Friday, September 19, 2014

Death in Ancient Egypt

A.J. Spencer
Penguin Books
Great Britain
ISBN-10: 0140136894

    "Bodies were also set on fire after robberies, perhaps with the intention of avoiding any evil influence,". "In one case at Thebes, however, the reason was more prosaic, mummies of children having been ignited for the purpose of illuminating the chamber while the robbers carried out their work."

This 256 page paperback has within it numerous schematics to demonstrate the authors words as well as a nice section of black and white pictures, many of unusual note. Mr. Spencer opens with a standard rundown of ancient Egyptian history, periods, dynasties and rulers of note.

The author moves forward on the subject of mummification beginning with the desiccated corpses of the ancestors lying in simple shallow desert burials exposed by the desert winds. The desire of protecting the ancestors caused elaborate developments which encased the burial in tombs and boxes, this causing a rapid and unintended destruction of the body.

The author points out examples of important mummified bodies found, including the arm decorated with bracelets discovered in the First Dynasty tomb of King Djer which was thrown out at the museum along with its delicate linen wrappings, minus the bracelets, one of which was damaged deliberately by the museum director for better display. While the extremely rare and important Fourth Dynasty mummy of Ranefer found at Meydum was destroyed during bombing of London in World War II.

Mr. Spencer moves on in chapter 3 to the provisions of the dead from simple food pots, blades, combs and makeup palettes to tombs filled with every luxury a noble could afford not to leave to his, or her greedy heirs.This stock of dusty valuables would have been well known to the mortuary officials who did not rob the poor tombs within the individual cemeteries but only the rich burials, knowledge of which could only have been gleaned by those who buried the dead in the first place.

This problem made even the most clever tomb builder to ultimately fail at the protection of the grave from false corridors plugged with blocks of stone to sand devices that continuously bring more debris on the robbers as they dug. The unfortunate of many such devices intended to stop robbers is many were never put in place or closed after the burial perhaps with the intention for the return of the burial party to access it later.

     "Some details of the robbing of certain sarcophagi reveal once more that the robbers had accurate knowledge of the layout of the chamber; in one tomb at Dendera the sarcophagus stood tightly up against one wall, and it had been rifled by someone tunneling through that wall and the side of the sarcophagus in a single operation, without even entering the chamber."

The author delves into the various techniques of embalming including the basic three forms mentioned by Herotodus. The development of the art of mummification up to Herotodus' time has left little evidence of early dynastic embalming though the presence of resins and wrappings on corpses is known of, as are the various canopic boxes and canopic emplacements within tombs of the IV'th Dynasty nobles including the burial of King Khufu's mother.

The following two thousand years the embalmers perfected the preservation of the corpse achieving the best consistent results in the XXII'nd Dynasty with the art of mummification degenerating down to Herotodus' time and on into the Graeco-Roman era. The aforementioned section of pictures presents here the reader with excavation images including a fascinating funerary feast left in a II'nd Dynasty tomb and another picture of Ptolemaic mummies as left by robbers.

The ultimate goal  of a goodly eternity brought on a system of evolving fetishes as individual or group devices, such as servant statuettes or kingly devices like "magic bricks" inscribed with spells to keep harm at bay while placating the necessary gods. Mr. Spencer delves into coffins and sarcophagi of various periods including construction and development from a contracted coffin to anthropomorphic coffins in nests with vaulted lidded sarcophagi.

Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters is on the various animal cemeteries and cults practiced through animal sacrifices and burials from the elaborate Apis bull catacomb at Saqqara to lesser vaults containing millions of feathered occupants. We are told of the burial of the mothers of the Apis bulls,

     "The layout of the place is similar to the Late Period galleries of the Apis bulls, although on a much smaller scale and far more ruined. The axial passage is flanked on either side by sunk emplacements for sarcophagi, which had been deliberately smashed to fragments by Coptic intruders."

The presentation brought forward fine details not found in many books on Egyptian funerary constructs and beliefs resulting in substantial ground works for the reader to base future studies in the interest of students young and old on "Death in Ancient Egypt".

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Women in Ancient Egypt

Barbara Watterson
Wrens Park Publishing
ISBN 0 905 778 235

Barbara Watterson opens this book with a list of resources that she could use in writing to write her book but also points out that certain types of documents such as temple and wisdom literature are of little help. Worst yet some of the so called texts of wisdom can depict women as no good gossiping harlots who could not be trusted with a mans business, except mom of course.

The 'chauvinist pig" was unfortunately present within their society as were the ideals of beauty which always depicted women as slender and in a supporting role of the men. While the man may be depicted as ugly and obese, the wife and the mans aged mother were both depicted as slender youthful figures indifferent of aging.

The social and legal standings of Egyptian women though still in the role of homemaker could own property separate from her husband which she could sell or manage including making loans and representing herself in lawsuits. Egyptian women had much more freedoms than her Greek counterpart who were kept out of site and confined to quarters at the back of the house.

The author attributes this to the role played in government by queens who often sat as regents to their husbands and their young sons, or a "Gods wives". Outside of the confines of raising a family and keeping house Egyptian women executed roles as priestess' of gods in temple celebrations or as mortuary priests responsible for the replenishing of offerings to the dead.

    "there is evidence from titles held by women in the Middle Kingdom that, in this period at least, some women in the private sector held positions of trust such as treasurer and major-doma. There are several recorded instances of women holding supervisory positions such as superintendent of the dinning-hall; overseer of the wig shop; overseer of the singers; overseer of amusements; mistress of the royal harem; and overseer of the house of weavers."

Ms. Watterson is next onto love and marriage though there was no religious ceremony if the couple were affluent enough to hire a scribe a marriage contract was not uncommon. These marriages were frequently arranged with the idea that the marriage would benefit the family and with time love would grow, though falling in love and moving into the mans house was also traditional.

Fascinating material on medicine and in particular women's health and childbirth with a review of the great known ancient medical papyri. These papyri include the oldest, The Kahun Papyrus found by Sir Flinders Petrie and dated to ca. 1880 B.C., the Ebers Papyrus, The Edwin Smith Papyrus, Carlsberg VIII, The Chester Beatty Papyrus, The Ramesseum Papyri, and The Berlin Papyrus which is concerned mainly with contraception, childbirth and care.

These papyri deal with aspects from detecting pregnancy, or repulsing it, ensuring a healthy term birth including keeping the pregnant woman's focus on beautiful things so that her child would be born beautiful. A high priority was placed on the determination of the sex of the baby which a number of the above papyri deal with.

The papyri often enlist observations, magic spells as well as repugnant medications to gain the wanted effect.  The Eber papyrus records on a new-born baby's chance of survival: ' If a child's first cry is ny, it will live; if mb', it will die.'

The author is next on to fashion and dress of the Egyptians from animal skins to the development of simple linen and woolen garments with gradients of quality to expense with the pleated splendor of New Kingdom nobles in all grandeur. The simple white linen garment was enhanced by the additions of jewelry which included the beaded broad collars first in vogue during the Old Kingdom, as well as bracelets and other accessories in metal, stone, faience and even wood.

The practicality and beauty of wigs added expression to the Egyptians style for both men and women while keeping their heads shaved for cleanliness and ritual purpose. We again find makeup and perfumes serving also a practical purpose with eyeliners and shadows shielding the eyes from infection while accentuating the eyeline of the wearer.

Ms. Watterson is on to domestic life with the wife's job to keep a clean house raise the kids and prepare the family meals which would include baking and making beer for her family or in the case of the royal ladies of Mentuhotep II who ate their breakfasts while attendants made the royal ladies up for the day. The author lays the diet of the populace from the mostly vegetarian peasantry to the rich diet of the ruling classes.

The book closes with the women of note who became kings and held power on only a few occasions usually signifying a period of hardship to follow as dynasties disintegrated. The exception was the XVIII'th Dynasty King Hatschepsut whom herself came to be regent to a young Thutmosis III, her succession to king was made easier by the fact she and her court were successors to a number of powerful ruling warrior queens Teteshiri, Ahottep, and Hatschepsut's grandmother Ahmes Nofretari whom herself went on to be deified and worshiped for half a millennium at the royal tomb builders village at Deir el Medina.

Ms. Watterson includes the five gods wives of Amun who reigned at Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period and onto the Ptolemy's closing with the famous Cleopatra upon who's death Pharaonic Egypt came to provincialism. I enjoyed this book very much and found it suitable for ages 10 and up, though the book has limited pictures its interest was well researched and presented on historic personages highly under represented in the literature both ancient and modern.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Tutankhamun Deception

Gerald O'Farrell
Sidgwick & Jackson
Great Britain
ISBN 0283 072 938

     " of the most daring hoaxes in history, devised by two Englishmen of repute to cover up what was probably the greatest robbery of precious jewels and gold bullion there has ever been or is ever likely to be."

Mr O'Farrell tells the reader about his fascination with Egypt and the environment of the days of acquisition from antique shops in the first decades of the 20th century with deplorable damage being done to the monuments in search for treasure to export to European and American museums. The author reviews who the boy king was, and though from an extraordinary lineage of kings he was among the least important being worse yet of the Atenist clan of the heretic Akhenaton.

The boy Tutankhamun's legacy was erased by the kings that followed leaving his identity cloaked by King Horemheb who took over Tutankhamun's statues and inscriptions. The reader is introduced to Howard Carter, never the man of cliques who preferred to spend his time with the local Egyptians whom he cultivated strong ties which would aid his work in the future.

Lord Carnarvon on the other hand was attention starved at heart who craved the spotlight, lingering in folly as an aristocratic heir without purpose. The reader is presented with the discovery of the tomb in which the finders were portrayed in the media as heroes when in reality the contents of the tomb have ended up in 13 museums including, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The discovery of the tomb caused a sensation known as 'Tut' mania which lingers to this day and which turned the Valley of Kings from a leisurely stroll of the upper class Victorian to a three ring circus thronged by reporters, trinket peddlers, the uncouth masses and those holding permission to enter the tomb, who may or may not have been part of the uncouth masses.

Lord Carnarvon made a deal with The Times of London that they would have the exclusive rights to the excavation angering all other news media. Who in turn looked for any angle to sell papers by inventing whatever needed to get the scoop including the mummy's curse.

The author at this point explains that "Carter knew that the tombs of the Eighteenth Dynasty rulers were interconnected", explaining that the entrance to Tutankhamun's tomb as we know it was actually created as a false entrance to hide the fact that Carter and the famous tomb robber clan of the El-Rassul's were traveling through ancient unknown priestly corridors under the valley as early as 1914 to loot Tutankhamun's tomb of its treasures except for enough to be left to gain his and Lord Carnarvon's fame, and respect were are repeatedly told they crave, particularly Carter.

A series of unremarkable black and white pictures pass by with the exception of two with one showing a blank spot in a heavily decorated wall in the tomb of Ramses IX, (?), clearly the author is referring to the tomb of Ramesses VI and explained as the possible entrance way Carter had used to enter the tomb of Tutankhamun and remove the treasure through. Very interesting with all consideration that the tomb of Ramses IX and Ramesses VI are two of the most visited and accessible tombs in the valley, it would appear to me to be a no go.

Mr. O'Farrell would like me to believe that the years from 1914 to the official discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 no one noticed the broken wall with corridor in Ramesses VI's tomb leading to the boy kings tomb much less Carter, Carnarvon and El-Rassul hauling out treasure from one of the valleys biggest attractions.

The author now suggests that when Carter entered the tomb via a wall in the burial chamber that at the time of his entry in 1914 that the burial chamber had no wall enclosing it from the antechamber and that the antechamber was on the same level. We are told that Carter and his men rearranged the heavy, cumbersome shrines so that they would be in the wrong direction and lead people not to notice the real entrance which he had entered.

Carter and his men furthermore carved the "entrance"corridor and stairs, (from inside the tomb)and hid the dietrus under the floor of the antechamber raising it be four feet above the burial chamber, I am not sure if that was with the stuff in the antechamber, or if they removed the stuff in the antechamber and the stuffed the rubble under, then built the partition wall which Carter painted. The idea of the shrines being moved at all was not possible in the cramped space allotted for them in the tomb which required part of a limestone wall to be cut off in order to admit the larger sides of the shrines in antiquity.

This lack of space was further displayed when it came time to remove the sides of the outer shrine which could not be removed from the burial chamber until the interior shrines were first removed only then was there enough room to maneuver the outer panels out.

I get it Howard Carter was not likeable but apparently he knew a horrible, horrible secret from papyrus' hidden in the skirts of the sentinel figures of Tutankhamun from the antechamber. Unfortunately for the author there is nothing to be seen up the kings kilt, of such receptacles for papyrus' as the author claims?

The authors theories become more and more bizarre with the knowledge of what is in the two papyrus' results in a whole series of murders starting with Lord Carnarvon. Mr. O'Farrell believes the papyrus' told of secrets about the biblical "exodus" and who Tutankhamun actually was, a reason the author believes that Carter had removed the original stone or gold sarcophagus lid and replaced with the present broken granite lid because it had Tut's real identity on it.

I have now had enough of this drawl to count this as one of the most loosely hinged fantasy's and worst most unrealistic depictions of the story of Tutankhamun's tomb and something else that should be hidden under the floor of the antechamber. This is one of those books which needlessly stole part of my life and is on its way to the recycling bin.

This book is best served with a side of Nuts!