Posts Tagged With: Egyptology

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

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

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

courtesy of universal studios

courtesy of universal studios

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

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

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

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

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

necklace

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

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

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

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

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

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

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

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtesy ryot.org

courtesy ryot.org

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

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

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

-M

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtesy of AFP

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

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

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

after the epoxy was adhered, courtesy of the Huffington Post

after the epoxy was adhered, courtesy of the Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cited Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghetty Image

Ghetty Image

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

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

courtesy of thekeep.org

courtesy of thekeep.org

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

~M

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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Canines or Felines? A Centuries Old Debate

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

Dogs or cats?

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtesy of the British Museum

courtesy of the British Museum

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

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

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

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

courtesy of  ancient-egypt.org

courtesy of ancient-egypt.org

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

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

dog2

courtesy of pet-product-news.com

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

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

 

Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Selling Out Sekhemka

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

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

(courtesy of the Getty)

(courtesy of the Getty)

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

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

(courtesy of bbc.com)

(courtesy of bbc.com)

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

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

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

 (courtesy of Christie’s)


(courtesy of Christie’s)

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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