Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Pyramids Of Egypt

I. E. S. Edwards
Penguin Books
ISBN-10: 0140136347

The late I. E. S. Edwards was among other important posts the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum until his retirement in 1974. After this he worked on the UNESCO project to save the temples at Philae and was Vice-President for the Egypt Exploration Society. This is his 1947 publication on the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

The publication opens with a series of prefaces updating the reader on developments that occurred since first published. In the introduction the author puts ancient Egyptian history into its proper order up to the end of the late period before Alexander the Great's arrival in 332 B.C. A map sets down the location of its sites along the Nile from Elephantine in the south to the sites of Tanis and Buto in the northern delta.

     "However primitive and materialistic the Egyptian conception of the after-life may seem, it must be conceded that it was responsible for the production of some of the greatest artistic masterpieces in antiquity. Without the impetus provided by a practical motive, it is doubtful whether a fraction of the statues, reliefs, or inscriptions which are now so universally admired would ever have been produced."

The evolution of burial customs at the beginning of Egyptian history follow through the simple shallow pit in the desert topped by a mound of sand. Within this grave the body was in a contracted position with offerings and pots surrounding the corpse. By the time of the First Dynasty the shallow pit was replaced with the rock cut tomb topped by a rectangular mud brick mastaba with offering chapel.

The Third Dynasty King Djoser's architect Imhotep erects Egypt's first pyramid, and first stone monumental construction. The pyramid surrounded by false stone buildings, courtyards, and gateways set a new standard for Egypt's king's and a series of step pyramids followed complete with the layout of Djoser's monumental needs for the after-life. As time passed the various elements of the mortuary temple stayed from one generation to the next, and were added on to with vestibules, storerooms, and shrines.

It is King Snefru who develops the first true pyramid at Dashur but only after two previous attempts, one at Meidum and another back at Dashur.With the bent pyramid the stress of the steep angle of the pyramid caused cracks in the burial chamber requiring the architect to reduce the angle of construction of the pyramid. With the Red Pyramid the king had the first true pyramid worthy of the great king's burial.

It is Snefru's son King Khufu who moves his pyramid complex to the Giza plateau, building with monumental blocks weighing up to 200 tons, with mortuary chapel and causeway leading to the king's valley temple. On the Giza plateau next to Khufu's pyramid King Khafra built his pyramid complex, that today appears to be the largest in the cemetery though only because it is erected on higher ground.

It is within the measurements of the pyramids that often haunt books on this subject, making them clearly unsuitable for the younger readers. Fortunate for myself as Mr. Edwards presents words of interest that sets this volume apart from the many books that these measurements have killed.

The king's that followed to the end of the Old Kingdom were unable too afforded their pyramid complex's on the same scale after the epoch of pyramid building in the Fourth Dynasty. Rather these king's afforded rubble filled pyramids cased in limestone with a burial chamber under the pyramid. In the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties corridors and temples were covered in brightly painted sculpted reliefs of fine Tura limestone. At the end of the Fifth Dynasty with King Unas the pyramid texts began being carved on the walls of the burial chamber and other surfaces. The kings of the Sixth Dynasty continued this practice and the texts even appeared on the walls of at least three queen's from this dynasty.

     " In front of each sarcophagus, near the south wall, there was a rectangular pit, about 3 feet deep, in which a Canopic chest containing the king's viscera had been buried. Pepi I's Canopic chest still retained one of the packages with his viscera wrapped in bandages of fine linen, which had been stained brown with resin. Only fragments of the jar had survived."

In the middle of the book there are a large number of pages of black and white photographs, of which many fine shots of pyramid interiors, including the burial chamber of the Twelfth Dynasty King Amenmesses III. In the Twelfth Dynasty the pyramid again rises to the grand scale of the Old Kingdom. The entrances were moved from the north face to ingenious new hiding places with interior passages filled with security measures including secret passages in the ceilings of corridors. Within these pyramid enclosures were found a number of famous jewelry caches from a number of Twelfth Dynasty princesses, and in one tomb was found the disturbed burial of a Thirteenth Dynasty king named Hor.

With the passing of these great monarchs Egypt again splintered into provincialism marking once and for all the end of monumental pyramids in Egypt. While at the same time a population of people, possibly Semitic, immigrated to the northern delta taking control of Lower Egypt. The expulsion of these people known as the Hyksos was completed with Ahmosis I reuniting all of Egypt from Thebes, bringing on the country's greatest period of Empire.

With the enormous wealth which flowed into Egypt from conquered lands, its rulers could well have afforded great pyramids but chose not to. Here the theological impetus had taken a back seat for the safety of the king's mummy. Even the mortuary temples were separated from the now hidden royal tombs, instead the pyramid was now in vogue in the cemeteries of the nobles.

In this subject, particularly on the great pyramid, I wince at the thought of another pyramid book, though I do find the Twelfth Dynasty pyramids with their devices for security curiously entertaining.  I. E. S. Edwards 'The Pyramids of Egypt' is not for children but teenagers and up, being certainly thorough, especially given the books vintage. In conclusion, I couldn't put it down!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Book of the Mummy

In the center of the capital Zagreb sits a beautiful Neo-classical yellow and white stone building on Zrinski square which is the home of Croatia's National Archaeological Museum. A museum with nearly half a million objects of Prehistoric, Greek, Roman and Medieval cultures is a must visit when in Zagreb. The museum also boasts one of Europe's most impressive numismatics collections featuring more than 50,000 coins.

From the museums holdings can be found around 2,100 objects that make up its small and attractive Egyptian collection represented mostly by Late Period objects, though there are artifacts including stelea from Egypt's ancient Middle Kingdom and objects of the New Kingdom period as well as an impressive red granite head of a king, perhaps Amenhotep II?

Though the Egyptian collection is one of Eastern Europe's most impressive Egyptian collections it is relatively unimportant in its contents as most of the museums artifacts are without provenance as to find spots. This is partly due to that two thirds of the Egyptian collection came to the museum in April of 1868 as a purchase of objects from the heirs of the late Baron Franz Koller, who seems to have built his collection while living in Naples during the last decade of his life.

This collection was added to the museums small holdings of Egyptian artifacts where the museums most important piece was already present. The Egyptian collections star is a mummy of a Late Period lady well preserved and though she is a fine mummy it is her wrappings that have become one of, if not the museums greatest artifact, certainly a unique object of world cultural importance.

The lady's wrappings consist of a linen book, a singular surviving example of a linen book from classical antiquity. The bonus being that the book is heavily inscribed in Etruscan writing, a language which remains mostly undeciphered and of which this document is the longest surviving extent text in the ancient Etruscan language known in the world, a singular object in this small collection that any of the worlds far more important museums would envy to posses.

The mummy was purchased in Alexandria sometime around 1848-9 with her wrappings, an injured book of the dead, a sarcophagus, and a mummified cat head all of which enjoyed the "parlor life", the lady standing up with the aid of an iron rod within a glass case. The owner took off the mummies wrappings and displayed them nearby, though it is reported the owner did not notice the writing on the wrappings.

These artifacts were donated to the forerunner of Zagreb's Archaeological Museum sometime after the owners death in 1859 by his family. The damaged Egyptian book of the dead belonged to Nesi-Khonsu the wife of a Theban tailor.

The carbon 14 dates for the mummy, its linen wrappings and papyrus are all dating to approximately 390 BC., though there is some debate about the date of the book of the dead which contains inscriptions in both hieroglyphic and hieratic, it must be said with no corroborating evidence it is only be an assumption that the Zagreb mummy is Nesi-Khonsu.

Studies of the linen book have revealed the names of certain gods and dates suggesting it to be a liturgical calender, there can be no doubt that the book is a world treasure .In the future with translation the full intent of the document will no doubt be helped by still yet to be discovered sources.


(KMT Journal, Summer 2010, Vol. 21, #2, Egypt at Zagreb by Lucy Gordan-Rastelli, pg. 63 says that there are "approximately 3,150 objects", in the Egyptian collection, due to this discrepancy I therefore have used the archaeological museums own website information)

Photo of Zagreb Egyptian collection: Pearls: Touch of Croatia
Photo of Etruscan Book:  SpeedyGonsales
Links: Archaeological Museum Zagreb 
Translations: Mel Copeland, The Zagreb Mummy Script

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Daughters of Nefertiti

Valley of the Kings tomb KV63 was discovered quite by accident in 2005 by a team directed by Dr. Otto Schaden working on the tomb of Amenmesse inside and around the entrance of that king's tomb, KV10. As debris was being removed from in front of the tomb ancient workman's huts were found, and below a lip carved into the bedrock was revealed. The lip turned out to be the mouth of a shaft which descended five meters revealing a stone built door in one wall.

A few stones were taken from the top of the door revealing for the first time in more than three thousand years a small room containing many large white pots and at the back of the room seven black resin covered coffins, some with yellow faces indicating that those coffins were finished for women. There was hope that the world of ancient Egypt was about to present a number of historical personages in the parched flesh.

Unfortunately, no mummies were found with the exception of a shadow of where a mummy had left its impression in the bottom of a coffin. The tomb was, in reality, a mortuary dump of likely sacred leftovers of the mummification and reburial rites of perhaps a number of people. A clay seal was also found containing 'pa-aten' what may be part of Tutankhamun's wife Queen Ankhesenamun's Atonist name, Ankhesenpaaten.

The jars contained refuse including a funerary bed taken apart and placed in one of them. Used natron and bits of human flesh along with the remains of a funerary repast that included floral collars worn by the attendants of a long forgotten funeral. The storeroom KV63 lies near KV62, with the contents of both tombs from the reign of Tutankhamun, and more closely to the end of the Amarna heresy.  If the seal is correct and does represent Tutankhamun's queen than some of the debris may have come from Ankhesenamun's mummification, and funeral, suggesting that her death may have come quite quickly after Tutankhamun, perhaps for treason. If we are to believe it was Ankhesenamun who was writing to a foreign king for one of  his sons, so she could make him king, rather than have herself married to a servant.

It is unknown what the circumstance was during the evacuation of the royal tomb at Akhetaton and the condition of the royal family's mummies by the time they were removed from the tomb. Judging by the king discovered in Valley of the Kings tomb KV55, which appeared to be disheveled yet still wrapped when found. This may be a good sign for the royal mummies theorized as hidden behind the walls of Tutankhamun's tomb.

It must be observed however that the accouterments found on the KV55 king were in no way equally as abundant as those found on Tutankhamun. This may suggest that the mummy in question might well have been found after a robbery of the royal tomb and had been re-wrapped. This leaves open the possibility that the Amarna tomb was robbed before the move to Thebes and that those members of the family that were buried there, such as King's Akhenaton and Smenkhkare, Queen's Tiye, Nefertiti and possibly Nefertiti's oldest daughter Meritaton, as well as Princess Meketaton had all been through at least one violent robbery before the transfer to Thebes.

The assortment of coffins found at the back of tomb KV63 looked humble enough, though they were finely made. Could the Amarna dead have been transported in these simple coffins as some of the royal mummies from Amarna may no longer have had coffins left by the time the robbery was discovered? The occupants moved along with Akhenaton in his badly damaged and unwanted female royal coffin converted for his burial. More importantly sending the disgraced king back to Thebes in this converted coffin of a woman may have had meaning to all those who saw the display and knew who was in the coffin.

 The idea that the coffins in KV63 came into the valley containing the unwanted mortuary material seems unreasonable. This material would likely have been part of funerary arrangements for the daughters of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, with the mummification refuse being for Ankhesenamun. Certainly, all the coffins found in KV63 could not have belonged to Ankhesenamun alone.

In particular the funerals of the two queens’ in tomb KV21, These mummies being known as KV21A who through DNA testing is the mother of the fetuses in Tutankhamun's tomb and the only known queen of the boy king. KV21B found in the same tomb as Ankhesenamun may well be the deceased Meritaton whose embalming materials may have been left buried at Akhetaton. There is no evidence of Meritaton changing her name, unlike Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun leaving open that she was already among the dead moved from Amarna.

The Newberry ring is a faience ring that contains two cartouches side by side, one is of Tutankhamun's successor the Pharaoh Ay while the other is Ankhesenamun's indicating that she did outlive her husband, but not by much as Ay's reign was short. The coffins deposited in KV63 being left in the refuse as I would imagine that the royal workshops under Tutankhamun would have been busy making replacement caskets for those members of his family who left Amarna in these substitute coffins in approximately 1334 BC. How many years after the arrival and reburial at Thebes of those royals had spanned till the death and burial of the last queen of the dynasty is unknown,

Tutankhamun came to the throne at the age of nine with the move back to Thebes occurring in year four or five of his reign. Four years later Tutankhamun is dead leaving Ankhesenamun to finish the dynasty. This may mean that KV 21 and refuse room KV63 had been employed for little more than three or four years around ca.1334 BC to 1337 BC, and likely both were finally sealed and forgotten after the burial of Ankhesenamun.

Famed Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves theory that King Tutankhamun's tomb may have other chambers containing the burial of Nefertiti presents many opportunities for imagination. Mr. Reeves theory may well be backed up by the number of coffins discarded in KV63 after the burials and reburials of Nefertiti and her daughters.


Study of Nefertiti by Keith Schengili-Roberts
KV-10 The Tomb of Amenmesse
KV63 Excavation site
Theban Mapping Project
Daughter of Akhanaton and Nefertiti:  fr: Photo 169 de Guillaume Blanchard (Fujifilm S6900, juillet 2004)
Daughter of Akhanaton and Nefertiti: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
Many Thanks to Jon Bodsworth for the Nefertiti photo directly above

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Egypt Under the Pharaohs

Barbara Sewell
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 68-25454

The book opens with the usual rundown of the environment along the Nile, and the divisions into which ancient Egyptian history is partitioned. This short book contains black and white images on most pages; unfortunately many of these are too dark, though nice color full page photographs are spaced throughout the book.

This volume is very much suitable for young readers ten and up. The read moves quickly onto death and the Egyptian afterlife with some very unusual images including one of all four stoppers from Tutankhamun's canopic chest. From here the writer moves to the Old Kingdom and the effective organization of manpower to create statues and stone buildings on a monumental scale.

After the fall of the Old Kingdom and its god-kings a period of anarchy followed where nomarchs vied with each other for power. The king's of the Middle Kingdom were once again effective rulers but they were no longer seen as god-like. This produced statuary in the Twelfth Dynasty of king's whose faces were now worn by the heavy burden that rested upon them.

A series of weak rulers followed creating the conditions for foreign king's to dominate Lower Egypt while intimidating the king's of Upper and Middle Egypt. The king's of Thebes Seventeenth Dynasty took up arms and fought to drive the foreigners from Egypt. It was finally the Theban King Ahmosis who unified the two lands establishing the New Kingdom, and her period of empire.

An interesting full color picture of the statuette of Queen Tetisheri owned by the British Museum appears on page 71, and on the museums website as a forgery. The great warrior Thutmosis III expanded Egypt's borders to their greatest extent, making the house of the Eighteenth Dynasty fabulously wealthy as well as the priests of the god of Thebes Amun. King's of both the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties contained rulers like the Nineteenth Dynasty King Ramesses II, and Ramesses III of the following dynasty who maintained order, but a series of weak kings living short reigns brought about the end of the empire.

Ms. Sewell presents the society and its domestic life with more amusing black and white photographs. Ancient Egypt was a barter economy where a worker was paid in food, clothes or any other producible measure in exchange. A society who's comforts could be acquired through work and the prosperous population in which their calendar year was dotted with great festivals among being the Opet festival.

The training of scribes brought with it the compositions of wisdom literature and admonitions of how to behave with consideration and good manners. These were to be written over and over again till the scribe could act on behalf of those in need of letters to be written, orders verified, tallying commodities and needs of law.

The author relates the discovery of the hieroglyphic writing by Champollion and others from the ancient monuments including the Rosetta stone.  Ms. Sewell proceeds forward with the sciences that from mathematics, astronomy, medicine and the calendar year, created an eternal people living eternal lives.

Today the world’s modern Egyptian collections are inevitably made up of objects needed for both life and contentment in the afterlife. These workshop/home crafts range from the simplest of objects to intricate productions worthy of royal workshops. In color plate 15 is presented a beautiful well painted scribe statue found in the Giza necropolis in 1951.

Barbara Sewell has put in print a manageable book for a young reader with solid tangibles about ancient Egypt. The book is suitable for an older reader though the light overview of famous discoveries will have most impact upon those who are just learning about ancient Egypt. Ms. Sewell has here presented a worthy gift for the young reader in Egypt Under the Pharaohs.