Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Trial of a Mummy


Just found this short film again after a number of years. The film has been created by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and brought to the viewer by the fine people at Archaeologychannel.org.

The film is an account of an 18th Dynasty court musician named Khonso-Imhep and his journey into the afterlife. Enjoy!

 http://www.archaeologychannel.org/player/player.php?v=mummytrial.mp4

Notes:

Head of Osiris: Brooklyn Museum

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cartouche of Akhenaten


In this photo we find an image of the coffin found in Valley of the Kings tomb KV55. Inside was believed to be the mummy of the heretic King Akhenaten. The tomb, like the king it contained, is controversial and only made worse by its poor excavation by men who were capable of doing a much more professional job. Add to the mess no photographs appeared to have been taken during the taking apart of the mummy found in this most outstanding royal coffin that had been found up to that time.

Valley of the Kings tomb KV55 was discovered on January 6, 1907, by Edward Ayrton and his diggers though it appears that the tomb was not officially explored for three days until January 9. Its first visitors were payee of the excavation Theodor Davis, Davis' excavator Edward Ayrton, and Arthur Weigall, Chief Inspector for the antiquities service in the Valley of the Kings. After this visit work stopped for a few days while the men waited for a photographer to arrive from Cairo on the eleventh. The evidence seems to be that the tomb may have been accessible between the 6th until the morning of the 9th of January, and then a couple more days after until the morning of the 11th of January. The tomb appears to have been closed with only one rough blocking of stones at the entrance built on the rubble of the filling debris. This blocking was in front of the original sealed door of the tomb which had been broken into in ancient times and of which had not been rebuilt.


At the other end of the corridor, it appears from the excavation notes that there was no blocking to the entrance of the burial chamber, simply that the limestone chips in which the corridor was filled spilled into the middle of the chamber.

Much of the tombs chaotic appearance was the result of a crack in the ceiling which from time to time brought water in. The result being that the organic material had the consistency of cigar ash including the shrine, coffin, mummy and crushed bier on which the coffin sat. This collapse may have dislodged the rotting coffin lid and mummy inside. A stone falling from the ceiling only added to this damage.

Over the years a number of objects from this tomb have come to light in foreign museums, these artifacts having been stolen at some period before the clearance of the tomb was completed, or perhaps on the way too, or even from the Egyptian Museum itself. The violations to the burial furniture almost certainly began in ancient times when the gold decoration of the shrine and coffin were effaced for someone's interest. The evidence today is showing that though the gold inscriptions have been neatly cut out or erased, that these effaced sheets were not necessarily removed from the tomb as a number of examples were left among the debris presenting their damaged inscriptions.


The coffin despite the tearing off of the mask has besides been handled with some degree of care. In no way were the royal symbols attacked as the cobra on the coffins head attests. The beard was untouched and the crook and flail were left present though disintegrated by the time of discovery with the exception of the flails bronze dongles lying on the floor next to the coffin.

The missing cartouche inlay down the center of the lid was likely a jewel made of carnelian or glass to match the color scheme of the coffin. This inlay was not violently hacked at and likely was not destroyed during its removal. Instead, it appears to have been popped out with a sharp instrument which may have left its mark in the wood on the upper right side of the slot creating no damage to the delicate surrounding inlays.


The king's cartouche may have been taken back to the workshops for recycling or removed from the tomb and discarded within the landscape of the valley, or more convenient just left on the floor of KV55. The jewel in ancient times likely would have been of no importance to the officials present in the tomb if it had the mummy, coffin and shrine would have been stripped of their gold. Now whether it was picked up and re-used by the workers from Deir el-Medina may be determined by the consequences that a worker might face, it may have been akin to theft.

Part of this jewels disguise may be that it is fragmentary with its pieces being in a number of collections. If the cartouche was removed from the tomb in modern times it is likely to be in good condition. That is to say that the cartouche whether fragmentary or whole may be among the materials of those previous explorers to the Valley of the Kings. From the days of the Arab explorations before Napoleon's savants arrived in 1799 right up to the expeditions in the late 20th century.

To me, it would make sense for the stone to be popped out and left on the floor where it fell like the damaged gold sheets. There is the possibility that the jewel was present at the time of the tomb's discovery in 1907 but stolen before it was recorded and may today lie unrecognized in a drawer of a museum or institute of learning


Notes:

Photo of coffin: Kenneth Garrett Photography
The Tomb of Queen Tiyi  by Theodore Davis.
Photo of  blank cartouche: Tour Egypt

Monday, August 1, 2016

Writing Palette of Meketaten


       "It was opened in the presence of Lord Cromer, to the great embarrassment - since there had been a general expectation of a more spectacular outcome. Carter determined, in the case of any future discoveries, to make doubly certain of what he had found before making any announcement. In the case of Tutankhamun, it was a strategy which would come back to haunt him."
                                                                                                              Nicholas Reeves

This ancient ivory writing palette for princess Meketaten was among the objects bought for New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1926. The palette came from the estate of Lord Carnarvon, the famous financier in the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. Meketaten was one of Tutankhamun's half sisters who had died young, apparently first among her siblings. The little princesses funeral being depicted on a chamber wall in the royal tomb at Tell el-Amarna.

Years before the great discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter were introduced by Gaston Maspero, head of Egypt's antiquities service. The two men spent a number of years excavating together, with their most famous find being a wooden writing palette with part of an inscription copying a then lost stela erected by King Kamose.

The permit was finally granted for the excavations in the Valley of the Kings and through four sparse year's it appeared that Davis had been right the valley was empty. Then came the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in November of 1922. Lord Carnarvon dying famously a few months later before the unwrapping of the boy king's mummy.

In Thomas Hoving's sensational best-selling book of 1978 "Tutankhamun The Untold Story". The author puts forward evidence that a number of artifacts were likely acquired by Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter from Tutankhamun's tomb. The objects in question are all small wonderful trinkets that the two men may have pocketed for their own collections or that of others. Lord Carnarvon had after all paid for a number of years of excavation in the Valley of the Kings and likely felt was due and entitled to part of the tomb's contents.

These small objects now perhaps in the Metropolitan Museum of Art include an ivory handle in the shape of a horse and a box shaped like a grasshopper. In the past few years, the Metropolitan did return a number of small objects but not the Meketaten palette whose provenance is not helpful, only that it was in Lord Carnarvon's collection prior to his death in 1923.

In the tomb of Tutankhamun was found between the front paws of the Anubis shrine a similar ivory palette belonging to the boy king's oldest sister Meritaten. Found with it in the tomb were other ivory palettes belonging to Tutankhamun and all in excellent condition.


What are the odds that Meketaten's palette came out of Tutankhamun's tomb as a souvenir in Lord Carnarvon's pocket?

It is believed that the first exploration of the tomb was made before the arrival of the antiquities service and that the first party in the tomb consisted of Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, and Lady Evelyn Carnarvon.

     "...in a draft for an article describing the first impressions and actions of the party, written by Lord Carnarvon but never published, his lordship stated that Howard Carter made an opening in the inner doorway large enough for the party to jump down with some difficulty into the antechamber. Evelyn wriggled in through the tiny hole. Being the smallest in the party, she was the only one who could get through at first."
                                                                                              Thomas Hoving


The idea that each person may have taken a souvenir from that night is not unreasonable, perhaps even probable, I know I would want a souvenir, and Lord Carnarvon had after all paid for the discovery.

However the Meketaten palette came into Lord Carnarvon's collection before his death in 1923 may be obvious or of fabulous coincidence. When Lord Carnarvon's collection of Egyptian antiquities was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1926 was the provenance of Meketaten's palette deliberately erased or of no convenient concern to the museum curators at the time. It is not an unreasonable suggestion that the Metropolitan actually has played a role in the denial of its possessions provenance. The gentlemanly sport of excavation in Egypt was not new or so gentlemanly in Lord Carnarvon's time. He followed a long line of aristocrats building collections for themselves and their nations.

There were provisions within his permit for some articles of disturbed burials or/and duplicates to be distributed to the excavators. Even in the discovery of the intact tomb of the royal architect Kha and his wife Merit in1905, nearly twenty years earlier, the contents of the tomb were given almost whole to the discoverer's sponsor, Turin's Egyptian Museum in Italy.

It is within this framework that there is the question of the palettes origins. That more than ninety years later it should not be an obstacle to the truth of the Meketaten palette. The quest for the truth must be of more importance than how the trivial palette ended up on display in New York. The decision to acquire the palette in 1926 may well have been on the dodgy side of market standards which today have no value in the acquisition of objects by museums.

The question being, is it more outrage's to say the palette came from Tutankhamun's tomb or to say it did not?
.

Notes:

Image of Palette: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Quote: Nicholas Reeves, Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries pg. 106

Image of pallets discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb: Griffith Institute, Oxford

Quote: Thomas Hoving, Tutankhamun: The Untold Story pg. 91

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fragments of Akhenaten


In the middle of June, there was an announcement from Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities about a box found in the basement of Cairo's Egyptian Museum. The contents included some 500 small gold sheets which may have come from the 1907 excavation of Valley of the Kings tomb KV55. In that controversial excavation, a royal coffin was found, unlike anything before that time. The coffin had been defaced with the owners names cut out. The box to be studied may hold these missing names inscribed on the gold sheets. The inscription which runs down the center of the coffins lid contained epithets which are unique to the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten. (1)

However, the badly decayed mummy in the coffin has always been a source of debate whether it is Akhenaten or his coregent Smenkhara. These epithets tell us that at one time Akhenaten was at least destined to occupy it. Recent DNA studies have also shown that the skeleton from the coffin is Tutankhamun's father.

In the box along with the gold sheets were two fragments of a skull which may rewrite the cast of the late Amarna royal family. When discovered in the mid-nineteenth century the tomb Akhenaten had created for himself and his family at Tell el Amarna had been ransacked with the burial chambers carved reliefs almost completely destroyed. This included Akhenaten's sarcophagus which had been violently reduced to small fragments.

The two fragments of the skull from the box may be all that remains of Pharaoh Akhenaten with the skeleton found in Akhenaten's coffin being Smenkhara, the father of Tutankhamun. This may explain why there is so little inscriptional evidence of who Tutankhamun's father was. Smenkhara's reign was short, about 3 years and he may even have died before Akhenaten. This explains the limited inscriptions due to Smenkhara's death and Tutankhamun's sudden and perhaps unexpected rise to kingship.

Notes
Photo: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
Article: Ahram Online
(1) Nicholas Reeves


Monday, July 4, 2016

Nefertari's Tomb ANCIENT EGYPT





The tomb was created for Nefertari, the great royal wife of Ramses II, and is the finest decorated tomb in the queen's valley of the Theban necropolis. The tombs decoration is also an exception in that its complete unlike most ancient Egyptian tombs which are notorious for having the decoration incomplete, even in the tombs of the king's. Nowhere in the tomb decoration is Nefertari's husband the great king Ramses who out lived her by a number of decades.

Recently it was announced that Nefertari's tomb will reopen this fall for tourists again. Anyone visiting Egypt this fall should see the tomb even though it will cost a little extra, as I would suspect it will have a limited time to be open to the public. See it while you can