Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Nectanebo II - Egypt's Last Native Pharaoh

Figure 1 - Nectanebo II offers to Osiris
     Nectanebo II came to the throne as the result of winning a civil war against Teos (who reigned from 362 - 360 B. C.). Nectanebo was able to remain on the throne until 343 B. C., when the Persians once again conquered Egypt.

Figure 2 - Osiris Homag
     Nectanebo did some construction at Behbeit el Hagar where some of his carvings honor Osiris and Isis. In this black granite carving (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), Nectanebo II appears twice making two different offerings to Osiris Homag. On the left he offers the contents of two pots, while on the right he offers a collar.

     The scenes shown here have some unusual features to them. In figure 1, notice the lightly carved straight line that separates Osiris and the Pharaoh in both of the two offering scenes. I am not aware of any other offering scene in Egyptian art where the god and the King are separated this way. Also note in figure 2 that Osiris is shown here in human form, rather than in mummiform. This is not common in Egyptian art.

     The carving appears to be incomplete as the representation of Osiris on the right holds nothing in its hands, in contrast with the representation of the god on the left side of the scene.

Photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snow in Cairo for First Time in 112 Years

Check out this link to some pictures of the snow in Cairo. I particularly like the second photo with the pyramids and sphinx made of snow.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cleopatra's Needle at the Met

     The Metropolitan Museum opened an exhibit dedicated to "Cleopatra's Needle" on December third. Cleopatra's Needle is an Egyptian obelisk originally erected by Tuthmose III in Helipopolis about 1,400 years before Cleopatra. It arrived in New York in 1880 and was erected in Central Park, near the then recently opened Metropolitan Museum.

      The exhibit will also cover the fascination for obelisks through the ages, from Caesar Augustus moving obelisks to Rome to the erection of obelisks in London, Istanbul and New York among other places.

     I have not yet seen the exhibit, but will give an update once I do.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Tombs in the Valley of the Kings?

A team of archaeologists have been collecting data in Egypt's Valley of the Kings and they believe that there are several more tombs waiting to be discovered according to a recent announcement. The archaeologists have also found an ancient flood control system designed to keep water from damaging the royal tombs.

The team admits however, that the geology of the Valley sometimes leads to "false positives" for tombs. These false positives are caused by faults and cracks in the stone. Possible tomb sites would need to be excavated to determine if a tomb actually exists.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Middle Kingdom Rectangular Coffins

Figure 1 - head end of the coffin of Khnumnakht
     The painted wooden coffins of the Middle Kingdom are frequently quite beautiful objects to look at. Earlier I posted some pictures of the famous coffin of Djehuty-Nakht, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This time I have some photos of the coffin of Khnumnakht to show. This coffin is from Asyut and is now in the Metropolitan Museum.

     This coffin is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is the figure of a goddess on the head end of the coffin. A representation of a goddess on the head or foot end of a coffin  is rare before the Thirteenth Dynasty (Hayes, William. The Scepter of Egypt, vol. 1, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1953, 318 - 9). It is also an unusual representation of a goddess in that it might represent both Isis and Nieth (again, from Hayes, Scepter). Notice that the goddess has two cylindrical oil jars on her head, which is nothing like the representations of Isis and Nephthys which would become common on coffins starting in Dynasty Thirteen.

Figure 2 - hieroglyphs from the coffin of Khnumnakht
Figure 3 - Hieroglyphs from the coffin of Khnumnakht
     Figures 2 and 3 show details of the the hieroglyphs painted on to the coffin. These photos do not do full justice to the talent of the artist who executed these paintings. If you have a chance to visit the Met, please look carefully at this coffin and admire the detail work in these paintings, especially the owl in figure 2 and the quail chick in figure 3.

Photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Details in Assyrian Carving

Figure 2 - face of a winged bull of Ashurnasirpal
     One of the the things that I enjoy when I visit a collection of Assyrian art is the detail work that goes into the monumental carvings that decorated royal palaces. For instance, take a look at figure 1, which is the face of one of the winged bulls from the palace of Ashurnasirpal in the Metropolitan Museum. Look carefully at the facial hair. The beard is shown tightly curled at the chin, but has a different style below that. Also, notice how the mustache is curled at the end and how some of the hair is wrapped around the rest of the mustache to help it hold its style. Also, note the lock of hair peeking out below the figures helmet.

     In figure 2, we see a "winged genie" (for the lack of a better term to describe him). The photo here does not show the details of the feathers as clearly as I would like. Trust me, the details of the feathers are delicately carved and well worth a closer look.

Figure 2 - a winged genie carved with beautiful details in the beard and feathers
     Also in figure 2, notice how the genie's beard is also tightly curled at the chin, then styled differently for most of its length, although there are three more places where the hairs of the beard are tightly curled. It must have been a nightmare for Assyrian men to properly style their beards, assuming that Assyrian men really wore their them this way. Also note the how the hair that hangs down behind the neck is styled.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Assyrian Sacred Tree

Figure 1 - the Assyrian "tree of life"(?)
     It is difficult to know what to make of the so-called Assyrian sacred tree. In spite of its name, it is likely not a real tree at all. Rather, it seems to be parts of several trees put together in some way. Different "branches" of the tree seem to be shown as being held together on a trellis or by ribbons and / or metal bands (Figure 2). In figure 1, the trunk of the tree is surmounted by a palmetto (this is typical) and has two sets of three rings holding the different pieces of the trunk together.

Figure 3 - a winged genie with a bucket (of water?)
Figure 2 - multiple branches joined together
     The meaning of this "tree" is not clear, although it does seem to have some religious meaning. Winged genies, possibly known as "Apkallu", in either the form of an eagle headed human or in the form of winged humans, are shown sprinkling water on these trees. The genie holds a bucket (of water?) and dips a pine cone into the bucket, and the sprinkles the water on the cone onto the tree. The significance of this is unclear although a connection to fertility rites has been suggested.

     Whatever this "tree" is, it must have been important to the Assyrians as many representations of winged genies sprinkling water on these trees is an extremely common motif in the decoration of the royal palaces. The photos here are from the palace of Ashurnasirpal and are now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Figure 4 - an eagle-headed genie with a pine cone

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ancient Egyptian "Bean Counters"

Fig. 1 - model of a grain silo with the accountants sitting at the entrance
     Like all economies, the Egyptian economy needed "bean counters" to make sure that "money" got to where it belonged. For most of Egyptian history, grain was the most common "money" in use.

     Crops in the field were measured by "accountants" who figured the taxes a farmer owed. If the farmer did not, or could not, pay the taxes, he might be given a beating in his field by the tax collectors. The tombs of New Kingdom nobles show these types of scenes fairly commonly.

     Once the grain was harvested, it would be brought to a grain silo for storage. In the tomb of Meket-Re (late Dynasty 11) there is a wooden model that shows how grain was processed by the silo.

Fig. 2 - emptying sacks go grain into the silo
     The grain would be brought to the silo in sacks. Accountants at the entrance way would record the number of sacks being brought in (see the lower part of figure 1). Next, the grain would be carried into the silo proper, where the silo employees would carry the sacks up a flight of stairs and empty the sacks into the storage area (see figure 2).

     At some point in the future, the grain would be removed. Possibly it might be used as part of a business transaction, or it might be used to make bread in the home of a wealthy landowner to whom the silo belonged. Rest assured that when it was removed, the bean counters would know how much was removed and whom it was removed by.

All photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cartonnage Collar Restored

A team led by Susan Redford has found (in hundreds of pieces) a cartonnage collar from a mummy at Thebes. Her team has laboriously put the collar back together.

The collar is a painted imitation of a "Weshekh" collar. A "real" collar of this type would have been made of beads and would have been every bit as colorful as this painted imitation is. For more details on this find, take a look at this article.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Did Tutankhnamen's Body Spontaneously Combust?

Once again, Tutankhamen's mummy is in the news after the latest examination of the Pharaoh's corpse. The latest speculation is that the mummy may have experienced spontaneous combustion after the King's funeral. Here is a link to an article on this.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sit Hathor's Alabaster

Fig. 1 - Alabaster canopic jar of the Princess
     I personally like the look of many ancient Egyptian objects carved from a soft stone known as alabaster or calcite. Alabaster is a white, very soft, stone that is used throughout Egyptian history for carving everything from royal statues to canonic jars. There are two examples of alabaster carving in the tomb of Princess Sit Hathor Yunet.

     Figure 1 is an alabaster canonic jar. The stone has some slightly different colored "veins" in it. These "blemishes" are part of the beauty of objects carved from this type of stone. The canonic jar is one of four human-headed jars found in the Princesses tomb.

Fig. 2 - alabaster jars (left), a khol pot (right front) and one of the obsidian jars
     There were also eight alabaster jars for ritual oils found in the tomb. The jars are all very similar and each is roughly 95 mm in height. Some traces of the original contents survived in two of these jars and proved to be a gum resin of some sort.

Fig. 3 - two razors and a pair of whetstones
     Also in figure 2 is a small kohl pot (mentioned in the previous post) and a set of jars made of obsidian and decorated with gold around their rims. A virtually identical set of these obsidian jars were found in a royal burial dating to the same period as these, but located in Byblos in what is now Lebanon. One wonders if these jars were not a gift sent from the King of Egypt to the King of Byblos.

     In figure three, notice the corroded razors and a pair of whetstones (one above the razors and one blow them) used to sharpen the razors. The handles of the razors are made of gold while the blades were made of bronze. The razors are about 17 cm long and weigh about 6.5 ounces.

Photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Ebony Caskets of Sit Hathor Yunet

Fig. 1 - Ebony boxes from the tomb of Sit Hathor Yunet
     Sit Hathor Yunet had in her tomb two caskets that were painstakingly restored by Brunton and Mace at the Metropolitan Museum.

     The wood box on the left in figure 1 had decayed into a black mass by the time archaeologists found the tomb, but it was determined that the original wood was likely Sudanese Ebony. The exterior is decorated on its sides with six "djed" columns alternating with five false doors framed by thin veneers of ivory. The ends were decorated with four "djed" columns and three false doors.

Fig. 2 - alabaster oil pots from one of the Princesses' caskets
     The lid of this casket was partially curved and was decorated with four heads of Hathor separated by hieroglyphic inscriptions containing the names of Amenemhat III (From left to right: "Son of Ra of his body, Amenemhat", "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Men-maat-ra" and "Horus of Gold, Great of Souls" (the "Ba" that the Egyptians believed was a part of every person). The interior of this object probably was divided into compartments and may have had trays and / or drawers, but an exact reconstruction is impossible to make.

     The casket on the right, which like the first casket had a semi-curved lid and was made of Sudanese Ebony, originally held eight alabaster jars of oils (see figure 2). A "kohl" pot (the small, squat, black obsidian pot in figure 2) was also found in the tomb. It would have contained an eye make-up that was applied with a "kohl stick".

Photos copyright 2013 by John Freed

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sit Hathor Yunet - Rings, Anklets and Wristlets

Fig. 1 - one of the Princesses' rings
      Sit Hathor Yunet had other jewelry that was quite beautiful. A pair of virtually similar rings was found in the tomb. The bases of the rings are simple gold plates, while the backs of the rings are gold cloisonne inlaid with stone. The head of one ring is carved from Lapis Lazuli, while the other (see figure 1) is made of green feldspar.

     A pair of wristlets (Fig. 2) is made of red and blue beads arranged in 37 rows and separated by gold. The clasps are made of gold with red inlay decorated with Amenemhat III's throne name.

Fig. 2 - one of Sit Hathor Yunet's wristlets
     Petrie also found a pair of anklets in the tomb with twenty three rows of beads and simple clasps made of gold. The tomb also contained a gold circlet with a pair of gold plumes in the rear and a uraeus in the front (now in the Cairo Museum). Pectorals comprised of the names of either Senwosert II or Amenemhet III flanked by Hawks with a solar disk on their heads were also included in the Princesses' grave goods.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sit Hathor Yunet's Jewelry

Fig. 1 - the princesses' leopard head girdle
     Sit Hathor Yunet's jewelry is among the most beautiful that has survived from ancient Egypt. Figure 1 is another girdle found in her tomb. This time the gold work consists of seven double leopard heads separated by a double string of amethyst beads. The leopard heads were made in two parts and soldered together in the same way as the cowrie shell girdle (see the previous post), with one of the leopard heads acting as a sliding clasp to make putting the girdle on easier. Six of the leopard heads had pellets inside of them, which would have caused them to rattle as the princess walked around in the girdle.
Fig. 2 - one of the crouching lion bracelets

     Also in the jewelry boxes were four bracelets made of double rows of different colored beads separated by small crouching lions. The beadwork consisted of seven turquoise, three gold, and five carnelian beads in each section, with each section repeating several times. The base of the lions measure only 16 by 6 mm.

Photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Treasure of Sit Hathor Yunet

Fig. 1 - the girdle of Princess Sit Hathoe Yunet
     The Princess Sit Hathor Yunet was likely the daughter of the Middle Kingdom Pharaoh Senusert II. She seems to have survived the death of her father by quite a few years and likely passed away during the reign of her father's grandson, Amenemhat III.

     She was laid to rest in a tomb located in the pyramid complex of her father. Included in her burial were several chests of jewelry that survived the looting of her tomb.The niche that the jewelry was in was right beside the entrance of the tomb and when the robbers entered, the filling of the burial shaft covered the niche and hid the chests from view.

     Sir Flinders Petrie cleared the Princesses' tomb in 1914. The Cairo Museum took only a small part of the treasure as they had pieces from the tomb of a Princess found at Dashur that were virtually identical to those found in Sit Hathor Yunet's burial. Petrie decided not to split the find among several musesums and the artifacts  made their way to the Metropolitan Museum, where Herbert Winlock prepared a classic publication of the objects (Winlock, Herbert. The Treasure of El Lahun, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1934).

     I originally saw these objects back in the 1970s on a trip to New York with my parents. I fell in love with them then and always make sure to stop by and see them whenever I am in the Met. These objects are not only beautiful works of art, they are also objects that the Princess used during her life and that gives them a personal feeling that many other examples of Egyptian art do not have.

     Over the next few posts I will show some of the objects that Petrie found and describe them in some detail. Just to start, I have included a photo of the Princesses' girdle. The Princess was quite slim and this object would have been worn around her waist. The eight gold cowrie shells were made up of two pieces of gold soldered together and the cowries are separated by different colored stone beads. One of the cowries is a clasp that made getting the girdle on a bit easier. Similar girdles have been found in the burials of both commoners and in the burial of  a Princess found at Dashur by De Morgan.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cyprus and Egypt in the 6th Century B. C.

Fig. 1 - A Cypriote stela form the 6th century B. C.
     Egypt had long had relationships with Cyprus. In New Kingdom tombs there are representations of Cypriotes bringing copper to the court of the Egyptian Pharaoh.

     In the sixth century B. C. the relationship changed as Egypt, during the reign of Ahmose II (also known as Amasis II) conquered Cyprus in 570. Cyprus had a high level of independence under Egyptian rule and there was a noticeable upsurge in the influence of Egyptian motifs in the art of Cyprus at this time.

     One particularly common motive is that of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. Representations of her are very common, particularly at Amathus. The limestone stela shown here, and dating to the mid-sixth century, is said to be from the necropolis of Golgoi and is a typical representation of Hathor with her usual cow ears and unique wig. The stela is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Fig. 2 - Detail of the stela showing a very typical representation of Hathor

     In 545, Cyprus became a part of the Persian Empire under the rule of Cyrus the Great. In 526 Ahmose passed away and was succeeded by his son Psammetichus III. A year later Cambyses, who had succeeded Cyrus to the Persian throne, was planning an invasion of Egypt and Cyprus sided with the Persian king. The battle of Pelusium resulted in a complete victory for the Persians and Egypt joined Cyprus a part of the Persian Empire.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Alexander at Issus

Fig. 1 - Alexander Charging Darius
     One of the decisive battles of history is Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians at Issus, in what is now Turkey. Alexander had defeated a Persian army commanded by one of Darius III's Satraps (provincial governors) in 334 B. C. and moved East. A second Persian army, commanded by Darius in person, collided with Alexander in 333 B. C.

Fig. 2 Darius on his Chariot
     Alexander fought from a horse among his cavalrymen and led a charge directly at Darius, who fled the field. The Persian army collapsed as their King left the field and the Persian Empire, which was the largest in the world at the time, was brought to an end. Alexander eventually marched to the Persian capital of Persepolis, which was looted and burned.

     In Pompeii, a now famous mosaic was found showing Alexander on horseback charging a panic stricken Darius. This mosaic is now in a museum, but a copy of it has been put in the house in Pompeii where the original was found.
Fig. 3 - Close up of Darius
     The photos here are of the copy that is now in Pompeii. Figure 1 shows Alexander on horseback leading the charge against the Persian King. Figure 2 shows Darius fleeing the battlefield on his chariot, while figure 3 shows a lose up of the panicked expression on Darius' face.

Friday, September 27, 2013

News from New York's Egyptological Seminar

     The Egyptological Seminar of New York held its first meeting of the new academic year today and there was plenty of news that will interest any of you who are in the New York area.

     First, there will be a special exhibit on Egyptian obelisks at the Metropolitan Museum starting in December 2013. This exhibit is being tied to the restoration and preservation of the Central Park obelisk which is about to get underway.

     Secondly, there will be a special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum  in early 2015 dedicated to Middle Kingdom Egypt.

     Also, Dr. Kei Yamamoto gave an interesting talk on Middle Kingdom stelae. Of special interest were his thoughts on the small mud brick chapels at Abydos and the sets of stelae that they held. He also showed a surprising Middle Kingdom stele with a carving of a small girl sitting on the lap of her nurse. I have not seen a depiction of such a private and charming moment like this in Egyptian art other than in the Amarna period.

     The next meetings of the Seminar will take place at the Metropolitan Museum on October 25 (the topic will be Theodore Davis) and on November 22 (Excavations at Malkata).

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Obelisk at the Spanish Stairs

Figure 1 - Obelisk at the Spanish Stairs
The Spanish Stairs, one of the most famous tourist spots in Rome, leads the way up a hill to the Church called Trinita die Monti. At the top of the stairs, and in front of the church, is an ancient Roman copy of the obelisk erected by Ramesses II that now stands in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. This obelisk is, however, smaller than the original. It was erected in its current spot by Pope Pius VI in 1789.

Figure 2 - The Base of the Obelisk at the Spanish Stairs
It was interesting (to me anyway) to find out that the Romans copied Egyptian obelisks. I guess it was to hard to bring the originals to Rome (although they managed to do a little bit of that too...).

Photos Copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Vatican Obelisk

St. Peter's Basilica showing the location of the obelisk
     While in Rome last month, we of course visited the Vatican. We decided to do the Vatican Museum before going into the Basilica itself to see Michelangelo's "Pieta".

     I had three things on my list of must sees at the Vatican Museum, the Raphael paintings, the Sistine Chapel and the Egyptian collection. The museum was so crowded that I never found the Egyptian art! We could barely move during the visit because of the crowds. So I have now made two visits to the Vatican (about 40 years apart), and still have not seen the Egyptian art housed there.
The Vatican Obelisk

     Then we went over to St. Peter's Basilica. I managed to get some photos of the obelisk in front of the basilica before the heavens opened up and let down a torrential downpour.

     The obelisk itself is rather unusual in that it has no inscriptions. It was raised in Alexandria at the order of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Later, it was transported to Rome by Caligula. During the Medieval Period, the metal ball near the top of the obelisk was thought to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. A careful examination of the contents of the ball only found dust.

Photos Copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dates for Egypt's First Dynasty Refined

Scholars have done a computerized research project involving carbon 14 dating to refine the dates for  the Kings and Queen who ruled Egypt during the First Dynasty. You can find an article about their research here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Still More Looting in Egypt

Sadly, another museum has been looted in Egypt. The Malawi Museum was looted a couple of weeks ago. Many objects were damaged and many others were stolen. The link below has some photos of the damage. This nonsense is truly sad.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Venice and Egypt

Figure 1 - Obelisk on the roof of a building in St. Mark's Square, Venice
     While in Venice I found two connections with Egypt in Italy's most unusual city. Both are in St. Mark's Square. The first (Figure 1 - taken from the third floor of the Ducal Palace) is an obelisk on the roof of a building on the other side of the square form the Ducal Palace. The obelisk is certainly not from Egypt, it is only a small copy of an Egyptian original. I have no idea why there are obelisks on the roof of this building (it looks like there are four, one in each corner), but if anyone does know, please drop me a note.

     The second connection is the Basilica of St. Mark itself. St. Mark was originally buried in a church in Alexandria in the Nile Delta. Members of the church feared that the Moslems would pillage the church. Two Venetians who were trading in Alexandria came up with a plan to "protect" the body of the martyred saint. They took the body out of its sarcophagus and put it in a basket. A layer of pork was then added on top of the body so that Moslem officials would not search the basket.

Figure 2 - St. Mark's body being smuggled out of Egypt
     After the body of the saint was loaded on board a ship and transported to Venice. Over time devotion to the saint increased to the point where building a Basilica for St. Mark was required. This Basilica is today one of the two most visited landmarks in Venice. Over the doors of the church are mosaics, one of which shows the basket containing the body of St. Mark being smuggled out of Alexandria (Figure 2).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Egypt in Italy

     I am back from vacationing in Italy. I was hoping to have some things to share, and I do. Just less than I had hoped for.

     Rome has almost as many Egyptian obelisks as Egypt has, but I only managed to see two of them (at the Vatican and the Spanish Stairs). We ran out of time and did not get to any of the others. I also had hoped to see the Egyptian collection at the Vatican Museum, but it was so crowded that we were only (!)  able to see the Raphael paintings and the Sistine Chapel.

     The photos will be downloaded from the camera in the next couple of days and they will be posted as soon as possible.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Egypt Closes all Museums and Archaeological Sites

The Egyptian government today announced that all museums and archaeological sites have been closed due to the violence in the country. Here is a link to the announcement.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Uruk - an Article in Archeology Magazine

    NJust a quick note that the current issue on Archaeology Magazine, has an article ("The Everlasting City") on Uruk, which may have been the first city in the world. The photograph on the second page of the article is striking. It shows Uruk as it is today, a hill in a barren desert. Thousands of years ago the city was located in a lush delta. But then the river shifted its course and left the city to be abandoned by its inhabitants.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Central Park Obelisk

Figure 1 - Obelisk of Tuthmose III in Central Park
There are any number of Egyptian obelisks scattered throughout the world. One of them is in Central Park. Sadly, time has not been kind to it, but I will get to that.

     The obelisk in Central Park, as I mentioned in a post in May of this year, is located near the Metropolitan Museum and was originally erected by Tuthmose III in Heliopolis. It was moved, along with its twin, to Alexandria during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. One of these obelisks was later moved to London and set up on the banks of the Thames, while the other was moved, in 1880, to New York City.

     The inscriptions on these obelisks are rather unenlightening. All of them, both those of Tuthmose III and those of Ramesses II, give a seemingly endless list of names and titles that tell us nothing of any great importance.

Figure 2 - Heavy Damage to the Inscriptions
     There is a picture of the obelisk being set up in Central Park in Budge's book Egyptian Obelisks; the picture shows the inscriptions to be in excellent condition. Contrast that picture with figure 2 and you can see how badly the New York weather has harmed the obelisk. The pictures here were taken about twenty years ago, so the damage is certainly even worse now. Will all of the inscriptions be destroyed in my lifetime? Sadly, that may very well happen.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Mouse Demon of the Book of the Dead

     I am reading John Taylor's book Journey Through the Afterlife and I saw something in a photo on page 19 that struck me as odd.

     On the papyrus of Nesitanebisheru (Dynasty 21 or 22) there is a rather traditional scene showing The sky goddess Nut being separated from Geb (the god of the earth) by the god Shu. To the upper right of this scene are representations of gods and demons raising their hands in adoration. One of the demons (for the lack of a better word) has the head of a mouse or similar animal. I have never seen anything quite like it.

     The name of the demon is something like srk'd. The first three characters in the name are very clear (srk). The fourth character in the name looks like the fish that Gardiner's sign list transliterated as 'd (Gardiner's Grammar, p. 477, sign K3).

Does anyone have a clue what this demon is? If so, please let me know.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Tomb of Djehuynakht (Conclusion)

     Djehutynakht's tomb contained objects of great interest over and above the painted coffins of the owner and his wife. This tomb also contained the largest collection of wooden "models" known from the Middle Kingdom. Like the more famous models found in the tomb of Meketre, the wooden models in Djehutynakht's tomb showed many scenes of daily life. Cows are being fed, servant girls are bringing offerings to the owner of the tomb, granaries and breweries are shown. And there are a number of model boats. The excavators also found a few pieces of jewelry that the tomb robbers somehow missed.

     The tomb also held one rather grisly surprise for the excavators. The head of either Djehutynakht or his wife (it is not certain which of them) was found in the tomb. The head shows that the brain of the deceased was partially removed via the nose (as would become normal later in Egyptian history) and partially through the base of the head at the back of the skull.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Painted Geese of Djeutynakht

     One of the most beautiful scenes on Djehutynakht's coffin shows two geese inter-twining their necks. The photo here does not do this scene justice. The detail in the feathers of the geese is the work of a master. If you ever get to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, make sure to find this painting and look very carefully at it.

     The ancient egyptians often represented food offerings being presented to the deceased and this scene is an example of this. notice to the right of the geese, the small representation of a cow with its legs bound together in preparation for  slaughter. Below the cow is the foreleg of an animal (a cow?) that has been cut off. Cow forelegs were eaten or presented to a statue of the deceased as part of the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony that took pace during the funeral.

     Notice to the left of the geese there are three dead geese that have been piled up as an offering to Djehutynakht. There is also the head of an Ibex, with its distinctive long horns, below and to the left of the geese.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Tomb of Djehutynakht (Part 2)

Figure 1 - painting from a coffin of Djehutynakht
The coffins of Djehutynakht contain a number of other painted scenes that are well worth looking at. Every egyptian wanted to have certain possessions in the afterlife and Djehutynakht had representations of many of his possessions painted on one of his coffins. In figure 1 we see an egyptian "kilt" that was worn by wealthy nobles. The kilt has bead decorations hanging down from it. Above the "kilt" there are two scribal palettes with brushes and two colors of ink. When writing, black ink was used for the body of the document, while red ink was used for "chapter headings", titles, etc.

Figure 2 - painting from a coffin of Djehutynakht
     In figure 2 we see a box in the lower right side that contained cloth(?), which is shown above the box as if it were on the lid of the box, rather than in the box. Above the box is a fan inside a decorated cover, while to the left of the box is a mirror in a cover with a strap attached (to allow it to be carried over a shoulder?). Egyptian mirrors were different from ours in that the mirror proper was made of a piece of highly polished metal (rather than being made of glass) that showed the user's reflection.

Photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Tomb of Djehutynakht

Djehutynakht and a Servant
     Djehutynakht was probably a Nomarch (Governor) of the area around Hermopolis in Egypt during the early part of the Middle Kingdom. His tomb, which also originally contained the burial of his wife (who may have also been named Djehutynakht), was found by a Harvard / Museum of Fine Arts archaeological expedition in 1915. The objects found in the tomb were allocated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where some of them are currently on display.

     The most famous objects found in the tomb are the wonderful painted coffins that the couple were buried in. These coffins were made of cedar wood imported from what is now Lebanon. Many of the paintings on the coffins are absolutely exquisite and surely rank as some of the most beautiful paintings ever done in ancient Egypt.

     The scene shown here shows some of the standard iconography of Egyptian Art. Djehutynakht is shown seated as a servant brings food to the Nomarch. Djehutnakht is shown as being much larger than his less important (and unnamed) servant. His lordship wears a broad collar around his neck and has his staff of authority in one hand. The chair he is seated on has a cloth cushion draped over the low "back" and has four legs carved to look like animal legs.

Photo copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Pyramids Found in Egypt?

     Analysis of satellite photos has lead some to believe that a couple of "lost" pyramids have been found. One of the "pyramid" complexes is in Upper Egypt, while the other is near the Fayum.

     The satelitte photos are suggestive, but someone will need to actually explore these sites to see what is really there.

     Here is a link to an article on this topic. This article also contains some links to other interesting articles dealing with ancient Egypt, so take a look.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Millionaire and the Mummies

Canopic jar found in Tomb 55 by Theodore Davis
     A new book entitled The Millionaire and the Mummies is the story of Theodore Davis, who is best known for finding more tombs in Egypt's Valley of the Kings than any other explorer before or since. But Davis' rise to fortune is a classic story of financial shenanigans that involved making money from an association with "Boss" Tweed and from the hard work of liquidating (looting?) an insolvent bank. 

     Davis knew poverty as a child and was determined to become rich. And so he did. He was also the subject of three congressional investigations, from which he escaped totally unscathed (how much money was paid to various members of Congress is unrecorded).It would be easy to label him a greedy thief, but quite contrarily he was generous with his friends and relatives. And today he is best known for spending large amounts of money looking for the burials of ancient Egypt's royalty.

     Davis' expeditions found the tombs of Yuya and Thuya, Horemhab and many others, but it is the discovery of Tomb 55 that Davis is best known for. To this day we are not sure who was actually buried there. Davis insisted for ages that the body was that of Queen Tiye, (even though the doctor who examined it claimed that the body was male). Unlike many of his predecessors, Davis felt that most of his finds belonged in Egypt and he actually took far less for his personal collection than his agreements with the Antiquities Service allowed him.

 John M. Adams has done a great job of writing this book. He has skillfully moved back and forth between Davis' rise to wealth and power as a young man and his adventures in Egypt as a retiree. He paints a fascinating picture of Egypt in the early twentieth century and America in the Gilded Age (late 1800's). The book is well written, nicely paced and is easy to read. Anyone who is interested in Egyptian Archaeology will find this book fascinating.

Photo Copyright 2013 by John Freed

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sphinx of Menkara Found in Israel

A sphinx carved with the name of the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Menkara has been found at Tel Hazor in northern Israel.

Archaeologists are uncertain how it got there, although it might have been a gift sent from the Egyptian court to the ruler of Hazor.

Here is a link to the story.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Special Exhibit in Pittsburgh

Information about the early history of Saudi Arabia is hard to come by. Not a lot of archaeological work has been done there and publications are few and far between.

The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh has a special exhibit right now of some artifacts from Saudi Arabia. I have not seen it, but will be in Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks. If I can get to it, I will publish a write up to let you know what I see.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Looting Continues

     The governmental chaos in Egypt, as we have mentioned before, is leading to massive looting of archaeological sites. Take a look at this article to see just one example of what is going on. And do look at the slide show for some truly grim photos of scattered bones and pits dug into ancient cemeteries.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The "Dolphin Vase"

     I am not usually all that interested in pottery, but there is one vessel in the Metropolitan Museum's collection that is really interesting.

     The so-called "Dolphin Vase" was found at Lisht and may date to the Thirteenth Dynasty. Its origin has been debated for many years, with many Egyptologists suggesting that it may have been influenced by Aegean art. Others point to the decoration's resemblance to Tell el-Yahudiya ware and suggest an origin in the Levant.

     The vase shows three dolphins along the its lower part, with a number of birds (geese?) above the dolphins. It has been pointed out (McGovern, Patrick, et. al., "The Archaeological Origin and Significance of the Dolphin Vase as Determined by Neutron Activation Analysis", Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research, No. 26 (Nov. 1994), pp. 31-43) that the birds have no parallels on Crete, which would also argue against this vase being influenced by Aegean art. The piriform shape of the vessel is a common shape for pottery made in the Levant during this time period.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Child Abuse in the Ancient Near East

Sadly, child abuse has gone on in all human societies since the beginning of time.

The first known case of child abuse in ancient Egypt was discovered recently when the body of a child was examined and found to have multiple broken bones that had clearly happened at different times.

We also know from Hammurabi's Law Code that daughters were mistreated by their own fathers. Law 154 states that a father will be banished from his city for having sex with his daughter, and laws 155 and 156 provide for punishment of men who have relations with their daughter-in-law.

While we often view ancient civilizations through their artwork and monuments, we should not forget that these civilizations were made up of many people who had the same positive, and negative, behaviors as people today. Some things have not changed throughout human history.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Festival Hall of Tuthmose III

Figure 1 - Festival Hall of Tuthmose III
     The Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Tuthmose III was remembered for hundreds of years after his death as one of Egypt's greatest kings. He built extensively at Karnak Temple where he erected obelisks and wrote the tale of his conquests in the Levant. He also constructed one of the most unique buildings ever erected in Egypt, the Festival Hall of Karnak.

     The Festival Hall was built as part of the celebration of Tuthmose's Heb-Sed festival. This festival was first celebrated after the King had been on the throne for thirty years, and was then celebrated every few years after that. The building in Karnak that the Pharaoh erected to celebrate his Heb-Sed is designed to look like a giant tent made of stone. The building has an "awning" on the outside and the columns that support the roof have "upside down" capitals that seem to be imitations of the poles used to support a tent. Possibly this is an echo in stone of the tents that Tuthmose lived in during his many military campaigns.
Figure 2 - Tulips(?) from the Court Behind the Festival Hall

     Behind the Festival Hall is a court where the Pharaoh had depicted some of the plants he saw during his campaigns, plants that did not exist in Egypt. See figure two for a depiction of what looks like tulips.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Howard Carter's Classic now an E-Book

The first volume of Howard Carter's classic Tomb of Tut.Ankh.Amen is now available as an ebook. The book has been converted to a Kindle edition which I read on an iPad with the Kindle app. The book is formatted cleanly, looks good on the screen and is easy to read.

The photos in the book are sharp and look as good on the screen as they do in the original printed edition of the book. My only complaint is that not all of the photos that were originally in the book are in this edition.

It is great to finally have this classic work available on an e-reader.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Looting Continues in Egypt

The current chaos in Egypt is being exploited by thieves who are stealing Egypt's cultural heritage for their own gain. Another article on the web highlights some of the concerns. This time the thievery has extended to the Moslem heritage of the country. One odd thing about this article is that, although it covers the looting of Egypt's Moslem heritage, it includes photos of Djoser's step-pyramid.

One can only hope that the looters are caught and prosecuted for their crimes.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ancient Warfare

The latest issue of Ancient Warfare Magazine focuses on the Ancient Egyptian military. I have not yet read the articles, but will give you a quick overview of them in case you would like to find a copy of the magazine to read yourself.
  • "Warriors of the Nile" by Josho Brouwers (editor of Ancient Warfare Magazine) - this article is a quick look at the Egyptian military from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Empire
  • "Sources for Ancient Egyptian Warfare - Pictures, Objects and Words" by Bridget McDermott (PhD in Egyptology from Manchester University) - discusses the sources we have for knowing how the Egyptians waged war, from Pre-Dynastic Pottery through New Kingdom temple reliefs
  • "The Rulers of Foreign Lands" by Arianna Sacco (currently working on her PhD on the Hyksos Period) - discusses the contributions of the Hyksos to the Egyptian military
  • "From the 'Walls of the Ruler' to the 'Belly of Stones'" by Sigrid M. van Roade (studied Egyptology at Leiden University) - talks about Egypt's eastern border defenses
  • "The Battle of Kadesh" by Bridget McDermott - the title says it all, this is another analysis of the battle between Ramesses II and the Hittites
  • "A Pharaoh's Arsenal" by Paul McDonnell-Staff - this article takes a look at the weapons, chariots, etc. found in the tomb of Tutankhamen
  • "Conversations of Great Kings" by Josho Brouwers - this is a quick overview of the cuneiform letters that were exchanged by the courts of the ancient Near East

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The London and New York Obelisks

     The Egyptian obelisks now standing in London, on the banks of the Thames River, and in New York, in Central Park, were originally a pair erected in Heliopolis by Tuthmose III. They were moved to Alexandria by the Romans and set up in a temple that was originally built by Cleopatra VII.
     Both obelisks stand just short of 70 feet (21 meters) high and weigh about 224 tons. The London obelisk was presented to Egypt by Muhammed Ali in 1819, but it was not until 1877 that funds were found to transport it to London. The New York obelisk was brought to Central Park in 1881 and can be seen today from the roof top of the Metropolitan Museum.

     Time, and pollution, have not been kind to either obelisk. The inscriptions on both are rapidly being destroyed. Future generations may walk by them and not realize that they once bore inscriptions carved by two of the ancient world's most important kings, Tuthmose III, who originally made them, and Ramesses II, who added his name and titles many years later.


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Paris Obelisk

Fig. 1 - Ramesses II Obelisk in Paris
     The Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II set up two obelisks at the entrance to the Luxor temple, one of which has been moved to France and is now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.  

     The obelisk was moved to Paris via a specially built boat named "the Luxor". This boat left Toulon in France on April 15, 1831. By December 19th the obelisk was safely on the the Luxor, but it could not be moved until the inundation of the Nile River started. It was not until August 25th of 1832 that the obelisk began its long trip to Paris.

Fig. 2 - The Story of Erecting the Obelisk is on the Pedestal
     The obelisk was erected in the Place de la Concorde on October 25th, 1836. About 200,000 spectators, including King Louis-Philippe, were present when the obelisk was set atop the pedestal on which it now rests. The story of how the obelisk was erected is shown on the sides of the pedestal.

          Numerous other Egyptian obelisks now reside in far off lands. One of them is now in London, another is in New York. And there are a number of obelisks now in Rome.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lost City of Heracleon Found Underwater

The city of Heracleon has been found underwater about four miles of the coast of Egypt at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Quite a few well-preserved statues have been found. Another find was a large stela originally set-up by the Pharaoh Nectanebo I (the link below has a good picture of the stela being raised from the bottom of the sea).

Some information and photos of the find can be seen here.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Rishi Coffins" - a Review

Rishi coffins were coffins decorated with feathered patterns and used by the ancient Egyptians during the Second Intermediate Period. Almost all the known examples of these coffins come from Upper Egypt, on the West Bank of the Nile opposite the modern city of Luxor.

Rishi Coffins and the Funerary Culture of Second Intermediate Period Egypt by Gianluca Minaci is a great example of how scholarly research should be done. The author has painstakingly found every known example of a rishi coffin, researched the circumstances of its discovery and documented it in a well written book. There is a photograph and / or a line drawing of each coffin in the catalog. Where possible, the author has included a hand copy of the text on the coffin as well. This work is also a fine example of how a book should be printed. It is a large and heavy paperback printed on high quality, glossy paper.

This book is probably not for everyone interested in ancient Egypt due to the obscurity of the topic. But for any scholar interested in the Second Intermediate Period, this book is absolutely required reading.