Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Illustrated Guide To The Egyptian Museum In Cairo

The American University in Cairo Press
Cairo, Egypt
Dar El Katube No. 9227 / 00
ISBN 978 977 424 608 1

This guide to the Egyptian museum in Cairo is a nice size to carry around the museum, and a jewel box of colourful pictures which include some of the finest works of Egyptian art created. The introduction is by Dr. Zahi Hawass complete with very nice images of Egypt's first national museum founded in the Boulaq neighborhood of nineteenth century Cairo. The Boulaq Museum was prone to flooding added to the fast growing size of the collection necessitated its move to a new home in Tahrir square in 1902.

The guide contains lots of useful information to visitors of the museum including maps and other practical notes, advice, and chronology. As the visitor enters the museum they will come upon room 43 which the guide gives the reader a description of Egypt's Predynastic period including the unifying of Upper and Lower Egypt and into its Archaic period of Dynasties I, and II, leading to the Old Kingdom beginning with the famous palette of Narmer of Dynasty 0.

The first unusual things that caught my eye are four necklaces from the Thinite period of Dynasty I and II. Three of the necklaces were found by Z. Saad at Helluan in 1942 and the last in 1945. One of the necklaces, a faience choker with a pendant of a falcon on a boat having been found on the neck of a First Dynasty mummy. The guide is of course packed with many of the collections most famous pieces but with a considerable many more like the previously mentioned necklaces being unknown to me.

A parade of minimally dressed officials of the Old Kingdom, their servants, and their rulers pass often in excellent states of preservation. The men wear a short skirt or loincloth and perhaps some jewelry while the woman wear tight sheer fitting dresses with or without the breasts covered completed with accessories.

In room 41 can be found some fragments from the Fourth Dynasty Mastaba tomb of Prince Nofermaat at Maydum. Unique in its technique of inlaying coloured paste into its limestone carved scenes produced immensely beautiful works of art that unfortunately had the fault of after the paste elements dried out they proceeded to fallout of the limestone intaglio.

The reader is next on to the Middle Kingdom dominated by Theban rulers of Dynasty XII who moved their capital to the Fayum. This is ancient Egypt's 'Classical  Period' in which the arts excelled and in some cases were never to be improved upon with particular importance in the thoughtful and reflective literature of the age. My favorite sculpture of the age is likely a black granite bust of Amenenhat III wearing the wig of a preist. One of a number of unique and stunning depictions of this late Middle Kingdom ruler that are to be found in room 16.

The guide is fast moving with lots of provenance given to the objects on its pages. Unfortunately for me I am a lover of mummies and so far there are no mummies. The authors present a short rundown of the New Kingdom representing a number of attractive and colourful stela of minor officials followed by statuary of high officials and royalty located in room 12. The 1906 accidental discovery at Deir el Bahri of a shrine and statue dedicated to the cow goddess Hathor brought to light a monument in an outstanding state of preservation can also be found in the same room.

 As I get deeper into the guide the words and pictures vanish into the crevice of the book requiring the spine to be broken apart to catch those details. The famous Amarna period material kept in room 3 contains an image of a young girl eating a duck. This is such a rare depiction in thousands of years of ancient Egyptian art executed by a talented hand. So many masterpieces it is hard to choose but a less well known relief in the museum of a block representing prisoners being grabbed by the hair in a classic smiting scene is among the finest of such cheery scenes and a great work of art that can be found in room 14.

As I continue reading on into the Late period I am impressed by the huge number of sculptures and stelas in the guide from the court of the cachette deposit of statuary found by George Legrain at Karnak the beginning of the last century. With the Ptolemaic rulers Egyptian art became Hellenized containing both the traditional Egyptian formulas but modified to please Ptolemaic sensibilities.

The guide is next on to the boy King Tutankhamun and his treasures with a brief rundown of his life and the discovery of his tomb. The objects presented are completely standard choices used time and time again but that is to be expected for this museums guide. In room 4 on the first floor we have the jewelry vault including lots of magical gems though light on Old Kingdom material the guide is deservedly and thankfully heavy on Middle Kingdom royal jewelry. The Old Kingdom gold belt of Prince Ptahshepses being a favorite of mine. The jewels of the Middle Kingdom queens and princess's makes up a magnificent treasure within the jewelry collection without equal in quality and delicacy.

From room 4 the visitor will head next to room 2 containing the treasures of the pharaohs found by Pierre Montet at Tanis in the years surrounding the second world war. The tomb Montet found was that of the Pharaoh Pseusunnes I of Dynasty XXI. As luck would have it the tomb also contained the funerary remains and mummies of a number of other kings of the period.

Unlike the childish paraphernalia created to amuse the boy Tutankhamun here at Tanis Mr. Montet found equally stunning material but in this case created for a mature ruler and his class. Found on the mummy of King Pseusennes I was a double string of large lapis lazuli and gold balls. One of the lapis balls has an antique inscription dedicating it to the gods of Assur hundreds of years before the life of King Pseusennes I.

Walking down the long corridor of the first floor a visitor to the museum might be getting a little rundown by now but will here find a series of rooms devoted to grave articles and containing some very important finds. In room 12 the viewer will be met with objects from the Valley of Kings tomb of Amenhotep II, and the royal cachette tomb DB 320. Next door room 17 contains the grave hardware from the intact tomb of Sennedjem which contained the funerary remains of twenty members of his family.

A number of rooms are occupied with Middle Kingdom funerary material including the famous high quality models of Meketre found undisturbed in a secret chamber of his tomb.The guide moves on to sarcophaguses opening with a brief on the importance the sarcophagus took on in later periods when tombs decorated with magic spells were too expensive for most people to afford. This lead to the coffin texts covering the exterior and interior of coffins.

In room 43 on the first floor opposite the lunette can be found the grave good of Queen Tiye's parents Yuya and Tuya. When found in 1905 in the Valley of Kings their tomb was in good condition containing most of its furnishings and mummies in an excellent state of preservation. Visitors will find ostraka and papyrus documents in room 24 with an ostraka of a woman playing a lute. The artist who drew the woman has viewed her unconventionally from above creating an amazing sketch.

The viewer moves on now to room 19 which is filled with statuettes of various gods. At 88cm tall the gold and silver sarcophagus for a falcon is an eye catcher found among other gorgeous objects in the Dendera treasure. About a thousand Fayum Roman period portraits have come to light over the years from a number of cemeteries around Egypt. The portraits were found on mummies or in some cases next to the mummy including some being found by Sir Flinders Petrie in his excavations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The book ends with a five page look at mummies, in this case the most famous kings for a total of six mummies for the entire 632 page guide. The almost total exclusion definitely for me represents a low point for this publication. The back of the book contains a helpful list of images of objects and where they can be quickly located both in the guide and the museum.

Overall the guide is a very fine and useful thing to have while touring this vast museum and its treasures. There were minor printing mistakes but nothing of any consequence. Depending on the visitor or reader this guide may be helpful to those studying the Karnak cachette statue deposit as a the large amount of that material is represented here but if mummies are your thing than this read is a total loss.


Many thanks to Derek Wilson who picked this guide up for me on his latest journey to Cairo.

Also sold as;
The Treasures of Ancient Egypt
ISBN 13: 978-88 540-0834-2

1. Statue of Thutmosis III as Sphinx: Tour Egypt
2. Coffin of Psusennes I: Jerzy Strzelecki
3. Yuya's Mask with thanks to Jon Bodsworth

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Egypt Revealed

T. G. H. James
The Folio Society LTD.

This attractive book opens with the usual rundown on ancient Egyptian history accompanied by a fairly standard set of images and drawings. The author takes the reader to the age of modern Egyptology through the many explorers, but particularly English explorers of the last couple centuries for the volume.

In the days before the second decade of the nineteenth century Egypt was a dangerous territory to explore resulting in only a few European men who dared the journey, not always with success, some of whom came back home and paid heavily for failure. An early traveler was John Greaves who visited Egypt in the 1630's and who wrote of the Giza pyramids in his 1646 publication,

    ' Aristotle judged them to be the Works of Tyranny; and Pliny conjectures that they built them, partly out of ostentation, and partly out of State-policy, by keeping the people in imployment, to divert them from Mutinies and Rebellions. But the true reason depends on higher and more weighty considerations. And this sprang from the Theology of the Egyptians, who believed, that so long as the Body endured, so long the Soul continued with it.'

The value of the materials, particularly in the drawings left by these early explorers capture frequently details that no longer exist in our time including the temple of Armant dismantled for a sugar factory. These adventurers were followed in suit with a continuation of the ancient Roman policy of removing obelisks and everything of perceived value to Europe.

The reader is introduced to William John Bankes and British consul in Egypt Henry Salt, of whom's combined efforts contributed to the decipherment of the hieroglyphs though much not to their credit. Both men would add to the science of Egyptology for its day but ultimately it would be their status as Englishmen with deep pockets that made the material accessible to scholars in Europe and also for their drawings which maybe their greatest personal additions still relevant today in the science of Egyptology.

The list follows from one well healed English scholar to another with names of the who's of the educated elites of the day led by letters of the English empire. Fine schooling produced high quality results from surveys of epigraphy which foresaw their own importance, and recorded with amazing fineness,and acute observations knowledge of temples, hieroglyphs and nuances of things that no longer exist on the ground today. A romantic water-colour by Henry Salt of "Grand Cairo" he painted in1809 is an example of great beauty as is the small image by John Gardiner Wilkinson of an Egyptian chariot.

  "The Ptolemaic temple at Antaeopolis had been swept into the Nile in 1821; the small temple of Amenophis III on the island of Elephantine had been dismantled in 1822 to provide building material for a palace of Mohammed Ali Pasha at Aswan; the great site in Middle Egypt of Hermopolis Magna, a center of of the great god Toth who was, among other things, the scribe of the gods, was a continuing source of material for building, and other purposes."

Passing through the half-way point the book is a bit of the re-telling of the lords of the empire and not the Egyptian empire. It is here the reader is presented with a lovely two page colour image of the banquet scene held for Nebamun. The famous piece of art from that mans funerary chapel at Luxor among others now in the British Museum.

Not too little could be said for the illustrations adorning the book of which many are rarely seen and a definite interesting strong point for readers. The purpose and expenses of epigraphy laid bare produced monuments where damage or no monument exists today.

In Miss Emelia Edwards we find a champion of the Egyptian landscape and its monuments. At Abu Simbel many years earlier the taking of plaster casts of the northern most colossus of Rameses II had been completed with not much care into cleaning up the mess properly at that time and as a result the head was disfigured by chunks of bright plaster which had adhered to the face. This situation was corrected by Miss Edwards and her fellow party members in 1874.

     "A scaffolding of spars and oars was at once improvised , and the men, delighted as children at play, were soon swarming over the large head, just as the carvers may have swarmed over it in the days when Rameses was king. All they had to do was remove any small lumps [of plaster] that might yet adhere to the surface, and then tint the white patches with coffee.""It took them three afternoons to complete the job; and we were all sorry when it came to an end."

Miss Edwards went on to found the Egypt Exploration Society and with her energies has left a legacy of Egyptian history recovered from its oblivion. Mr James moves through the early excavators working on behalf of the society including Percy Newberry and Flinders Petrie. From these early days were see the great skills of artists copying the paintings on the tomb walls, like Howard Carter in particular, a fresh face with great talent and still in his teens.

Arriving in Egypt and but 17 years of age Howard Carter's artistic ability was confident and of tremendous value to the archaeologists who's guidance he worked under though Petrie felt it of little use to train him as an excavator. Carter being trained as an artist realized early on that the mechanical devices used for epigraphy were no substitute to a competent hand. In the end most will remember him as the man who discovered King Tutankhamun's tomb and not for his amazing works in epigraphical recording at sites like Beni Hassan and Deir El Bahri to name a couple.

I was very much taken by the point of the importance of the epigraphical volumes produced leaving a record of not only fading inscriptions but of ancient Egyptians living, working, playing and in repose. The late Mr. James has brought a history not of excavation but of the memory of those ghosts who linger in their houses of eternity as well as the great rulers and men who's deeds they wanted remembered.

"Egypt Revealed" is a fine telling suitable for most but perhaps intended for readers of more mature age though whatever the age Mr T. G. H. James book is a must have for any Egyptian collection.    

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Address to the Mummy in Belzoni's Exhibition

And thou hast walked about (how strange a story!)
In Thebes' streets three thousand years ago,
When the Memnonium was in all its glory'
And time had not begun to overthrow
Those temples, palaces, and piles stupendous,
Of which the very ruins are tremendous!

Speak! for thou long enough hast acted dummy;
Thou hast a tongue, come, let us hear its tune;
Thou'rt standing on thy legs above ground, mummy!
Revisiting the glimpses of the moon.
Not like thin ghosts or disembodied creatures,
But with thy bones and flesh, and limbs and features

Tell us - for doubtless thou canst recollect -
To whom should we assign the Sphinx's fame?
Was Cheops or Cephrenes architect
Of either pyramid that bears his name?
Is Pompey's pillar really a misnomer?
Had Thebes a hundred gates, as sung by Homer?

Perhaps thou wert a mason, and forbidden
By oath to tell the secret of thy trade,-
Then say, what secret melody was hidden
In Memnon's statue, which at sunrise played?
Perhaps thou wert a priest,- if so, my struggles
Are vain, for priestcraft never owns its juggles.

Perchance that very hand, now pinioned flat,
Has hob-a-nobbed with Pharaoh, glass to glass;
Or dropped a halfpenny in Homer's hat,
Or doffed thine own to let Queen Dido pass,
Or held, by Solomon's own invitation,
A torch at the great Temples dedication.

I need not ask thee if that hand, when armed,
Has any Roman soldier mauled and knuckled,
For thou wert dead, and buried, and embalmed,
Ere Romulos and Remus had been suckled:
Antiquity appears to have begun
Long after thy primeval race was run.

Thou couldst develop, if that withered tongue
Might tell us what those slightest orbs have seen,
How the world looked when it was fresh and young,
And the great deluge still had left it green;
Or was it then so old, that history's pages
Contained no record of its early ages?

Still silent, incommunicative elf !
Art sworn to secrecy? then keeps thy vows;
But prithee tell us something of thyself;
reveal the secrets of thy prison house;
Since in the world of  spirits thou hast slumbered,
What hast thou seen,- what strange adventures numbered?

Since first thy form was in this box extended,
We have, above ground, seen some strange mutations;
The Roman empire has begun and ended,
New worlds have risen, - we have lost old nations,
And countless kings have in dust been humbled,
Whilst not a fragment of thy flesh has crumbled.

Didst thou not hear the pother o'er thy head,
When the great Persian conqueror, Cambyses,
Marched armies o'er thy tomb with thundering tread,
O'erthrew Osiris, Orus, Apis, Isis,
And shook the pyramids with fear and wonder,
When the gigantic Memnon fell asunder?

If the tomb's secrets may not be confessed,
The nature of thy private life unfold:
A heart has throbbed beneath that leatheren breast,
And tears adown that dusky cheek have rolled:
Have children climbed those knees, and kissed that face?
What was thy name and station, age and race?

Statue of flesh, - immortal of the dead!
Imperishable type of evanescence!
Pasthumous man, who quittest thy narrow bed,
And standest undecayed in our presence,
Thou wilt here nothing until the judgment morning,
When the great trump shall thrill thee with its warning.

Why should this worthless tegument endure,
If its undying guest be lost forever?
O' let us keep the soul embalmed and pure
In living virtue, that, when both must sever,
Although corruption may our frame consume,
The immortal spirits in the sky may bloom.

Horace Smith

The Universal Anthology, Edited by Richard Garnett, The Clarke Company Limited, London. 1899

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ramses II and His Time

Immanuel Velikovsky
Doubleday & Company, Inc.
United States
First Edition
ISBN : 0-385-03394-x

Here we have another edition of Immanuel Velikovsky's 'Ages of Chaos' series. The series was very entertaining and controversial and still is. In the introduction the author lays forth the breadth of this book in which he will attempt to identify three Dynasty XIX pharaohs including Ramses II with pharaohs of Dynasty XXVI.

The book opens with the famous battle of Kadesh which Ramses II claimed in a number of temples he had been glorious in victory when the reality was the worlds oldest known peace treaty saved the day. The location of ancient Kadesh could be any number of sites along the Orontes or Euphrates rivers. The authors theory is that King Necho of Dynasty XXVI is in fact Ramses the great, though historically the two kings reigns are separated by 700 years.

From the start I can see that this book will not appeal to a younger reader as it has few pictures and quotes passages from among other sources the Bible. Mr. Velikovsky's tale moves onto Ramses II and his battles with Nebuchadnezzar.

     'And the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt.' 
                                                                                                                                                                          II Kings 24:7

The authors theory is enormously complicated especially as the kings in the sources whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Hittite, Phrygian or any number of kingdoms occupying the Middle East and Mesopotamia histories have multiple names for each including five for the Egyptian king alone. The reader is presented, or burdened with documentary sources often fragmented and or telling what appear to be related events which have historically been dated hundreds of years apart. This includes removing the seven centuries that chronologically now exist between Ramses II in the thirteenth century BC and Nebuchadnezzer in the sixth century BC.

Every few dozen pages a couple pages of black and white pictures are presented usually representing reliefs, stelae and related material which for the most add little to Mr. Velikovsky's points. The tomb of King Ahiram found at Byblos contained Hebrew inscriptions in Phoenician letters warning intruders at the bottom of the shaft to his tomb and on the lid of his sarcophagus against intrusion. The violated tomb also contained two damaged vases bearing cartouches with the names of Ramses II.

The archaeological descriptions while interesting have not lessened the confusion of the authors theory being put forward thus far.

     'Then something happened of which they had not dreamed. Out of a steep slope facing a riverbed beneath the ancient ruins of Boghazkoi crept tablets inscribed with cuneiform signs.' 'In three weeks excavating with the help of the peasants and without taking  proper precautions, they hurriedly carried from the slope two thousand five hundred tablets and fragments.' 'The next year (1907) thousands more tablets and fragments were carried from the slope in Boghazkoi, raising the number to about ten thousand.'

The question of accession of the line of Babylonian kings presents again challenges as, according to Mr. Velikovsky and his points Nebuchadnezzer rewrote his history eliminating in later documents the reigns of his older brother and nephew. In the next chapter we find the autobiography of Nebuchadnezzer who in the Talmudic is regarded as Nebuchadnezzer the Dwarf. In his youth when as an ill child a vision came to his brother that the sickly boy should be placed under the guardianship of the Goddess Ishtar for his well being.

Growing up in the temple of Ishtar as a priest created great devotion on behalf of Nebuchadnezzer, devotion which would manufacture itself in his building and restoration of monuments to this goddess, though during his forty plus year reign the king would appease whichever god got the job done. For the most part the images presented are an average lot with the exceptions of the photographs of the sarcophagus of King Ahiram.

The connection with Chaldean culture to the lost Hittite culture appears clarified as a singular culture within the now classified "Hittite Archives" discovered at Boghazkoi in 1906 which have linked Egyptian annals in time with the tablets.

Having just passed the books halfway point I realize that I am enjoying this read and the volume is becoming hard to put down as was the authors "Oedipus and Akhenaton" published some eighteen years earlier. The reader is taken to the confusion of the Anatolian archaeological record between 1200 to 750BC. The Marriage stelae of year thirty four of Ramses II is put forward warranting a trip by Nebuchadnezzer to bring his daughter in marriage to Ramses.

     'At that time many princes and rulers of foreign countries were gathered in the residence of the pharaoh. But when they heard that the Great King of Hatti was coming, awe seized them. "The great chiefs of every land came; they were bowed down, turning back in fear, when they saw his majesty the chief of Kheta came among them, to seek the favor of King Ramses [II]."

Mr. Velikovsky brings together his characters in a summation of why he believes the kings of Dynasty XIX are one with the kings of Dynasty XXVI. In the epilogue our author attempts to resolve a number of issues which historically separate the two dynastic lines these include the location of the Ramesside capital at Tanis and the XXVI Dynasty capital at Sais believed to be on the Libyan side of the delta. The author has to contend also with the historical lengths of these kings reigns which leave a king like Seti the Great with a reign of over a decade in accepted sources while his Dynasty XXVI counterpart, a reign of over fifty years?

Every once in a while Mr. Velikovsky puts forward evidence for his cause which I can find flaw within. The author mentions the hole in the top of the head of the mummy of King Merneptah in the Cairo museum as evidence of a brutal murder of the king. He fails to mention that in the cache where Merneptah was found in  the tomb of Amenhotep II a number of other kingly mummies entombed beside him also had the same hole in their skulls which likely suggested that their mummies were hacked at on the top of their heads with a cutting weapon and peeled downward like a banana by robbers for the mummies accoutrement's.

The question of the validity of the Iron age, Bronze age dating system is put forward and not unreasonable from archaeological finds to suggest those cultures that were rich in iron ore deposits developed iron before the bronze rich societies such as Egypt leading to the passing of the Bronze age.

For myself Mr.Velikovsky was unable to reduce that seven hundred year gap in time for me to recognize the great King Ramses II as King Necho of Dynasty XXVI. Many points raised by the author were of definite interest but in the end the argument was not convincing to me and I would leave this book to those who enjoy Biblical archaeology.


Oedipus and Akhnaton