The Infamous Shave: The True Story of King Tut’s Beard

In recent news, the burial mask of Tutankhamun once again made headlines across the world when the beard was somehow “broken off” during an incident at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and hastily, incorrectly, repaired by museum staff. The plethora of news articles, interviews, and press conferences regarding the incident makes it extremely difficult to uncover what really happened; so here, for your reading pleasure, is the play by-play account of one of the most disputed works of conservation in recent history.

courtesy of AFP

Before we get in to the story, it is VITAL that all understand that the mask entered the museum with the beard SEPARATED from the body of the mask. Prior to the incident in question, the two pieces of the mask were being held together by a properly applied adhesive as the mask sat on display. (Before that time, in fact, the beard had been displayed separated from the mask for many years.)

Now, to the incident—after reading the veritable glut of related news coverage and following the trail of live updates via Facebook and twitter, I have constructed the following sequence of events:

For an unconfirmed reason (some stating that the lights of the case needed repair) it was necessary that the mask be removed from the case. While removing the mask, the museum staff member handled the mask inappropriately and the beard was once again separated from the main body of the mask. Although the mask should have been taken to a secure conservation location so that repairs could be performed, museum staff were concerned that the mask would not be ready for immediate display if they followed this protocol. In a hasty attempt to address this concern, the museum staff used epoxy glue to re-adhere the beard to the rest of the mask. Due to its chemical properties (which I will not even attempt to explain because I am NOT a conservator) the epoxy was clearly, tragically, visible after the repair.

after the epoxy was adhered, courtesy of the Huffington Post

after the epoxy was adhered, courtesy of the Huffington Post

There were further rumors that epoxy had dripped on to the face of the mask itself, and in their attempt to clean the drips off the mask, the museum staff had scratched the mask irreversibly.

When the news broke that the mask had been damaged, the press and museum world flew into a frenzy. There were conflicting reports coming out simultaneously, museum officials were denying the breakage had even occurred, and the state of the mask was still unknown.

The Egyptian Museum requested the assistance of Christian Eckmann, a conservator specializing in archaeological glass and metal objects, and after careful examination of the mask, Eckmann held a press conference to share his findings:

“the mask was touched and the beard fell… due to the glue which was used during the first restoration of the mask in 1941”. He said he was unaware what kind of epoxy was used in the repair, but epoxy “is not the best solution” to fix artifacts even if it is often used. However, the glue was applied improperly and its remains were visible on the braided beard piece, he said. “It can be reversed. It has to be done very carefully, but it is reversible,” said Eckmann, who has now been appointed by the antiquities ministry to oversee the mask’s repair. (courtesy of france24.com)

*Eckmann did acknowledge the scratch on the face of the mask, but he determined it is impossible to identify if the scratch is ancient, recent, or modern, at the present moment.

Moving forward, a committee of experts comprised of conservators, archaeologists, and natural scientists will be formed in order to develop a plan for proper conservation of the mask.  If nothing else, this incident has brought to light the importance of proper conservation. Although the most popular objects of every museum, like the mask of King Tut, inspire tourists and bring a significant number of visitors to the museum’s city, the mission of a museum is to showcase the objects AND care for them; in order to care for them properly, we must take the time to conserve them appropriately out of the public eye.

Tut, tut, we say to you, Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Tut, tut.

Cited Sources:

http://www.france24.com/en/20150124-botched-repair-tut-mask-reversible-german-conservator/

http://time.com/3678111/egypts-king-tutankhamuns-beard/

http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/museum-that-destroyed-tutankhamuns-burial-mask-and-fixed-it-with-super-glue-says-it-can-be-repaired/story-fnjwl1aw-1227196810292

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30944815

http://blogs.eui.eu/maxweberprogramme/2015/01/29/what-we-are-talking-about-when-we-talk-about-tutankhamuns-beard/

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The Dawning of the Rest of their Lives- Ancient Egyptian Holidays

As we finish out the ‘holiday slump month’ more affectionately known as January, it is critical to our sanity to look forward to the coming warmth of spring and summer weekends and holidays filled with outdoor activities. If the chill in your toes keeps your imagination from stretching that far, try to remember that virtually every day of the calendar year is a holiday of some sorts; today {January 28th} happens to be National Blueberry Pancake Day, National ‘Fun At Work’ Day, and National Kazoo Day! You might be surprised to learn that the ancient Egyptians shared this love of holidays and had special celebrations for practically every occasion. But their celebrations held a higher purpose than, say, National Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19). The ancient Egyptians celebrated with a very clear goal: to maintain and improve their relations with the gods in order to maintain peace and supply a bountiful harvest. Because of their reliance on farming, many of the Ancient Egyptian holidays tied in with the changing of the seasons (much like our equinoxes) that marked the harvest, the flooding of the Nile, etc. However, additional festivals were held throughout the year to more specifically worship the gods that ruled over every aspect of ancient Egyptian life.

One of the biggest festivals of the year was Wepet Renpet, or “Opening of the Year.” This Ancient Egyptian New Year’s festival was unique in that it did not fall on a particular date, but instead usually corresponded with the annual inundation of the Nile that ensured farmlands remained fertile for the coming year.  Works authored by the Roman writer Censorinus describe how the festival was held when the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, first became visible after a 70-day absence. This phenomenon, which modern day scientists would refer to as heliacal rising, stood as a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation, and was celebrated with large feasts and specific religious rites to honor the Nile and the Gods who controlled it.

Ghetty Image

Ghetty Image

Festivals were also a means of celebrating the Earthly god that the ancient Egyptians saw in the person of their Pharaoh. In the 30th year of each pharaoh’s reign (and reoccurring every three years after this point), the pharaoh held the Heb-Sed Festival as symbol of the renewal of his power and an affirmation that he maintained the sound mind and body necessary to rule over his land. *It is important to note that if a pharaoh experienced failing health or had other extenuating circumstances, he may shorten this period between festivals in order to keep the faith of the ancient Egyptian people.* The ritual of the festival varied throughout the years, but most often seemed to consist of a symbolic offering to the gods, a ceremonial crowning as king of upper and lower Egypt, and a race around the Heb-Sed court, making laps as the king of Lower Egypt and then separately as the king of Upper Egypt. Only after this celebration was complete would the pharaoh successfully reinstate his power and his claim to rule over all of Egypt.

Even the most frivolous of celebrations, the Festival of Drunkenness, had a strong religious tie. As strange as it may seem, the point of this festival was to get so drunk that those participating would fall asleep in the temple forecourt. After passing out, the ritual would continue with the drinkers being awakened by the sound of drums and music so they could commune and worship with the goddess Hathor. Then there was dancing, more drinking, and excessive celebration, all in hopes of receiving a message from the goddess. Researchers have questioned whether or not the text describing the festival is intending the phrase “traveling through the marshes” to provide a sexual element to the festival but Hathor’s status as the goddess of love seems to support this claim. Either way, it is clear that the excessive frivolity was utilized as a way to connect the common Egyptian to the goddess, if only for a day.

courtesy of thekeep.org

courtesy of thekeep.org

Our investigation into ancient Egyptians’ holidays and festivals has emphasized something that we, of course, already know; the Egyptians held their religion extremely close, and tied their relationships with the gods to the prosperity and peace of their land. By celebrating the gods and changing of the seasons, ancient Egyptians showed their love and appreciation for these greater powers while ensuring that they themselves (whether pharaoh or farmer) would be renewed and maintain power over their land. Modern religions still possess this idea to the extent, worshipping their god(s) and celebrating feast days in order to honor the spirit of their religion, and while our main calendar may never include festivals that match those of the ancient Egyptians, I’m going to celebrate January 28 by kicking back and eating blueberry pancakes while playing the kazoo.

~M

Works Cited:

http://www.thekeep.org/~kunoichi/kunoichi/themestream/egypt_alcohol.html#.VMHAM0fF8nd

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/f/festivals_of_ancient_egypt.aspx

http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/5-ancient-new-years-celebrations

http://arabworldbooks.com/egyptomania/sameh_arab_sed_heb.htm

http://www.themuseum.ca/blog/unwrapping-secrets-ancient-egypt-ancient-festivals-and-holidays

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Canines or Felines? A Centuries Old Debate

Few philosophical debates have endured throughout history. But the most important of these arguments, vital to our being, existing from the times of the ancients to the lifetimes of modern humankind, turning friends and families against each other, is this simple question:

Dogs or cats?

When we investigate the existence of this debate in ancient Egypt, we find a true head-to-head battle of the animals, a twist that may surprise anyone with ancient Egyptian knowledge.

Let’s start with the clear front runner: Cats. It’s generally accepted that cats were most likely domesticated around 2000 BC, and most of the cats we see today are descendents of these ancient felines. After about 500 years of domestication, the importance of cats reached a new level, and cats began to appear in tomb paintings depicting family life.

courtesy of www.ancient-egypt.co.uk. A typical tomb hunting scene depicting a cat trained to catch fowl and fish

courtesy of http://www.ancient-egypt.co.uk. A typical tomb hunting scene depicting a cat trained to catch fowl and fish

Cats played a variety of important roles in ancient Egyptian religion, the most famous cat goddesses being Bastet and the lion-headed Sekhmet.

Bastet was typically depicted having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. She was known as a protector of women, children, households, and other cats. She was also the goddess of surprise, music, dance, pleasure, family, fertility, and birth. Most importantly, she was associated with the Eye of Ra, and acted within the sun god’s power. This direct connection to the almighty Ra gave Bastet a prominent presence in Egyptian religion. In 3200 BC, Bastet even had her own city (Budbastis), and was given a grand festival each October 31st in Budvastis and other cities, including Memphis.

courtesy of the British Museum

courtesy of the British Museum

Sekhmet is best referred to as Bastet’s evil twin. She is known as the goddess of war and pestilence, who is controlled by Ra (who, by the way, had to get her drunk to calm her down) and she becomes a great protector of humans. By having both a good and evil side in these two figures, the Egyptian religion is not only supporting the concept of duality that it is famous for, but also the subjugation of chaos; the most vital balance of the forces of nature.

One ancient Egyptian word described both wild and domesticated felines–‘miu’ or ‘mii’, which translates to “he or she who mews”. Creative, right? Curiously, there is little to no documented evidence of ancient cat names similar to those we use today. Two names that have been identified are ‘Nedjem’ and ‘Tai Miuwette’– the latter being the companion of the crown prince Thutmose, brother of Akhenaten. In a strange cultural twist, many Egyptian parents actually named their children after cats, using names like Mit/Miut for their daughters.

It is clear that felines were treasured by ancient Egyptians, even in the afterlife. Around 1000 BC cat cemeteries were formed, and, at one point, the penalty for killing a cat–even accidentally–was death. It was even illegal to export cats to neighboring countries, a law which sparked a thriving trade in smuggled cats! Court records confirm that armies were dispatched to bring these kidnapped kitties back to Egypt!

As might be expected, canines appear to be the literal underDOGS when it comes to the favorite pets of ancient Egyptians. Dogs do, however get one major point on the cats versus dogs scoreboard, since dogs were domesticated in ancient Egypt much earlier than cats. One ancient Egyptian word for dog is ‘iwiw’, an onomatopoeic reference to a dog’s bark. Surprisingly, dogs had numerous functions in society. They were trained for hunting purposes, used as police/guard dogs, in military actions, and also as household pets. In ancient Egyptian culture, dogs were among the ranks of the animal god-forms. Most commonly identified as a jackal, Anubis was a god of the underworld; a guide to the afterlife (much like another jackal deity called Wepwawet ‘The Opener of Ways’) and overseer of the mummification process.

courtesy of  ancient-egypt.org

courtesy of ancient-egypt.org

It is possible that the jackal was chosen as the anamorphic figure for Anubis because of the attentive nature of the God to the spirit in the afterlife, much like a canine today is attentive to its owner. This could also explain the inclusion of hunting dogs in the tomb paintings of Rameses the Great, with the dogs being allowed to provide companionship for their master in life and the afterlife. In addition to appearing in relief paintings within tombs, domesticated dogs were buried and mummified, sometimes with their own coffin, and most often in the tombs of their owners. Some dogs were buried with great care in the temple of Anubis in Saqqara in order to help ease their passing in to the afterlife.

Even in Ancient Egypt, dogs were given collars inscribed with their names. Many of these collars survive today. From these collars, as well as from stelae and reliefs, historians have discovered that dogs were given names such as ‘Brave One’, ‘Reliable’, ‘Good Herdsman’, and even ‘Useless’. Other names seem to have been chosen based on the dog’s color and some were simply just a number. But it seems that many of the names for these dogs were selected to represent endearment, abilities, or capabilities.

dog2

courtesy of pet-product-news.com

Ultimately, it appears that ancient Egyptians were split down the middle regarding their preference for cats or dogs. In addition to their varied religious, domestic, and military significance, it is evident that both cats and dogs held enough of their ancient Egyptian families’ affection to receive intricate funerary rites.

So…sometimes dogs were truly an ancient Egyptian’s best friend…and sometimes “cats ruled and dogs drooled”…once again proving that the ancient Egyptians were real people…just like us.

 

Resources:

http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/foodproduction/dog.html

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/dogs.htm

http://www.ancient.eu/article/184/

http://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/dogs-in-ancient-egypt/

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/cat

http://www.catmuseumsf.org/egyptcats.html

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/divine_felines/

http://www.ancient.eu/article/466/

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Selling Out Sekhemka

The sale of Ancient Egyptian artifacts took a step in a dangerous direction last week.

The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in the United Kingdom has planned an immense expansion which would double the size of its exhibition space, as well as create new galleries, teaching spaces, and retail areas. The expansion is projected to cost £14 million (or just under $24 million), and the museum has slated for part of these funds to come from the sale of a unique Egyptian statue of a man named Sekhemka.

(courtesy of the Getty)

(courtesy of the Getty)

Titled as “Inspector of Scribes in the House of Largesse, one revered before the Great God”, the statue of Sekhemka was most likely produced around 2400 BC. Standing at 30in (76cm) tall, the limestone figure sits with a scroll in hand and his wife Siitmerit seated at his feet. In antiquity, the statue would have been presented with offerings of beer, bread, wine, oil, and linen by family members of the deceased in order to help provide for the spirit of the deceased in the afterlife. The figurine is believed to have been acquired by Spencer Compton, the second Marquis of Northampton, and brought back from Egypt after he journeyed there around 1850. It was later gifted to Northampton’s museums by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880.

When the news was released that the statue would be auctioned off at Christie’s London on July 10th, the world responded with great disapproval.

(courtesy of bbc.com)

(courtesy of bbc.com)

A group of Northampton residents formed the Save Sekhemka Action Group and protested the sale of the statue by having members present outside the Christie’s auction. A spokeswoman for the group, Sue Edwards, claimed that it was “the blackest day in Northampton’s cultural history”, further adding that the town had been “shamed across the world.” The Egyptian Ambassador to Britain Ahsraf Elkholy strongly expressed his personal disdain with the situation, commenting that “Sekhemka belongs to Egypt and if Northampton borough council does not want it then it must be given back. It’s not ethical that it will be sold for profit and also not acceptable.” Adding to the severity of the situation, Arts Council England announced it would be reviewing the museum’s accreditation status post-sale, potentially jeopardizing the museum’s eligibility for grant funding for future projects and programming.

Despite the backlash that occured, the Northampton museum did not back down. According to Mackintosh, “It’s been in our ownership for over 100 years and it’s never really been the centerpiece of our collection; We want to expand our museum and to do that we need to raise the money.”

The statue was sold at auction for £15,762,500 ($26,883,259). The Northampton Borough Council will retain around £8million ($13.6 million), while the remainder will be remitted to Lord Northampton.

 (courtesy of Christie’s)


(courtesy of Christie’s)

Humankind is lucky to have the opportunity to view and study amazing works of art from antiquity. All artifacts cannot be the “Centerpiece of a Collection”, but that in no way diminishes their cultural and historical value. Although building and planning for the future is an important and necessary progression, museums have an obligation to visitors and to the cultures/artists of the past, to safeguard these treasures and make them available to as many visitors and scholars as possible. In a time when arts funding is dwindling, we all sympathize with the financial need the Northampton museum may be experiencing, but the sale of artifacts, particularly of those gifted to the institution, is unacceptable.

Sekhemka’s story is not yet over. The identity of the buyer has not yet been releases and there is still hope that they may come to their senses and donate the work to a museum or send it back to Egypt.

“Those who choose to approach the sale of collections cynically or with little regard for the sectoral standards or their long-term responsibilities will only further alienate both key funders and the public who put their trust in them to care for our shared inheritance” ~Scott Furlong, director at Arts Council England

Works Cited:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-28260067

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-23288143

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jul/10/northampton-borough-council-sells-egyptian-statue-sekhemka

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/news/article/1855/major-new-extension-planned-for-northampton-museum

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/news/article/1899/statement-the-sale-of-the-statue-of-sekhemka

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-28257714

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/27dda990-08d2-11e4-9d3c-00144feab7de.html

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Update: Cleopatra’s Needle gets a Facelift!

In my post Eye on the Needle: The Fight to Save an Iconic Monument, the desperate need for conservation work on an obelisk currently housed in NYC’s Central Park, affectionately called Cleopatra’s Needle, was being promoted through an up-and-coming documentary.

I am happy to report that since May 2014, conservators have been giving Cleopatra’s Needle a laser treatment unlike any other.

Read this amazing article published in the New York Times on July 10,2014 (published electronically July 9 2014) discussing the conservation efforts!

Nearly 3,500 Years Old, an Egyptian Monument Gets a Laser Cleaning

10BLOCKSweb1-master675 (courtesy of the NY Times)

 

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Rosetta and Philae: from Ancient Egypt to Asteroids!

 

 

  Image(courtesy of the EGSA)

This August, Ancient Egypt will experience a stellar comeback. Literally. In just a few weeks, the spacecraft “Rosetta”, launched in 2004, will reach its destination—the comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko, and be delivered to its lander, “Philae” on the surface of the comet! On March 20-21st, scientists noted (through an OSIRIS wide-angle camera….Osiris—get it?) that Rosetta was right on track for its arrival.

In addition to the fact that a spacecraft being able to land on a comet is just about the coolest thing EVER, the connection to Ancient Egypt makes this particular mission even sweeter!

The spacecraft Rosetta is named after the famous Rosetta stone, an ancient artifact currently housed at the British Museum. According to the museum’s records, the Rosetta stone is from the Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt (around 196 BC) and is an inscribed decree passed by a council of priests.  The true value of this artifact is found in the carved text where the council’s decree is inscribed three times: once in Hieroglyphs (the older language almost exclusively used by the religious at this point in history), once in Demotic (daily script of Egyptians in the period), and once in Greek (the language of the administration)

 

Image (courtesy of the British Museum)

When the stone was initially discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799 in the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta), no one could decipher the hieroglyphic texts. However, an English physicist, Thomas Young, was the first to realize that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone spelled out the royal name Ptolemy. Using this knowledge, the French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion, who was fluent in Coptic and Greek, was then able to uncover the connection between Greek, Coptic, and Demotic! His work was the catalyst to the formation of our understandings of all hieroglyphic texts.

And what about Philae? The Rosetta spacecraft’s lander is named after an obelisk found on the Nile island of Philae. This obelisk, much like the Rosetta stone, contains texts in both Greek and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and was utilized as a comparative “document” by Champollion and other scholars as they translated the ancient Egyptian language. In particular, scholars were able to identify the hieroglyphic spelling of Cleopatra and her family name Ptolemy through these two objects, providing a breakthrough that changed the landscape of Egyptology by providing a kind of “skeleton key” to the long misunderstood language of the ancient culture.

 

 Image(courtesy of kalligraphie.de)

In regards to our space mission, scientists are hoping that the spacecraft Rosetta and the lander Philae will function in the same way as their ancient counterparts, allowing scientists to discover previously unknown facts about the earliest years of the Solar System, when the planets were not yet formed and only comets and asteroids surrounded the sun.

As of June 20th, the spacecraft Rosetta was just under 160,000 km away from the comet and from meeting the lander Philae. Although scientists are unsure of how successful the mission will be, we will hope for history to repeat itself, and for Rosetta and Philae to hold their title as a team that opens the door to the ancient world…and beyond! 

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.universetoday.com/110761/rosetta-spacecraft-spies-its-comet-as-it-prepares-for-an-august-encounter/

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_rosetta_stone.aspx

http://books.google.com/books?id=LVxT6gMEQzIC&pg=PA65&lpg=PA65&dq=obelisk+of+philae+rosetta+stone&source=bl&ots=NGp2FsRdlo&sig=kzQcgnqZZtiQhTSwJQUHv7qcWL0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TnakU8O5MYfEsATgz4GoCg&ved=0CCcQ6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=obelisk%20of%20philae%20rosetta%20stone&f=false

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A Saturday at the Met

After a long hiatus, Stories My Mummy Told Me is back! So many amazing things have happened since May 2014 began, from graduation to moving to New York City to beginning my fantastic internship! I have definitely been caught up in a whirlwind of beautiful chaos. 

My move to New York City for graduate school has brought many blessings into my life, but one of the most outwardly remarkable is the fact that I am surrounded by legendary artworks and treasure-filled museums wherever I go. During my first visit to NYC, I became enamored with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s immense Egyptian collection (which I wandered through for over 3 hours!). Being able to visit it on a regular basis, as well as see the other fantastic Met collections, is a true joy. 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which includes its Main Building on Fifth Avenue and the Cloisters and museum gardens, dates back to 1866. The formation of the museum began in Paris, when a group of Americans agreed to create a “national institution and gallery of art” to bring art and art education to the American people. (metmuseum.org)

 

Image (courtesy of metmuseum.org)

 

On April 13, 1870, The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened to the public in the Dodworth Building at 681 Fifth Avenue, and in November acquired a Roman sarcophagus as its first object. In 1871, one hundred and seventy four European paintings were added to the collection, and from then on, the museum experienced massive growth. In March of 1880, the museum moved to its present day location on Fifth Avenue and 82nd street: a two million square foot building incorporating over two million objects, with thousands seen every day.

 

Focusing on the art of ancient Egypt, that collection includes around 26,000 objects dating from the Paleolithic era to the Roman period in Egyptian history (ca. 300,000 B.C.E.-400 C.E.).

For the most part, the collection was amassed during the Museum’s thirty-five years of archaeological work in Egypt. Beginning in 1906, the Metropolitan Museum set out on its Egyptian Expedition, conducting over 14 season of excavation at Lisht until the year 1935. At Lisht, the expedition explored areas such as the pyramid complexes of Amenemhat I and Senwosret I, a cemetery of Dynasty 12 and 13 officials, and an important Middle Kingdom settlement site.  Further excavation work was completed at the palace of Amenhotep II at Malqata, and the temples and cemeteries around Deir el-Bahri. The expedition uncovered many impressive finds, such as ritual figures in wood, the untouched chamber in the tomb of Meketre, and statue fragments from the funerary temple of Hatshepsut!

The collection is also comprised of multiple private collections, including those of Chauncey Murch, Theodore M. Davis, J. Pierpont Morgan, and the well-known Earl of Carnarvon (whose home is showcased in PBS’ Downton Abbey!).

 

Image (courtesy of metmuseum.org)

One of the most intriguing and interactive aspects of the Egyptian Gallery is the Temple of Dendur, located in the Sackler Wing.  Rich with pharaonic and religious images, the Temple of Dendur was built around 15 B.C.E. by the Roman emperor Augustus, as a dedication to Isis and two Nubians who had aided the Romans in their military conquests. The temple was originally located in Lower Nubia, but had to be dismantled and relocated as protection from rising waters after the construction of the Aswan Dam. The Egyptian government presented it to the United States as a gift, recognizing America’s contribution to the preservation of Nubian monuments, and the temple was bestowed upon the Metropolitan Museum two years later, in 1967.

One of my favorite pieces is slightly smaller in scale:  a damaged Head of a King, Possibly Seankhkare Mentuhotep III.

 Image ( courtesy of metmuseum.org)

 

Although there is no clear text identifying the piece, features of this head can be matched with a relief from Armant housed in the Brooklyn Museum which is inscribed for King Seankhkare Mentuhotep III, son of the great Mentuhotep II (known for his architectural feats, and attributed with the construction of the temple atop Thoth Hill, the highest point overlooking the Valley of the Kings). This particular portrait is created in the Old Kingdom “Second Style” and clearly shows abstract ears and almond, slanting eyes. However, the cheek outline and softly rounded shaping of the face offer life to the stylized image. Why do I like it so much? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. There are so many well-preserved pieces of Egyptian sculpture, so many other, more beautiful interpretations; but when I saw this for the first time—during that first visit, it immediately drew me in.

There are so many treasures hidden in this museum collection, from the small faience scarabs to the mummies themselves, no blog posting could ever do them justice. So please, in the name of all that is good in this world, take an afternoon (or entire day) and spend it with the beautiful art at the Metropolitan Museum. Who knows what you will find?

 Image

Resources:

http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/museum-departments/curatorial-departments/egyptian-art

http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/547802

http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/545879?rpp=30&pg=2&ft=head&where=Egypt&pos=39

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So You Wanna Play with (Ancient Egyptian) Magic? An Analysis of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse”

In all honesty, when Katy Perry first released the music video for her latest hit, “Dark Horse,” I was mortified; Yes, Ancient Egypt was the theme of the video, but the presence of Katy’s intense diamond grill, spinning chariot rims, and a pyramid of Twinkies was completely overwhelming.

After I got over my initial revulsion and watched the video a few more times, however, I was relieved to recognize a few little glimmers of true Egyptology. So, here is my Top 5 Best Egyptology Moments in Katy Perry’s (Featuring Juicy J) “Dark Horse.” (This Top 5 list is provided, in part, through the analysis of the director of the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition, Pearce Paul Creasman, who was interviewed by MTV.)

  1.  Katy Perry’s decision to create a pink Egyptian palace wasn’t made simply to celebrate her favorite color. The Egyptian pharaohs used pink granite in ancient architecture. The stone came from the southern region called Aswan, located just above the first cataract in the Nile between Nubia and Egypt. Although the natural pink granite quarried in Aswan was not as…potent in color as the stone appearing in the video, Katy gets an ‘A’ for effort.
  2.  No, those aren’t random and/or fake hierImageoglyphs floating around Katy Perry’s head. Aside from the actual hieroglyphs (like the Re eye at the bottom left) Perry includes the royal name of King Tut within this scene. At the left-most side of the view below, a cartouche is seen with hieroglyphs inside, indicating that  within the cartouche is a royal name. The name written is Nebkheperure, the throne name of Tuthankamun.          (Courtesy Vevo: Katy Perry)
  3. During the video, KP hangs with a few of the many gods worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians, including Bastet, Sobek,Horus, Seth, Aten, Anubis, and Thoth. There’s even a discreet shout out in the song itself when she sings, “Make me your Aphrodite.” Although Aphrodite is a goddess of Ancient Greece, the Egyptian goddess Isis was referred to by the Ancient Greeks as Aphrodite.
  4. If you know me at all, you know Cleopatra is one of my favorite Ancient Egyptian females. Whether you believe she was a woman who slept her way to the top or a brilliant leader and cunning politician (in case you’re wondering…the second is correct J), there is no question of her impact on Egyptian history. Katy Perry gives a graceful nod to this Egyptian Queen through her stylized makeup, her encounter with Egyptian asps—referencing Cleopatra’s tragic end (a moment of silence for Cleo please), and the lyrics mentioning Aphrodite. Cleopatra often portrayed herself as the Goddess Isis, particularly during her relationship with Caesar, as a way of aligning herself with one of the greatest goddesses in the Egyptian World.
  5. Okay…it’s time to address the Twinkies. Although I think this is absolutely ridiculous…Twinkies do last forever…and pyramids are a symbol of eternal life. I’ll give that one to you Katy. I don’t like it, but I respect it.

Image

(Courtesy Vevo: Katy Perry)

*As a bonus, the rapper featured in “Dark Horse”, Juicy J, is from Memphis, Tennessee, which is named after one of the capital cities of Ancient Egypt,  placing him as the cherry on top of this Egyptian sundae.

Although there was no Egyptologist on set for the creation of the video, it is clear that Katy Perry and her team had some idea of the history and religion of Ancient Egypt. However, I have no explanation for Katy’s diamond grill…sorry friends.

Curious to see what other Egyptian imagery is in the video? Watch it now! (Link in Works Cited)

 

Works Cited:

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1722735/katy-perry-dark-horse-egyptian-references.jhtml

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KSOMA3QBU0

 

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I’m Not Gonna Write You A Love Song…But Khufu Might

Love is in the air! As an early Valentine’s Day gift to you, I’m giving you all the scoop on the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of Roses, Chocolates, and Singing Valentines: Love Poetry.

Before we get to the poems, it’s important to know that this type of composition wasn’t the only kind of writing that Ancient Egyptians produced for fun. There is a rich collection of literature describing the adventures of magicians, epic poems, epic journeys, and even a few fairy-tale like stories.

The Ancient Egyptian love poems that have been discovered date to the Ramesside period, around the 13th-12th centuries BC.  All of the love poems are from the same location: the workmen’s village at Deir el-Medina.  Three papyri, one fragmented pottery jar, and twenty separate stanzas were discovered in the village. All were written in the Late Egyptian phase of hieroglyphics, a formal version of the spoken language of Ancient Egypt.  The contents of the poems, also referred to as “songs”, lead Egyptologists to believe that they were written to echo the elite lives of the palace and court of the king.  One vital difference between Ancient Egyptian love poetry and our own? The terms ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ were used to indicate intimacy and affection, not familial relations. The use of these terms in a romantic way was the basis of the argument that sibling marriages were common in Ancient Egypt, which is untrue for the common people. Even on a royal scale, sibling marriages occurred to secure power, not for the reasons we imagine ourselves being married today.

One of my favorite poems illustrates a great passion in sumptuous language that evokes a mesmerizing picture of a beautiful and powerful, but clearly Ancient Egyptian, woman. This describes a man so in love with his beloved, you can’t help but imagine it in a “Romeo and Juliet” kind of way:

“She has no rival,
there is no one like her.
She is the fairest of all.
She is like a star goddess arising
… at the beginning of a new year;
brilliantly white, shining skin;
such beautiful eyes when she stares,
and sweet lips when she speaks;
she has not one phrase too many.
With a long neck and shining body
her hair of genuine lapis lazuli;
her arm more brilliant than gold;
her fingers like lotus flowers,
ample behind, tight waist,
her thighs extend her beauty,
shapely in stride

when she steps on the earth.
She has stolen my heart with her embrace,
She has made the neck of every man
turn round at the sight of her.
Whoever embraces her is happy,
he is like the head of lovers,
and she is seen going outside
like That Goddess, the One Goddess.”

And here we read the classic tale of unrequited love…

My brother overwhelms my heart with his words,
he has made sickness seize hold of me.
Now he is near the house of my mother,
and I cannot even tell that he has been.
It is good of my mother to order me like this,
‘Give it up out of your sights’;
see how my heart is torn by the memory of him,
love of him has stolen me.
Look what a senseless man he is
– but I am just like him.
He does not realize how I wish to embrace him,
or he would write to my mother.
Brother, yes! I am destined to be yours,
by the Gold Goddess of women.
Come to me, let your beauty be seen,
let father and mother be glad.
Call all my people together in one place,
let them shout out for you, brother
.

…or the struggle of heartache….

My heart bares itself instantly,
at the memory of your love.
It does not let me walk like a person,
it has strayed from its shelter.
It does not let me put on a dress,
I cannot even wrap my scarf,
No kohl can be put on my eye,
I am not anointed with oil.
‘Don’t stand there – go in to him’
it tells me at each memory of him.
Don’t, my heart, be stupid at me:
why are you acting the fool?
Sit, be cool, the sister has come to you’
but my eye is just as troubled.
Don’t make people say of me
‘she is a woman fallen by love’
Be firm each time you remember him,
My heart, do not stray.

The love poetry of Ancient Egypt is a rare and beautiful “sneak peek” into the more emotional side of life in the ancient world.  Although the techniques of verbal flirting that these works represent may be considered a little “old-fashioned” by today’s standards, take notes boys—I’m certain any girl—ancient or modern–loves a poem that calls her a goddess.

 

Sources:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3261159?seq=3

http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/literature/lovesongs.html

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Spring Semester (Scribal) Slump

As we begin our first full week of the Spring Semester, I can’t help but revel in my usual Winter “Back to School Slump.” The holiday season has ended, it is freezing cold, and spring seems nowhere in sight. I wonder…is this how it has always been? Did King Tut dread going back to school after a festival? Did Hatshepsut ever choose an Ancient Egyptian equivalent of a Netflix Movie Marathon in bed instead of attending class?

Little is truly known about the Ancient Egyptian education system. But the main difference we can identify when comparing their system to our own is that being an educated Ancient Egyptian was extremely rare. Only a small minority of the elite children, sons of scribes and noblemen, received a formal education that included reading, writing, and arithmetic. As a prince, one was given the highest form of education, including the “arts of war”—horse riding, the use of weapons, and guiding a chariot.

Young men in Ancient Egyptian society did not typically choose their own career paths, but instead followed the family trade or profession. Unless they were a child of the King himself, most children were personally tutored by their parents, through apprenticeships.

(courtesy of library.thinkquest.org)

Scribal schools were an exception. Young men wishing to follow in their father’s footsteps and become scribes entered a very intensive program of training in a formal school setting. As we know, the Egyptian writing system is extremely intricate and unique. Many student scribes were occasionally inattentive or just plain unmotivated, and expressed a desire to quit school altogether (sound familiar?). As one may expect, teachers were frustrated with their students, claiming:

“They tell me that thou forsakes writing, and departest and dost flee; that thou forsakes writing and usest thy legs like horses of the riding-school. Thy heart is fluttered; thou art like an axj-bird. Thy ear is deaf; thou art like an antelope in fleeing.“ (Warnings to the Idle Scribe)

Sometimes, frustration with students got a little out of hand:

“But though I beat you with every kind of stick, you do not listen. If I knew another way of doing it, I would do it for you that you might listen.” (Instruction in Letter Writing)

When they weren’t suffering the occasional beating, students in scribal training learned the ins and outs of Egyptian hieroglyphics, practicing their writing on pottery shards or stone fragments. Scribal students would copy memorized texts over and over again until their grammar and execution were perfected. Only then could they graduate and take over their father’s position.

But what about the ladies? Unfortunately, the Ancient Egyptian education system had rules similar to a boy’s tree house: NO. GIRLS. ALLOWED. There is no concrete evidence that women were taught to read and write, or were involved in the education system at all. Women from semi-elite families were, at the most, given the opportunity to become temple musicians, or dancers. However, it is possible that royal status gave women more educational opportunities. They may have sat alongside their siblings and been exposed to literature, mathematics, writing, and grammar. The historical record does hold a very few examples of women who had obviously been educated. For instance, from the Third Intermediate Period on, the highest office within the cult of Amun-Re was held by a woman. She received the title of “God’s Wife”. (British Museum) We also know that Cleopatra was one of the most educated rulers of her time, knowing multiple languages including Ancient Egyptian (uncommon for Pharaohs of her time), math, poetry, and much more. Some women were responsible for running estates or manors, conducting certain levels of business such as owning or renting land, and could also take part in legal cases such as marriage and divorces. However, in general, women were relegated to domestic responsibilities such as weaving, baking, gardening, or farming.

So, as we endure the spirit-numbing winter weather that continues plaguing us this spring semester, let’s remember three things. One: Everyone (girl power!) should be grateful to have the opportunity of receiving an education. Two: Be thankful you have the option to study WHATEVER you want. And Three: Be thankful beating sticks are not allowed.

Sources:
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/w/women_in_ancient_egypt.aspx
http://www.historyembalmed.org/ancient-egyptians/ancient-egyptian-education.htm
http://www.rom.on.ca/en/education/online-activities/ancient-egypt/life-in-ancient-egypt/education

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