Thursday, April 6, 2017

Classic: Intact Old Kingdom Tomb


Back in July of 2008 came the discovery by Miroslav Barta and the Czech Institute of Egyptology the discovery of an intact Old Kingdom tomb at Abusir. Such a discovery of an intact tomb of that age had not happened in 50 years.

The 4400-year-old burial likely has brought much knowledge in the past decade. Since then Miroslav Barta and the Czech Institute have had many more exciting days but this important discovery is clearly the rarest of finds.

Sources:

Radio Praha by Jan Velinger
Photo: Czech Institute of Egyptology

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Perfume Bottle of Hatshepsut


Many people will remember this perfume bottle in Germany's Bonn University Egyptian Museum from an article in 2009 about recreating the perfume by deconstructing the residue of its contents. There was big fanfare about it belonging to King Hatshepsut, and that the bottle was found among her belongings. I know of no excavation in which Hatshepsut's belongings were found except for her tomb in the Valley of the Kings which to my knowledge contained mostly damaged funerary goods.

The photo presents a good view of the bottles outline which bears no symmetry that I would expect from a royal vessel. A finer craftsman would have worked the simple bottle to a much more sharper finish. An object with a cartouche on it does not mean that it belonged to a king other than the technicality that everything belonged to the king. But, if you were Hatshepsut and wanted to reward a courtier for their loyalty would you give this shabby production.

This is not suitable for a queens dressing table, can you see this thing on Queen Victoria's dressing table or Queen Elizabeth's? I might suggest that the lord of the two lands would likely be furnished by the royal workshops and not with provincial mediocrity as is presented here. I would also suspect that such a vessel for a queen's boudoir might be made out of gold or silver such as Tutankhamun's double cartouche scent box.



In the tomb of Tutankhamun were found many vessels carved from alabaster including two shaped like lions, and though many of the vessels may be seen as gaudy all of them are the creation of the finest carvers. The Hatshepsut bottle in Bonn does not belong in the tradition of any of Tutankhamun's alabaster vessels, The bottle in Bonn does not belong to a royal tradition.

This tradition can be found in numerous examples of cosmetic vessels predating Hatshepsut from the Middle Kingdom in which some examples have been even carved of obsidian. A much more challenging medium to carve in than alabaster. This tradition of quality in cutting stone vessels goes back to the earliest dynasties leading up to the Old Kingdom.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an amazing alabaster scent bottle in the form of a cat much more worthy a royal boudoir. Unfortunate that the object is without provenance.


I have little doubt that the Bonn bottle and its contents are indeed ancient and as a bottle without the cartouche that it would have had very little value as a souvenir. Carve Hatshepsut's cartouche on it and it becomes a royal object worth many, many times more than without. A definite motive for deception.

So what's wrong with the Hatshepsut cartouche?


The three characters include the elements of Hatshepsut's throne name including the element in the center of the goddess Maat, below the goddess we find the upraised hands of the Ka element and lastly on top the sun disk of the god Re. The hieroglyphs are correct it is the spacing here that is in question.

It seems that the engraver started with the cartouche outline followed by the Ka element which dominates almost half the space in the cartouche causing the Maat and Re elements to be crammed into the remaining space above. This element is also not centered. The flat base of the cartouche, the goddess, and the Re element have been drilled uncomfortably deep and even the cartouche outline is scratchy in appearance.

It is for me, however, the patina within all these engraved elements that is not right. If anything these details should be darker than the body yet there is signs the color of the patina has been damaged in the area of the cartouche as these engravings appear at least from this photograph to be lighter than the surface of the bottle itself. It is, of course, impossible to fully judge a work of art from one photograph as in this case the object appears to have been photographed with a light source above the bottle and this may interfere with the patina in the cartouche as photographed.

Whether I am right about the cartouche being fake or not the bottle's manufacture is beneath a royal purpose after all the king is citizen number one and as such worthy of the finest products the workshops produced, and for this reason alone, it is unlikely that Hatshepsut ever came in contact with this meager object.

Notes:

Photograph Courtesy of Bonn University Egyptian Museum
Bonn University
Article on the bottle from National Geographic by Christine Dell'Amore 
Photo of Tutankhamun's waving lion bottle: Tour Egypt
Cat Cosmetic Vessel: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Links to more Perfume Bottles;
18th Dynasty perfume bottle: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Trussed ducks bottle: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Harry Burton photographs of vessels in Tutankhamun's tomb: The Griffith InstituteOxford University

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Search for Senenmut

The supposed success with finding King Hatshepsut has brought to light many new questions about the location of the mummy of her foremost courtier Senenmut. The thought that he may be among the unidentified royal mummies is intriguing. Though the finding of Hatshepsut was made by the presence of a tooth there is still a lot of faith being placed in DNA perhaps not with mummified tissue but with bone or teeth.

Fortune has played its hand with the discovery of the intact tomb of Hatnofer and Ramose in the courtyard of their son Senenmut's prominent tomb at Sheik Abd el Qurna, TT71. Senenmut's tomb was explored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition in 1936 with the prize being the smashed brown quartzite sarcophagus which because it was unfinished has led some to believe that it was never used by Senenmut.


Though if it was used by Senenmut hopefully his mummy was not in it at the time of its thorough destruction. The DNA of Hatnofer and Ramose may well identify their son out of the unknown royal mummies if his mummy has been found though the chances of discovery of this individual is very remote

As it happens Senenmut's father Ramose was a skeleton when found and was probably not mummified while his mother was mummified but since excavation has become mostly a skeleton as well. This is good as little damage will occur to their remains for DNA tests to find their famous son.

Among the male mummy's from the cache tombs DB 320 and KV 35 that appear not to be a direct family member of the Thutmoside king's families. Perhaps the best choice must be the mummy in the coffin inscribed for Nibsoni and known as "Unknown man C". Described in his 1912 "Mummies Royal" G. E. Smith refers to the mummy as "tall, vigorous man","must have seemed a very giant amongst them, and is hardly likely to have sprung from such puny stock".


Mr. Smith makes this statement in reference to the XVIII Dynasty king's found in the cache with our unknown man "C". He say's little more about this mummy other than the mummy had been riffled in modern times before the official discovery of the tomb. Unfortunately, the research on this individual is sparse though Mr. Smith believed the mummy's arm position suggests he dates before Thutmosis II.

A contender from around the correct period of the early Thutmoside king's including the reign of Hatshepsut. A couple thoughts have come to me in that the king's cache tomb DB 320 held a box with the name of Hatshepsut though the body of that king was not found in that cache. The box seems to be all that was collected from its find-spot unless it was found, and came into DB 320 with one of the mummies found there.


It has come to my notice that many if not most of Senenmut's statues are in good condition suggesting that he and his statues did not face a thorough damnatio memoriae after death, and that might make the smashed sarcophagus an anomaly that could have occurred hundreds or even thousands of years after Senenmut's passing.

From the king's cache at Deir el-Bahari was found the small box that contained the tooth belonging to the mummy identified as Hatshepsut found in Valley of the Kings tomb KV 60. Somehow the box became separate from Hatshepsut's burial. Hard to believe that the reburial commission would take the box and leave the kings mummy behind. There has to be the thought that her mummy was already gone by the time the reburial commission entered whichever tomb the box was found in. Perhaps removed by Thutmosis III, Hatshepsut's successor.

Senenmut had two choices for his burial including a tomb inside the Hatshepsut quarry near her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari. The tomb, when found by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's excavations was completely empty. It suggests that he was buried in his extremely prominent hilltop tomb at Sheik Abd el-Qurna where the smashed sarcophagus was found, and where his parents were buried.

Still, he may have died before Hatshepsut and been buried in her tomb. Thutmosis III or his successors may have removed the queen to KV 60 and left Senenmut and the box still in the tomb when found by the reburial commission, and as such both mummy and box may have ended up together in tomb DB 320.


Notes:
The Mummies Royal
Photo of Sarcophagus: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo of Senenmut statue in the Brooklyn Museum by Keith Schengili-Roberts
The Royal Mummies, G.E. Smith
Senenmut TT7

Friday, January 27, 2017

Royal Egyptian Box in Scotland


     "A result like that which it exhibited when I gained an entrance, if not altogether unexpected, could not be otherwise than vexatious." (1)

This luxurious wooden and ivory perfume box belongs to Scotland's National Museums and was found in a box containing unidentified objects collected by the late archaeologists Alexander Henry Rhind in the National Museum of Antiquities in the late 19th century. It has been speculated that the tomb which it was excavated contained the mummies of the daughters of King Thutmosis IV found by Mr. Rhind while excavating at Thebes in about 1857.

Where exactly the smashed box bearing the name of the father of Thutmosis IV, King Amenhotep II, was found is not clear, however, the late great Egyptologists Cyril Aldred suggested it was among the finds from the tomb that contained the destroyed burial of the princesses. The tomb contained mummies, fragments of tattered cloth, and a number of crude wooden mummy tags. These tags were at one time attached to the destroyed mummies to keep their names with the bodies during processing and burial in ancient times.

     "The floors were strewn with bones, torn bandages, fragments-but these not numerous-of mummy-boxes, and (in the lower chamber) with mummies themselves, their wrappings ripped up along the throat and breast. A careful search, which I caused to be made among the debris, only produced fourteen small tablets made of thin wood, about two inches and a half long by two broad, and rounded at the top, each pierced with a hole for the purpose of attaching it to the body."(2)

In his 1862 publication, Thebes; its Tombs and Their Tenants, Mr. Rhind is assisted by the eminent Samuel Birch in the translation of the tags some of which I present here.

     "No. 1. The Princess Neferu amen. No.2. The Princess Han en annu. No.3. The Princess Ptah meri, or Meri en ptah. No. 4. The Princess Uai. No.5. The Princess Sat [en] Hara. No.6. The Princess Pet pui. No.7. The Princess Pet pui surname Ta ...en aui. No.8. The Princess Pet aha, of the sun, placer of the world [Thutmosis III.]. No.9. In the year 27 the 11th day of the month Pharmuthi, the Princess Neb tu aa, daughter of the Princess Sat [en] atum. No.10. The Princess Ta enti of the sun, the placer of creation, of the house of the royal family who are after her (or behind her)"(3)

It is unlikely that the exact find spot will ever be identified even though Mr. Rhind was decades ahead of fellow archaeologists in his recording of his excavations. The box is of royal craftsmanship from the late 15th century or early 14th century BC.

Notes:
Photo; National Museums Scotland 

1. Alexander Henry Rhind: Thebes; its Tombs and Their Tenants, pg 87
2. pg 84
3. pg 85

News from Art Daily on recent findings of other pieces of the Amenhotep II box.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Vintage Find: Intact 2nd Dynasty Burial


I recently found this old article from eight years ago on what I believe was the last time an intact 2nd Dynasty burial was found in Egypt. The article comes with some fantastic pictures of the discovery.

Notes:

Photo and Article: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sed Festival Block of Akhenaten in the Fitzwilliam


This talatat block features king Akhenaten in two complete scenes including on the left side of the face a crudely carved scene of the king beneath the rays of the Aten. These rays terminate in open hands above the scene of the king before an altar making offerings while wearing the white crown with his arms raised in exaltation.

The second larger scene on the right side of the talatat face is slightly better executed and features the king in Sed festival robes beneath the rays of the Aten which terminate in hands holding alternating ankh signs and was scepters while a row of three attendants is bent over in the background adoring the king. The king strides forward holding his flail and scepter out from his body while the attendants are faced the same direction.

The scene is surrounded by cartouches and hieroglyphic inscriptions with one cartouche behind the king and two large cartouches in front with the lower half of two more beside each other to the extreme right of the block. The clumsy hieroglyphic inscription tells us the Aten titulary and a place name "Jubilation in the horizon [or seat] of the Aten"*.

The hieroglyphs tell also that the attendant behind the king is his chief prophet carrying his sandals. The attendant in front of the king is his lector priest holding a papyrus roll and the third attendant is in front of the lector priest but only the back of his leg remains of this figure. From here on the face of the block has been destroyed.

Why would the central focus of the block be complete in the manner of a lesser scenic block instead of it displays one of the most important events in Akhenaten's life? The Sed Festival was important political propaganda and worthy of notice on the walls of his monuments and for an entire Sed festival scene to appear on a single block leads me to ask what the surrounding blocks contained that the king needed to be kept small within his own monument?

Other talatats generally contain only fragments of the royal family as they are of course depicted far larger than their subjects who themselves regularly occupy two or more bricks but the Fitzwilliam piece is far different in conception.

The block is pleasing to look at with the benefit of the contents being of great importance in king Akhenaten's reign, the block being forgivingly damaged where it was probably least important. How would you mount this on a temple wall or even a shrine so as to be set out from the other blocks in the construction?

Certainly, the two cartouches on the far right of which only the bottom of the cartouches is present on the block allude to a block above as do the rays of the Aten in both scenes but that would have left the solar disk of the Aten at the bottom of those blocks.

The damage to the right side of the block makes this illusion that there was a block there unknown. Nothing about the bottom of the block says that there was any connection with a block below and the same is true of the left side which appears to be independent of a block next to it.

But at the same time, it may well be an artists draft to be followed by the artists at the monument if so one would wonder about the misshapen crown and it would be doubtful that this artist would have been in charge of decoration for a larger much more expensive monument.

Though the talatat wall in the Luxor museum from the Gem Pa-Aten displays king Akhenaten 2.5 talatats high with the Aten at the bottom of the above block below the floor line of that block, these blocks are far more central to an overall program of temple decoration and much more finely executed. While a talatat found recently at Sheikh 'Ibada is merely the head and neck of a king's wife from a much larger and dominate scene.*

The other thought is that the block maybe by an artist copying a larger monument on to the talatat as practice but this would seem to be in mistake too as the preciousness of a cut block of stone to be used by an amateur seems unlikely. An important scene in a monument of which would have been hard to discern from surrounding blocks causes me problems and makes me feel the block that has no provenance may well be a forgery perhaps created from a backing cut off another talatat and used to create the Fitzwilliam block?

Let's take the case of the famous forger of Egyptian art Oxan Aslanian who specialized in the art of the Amarna period. While in Egypt between 1900 and 1914 Mr. Aslanian was carving pieces in the style of the Old Kingdom until he moved to Germany where in the 1920's he became inspired by Amarna Period art.

Unlikely the master of Berlin creating fake Amarna pieces in Germany in the 1920's would then send them to Egypt to sell but the possibilities that an early experiment in his art while still living in Egypt may have been some Amarna pieces including the Fitzwilliam piece.

Artists rarely begin at the styles they become known for this is more often than not the result of years of experimentation and the late Mr.Aslanian would have been no different. Unfortunate that Major Gayer-Anderson did not provide anything on the Fitzwilliam's blocks provenance and though not considered to be in the regular style of Mr. Aslanian it's conception is greater than the hand that carved it, a master forger may have been at work on the block.

The idea that the block was created between 1900 and 1914 by Mr. Aslanian is a stretch I realize however master artists are very rare with only a few in each generation especially when they are in the right place. I recently viewed a number of pieces displayed on the Mansoor Collection of Amarna Art website. These soulless pieces are in doubt whether authentic or not, they are however not the work of a master but of a lesser artist who lacks imagination and has only copied other well-known pieces.

The creativity in the Fitzwilliam talatat is clearly above the talents of the Mansoor artist. Furthermore, there are a number of other pieces in the Fitzwilliam that have come from the Gayer-Anderson collection including E.G.A.3077.1943, a block with a man's head which appears the face was carved after the block was broken.

Let's hope further research may someday clear up the lost history of the Fitzwilliam's talatat but whichever way it goes the "Jubilee Scene" 2300.1943 is a wonderful and important work of art.

Notes:

Photo of block: The Fitzwilliam Museum
  • *1 Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Cyril Aldred pg.97

Oxan Aslanian: The Shifting Values of Authenticity and Fakes

The Mansoor Amarna collection: