Posts Tagged With: Art history

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

 

blog 3

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

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

33

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.

 

2

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]

4

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.
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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/

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meux Than Meets the Eye

Museum Collections were  major catalysts in the development of my love of Ancient Egypt. The ability to take a day trip into the city (I grew up in a suburb of Chicago) and allow myself to become completely immersed in the culture of the ancient world was an amazing experience.  Yet, as I have grown older, I’ve learned that, for all the beautiful objects  on display in any museum in any part of the world, there are multitudes of additional artifacts hidden away within the museum walls. Furthermore, there are many, many items that are kept in the personal collections of archaeologists, historians, or private families—passed down through generations.

One such collection that has made semi-recent headlines is the collection once belonging to Lady Valerie Meux.

a

(courtesy of Egyptology News Network)

Lady Meux was born Valerie Susie Langdon in 1847. She met her husband, Sir Henry Meux, while she worked as a Banjo-playing barmaid in Brighton. Gossip tells that she may have worked as a prostitute under the name “Val Reece:”, and supposedly lived “in sin” with a Corporal Reece. All that Valerie commented on the subject was “I can very honestly say that my sins were committed before marriage and not after.” You go, Val.

At age 31, she married Sir Henry Meux, 3rd Baronet, in secret.  Sir Henry’s family owned a very successful brewery and had become fairly rich through trade. They were certainly unimpressed with his choice of spouse, never fully accepting Valerie into their social circle. She was a scandalous woman, known to drive herself around London, attend meetings of the Theosophical Society, host many glamorous parties, and—according to popular gossip—attend prize fights in disguise and ride around town in a carriage pulled by zebras. I repeat, ZEBRAS.

b

(courtesy Natural History Museum of London)

A frequent visitor to the British Museum, Lady Meux became fascinated with Egyptian artifacts and had soon acquired her own collection of over 1,700 items. Her massive collection is documented in two detailed catalogues, authored by Egyptologist Wallis Budge and published at the Meux’s expense.  One of these catalogues, entitled “Some account of the collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux at Theobald’s Park”, describes in detail some of the most prized artifacts within the collection, including the coffin (mummy included)  of Nes-Amsu, a priest of the Ptolemaic period. Nes-Amsu was “acquired” in Egypt by Walter Herbert Ingram, who in turn gifted it to Lady Meux in 1886. Ingram was killed by an elephant in the following year, inspiring the rumor that he was a ‘victim of the curse’.

c

(courtesy of “Some account of the collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux at Theobald’s Park”)

Yet almost as mystifying as the possibility of a mummy’s curse is the collection’s mysterious history after the death of Lady Meux in 1910. According to her will, the British Museum was offered the entire collection for £2,250, but the Board rejected the offer due to the conditions of the trust. Consequentially, the collection was auctioned off in 1911.

The location of the bulk of the Meux collection remains, to this day, a mystery. Some think it was acquired by American William Randolph Hearst, who had agents at the Meux sale and who purchased a showpiece of the collection, the pair statue of Nebsen and Nebet-ta. This statue was acquired by Lady Meux herself on a visit to Egypt, and now sits in the Brooklyn Museum. Two small artifacts sit at the Petrie Museum, while two others surfaced at an auction in New York in December of 2007 where an alabaster vase inscribed for Pepi I sold for $91,000 and a granite head from a block statue for $102,000.

The location of the remaining 1,695 pieces of the Meux collection remains a mystery.  And although we may never know their whereabouts, it is hopeful to think that one day, they, like the thousands of artifacts sitting behind closed doors of museums, will be brought to light, allowing us to uncover even more ancient secrets of the Valley of the Nile.

Works Cited:

http://egyptologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/07/lady-meux-banjo-playing-barmaid-who.html

http://books.google.com/books?id=Ky1PAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://www.virtual-egyptian-museum.org/Collection/FullVisit/Collection.FullVisit-JFR.html?../Content/STO.VL.01112.S.html&0

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Neb-Senu does the hokey pokey and he turns himself around…

In June, the social media world began buzzing when a time-lapse video from the Manchester Museum in Manchester England was released, depicting an Ancient Egyptian statue physically rotating on its own.

we

(courtesy of  Cavendish Press)

Although much research has subsequently been done looking into reasons why the statue might be spinning, scientific or magical, let’s start from the very beginning (I hear it’s a very good place to start.)

The statuette was donated to the museum in 1933 by Annie Barlow, a mill owner from Bolton who sponsored archaeological digs in the great era of discovery—King Tut’s tomb being discovered only a decade earlier by Howard Carter. Nothing is known about the specific tomb that the statuette came from, but by examining the figurine’s hieroglyphic inscriptions, it is possible to decipher a few bits of information about the tomb’s owner.  From the statue’s shoulder-length wig and knee-length civil-service kilt, it is gauged that the tomb owner, named Neb-Senu, was a senior civil servant.  Little is known about Neb-Senu other than that he was a man of means, given the quality of the 10 inch tall serpentine statuette created as a place for his ka, or spirit, to live when his body had passed into the afterlife. Neb-Senu is thought to have died around 1800 BC, and the inscription requests offerings of beer, beef, and a fowl—a standard prayer in Ancient Egyptian funerary texts.

s

(courtesy of Campbell Price)

The statue has been housed at the Manchester Museum for 80 years, and was brought to the global stage after Campbell Price, the curator of the Egyptian Artifacts at the institution, noticed that the statue had been moved from its original position.  This continued for multiple days, sparking the interest of Price. In order to formally investigate, he returned the statuette to its original position in a locked glass case and set up a camera to film the time-lapse video that has since become an internet sensation.

Scientists have taken many different approaches to explaining the self-spinning statue. Some attribute the movement to the vibrations in the room caused by foot traffic, due the revelation that the statuette only moved during the day, when visitors were present. Other experts claim that “differential friction” is the culprit, but even then, some kind of force must be exerted on the statue for it to move. In fact, all of the scientific explanations have major flaws. For example, on one occasion, the statue moved 45 degrees in 90 minutes when there were no visitors or staff members in the chamber. And, even more oddly, the statue has rotated in a perfect circle without “wobbling off” in any other direction while none of the other statues in the case, most notably on the same shelf, have shifted at all.

Other possible explanations state that it is simply the individual placement and character of the statue itself, that a magnetic force is working on the figure, or that the spirit of Neb-Senu himself has returned to his ka statue and waiting for offerings to be brought.

Unfortunately, the spinning of the Neb-Senu statue may remain a mystery for all eternity due to museum renovators being forced to move the case from its current location. But before they do, perhaps someone should give Neb-Senu the beer he’s been requesting for over 2000 years?

 

 

Works Cited:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2013/06/ancient-egyptian-statue-mysteriously-rotates-at-museum/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/museums/10141238/On-the-trail-of-Manchester-Museums-moving-Egyptian-mummy.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/25/world/europe/uk-spinning-statue-mystery/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Reigning Ace

All my loves as I live...

Justin Lawhead

Just another WordPress.com site

Art Museum Teaching

A Forum for Reflecting on Practice

Eric Schlehlein, Author

(re)Living History, with occasional attempts at humor and the rare pot-luck subject. Sorry, it's BYOB. All I have is Hamm's.

Thinking about museums

thoughts on museums, content, design, and why they matter

Art History Teaching Resources

Peer-populated resources for art history teachers

Subatomic Tourism

This picayune world, my own private Lilliput.

101 Books

Reading my way through Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels since 1923 (plus Ulysses)

Archaeology, Museums & Outreach

Co-creation & Participatory Community Engagement

History Of The Ancient World

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell,and you can foresee the future too -Marcus Aurelius-

The Archaeology of Tomb Raider

Exploring Art & Archaeology Through the Tomb Raider Series

The Bully Pulpit

(n): An office or position that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue.

Stories My Mummy Told Me

News and Views from an Aspiring Egyptologist