Posts Tagged With: British Museum

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.

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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.

 

 

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courtesy of Highclere Castle

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

 

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Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. Courtesy of Highclere 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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Courtesy of PBS

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

Works Cited:

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

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

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

 

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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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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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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.

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(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.

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(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’.

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(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

 

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Eye on the Needle: The Fight to Save an Iconic Egyptian Monument

While scouring the internet for current Egyptology news, I came across a campaign that desperately needs our help.
“Eye on the Needle” is a documentary created by Dr. Paul Harrison, a graduate of University College London, and his team. The video (which is currently in the filming stage) features ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, an Ancient Egyptian Obelisk that sits on London’s Embankment. The documentary will follow Dr. Harrison as he reveals the history of ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, recounts how it came to London, and discusses the conditions that are putting the monument in danger. Many modern technologies, such as vehicles, are generating pollution that is causing gradual erosion of the needle, which, over time, is causing the precious hieroglyphs on its face to begin fading.
This film will hopefully spark crucial conversations about conservation and preservation strategies for all Ancient Egyptian obelisks and monuments.
Not convinced? Check out this video by the team:

There are only 12 DAYS left in the campaign, and they are in desperate need of your support! Whether you can give a monetary donation (and receive rewards like a t-shirt, personal tours of the British Museum, and even days on the film set) or simply spread the word on social media, Please take the time to help save this unique and irreplaceable Egyptian Monument.

To support the campaign, check out its campaign page on facebook ‘Eye on the Needle Campaign’, follow on twitter @eyeontheneedle, and support here: http://www.sponsume.com/project/eye-needle941818_112839192259619_1780023929_n

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