Thursday, October 27, 2011

Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt

Nigel Strudwick
The British Museum Press
ISBN-10:  0-7141-1972-5

Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt opens with a standard run through of ancient Egyptian history through to the Arab conquest of 642 AD, with a particularly informative inclusion of the history of the Kingdom of Kush to Egypt's south. The author includes an explanation of how the British Museum acquired its collection and the provenances of the pieces.

Mr. Strudwick begins with the collections earliest pieces from the Predynastic and earliest dynasties including the small ivory statuette of a king (EA 37996), perhaps Dynasty I found by Flinders Petrie in the ruins of an early temple at Abydos. The picture cannot do justice to this little piece as I found when I last stood in front of it in 2004 and for me a favorite piece in the collection.

The I'st or II'nd Dynasty relief of two kings on limestone (EA 67153), is a rarely seen piece in pictures and may actually be a practice slab used be an artist to perfect his/her craft. The shame that today we can only see fragments of the first rate fresco's that once decorated the funerary chapel of Itet at Meydum.

I have always loved the Old Kingdom husband-wife statues and the limestone statue of Kaitep and Hetepheres (EA 1181), is no exception. Mr. Strudwick puts forth in his choice of an object from the First Intermediate Period the stela of Inyotef (EA1203).  When I saw this piece last I did not like it, in fact, I was unable to appreciate it but my mind has now been changed with a better understanding of a complex piece of provincialism put forward by the author.

The brewery (EA40915), from tomb 3 in the temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir el Bahri is a gem of simple  complexity containing 28 figures making bread and beer. From the island of Elephantine comes a royal stela of King Senwosret I (EA 963), ca.1940 BC of enormous importance in the Middle Kingdom collection.

Mr. Strudwick picks the colossal head of Amenemhet III (EA 1063), and I am in complete agreement an awe-inspiring head, the eyes of which give it a ghostly presence. I have always been fond of the Middle Kingdom block statues and Mr. Strudwick's choice of the block statue of Sennefer (EA 48), is a fine addition to the book.

The simple wooden mummiform figures of Qenamun (EA 56929-30), are rarely published gems from the reign of Amenhotep II in the last quarter of the fifteenth century BC.  Qenamun is the owner of Theban tomb (TT93) and was a powerful official during that king's reign. The paintings from the tomb chapel of Sebekhotep (TT63), are sophisticated and possess great merit.

This point in the book Mr. Strudwick turns to the sculpture from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III a king who's reign is viewed as an epoch of the XVIII Dynasty and possibly in Egyptian history. Clearly outside of Egypt, the British museum's collection of statuary from this king's mortuary temple is unrivaled in the world being acquired very early in the nineteenth century by men like Belzoni and counsel general Salt,s first collection in 1823.

The authors choice of Amarna period objects for the book only included three picks and though the stela of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye (EA 57399), is a wonderful piece to stand in front of as is the glass tilapia fish (EA 55193), still I found myself wanting more.

The wooden protective figures from a kings tombs in the Valley of Kings capture a fearsome presence and the feeling of what the ancient burial party would have thought of such figures though I might imagine they were in black shrines and unseen by the mourners? I was glad to see the XIX'th Dynasty unknown couple carved in limestone (EA 36), which sculptor Henry Moore liked so much and am in full agreement with him as they possess a real charm and dignity and are beautifully crafted.

While the silver cult image of Amun (EA 60006),  I make a departure from the author in the reality the photographs always seem to make this piece look impressive but that in fact besides its material of silver and gold the statuette is very cheap looking and wonky in his position. For me, it is not good enough to be the actual cult figure but more likely a votive offering of the late period?

I loved the ostrakon bearing attendance of the workmen in the Valley of Kings (EA 5634) besides being very attractive the information is of an interesting personal nature of the workers responsible for the creation of the kings tombs. The seated statue of Seti II (EA 26),  has taken a gentle journey through the millenniums it's excellent state of preservation and is impressive, the statue having been found by the famous Belzoni in the temple of Mut at Karnak in 1816.

A sketch on an ostrakon (EA 5620), said to have been found in the Valley of Kings of Ramesses IX with a prince and vizier is exquisite in detail of complexity. The author has chosen the museums XXI'rst Dynasty mummy board (EA 22542), known as the "Unlucky mummy" . Though a fine work of art of the period of 950 BC, the mummy board is enhanced further by modern fantasies.

I love that the author goes on to the British museum's oracular shabti decree (EA 16672), which may have come from the royal cache of Db320 at Thebes. Mr. Strudwick follows this with the museums Third Intermediate Period receipt for a set of shabti (EA 10800).

Fascinating is the Late Period coffin of Menkaure (EA 6647), which colonel R.W.H. Vyse found in the pyramid of that king in 1837 and of course the museums star piece "The Rosetta stone" (EA 24), is certainly on a first level importance in this collection.

The stela of Taimhotep (EA 147), is a wonderful example of autobiographical information complete with a prayer to Imhotep to bring her a son. I often complain in my reviews of Egyptian books which lack mummies this book is very different in that a good selection of mummies from the collection are represented.

The mummy portrait of an elite lady found at el-Rubayat (EA 65346),  is a work of immense beauty so much so that when I saw her in the British museum show "Eternal Egypt" she hung in a corner of a gallery while the public formed a human whirlpool in that corner of the room as everyone tried to get close as they could to her while the rest of the objects in the room remained overlooked and unappreciated including the mask of Satdjehuty (EA 29770), on this book's cover, so small.

The mysterious Merotic stela (EA 1650), is of great interest and hopefully, archaeology will one day bring it's language to life. The book ends with the fourteenth century AD iron cross removed from the body of bishop Timotheus at Qasr Ibrim (EA 71955).

 As I expected from the start that a British Museum publication by Nigel Strudwick would be good I was right the book is a great edition to any one's library with particular notice that the book is suitable to those readers 10 years to 100 years and are interested in the Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt.

Prostate Cancer in Mummy

A Ptolemaic mummy of a middle-aged man known as M1 is being studied by an international team of researchers to see what ailed the man. Through CT scanning the team has found prostate cancer would have made his life miserable for years before he died.

The findings are the oldest known case of prostate cancer in Egypt and the second oldest in the world. The mummy is part of the collection of the National Archaeological Museum in Lisbon and is one of three from the museum undergoing tests.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Catalogue of Petrie's Finds at Naukratis

The British Museum is creating an online catalogue of Sir Flinders Petrie's finds from the ancient Egyptian Greek trading post of Naukratis. Petrie excavated the city in the mid 1880's and collected more than ten thousand artifacts from the smashed remains of the city.

The online searchable database is to include artifacts from not only The British Museum's collection but also 60 museums who sponsored Petrie's excavations including The Liverpool National Museum. Sir Flinders Petrie excavated in Egypt between 1880 and sometime after 1924 in the process he changed the entire field of archaeology including establishing a corpus of pottery to date the sites he was excavating.

Photo of Sir Petrie

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stolen Fifth Dynasty Reliefs Found

Two reliefs stolen in 1986 from the Saqqara tomb of Hetepka the royal hairdresser have been discovered by police. The relief pictured contains the cartouches of the fifth dynasty kings Sahura and Neferirkare the kings which Hetepka served under while the other relief contains lines of hieroglyphs and four ducks.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Royal Mummies Hall at Gizeh?

I believe that this photograph was taken when Egypt's national collection was in the Gizeh palace after 1890 and before 1902 when the collection was again transferred to the newly built Cairo museum.

The picture appears to be taken with the 21rst dynasty high priest's family coffins in the foreground though I can only make out about a dozen possible coffins. That would represent about one in three of the mummies found in the king's cache DB320 at Deir el-Bahri.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Granville Mummy

This is the mummy and its coffin which in 1825 the mummy was subject of the first ancient Egyptian mummy autopsy by Dr. Augustus Granville. The lady Irtyersenu lived somewhere around 600bce and the mummy is reported to have been found at Thebes.

The autopsy was presented before The Royal Society of London which caused a sensation at the time. Dr Granville found during the autopsy an ovarian tumor on Irtyersenu and surmised that she had died from it. Recent study has brought up that Irtyersenu also had Tuberculosis which is what more than likely what killed her.

The coffin and remains of Irtyersenu are kept in the British Museum though I have been unable to find them on the museums site.

Image: The Royal Society

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Mummies Royal

This archaeological season is at work in Egypt but with the current political state of the country these operations seem insignificant in comparison. I decided it was time to once again to put forward G.E. Smith's classic 1912 book "The Mummies Royal".

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Archaeological Work Resumes in Upper Egypt

I laughed when I saw the title of the "Permanent Council of Antiquities", apparently it is led by whoever is the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities on any given day? Anyhoo the secretary general of such organizations has approved some foreign archaeological missions to resume work in Upper Egypt including the Polish mission at Hatshepsut's temple and the German mission to Deir El-Medina.

Photo Courtesy: Steve F-E-Cameron

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Twenty Sixth Dynasty Tomb Found

Workers digging a foundation for a house in Ain Sham have accidentally discovered a carved wall from a 26th dynasty tomb further investigation has shown that the tomb was robbed in antiquity. The antiquities authority will remove the tomb and make sure that no artifacts are present and the land will be returned to the owner.