Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Hope that 2009 was not too horrible and that 2010 will be an improvement. The good thing is as you get older the years go by faster and that's good. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Artifacts from the (DOG) excavations of Tell el Amarna

The 1912-1913 excavations on behalf of the German Oriental Society (DOG) at tell el Amarna brought to light a large collection of plaster masks and royal stone sculptures. The artist studio in which the sculpture were found was that of royal sculptor Thutmosis.

The most famous of the pieces is the limestone bust of Nefertiti in the Neues museum in Berlin unfortunately the bust is at the center of a battle to prove that it was removed from Egypt by an act of fraud on behalf of its excavator Ludwig Borchardt. Almost certainly the official on behalf of the Egyptian antiquities authority Gustave Lefevre did not do his job well, to say the least.

So what is the next step, which are the courts to deal with this situation? Are there world courts to resolve this matter or is this a job of UNESCO to decide the merits of this case?

The thought however must sooner or later be faced, particularly by the German officials, that if the bust of Nefertiti is found to have been obtained through fraudulent behaviour than the rest of the German acquisitions from the division of finds for 1912-13 are also acquisitions by fraud and the whole accession of that year need be returned to be re evaluated by the Egyptian Supreme council of antiquities.

The final decision may damage substantially the Neues museums Amarna collection but it is going to take more than the firm words of Dr. Zahi Hawass to do it. Since the meeting last week with Friederike Seyfried, director of the Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammiung in Berlin Dr. Hawass' case for the return of the bust has been acknowledged by the German's in charge of this matter.

I might suppose that after almost 100 years that if they found a note from Bouchardt saying " I stole this" that it would have little legal effect on today's situation. I would imagine for bureaucracy's sake there must be statutes of limitations in both countries.

At this point I am unaware from a legal standpoint whether Dr. Hawass and the Supreme council of antiquities really have any case for the return of Nefertiti regardless of what the old documents say.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Ten Most Important Egyptian Objects Outside Egypt

This is a list of the most important Egyptian artifacts not the property of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Though there are certainly more contenders for the list including perhaps the gold headdress of a wife of Thutmosis III in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Norbert Schimmel talatats from that same institution.

1. Rosetta Stone (EA 24) - Discovered in the foundations of a fort at Rosetta by Napoleon's men in 1798 the stone was handed over to the British in the treaty of Alexandria in 1801. The stone was given to King George III who in turn donated it to the British Museum.

2. Calcite Sarcophagus of Seti I - Collected by Giovanni Belzoni the sarcophagus was rejected by Trustees of the British Museum, and ended up as the star attraction in the Soane Museum, London.

3. Silver cult Statue of Horus the Elder - Discovered in an antiques shop by Howard Carter in April of 1922 the 36.6 pound solid silver statue was probably the very statue used in temple ceremonies, and at that a sole survivor from ancient Egypt. The statue is now in the Miho Museum Shigaraki, Japan. Unknown case for repatriation to Egypt.

4. Limestone bust of Nefertiti - Discovered by archaeologists at Tel el Amarna in December of 1912 its acquisition for Berlin through division of finds is perhaps the most controversial decision made by representatives of Egypt's antiquity authorities. The bust is currently in Berlin's Neues Museum. A case for repatriation to Egypt.

5. The Sarcophagus of Ramses III (Louvre D1=N337), its lid in the Fitzwilliam (E.1.1823). The box was collected by showman Giovanni Belzoni in 1816 for the collection of British Consul-General Henry Salt, and was acquired for the collection of the Louvre in the early 1820's.

6. Sarcophagus of Nectanebo II (EA 10) - Discovered being used as a ritual bath in the courtyard of a mosque by Napoleon's men, it was transferred to the British in the treaty of Alexandria in 1801. The sarcophagus is at present in the British museum.

7. Walls from the hall of beauties, tomb of Seti I - Sawed from the walls of Seti's tomb in the Valley of Kings by the Champollion and Rosselini expedition of the late 1820's. The doorjambs are respectively in the Louvre and Turin Museums.

8. The Denderah Zodiac - The zodiac is from the little temple on the roof of the temple of Hathor at Denderah. The temple was badly damaged by the zodiacs removal in 1820 and is now in the Louvre.

9. Bronze bust of middle kingdom pharaoh Amenemhet III - A collection of Middle kKngdom bronzes came to light some years ago with the best pieces including the bust of the king ending up in the George Ortiz collection in Switzerland as provenance unknown. A case for repatriation to Egypt.

10. The Berlin green head - Truly a great masterpiece of portrait sculpture in the round, unfortunately the Berlin head has no notable provenance, the piece being given to the museum by benefactor James Simon. Unknown case for repatriation to Egypt.

Friday, December 25, 2009

An Act of Deceit

After this past weeks meeting between Friederike Seyfried, director of the Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammiung in Berlin and Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities the negotiations for the return of the bust of Nefertiti have moved onto the next stage of transfer of the iconic bust to Cairo.

The documents director Seyfried presented to Dr. Hawass appear to show deceit on the part of the excavator Ludwig Borchardt "did act unethically with intent to deceive in order to keep the bust in the German share".

Dr. Hawass goes on "It seems that there was an agreement between Borchardt and Lefèvre that all the plaster pieces (which included an important group of plaster masks of the royal family at Amarna), would go to Berlin, and this appears to have been one way that Borchardt misled Lefèvre to ensure that the bust would go to Berlin as well,"

This is to be expected from the Egyptian point of view but time will tell if the German officials can be talked out of their biggest star!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday's

May I extend the best wishes to my viewers and their families that this holiday is a remarkable and joyous season for all.

God Bless.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tomb of Tetiky TT15

The violation which has occurred to the tomb of Tetiky in the Theban necropolis in the last few decades has left the tomb damaged perhaps beyond repair. Though the Louvre has had to return the 5 frescoes that were hacked out of the tombs walls Dr Hawass feels the tomb may be too badly damaged for their return.

The Louvre must be at least pleased that their expedition at Saqqara is being allowed to resume but a historic monument remains damaged. Certainly the frescoes had a chain of ownership before they were acquired by the French museum?

Somebody damaged the monument and somebody purchased the 5 frescoes smuggling them out of Egypt. Who was the guard of that part of the necropolis at the time? How often do inspectors from the Supreme Council of Antiquities visit closed tombs in the Theban necropolis? Are they monitored electronically or just occasionally visited by a guard?

Perhaps one of the benefits of this event should be a reevaluation of the activities of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and its policies on security of its monuments in the Theban Necropolis.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nefertiti on the Table

Dr. Zahi Hawass and his German counterpart Dr. Friederike Seyfried, Director of the Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung have met to discuss the legitimacy of Berlin's ownership of the famous bust of Nefertiti. The documents show that the busts excavator Ludwig Borchardt presented it to the antiquities service representative as plaster not limestone.

That being said however the Egyptian antiquities service representative Gustave Lefevre was supposed to examine all the finds from the dig which he apparently did not do.

Dr. Friederike Seyfried does not have the right to hand over the bust, he is acting as a liaison between Egyptian authorities and Dr. Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Bernd Neumann, Minister of State for Culture.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Restoring a Kings Monument

This is a very good article on the restoration of the mud brick monument belonging to the second dynasty king Khasekhemwy at Abydos. The most outstanding monument of this antique age.

More from Dr. Hawass

Recently Dr. Zahi Hawass' wish list of objects he wants back in Egypt has grown by one more item, that being the important statue of Ramses II in in the Museo Egizio in Turin.

In this interview with Dr. Hawass he tells his usual give us back the Rosetta stone and the other stuff too but first and foremost the stone.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Raising a Pylon

I do not know what to make of this article perhaps this is a second pylon but an identical pylon was raised a couple of years ago and this looks like it .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Not a Loan

This article is on the Rosetta stone and Egypt's Secretary general of the Supreme counsel of antiquities desire to have it back not as a loan but permanent. In recent weeks Dr. Zahi Hawass has become less diplomatic with not only the British museum but also Berlin's Neues museum over a bust of an Amarna queen and the Louvre over frescoes now returned, though Dr. Hawass still expects the Louvre to give back to Egypt the Denderah Zodiac.

Interesting in the article was the mention that the good doctor also wants the statue of Ramses II in the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy. A statue Dr. Hawass said himself he did not appreciate that was until the museum installed new lighting.

Dr. Hawass has long been known for the chip on his shoulder against Egypt's former colonial overlords, as a result his wrath is directed at the benefactors of those powers including the Louvre and the British museum. Berlin only comes into the game since the bust of the queen has been stolen in his mind and maybe so.

In Dr. Hawass' favour it must be said that he has been asking for these to be loaned to Egypt for more than five years with only the loan of the statue of Hemiunu otherwise the rest of the asked institutions have basically ignored his requests.

Unfortunately over the last five years Dr. Hawass' intentions have become most clear particularly with Berlin's bust. Such a threatening environment created by the doctor may have left other institutions wondering how you can lend an object in good faith to someone who believes you stole it from them?

Frescoes Returned

Here is a nice picture of one of the frescoes taken from the 3200 year old tomb of Tetiky in the Theban necropolis. Egypt's Supreme council of antiquities had recently cut off the Louvre's concessions in Egypt over the frescoes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Cash Register in the Desert

"Even though we had allowed people to take pictures in the Valley, people continued to bribe the guards and take cameras into the tombs and use flash."
                                                                                           Dr. Zahi Hawass

I would be curious to know what exactly does a guard make working in the Valley of Kings? People who make a decent living will respect their jobs and be better employees. That being said the root of the problem is the infection known as tourists who bring their manners, whatever that's worth, and a pocket full of cash.

A thousand U.S. dollars to a guard in the Valley of Kings will get me what special treatment? Is this a lot of money to a guard in the valley? Is $5000 enough for me to take pictures in the tomb of Seti I or would it be cheaper on an official level?

Three thousand dollars gets me into Nefertari's tomb in the Valley of Queens but can I take pictures or is that extra? The problem of bribery of the guards is the history of the Valley of Kings in a nutshell. The pharaohs knew this as did the priests of the necropolis and nothing has changed.

The best that can be expected would be for clear guidelines being handed out in a booklet to every tourist who enters Egypt, proper pay to the employees of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and tourists behaving properly.

Okay, so it's hopeless the rich will still visit the Valley of Kings while the once in a life timers will be herded into the faux valley where there will be no point to bribe a guard and they will all wear hats that say "Disney" with cobras on the front of them !

The Courtiers of Khufu and Khafra

These 30 odd Old Kingdom reserve heads as they are known appear to be funerary in nature. Nearly all are carved out of white limestone but at least one is made from Nile mud.

Many appear to be actual portraits while some are too idealized to be portraits of the tomb owners in which all the heads were found. Harvard Egyptologist Dr. George Reisner found most of the heads in tombs from the Fourth Dynasty at Giza relating to courtiers of Pharaoh's Khufu and Khafre. One was found by Jacques de Morgan in 1894 at Saqqara.

One of the heads was undisturbed since the day of burial and was found in the burial chamber next to the sarcophagus. The other heads were found scattered around the tombs and in their shafts discarded by ancient robbers.

One of the heads which came from Giza tomb G4940B and now in the Boston Museum of Fine Art's has a heavily plastered attachment to its face and holes indicating the ears were in another material. Some have suggested the heads were created as molds for funerary masks.

The heads show that the royal court of this dynasty contained members of a number of races. The practice of mummification at this period was not perfected and these heads may be an early form of Kha statue for this nearly three dozen courtiers of the Fourth Dynasty.

Where did these reserve heads come out of and why did they not integrate into the conventions of Egyptian funerary sculpture? What had been the need for limestone heads with their features in plaster? Could it have been part of the death rituals, the act of coating the limestone head and modelling its features may have evolved in the Fifth Dynasty to the coating of the human mummy with the same modelling represented in the reserve heads? That a mummy like Nefer/Watay in the Fifth Dynasty which is sculpted out of plaster could be the descendants of these heads in the Fifth Dynasty with the mummies being far rarer than the preceding reserve heads.

The heads are unlike the seradab statues of the same dynasty which feature individual Egyptians in full frontal poses from head to toe with their families. Many of these much more elaborate constructions are for people of much lower status than those represented by the 30 odd reserve heads who are the prince's and princess's and their partners of the king's court.

The head of Princess Merytyetes bears a distinct dignity her head slightly upturned bearing her royal constitution while her husband's head which is better preserved does not possess her haughty disposition but rather a calming smile. Many like the royal couple just mentioned are wearing skull caps like that worn by the god Ptah while some are bald.

The heads may have led to the development of plaster mummies in the middle of the Old Kingdom with limited success and the Fouth Dynasty convention of reserve heads became obsolete.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Five Books That Will Make Great Gifts

If you have an Egyptophile on your gift list and you do not know what to get them here are 5 books well worth reading.

1. The Secret of the Great Pyramid by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin

Though more than 4500 years old the authors convincingly read the intentions of the pyramids architect Hemiunu making the theory on its building a real possibility.

No doubt this story will have legs for years to come hopefully someday real proof will prove whether the theory was right or not but for now this book is an excellent read on the building of the great pyramid.

2. The Complete Valley of Kings by Nicholas Reeves and Richard H. Wilkinson

The facts of the book are excellent and there are many images I have not seen before including the objects from the foundation deposits in front of the tomb of Amenhotep III.

I thought the book was a delight of details of importance to the average reader like myself who loves everything I can find on the valley of Kings and will be referencing its many charts and details for years to come.

3. The Royal Tombs of Egypt by Zahi Hawass

This is certainly the most beautiful of books on my list but it is a large and heavy coffee table book making it difficult to read. Dr. Hawass places very helpful descriptions of the texts that of the "Amduat" and "the book of gates" as well as other sacred books which were drawn on the walls of the kings tombs from the valley of kings.

The price tag, the size and the subject matter make this excellent book much more appealing to a mature reader than a younger one. I will happily now use this lovely book for years to come as solid reference material.

4. Ancient Lives by John Romer

This book is written from the thousands of unique documents that survive from the ancient community of Deir El Medinah, the builders of the tombs in the Valley of Kings. The story is crafted to reveal a community of privilege who's members are at once orderly and human, highly respected and high spirited.

Truly "Ancient lives" is John Romer's masterpiece and one of the finest compositions I have read.

5. The Search for Nefertiti by Joann Fletcher

Ms. Fletcher's charms are apparent right from the start of this 380 page book and it is not long before the book heats up and starts becoming fascinating. The authors knowledge on mummies is well justified from her research and intelligent view.

Whether the mummy in question is Nefertiti is still up to dispute but the book itself is a good read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Egyptology or mummies.

A Century in Egypt

Very good article on the contributions of Hungarian expeditions in Egypt over the last century.

Tut's Tomb

Number 4 out of 4 video's from Dr. Hawass on the robbing of Tutankhamen's tomb.

Friday, December 11, 2009


During Egypt's President Mubarak's visit to France he will collect 5 fragments of tomb frescoes stolen from a tomb in the Theban necropolis. The issue of the fragments of tomb paintings have found the Louvre's expedition in Egypt recently cancelled by Egypt's Supreme council of antiquities.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2009 in Review

1. In 2009 the battle to retrieve the bust of the Amarna queen (Nefertiti?) in the Neues museum heated up and appears to be Dr. Zahi Hawass' top of his want back list.

"I really want it back," he told the Egyptian Parliament. "If Germany refuses the loan request, we will never again organize exhibitions of antiquities in Germany ... it will be a scientific war."

Though some would have you believe the bust is a fake.

2. During the course of 2009 Dr. Hawass has been digging up tombs at Saqqara and clearing the valley of kings with little success in the Valley of kings.

3. With some embarrassment the Louvre was forced to hand back stolen fresco pieces after the Egypt's Supreme council of antiquities cut off the Louvre's expeditions.

4. Berlin's Neues museum after a 70 years closure has been restored from its bomb damage in WWII with its Egyptian collection returned and the Neues reopened. While the British museum completed its restoration of the Nebamun chapel.

5. Twin brother made claims on finding Cambyses' lost army of 50 000 with very little proof and no permission to excavate and then there were those caves under the Giza plateau.

6. Perhaps the most visited tomb in the world the tomb of Tutankhamen in the valley of kings may be closed and a replica built for tourists to visit.

7. An extremely important intact 2nd dynasty burial was found earlier this year and all the talk in January was the mother of the old kingdom pharaoh Teti.

8. A study on heart disease concerns 20 mummies from the Cairo museum from various periods in a study of hereditary heart disease. The mummies are from the upper classes of ancient Egyptian society and in at least 9 cases were found to have suffered from arteriosclerosis.

9. There has been a belief in some that the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is close to being found at a temple at Taposiris Magna.

10. Last but not least are a bunch of mummies who over the year had dates with machines and a couple of times he became a she or vice versa. Images of the Oriental institutes Meresamun are outstanding and Beautiful mummies were discovered at Illahun.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Keeping Records

An article on recording Egypt's religious literature carved on the walls of its temples from the University of Tübingen.

Mummies with a Heart

This article concerns 20 mummies from the Cairo museum from various periods in a study of hereditary heart disease. The mummies are from the upper classes of ancient Egyptian society and in at least 9 cases were found to have suffered from arteriosclerosis.

One of the worst cases was found in the beautifully preserved mummy of the lady Rai, a courtier from the court of Amenhotep I.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holes in Egypt's National Collection

Here we go again with another attempt by Dr. Zahi Hawass to have the Rosetta stone, the bust of an unknown Amarna queen in Berlin and other artifacts to be returned to Egypt. Greece and Italy are up to the same thing with their own desire to re acquire cultural objects that have long left their country of origin. Though Egypt is the most aggressive at this game with Dr. Hawass being the pit bull for the cause.

The Rosetta stone in antiquity was a relatively unimportant document its fame has come to it in modern times in which European intellectuals used it to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphic script. It is unlikely the stone will ever be displayed in the Egyptian national museum at least if the current environment prevails.

There is something however to be said for the bust of the unknown queen currently in Berlin's Neues museum the provenance of which appears shaky but still favours Berlin only because the Egyptian antiquities authority representative gave the bust to the Germans in a division of finds.

The Bust held in Boston of the fourth dynasty prince Ankh haf has been suggested by Dr. Hawass should also be returned though Boston's bust was given in a fair division of finds even though it was realised that the Egyptian national collection did not possess such an object.

So here we have just 3 objects of the thousands the fine doctor would like returned and in these three objects we find an object (the bust of the queen in Berlin) that probably has a reasonable case for return. A second object(the Rosetta stone) who's modern provenance is very strong and without any legal case to be made for its return.

Still in the last object (Boston's bust) it is perhaps an insult to want back what was given as a sign of respect for the excellent excavation of the tomb of queen Hetepheres. These last circumstances can only water down the point of repatriation of stolen antiquities.

Certainly there is an issue as in the case of the fresco pieces returned from the Louvre recently as their provenance was clearly one of modern theft. A conference that does not start with a refined presentation which include objects that like the Berlin bust and objects that have left their countries of origin after the laws were in place is doomed to be a meaningless publicity stunt.

If countries like Egypt, Greece and Italy truly want to recover stolen history they need to realise that artifacts like the Elgin marbles, the Rosetta stone and the bust of Ankh haf are not part of the issue and can only act as an irritant to the repatriation of questionable objects.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Search in Secret Egypt

Paul Brunton
E.P. Dutton & Co. INC
New York
ISBN-10: 0943914981

This 1936 book is one of those which has become a classic I have to say that I started to read it a few years ago however I stopped because the author Paul Brunton kept talking about Atlantis so I shied away till know.

So here I have reapproached this book in a different light and must say that I am enjoying the first few chapters. The list of characters who put on displays of mysticism or chicanery for the author is a colorful bunch who perform a series of trivial and unnecessary talents.

You never know when you will need to stick hatpins in your face to entertain guests or sacrifice the neighbors pet with your mind, very useful indeed! The book interestingly goes on to an interview on Islam with an Egyptian cleric who gives answers to common misconceptions of the faith.

The author then goes into a comparative study of Islam, Christianity and other faiths which have taken me on a journey I did not see coming. The authors words are well placed in a story that deals with the mystical world without challenging the reader into believing anything other than toleration of different faiths including the often misunderstood deities of Pharaonic Egypt.

Mr. Brunton visits and amply describes beautiful mosques and ancient temples who's walls are covered with images of ancient Pharaohs making offerings to animal-headed gods. At the temple of Denderah the author heads to the roof to see the famous zodiac, the original now in the Louvre and in it finds tens of thousands of years in its conception. Then again are the authors "Atlantian's" who he credits for the original seed of this zodiac even claiming the starting date of the alignment of the zodiac was 90 000 years old.

Mr. Brunton visits the ruins of Karnak and appears to misinterpret a scene on its walls to fit his beliefs but his night descriptions of the complex at Karnak are challenging and fascinating.

The author visits a well-known snake charmer who is responsible for keeping the village clear of snakes particularly the deadly ones including cobras with the author himself being taught the art of the snake charmer and becoming though reluctantly a charmer himself.

The book ends with a message from an Adept(holy man) warning about the opening of ancient tombs and the wrath the spirits who are released from the tomb may have on modern society and modern man.

Mr. Brunton was an obviously colorful character who held a lot of ideas I might otherwise consider to be wacky but I finished this book with a respect for its eloquent author and his eccentric views.

I have felt that this was indeed a very interesting search in secret Egypt.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mummy Studies

This is a fine article on the suffering and death of ancient Egyptian mummies. The accompanying video is excellent with Dr. Rosalie David.

King Tut's Stuff

Here we have the third in a series of four video's on Tutankhamen by Dr. Zahi Hawass

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cambyses Ghost Army

This article is of particular interest on the reports that Herodotus wrote down that the Persian king Cambyses sent an army to the Siwa oasis to punish the priests who refused to legitimize his rule.

Recently with the help of Discovery twin brothers announced they had found Cambyses' 50 000 strong army which had been buried alive in a sand storm. The article talks about Herodotus being the only historian to make this and other big claims about events in Cambyses' reign.

In the photos presented by Discovery and the brothers is a pile of bones in which I was able to identify 17 skulls just a few short of 50 000. Egypt's Dr. Zahi Hawass disputes this claim and has informed necessary security authorities.