Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Looting at Dashur

There are reports today that looting is going on at the Egyptian site of Dashur. Local residents are protesting the looting and complaining that the military is ignoring the problem.

Dashur is the site where the Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu (the father of Khufu) built two pyramids (the "Bent" and the "Red" pyramids). Sneferu is, of course, the father of Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pan Grave People

Figure 1 - Animal Cranium with Painted Decoration
     A fair number of very distinctive burials dating to the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period have been found in both Egypt and Nubia. These burials consist of small, shallow, round graves that are usually called "pan graves". The graves are adorned with animal skulls (goats, sheep or cattle) that have painted decorations on them (see figure 1). One of these painted skulls, from Mostagedda in Egypt, shows a Pan-Grave warrior with his weapons (Fisher, Marjorie, et Al, Ed. Ancient Nubia, New York: American University In Cairo Press, 2012, pp. 147 - 148).

Figure 2 - Material from a Pan Grave Burial
     The deceased is usually buried in a flexed position and sometimes they are covered with leather or linen blankets and provided with pottery and jewelry.  The pottery is of two types: either a reddish brown pot with a black top, or a lighter brown pot with incised decoration (see Figure 3). Bows, arrows and daggers are often found in these graves.

Figure 3 - Material from a Pan Grave Burial

     Figure 1 shows an animal cranium decorated with red and black bands. The red bands have white dots painted on them. The animal cranium in Figure 3 is decorated with different colored dots. All three of the burials shown here are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      It is thought that these Pan-Grave People were the Medjay who served in the Egyptian army as mercenaries against the Hyksos and even against the Nubians. The Egyptians made a clear distinction between the Medjay, who were loyal to Egypt, and the "Nhsy" who were Nubian enemies of Egypt (van Seters, John. The Hyksos: a new Investigation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 105 - 107).

Photos Copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Burial of King Sobekemsaf of Dynasty Seventeen

Fig. 1 - Canopic Chest of Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef
     Sekhemre Shedtowi Sobekemsaf was a Pharaoh of the Seventeenth Egyptian Dynasty. His rule was localized to the southern portion of Egypt (the northern part was under the rule of the foreign "Hyksos"). Little is known of his reign other than the fact that it was at least sixteen years long and that he built at Karnak and Medamud. He may have also sent an expedition to the Wadi Hammamat.

     We do know a little about this king's burial, however. The exact location of his tomb has never been positively identified, but his canopic chest is in Leiden and the papyrus Amherst gives a striking description of the looting of his tomb.

     The tomb robbery in question took place during the Twentieth Dynasty. The thieves who entered the tomb were captured and confessed (no doubt after some "persuasion" was applied) to the crime. They said that the Pharaoh's mummy had "...a numerous list of amulets and ornaments of gold at its throat; its head had a [mask] of gold upon it..." (James Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 4, (New York: Russel & Russel, 1962), p. 265).  After removing these valuable objects, the thieves set fire to the bodies of Sobekemsaf and his wife.

     The canopic chest of this ruler is typical of the Seventeenth Dynasty. If is made of wood, and bears simple painted inscriptions and decorations. The lid is semi-curved with an upright rectangular "head and foot board". The underside of the lid has painted representations of four human-headed canopic jars. Anubis is shown on all four sides of the box and the inscriptions tell us that the king is beloved of each of the four sons of Horus, and of Isis and Nephthys (see: Gianluca Miniaci, Rishi Coffins and the Funerary Culture of Second Internediate Period Egypt. (London: Golden House Publications), 2011), p. 73 for drawings of this object).

     The accompanying photo is of the canopic chest of another Seventeenth Dynasty Pharaoh, Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef. Stylistically it is very similar to Sobekemsaf's.

Photo copyright 2013 by John Freed

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Harkuf and the Dancing Pygmy

A while back I posted about finding an electronic version of James Breasted's history of Egypt, which was the first book I had read on the subject. I still remember how the book brought the subject to life for me many years ago. One of the sections of the book that I have remembered over the years is the story of Harkuf and the dancing Pygmy he brought back from Nubia to the court of Pepi II.

Harkuf had led an expedition south of Egypt and was returning north to the royal court with the Pygmy. Dring the return trip, he received a letter from the child king Pepi II. Harkuf was so proud of the letter that he had a copy of it placed in his tomb.

In the letter, Pepi told Harkuf to "come north to the residence at once. Bring with you this Pygmy...When he goes down with you into the ship, get worthy men to be around him, lest he fall in the water. When he lies down at night, get worthy men to lie around him in his tent. Inspect ten times a night. My majesty desires to see this Pygmy more than the gifts of the mine-land and Punt!"

The thing I love about this letter is  the obvious joy of a child that the letter preserves. So often the study of history can seem dry, but occasionally you get a reminder like this that the kings, generals and politicians who made history were real persons.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Old Kingdom Port Found

Egyptian and French archaeologists have found a port on the Red Sea, about 18 km away from Suez, that dates to the reign of Khufu in Egypt's Old Kingdom. They have also found a number of papyri, some of which date to year 27 of Khufu's reign.

You can find more information here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Contribution of Tutankhamen's Tomb to the History of Ancient Egypt

Figure 1 - Copy of Tutankhamen's Sarcophagus
     Dr. Marianne Eaton-Krauss gave a talk on Friday, April 5 at the Egyptological Seminar of New York entitled "The Contribution of Tutankhamen's Tomb to the History of Ancient Egypt".  The lecture covered some interesting material and acquainted me with a few facts and objects that I did not already know.

     One of the objects I had not seen before was a stele top that showed Tutankaten (yes, Tutankhaten) worshiping Amun and Mut. Clearly the return to religious orthodoxy started even before the young King changed his name to Tutankhamen.

     A new fact that Dr. Eaton-Krauss discussed (new to me anyway) was that the highest known regnal year for Tutankhamen before the discovery of his tomb was year six. A reference to year nine was found in the tomb.

     Some of the objects in the King's tomb may have been made for a female successor to Akhenaten. Dr. Eaton-Krauss mentioned a pectoral and the King's sarcophagus in particular as fitting into this category.

     All in all, the talk was informative and well presented and I was quite happy that I attended it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

New Discovery Made at Ur

British archaeologists have found a large public building near the ziggurat of Ur. The building is roughly 260 feet square and dates to about 4,000 years ago. The discovery was made at one of the very few archaeological digs being conducted in Iraq right now.

The link below will provide more information: