Monday, December 15, 2014

The Treasures of Tutankhamun

British Museum Exhibition
The Trustees of the British Museum
Thames & Hudson Ltd
ISBN 0 7230 0070 0

Here we have the guide to The British Museum's highly successful 1972 Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition brought together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt's famous royal cemetery the Valley of Kings. The funds raised from the show went to the preservation of the temples of Philae.

The guide written by I.E.S. Edwards then Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum has some wonderful details of life in the middle of the 14th century BC under the luxuriant King Amenophis III to Amenophis IV's elevation of the solar disk of the Aten above and in place of all the other gods excepting Re who was the old seat of the Aten. The revolution created havoc within Egypt and her empire so that by the reign of Tutankhamun the empire was a mess leaving the nine-year-old king with his advisers including his vizier Ay and general Horemheb to restore the damage to the old temples, priesthood,s and the empire.

By year 3 of Tutankhamun's reign he has left the heretic capital of the Aten and returned to Thebes to take up residence in his grandfather's former palace at Malquata as well as at the historic capital of Memphis. Tutankhamun spends his reign making repairs to the monuments while restoring the offerings to the temples including to Amun at Karnak where he leaves a great stela marking his deeds.

The author brings to life some of the monuments of the boy kings time including two granite lions in the British museums collection.

     "It is one of a pair of pink granite lions which Amenophis III intended to place in his newly-built temple at Sulb in Nubia, but the work on the second lion was only in its early stages when he died. Tutankhamun finished the work and put an inscription to that effect on the pedestal. It must have been one of his last undertakings because an inscription on the breast of the lion records it was taken to Sulb by his successor Ay."

Little more is known about him except that he was laid to rest in a noble's tomb as presumably his own was not ready by the untimely death of the king. Within two centuries of his burial, the tomb would be robbed twice and eventually buried under the refuse from the carving of the tomb of Ramses VI nearby and then further buried under flood debris.

The author is next on to the discovery by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon including the various excavations which turned up clues to Tutankhamun's burial being in the valley. These discoveries included a faience cup bearing the king's name, some foils turned up in tomb KV56 bearing his and Ankhesanamun's images and a pit in the valley numbered KV54 which contained items from the tomb and the remains of a funerary meal had in the king's honor.

The next section contains beautiful colored images of various objects in the show including the kings famous gold mask which by Egyptian law is no longer allowed to leave Egypt. There have been many exhibitions on Tutankhamun's treasures over the years this was not the first though in this 50th-anniversary show are exhibits that I cannot find being part of any of the other exhibitions that have traveled over the years.

The Catalog

Nowhere in the world outside Cairo would the life-size sentinel statue of Tutankhamun be so poignant as the British Museum which possess three such figures collected in the kings valley early in the nineteenth century by Giovanni Belzoni, who found two of the figures in the tomb of the XIX Dynasty King Ramses I. Unlike most of the pieces in this catalogue this figure does not appear to have traveled to be part of the North American tour of the exhibition.

The large alabaster leomorphic unguent vase displays a crowned lion on his hind legs waving with his tongue stuck out and a favorite piece for me. Among the objects in the show must be some of the most traveled artifacts in history included the kings crook and flail of which the tomb contained repetitive examples. A canopic jar lid in the guide has an interesting black and white picture showing the underside of the stopper.

No Tutankhamun exhibition would be complete without one of the coffinettes that held the young kings viscera. The tomb contained a number of funerary gifts from Tutankhamun's officials including the small carved effigy given by the boy king'ns treasurer Maya.

Inscriptions on the gilded bed of the divine cow show that the beds are funerary in nature, but because they are unique in the round much is still not entirely understood about them and their use. A number of pieces of furniture pass including a small chair about the same size as another chair found in the Valley of Kings in tomb Kv46 made for a relative of Tutankhamun's, Princess Sitamun though the kings chair is not quite as elaborate as the princess'.

A beautiful gold figure of the king appears on a small staff where his appearance is that of a boy, while an ostrich fan presents the king as a hunter of the large birds. The show contained one of the two gilded wood emblems of Anubis mounted on alabaster stands found in the two western corners of the burial chamber.

     "An early example, found in 1914 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art near the pyramid of Sesostris I (1971-1928 BC) at El Lischt, was placed in a wooden shrine. Like the emblem in Tutankhamun's tomb, it consisted of a wooden rod and an alabaster stand, but the headless animal skin was real and it was stuffed with linen.","The stand, which resembled a vessel, was about two-thirds full of a bluish-coloured substance, completely dried and considered to be some kind of ointment."

Truly one of the great pieces in the collection must be the shrine covered in sheet gold and depicting on its sides Tutankhamun and his Queen Ankhesanamun in various activities of pleasure. A mistake is present in that the author says that the shrine contained only a little pedestal for a small statuette when found when a number of pieces of jewelry were also found in the back corner.

The gilded statuette of Tutankhamun on a papyrus skiff is one of two found in a black shrine in the treasury. The statuette or its companion was among the objects smashed in the Egyptian museum in January 2011. 

It is again with catalog number 28 that the anguish brought on by the robbery and vandalism of the Cairo museum during the revolution of 2011 comes to heart as one of the two gilded statuettes of Tutankhamun on the back of a black leopard was found infamously smashed to pieces after this event. A number of pieces of the kings jewelry were present in this exhibition including the "necklace of the rising sun" and the "necklace of the sun on the eastern horizon".

Among the insignias of state was one of the kings royal scepters bearing the inscription,

     "The Good God, the beloved, dazzling of face like the Aten when it shines, the son of Amun Nebkheperure, living for ever'."

The tomb contained a couple of pairs of crooks and flails and an extra crook for which the set in the exhibition have been brought together as they were not found together. The small flail inscribed with the king's early name of Tutankhaten may infer that it was part of the boy king's coronation ceremony at the heretic capital of  Akhetaten.

The shows highlight being the kings gold mummy mask an object of which likely was built for one of Tutankhamun's immediate predecessors with the face of the boy king attached for re-use. Many of these objects went on to North America but it was within this 50th-anniversary exhibition that the inclusion of objects brought a reflection on the British Museum's own fragments of funerary equipment from the kings tombs that surrounded Tutankhamun and his treasures for thousands of years.

It is for this and legal reasons that no such poignant show on the Treasures of Tutankhamun will ever take place again outside Egypt.

Photo; path to Valley of Kings, Ancient
Sentinal figure-  George Rainbird  Ltd.
Photograph, Anubis Emblem: The Bridgmen Art Library  PBS
Tutankhamun on Leopard- George Rainbird Ltd.
Tutankhamun's mask- George Rainbird  Ltd.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Highlites of 2014

Though progress seems often bound by unmovable forces, and change passes by our hopes, with perseverance, we find the answer to success lye's within ourselves and our abilities to inspire others to help and push aside the once thought unmovable force.

At Abydos in January a couple of kingly burials were found including one of an unknown king of the Second Intermediate period . The appearance of a huge quartzite boulder sarcophagus alerted the mission to the presence of royal burials in the area.

As wonderful as these finds were the month ended on a tragic note when a bomb killed 4 people and destroyed the facade of the National Library and the Islamic Museum, damaging or destroying many of the contents of the Islamic museum and some fragile ancient papyrus's in the National Library.

February brought discoveries of late period mummies and shabti at Dakahliya. The month also brought at Luxor the discovery of a rare XVII Dynasty Rishi coffin found by the Spanish mission at Dra Abu El Naga in the courtyard to the tomb of Djehuty.

From the middle of March the release of "The Discovery of the Mummy of Ramses I" was well received, reviewing the finding of the royal mummy of King Ramses I, in a Niagara Falls sideshow. The month ended off with the re-erection of two colossal statues of Amenhotep III which had lain on the ground for thousands of years in his funerary temple at Luxor.

April brought an ending to the saga of six antiquities brought to sale at Christie's auction house last year, where one was recognized as being stolen from the storerooms at this same mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. The perpetrator of the fraud back in England was co operative with authorities and as a result received a slap on the wrist.

The month also contained discoveries from illicit excavations, and more results from a number of ongoing excavations accompanied by the Ministry of Antiquities, including coins in a Coptic alter at Thebes and XXVI Dynasty tombs at Al Bahnasa.

Basel Universities excavation of Valley of Kings tomb KV40 revealed dozens of mummies who may have come from the royal households of two XVIII Dynasty King's Thutmosis IV and his son Amenhotep III. The tombs destroyed and fragmented contents included mention of around a dozen royal children as well as foreign women and including a number of infants and a priestly clan from the 9th century BC.

This was the discovery of the year which grew out of proportions quickly and many of the so called royal mummies may well belong to the priests who took over the tomb four hundred years after the XVIII Dynasty. In May a number of important objects stolen during the January 2011 revolution including a badly damaged gilded statuette of Tutankhamun were recovered and put on display in the Cairo Museum, though the seated gilded figure of Tutankhamun held above the head of the Goddess Menkheret remains missing.

June brought the release of the article Was King Hatschepsut the Original Owner of Theban Tomb 358? The article was an instant success overshadowing all other articles from 2014. The month also brought a handful of discoveries as well as the return home of a number of artifacts including worthless faience beads and chips of pottery, clearly among these returns are objects of burden to the resources of Egypt's antiquities ministry.

July opened with a gotcha moment, to put it lightly, when illegal excavations were taking place inside a house at Abydos, unfortunately for the entrepreneurs the street out front of the house collapsed revealing the clandestine operation within. Inside the excavation was found the carved walls of a Mahat chapel erected by the XI Dynasty unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt King Mentuhotep II, with a rusting 20th century sewage tank above damaging the shrine.

As the summer came to an end The Great Pharaoh Ramses and his time exhibition guide was as well one of the top five for the year. For the St. Louis Art Museum the mask of Khanefernefer in a court ruling this year will likely remain in that city even with a documented process of the mask emerging from the ground in a recorded excavation by the Egyptian antiquities authority, this because a filing deadline was missed.

An Old Kingdom statue of an official from Egypt's Dynasty V, given to an English institution went on to the auction block this past summer and brought in an amazing L16 million along with some controversy over selling museum acquisitions. What appeared to be an unusually large number of people were caught smuggling coins this year which though some were ancient many were 19th and 20th century modern coins including one individual who smuggled four modern gold coins into Egypt to sell, while someone was caught smuggling common coins from the late 1930's, national treasures indeed!

The fall's big surprise was Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt which has been particularly popular among this years book reviews. It must also be of note that The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt review was very popular as well. The end of October brought 7 more arrests as men digging under a house in Giza found the ruins of a large temple from the reign of Thutmosis III.

As the year closes off a Middle Kingdom mummy was discovered under the temple of Thutmosis III at Luxor's west bank. A collapse in the tomb in ancient times meant the mummy of the lady was still bedecked in her jewelry, a very rare find.

I want to thank my readers for your support over the past year and I look forward to the coming year with the hope that it will bring prosperity and happiness to all of you and your loved ones.
God Bless and Happy Holidays!


Timothy Reid

Ipuy and wife recieving offerings from their children: Metropolitan Museum of Art 
Interior of Islamic Museum: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Re-erected statues of Amenhotep III: AFP Photo/ Khaled Desouki
Tomb KV40:  Matjaz Kacicnik, University of Basel/Egyptology
Photograph by Harry Burton, 1929. Archives of the Egyptian Expedition, Department of Egyptian Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Middle Kingdom Jewelry: Ahram Online

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Life & Times of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt

Arthur Weigall
Keystone Library
Thornton Butterworth Ltd.
ISBN 0-7103-1001-3

    "You shall not tell me by languages and titles a catalog of the volumes you have read. You shall make me feel what periods you have lived."

This attractive book comes with three foldout maps, some black and white pictures being originally published in 1914. The author Arthur Weigall is perhaps best remembered for his work in the excavation of Egypt's Valley of the Kings tomb 55 which some believe contained the mummy of the Pharaoh Akhenaton.

The book opens with a look at Cleopatra's character which has been much laid out by Rome and those who might be less than sympathetic to the young Ptolemaic queen as to see her a temptress rather than a young girl manipulated by the much older Julius Caeser, who possessed a long history of womanizing. The young queen is remembered as a doting mother to her four children including twins and the dynasty's heir Caesarian.

The reader is made acquainted with the city of Alexandria, its monuments, layout, and populace of Cleopatra's time, the character of which is more European than Egyptian. We are told of the Ptolemaic royal family that they were a little dysfunctional,

     "Ptolemy III, according to Justin, was murdered by his son Ptolemy IV, who also seems to have planned at one time and another the murders of his brother Magas, his uncle Lysimachus, his mother Berenice, and his wife Arsinoe." "Ptolemy VIII murdered his young nephew, the heir to the throne, and married the dead boy's mother, the widowed Queen Cleopatra II, who shortly afterward presented him with a baby, Memphites, whose paternal parentage is doubtful. Ptolemy later, according to some accounts, murdered this child and sent the body in pieces to the mother. He then married his niece, Cleopatra III; and she, on being left a widow, appears to have murdered Cleopatra II. This Cleopatra III bore a son who later ascended the throne as Ptolemy XI, whom she afterward attempted to murder, but the tables being turned she was murdered by him."

This familial behavior goes on but if this is not bad enough our Cleopatra VII finds herself at 18 married to her 10-year-old brother who is surrounded by the most powerful of the palace staff and soon finds herself in flight for her life. The arrival of Pompey the great to seek refuge in Alexandria places King Ptolemy and his men in a difficult situation of taking sides against Julius Caeser by welcoming Pompey who has just lost a battle against Caeser on the plains of Pharsalia.

The solution for the Ptolemaic court out of this conundrum is the murder of Pompey complete with decapitation, an act which is not entirely pleasing to Caeser.  The character of the elderly Caeser is examined including the bedding of many of the wives and daughters of his fellow men.

     "He had no particular religion, not much honor, and few high principles; and in this regard, all that can be said in his favor is that he was perfectly free from cant, never pretended to be virtuous, nor attempted to hide from his contemporaries the multitude of his sins. As a young man he indulged in every kind of vice, and so scandalous was his reputation for licentiousness that it was a matter of blank astonishment to his Roman friends when, nevertheless, he proved himself so brave and strenuous a soldier."

The relationship between Caeser and Cleopatra is viewed as the young queen who's position at the Alexandrian palace is shaky against her brother and his men and who conspire to rid Ptolemy of his sister. Unfortunately, for them, Caeser destroys the conspirators including young Ptolemy who is sent to his army to die in a vain effort to recapture the palace and his throne.

With Caeser's men in control of the palace and Cleopatra's position on the throne secure Caeser stays until Cleopatra gives birth to his son, Caesarian. After months of pleasure in Egypt Caeser now returns to Rome and his ambitions found there, though he is soon followed by Cleopatra, who together plan an Egyptian-Roman empire with Caeser and Cleopatra ruling as king and queen.

 These ambitions are a threat to Octavian and the senate of Rome who's members thwart these grandiose thoughts and kill Caeser sending Cleopatra packing. The standard story has it that the death of Caeser brings on Antony in Cleopatra's life as Caeser's replacement in his and Cleopatra's dynastic ambitions.

Cleopatra employs her enormous wealth to impress on Antony with costly parties and extravagances including dissolving a valuable pearl in vinegar as a drink for herself. Antony has a reputation as a bit of a wine lover, being always up to a practical joke and less refined than Caeser, none the less a lonely Cleopatra finds love for him and a renewal of her ambitions.

Like Caeser, Antony spends a little too much time in Alexandria in a state of opulence he had never known leaving the queen to give birth six months later to twins. Yet it would be three and a half years later before Antony would return to Cleopatra and not before marrying Octavian's sister, Octavia.

This absence had left the Egyptian queen feeling used and discarded and perhaps wiser to Antony's fleeting charms. The author sees the queen as a lonely, solitary figure vulnerable to the older men who court her alliance with passions.

The reunion of the two brought Antony willing to hand over large territories to Cleopatra's realm while she would supply money and resources to the goal of world domination. These fantasies being dispelled in Antony's defeat in his war on the Parthians after which he would be convinced by the queen to forget the Orient instead seek to attack Octavian directly.

Now reaching middle age Antony's drunken antics had begun to tarnish him in the eyes of Cleopatra who in her own paranoia began to loose respect for his rationalizations and his sincerity towards her. Cleopatra herself had matured into a shrewd politician who could converse in many languages to foreign rulers and with enough wealth to impress them all in luxury.

As the events unfold at Actium it is not the great young Antony present but a dramatic actor enlivened and drawn out by years of debauched living who presents the worst qualities of a man in his flight from the battle, abandoning his forces to chase the queens boat, in his moment of death he does the worst thing possible, he lives. The next couple of years Antony burdens Cleopatra with his presence, and she builds him a villa away from the palace on a nearby island and calls it the Timonium where her husband can seclude himself behind the villas walls.

Cleopatra herself is at the height of her abilities, and though Octavian is slowly making his way with his army to conquer Alexandria she is cementing her alliances with the powers of the oriental world. She sends her son with Antony, Alexander Helios to Media where he is to someday be king of that country by marrying that king's daughter.

Caesarian now a man of 17 is sent with the retinue and a huge sum of cash to live in India until the time when it is safe for him to claim his Egyptian throne. The final blow to Cleopatra's dreams of dynastic succession come when hers and Antony's forces are faced at Alexandria by the forces of Octavian.

With the Roman presence in the city the Egyptian forces change sides and join Octavian's army rallied against the queen and her pathetic lover who finally kills himself. In the end, the dreamed of Egyptian- Roman dynasty is in fact formed but at its head was to be found Octavian who soon becomes Augustus King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Arthur Weigall's interpretation of these historic events is well researched and presents the queen in a light that frees Cleopatra of villainy while representing her as sympathetic and at heart under her royal concepts as fragile as any other woman and perhaps if not certainly stronger than many of the men she encountered.

Though I have read too many books about this queen, likely one of the most overwritten about historical figures, I can say that I did enjoy "The Life and Times of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt".

     "History", said Emerson, "no longer shall be a dull book. It shall walk incarnate in every just and wise man."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pharaoh's People

T. G. H. James
Oxford University Press
Great Britain
ISBN 0-19-281883-X

The late great T. G. H. James was among other things a Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities for the British Museum for many years. Mr. James opens his book with a breakdown of the sketchy records which tell the tale of the ancient people including the authors chosen subjects for his book from c. 1500-1400 BC.

These surviving documents include the tomb of the Vizir Rekhmire and other monuments of the reigns of the XVIII Dynasty king's, Hatschepsut, Thutmosis III, and Amenhotep II. The vandalized tomb of Rekhmire numbered 100 in the Theban necropolis, has an entrance corridor that starts at 3 meters in height and rises to a height of 8 meters with the statue niche at the end of the hall 6 meters above the floor though no statue is present

The trustworthiness of ancient sources is reviewed with the blatant example of the battle of Qadesh in its many depictions and its use as propaganda where for thousands of years left Ramses II with a reputation as a heroic king. The discovery of the Hittite archives by modern archaeologist has now revealed Ramses II did not win a glorious victory at Qadesh but left a false piece of propaganda which worked!

On the other hand, the annals of Thutmosis III were carved on walls at Karnak that was deep within the temple where they would not have been seen by anyone other than priests and were likely carved in memorium to Thutmosis III. Tomb records of lesser officials though often glorify the tomb owners accomplishments sometimes do provide details not found in the official or royal records.

Mr. James takes up the role of Vizir from an inscription in the tomb of Rekhmire known as "The Installation of the Vizir". This documents Rekhmire's duties to be just and fair when carrying out his responsibilities, of which are many including judicial and bureaucratic in nature. This document is found in four tombs within the Theban necropolis and believed to be reproduced in all four tombs from a Middle Kingdom document.

As interesting as the book is it will likely not be suited to a young person or those looking for a storybook but it is rather a more academic read with a page or two of authors attribution notes at the end of each chapter. The book is filled with tomb biographies from various nobles of the New Kingdom of which on the subject of agriculture familiar to many if not most of the tombs the farmer is an undesirable job and hard way of life certainly compared to that of a scribe.

This message is further incorporated into these burials by the presence of shabti figures to do the owners work in the afterlife including the sowing of the fields. Mr.James next explores the hieroglyphs and surviving literature involved in the teaching of young students to become scribes.

The materials possessed by scribes are explored as is the manufacture of papyrus and its allocated uses in documents. Fresh pages for liturgical documents such as "Book's of the Dead" or rewashed pages written over with new texts for personal use such as letters. Mr. James informs the reader of the contents of many different styles of documents found and collected for the various museums particularly Cairo and the British Museum.

Metal workers are presented from the wall paintings found in many tombs but here of particular interest in the tomb of Rekhmire showing the Vizir visiting the workshops and the various activities occurring within. The creation of objects of necessity and beauty seems to have left little appreciation for the craftsmen who were responsible for them as these workers did not appear to live luxuriated lives and as a whole remain mostly anonymous.

The subject of the book is utilitarian in nature based on the occupations exemplified on the walls of the tombs and surviving documents. I was taken back for though the book was filled with excellent details it was a read of daily survival which I do not think would interest most readers.

The book is certainly a must-read for anyone who wishes a career in Egyptology but I would not recommend it for the casual reader as in its dry minutia I lost interest in "Pharaoh's People".

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt

Robert A. Armour
The American University in Cairo Press
Fourth Printing 1989
Cairo, Egypt
ISBN 977 424 113 4
Dar el Kutub no. 4130/85

Though my readers will understand that the subject matter is not really my cup of tea, I have been fortunate to find this book recently in my favorite thrift and as it appears to come from a fine press I cannot help resist reading it at once. The book opens with the symbolism of the lotus flower and its appearance at dawn and retreat under the water at dusk.

The Great Ennead and the creation myths are explored beginning with the story of Ra of Heliopolis and his children, Shu and his sister Tefnut, who in turn beget their children Geb and Nut, who in turn beget Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. From within this incestuous clan, the earth and all things are created including man through the tears of a god.

The book is amply filled with rather crude black and white line drawings which accompany the various descriptions of these principle characters. Professor Armour's interest in the subject is clearly reflected in the detail provided to the reader in language suitable to a teen and at times providing thought new to this reader.

     "At one point a black pig (an animal often associated with Seth) was brutally cut into pieces upon a sand altar built on the river bank. At another time a model of a serpent was hacked to pieces. At another festival, recently captured birds and fish representing the god were trampled underfoot, to the chant: "You shall be cut to pieces, and your members shall be hacked asunder, and each of you shall consume the other: thus Ra triumphs ..."

The author tells the tales of the elderly supreme God Ra from his daily journey across the heavens and nightly through the underworld in his bark accompanied by various lesser deities who fight the evil manifestations of the underworld who seek to harm Ra. To the treachery employed by his great granddaughter Isis who covets Ra's powers.

To gain it she seeks to find out Ra's secret name, so that when the elderly Ra drools on the ground Isis takes possession of the earth and with this clay Isis creates a poisonous snake which bites Ra causing the god excruciating pain. Isis continues to torture Ra to gain his secret name which through the pain he eventually gives.

Ra growing old retires from his position as supreme deity though he retains his power it is Isis' son Horus who becomes the supreme god. The legends of Osiris and Isis are explored with great fluency on a subject most often too simply recounted without its contradictory stories.

Osiris is a beloved king who teaches civilization to his people including agriculture and dam building while Isis is a protective mother with terrifying possession of great magic. Isis' magic causes two of a friend's sons, on separate occasions, to die of terror from the sight of Isis weaving her spells, these sons were not intended victims of the goddess but just happen to observe her magic, while in another case Isis offers to save a queen's incurable son.

     "Every day the child seemed stronger, but no one knew what Isis did to help him. Finally, the queen hid herself in the nursery to uncovers Isis' secret, and what she saw shocked her. Isis first locked the door and then built a high scorching flame behind them. Putting the child to the flames, she turned herself into a swallow which flew around and around the pillar making the most mournful twitterings."

The great ages to which Osiris and Isis have passed has left a large body of literature through the Old Kingdom pyramid texts with rising prominence in the Middle Kingdom and the worship at Osiris' tomb at Abydos. As Egypt became provincial the Romans loved Isis creating a body of work of her deeds and as the last of Egypt's gods, she perhaps evolved the most of the gods as her powers became suited from one epoch to another to Roman ideals though Isis remains well known, even today.

It is Horus who dominated the Egyptian religion taking his father Osiris place as King of Egypt after winning the epic battle of the religion against his uncle Seth. Most of Egypt's kings ruled as "The living Horus" though a multiplicity of gods bear the name of Horus such as Horus the Elder, Horus the younger. Horus the child a Graeco-Roman period god displayed as a child with his finger at his lips and a side lock of youth was often depicted on bronze plaques known as the cippi of Horus.

The triad of Memphis consisted of the creator God Ptah, his fierce sister wife Sekhmet and their rather benign son Nefertem. The Apis bull lived its life within its enclosure at the great temple of Ptah in the center of the capital and was seen as a representation of Ptah.

It was believed that Ptah and Sekhmet were the parents of the deified architect of King Djoser's pyramid, Imhotep who became a god in the Late Period being represented on numerous surviving bronzes. The triad of Thebes is next explored with the sacred family being Amun, his consort Mut, and their offspring Khons.

Amun being known as " the hidden one" was a relatively minor god until the Middle Kingdom when the Theban King Mentuhotep II brought the local Amun to prominence. Amun's priests assimilated Ra of Heliopolis' powers and divinity with Amun to create Amun-Ra.

Professor Armour lays down the common biographies usually put forward for the central cast, yet the reader is also presented with the material such as gods who are not part of a triad, with father, mother, child components. The books characters are a pretty standard group but the author has created biographies which take the often two-dimensional figures and mould them into much more complex individuals.

Nowhere is this true more than the depictions of Isis in this book, which is usually limited to her picking up Osiris' pieces and hiding out in a marsh protecting Horus. It is here however within Mr. Armour's fine book that entirely different and sometimes unsettling entities emerge from the Abyss of volumes on the subject making "Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt" well worth a read.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Death in Ancient Egypt

A.J. Spencer
Penguin Books
Great Britain
ISBN-10: 0140136894

"Bodies were also set on fire after robberies, perhaps with the intention of avoiding any evil influence,". "In one case at Thebes, however, the reason was more prosaic, mummies of children having been ignited for the purpose of illuminating the chamber while the robbers carried out their work."

This 256-page paperback has within its numerous schematics to demonstrate the authors words as well as a nice section of black and white pictures, many of unusual note. Mr. Spencer opens with a standard rundown of ancient Egyptian history, periods, dynasties and rulers of note.

The author moves forward on the subject of mummification beginning with the desiccated corpses of the ancestors lying in simple shallow desert burials exposed by the desert winds. The desire of protecting the ancestors caused elaborate developments which encased the burial in tombs and boxes, this causing a rapid and unintended destruction of the body.

The author points out examples of important mummified bodies found, including the arm decorated with bracelets discovered in the First Dynasty tomb of King Djer which was thrown out at the museum along with its delicate linen wrappings, minus the bracelets, one of which was damaged deliberately by the museum director for better display. While the extremely rare and important Fourth Dynasty mummy of Ranefer found at Meydum was destroyed during the bombing of London in World War II.

Mr. Spencer moves on in chapter 3 to the provisions of the dead from simple food pot's, blades, combs and makeup palettes to tombs filled with every luxury a noble could afford not to leave to his or her greedy heirs.This stock of dusty valuables would have been well known to the mortuary officials who did not rob the poor tombs within the individual cemeteries but only the rich burials, knowledge of which could only have been gleaned by those who buried the dead in the first place.

This problem made even the most clever tomb builder to ultimately fail at the protection of the grave from false corridors plugged with blocks of stone to sand devices that continuously bring more debris on the robbers as they dug. The unfortunate of many such devices intended to stop robbers is many were never put in place or closed after the burial perhaps with the intention for the return of the burial party to access it later.

     "Some details of the robbing of certain sarcophagi reveal once more that the robbers had accurate knowledge of the layout of the chamber; in one tomb at Dendera the sarcophagus stood tightly up against one wall, and it had been rifled by someone tunneling through that wall and the side of the sarcophagus in a single operation, without even entering the chamber."

The author delves into the various techniques of embalming including the basic three forms mentioned by Herotodus. The development of the art of mummification up to Herotodus' time has left little evidence of early dynastic embalming though the presence of resins and wrappings on corpses is known of, as are the various canopic boxes and canopic emplacements within tombs of the IV'th Dynasty nobles including the burial of King Khufu's mother.

The following two thousand years the embalmers perfected the preservation of the corpse achieving the best consistent results in the XXII'nd Dynasty with the art of mummification degenerating down to Herotodus' time and on into the Graeco-Roman era. The aforementioned section of pictures presents here the reader with excavation images including a fascinating funerary feast left in a 2nd Dynasty tomb and another picture of Ptolemaic mummies as left by robbers.

The ultimate goal  of a goodly eternity brought on a system of evolving fetishes as individual or group devices, such as servant statuettes or kingly devices like "magic bricks" inscribed with spells to keep harm at bay while placating the necessary gods. Mr. Spencer delves into coffins and sarcophagi of various periods including construction and development from a contracted coffin to anthropomorphic coffins in nests with vaulted lidded sarcophagi.

Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters is on the various animal cemeteries and cults practiced through animal sacrifices and burials from the elaborate Apis bull catacomb at Saqqara to lesser vaults containing millions of feathered occupants. We are told of the burial of the mothers of the Apis bulls,

     "The layout of the place is similar to the Late Period galleries of the Apis bulls, although on a much smaller scale and far more ruined. The axial passage is flanked on either side by sunk emplacements for sarcophagi, which had been deliberately smashed to fragments by Coptic intruders."

The presentation brought forward fine details not found in many books on Egyptian funerary constructs and beliefs resulting in substantial ground works for the reader to base future studies in the interest of students young and old on "Death in Ancient Egypt".

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Women in Ancient Egypt

Barbara Watterson
Wrens Park Publishing
ISBN 0 905 778 235

Barbara Watterson opens this book with a list of resources that she used in writing her book but also points out that certain types of documents such as temple and wisdom literature are of little help. Worst yet some of the so called texts of wisdom can depict women as no good gossiping harlots who could not be trusted with a man's business, except mom of course.

The "chauvinist pig" was, unfortunately, present within their society as were the ideals of beauty which always depicted women as slender and in a supporting role of the men. While the man may be depicted as ugly and obese, the wife and the man's aged mother were both depicted as slender youthful figures indifferent of aging.

The social and legal standings of Egyptian women though still in the role of homemaker could own property separate from her husband, which she could sell or manage, including making loans and representing herself in lawsuits. Egyptian women had much more freedoms than her Greek counterpart who were kept out of site and confined to quarters at the back of the house.

The author attributes this to the role played in government by queens who often sat as regents to their husbands and their young sons, or as "Gods wives". Outside of the confines of raising a family and keeping house Egyptian women executed roles as priestesses of gods in temple celebrations or as mortuary priests responsible for the replenishing of offerings to the dead.

    "there is evidence from titles held by women in the Middle Kingdom that, in this period at least, some women in the private sector held positions of trust such as treasurer and major-doma. There are several recorded instances of women holding supervisory positions such as superintendent of the dinning-hall; overseer of the wig shop; overseer of the singers; overseer of amusements; mistress of the royal harem; and overseer of the house of weavers."

Ms. Watterson is next onto love and marriage though there was no religious ceremony but if the couple were affluent enough to hire a scribe a marriage contract was not uncommon. These marriages were frequently arranged with the idea that the marriage would benefit the family and with time love would grow, though falling in love and moving into the man's house was also traditional.

Fascinating material on medicine and in particular women's health and childbirth with a review of the great known ancient medical papyri. These papyri include the oldest, The Kahun Papyrus found by Sir Flinders Petrie and dated to ca. 1880 B.C., the Ebers Papyrus, The Edwin Smith Papyrus, Carlsberg VIII, The Chester Beatty Papyrus, The Ramesseum Papyri, and The Berlin Papyrus which is concerned mainly with contraception, childbirth, and care.

These papyri deal with aspects from detecting pregnancy or repulsing it ensuring a healthy term birth including keeping the pregnant woman's focus on beautiful things so that her child would be born beautiful. A high priority was placed on the determination of the sex of the baby which a number of the above papyri deal with.

The papyri often enlist observations, magic spells as well as repugnant medications to gain the wanted effect.  The Eber papyrus records on a new-born baby's chance of survival: ' If a child's first cry is ny, it will live; if mb', it will die.'

The author is next on to fashion and dress of the Egyptians from animal skins to the development of simple linen and woolen garments with gradients of quality to expense with the pleated splendor of New Kingdom nobles in all grandeur. The simple white linen garment was enhanced by the additions of jewelry which included the beaded broad collars, first in vogue during the Old Kingdom, as well as bracelets and other accessories in metal, stone, faience and even wood.

The practicality and beauty of wigs added expression to the Egyptians style for both men and women while keeping their heads shaved for cleanliness and ritual purpose. We again find makeup and perfumes serving also a practical purpose with eyeliners and shadows shielding the eyes from infection while accentuating the eye line of the wearer.

Ms. Watterson is on to domestic life with the wife's job to keep a clean house raise the kids and prepare the family meals which would include baking and to make beer for her family or in the case of the royal ladies of Mentuhotep II who ate their breakfasts while attendants made the royal ladies up for the day. The author lays the diet of the populace from the mostly vegetarian peasantry to the rich diet of the ruling classes.

The book closes with the women of note who became kings and held power on only a few occasions usually signifying a period of hardship to follow as dynasties disintegrated. The exception was the XVIIIth Dynasty King Hatschepsut, whom herself came to be regent to a young Thutmosis III. The succession to kingship was made easier by the fact she and her court were successors to a number of powerful ruling warrior queens Teteshiri, Ahottep, and Hatschepsut's grandmother Ahmes Nofretari whom herself went on to be deified and worshiped for half a millennium at the royal tomb builders village at Deir el Medina.

Ms. Watterson includes the five gods wives of Amun who reigned at Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period and onto the Ptolemy's closing with the famous Cleopatra upon who's death Pharaonic Egypt came to provincialism. I enjoyed this book very much and found it suitable for ages 10 and up, though the book has limited pictures its interest was well researched and presented on historic personages highly under-represented in the literature both ancient and modern.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Tutankhamun Deception

Gerald O'Farrell
Sidgwick & Jackson
Great Britain
ISBN 0283 072 938

     " of the most daring hoaxes in history, devised by two Englishmen of repute to cover up what was probably the greatest robbery of precious jewels and gold bullion there has ever been or is ever likely to be."

Mr. O'Farrell tells the reader about his fascination with Egypt and the environment of the days of acquisition from antique shops in the first decades of the 20th century with deplorable damage being done to the monuments in search for treasure to export to European and American museums. The author reviews who the boy king was, and though from an extraordinary lineage of kings he was among the least important being worse yet of the Atenist clan of the heretic Akhenaton.

The boy Tutankhamun's legacy was erased by the kings that followed leaving his identity cloaked by King Horemheb who took over Tutankhamun's statues and inscriptions. The reader is introduced to Howard Carter, never the man of cliques who preferred to spend his time with the local Egyptians whom he cultivated strong ties which would aid his work in the future.

Lord Carnarvon, on the other hand, was attention starved at heart who craved the spotlight, lingering in folly as an aristocratic heir without purpose. The reader is presented with the discovery of the tomb in which the tombs discoverer were portrayed in the media as heroes when in reality the contents of the tomb have ended up in 13 museums including, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The discovery of the tomb caused a sensation known as 'Tut' mania which lingers to this day and which turned the Valley of Kings from a leisurely stroll of the upper class Victorian to a three ring circus thronged by reporters, trinket peddlers, the uncouth masses and those holding permission to enter the tomb, who may or may not have been part of the uncouth masses.

Lord Carnarvon made a deal with The Times of London that they would have the exclusive rights to the excavation angering all other news media. Who in turn looked for any angle to sell papers by inventing whatever needed to get the scoop including the mummy's curse.

The author at this point explains that "Carter knew that the tombs of the Eighteenth Dynasty rulers were interconnected", explaining that the entrance to Tutankhamun's tomb as we know it was actually created as a false entrance to hide the fact that Carter and the famous tomb robber clan of the El-Rassul's were traveling through ancient unknown priestly corridors under the valley as early as 1914 to loot Tutankhamun's tomb of its treasures except for enough to be left to gain his and Lord Carnarvon's fame, and respect were are repeatedly told they crave, particularly Carter.

A series of unremarkable black and white pictures pass by with the exception of two with one showing a blank spot in a heavily decorated wall in the tomb of Ramses IX, (?), clearly the author is referring to the tomb of Ramesses VI and explained as the possible entrance way Carter had used to enter the tomb of Tutankhamun and remove the treasure through. Very interesting with all consideration that the tomb of Ramses IX and Ramesses VI are two of the most visited and accessible tombs in the valley, it would appear to me to be a no go.

Mr. O'Farrell would like me to believe that the years from 1914 to the official discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 no one noticed the broken wall with a corridor in Ramesses VI's tomb leading to the boy king's tomb much less Carter, Carnarvon, and El-Rassul hauling out treasure from one of the valleys biggest attractions.

The author now suggests that when Carter entered the tomb via a wall in the burial chamber that at the time of his entry in 1914 that the burial chamber had no wall enclosing it from the antechamber and that the antechamber was on the same level. We are told that Carter and his men rearranged the heavy, cumbersome shrines so that they would be in the wrong direction and lead people not to notice the real entrance which he had entered.

Carter and his men furthermore carved the "entrance"corridor and stairs, (from inside the tomb)and hid the dietrus under the floor of the antechamber raising it to be four feet above the burial chamber, I am not sure if that was with the stuff in the antechamber, or if they removed the stuff in the antechamber and the stuffed the rubble under, then built the partition wall which Carter painted. The idea of the shrines being moved at all was not possible in the cramped space allotted for them in the tomb which required part of a limestone wall to be cut off in order to admit the larger sides of the shrines in antiquity.

This lack of space was further displayed when it came time to remove the sides of the outer shrine which could not be removed from the burial chamber until the interior shrines were first removed only then was there enough room to maneuver the outer panels out.

I get it Howard Carter was not likable but apparently he knew a horrible, horrible secret from papyrus' hidden in the skirts of the sentinel figures of Tutankhamun from the antechamber. Unfortunately, for the author, there is nothing to be seen up the king's kilt, of such receptacles for papyrus' as the author claims?

The authors theories become more and more bizarre with the knowledge of what is in the two papyrus' results in a whole series of murders starting with Lord Carnarvon. Mr. O'Farrell believes the papyrus' told of secrets about the biblical "exodus" and who Tutankhamun actually was, a reason the author believes that Carter had removed the original stone or gold sarcophagus lid and replaced with the present broken granite lid because it had Tut's real identity on it.

I have now had enough of this drawl to count this as one of the most loosely hinged fantasy's and worst most unrealistic depictions of the story of Tutankhamun's tomb and something else that should be hidden under the floor of the antechamber. This is one of those books which needlessly stole part of my life and is on its way to the recycling bin.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Masterpieces of the Pergamon and Bode Museum

Philipp von Zabern
Mainz, Germany
1990, 1991
ISBN 3-8053-1423-X (Museum Edition)

Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection: Karl-Heinz Priese
Museum of Western Asiatic Collection:       Liane Jakob-Rost - Evelyn Klengel-Brandt                                                                               Joachim Marzahn - Ralf-B. Wartke
Collection of Classical Antiquity:                  Max Kunze
Early Christian and Byzantine Collection:    Arne Effenberger

     "Since the historic days of November 1989, all the museums in Berlin have been working intensively to remove the effects of the division which resulted from World War II and its aftermath. This is not primarily a matter of reuniting holdings which belong together. Forty years of divided history need to be overcome and this also means the entire museum landscape of the city must be rethought in the light of current scholarship."
                                                                                  Gunter Schade 
                                                                                             Director General of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

                                      Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection

The Bode's collection of Egyptian antiquities is put forward starting with acquisitions in the late seventeenth century and added to through purchases and late nineteenth early twentieth century excavations. The famous Lepsius expedition of the mid 1840's brought three complete tomb chapels back among its thousands of acquisitions and by 1855 the collection was set up in its own beautiful Neoclassic building, the Neues museum on Museum island in the heart of Berlin.

Excavations at the solar temple of Neuserre between 1898 and 1901 at Abu Gurob brought many important V Dynasty reliefs to the collection while excavation finds at Tell el Amarna between 1911 and 1914 brought the Neues its first class Amarna collection. Since these heady days of acquisition however few museum collections have fared worse than Berlin's Egyptian collection.

World War II was devastating to the collection including the Neues museum which lay in ruins after the war, as it would for the rest of the twentieth century. A number of storage facilities holding artifacts of the Egyptian collection were also destroyed including a manor house and storerooms holding another part of the collection were burned in May of 1945 by fanatical Nazi's.

The irretrievable losses include a large proportion of the reliefs from the solar temple of Neuserre, an artistically important collection of coffins and Middle Kingdom paintings. The best pieces of the surviving collection in the Russian sector of the city were taken to Russia until the late 1950's. The remains of the Egyptian collection dispersed according to what part of the city they were found in at wars end with the bust of Nefertiti ended up in the Charlottenburg Museum in the western part of Berlin and only a few pieces being left on Museum Island, these were added to the Bode Museum to create this Egyptian collection.

The guide opens with a calcite statue of an Upper Egyptian baboon god "the great white one" with the name of King Narmer on its base, (Acc. no. 22607). The awkward, cramped statue is said to be the oldest large-scale sculpture from ancient Egypt ca. 3000 B.C.

The Egyptian collection presented is meager but includes the wonderful Old Kingdom granite scribe statue of Dersenedj, (Acc. no. 15701), who is pictured with the papyrus on his lap giving his titles of "overseer of the granary" and "domain administrator". A gorgeous relief comes from the pyramid temple of King Sahura, ca. 2440 B.C., ( 21782), of prisoners being led by gods before the king.

The reader is presented with two statues of Hatschepsut including one of her as a sphinx in which the head was discovered by the Prussian expedition in 1844 and the body in pieces between 1922 and 1926, (Acc. no. 2299). The museum's holdings do include two Amarna period quartzite heads of a princess, (Acc. no. 21223), and one identified as Nefertiti (Acc. no. 21220), though I think it is more likely Nefertiti's daughter Meryetamun, or perhaps Ankhesunamun, a little too happy to be Tiye or Nefertiti?

The guide does contain a lovely Late Period coffin and an outer trough of Paistenef, (Acc. nos. 51, 52), a nice, but standard survivor from a once great collection of coffins. A series of trinkets including jewels from a pyramid at Moreo in the Sudan and a group of five lovely shabti pass till the viewer finds themselves in front of a very fine greywhacke head, (Acc. no. 11864), thought to represent King Amasis and found in the residence of the XXVI Dynasty kings, ca. 550 B.C.

The Roman period mummy portrait from the tomb of Aline from Hawara is a beauty and one of the few of the genre painted on linen, not board. The Egyptian collection closes off with three outstanding papyri including,  "The Persians," by Timotheos of Miletus from Abu Sir and dated at ca. 350-300 B.C., (Acc. no. P 9875).

While Amunemwiya's "Guide to the Netherworld" (Acc. no. P 3127) is a beautiful example of a New Kingdom funerary book belonging to a well-off noble. Of the lost coffin collection, it needs note, "Lid of a boy's coffin", (Acc. no. 17126), is unique and a precious survivor of that collection representing on the lid a statue of the Hellenistic owner.

                                          Museum of Western Asiatic Antiquity

The museum's collection of Mesopotamian material including its Ishtar gate covers 8000 years of history much of which was acquired through nineteenth and twentieth-century excavations that brought objects through the division of finds. The Western Asiatic collection was not damaged during World War II and remained intact with the exception of pieces taken to Russia which were repatriated back to Berlin in 1958.

This collection is unrivaled in Europe with the exceptions of the Louvre and British Museums. From the cella of the archaic temple of Ishtar we find an alabaster figure of a man, ca. 2400 B.C., (VA8142), wearing a long kilt possessing great presence and followed by a number of elegant stone pots and sculptures from the first half of the third millennium B.C.

I fell in love with two small recumbent bulls, one in a green stone, (11021), and another smaller bull in marble with three pointed spots on its body set with carved lapis lazuli inlays, (14536). The wonderful gate of Ishtar is described including its erection by Nebuchadnezzar II, collection, and installment within the Pergamon museum is put forth, as is its replica explained to the reader.

The spear-bearer of the bodyguard of Darius I (521-486 B.C.), (VA14647), like the Nebuchadnezzar II gate aforementioned, is a composition of glazed bricks in colors of black, white, brown, yellow, blue, and green producing a refined detailed image of a guard in a procession of the kings guards. Figure 23, (VAT 10000), displays the obverse of Tablet A of the Middle Assyrian legal code, 12th century B.C. and from Assur, this nearly intact example contains fifty-nine sections concerned mainly with women including laws of theft, sexual grievances, beatings, injury, marital and criminal matters.

                                            Collection of Classical Antiquities

Of the classical collection, a storage bunker containing a large collection of vases, terracotta's, bronzes and unstudied excavation finds burned during World War II with almost the entire contents lost. The beautiful market gate of Miletus excavated by Theodore Wiegand and Hubert Knackfub between 1903-1905 and reconstructed, (with much criticism), in full scale in the Pergamon, was bricked up for its protection during the war.

However, the gate still suffered considerable damage including the destruction of the skylight above the gate and the brick wall meant to protect it, leaving the gate damaged and exposed to the elements for a couple of years after the war. The "Berlin Goddess", (Sk 1800), ca. 580-560 B.C., is an Archaic Greek marble statue 1.93 meters in height and found at Keratea in an excellent state of preservation including some remains of its original paint.

This preservation was brought about because the statue in ancient times was wrapped in a lead sheet and buried. The statue is typical of archaic modeling as it is a severe, rigid composition unlike the slightly smaller headless marble statue of a woman holding a partridge, (Sk 1791), from a few years later ca. 550 B.C., and of which possesses a more fluid and refined early classical style.

So many wonderful and important works from this collection fill the pages from the metope found by Heinrich Schliemann from the Temple of Athena at Troy depicting Helios and dated after 300 B.C., ( 9582). The rare life-size bronze "Praying Boy" (Sk 2), from  late 4th century B.C., was found in the Temple of Helios on Rhodes being sent to Venice as early as the 16th century.

The green schist bust of Julius Caeser, (Sk 342), is a rather soulless demonic looking figure with its faded eye inlays and excellent state of preservation.

                                        Early Christian and Byzantine collection

For me the most remarkable piece from this collection is the "Game of marbles" said to have been found near the Hippodrome in 1834, (Acc. no. 1895), and from the end of the 5th century. Carved from a block of marble the game is believed to choose the order of the charioteers, or rather the lanes the charioteers would run in.

I guess I decided to review this guide based on the ever changing events that have guided Berlin's collections and the irretrievable losses that resulted from the last great European war. The presentation of the collections and the museums of Museum Island presented now a quarter century out of date are thankfully due to the reunification of Germany and the rebuilding of its museums in a much more appreciative and comparatively orderly state today.


1). Mask of Akhenaton: Keith Schengili-Roberts
2). Frieze of Pergamon Alter:  Christian Bier

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt

Helen Strudwick
Amber Books
ISBN-13: 978-1-904687-85-6

This large, heavy 512-page book opens with the chronology of ancient Egypt of which the colorful pages are filled with small often overlapping vignettes accompanied by brief descriptions of the images and their relation to the theme of the page. Often I criticize this type of formatting as being distracting and ruining the flow of the read, however, in this case, it works as the script is really confined to the page in front of the reader and not relying on turning the next page to finish explanations.

Here is a book simply laid out and certainly suitable for readers 10 and up as long as they can manage the weight of the book. Without the Nile, Egypt would be simply desert but because of the great river, the land has been arable for growing crops and sustaining communities along the river banks.

The reader is presented with thirteen different artifacts from Egypt's Predynastic period on a two-page spread. Impressive are the images of the rarely seen Gerzean period tomb, the oldest painted tomb in Egypt decorated somewhere between 3500-3100 BC.

The reader is told of the discoveries which have helped archaeologists construct the early dynastic period leading to the unification and the establishment of the earliest dynasties. The reader is at this point guided to the bottom of the pages which each kings serekh with his name in it are displayed with a few details, very informative.

With the rise of a stable unified land, the kings of the Old Kingdom harnessed the Egyptian people during the inundation part of the year to building projects including the pyramids of the age. The excesses of the age brought to an end to the power of the god-kings ushering in a period of turmoil.

With the rise of Thebes so follows the history of the Middle and New Kingdoms and the eventual fall into provincial status under the Romans. The read is enjoyable though occasionally there are errors though minor, in one case the reader is told that the royal cache tomb DB320 was emptied in 2 hours and in another case, Hatschepsut's sarcophagus from her tomb in the Valley of Kings is described as made of red earthenware when in reality it's quartzite.

From chronology, the book moves onto the Egyptian gods and all their local, provincial and national identities from Osiris and Isis to Amun-Ra and Serapis of the Greco- Roman world. The primitive nature of the ancient Egyptian religion has a representative for every essence of their world, except for those things which could not be spoken.

The nature of animal cults is explored through the early dynastic cult of the Apis bull, a representative of the God Ptah kept in its enclosure within Ptah's great temple at Memphis and in the New Kingdom buried as gods in the vaults of the Serapeum at Saqqara. The reader is next onto the kings religious duty to the gods in the temples with offerings and various ceremonies enacted by the king and or his priests.

Funerary customs are dealt with from mummification to the necessary equipment and nutrition the dead person would need to sustain and guide themselves in the afterlife. The equipment developed out of the First Intermediate Period include the anthropoid coffin and an idealized mask for the mummy.

The book flows well through subjects of art, dwellings and everyday life of the ancient Egyptian whether common farmer or king and the royal family. The numerous works of art and artifacts come from many museums including the British Museum but of a particular note must be many not usually published objects from Cairo's collection along with the book being filled with many of the Louvre's pieces from its very fine Egyptian collection.

I loved the gamete of material covered from Nefertari's tomb in the Valley of Queens to the Fayum portraits first categorized by the excavations of Sir Flinders Petrie in 1888 which brought knowledge of the earliest portraits of the average people of the first centuries of the common era. The reader is made familiar with marriage contracts and women's rights in ancient Egypt to own land administer business and in a few cases rule.

The arts, sciences, maths and trades, technical or laborious are explored as are the position of those occupants. It would seem that every technical aspect of ancient Egyptian life is explored including the production of food and goods.

This system is well laid out by the various instruments used by the ancient people of the Nile for measuring time along with astronomy creating an accurate calendar and timeline for their civilization and the hours of the day and the rise and fall of the great river. This resulted in an effective taxing system which the yield of crops could be accurately measured to predict their tax value at harvest time.

The reader is presented with the various sciences that include everything from medicine, boat building, textile and papyrus manufacturing, the weapons and their systems of writing from hieroglyphs to hieratic and demotic. The deciphering of the hieroglyphs, how they evolved and a few basic lessons on how to read them are provided.

On the pages of the hieratic script appears an incredible bowl, rarely published and again from the Louvre collection. The book turns from the script to the tools and mediums employed and the men who pursued the calling of the scribe. The book closes with the documents of the temples and those of the coffin texts and administrative recordings.

I have to say for a 512-page book I felt it ended too sudden and could have read more. The book was very informative on so many levels that few other books could layout other than this encyclopedia the details of ancient Egypt and how it functioned throughout thousands of years as a foundation of one of the world's great civilizations.

I liked this book and yes it had its handful of minor mistakes but I found its presentation of thousands of objects and vignettes will make the read easy for all ages and its mistakes readily forgettable.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Mummy of Herakleides

Here are a couple of Getty videos on the very rare red shrouded mummy of Herakleides and a bit of the mummy's history.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Sale of Sekhemka

This statue of Sekhemka and his wife from the Old Kingdom's 5th Dynasty 2300 B.C. was a gift from a sultan at the end of the 18th century. The statue has been the museums centerpiece since 1849, certainly the sale of this piece is significant as Northampton will never get another one.

Egypt's antiquities service made its efforts in retrieving it but with no argument the most they can hope for is that they bought it or that it will be gifted to them. Now that the statue has been sold for L16 million the non-issue of the responsibilities of museums should die down.

Museums are about making money and then learning, you have to pay for the books. True the city of Northampton have sold off a treasure but hey L16 million, departing has never been so sweet.  


Al Ahram

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Still Seeking Amenia?

This is a statue of the last king of Egypt's ancient 18th Dynasty Horemheb from his Saqqara tomb seated next to his likely first wife Amenia and sadly this is what it looks like today in Luxor.

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities has a number of objects they are looking for beside Amenia including 38 gold mainly Greco-Roman bracelets stolen since the 1970's.

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities

Top photo: (from Martin, The Hidden Tombs of Memphis)

Bottom photo: Luxor Museum

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Lost Pharaohs

Leonard Cottrell
Pan Books LTD
1950, Sixth Printing 1969

In writing this book the author had the good graces of important men in Egyptology including Sir Alan Gardiner and the Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt Zakaria Goneim. This said Mr. Cottrell admits he is not an expert of Egyptology but rather writing this history on the backs of learned publications.

The book opens with the usual description of Egypt's environment and how its people's culture in the fields of agriculture, writing, religion and art evolved through the early standardization of forms. For these first dynasties uniting the two kingdoms brought together a panacea of local deities likely as confusing to the people of those times as they are today.

Writing fast developed during this period while the arts by the 4th Dynasty reached a beauty of austere lines perhaps never rivaled again in Egypt's long history. Mr. Cottrell presents a rough review of the civilizations history presented accordingly to Manetho's dynastic layout.

Great attention must be paid by the reader as the book is nearly 65 years old and some of its elements are slightly off, as is to be expected. In the second chapter, the reader is onto the arrival of Egyptologists and the discovery of the Rosetta stone which once translated opened an entirely new view of the world of the ancient morbid populace.

At about the same time the hieroglyphics were being translated so too was the cuneiform script which became the diplomatic language of Mesopotamia and Egypt. These discoveries along with libraries of cuneiform tablets have complemented and verified many hieroglyphic texts.

     "After the Treaty of Vienna every progressive government felt it a duty to amass old objects, and to exhibit a fraction of them in a museum, which was occasionally free. "National possessions" they were now called, and it was important that they should outnumber the objects possessed by other nations"                                                                                                                E. M. Forster

It is an interesting approach taken now by the author as he reveals some of the fascinating archaeological discoveries made in the 19th century which has pushed the knowledge of Egypt back in time, with each discovery filling in the missing periods and in particular the early dynastic period. While still treasure hunters occupied and were allowed to dig sites, with perhaps the greatest destruction of an important archaeological site being the tombs of the kings of Dynasties 1 and 2 at Abydos which the treasure hunter who had the rights to the site stole everything of value he could sell in Paris and having his workers smash objects he did not want.

The reader is presented now with the development of the pyramids from a great mastaba to the stacking of smaller mastabas on top of larger ones creating steps to the straight sided pyramids of the 4th Dynasty. The author is continuously quoting the most important of Egyptologists for his era whom he appears well acquainted with .

Mr. Cottrell puts forward the subterranean structures of some of the pyramids including the galleries of Djoser's step pyramid, but perhaps most interesting is the author's own journey through the corridors and chambers of the bent pyramid.

     "Down, down we went, watching the receding square of sunlight getting smaller and smaller until we reached the bottom. We found ourselves standing on the floor of a lofty hall about 20 feet square and soaring upwards to a height of 80 feet."" Up the center of this chamber, the excavators had fixed a series of vertical ladders lashed to flimsy scaffolding." "80 feet above the floor, Abdessalam, (1), pointed to a hole cut in the wall. This was the entrance to a horizontal gallery about two feet square. Along this we wriggled on our stomachs, noting at one point the words 'discovered 1837' left by archaeologist Perring 100 years ago.

At last, we could stand upright. It was very hot in the heart of the pyramid. As we paused to recover breath we saw that we were standing below the entrance to another pyramid chamber, but this one was not so high. With the help of the Arab workers, we have hauled up an almost vertical wall and arrived, very hot and dusty, on the floor of the upper chamber. At a sign from the Director the Arabs held up their lamps and we could see that the ceiling of this room, unlike that of the lower chamber, was rough and broken."

Great lumps of stone had fallen from it, no doubt due to the tremendous pressure of the masonry above, and some of the remaining blocks looked as if they might fall at any moment."

The following chapter on the building of the pyramids brought surprises including an uncomfortable feeling I was getting on how much time Mr. Cottrell was devoting to the great pyramids measurements. To my dismay, the author began spouting the old rabble about how the blocks of the pyramid were cut using bronze saws inset with sapphires and diamonds even though no such device has ever been found.

Considering the estimated 2,300,000 blocks in the great pyramid alone one should expect a number of diamonds or sapphires to become lost among the blocks or in the surrounding sands and the quarries would be filled with gem fragments. To my own understanding, no such gem has ever been found in relation to the building of any of Egypt's pyramids.

After departing this nonsense the author is onto those men who found their ways into the pyramids in modern times. The story of the discovery of the artifacts belonging to King Cheops mother, which were found intact minus the queen's mummy by the Harvard/ Boston expedition is retold.

The reader is next onto the city of Thebes with its illustrious temples bearing columns a dozen feet thick rising 100 feet above the floor.  Mr. Cottrell lingers for a minute on the rich leisurely ladies and gentlemen of a past era, and the trade of the day.

     "Instead there is an occasional American couple hurrying down the steps of the Winter Palace with sun hats, cameras and a gaggle of long legged daughters. Here and there a bored Pasha from Cairo fails to conceal an indifference to antiquity which he shares with most of his countrymen."

It is the Chief Inspector for Upper Egypt Zakaria Goneim who shows our author around and over to the city of the dead where we are recounted some of Giovanni Belzoni's experiences while Chief Inspector Goneim takes the author through a number of the finest tombs,  including the tomb of the Mayor of Thebes Sennufer who's tombs ceiling is covered in grapevines.

A group of black and white pictures occupy the center of the book with pictures that are pretty standard though I am reading a paperback. The author turns now to the Valley of kings with a nice description of the descent into tomb of Seti I found by Belzoni in 1817.

It is these tombs of the kings that unlike the tombs of the noble class where scenes on the walls are of the good life the tomb owner wished to live on in the next world, instead, the decoration in the tombs of the kings contains no scenes of happy days but here we find all the spells needed for the well-being of the king and his place on the barque of Re on its journey across the heavens. The exception is the tomb of Ay, a commoner who became king, primarily to fill a void.

We are next onto the discoveries of the royal mummies in two of the Theban tombs including a recount of the Amherst papyrus and the robberies and restorations of the royal mummies from the tomb to tomb until it was found in DB320 and the tomb of Amenhotep II in the valley at the end of the nineteenth century. Having again read yet another telling of the discovery of the royal mummies, unfortunately too precious to pass over.

Passing this we come into the retelling of the story of the tomb of Tutankhamun, oh joy, yet more-over told events. Having blessedly passed that the author is now on a journey to Tell el Amarna, the city of the Aten where the heretic King Akhenaten took his court and where our guide is still being shown around by Chief Inspector Goneim.

While Mr. Cottrell is on his way, partly on the back of a donkey, he tells the story of Akhenaten and his beautiful Queen Nefertiti. Having visited the city the author is now taken to the tombs of the nobles and on to the kings depressing tomb a few miles behind the cliffs where Professor Sayce a half century before had watched the excavation of the tomb including the discovery of a burned mummy of a man found in the tomb.

With this, we are told about the uncertain future of Egyptology during the middle years of the 20th century with some success in the author's words about the future of the field. An appendix is offered on the reign of Akhenaten and the basic sources which Mr. Cottrell has used in his book.

All in all, I have with the one exception found the book to be a worthy read backed by the authors keen interest of the subject and a list of who's who of the Egyptological elite from his period who have guided Mr. Cottrell into writing a fine presentation on the Lost Pharaohs.

1) Abdessalam Hussein Effendi-Director of pyramid studies for the Egyptian government, (d. 1947)