Winter/Flood Fatigue: Seasons in Ancient Egypt

Waiting for spring always feels like waiting a century in my book. At some point in the early weeks of the year (usually mid-January, after my birthday), winter becomes the worst, most awful season. The holidays are over, the snow becomes slushy and dirty, the cold becomes unbearable, and there is nothing to look forward to but the sweet, sweet sound of the birds chirping in the early hours of the morning. But has spring fully come? If you live in New York, it’s a week of spring, then a week of summer, back to winter for 2 weeks, and THEN hopefully spring is here for good and humanity feels suddenly optimistic, again.

The ancient Egyptians experienced a similar waiting period during the annual Nile flood. The Egyptian seasonal calendar corresponded with the flooding of the Nile; Akhet (Flooding season) from June to September**, consisted of the months Thoth, Paophi, Athyr, and Khoyak;  Peret (Growing season) from October to February** with Tybi, Mekhir, Phamenat, and Pharmuti; and Shemu (Harvesting Season), from March to May** with months Pakhons, Payni, Epiphi, and Mesore.

 

The beginnin582010466.jpgg of the inundation, and the Egyptian New Year, began when Sirius, the “Dog Star” (Sopdet in ancient Egyptian), started to rise in the sky. In the first season of the year, Akhet, the Nile rose considerably, putting miles upon miles of Egyptian farmland under roughly 5 feet of water. Egyptians developed a way to manage the flood known as basin irrigation, which allowed them to semi-control the rise and fall of the river. A crisscross network of walls was formed in each field, and when the floods came, the water would be trapped in the basins formed by the walls. This allowed the grid to hold water longer than it would have in the natural Nile flood, and further allowed the soil to become fully saturated in order to provide strong crops.

 

By October the flood waters would recede, and the growing season Peret would begin. This was the busiest season for ancient Egyptian farmers, requiring them to plough with both hand ploughs pulled by oxen, preparing the soil for the laying of the seeds. Farmers planted a number of crops including wheat, barley, flax, onions, figs, plums, melons, etc. into the newly ploughed soil, with goats or other animals following behind, their hooves pushing the seeds into the ground.

harvestAfter all the crops had reached full growth, Shemu began. No plant was left unharvested! Grain was cut using sickles, tied into bundles, and carried away; wheat was made into bread, barley into beer, and flax used to make linen cloth; even the papyrus reeds that grew naturally along the Nile banks were harvested to make sandals, baskets, mats, and paper. Women and children often helped during harvesting seasons—the children leaving school—to make certain that the crops were fully harvested and accounted for. Finally, the crops were sold or given to the pharaoh as tribute.

During Shemi, a great festival to the god Hapi was held, in hopes that Hapi, god of the Nile, would bless them with a good upcoming flood, and ensure a bountiful harvest the next year.

Then the cycle would begin again, and this, I imagine, is when the ancient Egyptians would have experienced their version of “winter fatigue.” At first, they would be incredibly happy that the flood season had arrived and that the hardest work was over for a few months, then, after just a few short weeks, they would be “so absolutely over” traveling everywhere in boats that they would be praying for the busy harvest time to arrive again.

So, as we eagerly await the day when spring will stick for good, I’ll be grateful that at least I don’t have to travel all over New York City by boat….at least not yet.

Mekutrastravelingboat

**: Any alignment with our modern months is based on references to a combination of multiple sources and should NOT be taken as fact. Remember, one of the most fascinating (and frustrating) things about Egyptology is that we could be totally wrong about EVERYTHING.

 

Works Cited

https://books.google.com/books?id=lFscBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=seasons+ancient+egypt&source=bl&ots=5ftQq54CC6&sig=4gS9qU1ku1pOSL4yzv4rcz71-W8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj8m8i1lI7LAhWFPD4KHer4A-k4PBDoAQhKMAg#v=onepage&q=seasons%20ancient%20egypt&f=false

 

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/calendar.html

 

http://thepharaohsmag.blogspot.com/2013/06/ancient-egyptian-seasons.html#.Vsx0ZvkrK70

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More “Wonderful Things”

 

“I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.” 
― Howard CarterTomb of Tutankhamen

Last week, the world of Egyptology became even more hopeful that the discovery of Queen Nefertiti’s tomb is close at hand. Mamdouh el-Damati, Antiquities Minister, announced the promising results last Thursday, stating that the scans completed in November revealed a 90% probability of the presence of two empty spaces behind two walls of the burial chamber. He also announced that the scans have shown possible “organic material” inside these spaces, alluding to the presence of metal, stone, fabrics…mummies?

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courtesy BBC

 

 

Experts plan to complete additional scanning at the end of the month to determine the size of these hidden chambers and the thickness of the walls, but Damati urged that “There will be no digging unless we are 100 percent sure the chambers exist.”  El Damati himself has never been a supporter of Egyptologist Nick Reeves’s theory on the burial of Nefertiti (discussed in my previous post *link*), but he does believe that there may be some kind of female royalty buried within the hidden chambers.

 

 

Soon the additional scanning of the hidden rooms will begin, but in the meantime Reeves and his team are using high quality surveying equipment to search for a secret doorway on the northern wall that could reveal one of these hidden chambers. After a thorough analysis of the high resolution images was published online last year, Reeves identified cracks in the walls that could indicate to “ghost” doorways that lay beyond the wall.

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courtesy BBC

While he works to fully test his hypothesis, Nicholas Reeves (and his team) face continued opposition from those trying to preserve the historical site in its entirety. “We must find a way to protect the tomb of Tutankhamun,” El Damati stated in an October interview, “Does that mean we will dig from above, below or from the side? We don’t know.” Many Egyptologists refuse to allow Reeves and his team to destroy any part of the historic site, even if it means preventing the discovery of a great Egyptian treasure.

As testing continues and potential dates for excavation are set, it is certain that the preservation of the tomb of Tutankhamun will be a major point of debate, and while it may require sacrifice, every Egyptologist hopes for the moment when we can once again hear the response that changed the world:

 “yes, wonderful things.”

 

 

 

Works Cited:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35831025

http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/17/middleeast/nefertiti-tomb-radar/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/queen-nefertiti-tomb-egypt-king-tutankhamun-have-we-found-secret-lost-burial-a6942696.html

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The Carnarvon Collection: The Real Drama of Downton Abbey

This Monday, as I sat down for dinner to complete my weekly ritual of watching the Downton Abbey episode from the night before, I thought back on the show, it’s successes and failures, and one of its most unfortunate casualties.

blog 1

courtesy of PBS

 

Sweet Isis, the beloved family Labrador named after the Egyptian Goddess, who was ‘killed off’ the show when the terrorist group began to make headlines.  While I won’t get into the politics of the decision, what is important to acknowledge is that Downton Abbey has a connection to Ancient Egypt that goes far beyond the name of the Crawley family’s unfortunate hound.

 

 

blog 2

courtesy of Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, home to the fictional Crawley family, was (and is) the real-life abode of the Herbert family, the Earls of Carnarvon. The Herberts include in their ranks a man who was involved in the discovery of one of the greatest Egyptian treasures—the tomb of King Tutankhamen. In 1922, the fifth earl of Carnarvon sponsored archaeologist and friend Howard Carter in his exploration of the Valley of the Kings, never imagining they would uncover the final resting place of one of the most illustrious Egyptian pharaohs in Egypt’s history.

 

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Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. Courtesy of Highclere 

 

 

George Herbert, Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, first travelled to Egypt in 1898. From 1906 on he spent many winters in Egypt, and collected numerous artifacts 16 years spent near Luxor in the Valley of the Queens, the Valley of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and in the Nile Delta near Alexandria. His collection served as a trophy of his great adventures, but upon his death in 1923, his widow was forced to part with it to pay for death costs. After being catalogued by Howard Carter, the collection was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Carter leaving the “unimportant, less impressive” artifacts at Highclere.

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward almost 70 years, and these “less impressive” artifacts reemerge when an aged butler reveals a secret panel covering a cache hidden in the walls of one of the estate’s lesser-used rooms. Behind these panels were scarabs and wood pieces, even a minature axe head was discovered stuck to the windowsill. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves agrees that the found objects are “less impressive” than other Carnarvon artifacts, Reeves believes they hold importance elsewhere. In fact, they are the only known group excavated from the tomb of Amenhotep III.  Now some of these 300 Egyptian pieces from excavations of various sites at Thebes and Tel Balamun, are on exhibit as well as the castle’s Reynolds and Van Dyck paintings, French furniture and beautifully renovated, silk-lined rooms.

 

As I watched this week’s episode, it was an emotional rollercoaster (It’s the final season…I’m not handling it well,) but nothing brought more joy that when Robert received a gift from the Dowager Countess, Queen Maggie Smith.

blog 5

Courtesy of PBS

 

 

A new puppy! Overcome with joy, Robert immediately decides to name her Tia’a. Confused, daughter Edith exclaims. “I thought we always had names from ancient Egypt.” Robert replies “Tia’a was a wife of Amenhotep II and the mother of Thutmose IV. Don’t you know anything?”

Ahhhh…that blissful moment when they actually get the history right. Thank you, Downton Abbey writers, thank you.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/21/travel/stately-home-with-a-trove-from-egypt.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/egyptian-exhibition

http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/antiquities-collection

 

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Fortune and Glory, Kid: The Search for Egypt’s Treasures

On my most recent trip to visit my parents upstate, we watched the 2014 thriller The Pyramid. I will be honest, the movie was so bad it was close to causing me physical pain (predictable plot, etc., etc.,– I would need quite a long blog post to analyze all its inaccuracies), yet the film did manage to get one incredibly important factor correct—the thrill of the find. It reminded me of the great build up in the Indiana Jones movies—you’ve heard the myth of the object, you know it’s value (historically and monetarily) and then as you climb and swing through caves and dilapidated temples you see it glimmer out of the corner of your eye…

ij

And yes, sometimes you grab it and it sets off a chain of events that lead to your almost-death, but sometimes you strike gold. The current thrill of Egyptology? The search for Queen (Pharaoh) Nefertiti’s tomb. During the past few months and excited buzz has spread across Egypt and throughout the rest world at the possibility of finding the lost queen of Akhenaten. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves has come up with a theory that has rocked the world of Egyptology, and could lead to one of the biggest Egyptological discoveries of this century.

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Reeves’s current investigations in the Tomb of Tutankhamun are based on the theory that the pharaoh Nefertiti is buried within a large chamber currently concealed behind a wall in the tomb of King Tut. Recent infrared scans of the tomb completed by Reeves’s team suggest that a chamber may indeed be hidden behind its walls. A team of scientists utilized infrared thermography to scan the wall, looking for changes in temperature in various sections that would allude to the presence of a separate chamber.

 

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courtesy of Getty Images

Reeves suggests that Nefertiti was interred first, and that the entrance to her chamber was later plastered and painted over for the boy-king’s use. In an analysis of the tomb reliefs, a scene painted in Tut’s chamber depicts figures whose faces have physical features traditionally associated with portrayals of Nefertiti, including “a somewhat scooped brow and nose and a straight jawline with gently rounded chin.”[1] Reeves further cites the size and layout of the tomb as supporting evidence. With only four rooms, the tomb is considerable smaller than those of other pharaohs, suggesting that it may be part of a more expansive structure. Furthermore, anyone entering the chamber from the main corridor has to turn right, a tomb configuration traditionally reserved for Egyptian queens. When she died, Nefertiti would have been placed in an extravagant tomb, since as sole ruler she would be entitled to the more elaborate funerary paraphernalia of a pharaoh of Egypt. At the time of Nefertiti’s burial, there would have been no intention that Tutankhamun would, in due course, occupy the same tomb, but the unexpected death of Tutankhamun left the Egyptians unprepared, with no tomb yet dug for the young pharaoh. Reeves believes the ancient Egyptians selected their best option and utilized a tomb that was already built for a royal funerary purpose. [2]

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courtesy of CNN

Nick Reeves has further found evidence that the famous mask of Tutankhamun was not intended for the boy-king, but for the pharaoh Nefertiti. When the mask was damaged and subsequently removed from display for conservation, a deeper analysis of the mask was possible for the first time since its discovery by Howard Carter. Reeves’s analysis brought to attention that near the cartouche identifying the mask as belonging to Tutankhamun, the remnants of the cartouche of Nefernefruaten remain, insinuating that the mask was intended first for Nefertiti and adding greater evidence to Reeves’s hypothesis of the hidden chamber within Tutankhamun’s tomb.

While many are ecstatic about the potential for this great of a discovery, Dr. Zahi Hawass, arguably the most famous Egyptologist of our time, believes that this hypothesis has no footing. Dr. Hawass said in a New York Times article “I can smell a discovery, and this is no discovery at all.” Hawass has said he will never allow an excavation to take place since it will involve the destruction of the walls of King Tut’s tomb, but Reeves and his team fight on. And wouldn’t we all? If there was even the slightest chance of finding that hidden, golden treasure? Wait…what’s that Indy? Look out for the boulder?!

 

Sources:
http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/11/africa/nefertiti-tomb-tutankhamun/
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150814-nefertiti-tomb-tutankhamun-tut-archaeology-egypt-dna/
http://www.academia.edu/14406398/The_Burial_of_Nefertiti_2015_
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/11906040/Scans-suggest-Queen-Nefertiti-may-lie-concealed-in-King-Tuts-tomb.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/world/middleeast/hope-for-nefertitis-tomb-and-egypts-economy.html
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34410720
[1] Nicholas Reeves, “The Burial of Nefertiti (?)” Amarna Royal Tombs Project. Paper No. 1, 45.
[2] Nicholas Reeves, “The Burial of Nefertiti (?)”, Amarna Royal Tombs Project. No. 1, 2015. 50.
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Giza Month Part Three: Menkaure, the Pyramid Cut Short

The smallest and final pyramid to be discussed as part of our investigation of the great pyramids of Giza is the monument constructed by Pharaoh Menkaure (possibly known as Mycerinos to the Greeks).

map giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

map giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

Standing at a mere 213 feet tall, Menkaure’s pyramid seems insignificant when compared to its sister structures. However, the pyramid chambers within this smaller monument are much more complex than those found in Khafre’s pyramid and include a chamber of decorative panels, one of six large niches, and a burial chamber lined with massive granite blocks. A black stone sarcophagus, carved with beautiful niched panels, was discovered inside the burial chamber, but was later lost at sea as it was being transported to England.

Pyramid of Menkaure, courtesy of Dr. Amy Calvert

Pyramid of Menkaure, courtesy of Dr. Amy Calvert

 

The Pharaoh Menkaure died unexpectedly during the construction of the pyramid and its complex, and therefore work was abandoned. However, remains of mud brick found on the pyramid reveal that at some point after Menkaure’s death, the complex was completed, though not as Menkaure originally intended. The most plausible theory in regards to the completion of the complex is that Menkaure’s heir, Shepseskaf, returned to the site and completed the work using mud brick.

 

King Menkaure (Mycerinus) and queen, 2490-2472 B.C.E., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)​    *Diad: Piece of Statuary depicting two figures

King Menkaure (Mycerinus) and queen, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Although his pyramid and complex were not fully completed as planned, many statues of the pharaoh were found in Menkaure’s mortuary and valley temples.One example of this statuary (and one of my favorite pieces of statuary in Egyptian history) consists of a beautiful diad* depicting the king and his primary queen Khamerernebty II which now resides at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.This exquisite statue was accompanied by a number of triads depicting the king with various deities which would have originally been set up surrounding the open court of the valley temple.This temple was still an active cult location late into the Old Kingdom, but was entirely reconstructed at the end of the 6th dynasty after it was heavily damaged by a flood.

 

Although Menkaure’s pyramid was not the largest and his complex not the most impressive of the three, when modern man calls to mind an image of the Giza Plateau, we see the points of all three pyramids standing against the blue Egyptian sky. The third pyramid and complex seem to somehow complete the whole.

Perhaps it’s as the wise man said in Schoolhouse Rock:

“Three is a magic number. Yes it is; it’s a magic number. Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity, you get three as a magic number.”

 

 

 

Additional resources:
Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 2008).

David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (Thames and Hudson, 2011).

Amy Calvert , Old Kingdom: Pyramid of Khufu, Khan Academy

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Giza Month, Part Two: Khafre, the Pyramid, and the Sphinx

The second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau, and the second largest in the entirety of Egypt, is the monument built by the Pharaoh Khafre (Known to the Greeks as Chephren). While his brother (or possibly his uncle) Djedefre ruled before Khafre and constructed his pyramid at Abu Rawash, Khafre returned to Giza to build his pyramid beside his father’s.

map giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

map Giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

Standing around 471 feet tall, Khafre’s pyramid is just shy of reaching the height of Khufu’s monument, but despite this seeming inadequacy, Khafre would not be outdone. In order to make his pyramid appear the larger of the two, Khafre constructed his pyramid 10 m (33 feet) higher on the plateau. Although the capstone of the pyramid is lost, a section of the original outer casing stones still remains near the top of Khafre’s pyramid, giving Egyptologists greater insight as to how the great pyramids at Giza would have looked to the ancient Egyptians.

photo courtesy of Keith payne

photo courtesy of Keith Payne

An examination of the inner layout of the pyramid makes it clear that Khafre’s focus was on the exterior of the pyramid and the surrounding complex.  The interior of the pyramid is much simpler than that of Khufu’s Pyramid, holding only a single burial chamber, a small subsidiary chamber, and two passageways.

layout of Khafre's pyramid

Diagram of the interior of the pyramid of Khafre

There are, however, some mysteries surrounding Khafre and his pyramid. Although a sarcophagus was discovered within the burial chamber, no mummy or other remains have ever been found within the pyramid. In the second burial chamber (according to the above diagram), archaeologists uncovered a pit which may have been the intended resting place for Khafre’s canopic jars (jars containing internal organs extracted during the mummification process), but this is uncertain. It is also thought that perhaps this grand pyramid was meant to serve a ceremonial purpose rather than as a burial site, but this is also a speculation.  The purpose of the second chamber within the pyramid is also unknown.

Pillars in Valley Temple of Khafre. Photo courtesy of Amy Calvert

Pillars in Valley Temple of Khafre. Photo courtesy of Amy Calvert

The complex surrounding Khafre’s pyramid is much more intricate than that of its predecessor. Pharaoh Khafre was known for his self-representative statuary, and he filled his mortuary temple with over 52 life-size or larger images. The valley temple, located at the east end of the causeway, is beautifully preserved. Holding an additional 24 images of the pharaoh, the temple was constructed of megalithic blocks sheathed with granite and floors of polished white calcite.

However impressive the temples may be, nothing comes close to the colossal Great Sphinx. With the body of the lion and the head of Pharaoh Khafre. The sphinx is carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau, and archaeologists believe that the core blocks that construct the king’s valley temple were quarried from the stone that runs along the upper sides of the sphinx itself! The king’s head is slightly smaller in scale than the lion body, which sculptors attempted to compensate for by elongating the body.

courtesy of Disney Corporation

courtesy of Disney Corporation

The combination of the lion, a royal symbol as well as a symbol of the horizon, and the king’s head, show not only his power as the ruler, but helps to guard him through a successful journey to the afterlife.One highly-debated aspect of the Sphinx’s history involves the missing part of his nose, which is often believed to have been blown off by a shot from one of Napoleon’s soldiers.

(Or maybe it is from Aladdin and Jasmine accidentally knocking it on their magic carpet ride?)

In any case, Pharaoh Khafre’s contribution to the Giza Plateau solidified the site’s importance in the history of the Old Kingdom and the ancient Egyptian civilization, adding to the majesty and mystique that continues to attract and inspire the human race.

courtesy of Keith Payne

courtesy of Keith Payne

Additional resources:
Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 2008).

David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (Thames and Hudson, 2011).

Amy Calvert , Old Kingdom: Pyramid of Khufu, Khan Academy

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Giza Month Part One: Khufu and the Great Pyramid of Giza

Welcome to Giza Month! This month, I’m going to fill you in on the creation of one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Pyramids at Giza, and their surrounding, but lesser known, treasures. Finally, we’ll end the month with a discussion of the ongoing and heated debate surrounding the construction of the pyramids.

map giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

map Giza pyramid complex – courtesy of khan academy

It’s evident that Giza Month should begin with the largest and most iconic pyramid in the history of Ancient Egypt: The Great Pyramid constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu (known in some ancient documents by the Greek version of his name, Cheops). Built over an estimated 20-30 year period, Khufu’s pyramid stands around 480 feet tall, with a base length of more than 750 feet per side. Almost more impressive than the pyramid’s imposing dimensions is the fact that the difference in length among the four sides is a mere 4.4 cm, an incredible engineering accomplishment for an ancient society.

Entrance, Pyramid of Khufu (Photo: Olaf Tausch)

Entrance, Pyramid of Khufu (Photo: Olaf Tausch)

The Great Pyramid of Giza incorporates around 2.3 million stone blocks weighing an average of 2.5 to 15 tons each. The stones you see in the image above are the inner, locally quarried core stones. During the original construction, angled outer casing stone made of white Tura limestone was installed on top of these less ornamental blocks to give the pyramid a smooth surface while being bright and reflective. Finally, the pyramid would have possessed a capstone, known as a pyramidion, that may have been gilt, and would have certainly been visible for miles around. Both the pyramidion and casing stones were removed and repurposed long ago in order to construct other monuments.

To enter the pyramid, the visitor has to crawl up an extremely cramped ascending chamber that opens suddenly into the Grand Gallery. From this 26-foot tall corbelled passageway, the visitor can decide to descend to the Queens Chamber or the unfinished subterranean chamber below, or to ascend to the King’s chamber, which is constructed entirely from red granite brought from the southern quarries at Aswan.

Diagram of the interior of the Pyramid of Khufu

Diagram of the interior of the Pyramid of Khufu

Above the King’s Chamber are five stress-relieving chambers of granite blocks that create a roof that helps distribute the weight of the pyramid itself. The king’s sarcophagus was found sitting at the exact central axis of the pyramid in a burial chamber. The chamber was sealed with a collection of large granite blocks and the entrance of the main shaft filled with limestone to obscure the opening to the human eye.

The pyramid was not Khufu’s only successful construction project: The Great Pyramid was the centerpiece of an entire complex, which includes several smaller pyramids, a mortuary temple, a causeway, a valley temple, many small tombs for officials and some members of the royal family, and more than five large boat pits.

Reconstructed funerary boat of Khufu (Photo: Dr. Amy Calvert)

Reconstructed funerary boat of Khufu (Photo: Dr. Amy Calvert)

These boat pits, which have a history of accompanying pharaonic mortuary structures (discovered at the Dynasty 1 pharaonic cemetery at Abydos), were intended to store the boats the pharaoh would need to transport himself across the sky in the afterlife. Although five of these pits contained only boat-shaped models, two pits on the south side of the Great Pyramid contained completed disassembled boats and all the supplies necessary to build them.  Using only ancient instructions and materials (or materials created through use of ancient instructions), one of these boats was removed and reconstructed, now standing in a special museum on the south side of the pyramid. The reconstructed cedar boat is 142 feet in length and contains 1,224 individual pieces! Investigation of the burial site, seems to indicate that these boats were most likely used for the funerary procession of the pharaoh to his resting places, and were then dismantled and buried.

Khufu’s Great Pyramid and the accompanying treasures not only helped to insure the safe passage of the king into the afterlife, but have contributed to humankind’s continuing fascination with Ancient Egypt. People from all over the world continue to flock to Giza to see these monuments. Even in an age dominated by technology and somewhat jaded human sensibilities, the pyramids represent something grand and immovable, they exert a mysterious power, drawing our attention and stirring our imagination.

“Man fears time, but Time fears the pyramids.”

Photo by Astronaut Terry W. Virts

Photo by Astronaut Terry W. Virts

Additional resources:
Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 2008).

David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (Thames and Hudson, 2011).

Amy Calvert , Old Kingdom: Pyramid of Khufu, Khan Academy

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Rabbit’s Feet, Four Leaf Clovers…Dung Beetles? The History of the Egyptian Scarab

Of all the ancient Egyptian “treasures” I have in my collection, the one that is most precious to me is a scarab necklace given to me by my parents. It has become my good luck charm, worn to almost every interview, class presentation, and stressful event I can remember; but is this how the ancient Egyptians would have used the scarab amulet? Am I completely off-base?

Scarabs are one of the most revered zoomorphic symbols in the ancient Egyptian religion, although it is highly unlikely that you would uncover a horde of scarabs in a tomb like our friends in The Mummy:

courtesy of universal studios

courtesy of universal studios

The scarab served as the ancient Egyptian version of the Christian Cross; a symbol of protection and the journey of rebirth.  It is often associated with the sun god, Re, but this association arose from the Egyptians’ misunderstanding of the scarab’s life cycle. As described by the Met Museum,

An adult beetle lays its eggs inside a ball of dung, which is then buried underground. When the young beetles hatch, the only portion of this process easily visible to an observer is the beetle emerging fully developed from a dung ball, a seemingly magical event. Thus, the Egyptian word for scarab translates as “to come into being.”  The scarab forms food balls out of fresh dung using its back legs to push the oversized spheres along the ground toward its burrow. The Egyptians equated this process with the sun’s daily cycle across the sky, believing that a giant scarab moved the sun from the eastern horizon to the west each day, making the amulet a potent symbol of rebirth.*

*unmentioned in the article, the Egyptian word for scarab is hprr, which inspires the name of the god Khepri, the god of creation. The ‘Khepri name’ is also one of the titles of the pharaoh (but more on that later!).

This association with rebirth is illustrated through the collection of scarab iconography found during various excavations.  In one iteration, scarabs are a cheap and common charm, which ancient Egyptians could easily afford and would often wear each day, possibly strung on a cord as a necklace. This form of the scarab provided protective powers that warded off evil and brought blessings to the wearer. A second iteration of the scarab is the seal; these seals bore the name of the pharaoh, royal officials, or religious figures and functioned much like a Christian medal or scapular of a saint or holy prayer or image, providing protection and guidance through this world and potentially the next. The most important iteration of the scarab in the funerary tradition, where scarabs were wrapped between the layers of the mummy cloth and specifically set over the heart to help provide safe journey and offer guidance as the soul of the deceased traveled into the next life.

Knowing the ancient Egyptians’ obsession with death and the afterlife, it is clear that the scarab held immense symbolic power for all Egyptians, and was a necessary entity to their success in both this life and the next.  Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to find my necklace before I start my Masters Thesis…

necklace

Works Cited:

http://wcma.williams.edu/blog/amulets/

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/10.130.910_27.3.206

http://museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/Egyptian_Sacred_Scarab/egs-text.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/e/egyptian_scarabs.aspx

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Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

Over the holidays I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to spend time with family and also had the opportunity to visit the amazing Cincinnati Museum Center for the very first time (Thanks Mama and Papa Hill)! Within this group of museums, tucked away in the lower level, was the site of one of my favorite holiday gifts: The Special Exhibition entitled Mummies of the World. One of the largest exhibitions of mummies and mummification objects to date, Mummies of the World includes both animal and human mummies from South America, Europe, and Egypt. This revolutionary exhibition focuses on the scientific processes, both intentional and natural, that have created mummies—from ancient Egypt to the remote bogs of Europe. The exhibit uses multimedia approaches such as videos and interactive computer programs to enhance the experience of the viewer in understanding how scientists investigated both the past processes of mummification and the causes of death of the mummies exhibited. Most highly stressed by the exhibit is the fact that the human mummies were all once living, breathing people, and as such they should be treated with great respect. Although I don’t want to spoil the exhibit, I can’t help but share with you my favorite ancient Egyptian aspects of this exhibition (and one non-Egyptian example that I just couldn’t resist!)

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

At the top of the ‘Must-See’ list for this exhibition is the “Maryland Mummy.” The Mummy of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, or MUMAB, is particularly unique due to its lack of ancient origins. MUMAB was created in 1994 by Egyptologist Robert Brier (who has worked on the Mummies of King Tut and Ramses II) of Long Island University and anatomist Ronald Wade of the University of Maryland using replicas of tools and following the processes that ancient Egyptians utilized over 2,000 years ago. The process appears to be successful, since the mummy shows no signs of decay at present, and has given scientists, archaeologists, and Egyptologists great insight into the process of mummification. (MUMAB is permanently kept at the San Diego Museum of Man, where it is on permanent loan from the University of Maryland School Of Medicine.)

Second on my Mummies of the World exhibition list are the mummies of Nes-Hor and Nes-Min*. In life, Nes-Min and Nes-Hor were priests of the Temple of Min in the ancient city of Khent-Min. Although they lived during different periods in ancient history (Nes-Min lived during the Late period, while Nes-Hor lived 200 years later in the Ptolemaic period), both were stolist priests and were responsible for caring after the temple’s many statues of the gods. Their sarcophagi were constructed from wood and painted with elaborate images and hieroglyphs indicating their names and occupations, as well as prayers to help guide their souls to the afterlife.

*Wondering why both priests have ‘Nes’ at the beginning of their names? In ancient Egyptian, ‘Nes’ means ‘he belongs to’, indicating the individual is a priest or some form of servant.

Last but not least, I can’t help but share one of the most interesting sets of mummies in this fabulous exhibition.

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

Meet the Orlovits family, a trio who belong to a group of 18th century mummies discovered in a crypt in Vac, Hungary in 1994. The Orlovits, along with over 250 other residents of Vac, were mummified—not on purpose during any post mortem procedure performed by other humans—but by a natural process involving the cool, dry air in their crypt and oil from the pine boards that were used to create their coffins. Michael and Veronica Orlovits and their son, Johannes, are particularly important due to the discovery of tuberculosis on the bones of the mummies. By taking tissue samples from the Orlovits family, scientists can study the tuberculosis infection, provide an idea of how drug-resistant strains develop, and work toward combatting such strains in the short term.

Overall, I thought that the Mummies of the World exhibition was well laid-out, informative, and successfully exhibited both objects and information in a manner very appropriate for its audience: A city of curious residents who are eager to get a more global perspective, and see exotic and interesting objects. While the case labels for the mummies and their accompanying artifacts, as well as the educational information provided, are not typical of a museum in language or vocabulary, they succeed in contributing to an exciting and informative exhibit for all visitors of every age.

Mummies of the World is at the Cincinnati Museum Center until April 26, 2015.

 (And while you are at CMC, check out the three museums and other exhibitions!)

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House of Card-Pyramids: The Presidents of the Ancient World

In honor of President’s day this month, I thought it best to investigate our ancient Egyptian Presidents: the Pharaohs. We’ll run through how they “come to office”, what exactly their job entails, what symbols are associated with the Pharaohs, and the ‘President’s Day’ of the Egyptian calendar to see how these ancient leaders compare to our leaders of the modern world!

In order to become the pharaoh of Egypt, you had to, essentially, win the genealogical lottery. The leadership of ancient Egypt passed from father to son due to the belief in a divine connection between the pharaoh and the gods of the ancient Egyptian religion. Since the pharaoh was understood to be a living god, his offspring were the only individuals with a right to the throne. Unlike many other historical royal lineages (England, Spain, France, etc.), ancient Egypt did not automatically designate the oldest child as the heir to the throne; high death rates of children before the age of 3 prevented heirs from being named until later in life. If the sons of a pharaoh passed away, or his Great Wife was unable to produce a son, they would look to the lesser wives for a legitimate heir that would be declared the next pharaoh. If an heir was still not found, a series of marriages to the royal daughters or female aristocrats would occur to establish a ‘decided heir’ as soon as possible. Appointments were definitely not democratic, with many men reaching pharaonic glory through the use of poison or other murderous actions. Yet if any link to the pharaonic bloodline was alive, he would be proclaimed the heir to the throne; some boys becoming pharaoh before they were 10 years old!**

Statue of Pepi II who became pharaoh at age 6, and his mother, queen Ankhesenpepi II who served as regent. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Statue of Pepi II who became pharaoh at age 6, and his mother, queen Ankhesenpepi II who served as regent.
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

**If the heir had not yet reached adulthood (around 14 in ancient Egypt), a regent would be selected to rule the country and help teach the pharaoh until he was old enough to rule on his own.  Mothers were often selected as regent (Queens traditionally served as regent when the pharaoh was at war, and therefore would have the knowledge to lead), or as co-regent along with a male official.

The pharaoh of ancient Egypt had two major titles and two major roles: “Lord of the Two Lands’ and “High Priest of All Temples’.  As ‘Lord of the Two Lands’, the pharaoh’s main objective was to maintain Ma’at, the embodiment of truth and justice, within Upper and Lower Egypt.  A kind of “Commander in Chief,” he established and enforced laws, owned all land, collected taxes,  and lead his country to war when absolutely necessary. The pharaoh’s second title, ‘High Priest of All Temples’, was almost more important in that it implied the pharaoh’s direct connection to the divine. The pharaoh officiated most important religious ceremonies, chose the sites of new temples/monuments to the gods, and decreed what work would need to be done. Being only one man, the pharaoh would have been unable to perform every ritual at every temple throughout Egypt every day; therefore, the pharaoh would select high priests to perform the rituals with his blessing. This title also proclaimed him as the head builder of Egypt, responsible for immortalizing ancient Egypt’s victories, her religion, and the achievements of the pharaohs for centuries to come.

Much like the Eagle and Presidential seal have come to signify the POTUS, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt had specific symbols that signified his position. Pharaohs were frequently represented through images of a hawk, aligning themselves with the god Horus. Often referred to as the first pharaoh and the divine successor of Osiris, Horus was one of the most powerful gods in the ancient Egyptian religion. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were referred to as the “Living Horus” a title signifying their knowledge, power, and access to the divine. Another symbol of the pharaoh is the nemes headdress. Symbolizing the ruler’s status, the nemes headdress is often interpreted as a lions mane, an animal regarded with great power and status. The nemes headdress is frequently accompanied by a uraeus, or an attachment shaped as a cobra, showing that the pharaoh held great authority and was “ready to strike” at any moment.

courtesy ryot.org

courtesy ryot.org

A final set of the most common pharaonic symbols contains the crook and flail. Seen in various tomb reliefs and funerary objects (and often seen in the crossed hands of the pharaoh depicted on sarcophagi) , the crook and flail are thought to represent the two duties of the king; the crook stands for the shepherd, guardian of the people, while the flail is seen as the punishments deemed necessary to sustain society.

One of the main differences between the pharaohs of Egypt and the presidents of the United States is the celebration of their ‘reigns’. While we have a day each year to give our thanks to all presidents past and present, the ancient Egyptians had a different approach; their equivalent is found in the Heb-Sed festival, which you can read all about a recent post discussing Egyptian Festivals!

Whether we are discussing Presidents or Pharaohs, one thing holds true—with great power comes great responsibility. We remember their accomplishments and sacrifices as we celebrate. Happy (belated) Presidents Day!

-M

Works Cited:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/uk_tours_and_loans/pharaoh_king_of_egypt/exhibition_themes.aspx

http://www.penn.museum/documents/education/pennmuseum_egypt_previsit_combined.pdf

http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/pharaoh/home.html

http://www.ancient.eu/pharaoh/

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