Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Complete Tutankhamun

Nicholas Reeves
Thames and Hudson Ltd.
ISBN-10: 0500278105

I must open with the truth, as I go through my Egyptian collection all of the unread books about Tutankhamun, (and Cleopatra), are becoming more and more dominant in the collection as books about mummies, the Valley of Kings and pyramidiots are read and removed!

This book opens with a forward by the current Earl of Carnarvon about his glamorous ancestor and his association with Howard Carter and the boy Tutankhamun. Mr. Reeves sets out the boy king's family chronology and a brief introduction into the tombs discovery.

The known history of Tutankhamun's illustrious early 18th Dynasty ancestors is presented including Thutmosis' I, II and III leading up to the height of the Egyptian empire with the boy king's grandfather "Amenhotep the magnificent". The Amarna period with its  heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten, (Tutankhamun's father), deals with the various aspects including the rise of the Aten, the art and the conflict with the priests of Amun including the erasure of the gods name from the monuments.

The reader is presented with Nefertiti and the succession of king and characters of the court during the period. A quarter century since the publication of the book and yet we know little more of Tutankhamun's parentage and about the boy king himself.

I loved the rundown of the known monuments of Tutankhamun including faience jewelry and seals bearing his name from sites in Egypt and collections around the world. Mr. Reeves is next on to the officials of Tut's reign including Nakhtmin who gave shabti's to Tutankhamun's burial.

"On a statue of the man probably carved during the reign of Ay, Nakhtmin is designated 'king's son'. If Ay had intended that Nakhtmin should succeed him, it was an ambition which Horemheb was destined to foil."

With the reign of Horemheb begins the erasure of the Amarna period kings including Tutankhamun's name from history so fortunately was the memory of his burial also forgotten. From here 3000 years pass and we are on to the search and discovery of the tomb starting with the belief by Theodore Davis that the Valley of Kings had now been exhausted of find's.

A number of Mr. Davis' discoveries are noted especially those which were related to Tutankhamun including the mortuary deposit found in Valley of Kings pit KV54, which Mr. Davis believed was the tomb of Tutankhamun, the contents of Kv54 rescued from Davis' brutal treatment of the material by New York's Herbert Winlock who realized the importance of it and brought it back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for study.

The author is on to the early career path of Howard Carter in Egypt as artist and trainee archaeologist who left Flinders Petrie unimpressed. An amusing sketch from a low point in Howard Carter's career in 1909 by fellow Inspector of Antiquities Arthur Weigal shows Carter as down and out.

Lord Carnarvon arrives in Egypt for his health and decides to excavate to pass the time finding little but a mummified cat with this Lord Carnarvon receives an introduction to Carter to help the lord in his excavations. Mr. Reeves  then presents the personal antiquities collection of Lord Carnarvon and writes about the early excavations among the royal tombs of the New Kingdom.

We are now on to the tombs discovery and the gathering of experts in different fields to aid in its cataloging, emptying as well as restoration and decipherment of the sepulchers contents. The death of Lord Carnarvon becomes a setback to the team as the lord was the team's public relations man and was very good at it unlike Howard Carter who on top of everything else had to now deal with the press which now included Arthur Weigall who had derided Carter years before.

As the situation worsens Carter and his team are locked out of the tomb by Nationalist and Carter's own arrogance, during which time the sarcophagus lid was left suspended above the sarcophagus and the pall was forgotten out in the open becoming ruined.

"Mr. Carter's agitation on discovering the condition of the precious object was intense, but he contended himself with the remark, "Well, anyway, it's your pall, not mine, and it's the only one in the world."'

Worse still Carter is informed that the Nationalists found a wood head of the king in a crate in the tomb of Ramsses XI used as the team's dining room. Mr. Reeves writes about the tombs architecture and decoration and various elements including objects found within these areas of the tomb.

Again the photos are numerous though I am impressed by the drawings of the various seals found in the tomb including a list of where they were found. The evidence of robberies in ancient times is reviewed with the possibility that there were two robberies and that one of them occurred during the reign of Horemheb.

This point the author writes about the shrines, sarcophagus, coffins, mask and mummy of the king with a number of Howard Carter's drawings of the mummy in various stages of unwrapping. Of the canopic shrine Arthur Mace to his wife:

"One thing in particular...simply knocked us all of a heap...I think it is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen anywhere...Round [the canopic shrine] were four statues of goddesses, most un-Egyptian in attitude. and beautifully modeled."

Mr Reeves writes about the chest and its contents including notice that much of this material belonged to a recent ancestor. The fetus' found in the treasury are examined and said to be the unborn children of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenanum.

Chapter V titled "Treasures of the Tomb" like the rest of the book the treasures are listed beginning with the guardian statues and moving through the tombs mysterious ritual figures and objects of magic including a list of the ritual figures and where they were found in the tomb.

I guess it is the nature of the subject that the pictures are pretty standard after all the countless publications on Tutankhamun, there cannot be much more to photograph as unseen, but I am a critic and the images will guide a person including children into a clearer view of the find.

The author is on to the 413 various shabti's found with the king including those donated by courtiers including Maya and Nakhtmin. These servant figures appear in many materials and include some wonderful examples in gilded wood.

Among the king's funerary models included 35 boats of all kinds with amazingly much of the rigging and linen sails still present. Mr. Reeves is on to the three ritual couches, two of which were put together wrong having their parts mixed up with each other.

With Tutankhamun's jewels, we find his fame and little wonder even though most of the best pieces were stolen thousands of years ago along with many of the precious linens and cosmetics. It is not often the viewer is presented with an image of the broken mirror handle as well as the lid of a lost gold box or little game sticks.

Perhaps the greatest regret of the tomb was that it lacked documents of the kings time which were bureaucratic in nature and instead only dockets of contents of boxes, baskets, jars and creation dates of objects, including of course the magical texts needed in the king's journey through the underworld on much of the funerary equipment, but no bio of the boy king and even stranger no mention of his mother, a feature most common in pharaonic burials but not to KingTutankhamun's burial?

The author presents an effective breakdown of various classes of artifacts found within the sepulcher including condition when found and anything quirky such as the black cloth covering the back of the golden throne as if to hide it. In all the main ancestors mentioned in the burial are Akhenaten and the late immediate family of the heretic including Neferneferuaten and Meritaten though a scribal pallet belonged to a pre-deceased sister, Meketaten.

It cannot go unnoticed that among Tut's Heirlooms are a few objects dated to the time of the great ancestor Thutmosis III. I guess my problem with books about the tomb of the boy king is the descriptions of large quantity of objects found which to myself feels like it keeps going on and on and on long after I have lost interest!

Thankfully at this point, I have found myself at the end and must confess I enjoyed it and consumed it quickly. I have found for ages 10 and up that if you never read a book about Tutankhamun or if you have read too many Nicholas Reeves brings to an over exposed morbid theater a worthy composition in "The Complete Tutankhamun".

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Egyptian Art

J.R. Harris
Spring Art Books
Paul Hamlyn Ltd.
ISBN: 0198219121

In the introduction, J.R Harris talks about the enthusiasm for Egyptian art brought on by the Napoleon expedition at the start of the nineteenth century. The shattering of the perception of Egyptian art being rigid and standardized next to the classical styles of Greek, Roman and Renaissance art which pervaded the mind of the time.

      "Such detachment is indeed less difficult now than it was in 1821-2 when London flocked to see Belzoni's 'curious remains of antiquity' in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, or when Mariette revealed the art of the Old Kingdom to an unsuspecting Parisian public at the great exhibition of 1867, for with the rise of the modern art movements and their deliberate rejection of traditional concepts the tyranny of 'photographic' representationalism  has been broken, and much of the prejudice attached to art which is formalized or intellectual has been dissipated."

The development of the art of ancient Egypt from the prehistoric to the Ptolemaic and on including the trend to the most naturalistic style of the second half of the 14th century B.C. in the Amarna period. The author presents us with 4 pages of black and white pictures, interesting as about half of them are unfinished including a part of a wall in the tomb of Horemheb in the Valley of Kings.

The tools used and the set standards used by professional artists over time to create for the wealthy clients and kings of their days. The subjects chosen change and the materials used and are more or less based on the permanence of granite or the fine glow of alabaster, whether the client is decorating his tomb should he have a good life and his worthy deeds recorded or his service to the king.

Mr. Harris is on to a section of notes about the previous black and white pictures and drawings that accompanied the text. This section is immediately followed by descriptions of the color plates at the end of the book.

The off color pictures occupying whole pages are pretty standard choices though I did like the picture of the painted statue of Methethy and the relief of Hathor from the temple of Seti I at Abydos. In this book,  J.R. Harris has put forth a simple yet insightful read.

Considering that half of the book was just pictures it made for a quick and easy read suitable for 10 years and up, the book, a worthy read about Egyptian Art.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Unwrapping a Mummy

John H. Taylor
University of Texas Press
ISBN: 0-292-78141-5

In the winter of 1904-05 Edouard Naville on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund was excavating the Eleventh Dynasty temple of King Mentuhotep II against the limestone cliffs of Deir el-Bahri, when his team discovered the burials within the temple of four wives of Mentuhotep. The tombs constructed early on in the building of the temple were later built over by a wall and when located by Naville in that winter all four had been anciently plundered. We are told:

"a tomb pit, subsequently numbered 7, was located behind the third of the shrines from the northern end, that of Sadeh. Descending the vertical shaft, sixteen feet deep and choked with broken blocks from the temple, Ayrton's men entered the rock-cut burial chamber."

The men found the original ladies burial destroyed including the fragmentary remains of the kings wife shoved into a corner of the room while in the center was a garlanded coffin a thousand years later than the lady, the Twenty-First Dynasty coffin inscribed for the mummy of Horemkenesi. From here the author tells of the known data about a priest named Horemkenesi through six graffiti left around the Theban necropolis' and the inscriptions with matching titles on the mummy's coffin.

Next, we are onto the period of the life of Horemkenesi in the late eleventh century B.C., a period of decline in Thebes fortunes. The always powerful High priest of Amun-Re had now installed themselves with the regalia and titles as King of Upper and Lower Egypt even though there was a ruling king, a relative, in the delta making the same claims.

In this climate we find the priestly class buried in mass tombs at Thebes along with the rescued and thoroughly robbed mummies of the New Kingdom royals. Mr. Taylor is on to the role Horemkenesi would have played in his duties among the necropolis' as well as who his relations probably were.

His titles indicate he was Chief Workman in the 'Place of Truth', (Valley of Kings), a title usually handed down from father to son indicating that Horemkenesi was likely related to the community of tomb builders at Deir el Medina. His job in the valley and surrounding necropolis' was probably as one of the officials rescuing the royal mummies and perhaps appropriating what was left of value in their burials for the state.

The home of the scribe Horemkenesi may well have been in a dwelling within the walls of the fortified mortuary temple of Ramses III where the house of his contemporary Butehamun still exists. Mr. Taylor goes on to tell what the responsibilities of a minor priest like Horemkenesi would be in the service of Amun-Re at the temples of Karnak and Medinat Habu.

The vignettes on Horemkenesi's coffin are charming insights into the dress and style of the priest and the values likely encompassed by its owner, though the coffin was a stock piece with the spots for the person's name left to be filled in by the buyer. Here we are presented with an outstanding picture of a Theban mummy of a priest of Amun which Anatomist Elliot Smith examined and left displayed with its chest wall cut away to show the mummy's internal organs which were replaced back into the body after their treatment and wrapping during the embalming.

Two-thirds of the way through the book Horemkenesi's coffin and coffin board are pictured in color as well as a number of nice pictures of the mummy. The author now contends with the scribes modest funeral and burial in the temple.

With the next chapter, we are on to the subject of the book the unwrapping and study of the mummy, laying out first the protocol that was to be used in this rare event. The poor condition of the mummy of Horemkenesi made the decision to autopsy it in an attempt to get as much information about him as could be retrieved before his ultimate destruction.

This information was especially important as it is extremely rare for a mummy to be known outside tomb information as Horemkenesi was from the various graffiti he left around Thebes. A series of half page pictures show the mummy in various states of unwrapping including an inscription on one of the mummy's linen wrappings confirming that the mummy was indeed Horemkenesi.

After the outer wrappings are removed from the body there are found insect holes and casings indicating that the mummy was infested with bugs before being wrapped. Once completely unwrapped it appeared that Horemkenesi was likely already in an advanced state of decomposition when the embalmers started their work.

Thankfully the book contains many images of the unwrapped mummy during its dissection certainly some of the best pictures in the book. The author lays out from the unwrapping how Horemkenesi was embalmed which appears to have been frugal with no luxuries such as amulets.

Once unwrapped Horemkenesi's badly deteriorated head is removed and cleaned of all remaining mummified flesh so that the skull can be used in a reconstruction to show how he may have looked. From all the findings Mr. Taylor sets forth what evidence there is to the cause and circumstances of Horemkenesi's death.

John Taylor has put together this short book, at only 105 pages a rare and worthy read for anyone ages 10 and up and regardless how old you are this is one of the few times in your life you will have the experience of Unwrapping a Mummy!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

King Khufu's Port

Recent discoveries at the Wadi El Jerf have revealed a 4500 year old port on the Red sea coast from the Old Kingdom including the Fourth Dynasty King Khufu's name on stones used to seal dozens of nearby caves. Best of all a stash of rare Old Kingdom papyrus' have been discovered.

Photo: Luxor Times

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mummies: Death and Life in Ancient Egypt

James Hamilton-Paterson and Carol Andrews
Penguin Books Ltd.
ISBN 0 14 00 .5266 6

I found a bookmark about a third of the way through this book apparently forgot I was reading it, I wish I could say it was the first time this happened. The introduction was capable. In Chapter I, we find the author telling the reader about the typography, climate and people in the Nile valley. The author recounts the various animal cults going on to say

       "The Greeks' name for the Furies who hounded people mercilessly was the "Eumenides" or the 'favorably disposed ones', and they named the Black Sea- infamous for its violent storms-the "Euxine" or 'good to strangers".

I have no idea what this has to do with Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming? Directly below the author goes on to say:

      "But such a theory would not explain what the Egyptians found sacred about a frog or a baboon." ?

The authors are next on to the king including his position in keeping Egypt in a state of Maat, a perfect harmony and if this harmony was not met the king alone was to be blamed of course there would always have been enough blame to go around. This Maat in the Old Kingdom good or bad was probably symbolic reaffirmation of the god-kings power and wrath where only the king had an afterlife.

The book is next on to mummification with a well-written overview of the evolution of techniques including Herodotus' words on the subject. The goal was to reproduce the natural actions of burial in the Egyptian desert which over time led to more and more sophisticated burials including the theology of burial itself.

Interesting enough the authors relates Mr. Mathey's french account of the unwrapping of the mummy of unknown man "E" in June 1886 which he was present for:

      "Once the bandages had been stripped off we found the mummy was encased in a sort of whitish material rather like dough which was extremely caustic and covered the body from head to toe" "At this moment we all had to overcome a release of noxious gasses which had been trapped inside,".

The chapter is well supplied with images in black and white of seven human mummies and a number of animals also. In chapter 3 we are on to funerary equipment dealing with everything from pyramids on down to boats including the evolution of objects over time,  the limestone servant statuettes of the Old Kingdom to the much more varied wooden models of the Middle Kingdom where the introduction of a peg like figure would replace the models and grow in numbers in the New Kingdom as shabti.

The printing of the book is quite crude and a number of the images are obstructed by the blackness of the pictures and such a shame as I would have liked a good view of the mummy on page 80. The authors put on a good show breaking down the meaning of some of the most common amulets.

I am impressed with the description of  the characters participating in a ritual party of a nobleman's funeral  of the New Kingdom. The evolution of the tomb is next from the simple pit used to dispose of the poor, The authors explain:

      "For the poor there were yawning trenches always ready. Their rites were hurried, and at evening a thin layer of sand was spread over the days burials.", "One Theban poor pit was unearthed in which sixty layers of bodies were discovered without the bottom layer having been reached."

The mastaba burial of the nobles of the Old Kingdom evolves into the pyramid age, with the fall of the Old Kingdom democratizing the pyramid on a much smaller scale for not only the kings of the Middle Kingdom but onto an even smaller venue on the graves of the New Kingdom.

We are next onto the pyramid texts of the late Old Kingdom, a series of spells of which some must have been very old already when carved in the burial chambers of these kings at Saqqara. The evolution of funerary texts that followed included the required texts which were to personalize the books of the dead of elite mummies of the New Kingdom onward to the Late Period.

The authors write about the content and purpose of tomb decoration is from the reliefs of the Old Kingdom to the wall paintings of the later periods. We are told:

      "they become more or less profane during the 18th Dynasty, being mostly concerned with everyday life and the dead person's own earthly career. After the end of that Dynasty's Amarna period, however, there was both popular and 'state' reaction against the heresies of Akhenaten", "and the pictures became more exclusively religious as the cult of Amun was re-asserted."

Mortuary contracts played a part in many tombs as the owners wished to be remembered forever with offerings. Perhaps the contracts carved on the walls of Hepdjefau's tomb, a 12th Dynasty noble being most famous. Unfortunately, these contracts eventually fizzled out probably pretty soon after burial as descendants could care less about the dead person.

The gaudy displays of nobles being buried with all their goodies were likely noticed by the poorer classes who naturally coveted the better life these corpses could bring to them. The authors include the arm found in the tomb of Djer and the empty sarcophagus of King Khufu's mother Hetepheres.

The story of the scandal of the tomb robberies of the late New Kingdom and the rounding up of the royal mummies into their caches is told, the ensuing effect of these robberies is the economy of Thebes improves during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties. We are then onto tales of the nineteenth-century discovery of these robbed burials and the related documents including the discovery in 1881 and 1898 of the royal mummies.

In chapter six the authors deal with the rise of the cult of the Aten in the reign of Thutmosis IV with its ultimate climax as the God of the King Akhenaten leading to the battle with the powerful Priests of Amun and the building of Akhenaten's capital far away from Thebes in the desert at Tell el Amarna. The surviving royal burials are discussed including Valley of Kings tomb 55 and 62, the tomb of Tutankhamun.

At this point, the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is explained and the authors go on to compare the find with those kings tombs Pierre Montet found at Tanis twenty years later of the 21st and 22nd dynasties. The final chapter deals with mummies and their value to Europeans as ground up powder for medicinal purposes.

Early 19th century explorers such as Belzoni left colorful descriptions of tombs full of mummies yet by this time the mummy as medicine was at an end instead now the mummy was a star at events or unwrappings in Europe. The authors tell an amusing tale of a Polish traveler who cut up 2 mummies and put them into 7 boxes of dried tree bark,

      "a priest bound for Jerusalem came aboard. Once at sea, he began his customary prayers, but almost immediately a great storm blew up and he was additionally harassed by the vision of two specters. The crew promptly put this down to the dismembered mummies stowed below in their bark boxes, but the Pole resolutely refused to believe such nonsense until the priest again said his breviary and a second storm arose. The ghosts appeared once more.."

At this point, the authors remarks are on seances, a haunted coffin lid and pyromidiates including one who believed the great pyramid was a huge water pump in which the sarcophagus would float around the kings chamber clanking against the walls and roof of the room telling how full the tank was.

The book turns to X-ray technology used on mummies and their dentition, interesting as the authors include the research on bread and wheat of the ancient Egyptians in relation to their teeth.

In the end, the cheap production of the book along with a shaky beginning did not say continue, the authors, however, did pull it together for the overall content of Mummies; Death and Life in Ancient Egypt was a worthy read which was deserved of a far better binding.

      "Behold", "The King has been taken away by poor men. He who was buried as a divine falcon is now laid on a simple bier. What the pyramid hid has become empty,"