Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stela of Amenyseneb (cont.)

Fig. 1 - Stela of Amenyseneb (reverse side)
Fig. 2 - Stela of Amenyseneb (reverse side)
     As mentioned in the previous post, this stela is unusual in that it is inscribed on both sides. The reverse has scenes of harvesting and cattle raising, a couple of which show asiatics working for the stela's owner. The scenes are not particularly unusual. One shows meat being cooked (figure 1, top register, left side) while another shows the foreleg of a cow being cut off for presentation to Amenyseneb (fig. 1, register 2). Another scene shows cattle being used to thresh grain (fig. 2, top register). These scenes are similar to scenes from tomb walls going back to the Old Kingdom, and similar scenes would appear on tomb walls virtually until the end of dynastic history.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Stela of Amenyseneb

Fig. 1 - Stela of Amenyseneb
       This steal is double sided with inscriptions on both the front and the back. One side (not pictured here) shows fields being plowed, grain being harvested and food being prepared. Some of the laborers in this scene are marked as Asiatics, illustrating the increased presence of foreigners in Egypt during the end of the Middle Kingdom. The side that is pictured here has Amenyseneb shown on the left opposite his father (?). Between the two men is a large ankh. Unlike the stela shown in the previous post, this ankh is only hollow in the loop, the rest of the ankh is deeply incised, but is not hollowed out (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 2 - Stela of Amenyseneb showing Wepwawet
Fig. 3 - Sela of Amenyseneb, showing his mother (lower right)
     Amenyseneb is shown with his hands raised in a gesture of adoration or respect. He is wearing a kilt and a broad collar which still has green paint on it (see fig. 2). "Wepwawet of Upper Egypt" is represented as a jackal above Amenyseneb's head. It is possible that "Wepwawet of Lower Egypt" was originally shown above Amenseneb's father, but we cannot be sure as that portion of the stela is broken off (Oppenheim, Adela, ed. Egypt Transformed, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, pp. 268 - 9). The mother of the stela's owner kneels in front of her son, to her right his two sisters are shown (see fig. 3, lower right).

     This man is known from two other stelae, one of which bears the name of the Thirteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Khendjer.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

An Odd Dynasty Twelve Stela

     One of the more unusual objects in the Met's Middle Kingdom special exhibit is this stela of the butler Senebef. The open work ankh in the center may have been designed to allow the scent of incense from the "nearby temple of Osiris"  filter through to the deceased as the inscription describes (Oppenheim, Adela. Ancient Egypt Transformed, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, p. 268).

Open work carving such as this ankh is unusual in Egyptian art in any time period, and only a very few other stelae with an open work ankh are known. There is one other such object in this exhibit and I will talk about it in the next post.

     The three mumiform figures are of Senebef, his mother and a man named Ipta (Senebef's father?). The two men clutch the fringed end of their shroud, a pose which occurs in numerous other statues and stelae from this period. The hieroglyphs on this steal are carved rather crudely, as are the faces and figures of the three persons shown.

     The provenance of this object is uncertain, but the reference to the "nearby temple of Osiris" suggests that it was found at Abydos.  It is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Copyright (c) 2015 by John Freed

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Middle Kingdom at the Met

Fig. 1 - Wooden statue of a serving girl, tomb of Meketre
     I finally got to the Metropolitan Museum to see their special exhibit "Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom". It is simply one of the best, and largest, special exhibits I have ever seen. There are over two hundred individual pieces in the show, many of which are among the most interesting pieces of Egyptian Art that I have ever seen.

     The pieces range from large stone statuary to small ivory figurines, dreadful First Intermediate Period stelae to exquisite Twelfth Dynasty stelae, the wonderful jewelry of Princess Sit Hathor Yunet and the famous wooden daily life models of Meketre (see figure 1).

     The accompanying exhibition guide makes the point that the Middle Kingdom is all too often overlooked by both scholars and the interested public. The Old Kingdom has the pyramids while the New Kingdom has the famous temples at Thebes and the Valley of the Kings. The Middle Kingdom by comparison has small, unimpressive and shoddily built pyramids of the Twelfth Dynasty and very little else that has been preserved in the way of large scale architecture.

     Over the course of my posts for the rest of the year, and into the new year as well, I will cover many of the pieces in the exhibit and try to tell some of the story of Egypt's Middle Kingdom.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Still More from Tutankhamen's Tomb

     Preliminary results from the radar and infrared scan of Tutankhamen's tomb have been announced and there is some evidence that there is another room behind the Pharaoh's burial chamber. The possibility now exists that a hole will be drilled (probably from the treasury?) and a camera inserted to see what can be learned.

     It was also announced that radar and infrared scans of tomb KV5 (the sons of Ramesses II) has started.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Radar Check in the Tomb of Tutankhamen

     A second radar test is being conducted in the tomb of Tutankhamen to verify the results of the first test. So far specifics have not been released. Results are expected to be released on Saturday. Here is an article containing the latest.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Latest Issue of KMT Magazine

Fig 1 - Sphinx of Senusert  III, 12th Dynasty
     The Latest Issue of KMT Magazine is available on newsstands and as always there are a number of really interesting articles.

Fig. 2 Sphinx of Senusert III, Metropolitan Museum
     The feature article in this issue is a description of the Metropolitan Museum's special exhibit "Ancient Egypt Transformed". The exhibit features some of the major works of Middle Kingdom art from the Metropolitan, Brooklyn, Louvre and Kunsthistoriches Museum (Vienna). There are also pieces from Stockholm, London, Manchester and Kansas City among others. I have not yet seen this exhibit (I am planning on going to the Met next weekend) and will give a more detailed write up about it once I get to it. For the time being I have included a few photos of two objects from the Metropolitan Museum that are in the exhibit.

Fig. 3 - Amenemhat I, Metropolitan Museum
     Raymond Johnson weighs in with a re-interpretation of a famous Amarna talatat block that I think is right on the money. Add in an article on the Egyptian collection in Marseille, an Amarna head in Turin and a short biography of Egyptologist Georges Daressy along with the magazine's usual collection of great photographs and you have another excellent issue of KMT.

     You can find the magazine at Barnes & Nobles or you can subscribe at their website.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Amuduat in the Tomb of Tuthmose III

     The Book of the Amduat makes its first appearance in the early Eighteenth Dynasty painted onto the walls of royal burial chambers. The paintings look (intentionally I am sure) as if they are actually painted onto a papyrus scroll.

     The scene to the left is from the Seventh Hour of the text and shows the enemies of Osiris (and Tuthmose III, in whose tomb this painting can be found) being punished via decapitation. To the left of this scene, the seated god Osiris (protected by a Mehen serpent) acts as the judge of the dead and oversees the execution of those who are his enemies.

     The presence of Osiris in this scene is designed to emphasize the fact that Osiris is now actively supporting Ra's trip through this dangerous portion of the underworld.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hour Twelve of the Amduat

     The main event in the Book of the Amduat is the rise of the sun each morning. In the twelfth hour of the text Ra has regained his full power and is reborn in the eastern sky.

     In the middle register of this scene in the Tomb of Tuthmose III we see the sun god's boat being towed by twelve gods and thirteen goddesses toward a large snake (the "World Encircler"). The solar bark enters the snake at the tail and is reborn out the mouth of the serpent. The "old ones, weak from age" who are on the god's boat are rejuvenated along with Ra as they pass through the body of the snake. Finally the sun arrives at the eastern horizon where the it is reborn in the form of a beetle (the god Khepra).



Monday, November 9, 2015

Gates in the Amduat and the Sun's Encounter with Apopis

     Two hours of the Amduat have gates that the solar boat of Ra must pass each night. In the fourth hour the solar bark is towed along a zig zag path that (in the tomb of Tuthmose III) has two gates that must be passed. These gates are called "knives".

     The eighth hour is divided into five "caverns" or vaults by six gates. (also named "knives") There are three guardians in each cavern. In this hour the boat is towed by eight gods. In the fourth hour, there were four gods towing the boat, while in the Twelfth hour there are twelve gods fulfilling this task.

     In the Seventh hour, there is a different obstacle to overcome. It is here that Ra's greatest enemy, Apopis, tries to attack the solar bark. In the middle register of the scene representing this hour, this evil god dries up the water that the sun god's boat is floating on and Ra can only proceed through the magic of Isis and the "eldest magician" and by the magical power that is in the mouth of Ra himself. Selkis places fetters on the body of Apopis while Isis and the "eldest magician" cast spells on the snake body of Apopis. Ra is shown in this hour as surrounded by a "Mehen" serpent that also helps protect him from Apopis.

     In the lower register of this hour, the stars are shown (as human figures, both male and female) with stars on their heads as they proceed in front of Ra. In the upper register, the enemies of Osiris are punished. They are bound (elbows together) and then decapitated.

(See: Abt, Theodor and Erik Hornung. Knowledge for the Afterlife: the Egyptian Amduat - a Quest for Immortality, Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2003).


Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Amduat

     The Book of the Amduat is sometimes said to date back to the Old Kingdom. This argument has been advanced in spite of the fact that there does not seem to be any solid evidence for it (Hornung, Erik. The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999, pp. 27 - 28). The earliest example of the text is from the tomb of Tuthmose I. An argument has been made that his daughter Hatshepsut is responsible for the text being in Tuthmose's tomb, but there is, once again, no solid evidence for this idea.

     In the Tomb of Tuthmose III there is a complete copy of the text, which starts on the west wall of the Pharaoh's burial chamber (sunset) and concludes on the east wall (sunrise). In the tomb of Tutankhamen, an abbreviated version of this text is on the burial chamber walls, and some of the chapters are on the shrines that surrounded his sarcophagus and coffins.

     The tomb of Horemhab does not have any portion of the Book of the Amduat on its walls. Since Horemhab's shrines have long since disappeared, we do not know if they had a copy of the text on them or not. Portions of the text appear in the tombs of the Ramesside Pharaohs down to the 22nd Dynasty. By Dynasty 21 the text began appearing in the tombs of priests while, in Dynasty 30 it has been found on the sarcophagi of both kings and nobles. It finally goes out of use during the Ptolemaic Period (Hornung, p. 28).

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Egyptian Book of the Amduat

     At the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, in the tomb of Tuthmose I, a new religious text makes its first appearance. This "Book of the Hidden Chamber" becomes what is known today as the "Book of What is in the Underworld" (Am-Duat). This text is, if anything, even more cryptic than the Book of the Dead. It describe the sun-god's journey through the underworld and tells how the dangers faced by the god during the night-time passage through the underworld are overcome.

     In two tombs, those of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II, the Amduat is written and illustrated on the wall's of the King's burial chamber with a yellowish-brown background, as if the walls of the tomb are a papyrus scroll that has been unrolled. The book describes the twelve hours of the sun's underground journey (from sunset to its re-birth at sunrise the next day). Each "hour" has a gate which is opened by its guardian only for the boat that the sun travels in.

     In "Hour 2" we see the sun god's bark, along with several other boats, floating past fertile fields, where various gods present crops to Re and his followers. In Hour 4 the solar bark travels along a zig zag sand road (rather than on water). This sand road is blocked by gates and the boat of the sun god changes itself into a snake to make faster progress. In Hour 5 the god Sokar holds the wings of an enemy, a multi-headed snake. The cave that this scene takes place in is guarded by the god Aker (the god of the earth). In Hour 6 three divine graves guarded by fire-breathing snakes are shown along with the sun in "human form" as the "flesh of Khepri". This form of the sun is watched over by a protective five-headed snake.

     Snakes appear throughout the Amduat. Some are the enemies of Re, while others (such as in Hour 8) protect the sun and its boat. The sun itself is sometimes shown as a ram-headed human and sometimes as a snake, in addition to his depictions in forms more often used to show the sun.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Portals of the Underworld

     The Book of the Dead that belonged to Ani had ten "portals" the deceased needed to pass (according to the text of spell 146) in addition to the seven "gates". The difference between a gate and a portal is unclear to me, although the vignettes on the papyrus do show the portals and gates looking very different. The gates, which we described in some of the previous posts, are mostly painted as simple, single-color, rectangles with a door in the lower center of the rectangle. The portals are portrayed as being a more elaborate style of doorway. Two of the portals are topped by a kheker frieze, another shows two eyes of Horus, with a shen sign between them. Two show a single snake above them and the final one (portal ten) shows a pair of snakes. One of these entrances has two Ba birds with the sign of life (ankh), while yet another shows a row of rearing uraei much like the top of the exterior cover of Tutankhamen's canonic chest.

     Each portal has a single guardian eight of whom hold grain, one holds a knife and one holds both a knife and some grain. Ani and his wife stand before the vulture headed guardian of portal one holding their hands up in an attitude of adoration. The portal doorkeepers are:

Portal Guardian Name Description of Guardian
1 Terror Vulture-headed with a sun disk on its head holding grain
2 Child of the fashioner Alioness-headed guardian who holds grain
3 Splendid A human-headed guardian who holds grain and has the "divine beard"
4 Long-horned Bull This guard has a bull's head and holds grain
5 One who spears the Disaffected A half feline and half hippo figure that holds a knife
6 United One A male human figure with a mis-shapen head. He holds both a knife and grain.Unlike the guardians of the seven gates and 7 of the ten portals, this guard is not shown in mummy wrappings. He wars the "New Kingdom Male Kilt and a broad collar instead.
7 Ikety Ram-headed (like the god Khnum) and holding wheat
8 One who protects himself A falcon holding grain and wearing the double crown usually worn by Horus or the Pharaoh (who are often one and the same of course). He stands on a coffin, unlike the others who squat on a reed mat
9 One who made himself A feline-headed "demon" who has a sun disk surmounting his head and who holds grain in his hand.
10 Great Embracer A ram-headed figure who wears an "Atef" crown and holds grain

At each of the portals Ani must utter words (a spell?) to pass these strange beings and continue on his way to the land of the blessed dead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A New Copy of the Book of Two Ways "Found"

     A leather "scroll" that has gone missing since the Second World War has been re-discovered in storage in the Cairo Museum. It dates to the early Middle Kingdom and contains spells from the Book of Two Ways. This document is rather unusual in that the text is written on leather, rather than a coffin, or even a papyrus scroll, and because it might indicate that the Book of Two Ways was not necessarily local to Middle Egypt as many scholars have thought. Here is a link to a longer article on this topic.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gates Six and Seven from the Papyrus of Ani

    The Sixth Gate has a gatekeeper named "Seizer of Bread, Raging of Voice" with a Guardian and an Announcer name "One who Brings his own Face" and "Sharp of Face, Belonging to the Pool" respectively. Ani tells them that he is the bearer of the Wereret crown and that he has rescued the eye of Osiris. With this Ani is permitted to continue onwards "in triumph". The heads of the three figures seated before this gate consist of a jackal and two other animal heads that I cannot identify for certain, although they may be a crocodile and a dog The jackal holds grain in his hand, while the other two hold knives.

     The Seventh (and last) Gate is guarded by three kneeling figures which are rabbit-headed, lioness-headed (??) and human-headed. The human-headed figure holds grain (the other two hold knives) and wears the beard of the gods. The gatekeeper is referred to as "One who Prevails Over Knives", while the other two are named "Great of Triumph" and "One who Repels the Demolishers". At this gate Ani says, "I have come before you, Osiris, so that I might be pure of evils. May you circulate around the sky, may you see Re" and " are in the night bark as he circles the horizon of the sky".

     Making some sort of sense of all this is difficult. Here are some statistics, which may, or may not, mean anything:

Of the twenty-one kneeling figures who bar Ani's passage through the gates there are:

  • 4 Human-headed figures; two hold knives and two hold grain
  • 2 rabbit-headed figures; one holds a knife and one holds grain
  • 3 snake-headed figures; all three hold knives
  • 2 Crocodile-headed figures (one is clearly crocodile-headed, one might be crocodile-headed), both of which hold knives
  • 2 jackal-headed figures, both of whom hold grain
  • 3 figures that might be lioness-headed, all three hold knives
  • 3 dog-headed figures (?),  with all three holding knives
  • 2 raptor-headed figures (clearly shown as two different birds pf prey), one holds grain and one holds a knife
Fifteen of the "demons" hold knives, while six hold grain. 

     None of this seems to have any special meaning, or if it does I do not understand it. In an attempt to learn more I consulted some scholarly works on the subject. Not only did I get no real clarification, but I also got some added confusion.  For instance, Rita Lucarelli ("The Guardian-Demons of the Book of the Dead", British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 15 (2010), pp. 85-102) points out that the names of the gates guardians (very rarely) change from one copy of the Book of the Dead to another, and that sometimes the animal heads on a particular guardian changes from one copy to the next. (Lucarelli, p. 87). Also, the number of guardians at each gate is sometimes two, rather than three (Lucarelli, p. 88). 

     The next post will start looking at the "portals" mentioned in the Papyrus of Ani (BD Spell 146) to see what we can find there.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gates Three, Four and Five in the Book of the Dead

     The name of the gatekeeper at gate number three of Ani's Book of the Dead is the quaintly named "One who Eats the Putrefaction of his Posterior". That makes the names of the guardian and the announcer for this gate ("Alert of Face" and "Gateway" respectively) seem quite normal. These three have the heads of a jackal, a dog (?) and a snake). When confronting these three Ani tells them that he is "...the secret one of the cloudburst..." who is there to drive evil away from Osiris and that the three "demons" should open the gate for him so that he (Ani) might shine in Rosetjau.

     At gate four we find guardians with the heads of a human, a raptor and a feline of some sort (?). The human-headed figure holds grain in his hand and wears the beard of the gods, while the other two hold knives. The gatekeeper is called "The one Whose Face Repels, One of Multitudinous Voices" while his companions are named "The Alert One" and the "One who Repels the Crocodile". Ani tells these three that he is the son of Osiris and that they should make a path for him so that "...I might pass by in God's Domain".

     At gate five Ani confronts a raptor-headed figure, a human-headed "demon" and a figure with the head of a snake. The gatekeeper is named "He who Lives on Worms", while the other two are named "Shabu" and "Hippopotamus-faced, One who Charges Opposite". Ani announces that he has "...protected him (Osiris) in triumph...".

     At this point I think it should be clear why scholars have had such a difficult time interpreting the Book of the Dead.  To the Egyptians a demon named "Alert of Face" is perfectly sensible, but we have a very difficult time understanding the significance of this sort of name. Also, note  that while these gates are described one after the other in Chapter 147 of the Book of the Dead, there is no reason to believe they were located in any particular place in the underworld. In fact, there is no evidence that the Egyptians ever even thought about the actual geography of the underworld, other than vague thoughts about gates, portals, caverns and fields that would be harvested for the blessed dead. Are these places located near the beginning of the underworld? In the Middle? Near the end where the sun exited at the dawn of each new day? Were they together or scattered throughout the deceased's journey? No one knows.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Still More on Tutankhamen

     The latest theory going around is that some of the people represented in the paintings located in Tutankhamen's burial chamber are not who we think they are. One representation of "Tut" might be Nefertiti. The representation of Ay performing the Opening of the Mouth for Tutankhamen, might actually be Tutankhamen performing the ritual for Nefertiti.  Hmmm............

     The Houston Museum of Natural Science has a blog post up on these theories.  It's an interesting read.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Gates of the Underworld in Egypt's New Kingdom

     In the New Kingdom "Book of the Dead" the Egyptian concept of the afterlife continued to feature a series of gates that the deceased had to pass through to join with Osiris in the land of the blessed dead. Like the gates in earlier texts, such as in the Book of Two Ways (see the posts I did on September 21 and September 23, 2015), the gates in the Book of the Dead had guardians who needed to be overcome for the deceased to continue his journey. The names of these fearsome demons are completely different from the names of the gatekeepers in the Book of the Two Ways.

     In the Papyrus of Ani, there are seven"gates" and ten "portals" that Ani needed to pass. Each of the gates had a "Gatekeeper", a "Guardian" and an "Announcer" squatting in front of it, while each of the ten portals was barred by a single gatekeeper. Other New Kingdom texts have up to twenty-one entrances which can be passed only by conversing with the guardians. Here the conversations are only hinted at (see: Goelet, Ogden, et al. The Book of the Dead, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, Third Edition, 2015, p. 171). We will start looking at the seven gates in this post and the ten portals in later posts.

     Gate One was blocked by a rabbit-headed "demon" holding what looks like a sheaf of wheat, a snake-headed "demon" and a crocodile-headed "demon" (both of whom were armed with knives). The gatekeeper was called "Inverted of Face, Multitudinous of Forms", the Guardian was called "Eavesdropper" and the Announcer was known as "Hostile-Voiced". Ani arrived before this gate and proclaimed that he was a great-one who could "make his own light". He then commanded that the demons "open the way in Rosetjau, so that I might cure the illness of Osiris".

     Gate Two had a gatekeeper referred to as "One who opens up the breast", a guardian named "Seqed Face" and an announcer named Wesed. Ani asks to be allowed to pass forward so that he could "...see Re among those who make offerings". The demons were fish-headed (?), human-headed and dog-headed and all three bore knives.

Note: the translations for this post (and for the next few) were done by Raymond Faulkner and published in: Goelet, Ogden, et al. The Book of the Dead, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, Third Edition, 2015.


Monday, October 5, 2015

New Chapter of Gilgamesh Epic Found

     A cuneiform tablet with a previously unknown portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been identified. The tablet dates (possibly) to the Neo-Babylonian Period and contains part of the scene where Enkidu and Gilgamesh hunt down and kill Humbaba. An article that goes into more detail can be found here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Something is Hiding in Tut's Tomb

     Preliminary investigations conducted by Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty and Nicholas  Reeves seem to indicate that there are indeed two more chambers in Tutankhamen's tomb according to an article in Al Ahram. But there is not yet any clue as to what may be in the chambers. Radar results are still needed to confirm the findings and those results are expected by early November.

     Stay tuned, this is getting interesting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gates of the Underworld (Cont.)

     In the Book of Two Ways there are seven gates that the deceased must pass. These gates are divided into two groups (four in the first group and three in the second group). Each gate is guarded by a demon (for the lack of a better term) that must be passed. Each of these demons has a (to us) rather odd name. For instance, in Coffin Text #1100 the guardian is called "The One who Stretches Out the Prow-Rope". The deceased tells the guardian that he is " of the striking force (of god), which has no opposition" and then lists all the bad  things that will happen if the demon opposes his passage.

     The spells describing each of the remaining gates are very similar. We are told the name of the gate's guardian and the deceased then passes by using the spells in the Coffin Text to intimidate these fearsome creatures. The names of the vile demons manning the remaining gates are:

Group 1:
Gate 2 - "The One who Cuts them Down" (CT #1101)
Gate 3 - "The One who Eats the Excrement of his Rear" (!!!) (CT #1102)
Gate 4 - "Opposed Face, Noisy" (CT #1103)

Group 2:
Gate 1 - "Upside Down Face, Numerous of Forms" (CT #1108)
Gate 2 - "One Who Lives on Worms" (CT #1109)
Gate 3 - "Ikenty, Who Raises his Voice in Flame" (CT #1110)

     In the next post I will take a look at the gates mentioned in the Book of the Dead. If you are interested in the Coffin Texts, there are two translations that can be recommended:

1) Lesko, Leonard. The Ancient Egyptian Book of Two Ways, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972 . This work only covers the Book of Two Ways. The next volume translates all of the Coffin Texts.

2) Faulkner, Raymond. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, in three volumes, Warminster: Aris and Phillips, Ltd., 1973, 1977 and 1978.

I would also mention Aadrian de Buck's collation of the original texts which is now available in an electronic form. This series of books contains only the Egyptian texts, for English translations, see Faulkner's book listed above.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Gateways to the Egyptian Afterlife

     I have recently re-read the Pyramid and Coffin texts, as well as the Book of the Dead. These "books" are collections of what we would call "spells" that enabled the deceased to achieve a safe and happy existence in the afterlife.

     A feature of many of the ancient Egyptian texts that deal with the afterlife is the presence of gates and their guardians. If the deceased did not know the information required at each gate, they would not be able to continue ahead to reach Osiris and join the blessed dead.

     The earliest religious texts from the Old Kingdom (the Pyramid texts) do not have a reference to gates. This is not surprising as the gates are associated with religious texts that deal with the underworld. The Pyramid Texts instead tell how the Pharaoh ascends to the sky to join the blessed dead.

     It is not until the Middle Kingdom that we find references to gateways serving to potentially bar the deceased from the realm of Osiris. It should be noted that while Egyptian funerary documents mention many locations in the underworld, none of them are specifically located in the texts. We know that the dead must pass through a series of gates, but we do not know where in the underworld the portals are located.

     The closest we get to a description of the actual location of these gates is in the so-called "Book of Two Ways", a text that is found on a few Middle Kingdom coffins from the Hermopolis area. These coffins actually have a "map" of the two routes that are followed through the underworld. The "Book of Two Ways" is, strictly speaking" a subsection of the Coffin Texts, which was written in ink on interior of coffins dating to the First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sixteen Nubian Pyramids Found

     Archaeologists have found the remnants of sixteen pyramids in the Sudan. Ten of them are made of mud brick and six are made of stone. The largest is over 30 feet long on each side and would have risen to a height of forty or more feet when completed. For more information click here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Egyptian Creator God - Ptah

Head of a statue of Ptah - Staatliche Sammlung fur Aegyptische Kunst, Munich
     In the Memphite theology, Ptah was the great creator god who brought the world into existence. He is often represented wearing a skull cap like headdress and a false beard (as in this example). When this statue was complete, the god probably was standing holding the Was scepter, a Djed pillar (representing stability) and an Ankh (the Egyptian symbol of life) in front of him. In paintings he is often shown having a green face (representing his association with re-birth).

     Ptah was worshiped throughout Egypt. There were chapels dedicated to him in Nubia, Abydos, Thebes, and Pi-Ramesses, but the single most important center of worship was at the capital city of Memphis.

     In Chapter 82 off the Book of the Dead, the deceased claims that his tongue is the tongue of Ptah (see: Ogden Goelet, et al. The Egyptian Book of the Dead (3rd edition), San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015, plate 27-A). This is because Ptah's words were thought to have strong magical ability to create things (in one story he created the world with his words).

Monday, September 7, 2015

Egyptian Block Statues

Fig. 1 - 30th Dynasty Block Statue
     These statues feature a very stylized portrayal of the human form, being mostly a cube with head, hands and feet sticking out. The oldest known example of such a statue is from Dynasty Twelve.

Fig. 2 - 18th Dynasty Block Statue
Fig. 3 - Detail of the Dynasty 18 Statue
     The simple shape of these statues provided plenty of space for writing. Block statues were very often set up in temples by local nobility to memorialize their good deeds. The example shown here in Figure 1 is from the Thirtieth Dynasty and was created for a man named Thanefer. The base and back of the statue have an inscription containing a dedication to the god Amen-Ra. This statue is currently in the collection of the J. P. Morgan Library in New York.

     An earlier example of a block statue is the one sculpted for Bekhenkhons in the Eighteenth Dynasty (figures 2 and 3). In this case the dedicatory inscription is on the leg area of the statue, rather than the base. Notice also that only the hands are shown in this statue (rather than the arms as in figure 1) and the legs are less clearly defined than in the later sculpture.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Interesting Site about Egyptian Tombs

     I have found a site called that has many pictures from the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Amarna and the Valley of the Nobles at Luxor. If you have photos of any tombs and would like this site to publish them, let them know. Otherwise, just go to the site and enjoy looking at places you have been to and fondly remember, or to which you would like to go but have not (yet) been able to.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Be a Scribe

Fig. 1 - Horemheb as a scribe
Fig. 2 - Horemheb, Metropolitan Museum
     A famous ancient Egyptian text tells young Egyptians that it is best to work hard to become a scribe. The text tells of the ordeals of those engaged in other professions (soldiers, farmers, etc.) while extolling the status and lifestyle of the scribe.

     Horemheb was a commoner who became Pharaoh of Egypt after the death of Aye, who in turn was a commoner who became King upon the death of Tutankhamen. Horemheb was a general, but he had himself represented in this statue, which pre-dates his becoming Pharaoh, as a scribe.

Fig. 3 - Detail of Horemheb's Face
Fig. 4 - Louvre Scribe, Old Kingdom
     The statue is quite similar to many other statues of scribes that have survived from ancient times. The scribe sits cross-legged with his "kilt" stretched tight over his lap to provide a surface on which to write. A papyrus roll is held open by the left hand while the right hand, which is broken away on this statue, is poised to use his brush to begin writing on the open scroll. Also note the rolls of fat in the Horemheb's pectoral area. This is designed to show that the scribe represented by the statue was above physical labor. This is a convention in Egyptian art that extends back to very early times.

     Compare the famous "seated scribe" statue from the Old Kingdom (now in the Louvre Museum in Paris). In spite of the fact that there is almost one thousand years between the creation of these two statues, the basic conventions described above are the same. From the rolls of fat on the scribe's body to the right hand poised over the scroll ready to begin writing, the statues do bear a remarkable similarity to each other.

Fig. 5 Granary Model of Meketre, 11th Dynasty
     Scribes would have spent their careers recording goods brought from the fields to a granary (see the scribes in the foreground of the famous granary model from the tomb of Meketre), or writing contracts or writing letters dictated by the lord of an estate. Well placed or very talented scribes would have worked in the major temples, or even for the King himself.

     Scribes with a gift for art may have been commissioned, in the New Kingdom and later periods, to create a "Book of the Dead" for a client. This required the ability to not only copy religious texts to a scroll, but to also draw the vignettes that illustrated the Book of the Dead. It was probably frequent for two different persons to collaborate on a copy of a funerary text, with one of them copying the text and the other painting the vignettes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

ISIS Destroys a Temple at Palmyra

     ISIS has apparently destroyed yet another famous historical site, the Baalshamin temple at Palmyra in Syria. Reports are somewhat conflicting with one report saying the destruction was done a month ago, while another source said it was done in the past couple of days. A longer article on this can be found here.

All of this comes a few days after ISIS beheaded an elderly archaeologist.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tut's tomb to be Investigated for Hidden Doorways

     The Egyptian government has asked archaeologist Nicholas Reeves to come to Egypt to debate his conclusions that there MAY be two hidden doorways in Tutankhamen's tomb and that one of them MAY hide the entrance to Nefertiti's tomb. Tests will likely be done to see if the doorways are, or are not, actually there.

Here is a short interview with Dr. Reeves.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cylinder Seals at the Morgan Library

     The Morgan Library has a number of cylinder seals. The one illustrated here shows a winged human fighting a lion while the human continues to show his dominion over a bull. The seal is made of a red substance (the label does not specify what the seal is made of). When it was rolled over a soft substance like clay, the image in the grey rectangles appears.

     In ancient times, this type of seal would be used to mark a wine jar, jewelry box or anything along these lines as belonging to whoever owned the seal that was rolled over the clay on the object in question. Perhaps the lid of a jewelry box could be "locked" by tying the lid to the box itself and then putting soft clay over the string and rolling the seal over the clay. If anyone opened the box, it would be obvious as the clay seal would be broken.

     Unfortunately, there is no date given on the label for this seal.

Copyright (c) 2015 by John Freed

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

More on "Nefertiti's Tomb"

     I have read a copy of Nicholas Reeve's paper in which he describes his theory that the tomb of Tutankhamen is the front on Nefertiti's tomb and that her burial lies behind one of the walls of Tut's final resting place.

     Tutankhamen's tomb was digitally scanned a while back so that a full scale replica could be made. In looking at those scans, Dr. Reeves found what he believes is evidence that there is a doorway behind the paintings on two of the burial chamber's walls. One of these doorways leads only to an additional chamber (or so Dr. Reeves believes), while the other leads to a passageway into Nefertiti's tomb.

     So why does Dr. Reeves believe that, if there is a tomb hidden behind Tut's, it is the tomb of Nefertiti? He feels that the layout of the chambers in Tutankhamen's burial place indicate that the "antechamber" and "burial chamber" are a corridor that was divided by a wall erected to break what was originally one space into two. The layout of the "original corridor" indicates that the "larger tomb" was constructed for a Queen, and the only Queen of this era who might have had a burial in the Valley of the Kings was Nefertiti after she ruled Egypt as Akhenaten's successor (Semenkhara).

     Reeve's cautions that his theory needs to be proven by careful study of Tutankhamen's tomb. I would assume that this work will be done soon and it will be very interesting to see if it supports this intriguing idea.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tut's Tomb was the Antechamber of Nefetiti's Tomb?

     Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believes there is a passage hidden in the burial chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamen and that it may lead to the tomb of Nefetiti. Reeve's claims to have noticed a bricked up passage in a digital scan of Tutankhamen's tomb.

Click here for more information.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Morgan Library Collection

     I recently had a chance to get to the Morgan Library in New York. The collection contains a number of great European paintings and a small amount of ancient Near Eastern Art. I got some photos and will do a few posts about the collection.

     First is a copper figure from a foundation deposit. It shows Ur-Nammu, the first King of the Third Dynasty of Ur, carrying a basket full of mud to be used in creating bricks used in building new temples or in restoring the temples he found in disrepair. The King is showing his humility before the gods by performing the lowly task of carrying mud for brick making.

     The inscription reads "Ur-Nammu, King or Ur, King of Sumer and Akkad, the one who built the temple of Enlil".

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


     Many of the Egyptian's gods are well known and often seen in tomb paintings, on papyri or on temple walls. Many more of the ancient gods were fairly to extremely obscure and were not often represented in art. Nefertum is one of the fairly obscure Egyptian gods.
     Nefertum is sometimes mentioned as a lily plant that arose out of "Nun" (the primeval ocean that covered the earth) at the creation of the world, and is often represented with a lily on his head (see figure 1). There is often a "menat" on either side of the lily (as the "menat" is a symbol of the important goddesses of Egypt). The "menats" (a plate with strands of beads attached so that it can be worn on the chest) likely denote his association with either Sekhmet or Bastet (who were considered to be his mother, with Ptah as his father). Commonly, this god is shown carrying a scimitar in his hand.

     This particular example is from the Late Period and is made of bronze and is currently on loan to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tomb with Animal Mummies Found at Sakkara and Work in Merneptah's Tomb

     We have mentioned in the past that animals were often mummified and offered to particular deities. A tomb filled with animal mummies offered to Anubis has been found at Sakkarra, near Cairo. Additionally, the tomb that was excavated to hold the mummies has, embedded in its roof, a fossilized marine life form (I have no more specific details than that) that is estimated to be about 48 million years old.

     This tomb is near by several other catacombs devoted to various animal mummies including two tombs with ibis mummies (for Thoth, the god of writing and wisdom), hawks (Horus or Ra) and, of course, the famous Serapeum where the Apis bulls were buried. Also, there is a tomb nearby for the mummies of the mothers of the Apis bulls. All of these tombs are slightly north of Djoser's step pyramid complex.

     In a completely unrelated story, in the Valley of the Kings are trying to re-assemble and reconstruct the sarcophagus of the Nineteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Merneptah. Archaeologists believe that Merneptah was buried in four stone sarcophagi (this is very unusual) and that these huge sarcophagi were decorated with scenes from the "Book of Gates" and the "Amduat".

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

ARCE Lecture in NY

     On Thursday, June 25 the New York Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt will have guest speaker Dr. Peter Feinman lecturing on "Cosmic Trauma: Assyria and Egypt's 9/11". The lecture is at 6:00 at:

15 East 84th St.
NY., NY.

If you can make the lecture please do, it should be interesting. You do not need to be a member of ARCE to attend, but please go to to let them know you will be there.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Terrorist Bombing at Karnak (a Little More Information)

     The Wall Street Journal is reporting that five people were injured in the attempted terrorist attack at Karnak, although they did not say if that number included the terrorists who were injured. Egyptian police have apparently confirmed that one of the terrorists died when he detonated a suicide bomb.

     Once again I have to compliment the Egyptian Police for preventing this from being far worse than it was.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Attempted Terrorist Attack at Karnak Temple

     There has been an attempted terrorist attack at Karnak Temple, in southern Egypt. The police apparently realized quickly what was happening and were able to shoot and kill one terrorist and wound another. A third had an explosive device that detonated and killed him. There were minor injuries to the police and a couple of civilians. No tourists were injured.

     A big "thumbs up" to Egyptian security guards who handled this attack quickly and efficiently.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Horus, Son of Osiris

Figure 1 - Horus and Nectanebo II, Metropolitan Museum
     The god Horus was, to the ancient Egyptians, the shining example of what a good son should be. Conceived after his father's death (we will get to that in a moment!), he avenged his father's murder and took his place as the king of Egypt. Each Pharaoh in turn was thought to be the earthly form of Horus.

     Osiris was murdered by his evil brother Seth and his body was torn into many different pieces. The pieces were patiently re-assembled by Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris. She then copulated with her dead husband and conceived Horus.

Figure 2 - Horemheb and Horus, Kusthistorisches Museum, Vienna
     After Horus reached adulthood he waged a series of battles against Seth. These battles were detailed in the sometimes bawdy "Tale of the Contendings of Horus and Seth" (as told on Papyrus Chester Beatty I). Eventually Horus tricked Seth into a race in the river using boats made of stone. Seth's boat, predictably, sank. Horus however used a wooden boat painted to look like stone and won the race. At this point the gods chose Horus as the legitimate King of Egypt and successor to his father Osiris.

Figure 3 - Horus, 18th Dynasty, Munich
     Horus is very often portrayed in Egyptian art. He is frequently shown with the Pharaoh, sometimes standing above the king with the Pharaoh standing between the god's legs (figure 1, Dynasty 30, reign of Nectanebo II) and other times with the Pharaoh standing beside the him (figure 2).

Figure 4 - Mummified Raptor, Late Period / Ptolemaic
     Horus usually took the form of a hawk with the long lappets of a headdress hanging down over his shoulders (figures 2 and 3) and is frequently shown wearing the white and red crowns (the so-called "double" crown) in his role as the King of Egypt.

     The Egyptians also mummified animals, including raptors, which were then offered to the gods. Figure 4 is an example of this and is currently exhibited in the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences (on loan from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University).

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Latest Issue of KMT

     The latest issue of KMT magazine is on newsstands, including Barnes and Nobles bookstores, now. The issue has an article on the recently re-opened collection in the Turin Museum. Another article covers the find of a Dynasty Twelve tomb that contains some nice Middle Kingdom jewelry. Last but not least, is an article on the newly discovered Pharaoh Senebkay. Given the coverage this discovery has garnered in the past year (I have done three blog entries on the find already), it would seem to be one of the hottest stories in Egyptian Archaeology in the past few years.

     Shorter articles on Hatehepsut's temple at Dier el-Bahri and on ancient beer making round out the issue.

     You can subscribe to KMT here.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dynasty 26 Tombs Found at Aswan

     Six new Dynasty 26 tombs have been found at Aswan near the Aga Khan mausoleum. These are first Late Period tombs found at Aswan.

     These tombs do not seem to have any inscriptions, but some burials have been found in them. Here are some photos.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bes - Protector of Childbirth

      Bes was the Egyptian god who protected women during childbirth. He is usually portrayed either as a lion rearing up on its (bowed) hind legs or as a dwarf. He is also sometimes shown brandishing a large knife or sword. I am not aware of any temple of Bes at any point in Egyptian history, and his worship would seem to have been limited to households.

     This particular example, which dates to either Dynasty Nineteen or Twenty and is now in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, shows the god playing a double flute. The tenon at the bottom of the figure would indicate that this piece was originally part of a piece of furniture. The carving is of wood covered with plaster.

     One further interesting thing about Bes is that he is the only Egyptian god that I know of who is usually portrayed in a completely frontal view (Hathor is the only goddess about whom the same can be said).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Middle Kingdom Attempt at Perspective

     A fragmentary piece from Nebhepetre Montuhotep II's Dynasty Eleven mortuary temple on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science may be an early attempt by an Egyptian artist at perspective.

     The piece, which is on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston,  shows the feet of the King and a couple of gods that he stands between. Notice how some of the feet seem to be "in front of" other feet in what seems to be an attempt at adding perspective to this carving. In the fragmentary state this relief is in the result is rather confusing to a modern viewer; it is virtually impossible to tell which feet go with which figure.

     Montuhotep reunified Egypt in about the 39th year of his reign after the political troubles of the First Intermediate Period. He built a temple at Dier el-Bahri that served as the inspiration for temples built more than 500 years later by Tuthmose III and Hatshepsut of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

     There have been three major sets of excavations at the temple, one in the 1850's, another (under Naville) in the very early 1900's and most recently in the 1960's by Dieter Arnold. Under the temple's terraces were found the burials of several of the Pharaoh's wives were found during the first two sets of excavations, while Arnold's work resulted in a complete clearance of the tombs that had been found earlier.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Mummified Raptor

     It is well known that the ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans. Cats, ibises, snakes and even crocodiles were mummified (the author clearly remembers seeing a stack of crocodile mummies at the temple of Kom Ombo during his first visit to Egypt many years ago). The Serapheum at Saqqara contained the burials of sacred bulls that were interred there over several centuries. Often times these mummies were presented as offerings to the gods in the country's temples, at other times the animals were favorite pets (sometimes touchingly found buried with young children).

     The Houston museum's Egyptian collection includes a number of animal mummies, including this one from either the Late or the Ptolemaic Period. This particular mummy (on loan from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University) is of a hawk or falcon and may have been offered to Sokar or Horus by a pious worshipper.

     No doubt the priests at the various Egyptian temples made hundreds (thousands?) of mummies to sell to worshipers so that temple visitors could make offerings to the temple's god(s). Eventually scam artists began selling "empty" mummies (mummies that had no animal in them, as described in an article here).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Offering Bearers in Houston

     A group of female offering bearers is shown in an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Dynasty relief at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The ladies are shown bringing to the owner of the tomb (from the left to the right):

  • Ducks
  • Grapes (rather large grapes!)
  • A gazelle
  • A calf

The ladies are shown in long, pleated dresses, heavy-looking wigs, and broad collars. Two of the women carry plants (lotuses?) while the rightmost girl carries something in her right hand that I simply cannot identify (if anyone knows what it is, please let me know!).

     The relief likely would have originally been painted and might possibly have been taken from a tomb (at Saqqara?).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

First Intermediate Period Stela

Figure 1 - First Intermediate Period Stela
     After the death of Pepi I of Egypt's Sixth Dynasty the country fell into a period of chaos known today as the First Intermediate Period. One of the characteristics of the art work of this period is its poor quality. Take a look at this stela which is currently in the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Figure 2 - the Inscription
     The quality, or lack thereof, of the art work is immediately noticeable. The figures are poorly carved and the hieroglyphs (see figure 2) are almost illegible in places. Also, notice the figure of the couple's son (figure 3) is incised as two separate "parts" and the boy's face has no real detail showing. The multi-colored border around the edges of the stela occur on a number of other examples of stelae from this period.

Figure 3 - the Couple's Son
     The inscription above the couple is a standard "hotep di nisw" formula in which the couple hopes to receive offerings in their afterlife. The text starts out "A gift given by the King..." ("Hotep di Nisw") "... and by Anubis who is upon his hill...". The inscription goes on to ask for offerings of bread and beer and other things that the couple would find necessary or useful in the afterlife.

     I am not sure what the circular shape in front of the wife is, although it might be a mirror (??). The small figure standing just in front of the nobleman is offering to the owner of the stela. But his relationship to the deceased nobleman is unclear unless the hieroglyphs next to him can be interpreted as indicating he is the brother of the deceased. On the offering table in front of the couple, is a basket (?) containing some type of food, with two pottery containers shown below the basket.

     There is a similar steal from this period in the the Metropolitan Museum in New York as well and the next time I am there I will try to get a photo for comparison.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Houston Museum of Natural Science

     On the evening of the second day of the ARCE annual meeting a reception was held at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. All of the members took a walk through the new Egyptian galleries, which have some really good and interesting pieces on display. The collection covers the full range of Egyptian history, from the Pre-Dynastic period through the Ptolemaic Period. The only problem was that we had trouble seeing where we were going as the galleries are really dark!

Over the next few posts I will talk about some of the objects andinclude the photos I took at the museum.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Senebkay - a Forensic Examination of a Violent End

     As the ARCE meeting continued, Jane Hill (Rowan University) next delivered a paper entitled "The Death of King Senebkay: Forensic Anthropological Examination of a Violent End" in which she discussed the examination of this obscure king's body.

     An examination of what is left of Senebkay’s body shows that be died in combat.  Forensic experts concluded that the Pharaoh was between thirty-five and forty when he was killed and that he stood between five feet five inches and five feet nine inches in life. Mild porosities in the orbital bones of his skull indicates that he was anemic and that he suffered from degenerative joint problems. The body had numerous trauma’s on it, some of which had been healing for three to six month’s before he was killed in combat. Possibly he had been injured in an earlier battle and had time to heal prior to being killed in a later battle. 

     The analysis of Senebkay’s body indicates that he regularly rode on the back of the horse (the earliest example of this I am aware of in Egypt). During his final moments he had one of his feet cut off by someone standing below him (possibly someone on foot tried to unhorse him). After falling to the ground he was struck several blows, one of which penetrated through the skull and into his brain tissue. The forensic experts also concluded that the Pharaoh’s body had extensively decayed before mummification took place.