Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Egypt-Omania


Bob Brier
Palgrave Macmillan
Macmillan Publishers Limited
2013
ISBN: 978-1-137-27860-9

Here we have Dr. Bob Brier's latest work "Egypt-Omania" of which I expect a good read from his past works, also it is a good sign when the eminent Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass gives the introduction. Dr. Brier bares the monicker Mr. Mummy because of his specialty being, examination of mummy's, and of the last time I saw these two men working together Dr. Hawass had given Dr. Brier an opportunity to examine the royal mummy, Unknown man E, in the Cairo royal mummy collection.

The introduction by Dr. Hawass is a rundown of his career with some insight of the colourful people that he has met that had clearly caught Egyptomania fever, from paper pyramid hats to people who believe just about anything said of old mystical Egypt. The doctor says on the technology's of CT scans and DNA,

"We made a number of important discoveries through this new technology. Among other things, we identified what is most likely the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut and discovered that Ramesses III was murdered in a harem conspiracy."

As the book begins we find Dr. Brier and his wife Pat are driven by their desire to collect just about everything Egyptian with a love for ephemera such as old magazine covers, ads and even candy mummies for the kids on Halloween. We are told of some exceptional finds in the doctor and his wife's collection including a once in a lifetime acquisition of a tragic noble woman's archives which include letters received from the leading archaeologists of her day.

The author takes the reader to the birth of Egyptomania with the Greek's and the Roman's, from the last of the Ptolemaic Kings, Cleopatra VII's story of seduction, suicide and the former world power is reduced to provincialism under Rome. Certainly the Goddess Isis was the last sentinel of Pharaonic Egypt before the long silence that followed.

Dr. Brier is next on the Roman Emperor Hadrian's tour up the Nile where his lover Antonius drowned and Hadrian founded the city of Antinopolis in his name, which unfortunately its ruins were burnt in the early 19th century for lime plaster. The sixteen hundred year old silence comes to an end by one the biggest egos of the late 18th, early 19th century, Napoleon.

Though the victories were short lived, it is the efforts of his scholars, brought along, in many scientific fields that produced the magnificent volumes known as "La Description d' l Egypte". The author presents the reader with the political power of Egyptian obelisks as diplomatic gifts with a plan to bring not one obelisk to France but three.

We are presented with eight pages of coloured pictures which are a lot of Egyptian inspired designs in objects and advertisements particularly of cigarettes of the last two centuries. France was eventually given one obelisk, one of two that stood at Luxor and transported to Paris in the early 1830's to be placed on a new pedestal in the Place de la Concorde.

With this great engineering feat accomplished and standing, there were now calls for England to have its own obelisk which was laying on the ground at Alexandria. The obelisk having been given to England long before but never picked up, this being partly owing to a famous English Egyptologist living in Luxor at the time the French took away their obelisk.

"from the mutilated state, and the obliteration of many of the hieroglyphs by exposure to the sea air, it is unworthy [of ] the expense of removal."
                                                                             Sir John Gardner Wilkinson

Fortunately when the sand was cleared from the obelisk it was found to be in better condition than assumed bringing on another amazing engineering task getting the stone to the Thames which in the end cost the lives a six brave men.

The publicity caused by the raising of the Egyptian obelisks in Paris and London set off a fascination with ancient Egypt, and ancient Egypt a dream for marketers. The previous coloured pages of advertising and design objects are defined by their inspiration even when the viewer is presented by images anything but Egyptian.

Dr. Brier now takes on New York's obelisk with more brilliant works of engineering and a find beneath this obelisks pedestal of objects of purported Masonic origins. This discovery takes on extreme significance with New York's Freemason's who gather in grand numbers for the delivery and re-erection of the obelisk and its pedestal in Central park.

Again we have another small section of coloured pages including more smoking memorabilia, amulets and song sheets, all with Egyptian themes. The reader is next on to the public fascination with mummies and the find of the mummies of Egypt's greatest pharaohs.

Dr. Brier recalls the story of the discovery of tomb DB320 where a cache of kings, queens and nobles lay hidden for 3000 years, bringing everyone the ability to look upon the faces of some of the greatest pharaohs from the period of empire. Yet an even bigger event influenced the marketing of products and fashion, the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in November 1922.

The author brings in a number of contemporary song sheets bearing Egyptian themes including "Old King Tut was a wise old nut" presented before Tutankhamun's mummy revealed a teenage boy. From old song sheets the author moves on to ancient Egypt's influence in books and movies with a fascinating detail, that at one time the mummy of Imhotep was originally modeled after the questionable mummy of King Seti II.

The author presents solid information in this publication with the book certainly being suitable for 10 years old and up. Dr. Brier's examination of ancient Egypt is brought to the readers through the contemporary cultural influence it has on the modern world, especially as the next great discovery or Hollywood sensation is likely to start the flame of passion in future generations and cast them under the spell of Egypt-Omania.

"This film first introduced tanna leaves, a fictional plant, to audiences. The high priest uses three of them to keep the mummy's heart beating and "nine to give him life."The distinction between a heart beating and life is beyond me."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stolen Samples from Great Pyramid


Two amateur Egyptologist's entered the great pyramid of Khufu on the Giza plateau climbed to the chamber above the kings burial chamber and stole samples of paint from a cartouche painted in that chamber of King Khufu's name. The amateurs then took their samples out of Egypt against international law to Dresden University.

The German Ambassador is distancing the German Archaeological Institute and any German archaeological mission in Egypt from the two men. The men are being placed on an airport watch list and charges are being looked at.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mummifying Dinner


This is an article on studies done on meat found preserved in ancient Egyptian upper class burials including the beef ribs above found in the tomb of Yuya and his wife Thuya in the Valley of Kings, tomb KV46.The study deals with a resin call pistacia being used to preserve the meat and add flavor.

Photo: PNAS

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Discoveries at the Mortuary Temple of Thutmosis III

There has been recent discoveries by those excavating the mortuary temple of Thutmosis III including Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities jointly with the Academy of Fine Arts, Seville. The discoveries include a fragment of a statue of Thutmosis III and some colourful reliefs.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Island of Isis: Philae, Temple of the Nile

William MacQuitty
Charles Scribner's Sons
New York
1976
ISBN: 0-684-14649-5

This light attractive book is filled with beautiful pictures taken by the author of many of the temples built along the Nile. The books forward is written by the late Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum T. G. H. James.

Mr. James presents the current situation of the Philae temples as of 1976 when the Aswan high dam had submerged the temples and structures on the island for much of the year. The traveling exhibition of "The Treasures of  Tutankhamun" raised funds to help pay for the preservation, removal and to rebuild the structures on a nearby island on higher ground.

In chapter one the author describes the geology of the North African landscape in prehistoric times, the retreat of the inland sea which covered Egypt with the eventual carving of the Nile valley. The sources of the river are explored including the descent into the valley by the ancient peoples and the effect these people and their legends would have on ancient Egypt.

A two page map gives a very informative list of locations to the authors words. Mr. MacQuitty is next onto the building of the monuments, particularly of sandstone in Upper Egypt and a description of temples built on the Nile surviving mostly in Ptolemaic building works.

We are next onto the ancient religious beliefs which include the Osirin myth where Isis twice recovers her husband/brother Osiris' body. With this legend the reputation of Isis builds over the centuries to being among the last of the ancient Egyptian gods to be worshiped in the Greco-Roman period.

The practice of mummification is presented in its evolution so that everyone can become an Osiris. The mastaba tomb is eventually overtaken by the building of pyramids which in time fail their purpose leading to burial in the Valley of kings opposite on the west bank of Thebes.

A fantastic image of mummified crocodiles in the temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo is presented though in black and white. The book is an easy read that an hour and a half later I am already halfway through, certainly the book is suitable for ages 10 and up.   

The relations with the gods and goddess' the Ptolemaic kings and queens emulated was reinforced in the building and decorating of temples, clearly the Ptolemy's took propaganda very serious. Propaganda which this book is filled with to the authors credit and this readers delight.

We next turn to perhaps histories most murderous dynasty beginning with Ptolemy IV who murdered his mother and perhaps his father too. Cleopatra's II & III also met with the same fate as did the mother of Ptolemy IX who murdered her on his return to the throne after the expulsion of Ptolemy X.

The elderly Berenice was murdered by Ptolemy XI who in turn was dragged through the streets and himself murdered followed in succession by Cleopatra's V, VI , Berenice IV, Arsinoe IV and Kings Ptolemy XIII & XIV all of whom met unnatural deaths. Giving new meaning to the phrases "Honey I'm home" and "how fast can I climb out the bathroom window".

In chapter four Mr. Macquitty presents the island of Philae complete with two maps showing the island and the temple of Isis. The wonderful pictures are of the islands half submerged monuments and one of the islands monuments after the water had been pumped out before the dismantling and removal to their new home.

Our guide describes the various scenes on the monuments and the various Ptolemaic kings and queens worshiping and presenting offerings to various gods including Isis in the decoration of the monuments including Roman emperors as well. Most notably perhaps in the kiosk of Tragan, "the Phoarohs bed", often considered the most beautiful monument on the sacred island.

Chapter five presents us with the project in the late 1960;s and early 70's to save not only Philae which by this time had spent many years flooded 9 months of the year but also the removal of the temples of Ramses II from the rise of the water at Abu Simbel. Amazingly the temples on Philae benefited from the water as the waters removed the salt from the sandstone blocks besides washing away much colour unfortunately.

The pictures at this point are of operations during the dismantling of the temple of Ramses II and preparations being made on the island of Agilkia to redesign the islands atmosphere to resemble the sacred surroundings of the sunken island of Philae. A sheet-piled coffer dam was built around Philae to pump out the water and reveal this sacred land for the last time.

Perhaps the most unique image I have found in the book is a black and white full page image of the Meroitic cemetery at Gebel Adda in its last moment before the surrounding lake drowned it, though the books images contain many unusual examples. The author next turns to the obelisk retrieved from Philae and now in England and its importance in the reading of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The book closes off with a short on the completion of the Abu Simbel-Project which in turn is followed by a chronological table and a listing of various ancient Egyptian gods. This is the second book I have read by Wlliam MacQuitty the other complementary edition being 'Abu Simbel".

Again as in the authors other work on the saving the temples from the flood waters of Lake Nassar, a journey has been taken to view and marval at sacred environments of thousands of years, William MacQuitty grants the reader a last look at the Island of Isis.

"I; I listen; I promise myself that I will remember it all in years to come - all these solemn hills, these silent colonnades, these deep, quiet spaces of shadow, the sleeping palms. Lingering till it is all but dark, I at last bid them farewell, fearing lest I may behold them no more."
                                                                                               Amelia Edwards

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Burnt Tutankhamun

There is a show coming out about the mummy of Tutankhamun and scientists who present their findings on the kings mummy and have asserted that Tutankhamun combusted shortly after burial because of the ointments used on the mummy.

The show perports that the mummy looks burned because of the actions of the chemicals used to preserve the boy king. I must admit that I consider this finding as improbable if not impossible considering that combustion requires oxygen of which there would have been very little inside his sealed gold coffin which was sealed inside two more coffins and a stone sarcophagus.

It must also be considered that Tut's mask appears to be unaffected by this fire which also left the various objects on his mummy unaffected. Most likely the charring which has occurred to the wrappings was caused by corrosion of the chemicals in question and certainly not by a fire inside the kings gold coffin.

If the mummy burnt it would more than likely to have happened after Howard Carter opened the kings gold coffin though I know of no reports of fire or heat coming from the mummy at that time. Sounds like a ridiculous premise to base credible research on, but hey as long as it gets you on TV.

Photo Credit: AFP/Ben Curtis

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mummy Gets Her Name



Here we have the Perth Museums mummy acquired by the museum in 1936 and believed to come from ancient Egypt's 25th-26th dynasties. The lady named on the lid has the name of Takherheb and is in very nice condition.

The mummy and coffin are being studied by researchers from the University of Manchester with the hope of learning more about the lady possibly from Akhmim as the coffin has been determined to likely be from.

The kind people at Perth sent this wonderful link.

Photo Credit: BBC

Gaurding the temple of Wadi Al-Sebua


Armed guards have been deployed to protect the remote temple built by Ramses II at the Wadi Al-Sebua near Aswan. The lovely temple was among the buildings moved during the raising of the high dam in the 1960's.

The Minister of state for antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim says that the only damage to the temple is the theft of cables and the lights used to light up the temple.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Erosion on the Giza Plateau

This image shows a block of stone, reportedly 3 tons in weight, that has fallen off a mastaba near the great pyramid on the Giza plateau. The fallen limestone block rests near Khufu's boat museum and its collapse is the result of natural erosion.

The boulder will be restored back to its original position starting this week.

Source: Luxor Times