Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Tomb of Nefertiti

Well, all is set for Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves to investigate Tutankhamun's tomb hoping to find a doorway behind one of two walls or both. Mr. Reeves believes that Nefertiti's burial chamber may be behind one of them. This theory coming from such a respected man has caused great excitement not only in archaeological circles but in the mass-media as well.

In fact, there are a number of candidates who could be behind the walls of Valley of the Kings tomb number sixty-two. First, a couple of people we are unlikely to find including Tutankhamun's mother who has through DNA been found in the famous Valley of the Kings royal cache in the tomb of Amenhotep II in 1898. 

Giovanni Belzoni discovered in the valley tomb KV 21 in 1816 two well preserved female mummies, these mummies have since been destroyed. The headless remains of one of them known as KV21 A, is also through DNA likely to be Tutankhamun's Queen Ankhesenamun, as at least one of the fetuses found in his tomb is the child of KV21 A.

In the Valley of the Kings most controversial tomb were found the remains believed by some, including myself, to be that of the heretic King Akhenaton. Again the DNA suggests that the mummy is Tutankhamun's father. So with mom, dad and wife already discovered, who are the missing.

King Smenkhkare's burial equipment occupies some of the most prestigious of objects from Tutankhamun's burial, artifacts found not only in the tomb but intermingled fragments of objects found in the fill of KV62's steps. If King Smenkhkare is behind one of those walls it might be suggested that his/her burial might be modest, that or completely ruined.

Who can say if Nefertiti in homage to the great ancestor Hatschepsut, had herself declared pharaoh ruling as Smenkhkare along-side Ankhenaton in his last years? This might have been rectified by King Aye who is painted administering the "Opening of the mouth" ceremony onTutankhamun's mummy. Aye may well have returned Nefertiti's burial to the status of queen. 

Having said that it must be remembered that the KV55 mummy did not appear to have been unwrapped when found, only its mask was removed and perhaps restyled for king Tut. I suspect that if Nefertiti is behind one of the two walls that her burial will be modest in valuables, but providing that her mummy was not robbed in the transfer of royal burials from Tell el Amarna, I suspect that she will be intact though there will be little gold outside the mummy, and major missing pieces from her burial.

In the royal tomb at Akhenaton's capital are to be found carved reliefs showing the funeral of Akhenaton and Nefertiti's daughter Meketaton. Should Nefertiti be found I would suspect so will be found the mummy of this royal child reburied with her mother. The same rules apply to the transfer to Thebes of the royal dead except the little princess's burial is more likely to be a complete ensemble.

The lost Amarna mummies include the oldest daughter of Nefertiti, Meritaton who was a powerful queen in her own right and among those presumed addressed in the Amarna letters. Princesses Neferneferure, Setepenre, Neferneferuaten Tasherit, and Ankhesepaaten-Ta-Sherit, the daughters of Nefertiti remain to be identified, though there is a chance that one of them may be represented by the remains known as KV21 B, found with the presumed remains of Ankhesenamun. 

I would go even further that KV21 B would perhaps be most appropriate if the mummy was not a princess but a queen making KV21 the tomb of two queens including Ankhesenamun's oldest sister, and only other queen of the daughters of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, Meritaton. This would be backed up by the position the arms of both mummies were in when found.

How many ladies may be found might be foreseen by the contents of Valley of the Kings tomb KV63, an Armana period cache of embalming refuse. Mr. Reeves may be on to the burial of Nefertiti but also the mummies of her lost daughters.


Tutankhamen's tomb; Hajor, Dec.2002. Released under and/or GFDL.
Statue of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun; Ad Merskens
Akhenaton, Nefertiti and daughters; Gerbil
National Geographic September 2010

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Valley Of The Kings

John Romer
Henry Holt and Company
New York
ISBN: 0-8050-0993-0

 'The first half of the 19th century was the heroic age of Egyptology, when a year more or less meant whole new worlds of knowledge and discovery for the scholars in Egypt and at their desks in Europe. Letters of dazzling erudition flew back and forth from Egypt to Europe among the charmed circles who were rediscovering the historical order of the ancient kingdoms and their rulers, their arts and the true ages of the massive ruined architecture.'

The book opens with an overview of Upper and Lower Egypt including a map of the Valley of the Kings showing the locations of the sixty-two tombs known at the time of this publication. Mr. Romer puts forward the role of king as the keeper of harmony for his subjects and the development of the king's burial overtime. The conspicuous mastaba and pyramid burials of the Old and Middle Kingdoms afforded little protection from the depredations of robbers.

By the Eighteenth Dynasty, the king's mortuary temples were separated from the tombs which now began being carved off in a closed wadi, the Valley of the Kings. The effect was, however, the same as the people who created the tombs were often the thieves, especially in times of disorder. The king's of the later New Kingdom left Thebes for the cities in the delta and by about 1000 BC the tombs of the ancestor kings were opened with one after another emptied of their extraordinary content.

Through the latter half of the antique world, the Valley of Kings became a tourist attraction to both the Greeks followed by the Romans and by the early Byzantine era the tombs in the valley ceased to be tourist attractions. A thousand years would pass before the royal necropolis and the city of Thebes was again recognized by seventeenth-century travelers.

A number of travelers published details of their visits to the valley though extremely insufficient including James Bruce who famously published a misinterpreted image of harpists he found in the tomb of Ramesses III. It was Napoleon whose invasion in 1798 brought with him the best French scholars to explore the ancient monuments and scientifically record them for one of the finest publications ever put into print.

Eighteen years later a circus strongman and hydrologist entered the silent valley on a mission to collect the pink granite sarcophagus from the now famous tomb of Ramesses III. His name was Giovanni Belzoni and he would become one of the Valley of the Kings most fortunate visitors, discovering a number of tombs including the burial vaults for three kings, the Pharaoh's Aye, Ramesses I, and the finest tomb known in the valley, the magnificent tomb of King Seti I. Belzoni describes his first entrance into King Ramesses abode with visitors he was showing around Thebes.

     'Having proceeded through a passage thirty-two feet long and eight feet wide, I descended a staircase of twenty-eight feet, and reached a tolerably large and well painted room, I then made a signal from below to the travellers that they might descend, and they entered into the tomb which is seventeen feet long and twenty-one wide. We found a sarcophagus of granite, with two mummies in it, and in a corner, a statue standing erect, six feet high, and beautifully cut out of sycamore wood: it is nearly perfect except the nose. We found also a number of little images of wood, well carved, representing symbolic figures. Some had a lion's head, others a fox's, others a monkey's. One had a land-tortoise instead of a head.' *

Mr. Belzoni was followed by many other men of note including John Gardiner Wilkinson who painted numbers on the tombs in the valley and Francois Champollion who deciphered the hieroglyphs, and went on to damage Seti's tomb, removing a fresco from a doorway in the tomb. The book contains many drawings and photographs placed liberally throughout the text, often encompassing a couple of full page illustrations.

By the 1870's royal antiquities from a family of Theban high priests of Dynasty, Twenty One began appearing on the Luxor antiquities market and in European museums. These finds included books of the dead, ushabti's and mummy braces for various kings, queens, and princesses’. The robbers had found a tomb containing tens of thousands of dollars worth of antiquities.

It would turn out to be the greatest find of royal mummies ever and included a who's who of the greatest emperors of Egypt's New Kingdom. Present were the sainted mummies of Amenhotep I and his mother Ahmes Nofretari, the first three Thutmoside king's including the great warrior Thutmosis III, also the first three kings of the Nineteenth Dynasty that included not only the great king Seti I, but also his son Ramesses II, the penultimate king.

John Romer imbues his telling with such spirit that it would be difficult to find another author do better justice to the often over-told story of the discovery. The prominent kings are lined up in a salon of the then Bulaq museum, with the rest put into storage until the day they would be divested of their shrouds and bandages, mostly beginning in 1886.

As the nineteenth century comes to a close we find the head of the Egyptian Antiquities service Victor Loret searching the Valley of the Kings for more tombs, except Mr. Loret is not always present, and his workers in the valley do not always inform him when a tomb is found, or at least remove small artifacts from tombs before Mr. Loret enters. This may be true of the discovery of the first intact Eighteenth Dynasty burial of a man named Mahirpra.

Mr. Loret is aware that objects were showing up in European museums bearing the cartouches of Amenhotep II. It has the appearance that his excavators in the valley took their share first, yet just as bad Loret made insufficient notes of his excavations. These losses in the archaeological record hurt even more by the importance of the tombs found being those of king's Thutmosis III, and eventually his son Amenhotep II.

The author follows the order of the tombs discovered creating a thorough rundown of excavations, though these diggings are more of a half hazard hopping around the valley without any systematic order, or governance. In an era where wealthy European's and American's snatched up illegal antiquities and were broadly given permits to dig and keep objects unwanted by the antiquities service, Egypt was swarming with profiteers.

Theodore Davis was such a man, receiving the permit to dig in the Valley of Kings and unearthing major finds just about every year. Among these finds was the tomb of Queen Tiye's parents, Yuya and his wife Tuya. This was the finest tomb found in the valley to date, filled with well-preserved furnishings from the court of Amenhotep III.

The Amarna cache tomb 55 excavated by a number of the top men in the antiquities service, each competent on his own, yet as a group completed the excavation with few records, being an embarrassment to each of them, seriously damaging the historical record of the tomb. Davis having had such huge success in the valley now retired believing it held no more tombs.

The end of Davis's permit gave Lord Carnarvon the chance to take over and begin excavating the site with Howard Carter. This promising site, unfortunately, delivered little to justify Carnarvon's expenditure and soon Carter was asking for one more season. The famous discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb would bring a global hurricane of tourists interfering with the excavation of the tomb, challenging the nerves of Carter and of the archaeologist working for him.

The book ends with a short chapter on the designated names for parts of the royal tombs. More than thirty years have passed since publication and John Romer's must read book remains a valuable, untarnished history in great detail of the romance of the Valley of the Kings.

* Belzoni, Giovanni. Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia. London, 1822

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Gold of Tutankhamen

Kamal El Mallakh / Arnold C. Brackman
Optimum Publishing Company Limited
1978 First English Language Edition
ISBN: 0-88890-106-2

                            "When you've seen one sarcophagus, you've seen 'em all."


                                                                                            William E. Simon*

This menacing size volume is not something I want to have to carry too far being both large and heavy. To Mr. Kamal El Mallakh we owe the discovery of the boat pits he found at Giza next to the great pyramid that contained the two ships belonging to King Khufu. Mr. Arnold C. Brackman was a prestigious journalist who wrote a number of books on a variety of subjects.

The preface of the book is written by eminent Yale University Egyptologist William Kelly Simpson former curator of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Professor Simpson writes of the remaining archaeological environment containing evidence denuded by centuries of robberies, as well as the expectations the modern observer places on the contents of Tutankhamen's tomb. It is within the artifacts found with the king that must tell the story as regrettably there were not the expected documents of the king’s reign within his burial.

The book opens with a background to both Lord Carnarvon and his excavator Howard Carter including the eventual contract agreed by the two men. Too Carter as a teenage artist of talent there came an opportunity to use his craft in Egypt working for the Egypt Exploration fund. Carter developed his skills in archaeology living rough in with Flinders Petrie at Tell El Amarna, while the rich aristocratic Lord Carnarvon whiled away his days in the societal adventure without cause.

While driving his motor car in Germany Lord Carnarvon was confronted by two carts blocking the road resulting in an accident which left him with serious burns and broken bones though fortunately to his admirable relief and concern he had not killed anybody. To recover Lord Carnarvon left England to winter at Luxor where he was introduced to now professional archaeologist Howard Carter.

The text contains a fine telling with many knowledgeable anecdotes of interest, though disheartening as a number of familiar stories are co-mingled with other events and locations. The author is certainly in possession of important events in Egyptology but clearly lacks a background on the subject, being unfamiliar with the landscape. The reader is told that after Howard Carter's men dug out the sixteen steps leading to Tutankhamen's tomb the excavators found a sealed wooden door when in reality it was a plastered wall.

 A respite is taken from the text for a number of pages containing a standard content of black and white photographs. With the discovery of the tomb, the world descended upon Luxor creating a circus-like atmosphere with Howard Carter having to take time from his work to host a who's who of the international elite and press. The latter, including the Egyptian press, being denied from reporting due to an exclusive given by Lord Carnarvon to the London Times.

"Fear spread in the Valley that a rarity of rarities-a rainstorm-might erupt and send tons of cascading water crashing through the chasm and into the open tomb. European and American newspapers, not privy to the London Times' reports, played up the angle. A New York headline read: "PANIC SPREADING/ GRAVE POSSIBILITY/ PRICELESS ANTIQUITIES/ MAY BE HOPELESSLY DESTROYED BY TOMORROW."

 It does no favor to judge this book by its incompatible irregularities alone, but also it must be viewed with the nature of the book in its minutia of detail and conveyance of mood created by the international excitement of the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. The text presented that flavor of the times complete with superstitions and the rising nationalism of Egypt's populace.

Arriving in the middle of the book we come to the second half concerned with the color plates and the notes of each section of plates further on. This may require the reader to use two bookmarks to view properly. The objects of Tutankhamen chosen by Mr. El Mallakh were positioned especially for the photographs in the book, except of course those of the tomb itself.

The objects chosen begin with the king’s famous gold mask pictured on three stunning full pages from different angles. Two of the kings coffins are next complete with multiple views of both that include an image of the underside of the foot of his innermost coffin. At this point I have finally come to the part I have been craving to get to, Tutankhamen's shrines.

My first look through of the book I could see all the amazing material presented on the shrines which surrounded Tutankhamen's sarcophagus, the vignettes possessing some of the great works of Egyptian art. The large wondrous image of Tutankhamen's mummy in the Netherworld on the exterior left panel of shrine II presents him as "He who hides the hours".

     'In this image, the figure seems to be immobilized by circles around both the head and the feet by the serpent Mehen, the Enveloper. In the center of the mummy, the disk containing a ram-headed bird with human arms raised in adoration symbolizes the night sun. It is being pulled from the body with a rope held by the figures of deities at left with arms raised, an action which is believed to mark the passing of the night hours.'

On the outermost shrine, the rear interior panel contains the Divine Cow, an image I have never seen before, as is true of many of the vignettes beautifully presented in full-page color photographs. The book moves onto a section of photo's titled "The Young King", beginning with the wooden head of Tutankhamen rising from a blue lotus. This section presents the many statuettes and images of mainly Tutankhamen but also his queen Ankhesenamen found in his tomb.

One of the most amazing discoveries among the contents of the tomb includes the discovery of a complete, or near-complete funerary assemblage of a pharaoh of ancient Egypt. The enigmatic funerary couches, the kings life size ka sentinels, the Anubis shrine and the canopic emplacement all in an excellent state of preservation being either completely unique or the finest of surviving examples.

Though the king was hardly old enough at death to have been a great warrior he is represented as such on many objects in the burial. The king treads on his Asiatic and Nubian foes which are represented on his footstools and the soles of his sandals, including on a ceremonial shield. Among the kings jewelry is a rarely seen necklace composed of faience and gold beads with a ball of black resin at the back and a reversible large faience udjat eye hanging from the front of the piece.

The left Eye of Re represented the bark in which the sun traveled during the day and when worn as a right eye represented the sacred vessel of Re-Harakhti that traveled through the Underworld at night. The items of the king’s jewelry are mostly created using hieroglyphs to give the pieces symbolic messages, but in the case of a pair of the pharaoh’s earrings they possess no symbolism but are spectacular in that they are made with purple gold, created by mixing iron with the gold, this in the early days of Egypt's entrance into the Iron Age.

The early mistakes in the unusual text are unfortunate, though I would be inclined to not judge those mistakes too harshly as the reader is bound to have them corrected in the next book they read on the subject. It is for me the second part of this volume which is particularly special in its photos and which separates 'The Gold of Tutankhamen' from the huge amount of books on the king and his tomb.


* United States Secretary of the Treasury