Monday, December 31, 2012

A Year of Destiny and History

I started this year with The Egyptian Book of the Dead in my mind finding in it a document of incredible abstraction and a sense of accomplishment. In the middle of January reports that KV64 had been found in the Valley of Kings was met with mild interest even though the 21rst dynasty mummy was intact it did not measure up to the discovery of KV63. Perhaps it was the very nature of the discovery which was apparent at once while KV63 was a slow striptease as the debris was removed?

Around the same time I published, Three Old Kingdom Statuettes in the Brooklyn Museum which funny enough was better received than my "Popular Posts" widget says?I guess I added it late to the widget as the article should be in my top ten January ended at the crocodile museum at Kom Ombo which was inaugurated on the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. The end of February brought this sites biggest runner of the year in, Khufu's Ships Burn".

It is also within February that a British couple attempted to smuggle cheap trinkets and got caught in Luxor Airport, though there was some debate they were actually trying to smuggle the objects? Towards the end of March, we find thieves stealing two Kiswa (embroidered tapestry), from the Khedive Tawfiq mausoleum.

At the end of April readers of Egyptians showed enthusiasm for the review of the 1924 book "Egypt by H.H. Powers". Mr. Powers was quite a character.  The Carter Carnarvon Connection was also one of this year's biggest runners.

In the summer came theological silliness in the 1932 book "Great Pyramid Proof of God", the amusing book screamed failure right from the title though I was reading a 1960, twelfth printing of the book. Later in July the remains of a boat of the first dynasty King Den was discovered at Abu Rawash.

Most exciting from this past summer came the notes of excavator of Valley of Kings tomb KV35, the tomb of Amenhotep II which were found in Milan's Egyptology archives. Victor Loret found the tomb in 1898 and much to the delight of the Egyptology world an unknown photo of the mummy found on a boat in that tomb was discovered which potentially solved this long destroyed mummies identity, The Mummy on the Boat.

In November Dr. Miroslav Barta and the Czech Institute of Egyptology discovered at Abu Sir the tombs of officials of the Old Kingdom and oddly a fifth dynasty princess named Shert Nebty. November ended with the announcement that Valley of kings tomb KV8, the tomb of King Merenptah, was now open to the public and that the largest sarcophagus in the valley has been reconstructed from its pieces found in the tomb.

From the beginning of December the publication of  Animal tombs in the Valley of Kings has been well received and the last runner of the year for this site. The year ends off with the discovery that Pharaoh Ramesses III was probably murdered as a result of a conspiracy in his harem, long known about from surviving judicial documents of the time.

What can I say except thank you all., as the year ends Egyptians is breaking all of its records and having its best year to date!

Amenhotep's Toe

A dramatic event has taken place among the royal mummies when workers entered the royal mummy room of Cairo's museum and found that the big toe on Amenhotep II's  right foot had fallen off. No it is not a bad case of leprosy and sure maybe it is not that dramatic but it is a reality that the mummies of the pharaohs are disintegrating and we the observer will watch as time passes as heads, hands and faces collapse and fall off.

It is a reality that no one knows better than those who are responsible for organic exhibits that they cannot last forever. In the case of the mummies of the pharaohs the viewers will watch as over time each one is slowly vested with its linen wrappings back.

"On this day the high priest of Amon Re king of gods Pinudjem son of the high priest of Amon Piank commanded the overseeer of the great treasury Payneferher to repeat the burial of King Aaenre"

Docket found on mummy of Thutmosis II: Theban Royal Mummy Project

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jewels of the Pharaohs

Cyril Aldred
Ballantine Books
New York
ISBN 0-345-27819-4

How have I had this book in my collection for so many years by the late great Cyril Aldred, and yet never read it? This nicely sized book is only 128 pages including many black and white pictures but most special because of its 128 pages there are 64 full pages of colored pictures of pharaonic jewelry depicted.

Mr. Aldred opens his book with a rundown of the great caches of pharaonic jewels discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the jewels of the 17th dynasty Kings Wife Aahotep, jewels that founded Cairo's jewelry collection. From here the author is on to the materials used in ancient Egyptian jewelry, where various metals, stones, and minerals were found and the technologies employed in their use.

We are on to the goldsmiths, designers and various lapidaries and glass makers working the raw materials into shape. Mr. Aldred describes various important tombs of gold workers at Thebes, Memphis and Amarna and what their owner's positions would have entailed.

In chapter 5 Mr. Aldred delves deeper into the artisan's techniques including the effect of foreign influences upon the Egyptian craftsmen. We are being directed by Mr. Aldred to the colored pictures at the back to simplistically and effectively demonstrate his points.

For ease, I recommend two bookmarks as the colored pictures are vital to this book and you are going to want to flip to them often. Mr. Aldred's words into the forms Egyptian jewelry has taken over the ages with the excellent colored images is enlightening on the subject of ancient pharaonic royal adornments.

We are next on to the bio's of each jewel with it's known findspot, the discoverers, and even items which were stolen during excavation or before. Mr. Aldred starts off with the 1rst dynasty bracelets found on the arm recovered from the tomb of King Djer at Abydos by Flinders Petrie.

Unusual items include a gold fillet and necklace from a 4th dynasty princess at Giza and the apron of the early 12th dynasty Lady Senebtisi from Lisht. Certainly, the crowns kept in Cairo of Princess Khnumet cannot be overlooked on such a subject especially since one appears to have been made when the princess became queen.

My absolute favorite Egyptian jewel is the late 12th dynasty gold necklace of Queen Mereret found at Dashur near the pyramid of Sesosteris III. The goldsmiths of the royal court of this dynasty created in its jewels an epoch of quality workmanship to which very few pieces outside this period can measure up.

Queen Aahotep's jewels are a perfect example of this as the 17th dynasty queens ornaments are course and rude in comparison though there is one piece in her jewels that artistically rises above the rest. It is a gold scarab inlaid with lapis lazuli on a very attractive chain which was found on the queens now destroyed mummy employed as a heart scarab.

A century later the jewels of three wives of King Thutmosis III are a better lot in quality though they do not measure up to the work of the 12th dynasty goldsmiths. Still, they do poses charm with some notable pieces being the gold head cover of one of the queens as well as the only known belt for a woman surviving from ancient Egypt.

The treasure of these queens left Egypt in pieces and separated into a number of lots which were then combined with fakes. The jewels were skilfully restored by the Metropolitan Museum of New York where they are displayed today.

I am at this point struck by how the poorly preserved broad collar of King Smenkhkare found on the breast of the king's mummy in Valley of the Kings tomb KV 55 as well as many of Tutankhamun's gold pieces have tarnished and are made with low-quality gold. I cannot help but wonder if the goldsmiths were pinching the Amarna king's gold replacing some of it with lesser metals which would not have been apparent until long after burial?

The images of Tutankhamun's jewels show some very impressive works of art including plate 72 we find the rarely seen stole of the king a beauty, also within this same image is a most exquisite inlaid gold vulture on a rope. The king's earrings and studs pictured in plate 84 are also rarely published.

Mr. Aldred closes off his book with royal jewels up to Egypt's 22nd dynasty with one later exception. The book is something to be examined/savored for the comparisons of various era's workmanship is simply put forward.

Cyril Aldred has produced a book which is suitable for all ages as it is they will love the pictures but ages ten and up will feel the full effect of this fine book. Definitely "Jewels of the Pharaohs" is one of the best books I have read this year and a book I will revisit for reference in the years to come.


Pectoral of Senusret II: John Campana

Stag Circlet: Art History Spot

Queen Mereret's Jewels: Tour Egypt

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Murder of Ramesses III: Revision

Recent CT scans on the mummy of ancient Egypt's last great Pharaoh Rameses III has found evidence that the king was murdered by having his throat slit. The murder of Ramesses was long suspected from a 3000 year old document known as the harem conspiracy papyrus.

The papyrus is a court record which tells of a plot within Ramesses harem in order to put a son on the throne who was not in line to be king. These events took place as Egypt's great period of Empire was in decline with the 20th dynasty King Ramesses III being the last significant king of the New kingdom.

The papyrus tells us that one of Ramesses wives wanted her son Pentaware to take the throne over Ramesses namesake and rightful heir. She enlisted a number of officials and the aid of black magic to these ends including the making of wax figures.

The conspiracy was found out and all were put to death with the guilty royal family members involved being allowed to commit suicide. The fate of Ramesses has never been fully understood until the CT scans of the pharaohs throat recently revealed a deep cut across the neck below the larynx, a cut that almost certainly would have caused the kings immediate death.

Also present and never seen before the scientists found a eye of Horus amulet embedded in the wound. After more than 3000 years it appears that the conspiracy was successful. As a side note to the story tests have shown that a screaming mummy found with Ramesses III in 1881 and today known as unknown man "E" is in fact a son of Ramesses III and possibly the disgraced prince allowed to commit suicide Pentaware.

There are conflicting articles on this subject so I present the article from Al Ahram which appears to show a picture of the back of the mummies neck though I think it may be a CT scan of the pharaohs throat. I would think if it was on the back of the neck it would have been noticed by now?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs

Barbara Mertz
ISBN 978 0 06 125276 1

This is the second revised edition of this 1964 book by the well-respected author Barbara Mertz. This book starts out with the traditional format of the earliest cultures of Upper and Lower Egypt up to the earliest dynasties.

The author's story is well put forward with the basic highlights of the history of Egyptology, the great discoveries that today make up the science as we accept it, with of course personal variation. Into the earliest dynasties, the author confronts the mystery of why two tombs for the kings of the First Dynasty?

A question which would come up again in discoveries related to later dynasties. I found very interesting the observation of sealed Old Kingdom royal sarcophagi which when opened were empty including the sarcophagus of King Khufu's mother Hetepheres as well as the sarcophagus found by Zacharia Gnomein in the burial chamber of King Sekhemket at Saqqara.

The author retells the story of the tales told by King Khufu's three sons including the magician who folds the royal lake so that a bauble of one of kindly King Sneferu's court ladies may be retrieved. These tales also introduce the first three kings of Dynasty 5 as the sons of the sun God Re.

The author tells her tale through well-known discoveries leading up to the fall of the Old Kingdom and on into the First Intermediate Period to the kings of the Middle Kingdom. You may have noticed I have said nothing about the pictures as there is a section of colored pictures though nothing particularly unusual.

The author tells the story of the Hyksos kings and the last 17Th Dynasty princes of Thebes who rebelled against the overlords eventually saving the day for King Ahmosis I to found the 18Th Dynasty and ancient Egypt's period of empire. At this point, I have to wonder about the original version of this book.

The standard fair in front of me may have been neutralized by the revisions of the authors original work. Often the mistakes in an old book are part of its charm, the reader realizes there have been a few new discoveries since it's first publication.

In chapter 5 we find a more lively presentation on the reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III. Ms. Mertz deals well with the questions which surround the female King Hatshepsut including succession and erasure of her memory by her stepson Thutmosis III.

Ms. Mertz continues with a rundown of the kings of the 18Th Dynasty which is a good layout though again quite unremarkable in content. The author moves quickly through King's Amenhotep II, Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III on into the heresy of Amenhotep IV.

The author tells the story of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten including the erasure of the god Amen to the solar worship of the Aten by the king. The extraordinary art of the reign and it's development from the characteristic style portraiture of the kings early years and the more naturalistic style of the later years.

Ms. Mertz lays down the end of the 18Th Dynasty with the apparent disappearance of the daughters of Akhenaten by the reign of Horamheb who is believed to have married a sister of Nefertiti, though Nefertiti and her sister were not of royal blood, they were not rightful heiress' to the throne, unlike Akhenaten's daughters. We are mercifully walked through the early 19Th Dynasty including the reign of Ramesses II with all his propaganda and the acknowledgment that even before the end of his reign Egypt was in a period of decline and at the end of its empire.

The author tells us about the end of the 20Th Dynasty and the tale of Wenamon which demonstrates the loss of respect from Egypt's former conquered states of its lost empire. Certainly what may be considered one of ancient Egypt's most interesting periods must include this period of decline with the rise of the 21rst dynasty kings both with their intact tombs found by Pierre Montet at Tanis in 1939 and the pious works being done in the city of the dead by the ancient Priests of Amen, particularly it's priest-kings at Thebes.

Ms. Mertz tells a good recounting of the available knowledge of the late period and the decline of its greatness into the hands of foreign conquerors. This tale is told with the fine accuracy Ms. Mertz possesses on her subject. Unfortunately for me, I read this book a decade too late as I would have enjoyed it more as a novice on Egyptology.

I would definitely recommend this fine book for young readers or those new to the subject of ancient Egypt. Ms. Mertz strong and reliable words make "Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs" a solid standard on the subject!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Animal Tombs in the Valley of the Kings

In 1906 archaeologist Edward Ayrton discovered and excavated three tombs in Egypt's "Valley of the Kings". When he entered tomb KV 50 he found a hot low ceiling shaft tomb with one chamber and two occupants facing off with each other, a mummified yellow dog and a mummified monkey. (1) The position of the two animals appeared to be an ancient joke?

The discovery of tomb 50 was quickly followed by another nearby tomb known as KV 51. After descending the shaft Ayrton found the tombs one chamber closed from the shaft with a door made up of stones and part of a coffin lid.

Within the chamber were a number of ducks, an ibis, three monkeys, and a baboon, one of which was wearing a blue faience bead necklace. The tomb also contained a canopic mask from among the debris.

In the same year, Ayrton found near tombs KV 50 & KV 51, tomb KV 52 with its lone occupant a mummified monkey but more interesting an empty canopic chest was also present.

The three tombs if notable for their occupants were decidedly unremarkable in importance in a valley where ancient pharaohs were buried. The occupants believed to have probably been pets from the time of Amenhotep II who's tomb KV 35 was near, if not Amenhotep's own pets.

The three tombs have since been regarded as animal tombs. The question must be asked if they at one time also contained human mummies.

The empty canopic chest in KV 52 speaks that the canopic jars or packages have been removed. This leaves a real possibility that a human mummy and its internal organs were removed from this tomb with the chest and the offering,(the monkey) left behind.

Monkeys, ducks and ibis' do not make good pets! You can feed ducks and admire them but at some point, they must be recognized as part of the food chain unlike the rest of the animals found in these three tombs.

An Ibis is not a pet you can only keep it by clipping its wings or a cage. A baboon, on the other hand, is a large very strong animal and like monkeys generally become highly aggressive to control their environment as they get older and provide a threat to their owners, as pets they are duds!

These mummies are not pets! The dog found in KV 50 on the other hand, is almost certainly a member of the royal family or of one its nobles.

What is our evidence that tombs 50, 51 and 52 are animal tombs and not the remnants of human burials? The importance of location to this king is to me suggestive that human mummies probably did occupy at least one of these tombs and that the burial was found intact and removed whole minus the canopic box left in 52.

The menagerie of occupants of tomb KV 51 on hand is sacred burials including the ibis and the baboon. The ducks may be offerings to either of them or both as may be the monkey's to the baboon while the canopic mask may actually have been for one of the apes in the tomb.

The coffin lid fragment introduced at the time of the tombs robbery/recycling? If there were occupants of tombs 50 or 52 then where did their mummies go?

When found the tomb of Amenhotep II contained a number of mummies introduced into that king's tomb during the reorganization of the Valley of the Kings during the 21rst dynasty but beside Prince Webensenu most of the remaining mummies are kings and have come from such tombs. The lady found in the side room with the kings off the burial chamber may also have come out of one of those kings tombs.

I suggest that tombs KV 50 and KV 52 may sadly be the reburial tombs of members of the Amarna royal family after the return to Thebes, the three members of that family found in chamber JC off the burial chamber of tomb KV 35. This, however, I find improbable for the mummy of Tiye as the evidence points elsewhere whether in tomb KV 55 that contained the mummy of Akhenaten/ Smenkhara and artifacts belonging to Tiye or the tomb in the western valley of Tiye's husband Amenhotep III KV 22 where there were also artifacts for Tiye.

Could the boy found next to the mummy of Tiye in Amenhotep's tomb be the occupant of KV 50 or KV 52? When discovered at the end of the nineteenth century one of the boy's toes was found in another chamber in the tomb leaving the possibility that the boy has nothing to do with the ladies found lying on either side of his mummy? Could the dog and the monkey belong to this boy or is he the missing occupant of KV 52?

Could the other mummy in the same chamber known as the younger lady and now through DNA linked as being Tutankhamun's mother be the occupant of the other tomb. What power would the boy Tutankhamun have in his mother's reburial at Thebes especially if his mother had been one of the main proponents of the heresy?

In the tomb of Amenhotep II, (KV 35) there remains only the king's mummy and the two skeletons found in the well who are likely the remains of intruders into the tomb who fell into the well and were unable to escape.

The assumption that if mummies were removed from KV 50 and KV 52 they would have ended up in the cache of mummies found in tomb KV 35? I find that tomb KV 50 contained two pets of the family of Amenhotep II, the dog, and the monkey.

Because of the canopic box, I would believe that a member of the court, possibly the boy found in Amenhotep II's tomb was buried in tomb KV52 which was a simple burial that was later removed whole minus the chest and the monkey/offering? The shallow tomb would have made it easy to remove coffin and mummy from it?

A thousand possibilities exist for the purpose and history of these three tombs and their prestigious location among kings though they are unlikely to ever be anything other than animal burials during the reign of Amenhotep II.


Image of dog and monkey courtesy: Namiac

Photo of Dog: Secret of Animal Mummies in Cairo Museum

Photo: Theban Royal Mummy Project

Photo Valley of the Kings: About Facts Net

The Theban Mapping Project

Tour Egypt

(1) The complete Valley of the Kings, Nicholas Reeves & Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson 2008, ISBN 978-0-500-28403-2, Pg. 185