Monday, December 15, 2014

The Treasures of Tutankhamun

British Museum Exhibition
The Trustees of the British Museum
Thames & Hudson Ltd
ISBN 0 7230 0070 0

Here we have the guide to The British Museum's highly successful 1972 Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition brought together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt's famous royal cemetery the Valley of Kings. The funds raised from the show went to the preservation of the temples of Philae.

The guide written by I.E.S. Edwards then Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum has some wonderful details of life in the middle of the 14th century BC under the luxuriant King Amenophis III to Amenophis IV's elevation of the solar disk of the Aten above and in place of all the other gods excepting Re who was the old seat of the Aten. The revolution created havoc within Egypt and her empire so that by the reign of Tutankhamun the empire was a mess leaving the nine year old king with his advisers including his vizier Ay and general Horemheb to restore the damage to the old temples, priesthoods and the empire.

By year 3 of Tutankamun's reign he has left the heretic capital of the Aten and returned to Thebes to take up residence in his grandfathers former palace at Malquata as well as at the historic capital of Memphis. Tutankhamun spends his reign making repairs to the monuments while restoring the offerings to the temples including to Amun at Karnak where he leaves a great stela marking his deeds.

The author brings to life some of the monuments of the boy kings time including two granite lions in the British museums collection.

     "It is one of a pair of pink granite lions which Amenophis III intended to place in his newly-built temple at Sulb in Nubia, but the work on the second lion was only in its early stages when he died. Tutankhamun finished the work and put an inscription to that effect on the pedestal. It must have been one of his last undertakings, because an inscription on the breast of the lion records it was taken to Sulb by his successor Ay."

Little more is known of him except that he was laid to rest in a nobles tomb as presumably his own was not ready by the untimely death of the king. Within two centuries of his burial the tomb would be robbed twice and eventually buried under the refuse from the carving of the tomb of Ramses VI nearby and then further buried under flood debris.

The author is next on to the discovery by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon including the various excavations which turned up clues to Tutankhamun's burial being in the valley. These discoveries included a faience cup bearing the kings name, some foils turned up in tomb KV56 bearing his and Ankhesanamun's images and a pit in the valley numbered KV54 which contained items from the tomb and the remains of a funerary meal had in the kings honor.

The next section contains beautiful coloured images of various objects in the show including the kings famous gold mask which by Egyptian law is no longer allowed to leave Egypt. There have been many exhibitions on Tutakhamun's treasures over the years this was not the first though in this 50th anniversary show are exhibits that I cannot find being part of any of the other exhibitions that have traveled over the years.

The Catalogue

Nowhere in the world outside Cairo would the life size sentinel statue of Tutuankhamun be so poignant as the British Museum which posses three such figures collected in the kings valley early in the nineteenth century by Giovoni Belzoni, who found two of the figures in the tomb of the XIX Dynasty King Ramses I. Unlike most of the pieces in this catalogue this figure does not appear to have traveled to be part of the North American tour of the exhibition.

The large alabaster leomorphic unguent vase displays a crowned lion on his hind legs waving with his tongue stuck out and a favorite piece for me. Among the objects in the show must be some of the most traveled artifacts in history included the kings crook and flail of which the tomb contained repetitive examples. A canopic jar lid in the guide has an interesting black and white picture showing the underside of the stopper.

No Tutakhamun exhibition would be complete without one of the coffinettes that held the young kings viscera. The tomb contained a number of funerary gifts from Tutankhamun's officials including the small carved effigy given by the boy kings treasurer Maya.

Inscriptions on the gilded bed of the divine cow show that the beds are funerary in nature, but because they are unique in the round much is still not entirely understood about them and their use. A number of pieces of furniture pass including a small chair about the same size as another chair found in the Valley of Kings in tomb Kv46 made for a relative of Tutankhamun's, Princess Sitamun though the kings chair is not quite a elaborate as the princess'.

A beautiful gold figure of the king appears on a small staff where his appearance is that of a boy, while an ostrich fan presents the king as a hunter of the large birds. The show contained one of the two gilded wood emblems of Anubis mounted on alabaster stands found in the two western corners of the burial chamber.

     "An early example, found in 1914 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art near the pyramid of Sesostris I (1971-1928 BC) at El Lischt, was placed in a wooden shrine. Like the emblem in Tutankhamun's tomb, it consisted of a wooden rod and an alabaster stand, but the headless animal skin was real and it was stuffed with linen.","The stand, which resembled a vessel, was about two-thirds full of a bluish-coloured substance, completely dried and considered to be some kind of ointment."

Truly one of the great pieces in the collection must be the shrine covered in sheet gold and depicting on its sides Tutankhamun and his Queen Ankhesanamun in various activities of pleasure. A mistake is present in that the author says that the shrine contained only a little pedestal for a small statuette when found when a number of pieces of jewelry were also found in the back corner.

The gilded statuette of Tutankhamun on a papyrus skiff is one of two found in a black shrine in the treasury. The statuette or its companion was among the objects smashed in the Egyptian museum in January 2011. 

It is again with catalogue number 28 that the anguish brought on by the robbery and vandalism of the Cairo museum during the revolution of 2011 comes to heart as one of the two gilded statuettes of Tutankhamun on the back of a black leopard was found infamously smashed to pieces after this event. A number of pieces of the kings jewelry were present in this exhibition including the "necklace of the rising sun" and the "necklace of the sun on the eastern horizon".

Among the insignias of state was one of the kings royal scepters bearing the inscription,

     "The Good God, the beloved, dazzling of face like the Aten when it shines, the son of Amun Nebkheperure, living for ever'."

The tomb contained a couple of pairs of crooks and flails and a extra crook for which the set in the exhibition have been brought together as they were not found together. The small flail inscribed with the kings early name of Tutankhaten may infer that it was part of the boy kings coronation ceremony at the heretic capital of  Akhetaten.

The shows highlight being the kings gold mummy mask an object of which likely was built for one of Tutankhamun's immediate predecessors with the face of the boy king attached for re-use. Many of these objects went on to North America but it was within this 50th anniversary exhibition that the inclusion of objects brought a reflection on the British Museum's own fragments of funerary equipment from the kings tombs that surrounded Tutankhamun and his treasures for thousands of years.

It is for this and legal reasons that no such poignant show on the Treasures of Tutankhamun will ever take place again outside Egypt.

Photo; path to Valley of Kings, Ancient
Sentinal figure-  George Rainbird  Ltd.
Photograph, Anubis Emblem: The Bridgmen Art Library  PBS
Tutankhamun on Leopard- George Rainbird Ltd.
Tutankhamun's mask- George Rainbird  Ltd.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Highlites of 2014

Though progress seems often bound by unmovable forces, and change passes by our hopes, with perseverance, we find the answer to success lye's within ourselves and our abilities to inspire others to help and push aside the once thought unmovable force.

At Abydos in January a couple of kingly burials were found including one of an unknown king of the Second Intermediate period . The appearance of a huge quartzite boulder sarcophagus alerted the mission to the presence of royal burials in the area.

As wonderful as these finds were the month ended on a tragic note when a bomb killed 4 people and destroyed the facade of the National Library and the Islamic Museum, damaging or destroying many of the contents of the Islamic museum and some fragile ancient papyrus's in the National Library.

February brought discoveries of late period mummies and shabti at Dakahliya. The month also brought at Luxor the discovery of a rare XVII Dynasty Rishi coffin found by the Spanish mission at Dra Abu El Naga in the courtyard to the tomb of Djehuty.

From the middle of March the release of "The Discovery of the Mummy of Ramses I" was well received, reviewing the finding of the royal mummy of King Ramses I, in a Niagara Falls sideshow. The month ended off with the re-erection of two colossal statues of Amenhotep III which had lain on the ground for thousands of years in his funerary temple at Luxor.

April brought an ending to the saga of six antiquities brought to sale at Christie's auction house last year, where one was recognized as being stolen from the storerooms at this same mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. The perpetrator of the fraud back in England was co operative with authorities and as a result received a slap on the wrist.

The month also contained discoveries from illicit excavations, and more results from a number of ongoing excavations accompanied by the Ministry of Antiquities, including coins in a Coptic alter at Thebes and XXVI Dynasty tombs at Al Bahnasa.

Basel Universities excavation of Valley of Kings tomb KV40 revealed dozens of mummies who may have come from the royal households of two XVIII Dynasty King's Thutmosis IV and his son Amenhotep III. The tombs destroyed and fragmented contents included mention of around a dozen royal children as well as foreign women and including a number of infants and a priestly clan from the 9th century BC.

This was the discovery of the year which grew out of proportions quickly and many of the so called royal mummies may well belong to the priests who took over the tomb four hundred years after the XVIII Dynasty. In May a number of important objects stolen during the January 2011 revolution including a badly damaged gilded statuette of Tutankhamun were recovered and put on display in the Cairo Museum, though the seated gilded figure of Tutankhamun held above the head of the Goddess Menkheret remains missing.

June brought the release of the article Was King Hatschepsut the Original Owner of Theban Tomb 358? The article was an instant success overshadowing all other articles from 2014. The month also brought a handful of discoveries as well as the return home of a number of artifacts including worthless faience beads and chips of pottery, clearly among these returns are objects of burden to the resources of Egypt's antiquities ministry.

July opened with a gotcha moment, to put it lightly, when illegal excavations were taking place inside a house at Abydos, unfortunately for the entrepreneurs the street out front of the house collapsed revealing the clandestine operation within. Inside the excavation was found the carved walls of a Mahat chapel erected by the XI Dynasty unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt King Mentuhotep II, with a rusting 20th century sewage tank above damaging the shrine.

As the summer came to an end The Great Pharaoh Ramses and his time exhibition guide was as well one of the top five for the year. For the St. Louis Art Museum the mask of Khanefernefer in a court ruling this year will likely remain in that city even with a documented process of the mask emerging from the ground in a recorded excavation by the Egyptian antiquities authority, this because a filing deadline was missed.

An Old Kingdom statue of an official from Egypt's Dynasty V, given to an English institution went on to the auction block this past summer and brought in an amazing L16 million along with some controversy over selling museum acquisitions. What appeared to be an unusually large number of people were caught smuggling coins this year which though some were ancient many were 19th and 20th century modern coins including one individual who smuggled four modern gold coins into Egypt to sell, while someone was caught smuggling common coins from the late 1930's, national treasures indeed!

The fall's big surprise was Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt which has been particularly popular among this years book reviews. It must also be of note that The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt review was very popular as well. The end of October brought 7 more arrests as men digging under a house in Giza found the ruins of a large temple from the reign of Thutmosis III.

As the year closes off a Middle Kingdom mummy was discovered under the temple of Thutmosis III at Luxor's west bank. A collapse in the tomb in ancient times meant the mummy of the lady was still bedecked in her jewelry, a very rare find.

I want to thank my readers for your support over the past year and I look forward to the coming year with the hope that it will bring prosperity and happiness to all of you and your loved ones.
God Bless and Happy Holidays!


Timothy Reid

Ipuy and wife recieving offerings from their children: Metropolitan Museum of Art 
Interior of Islamic Museum: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Re-erected statues of Amenhotep III: AFP Photo/ Khaled Desouki
Tomb KV40:  Matjaz Kacicnik, University of Basel/Egyptology
Photograph by Harry Burton, 1929. Archives of the Egyptian Expedition, Department of Egyptian Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Middle Kingdom Jewelry: Ahram Online

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Life & Times of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt

Arthur Weigall
Keystone Library
Thornton Butterworth Ltd.
ISBN 0-7103-1001-3

     "You shall not tell me by languages and titles a catalogue of the volumes you have read. You shall make me feel what periods you have lived."

This attractive book comes with three foldout maps, some black and white pictures being originally published in 1914. The author Arthur Weigall is perhaps best remembered for his work in the excavation of Egypt's Valley of kings tomb 55 which some believe contained the mummy of the Pharaoh Akhenaton.

The book opens with a look at Cleopatra's character which has been much laid out by Rome and those who might be less than sympathetic to the young Ptolemaic queen as to see her a temptress rather than a young girl manipulated by the much older Julius Caeser, who possessed a long history of womanizing. The young queen is remembered as a dotting mother to her four children including twins and the dynasty's heir Caesarian.

The reader is made acquainted with the city of Alexandria, its monuments, layout and populace of Cleopatra's time, the character of which is more European than Egyptian. We are told of the Ptolemaic royal family that they were a little dysfunctional,

     "Ptolemy III, according to Justin, was murdered by his son Ptolemy IV, who also seems to have planned at one time and another the murders of his brother Magas, his uncle Lysimachus, his mother Berenice, and his wife Arsinoe." "Ptolemy VIII murdered his young nephew, the heir to the throne, and married the dead boys mother, the widowed Queen Cleopatra II, who shortly afterwards presented him with a baby, Memphites, whose paternal parentage is doubtful. Ptolemy later, according to some accounts, murdered this child and sent the body in pieces to the mother. He then married his niece, Cleopatra III; and she, on being left a widow, appears to have murdered Cleopatra II. This Cleopatra III bore a son who later ascended the throne as Ptolemy XI, whom she afterwards attempted to murder, but the tables being turned she was murdered by him."

This familial behaviour goes on but if this is not bad enough our Cleopatra VII finds herself at 18 married to her 10 year old brother who is surrounded by the most powerful of the palace staff and soon finds herself in flight for her life. The arrival of Pompey the great to seek refuge in Alexandria places King Ptolemy and his men in a difficult situation of taking sides against Julius Caeser by welcoming Pompey who has just lost a battle against Caeser on the plains of Pharsalia.

The solution for the Ptolemaic court out of this conundrum is the murder of Pompey complete with decapitation, an act which is not entirely pleasing to Caeser.  The character of the elderly Caeser is examined including the bedding of many of the wives and daughters of his fellow men.

     "He had no particular religion, not much honor, and few high principles; and in this regard all that can be said in his favour is that he was perfectly free from cant, never pretended to be virtuous, nor attempted to hide from his contemporaries the multitude of his sins. As a young man he indulged in every kind of vice, and so scandalous was his reputation for licentiousness that it was a matter of blank astonishment to his Roman friends when, nevertheless, he proved himself so brave and strenuous a soldier."

The relationship between Caeser and Cleopatra is viewed as the young queen who's position at the Alexandrian palace is shaky against her brother and his men and who conspire to rid Ptolemy of his sister. Unfortunately for them Caeser destroys the conspirators including young Ptolemy who is sent to his army to die in a vain effort to recapture the palace and his throne.

With Caeser's men in control of the palace and Cleopatra's position on the throne secure Caeser stays until Cleopatra gives birth to his son, Caeserian. After months of pleasure in Egypt Caeser now returns to Rome and his ambitions found there, though he is soon followed by Cleopatra, who together plan an Egypto-Roman empire with Caeser and Cleopatra ruling as king and queen.

 These ambitions are a threat to Octavian and the senate of Rome who's members thwart these grandiose thoughts and kill Caeser sending Cleopatra packing. The standard story has it that the death of Caeser brings on Antony in Cleopatra's life as Caeser's replacement in his and Cleopatra's dynastic ambitions.

Cleopatra employs her enormous wealth to impress on Antony with costly parties and extravagances including dissolving a valuable pearl in vinegar as a drink for herself. Antony has a reputation as a bit of a wine lover, being always up to a practical joke and less refined than Caeser, none the less a lonely Cleopatra finds love for him and a renewal of her ambitions.

Like Caeser, Antony spends a little too much time in Alexandria in a state of opulence he had never known leaving the queen to give birth six months later to twins. Yet it would be three and a half years later before Antony would return to Cleopatra and not before marrying Octavian's sister, Octavia.

This absence had left the Egyptian queen feeling used and discarded and perhaps wiser to Antony's fleeting charms. The author sees the queen as a lonely, solitary figure vulnerable to the older men who court her alliance with passions.

The reunion of the two brought Antony willing to hand over large territories to Cleopatra's realm while she would supply money and resources to the goal of world domination. These fantasies being dispelled in Antony's defeat in his war on the Parthians after which he would be convinced by the queen to forget the Orient instead seek to attack Octavian directly.

Now reaching middle age Antony's drunken antics had begun to tarnish him in the eyes of Cleopatra who in her own paranoia began to loose respect for his rationalizations and his sincerity towards her. Cleopatra herself had matured into a shrewd politician who could converse in many languages to foreign rulers and with enough wealth to impress them all in luxury.

As the events unfold at Actium it is not the great young Antony present but a dramatic actor enlivend and drawn out by years of debauched living who presents the worst qualities of a man in his flight from the battle, abandoning his forces to chase the queens boat, in his moment of death he does the worst thing possible, he lives. The next couple of years Antony burdens Cleopatra with his presence, and she builds him a villa away from the palace on a nearby island and calls it the Timonium where her husband can seclude himself behind the villas walls.

Cleopatra herself is at the height of her abilities, and though Octavian is slowly making his way with his army to conquer Alexandria she is cementing her alliances with the powers of the oriental world. She sends her son with Antony, Alexander Helios to Media where he is to someday be king of that country by marrying that kings daughter.

Caeserian now a man of 17 is sent with retinue and a huge sum of cash to live in India until the time when it is safe for him to claim his Egyptian throne. The final blow to Cleopatra's dreams of dynastic succession come when hers and Antony's forces are faced at Alexandria by the forces of Octavian.

With the Roman presence in the city the Egyptian forces change sides and join Octavian's army rallied against the queen and her pathetic lover who finally kills himself. In the end the dreamed of Egyptian- Roman dynasty is in fact formed but at its head was to be found Octavian who soon becomes Augustus King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Arthur Weigall's interpretation of these historic events is well researched and presents the queen in a light that frees Cleopatra of villainy while representing her as sympathetic and at heart under her royal concepts as fragile as any other woman and perhaps if not certainly stronger than many of the men she encountered.

Though I have read too many books about this queen, likely one of the most overwritten about historical figures, I can say that I did enjoy "The Life and Times of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt".

     "History", said Emerson, "no longer shall be a dull book. It shall walk incarnate in every just and wise man."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pharaoh's People

T. G. H. James
Oxford University Press
Great Britain
ISBN 0-19-281883-X

The late great T. G. H. James was, among other things, a Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities for the British Museum for many years. Mr. James opens his book with a break down of the sketchy records which tell the tale of the ancient people including the authors chosen subjects for his book from c. 1500-1400 BC.

These surviving documents include the tomb of the Vizir Rekhmire and other monuments of the reigns of the XVIII Dynasty kings, Hatschepsut, Thutmosis III, and Amenhotep II. The vandalized tomb of Rekhmire numbered 100 in the Theban necropolis, has an entrance corridor that starts at 3 meters in height and rises to a height of 8 meters with the statue niche at the end of the hall 6 meters above the floor, though no statue is present

The trustworthiness of ancient sources is reviewed with the blatant example of the battle of Qadesh in its many depictions and its use as propaganda where for thousands of years left Ramses II with a reputation as a heroic king. The discovery of the Hittite archives by modern archaeologist has now revealed Ramses II did not win a glorious victory at Qadesh but left a false piece of propaganda, which worked!

On the other hand the annals of Thutmosis III were carved on walls at Karnak that were deep within the temple where they would have not been seen by anyone other than priests and were likely carved in memorium to Thutmosis III. Tomb records of lesser officials though often glorify the tomb owners accomplishments sometimes do provide details not found in the official or royal records.

Mr. James takes up the role of Vizir from an inscription in the tomb of Rekhmire known as "The Installation of the Vizir", this documents Rekhmire's duties to be just and fair when carrying out his responsibilities, of which are many including judicial and bureaucratic in nature. This document is found in four tombs within the Theban necropolis and believed to be reproduced in all four tombs from a Middle Kingdom document.

As interesting as the book is, it will likely not be suited to a young person or those looking for a storybook but it is rather a more academic read with a page or two of authors attribution notes at the end of each chapter. The book is filled with tomb biographies from various nobles of the New Kingdom, of which on the subject of agriculture familiar to many if not most of the tombs, the farmer is an undesirable job and hard way of life, certainly compared to that of a scribe.

This message is further incorporated into these burials by the presence of shabti figures to do the owners work in the afterlife, including the sowing of the fields. Mr.James next explores the hieroglyphs and surviving literature involved in the teaching of young students to become scribes.

The materials possessed by scribes are explored as is the manufacture of papyrus and its allocated uses in documents. Fresh pages for liturgical documents such as "books of the dead" or rewashed pages written over with new texts for personal use such as letters. Mr. James informs the reader of the contents of many different styles of documents found and collected for the various museums particularly Cairo and the British Museum.

Metal workers are presented from the wall paintings found in many tombs but here of particular interest in the tomb of Rekhmire showing the Vizir visiting the workshops and the various activities occurring within. The creation of objects of necessity and beauty seems to have left little appreciation for the craftsmen who were responsible for them as these workers did not appear to live luxuriated lives and as a whole remain mostly anonymous.

The subject of the book is utilitarian in nature based on the occupations exemplified on the walls of the tombs and surviving documents. I was taken back for though the book was filled with excellent details it was a read of daily survival which I do not think would interest most readers.

The book is certainly a must read for anyone who wishes a career in Egyptology but I would not recommend it for the casual reader as in its dry minutia I lost interest in "Pharaoh's People".