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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Tomb of the Newly Discovered Pharaoh Senebkay

     The highlight of the annual meeting (to me anyway) were the papers devoted to the newly discovered Sixteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Senebkay.  The discovery of his tomb at Abydos has lent weight to a recently proposed theory that Dynasty 16 ruled the Abydos area. Others have argued that Dynasty 16 was Theban and that its Pharaohs were buried at Abydos. Alexander Ilin-Tomich  pointed out that Sewosret III (Dynasty XII) built a cenotaph at Abydos and that Ahmose (II) [1] of Dynasty Eighteen may very well have been buried at Abydos[2]. Since neither of these kings ruled from Abydos, there is no reason to believe that Senebkay’s tomb being at Abydos means that he ruled from that city.

     Dr. Josef Wegner, who found the tomb of Senebkay, seems to believe that the Sixteenth Dynasty ruled a limited area centered around Abydos, and was not a Theban Dynasty. In any event, Senebkay’s tomb contained a canopic chest, a fragmentary sarcophagus, a funerary mask and the body of the King. The tomb had painted decoration, the first time a royal tomb was decorated with paintings since the Pre-Dynastic royal tomb found at Hierakonpolis. Senebkay’s canopic chest was made by cutting down the wooden coffin of an earlier King named Sobekhotep, while other Sixteenth Dynasty royal tombs found at South Abydos also contained objects taken from the burials of earlier Pharaohs.

     As an aside, there is some dispute about Senebkay’s name among scholars. Is his name Senebkay or is it “Seneb (son of) Kay”? Dr. Wegner pointed out that Senebkay is a name not previously known in Egypt, but that the names Seneb and Kay are both common Egyptian names. Dr. Wegner also noted that, according to the Turin Canon, the first two kings of Dynasty Sixteen are named Woseribre, with their second names being lost due to a lacuna in the papyrus. Should these two names be reconstructed as “Woseribre Kay” and “Woseribre son of Kay”?

     My next post will cover a paper presented on the examination of the Pharaoh's body.

[1] This king is still generally designated as Ahmose I, but the recent discovery that the Pharaoh previously known as Senakhtenre Ta'o was properly named Senakhtenre Ahmose means that this king is now properly designated Ahmose II.

[2] Alexander Ilin-Tomich, “The Theban Kingdom of Dynasty 16: Its Rise, Administration and Politics”, Journal of Egyptian History, Vol. 7 Number 2, 2014, p. 146.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

ARCE - Day 2

     The second day of the annual ARCE meeting started with Christine Lilyquist presenting her work in digitizing the Metropolitan Museum's mostly unpublished manuscripts pertaining to the Carter and Carnarvon excavations near Hatshepsut's temple at Dier el-Bahri. The documents, including photos by Harry Burton, notes written by Carter and digital copies of relevant books are being incorporated into a website that will be turned over to the Metropolitan Museum soon.

     Next up, Ann Macy Roth of NYU presented on "Porters and Offering Bearers in Old Kingdom Tomb Chapels". She noted an interesting division of labor in these scenes. In the tomb of Meysankh III food was brought by women, not me. Men did however do the work of slaughtering cattle. Also, when nobles are carried in chairs to view their estates the men are carried by men while the only lady known is shown being carried by women. She also noted that in some tombs estates are personified by men and women with labels next to them bearing the name of the estate they represent. Dr. Roth divided the offerings being brought to the deceased into five categories:

  • Food
  • Animals
  • Equipment
  • Ritual Materials
  • Estates

Thursday, May 7, 2015

ARCE Conventions (Cont.)

     The first day of the convention ended (for me) with Lorelei H. Corcoran's paper "A Heb Sed Festival in Perpetuity? Tutankhamen as the Lunar Osiris". This was a paper that reminded me that you need to look carefully at things you think you know, as they might not really be what they seem.

     In particular, some of the pectorals found in the tomb of Tutankhamen were discussed. I have always assumed that they showed a scarab pushing the sun through the sky, when in actuality some of them represent the scarab pushing the moon. The moon is represented by a silver disk, sometimes having a crescent moon immediately below it. There was one particular pectoral shown that seems to show three representations of Tutankhamen's second name Nebkheperura. But look carefully! Twice the name is spelled with a "neb" a "kheper" and a sun disk for "Ra". So far so good. In the middle spelling, however, the "Ra" is actually a lunar disk with a crescent moon below it. Dr. Corcoran agreed with Howard Carter that this is an association of the deceased Pharaoh, with a lunar "form" of the god Osiris..

Sunday, May 3, 2015

ARCE Annual Meeting (Cont.)

     The first day continued after a short break with a paper delivered by Kelly-Anne Diamond of Villanova University. The paper, entitled "The Goddess Isis: She who Makes the Shade with her Feathers", attempted to identify the actual species of bird (the Hait bird) that Isis takes in many situations, including Pyramid Texts #1255 and #1280. The speaker gave me two pieces of information that I was not aware of:

          1) There is no reference to Isis before Dynasty Five

          2) No Egyptian town claims to be her place of origin

     After this, Gay Robbins discussed a representation of Nefertiti that is unique in the nobles tombs at Amarna. Her paper (called "Nefertiti Pours a Drink for Akhenaten in the Tomb of her Steward Merira") analyzed a scene in which Nefertiti pours a drink through a strainer and into a cup for her husband. One of their daughters stand between the couple and two more daughters stand behind the Queen. The Aten is not shown (although the cartouches of the Aten are). The lamp stand shown in the scene may indicate that this took place at night in privacy.

     What is unique about this scene in the nobles tombs is that Nefertiti is shown doing something different than Akhenaten. In all other scenes in tombs at Amarna she is shown doing the same thing as her husband. If he is adoring the Aten, so is she. If he is rewarding officials at the window of appearances, so is she. Also, in the other scenes she is shown facing the same direction as the Pharaoh, but in this one scene from the tomb of Merira she is shown facing her husband.

     The significance of this scene is unclear, although it may me in Merira's tomb to illustrate the fact that, as Nefertiti's steward, he had access to the royal couple in private.

Friday, May 1, 2015

ARCE Annual Meeting (Cont.)

     Dr. Aiden Dodson did a lively presentation entitled "The Coffin Collection of the Manchester Museum" during the third session of the first day. The talk was illustrated with photos of the museum's collection of coffins ranging from Dynasty Three through the Roman Period.

     The Third Dynasty example is a simple wood coffin, with a rectangular shape and a vaulted lid. One set of coffins that stood out in my mind were the coffins of two brothers (Khnumnakht and Nakhtankh) who lived during the Middle Kingdom. The outer, rectangular, coffins are beautifully painted and quite lovely, but it is the inner coffins that caught my eye. They are both anthropoid and have very odd (and different) Nemes headdresses on them. The coffins have two different styles of beards and the faces are painted differently, with the coffin of Nakhtankh having a dark (green?) face.

     The museum also has some coffins from Dynasty 22 - 25 that had some interesting decorative motifs. Several had a pair of wings on the forehead, with very small faces that were out of proportion with the rest of the coffin.

     Dr. Dodson pointed out that the Manchester mummy collection is well known but the coffin collection (which is extensive and very interesting) is not. The speaker hopes to see this change as a publication of the collection is in the works. I for one am looking forward to it.