Monday, April 30, 2012
At the heart of the Golden age of Egyptology stands archaeologist Howard Carter a talented artist with a keen eye for beautiful objects and the good fortune to excavate the tombs of a number of kings in the Valley of Kings including the semi-intact tomb of Tutankhamun with it's beautifully preserved objects.
The former head of Egypt's Supreme council of Antiquities has praised Howard Carter for his work on the tomb though a series of great men took part in the excavation including the Metropolitan Museum of art expedition photographer Harry Burton who's photo's of the excavation are now famous.
The problems really started in the early 1920's during a dispute between Howard Carter and the head of the Egyptian antiquities service Pierre Lacau who suspected that Carter and his financier Lord Carnarvon were smuggling out objects from Tutankhamun's tomb believing that the contents of the tomb belonged to them and not Egypt's antiquities service.
During the dispute an Egyptian inventory commission was sent to the valley of kings to inspect the site and found in the excavations dining hall, there in a wine box the commission discovered a small wooden head of the boy king emerging from a blue lotus seaming to confirm the suspicion of the Egyptian authorities that all was not on the up with the excavation and the head was taken immediately to the Cairo museum.
The 1978 bestseller "Tutankhamun The Untold Story" by the late director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Thomas Hoving brought forward the knowledge that within the Metropolitan museum as well as the Brooklyn museum were objects from that tomb including gold and silver coffin nails and rosettes from the pall from over the second shrine which was destroyed during the excavation.
The matter of "pocket objects" being smuggled from the tomb is likely though both Carter and Carnarvon may have felt the objects belonged to them. When one looks around at the artifacts pointed out by Mr. Hoving one sees well preserved works of art belonging in quality to the royal workshops and being listed as in the Carnarvon collection before 1923 not a huge detraction to the obvious question including a small ivory gazelle and an ivory whip stock shaped as a running horse.
In Brooklyn we find still more wonderful objects but for me it is the excellent preserved writing palette of princess Meketaten in the Met which is complete with it's brushes and perhaps most exemplifies the issue of objects that potentially have had their provenances washed away for personal ownership?
Curious is the idea that Howard Carter found a similar ivory palette but made for princess Merytaten in Tutankhamun's tomb interesting that Meketaten's palette is listed as in the Canarvon collection prior 1923 and Howard Carter found Merytaten's palette in Tut's tomb. What are the odds that two well preserved palettes for two of Tutankhamun's sisters would come in contact with the Carter/Carnarvon connection at approximately the same time as the excavation of the tomb is taking place?
So if Carter/Carnarvon were pocketing objects from Tutankhamun's tomb(KV62) then what is to say the aforementioned ivory gazelle is not actually from the rubble of Amenhotep III's (WV22) tomb which Howard Carter also excavated or KV 20 the tomb of Hatshepsut or KV43 tomb of Thutmosis IV which he also cleared? If he practiced the activity of pocket collecting in Tutankhamun's tomb than it seems a given that this was probably already a practice he used in past excavations?
Curious to know if the missing parts of the ivory gazelle are in any of these tombs rubbish material whether left at the scene or collected, perhaps the gazelle was a cherished childhood possession of Hatshepsut?
Howard Carter was a man of great fortune who played a large part in the early days of modern Egyptology. His excavations of the early twentieth century would be the envy of any Egyptologist today however his corpus of objects found and excavation reports of any of his excavations need re-examining in the future to winnow out any lost provenances that can potentially be recovered from Carter's records and his associates records including Lord Carnarvon and his associates.
An examination on the career of Howard Carter may yet reveal an ugly and well known practice by him which will more than likely have altered a number of his discoveries for worse.
Thomas Hoving, Tutankhamun The Untold Story, ISBN 0-671-24305-5
I.E.S. Edwards, The Treasures of Tutankhamun, catalogue #19, Penguin Books, 1977, ISBN 0 14 00.4287 3
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Monday, April 23, 2012
The Macmillan Company
Right from the start of this pocket sized book by Harry Powers the author appears to be a bit of a pessimist as his journey takes him to Egypt for of Madeira the author says " the thoughtful traveller will view Madeira with mingled feelings. The shadows in the picture are due less to depravity (largely imported) than to sheer backwardness." Our guide goes on to say of Monte Carlo "It used to hide its depravity under a certain tone and elegance."
Having at last arrived in Egypt our friend Harry begins describing the things to see including Pompey's pillar of which he says "a huge and meaningless shaft of uncertain origin concerning which little is known except that it had nothing to do with Pompey."
After a "monotonous" but interesting journey to Cairo our friend tours various mosques and provides some very interesting descriptions of a few of the most important but also points out the shoddy construction and dilapidated conditions of the buildings.
The author is clearly a learned man with great insight on the subject of the arts of the individual periods taking the reader to less viewed displays in the Cairo museum and though the authors chronology is off he is not off by that much by the middle kingdom. As our guide makes his way around Egypt in chronological order he describes which sites to see and those that hold little interest.
In the pyramid fields Powers describes the pyramids and tombs from the poorly constructed step pyramid of king Djoser to the "false Pyramid of Meidum" but being suitably impressed by the pyramid of Khufu the author goes on to give Herodotus' account of it's building. The book has many nice but small images including one unfortunately labelled "Sarcophagus of King Khufu, Cairo museum".
The mastabas of Ti and Ptah-hotep at Sakkara very much impressed and are a recommended visit for their beautiful reliefs of everyday life of the ancient Egyptians also at Sakkara the author visits the Serapeum remarking on the poor engraving on the massive sarcophagus' and a review of that cult.
Our friend Powers recommends the middle kingdom tombs at Beni Hassan not for their colorful but inferior images but for their architecture including the introduction of the Doric column and the development of the Egyptian column there after. Assiout's badly damaged middle kingdom tombs stand as great square caves with little left of interest except of course the magnificent view of the Nile valley from them.
We find ourselves at Thebes because the author wishes us to walk the temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir el Bahri talking about the architectural concept of the building. The author than goes on to Luxor and the period of the empire with an excellent over view of the decline of the second intermediate period with the rise of the eighteenth dynasty kings.
Our guide Powers gives an out of date explanation of the order of the Thutmoside rulers with the order given going: Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III,-Hatshepsut,-Thutmosis III,-Thutmosis II, not all that uncommon interpretation for the early 1920's. The black and white picture of Hatshepsut's obelisk is a gem.
The author goes on with the evolution of Karnak from the missing middle kingdom temple to the ever grander elements added by the Thutmoside and Ramaside kings. Powers in the end sees the overview of the chaotic construction of the temple lacking in overall vision for the complex.
With some excellent old photographs our friend makes his way through the Valley of Kings and recommends the viewer see a hand full of tombs including those of Thutmosis III, Amenhotep II, Seti I and Rameses VI.
We find Powers stopping in front of the well in the tomb of Amenhotep II pondering the human skeletons found at the bottom of it and wondering "Were these the builders of the tomb murdered that its secret might die with them? Or were they grave robbers who fell in here and were unable to escape?"
Our guide ends this journey in the valley with a visit to the tomb of Merenptah descending to its burial chamber to view the figure on the lid of the sarcophagus left there. Interesting though the author acknowledges the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun he says nothing else about.
As we make our way upstream the author breaks from his chronology to talk about the remarkable Ptolemaic temples of Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna and Dendera. At Esna we find the beautifully preserved temple still buried deep in the mud and hidden from view surrounded by houses. While on his return journey the author can see the temple of Dendera from his boat, with our friend Powers disembarking the boat to cross fields of beautiful opium poppies to reach the temple.
Our guide takes us past the partly flooded island of Philae and on to Abu Simbel past the cataracts and the back down the Nile finishing off at Abydos and the reliefs on the temple of Seti I. The author from here discusses the history of art from the early reliefs at Sakkara to the reliefs found in this temple.
I can say after having read this book that it was well worth my time though one must be warned the author has a habit on looking down on those less than English types. Egypt by Harry Powers is an interesting place to see with the authors old fashion views forgivable to his knowledge of the history of Egyptian art.
Friday, April 20, 2012
The British Museum's curator Dr John Taylor has located pieces of a New Kingdom book of the dead that once belonged to a high priest of Amun in around 1420 bc. The fragments are kept in the Queensland Museum but there are other pieces in various collections around the world.
The ancient Egyptian book of the dead is a continuation of the even older pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom as well as the coffin texts of Egypt's Middle Kingdom. Each book of the dead is different in the spells from the Theban recession they contain to help the dead through the underworld.
When new the book would have been very costly and placed either in the tomb or frequently within the coffin or even wrapped in with the mummy. When found King Tutankhamun was not in possession of a book of the dead
The book came to light in the nineteenth century and apparently taken apart at that time. The museum staff are delighted to have the significant document in their collection and that now the document can be published in it's entirety.
Photo Courtesy: 612 ABC Brisbane
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
First occurrence of Sed jubilee
Year 2 second month of the first season, day 3
This wonder which happened to his majesty : that the beasts of the highlands came down to him; there came a gazelle great with young, going with the face of the people before her, while her eyes looked backward; she did not turn back until she arrived at this august mountain, at this block, it still being in place, for this lid of this sarcophagus. She dropped her young upon it while the army of the king was looking. Then they cut off her neck before it and brought fire. It descended in safety.
Now, it was the majesty of this august god, lord of the highlands, who gave the offering to his son, Nibtowere, Mentuhotep IV, living forever, in order that his heart might be joyful, that he might live upon his throne forever and ever, that he might celebrate millions of Sed Jubilees.
The hereditary prince, count, governor of the city and vizier, chief of all nobles of judicial office, supervisor of everything in this whole land, the vizier Amenemhet.
James Breasted: The Documentary Sources of Egyptian history