhibition examines this extensive repertoire of images and seeks to peel away the layers of narrative that obscure the historical figure: her carefully calculated self-representation that bridged the conflicting realms of Hellenistic kingship and Egyptian theocracy, the blend of erotic appeal and astute realpolitik and the amalgamation of her theatricalisation of politics with the political instrumentalisation of her character at the hands of her opponents as well as its appropriation by her admirers.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One of the world's oldest breweries reconstructed

Over 5.5 thousand years old brewing installation discovered by Polish archaeological mission at Tell el-Farcha in Egypt has been reconstructed in 3D by Karolina Rosińska-Balik, PhD student at the Jagiellonian University Institute of Archaeology.

"The presented reconstruction is a hypothetical assumption based on preserved structures of similar analogous buildings at both Tell el-Farcha and other brewing centres in Upper Egypt" - reserved the archaeologist.

The installation consists of three vat pits and measures about 3.4 by 4 m. The entire structure, with plan reminiscent of a three-leaf clover, was surrounded by a wall with a height of up to 60 cm. Vat pits were also separated from each other with low, narrow walls.

In order to stabilize the vessels used for brewing beer, base was used in the form of a solid clay, which was surrounded by a clay ring with a clear break.

"The purpose of this solution was probably better air circulation, which in turn would allow better control of constant temperature. Such base was usually surrounded with two concentric rows of bricks with D-shaped cross-section, designed to sustain the vessel" - explained Karolina Rosińska-Balik.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cambyses’ Lost Army and the Physics of Sandstorms

By Jennifer Ouellette | August 5, 2013

Over the weekend Jen-Luc Piquant found herself pondering the works of Herodotus, specifically the tale of the Lost Army of Cambyses. Sometime around 524 BC, priests at the oracle of the Temple of Amun decided they didn’t much care for their new ruler, Cambyses II, son of Cyrus the Great. Cambyses decided that he didn’t much care for their insubordination. And he had soldiers — 50,000 of them, sent marching through the Sahara from Thebes to put those rebellious priests in their place.

But they never reached their destination (the Oasis of Siwa, where the mutinous temple was located).  Seven days into their march, a massive sandstorm broke out and buried Cambyses’ entire army, never to be seen again. Per Herodotus: “A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear.”

It’s most likely myth, according to leading Egyptologists. But it inspired a cautionary mention of Cambyses in the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, when the Pardoner is advocating moderation in drinking alcohol (he seemed to think Cambyses dispatched his army in a drunken rage). And it also inspired various archaeological expeditions over the past 100 or so years to try and locate whatever evidence might remain of the lost army of the Egyptian ruler.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The ancient coin of Cleopatra: There could have been pyramids in Paris

Found in an archaeological dig in Bethsaida, this rare bronze coin tells of love, trade ties and globe-shaking jealousies. And what if Marc Antony had won the war?

By Miriam Feinberg Vamosh | Aug. 4, 2013

Great rulers come but a rare few leave a mark echoing down the millennia. Two such were Cleopatra and Marc Antony, who fleetingly placed Egypt at the center of the ancient world, only to unleash unrest and eventually war on the region.

A few thousand years is a mere blink of an eye when it comes to the vital ties between this land and Egypt, as attested by a rare coin carrying historical weight far greater than its 7.59 grams, which depicts the notorious lovers – and which emerged last year from the ruins of a first-century house at Tel Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee.

Tel Bethsaida rises from the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee, but the coin was minted in another city by another sea – the Mediterranean port of Akko - today better known as Acre. The coin, made of bronze, is about the size of a quarter, being 21–23 millimeters in diameter (it is not perfectly round, at least not any more). Its date shows that it was minted in the last half of the year 35 or the first half of 34 BCE.