Posts Tagged With: Egypt

Winter/Flood Fatigue: Seasons in Ancient Egypt

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Mekutrastravelingboat

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

 

Works Cited

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

 

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

 

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

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The Carnarvon Collection: The Real Drama of Downton Abbey

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

blog 1

courtesy of PBS

 

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

 

 

blog 2

courtesy of Highclere Castle

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

 

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Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. Courtesy of Highclere 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

blog 5

Courtesy of PBS

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

Works Cited:

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

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

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

 

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

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

ij

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

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

 

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courtesy of Getty Images

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

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courtesy of CNN

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

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

 

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

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

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

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

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

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

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

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtesy ryot.org

courtesy ryot.org

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

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

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

-M

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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.

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

 

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