Posts Tagged With: King Tut

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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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…

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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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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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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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