Monday, December 19, 2011

When Politics and Archaeology Meet

The most recent issue of Archaeology has an interesting article in it regarding a large number of cunieform tablets from the Persian Empire.

These tablets are being researched and published by archaeologists. The tablets are in the United States until they are published. Then they are supposed to be returned to Iran.

Attorneys for the victims of terrorist acts that the Iranian government allegedly is involved in, have sued to seize and sell the tablets to help compensate the victims and their families. This has led to the government of Iran demanding the tablets return.

I have no idea how all this will (or even should) work out. All I can say is that when politics get involved with archaeology (or pretty much anything else) a complete mess is sure to follow.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The (Fake?) Statue of Tetisheri (cont.)

There are some troubling aspects about the statue itself (in addition to the almost certainly forged inscription). Dr Davies points out in particular the style of the Queen's headdress. Notice how the lower portion of the headdress is carved with a gap between the shoulder and the bottom of the headdress (see the topmost picture in this post). This is not a normal style of carving in Egyptian art at all. Additionally, Dr. Davies had concerns about the Queen's hairstyle in the back (notice how the hair seems to "bulge out" in the back).

Another problem with the carving of the statue are the shoulder straps on her dress. Look at the second photo in this post and you can see that the straps are very narrow and would not have properly covered the Queen's breasts. This is also not normal in Egyptian art.

So is the statue a fake? Dr. Davies hesitated in his paper to call the statue a modern forgery, but he did admit to having some real reservations about the carving of the statue. As far as the inscription is concerned, Dr. Davies felt that it was likely a forgey, a conclusion that I must agree with. Sadly, I think the entire statue is a fake, not just the inscription.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Finding of Tetisheri's Statue

It is believed that two statues of Tetisheri were "found". We are not sure about the finding of these statues since they were not found in a properly conducted archaqeological excavation. Instead they simply "appeared" on the antiquities market.

One of the statues was a fragment which consisted of little more than the throne upon which the Queen sat. This fragment is now lost, but a copy of the inscription was made and is preserved to this day. The second of this pair of statues is the one in the British Museum.

Dr. Davies noticed that some of the characters in the inscription were badly formed, a frequent clue that an inscription was carved in modern times (by someone who actually could not read hieroglyphs). When he compared the inscription on the statue in the British Museum to the copy of the inscription on the "lost" statue, he noticed another problem.

On the lost statue, the inscription on the Queen's throne is broken off in the lower left corner. If you look at the photo in this article, you will see that the statue in the British Museum is also damaged in the same spot on the Queen's throne. But on the British Museum's statue, the damage is not caused by a break in the stone; instead, it looks like a chisel was used to remove a portion of the inscription.

It seems odd that two statues would have a damaged inscription in the same place and that the damage on one of the statues would look to have been deliberately done. Dr. Davies theory is that the broken statue had an inscription that was real, and that a forger copied the inscription onto the (previously uninscribed) statue that is now in the British Museum. Since the forger did not know hieroglyphs, he damaged the inscription in the lower left corner to hide the fact that he did not know what characters the original inscription contained there.

So, if the inscription is a fake (and I think that it is), does that mean that the statue is a fake as well? Or is the statue a real antiquity and only the inscription is forged?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Famous (Fake?) Statue of Tetisheri

One of the most famous objects in the Egyptian collection of the British Museum is the famous statue of the Seventeenth Dynasty Queen Tetisheri.

Tetisheri was, according to The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt (by Aiden Dodson and Dyan Hilton), the commoner wife of Senakhtenre Tao, who was one of the last Kings of Egypt's Second Intermediate Period. Tetisheri may have been the mother of King Sekenenre, who seems to have died in battle against the hated Hyksos Kings who were ruling northern Egypt at the time.

The statue itself is pictured in many books devoted to Egyptian art and is familiar to scholars all over the world. It may not deserve its fame however, as there is some reason to believe that it is a fake.

A number of years ago Dr. W. V. Davies published a paper in which he questioned the inscription, the style of clothes the Queen is wearing and the carving of the wig adorning her head. We will take a look at some of this in the next post.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ramessid Theban Tomb Decoration

Clare Fitzgerald was the guest speaker at the October meeting of the Egyptological Seminar of New York last night. She is working toward her doctorate degree and is preparing a thesis on Ramessid tomb decoration at Thebes.

The speaker drew a number of comparisons between the Theban tombs of the 18th Dynasty and the 19th Dynasty.

18th Dynasty:
  • Mostly “T” shaped, but there are numerous variations Oriented East (entrance) to West (rear of the tomb)
  • A Traverse Hall is followed by a long passageway that leads back to a shrine for the deceased, the shrine often has a false door and / or a stela
  • The facade of the tomb consists of a small court with a frieze of funerary cones above the entrance
  • The thickness of the entrance door has a representation of the tomb owner and (sometimes) his wife
  • Scenes on the wall rarely “turn a corner” to appear partially on one wall and partially on an adjoining wall
  • The traverse hall has daily life scenes (usually)
  • The passage to the rear of the tomb often has funerary scenes (“Opening of the Mouth”, a funeral procession, etc.)
  • A shaft leads to the actual burial chamber
  • The deceased is sometimes shown interacting with the King, rarely is he shown interacting with a god

19th Dynasty:
  • Funerary Cones are gone
  • Stelae often flank the tombs entrance
  • The court often has a Pylon at the entrance A pyramid is sometimes built over the entrance (more common at Dier el-Medina then elsewhere)
  • Scenes sometimes “turn the corner” to be shown on two different walls
  • The deceased is often shown interacting with dieties, rarely shown interacting with the King
  • A sloping passageway leads to the burial chamber, rather than a shaft
  • Daily life scenes lose their prominence and are replaced by funerary scenes and pictures of the gods
  • The funeral scenes show a procession, then the deceased passing the various gates to the underworld, followed by the judgment of the dead
The next meeting of the Egyptological Seminar of New York is on December 9, 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rights of an Adoptee in Babylonia

Adoption is a topic that has long interested me and a while back I did some posts on adoption in Babylonia. The person who is adopted had certain responsibilities; but the adopting parents had responsibilities as well.

For instance, if the new father does not teach the adopted child a craft, the child could be returned to the household of his biological father (Hammurabi Law Code, Laws 188 - 189).

Additionally, if a child was adopted by a palace official or the family of a priestess, the child could not be reclaimed by the biological parents (Hammurabi #187). Is this because the child would be better off with the new parents?

Also, the original parents could re-claim the child, but only if they did so very shortly after the adoption took place (Hammurabi #186).

Overall, the Babylonians seemed to make a serious attempt to be fair to everyone involved. The adopted child could not renounce their new parents, but their new family had to provide them with the training needed to make a living.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tushratta's Two Gold Statues

The Amarna Letters were written on clay tablets mostly in the Akkadian language. They were part of the diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian Pharaoh and the kings of Assyria, Babylonia, Syria, Hatti (the Hittites) and Mittani.

These letters seldom provide information on important historical events, but they do enable us to get a fascinating view of the relationships between the members of ancient near eastern royalty. One of the main characters in these letters is Tushratta, King of Mittani.

Several letters were exchanged between the courts of Egypt and Mittani regarding two solid gold statues which Tushratta claimed had been promised to him by Amenhotep III. The earliest letter (EA 26 in Moran’s The Amarna Letters) was addressed to Queen Tiye, Wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten. Tushratta reminds Tiye of his love for her deceased husband, Amenhotep, and says that he will “show 10 times – much, much - more love” to her son Akhenaten.

He then comes to the point, saying that he had asked Amenhotep for two solid gold statues, but that Akhenaten had sent him wooden statues covered in a thin coating of gold. “Is this love… my brother was going to treat me 10 times better than his father did. But now he has not [given me] even what his father was accustomed to give”. Tushratta asks Tiye to intervene so that two solid gold statues will be cast for him. After all, gold is “like dirt” in Egypt.

In letter EA 27 (addressed by Tushratta to Akhenaten) we find out that these statues in question were of Tushratta and of Tadu-Heba (a daughter of Tushratta’s, who had married Amenhotep III).  Tushratta claims that Amenhotep had said to him, “Don’t talk of giving statues just of solid gold. I will give you ones made also of Lapis Lazuli. I will give you, too, along with the statues, much additional gold…”. Tushratta asks Akhenaten to send the statues to him and repeats that gold is like dirt in Egypt.

Incredibly, Tushratta sent at least one more letter (EA 29), addressed to Akhenaten, in which these statues are mentioned. The letter starts off with Tushratta providing a long litany of all the gifts he has sent to Egypt (including has daughter Tadu-Heba) and how much love he has shown Amenhotep and how much he mourned Amenhotep’s passing. He then asks, again, that the statues be sent to him.

These letters make one wonder why these statues were so important to Tushratta. Given the problems that the newly resurgent Hittites were about to cause both Tushratta and Akhenaten, the statues in question seem to be small potatoes.

All quotes are from Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chaos, Murder, and Civil War in Ancient Egypt

Dr. Aidan Dodson’s Poisoned Legacy is a fascinating attempt to sort out the questions surrounding the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty, which is one of the most obscure periods in ancient Egyptian history.

The death of Ramesses II, arguably one of Egypt’s greatest Pharaohs, ushered in a period of intrigue within the members of the royal family that led to chaos, civil war, and (likely) regicide.

Dr. Dodson takes the tantalizing, fragmentary evidence available and paints plausible answers to some of the vexing questions of the period:

  • Who was Amenemesses and how did he gain the throne?
  • Was Siptah a child when he came to the throne? How did he get there and who backed him?
  • Who as Chancellor Bay? Was he the kingmaker he claimed to be?  Was he a foreigner? How did he get the right to build a tomb in the royal valley and was he eventually murdered by a member of the royal family?
  • Did Tawosret have Siptah murdered so that she could become Pharaoh?
  • How did Sethnakht get to the throne and who was he? 
    This book contains over 120 illustrations (black and white photos and line drawings), several useful appendices and an extensive bibliography. It is well researched and written by a recognized expert in the field. This book is sure to hold the interest of anyone interested in Egyptian history.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Met to Return Objects From Tutankhamen's Tomb

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will return nineteen objects that were taken from the tomb of Tutankhamen. The objects were willed to the museum by a niece of the tomb's excavator, Howard Carter.

    The move of these objects from New York to Cairo was scheduled to take place today. Once in Egypt, the objects will be displayed in a new museum being constructed near the great pyramids at Giza.

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

    Egyptian Inscription Found in Saudi Arabia

    An ancient Egyptian inscriptian has been found in Saudi Arabia. The inscription bears the names and titles of Ranesses III, the last major Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty.

    A copy of the inscription can be found here. This is the first known ancient Egyptian inscription found in Saudi Arabia.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Brotherhood of Kings - a Fascinating History of the Near East

    Brotherhood of Kings, by Amanda Podany, is one of the most interesting books on Near Eastern Archaeology that I have read in a long time.

    This book tells the history of the Bronze Age Middle East through the eyes of Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses and vassals who wrote letters found in archives preserved in Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. These letters reveal the personalities of the writers in a very human way. Some of the Kings were greedy for gold; others constantly whined that the gifts that had been sent to them by other Kings were not sufficient. Amenhotep III of Egypt seemed to have an interest in marrying as many foreign princesses as possible and several letters reveal the size of the dowry and bridal gifts exchanged by the Pharaoh and his father-in-law.

    Some of the stories are familiar to students of the Ancient Near East. For example, the letters between an Egyptian Queen (Ankhesenamen, the widow of Tutankhamen?) and the King of the Hittites, in which the Egyptian Queen asks for the Hittite King to send one of his sons to Egypt so that she can marry him (as her husband has died and she does not want to marry one of her subjects) is a well-known, and fascinating, story. One wonders how history would have changed if the Hittite Prince had married the Egyptian Queen (instead of being assassinated en route to Egypt).

    Other sets of correspondence were not familiar to me. One of the most interesting of these, are the set of letters between Zimri-Lim (King of Mari) and a number of other Kings to whom he had married his daughters. One of the young ladies was very unhappily married and seems to have genuinely feared for her life. She was probably quite relieved when her husband divorced her and sent her home.

    This book is well written and easy to read. It is full of fascinating information and tells numerous interesting tales in a very lively manner. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in ancient Near Eastern history.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    The Good, the Bad and the Truly Ugly

    If you ever visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York City you will find some spectacular artifacts in the Egyptian collection. Off to the side of the main exhibits, the Met has some groups of small and often rarely visited objects called study areas. One of these study areas contains objects from the Met’s excavations in the Seventeenth Dynasty cemetery at Thebes. The mummiform coffins found in these excavations are quite spectacular. Spectacularly ugly that is!

    These coffins are called “rishi” from the Arabic word for feathered. This is because the primary decoration of these coffins is a feathered pattern which often shows a pair of wings extending down the length of the coffins’ lid. Rishi coffins are known from the Second Intermediate period through the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, with the best known examples coming from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

    The examples from the Seventeenth Dynasty are particularly unattractive, as the attached photos will show. The coffins are carved from sycamore logs rather than from high quality cedar wood imported from what is now Lebanon. They are poorly crafted, the faces are badly carved and the painted decoration is unattractive. Often, a line of text which runs from the waist of the coffin down to the feet, contains the names and titles of the deceased. Sometimes the name of the deceased does not appear in the inscription; there is a blank space for it but the “undertaker” never bothered to fill it in.

    Other decorative devices include an overly large painted “collar” worn around the neck of the coffin's lid and extending down over the chest (for some nice examples of real collars of this sort you can again look at the ones found in the tomb of Tutankhamen). Above the inscription there is often a painted representation of the goddess Nekhbet (sometimes accompanied by Uadjet).

    The Seventeenth Dynasty was a period of political unrest and of declining artistic standards. Thebes was a provincial center which was possibly paying tribute to the “Hyksos” pharaohs who ruled northern Egypt. These coffins display the declining artistic standards of the period quite clearly and serve to remind us that there is more to ancient Egyptian culture than the huge statues and golden jewellery of the Pharaohs.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Khentkawes - A Female Pharaoh?

    In the most recent issue of World Archaeology Magazine, Mark Lehrner suggests that Khentkawes, the Fourth Dynasty wife of Menkara, may have managed to become Pharaoh after her husband's death.

    The theory is based on a proposed restoration of a carving representing her, which may have shown her with a false beard and an uraeus on her brow.

    Dr. Lehrner also discusses his recent excavations near her tomb at Giza, which includes the re-excavation of a small Fourth Dynasty town.

    While the evidence presented for this theory is hardly overwhelming, it is interesting and worth discussing. For more information, check in at the Ancient Egypt Research Associates website.