Posts Tagged With: history

Winter/Flood Fatigue: Seasons in Ancient Egypt

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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**: 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.

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courtesy of PBS

 

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

 

 

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courtesy of Highclere Castle

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

 

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Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. Courtesy of Highclere 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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Courtesy of PBS

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

Works Cited:

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

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

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

 

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Meux Than Meets the Eye

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

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

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(courtesy of Egyptology News Network)

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

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

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(courtesy Natural History Museum of London)

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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(courtesy of  Cavendish Press)

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

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

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(courtesy of Campbell Price)

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

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

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

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

 

 

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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Tut’s Tasty Treat

As October comes to a close and autumn settles in, many children are focused on just one thing: Halloween. They dream of costumes and of bringing home their favorite candies (mine being the classic Hershey’s kiss).  Thinking of candy, I began to wonder: what sweet treats did the Ancient Egyptians enjoy?

The answer came in a care package from my parents. Inside I found a box of tea in a flavor that I had never encountered before (those who are close to me understand the shock factor): A Yogi tea labeled “Egyptian Licorice”.

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The description on the box detailed how “The great kings of Egypt treasured licorice root for its natural sweetness, rich flavor and restorative properties.” Could it be true? Of all things, LICORICE is a treasure?

Manuscripts dating to 360 AD have been found discussing the use of licorice to treat skin diseases, coughs, and eye ailments. There is even record of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar endorsing the benefits of eating licorice, Caesar using the plant as a treatment for his epilepsy.  Napoleon was also an avid supporter of licorice, which he was said to find “soothing” during battle. It is said that he supposedly ate so much that his teeth turned black. (Never fear, the amount found in today’s candies will not leave you looking like you were cast as Imhotep in “The Mummy”)

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But what IS licorice? Technically speaking, licorice is considered a weed. It grows to around 4 ft high and sprouts purplish flowers. The plant’s botanical name, Glycyrrhiza glabra, comes from the Greek word meaning “sweet root”, and the plant is grown in hot, dry locations.

Licorice in Ancient Egypt is described as being used as a medicinal cure for ailments such as stomach and liver problems,” said Dr. Mohamed Nafady, an expert in alternative medicine, who practices herbal medicine.  There is further hieroglyphic record of licorice being in a popular men’s beverage up to the time of the writing of the bible!

Perhaps the best evidence of licorice use in Ancient Egypt came during the discovery of the tomb of the Great Pharaoh Tutankhamun, “King Tut”.  Licorice was found in copious amounts in the tomb, amid his jewelry, gold, and other treasures. The sweet drink created from licorice, called “Mai Sus” was considered to be so precious to the young pharaoh that a large quantity was buried with him so he could enjoy it on his journey into eternity.

So as you trick or treat this Halloween, pick up a cup of “Mai Sus” and make a toast to your favorite Mummy, King Tut!

Citations:

http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/egyptian-licorice/

http://www.licoriceinternational.com/licorice/pc/About-Licorice-d25.htm

http://www.licorice.org/Health___History/History/history.htm

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Egyptologist Envy

When I first began considering Egyptology as a career, I looked to current Egyptologists for inspiration. Of course I imagined my days being lived out much like Evelyn O’Connell’s in The Mummy movie series—working within a fantastic museum and making amazing discoveries, all while looking camera-ready fabulous.  Unfortunately, after two seconds of conversation with someone actually working in the field of Egyptology, my dreams of galavanting down the Nile with Brendan Fraser were quickly dashed.

Swallowing my tears, I began searching for a more realistic idol for my Egyptology career. I had many options to choose from among the greats of female Archaeologists/Egyptologists, Amelia Edwards, Margaret Murray, and Lady Hilda Petrie to name a few. With a more modern-day inspiration in mind, I finally uncovered the one who showed me that all of my Egyptological dreams are possible—all while looking even MORE fabulous than Evelyn O’Connell.

That being said…

Hello Friend.  My name is Melissa Pankuch and I have intense Egyptologist Envy of Kara Cooney.

 

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( courtesy of karacooney.com)

Dr. Kara Cooney is currently an Assistant Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA.  Among her many accomplishments rank a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Johns Hopkins University in 2002, archaeological excavations in the craftsmen’s village of Deir el Medina, the royal temple site at Dahshur, and multiple Theban tombs, not to mention her past teaching positions at Stanford and Howard University. In 2005, she was the co-curator Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum. In all honesty, I could continue to spout of Dr. Cooney’s accomplishments, but then I would sound a bit like the Eloquent Peasant. J

So, putting aside her numerous international adventures, countless publications, and extensive curating expertise, why do I have such extreme Egyptologist Envy of Dr. Kara Cooney?

Simply put, she has been able to balance the pursuit of her dreams, the demands of a busy career, and the raising of a family—a feat that deserves great praise. And along with this balancing act, she manages to look fabulous on screen (in her archaeology series Out Of Egypt, created with her husband Neil Crawford, presently airing on Planet Green and Netflix) and off screen.

So here’s to you, Kara Cooney. For allowing an aspiring Egyptologists like myself to believe that dreams of being the next Evelyn O’Connell may not be all that impossible. 

 

 

Want to learn more about Dr. Cooney? Check out her website http://www.karacooney.com/ and like her page on facebook

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

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

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

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

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Anything is possible…I could even go to Egypt!

In the second grade, my elementary school gave us a simple assignment at the end of the year. “Believe that anything is possible. Draw what you would do.” Many of the other students illustrated their dreams of being a fireman, a rock star, an NBA player, or an astronaut. Some drew images of having families, climbing mountains, or sailing the seas as a pirate.

And then there was one; one girl in the back of the classroom, engulfed in a sea of brown and tan colored pencils, with a look of wonder across her face. When the time came to present the drawings, the girl’s hand shot up as the first volunteer. She bolted to the front of the room, composed herself, and presented her pride and joy.

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Okay, so clearly I was never destined to be the next Monet; I could barely draw people, let alone the Sphinx. But from the age of seven, I knew that I would forever be dreaming of the valley of the Nile, and that it would always have a hold over my heart.

Fast-forward 14 years and here I am, a soon to be Senior Art History Major, preparing for grad school, and even more in love with Ancient Egypt than that little girl whose depiction of a camel might easily be confused for a monster out of a Sci-Fi novel. Over the years I have read numerous books, seen more History and Discovery Channel specials than I can count, and even owned a mummify-your-own-pharaoh kit (mummy curse included), but I have never truly had the opportunity to convey my love for Egypt, and all it’s quirks and mysteries, to the rest of the world.

Which is where you come in. I’m no expert: I don’t have a Ph.D and I can’t read hieroglyphics (yet!), but my dedication to this field is as strong as those who do. I hope, from these small tastes of the world of Ancient Egypt that I can provide through this blog, you will make a unique connection to a time and a place that I care deeply about.

My “Anything is possible..” drawing now hangs, framed, in my bedroom over my desk, as a constant reminder of my goals, and of the truth that, as an Ancient Egyptian proverb states, “Growth in Consciousness does not depend on the will of the intellect or it’s possibilities, but on the intensity of the inner urge.”

Thank you for following “Stories My Mummy Told Me”. Keep your mind open on the journey and, remember—anything is possible…

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