Friday, February 29, 2008

Second phase of Grand Egyptian Museum finalized in March

Egypt State Information Service

Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni said the Grand Egyptian Museum near the Cairo-Alexandria desert road is being carried out on 117 feddans and is expected to be the biggest in the world.

The second phase includes a center for renovating antiquities, a warehouse, an electricity station and a fire station, in addition to a number of buildings, said Hosni.

He added that the project costs 550 million US dollars including 100 million in self-finance and 300 million dollars as a Japanese soft loan to be repaid after a 20-year grace period, in addition to 150 million collected from donations and local and international contributions.

Mystery of the mummy from KV55

Thanks to Huib Benne for sending me the link to this page. It is Zahi Hawass's take on this particular issue, with some detailed background information about the Amarna period and a description of some of the key contents of KV55.

The contents of KV55 offer some clues to who the mystery mummy might have been. Although the tomb had been badly damaged over the centuries by floods that periodically inundate the Valley of the Kings, many intriguing artifacts were found inside. Apart from the coffin containing the mysterious mummy, the most spectacular objects were panels from a gilded wooden shrine that had been built to protect the sarcophagus of Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten. Originally, the shrine had borne the name and image of Akhenaten along with that of the queen, but these were erased in ancient times.

Other objects from KV55 included small clay sealings bearing the name of Tiye’s husband Amenhotep III, and Tutankhamun, who may have been her grandson. There were also vessels of stone, glass and pottery, along with a few pieces of jewelry, inscribed with the names of Tiye, Amenhotep III and one of Amenhotep III’s daughters, Princess Sitamun. Four ‘magical bricks’ made of mud were also found in the tomb, stamped with the name of Akhenaten himself. A beautiful set of calcite canopic jars made for Akhenaten’s secondary wife Kiya rested in a niche carved into the southern wall of the burial chamber.

New Book: Pharaonic Inscriptions from the Southeastern Desert of Egypt

Eisenbrauns (temporary)
Eisenbrauns (permanent)

Pharaonic Inscriptions from the Southeastern Desert of Egypt by Russell D. Rothe, William K. Miller, and George (Rip) Rapp

Forthcoming April 2008

The University of Minnesota Eastern Desert Expedition had its beginnings in 1975, when co-authors George (Rip) Rapp, T. H. Wertime, and J. D. Muhly visited cassiterite (tin ore) mines in the southern Eastern Desert of Egypt. Near the farthest west of these mines, they were shown a group of pharaonic inscriptions by M. F. el-Ramly of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority. The inscriptions were photographed, and the photos were given to an Egyptologist to translate. Much later, in 1991, senior author Russell D. Rothe read about the photos in a footnote in an unrelated article. After obtaining copies of the photos from Rapp, he translated the inscriptions with the help of co-author William K. Miller and others. Over the next decade, Rothe, Rapp, and Miller traversed the 60,000-sq.-km area between the Nile and the Red Sea, mostly on foot, photographing inscriptions and systematically surveying the entire region. The results of their investigations of the inscriptional remains found in this vast, mountainous desert are here published for the first time; the corpus will be an important addition to our knowledge of the range and scope of the activities of the ancient Egyptians, especially outside the Nile Valley.

Egyptomainia: Hieroglyphs encircle theatre columns

Ventura County Star

The culmination of nine months of work and a ton of dedication, an unusual art project is now on permanent display at the Roxy Stadium 11 Theatre in Camarillo.

The work of local artist Tammy Carlson, the project is a series of six giant lobby pillars adorned with Egyptian hieroglyphics, animals and symbols, to match the decor of the theater at 5001 Verdugo Way.

Daily Photo - General photos of the Faiyum

To all who saw the earlier photo, there was a problem with it (thanks to "L" for pointing it out). Here's something else instead. The Faiyum has been in the news quite a bit recently, thanks to a recent Neolithic and due to work by ECHO to raise awareness of the threat to existing archaeolgical sites. Here are some general photos of the Faiyum, ancient and modern. They were scanned from prints on a somewhat elderly scanner several years ago, and this shows in the quality, which is fairly poor.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Endangered Faiyum

Geoffrey Tassie has written a paper, posted on the above page, which looks at the modern threat to the archaeology of the Faiyum. Here's his introduction:

As already highlighted in the ECHO news article Faiyumi Sites to be placed on Tourist Map, the Faiyum Depression has been selected for development. These plans were originally formulated in 2005, by the Minister of Tourism, Ahmed el-Maghrabi and the Minister of Environment, Engineer Maged George. These plans were devised to boost environmental tourism, particularly in the Western Desert, the Bahariya Oasis and the Faiyum. These plans for the development of eco-tourism are also intended to encourage the development of communities and aid economic progress in the surrounding areas. This proposed development of the north Faiyum is compounded by the building of the 1,200 km Desert Development Corridor “superhighway” running from El-Aleman in the north to Lake Nasser in the South. A rail-track will run parallel to the superhighway. Twelve East-West connectors are planned to connect the superhighway to the main centres of population, one of which is the Faiyum Branch connector. This project is designed to promote the development of the desert north of the Faiyum depression by establishing sites for tourism, new communities and agricultural areas. It also would allow an extension to the west of the Depression for the establishment of industries such as cement production.

See the above page for the full paper.

If anyone who visits the page that I've linked to looks around the rest of that site, I should throw in a quick warning - the site is one of mine (Predynastic Faiyum) and it suffered some problems when it was moved to a new host some time ago. Many of the original images are missing, including all of the maps, leaving empty boxes in their places. Also, I haven't updated the site in a couple of years. As far as I can see, on most of the pages nothing is greatly out of date. One or two bits need to be added - Noriyuku Shirai has published some useful papers in the last couple of years, and his findings need to be incorporated. The later Predynastic pages are probably somewhat antiquated too. Apologies but I will be working on it!

New Book: Egyptian Mummies and Modern Science

The University of Manchester

About half way down the page:

Edited by the Director of the KNH Centre, Rosalie David, the book aims to show how the team's investigative methods are being used for new international research into disease evolution and ancient Egyptian pharmacy.

Highlighting the unique resource of Manchester's Egyptian Mummy Tissue Bank, the book looks at the progress of ancient DNA research and the treatments available for conserving mummified remains.

"The main aims of this book are to show how biomedical and scientific techniques have led to a new understanding of some aspects of ancient Egyptian society," said Rosalie.

"There has been a remarkable increase in the number of scientific studies on mummies over the past two decades and people are now aware of the information that can be gained from such investigations, in terms of explaining the cultural context of human remains and in adding knowledge to how disease has evolved from ancient to modern times."

Ten years of EEF email traffic

Congratulations and thanks to Aayko Emya and his team of contributors for all their hard work on the archive at the Egyptologists' Electronic Forum. Here's Aayko's email to the EEF group:

The forum's archives (sorted by topic) have been updated for the whole of 2007:

Based on a suggestion by Max Yakovlev, 10 years of EEF traffic have been gathered into two files for easy download.

Even if you have in the past downloaded most of the archives, you may still want to download these batches, as small errors have been cured, like prefixes and spaces in file names (which prevented files to list alphabetically) or duplicate file names (which caused overwriting).

Split over two files as that is probably easier for people on dial-up. Files are Zipped and have a password (yebu), as they are only meant for subscribers, not accidental tourists.

EEFYR1-5 (1998-2002), 5.6 MB

EEFYR6-10 (2003-2007), 7.2 MB

EEFIntro&Index, 90 kB
(Read 'EEF Archives' file to start.)

Do remember that the copyright of each post belongs to the poster, so the whole or parts of these archives are not to be copied to other venues.

Hot air balloon collision over Luxor

THREE hot air balloons carrying 60 tourists crashed around the Egyptian Nile resort town of Luxor overnight, injuring seven passengers, a security offical said.

Six Colombians and a British national were injured.

"Three balloons, carrying a total of 60 tourists, crashed in three different locations," the official said. "The injured were taken to hospital and some are being treated for broken bones," the source said.

The tourists were on a popular balloon tour over some of Egypt's most renowned archaeological sites near the Valley of the Kings.

"The reasons behind the crashes are unclear," the official said.

Book Review: The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy

This is a very informal review of John Bierman's The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy, the Real English Patient by John Bierman (Penguin 2004). As a review, it is a trifle long - but that's the advantage of owning your own blog :-)

For those who are wondering about the Egypt connection, Laszlo Almasy was a conspicuous character in the exploration of Egypt's Western Desert in the early 1930s, and was employed by Axis forces for his eastern Sahara knowledge during WWII. His connection with Egypt lasted until his death in 1951 when he was Director of the Cairo Desert Institute. His name was used in Michael Ondaatje's novel (and the subsequent film) The English Patient, but his life has only an ephemeral relationship with that fictional character.

In The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy, John Bierman sets about trying to demystify some of the details surrounding the Hungarian whose life became so closely entwined with Egypt, the informal British desert explorers of the 1930s and the wartime activities of both Allied and Axis forces in Egypt and Libya during World War II.

John Bierman was a newspaper editor before becoming BBC correspondent. He also made documentary films and has written many non-fiction books, including Alamein: War Without Hate with Colin Smith. He dedicates this book to members of the Long Range Desert Group. There is a splendid review of his career in his obituary on The Guardian website.

In the prologue Bierman introduces us to Almasy at a party at the Royal palace in Cairo, not long before Almasy's death, and shows us something of the cultural and political post-war context of the time. Bierman explains some of the confusion over the identity of Almasy arising from the film The English Patient, although he never explains why Ondaatje felt the need to give his fictional character the name of a real person. It is made clear that finding facts about Almasy's life was by no means straight forward, and that there are many questions that remain unanswered.

The first chapter describes Almasy's upbringing priveledged but fragmented upbringing in a Hungarian castle, his education in Britain (where he learned to fly), his involvement in the Hungarian army, his role in an attempt to return the exiled Hungarian king to the throne (when Almasy claims he was awarded the title "Count") and his involvement, via successes in motor rallying, with the car manufacturer Steyr. Steyr recruited him as a representative to establish their brand in the Middle East, sending him to Cairo.

The remaining chapters are rivetting, telling the story first of Almasy's rediscovery of the Darb el Arabin (the 40 Days trail), his involvement with the informal Zerzura Club, his obsession with the Lost Army of Cambyses, his role in WWII, and his post war years. It is clear that Almasy really did become obsessed with the desert and its myths at a very early stage and that this coloured everything that followed in his life.

Chapter 11, dealing with the years 1932 to 1936 describes how Almasy was associated closely with both the Germans in Egypt (some of whom were thought to be spies) and the British. He offered information of potentially military significance about the desert to both Italian and Egyptian governments. Unsurprisingly, all officials were suspicious of him. I wondered as I was reading if it was Almasy's obsession with returning to the desert that had led him to woo friends in all camps. This would seem to have been short sighted, even naïve, but is given support at the end of Chapter 13 when Almasy is quoted saying that his main interest in serving Rommel was to acquire resources to enable him to continue his search for the lost army.

When the Second World War broke out, everything changed and those who had been involved in light hearted exploration of the desert now provided much needed expertise and data for engaging in desert warfare in Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Chad. Almasy was seconded to the German forces whilst his former friends created and formed the Long Range Desert Group to repulse Axis efforts to penetrate further east.

Almasy did not survive long following the war. He was tried in Hungary as a war criminal by the invading Russian army, but was smuggled out of the country with the help of the British governement and returned to Cairo. In Cairo he gave flying lessons to make ends meet, and was finally given his dream role as head of the Desert Institute. Unfortunately his health had always been something of a trial due to ailments from his desert years and the effects of torture at the hands of the Russian army following their capture of Hungary. He collapsed suddenly and died only days later, rambling about Cambyses in his delerium.

Bierman brings places, people and events to life. His writing clear, lively and to the point. Chapters are assembled in a way that pulls the reader along in a fascinating tour through Almasy's world. I have been reading a number of travelogues of the western Sahara recently, and it is a refreshing change to read something that is devoid of literary self indulgence.

Everything is put into a its historical context (without which the story would fall apart). Bierman uses a number of sources including Almasy's own writing, official documents, the writings of his contemporaries and interviews with those who knew him. Bierman does an excellent job of providing an objective view of a man who was both complex and elusive. He also clears up many of the urban myths surrounding Almasy. Where there has more than one interpretation of events the author offers each with his own helpful reality-check to sort out which might be the most plausible explanation.

The overall impression that I came away with is that Almasy was a troubled man whose upbringing was partly responsible for a tendency to escapism and a desire for adventure and recognition. He seems to have been reserved and somewhat isolated, even slightly disconnected from reality - but not an unfeeling man. He comes across as obsessive, and always seems to be striving for something that he cannot quite reach.

My only real moan is that there weren't enough dates scattered around. I became rather disorientated as to which year we were in - which was confusing when it was occasionally necessary for the narrative to jump back and forth in time. I had to back-track on a number of occasions to find out when we were, in order to get the sequence of events right. The lack of dates also occasionally gave me the illusion that everything happened in a shorter period than it actually did.

I wasn't expecting to like Almasy, and I still don't empathise with him, but I do have a much better understanding of who he was and what he actually did. If you are interested in this period of Egyptian history, and in Laszlo Almasy in particular, it is a very good read.

Book Review: Faith and Transformation

Journal of Folklore Research (Reviewed by William Hansen, Indiana University)

I've included this more for curiosity than anything else. It may be of interest to those who are studying amulets in Egypt due to the nature of the discussion about the nature of amulets in general:

Faith and Transformation: Votive Offerings and Amulets from the Alexander Girard Collection. Edited by Doris Francis. 2007. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press. Published in Association with the Museum of International Folk Art.

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) was a graphic designer whose artistic productions were much influenced by folk art, which he collected enthusiastically from the 1930s to the 1970s. He organized his collection in accordance with his own interests, which were those of a professional artist. As he bluntly remarked, “I bought this stuff to spark my creativity” (8). His collection came to include over 100,000 pieces from a hundred countries.

Girard moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1953, the year in which the Museum of International Folk Art opened its doors. In 1978 the Girard Foundation Collection of Folk Art was donated to the state of New Mexico, and a Girard Wing was added to the museum, where Girard himself supervised the installation of a portion of his collection. When new construction was undertaken, the panels devoted to amulets and ex votos were put into storage. They were taken out again in 2007 as a component of the Girard Centennial Celebration, an event that, one assumes, served as the impetus for the making and the timing of the present book. . . .

The contributors’ emphasis throughout is emphatically synchronic, resulting in a certain temporal flatness. Now and then a reference is made to the Old World source of a New World practice or to the long history of a particular tradition. Amulets, for example, are found in the Egypt of today but also in ancient Egypt.

Book Review: Prinzeps und Pharao

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Review by Jan Moje)

Friederike Herklotz, Prinzeps und Pharao. Der Kult des Augustus in Aegypten. Oikumene. Studien zur antiken Weltgeschichte, 4. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Antike, 2007.

Die Einnahme Alexandrias durch den römischen Konsul Octavian im Jahre 30 BC und die darauf folgende römische Okkupation Ägyptens stellte eine der wichtigsten Zäsuren in der Geschichte des Nillandes dar. Ab diesem Zeitpunkt war Ägypten kein eigenständiges Reich mehr, sondern eine Provinz des Imperium Romanum, über dessen Politik im fernen Rom entschieden wurde. Um die Herrschaft Roms gegenüber den Einheimischen zu sichern, war die Legitimation des römischen Kaisers als ägyptischer Herrscher besonders wichtig. Während die in Ägypten residierenden Ptolemäer als indigene Pharaonen interpretiert werden konnten, gestaltete sich die Lage in der Kaiserzeit schwieriger. Schon für Kaiser Augustus musste daher eine auch auf den ägyptischen Religionsvorstellungen fundierte Herrscherlegitimation gefunden werden.

Weekly Websites

Freer Sackler Online Collection - Ancient Egyptian Art
Freer and Sackler Galleries

An excellent photo gallery of the Ancient Egyptian Art collection from the Freer and Sackler Galleries in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.. For those of us who haven't been lucky enough to visit Washington, the above page provides a good collection of over 100 very fine photographs to browse. You can change how many images show at any one time, and as usual click on the small image to see the expanded version.

If you are interested in faience or glass there are some excellent examples. I haven't paid a great deal of attention to the glass-work in the past, but these pages have shown me the error of my ways.

Diary of a Dig - Excavations at Fustat in 1971
SaudiAramco World
By Elizabeth Rodenbeck

A 1974 account of an excavation in Cairo by one of the team members. She gives a day by day account, which is very engaging and gives a very vivid impression of how the excavation operated. Here's here introduction to the site, which puts her dig diary into context:

South and east of modern Cairo, between the old Roman fortress called Babylon and a cemetery known as the City of the Dead, lies a square mile or so of utter desolation. Nothing grows, there is nothing green. In every direction stretch endless low gray mounds.

Unpromising? Perhaps. But those heaps of dirt are worth another look, for they are not just dirt. They are the rubbish dumps of Cairo, and have been for the last 800 years. Underneath them, sometimes as much as 18 feet down, lie the foundations and remains of a city that flowered 1,000 years ago, Fustat, City of the Tent, founded in the 7th century by the Muslim conquerors of Egypt.

For some 500 years after the Arab conquest of Egypt, Fustat flourished as a center of commerce and trade which extended east to China and west to Spain. In the 10th century, however, the Fatimids came to Egypt from Tunisia to found a city nearby: Cairo, soon to be the center of a new caliphate and a new empire.

Careers for Women in Ancient Egypt
BBC History

Thanks to David Petersen for sending me the link to this six-page overview of the role of women in ancient Egyptian society by Dr Joann Fletcher:

Whilst the concept of a career choice for women is a relatively modern phenomenon, the situation in ancient Egypt was rather different. For some three thousand years the women who lived on the banks of the Nile enjoyed a form of equality which has rarely been equalled.

In order to understand their relatively enlightened attitudes toward sexual equality, it is important to realise that the Egyptians viewed their universe as a complete duality of male and female. Giving balance and order to all things was the female deity Maat, symbol of cosmic harmony by whose rules the pharaoh must govern.

The EEF Guide to Internet Resources for Ancient Egyptian Texts
Egyptologists' Electronic Forum
Thanks to Michael Tilgner's recent email on EEF directing attention to this excellent resource - a useful reminder that is is there and freely available.

Sand accumulation and groundwater in the eastern Sahara (PDF format)
Episodes, Vol.21 No.3 1998
By Farouk el-Baz

Nearly all sand dune fields in the eastern Sahara are located within topographic depressions. The sand, mostly composed of quartz grains, occurs south of limestone plateaus that border the Mediterranean seacoast, over which the wind blows southward. The source of the sand is the “Nubian Sandstone,” which is exposed throughout the southern part of the eastern Sahara. Satellite images, particularly radar data, reveal that sand-covered, northward-trending courses of dry rivers end at the depressions. The sand appears to have been deposited, most likely in lake beds, during wet climates. Alternating dry climatic episodes resulted in sculpturing these deposits into sand dunes and sheets by southward flowing wind. The depressions must have hosted great volumes of surface water during the wet climates. Much of that water would have seeped into the underlying rock through primary and/or secondary porosity. It follows that areas of large accumulations of sand may host vast groundwater resources.

A Rebuttal to El-Baz
Episodes Vol 21, No.4 1998
By Rushdi Said

The great sand accumulations of the eastern Sahara have been the subject of a large number

of studies since the pioneering work of the early explorers of the Western Desert of Egypt and northern Sudan (Hassanein, Prince Kamaleldin Hussein, Newbold, Shaw, Ball, Beadnell, Clayton, Almasy, Bagnold and others of the early to mid years of the 20th century). The work of these early pioneers elucidated the distribution and geomorphology of these dune belts and helped to clarify the mechanics of their accumulation, a subject which was ably treated and summed up by Bagnold in 1941 in his classic “Physics of blown sand and desert dunes”. Much has been added to our understanding of these sand accumulations of the Western Desert of Egypt since these early works. The intensive programs of applied research which were carried out in the Western Desert of Egypt since the 1960’s after the search for mineral, oil and ground water reserves helped to lay down a solid foundation for the geology of that desert (for a review and bibliography the reader is referred to the compendium on the Geology of Egypt (1990) edited by the present author and written by a large number of scholars). In addition, the extensive work on the geomorphology and prehistory that was carried out in that desert during the same period brought to the fore a wealth of data on the stratigraphy and climatological history of the Quaternary of that desert (for a review and bibliography the reader is referred to the work of Wendorf and Schild, 1996 and in press).

All this information does not seem to have been of any relevance to El-Baz when he was searching for a source for the sand of the large dune belts of the eastern Sahara in the article recently published in Episodes, V.21, No.3 (1998), pp. 147–151.

Daily Photo - Last set of satellite photos

And yet more. I am rather partial to satellite views. These are from The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth website. The last lot, I promise! Click on the link beneath the image to go to the page where the full sized image is shown, together with details.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More re false portal discovery

National Geographic (Steven Stanek)

Mucho, mucho happiness. I was hoping that Nevine El-Aref would make some sense of all these reports in one of her Al Ahram Weekly slots later this week, but the National Geographic, in the form of Steven Stanek, has gone a long way to doing the job.

Three false doors that served as portals for communicating with the dead are among ancient burial remains recently unearthed in a vast Egyptian necropolis, an archaeological team announced.

The discoveries date back to Egypt's turbulent First Intermediate Period, which ran roughly between 2160 and 2055 B.C.

The period is traditionally thought to have been a chaotic era of bloodshed and power struggles, but little is known based on archaeological evidence.

In addition to the false doors, the Spanish team found two funerary offering tables and a new tomb in the former ancient capital of Herakleopolis—today referred to by its Arabic name Ihnasya el-Medina—about 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Cairo.

Previous excavations had uncovered tombs that had been deliberately burned and ransacked in antiquity, but experts are unsure if the damage was done by military conquerors or pillaging thieves.

The latest finds, along with the team's new studies of the site's charred remains, could offer a fresh look at the poorly understood First Intermediate Period.

The necropolis "is a very big site in a town that was very important in Egypt, but there is a lot that is still unknown," said excavation leader Carmen Pérez Díe of the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain.

"In this place any discovery is very important, and I think [our excavations] will help write a new page for the history of Egypt."

See the above two-page story for complete details.

Pyramids of Egypt - one grand plan?

Discovery Channel News (Rossella Lorenzi)

Two of the pyramids of Giza, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, were conceived as a single project--a sort of grandiose stage show to represent the final and most important part of a pharaoh's journey to the afterlife, an Italian study has concluded.

It is widely believed that the pharaohs Khufu, his son Khafre and grandson Menkaure built their pyramids on the edge of a desert plateau at Giza between 2600 and 2450 BC.

But according to Giulio Magli of the mathematics department at Milan's Polytechnic University, astronomical alignments and the landscape indicate that the two main pyramids, those identified with the tombs of Khufu and Khafre, were not built in different stages. On the contrary, they were planned as a single, grand project.

See the above page for the full story, which is accompanied by an entertaining "pyramidology" slide show. The photos in the slideshow are good, and are accompanied by explanatory captions which take the reader on a whistle-stop tour of pyramid studies.

Egyptian Revival in Hollywood

The Eloquent Peasant

An excellent and fascinating essay by Margaret Maitland about the Hollywood revival of ancient Egypt, with some good photos. I enjoyed this considerably. Here's her introduction:

As an Egyptologist, I understand from first-hand experience how captivating Egyptian culture can be, and I find it interesting to contemplate the ways in which Egyptomania seized upon the minds and imaginations of people in the 19th and early 20th centuries and manifested itself in art, architecture, and advertising ranging from the absurd to the sublime. It spread throughout the Western world and beyond, from Europe and North America to Russia and South Africa. There are certainly numerous examples of the craze in London (see my Egyptological map of the city), but some other interesting examples have been featured on the internet lately.

See the above for the full story.

British museums advised to dispose of unused art

New York Times

A very brief article about If you are asked for a username and password type "egyptnews" in both fields.

The Museums Association, founded in 1889 to represent Britain’s museums and galleries, reversed a 30-year ban on selling art and urged its 1,500 members on Monday to get rid of objects that are gathering dust, the BBC reported. “Museums typically collect a thousand times as many things as they get rid of,” Mark Taylor, the association’s director, said in a posting on its Web site ( “Wonderful collections can become a burden unless they are cleared of unused objects.” The association told its members to give unused art to other museums or public institutions or, in exceptional circumstances, to sell it.

The full Museums Association post can be found on their website, together with a download of their new policy, the Disposable Digest (8 pages), and their advice for accomplishing this, the Disposable Toolkit (24 pages) - both in PDF format.

I know very little about museum management but it is my understanding that some museums would actually have to change their constitution in order to dispose of items, and this can be a fairly major process, which usually has to be preceded by a period of consultation and research.

The British Museum actually has its own Act of Parliament (The British Museum Act 1963), which has some fairly firm things to say about the conditions under which items may be disposed. I know even less about amending an Act than I do about museum management, but I bet that it is no walk in the park (and expensive too!).

Responses to this proposal should be quite interesting to follow.

British Museum collections online

Computer Weekly (Rebecca Thomson)

The British Museum is making its entire collection available on the web with one of the world's biggest museum online collection databases.

Records for around 260,000 objects will be available by the end of 2009. These will contain curatorial research and cataloguing information, and there will also be 110,000 images that viewers can "super-zoom" in on.

The newly launched Museum website also has a new, fully integrated online shop, and now covers all aspects of the museum's activities.

See the above for more about the technology.

St Catherine's National Park

Egyptian Gazette

N.B. The story on this page will expire shortly.

In mid-South Sinai lies the Saint Catherine's Protected Area, one of the areas of the world with the greatest biological diversity.The basis of this National Park's rationale is the conservation of biological diversity or bio-diversity.

In an area of 5,750 square kilometres, the biological diversity has increased over geological time, while global biological diversity is being lost at a rate many times faster than ever before, largely as a result of human activities.The Prime Minister's Decree No. 940 of 1996 stipulates that the Saint Catherine's area is a natural reserve, under the management of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). St. Catherine's National Park occupies much of the central part of South Sinai, a mountainous region of Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rock, which includes Egypt's highest peaks (the mountains of St. Catherine's, Moussa, Serbal, Umm Shomer and Tarbush).

St. Catherine's Mountain is the highest peak in Egypt, 2,624 metres above sea level. The Sinai massif contains some of the world's oldest rocks - around 80 per cent of them are 600 million years old.This high altitude ecosystem supports a surprising diversity of wild species; some found nowhere else in the world. The mountains are relic outposts for the Sinai rose finch from Asia, the ibex and wolf from Europe, and the striped hyena and Tristram's grackle which came from Africa. Several species are unique to the National Park, including two species of snakes and about 20 plant species, such as a beautiful native primrose. Around 1,000 plant species, representing almost 40 per cent of Egypt's total flora, are found in this region. These include many endemic species. Half of the 33 known Sinai endemics are found in the St. Catherine's area. Many of these are rare and endangered. Small orchards are scattered in wadis, particularly at higher elevations. The white-crowned black wheatear is very characteristic of the area. There are 46 reptile species, 15 of which are found nowhere else in Egypt.

See the above page for the full story.

Daily Photo - Visible Earth

Staying with the theme of satellite imagery, today's photographs are taken from NASA's Visible Earth website. Each of the links under the photo takes you to a page of explanatory text about the image, and you can view the same image in different formats.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No blog today

Back tomorrow or Thursday!
Andie xx

Monday, February 25, 2008

A fragile oasis uneasily welcomes tourist dollars

Los Angeles Times (Daniel Williams)

In Siwa, where Cleopatra came to bathe, visitors' cash has brought a splurge of construction, jobs and change.

As the putt-putt of motorbikes eclipses the clip-clop of donkey hooves, tourist guide Sayid Abu-Seif has decided that development in Siwa, his oasis home in western Egypt, is moving too far, too fast.

"It used to be quiet here," said Abu-Seif, 27. "You could hear the birds. Now it begins to sound like a city."

His unease is shared by other Siwans and outsiders concerned about the preservation of a fragile place out of time. A conundrum familiar to Shangri-Las the world over has arisen in this ancient island in the sand: What price change?

In the case of Siwa, where Cleopatra came to bathe, what danger does development hold for its clean air, abundant springs and languorous pace of life among the date groves?

The question is doubly vexing in a country where every livable space is exploited.

See the above page for the full story.

More re discoveries at Beni Suef

Actualidad Terra

This piece adds a few details to previous reports on the discovery. My rough interpretation of this piece is fragmented - partly because of my rusty Spanish but partly because the story itself seems a bit vague. If anyone can do a better job of it please let me know. I'll post anything else that I find.

The Spanish team are from the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid under the direction of Carmen Pérez Die. They uncovered three false portals and offering tables from rock cut tombs dating to the First Intermediate period, in the Beni Suef area. Zahi Hawass stated that the false portals were found in a tomb which had been destroyed and set alight in the past. Other finds include the remains of mud-brick and limestone tombs and ceramic fragments which probably date to the Old Kingdom. There's a photograph on the above page.

Un equipo de expertos del Museo Arqueológico Nacional de Madrid ha descubierto a unos 120 kilómetros al sur de El Cairo un conjunto de antigüedades faraónicas que datan de hace más de 4.000 años, informó hoy la prensa egipcia.

Los arqueólogos españoles encontraron tres puertas 'falsas' de tumbas y fabricadas de roca, y dos mesas de ofrendas en la localidad de Egnasia, provincia de Bani Suef, precisó el ministro egipcio de Cultura, Faruq Hosni, citado por la prensa.

El hallazgo se produjo durante excavaciones llevadas a cabo últimamente por el equipo de arqueólogos que es encabezado por la reputada experta española Carmen Pérez Die, subrayó el ministro.

Las piezas datan del Primer Periodo Intermedio de la Época faraónica (2040-2191 a.C.).

See the above page for the full story.

Swaffham Museum funding crisis


Swaffham Museum has launched an 11th hour survival appeal as a funding crisis means it might lose its professional staff or even close down.

The venue which houses a collection dedicated to the famous Egyptologist Howard Carter is currently undergoing a major facelift following an EU grant of £384,000.

But due to unexpected repair works most of the cash was used to underwrite additional costs, leaving little funds to pay full-time wages for the museum's curator and an education officer.

See the above page for the full story.

More re possible location of tomb of Imhotep

This is a story from earlier this year, but the Huliq site has just picked up on it, so here it is again for anyone who missed it the first time. Ian Mathieson believes that his team may have discovered where the deified architect Imhotep was buried in Saqqara, using geophysical survey techniques. Two underground tombs have been located, both of which are immense by the standards of anything in the vicinity. Unfortunately the current ban on new excavations, imposed by the SCA, means that his theories will not be investigated for the forseeable future. See the above page for more.

Fiction: Dietrich sequel

Statesman Journal

We heard from Northwest author William Dietrich, via e-mail, and he was pleased to announce a sequel to his 2007 historical thriller "Napoleon's Pyramids." The sequel, "The Rosetta Key," is due April 22. Here's what he shared with us:

"Napoleon's Pyramids," my sixth novel, is my most successful to date, doing well domestically and selling into 24 languages or countries.

"The Rosetta Key," my seventh, brings the adventure yarn built around Napoleon's 1798-99 invasion of Egypt and the Holy Land full circle.

While the two books are stand-alone reads, the first featured a bit of a cliff-hanger ending that had readers asking what happened next. "Rosetta Key" answers that.

Daily Photo - SIR-C/X-SAR Images of Egypt

SIR-C/X-SAR Images showing different parts of Egypt. Click on the image to see a bigger version of it on ths site. To see full descriptions which explain the images and help you interpret them just click on the link beneath image that you want to see details for - and even bigger versions of these images are available from those pages.

All of the images come from the a joint U.S.-German-Italian project that uses a highly sophisticated imaging radar to capture images of Earth. The technology used is Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) . Photographs on this site were taken using the instrument, which was flown on two flights in 1994. One was on space shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-59 April 9-20, 1994. The second flight was on shuttle Endeavour on STS-68 September 30-October 11, 1994. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Light on Ramesses at Abu Simbel

Egypt State Information Service

It's that time of year again:

Some 7,000 tourists and Egyptians witnessed Friday 22/2/2008 the phenomenon of the sun falling perpendicular on the face of Ramses II statue in Abu Simbel temple, south Egypt.

Happening twice a year, the first rays of the rising sun reach 60 meters into the sacred inner sanctuary of the temple in Abu Simbel on February 22 and October 22 to illuminate the back wall of the innermost shrine and the statues of the gods seated there.

For twenty-four minutes, the sun shines on the statues of Ramses II, Amon Ra (the sun god), and Ra-Harakhtye, god of the rising sun.

Ptah, god of the netherworld and darkness, seated at the far left of the row of gods, remains dark on these occasions.

The Abu Simbel temple was cut into rock in the 13th century B.C. by the famous pharaoh Ramses II in honor of himself and the triad Amon-Ra, Ptah and Ra-Harakhte, together with a smaller temple dedicated to Ramses' wife Nefertari and the goddess Hathor.

False doors found in Beni Suef

Egypt State Information Service

The Supreme Council of Antiquities announced on 22/2/2008 that the Spanish archaeologists have unearthed three stone gates dating back to the first transition era (2191-2040 BC) in Ihnasia, Beni Sweif Governorate.

Zahi Hawwas, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquates said the “Deceptive Gates” – as they were known-have been removed from their original burial place, a graveyard that has been demolished and burnt over the years.

Also found were two offering tables and the remains of walls built of red brick and adobe, as well as shards of pre-transition era pottery, Hawass said. The head of the Spanish team said the discovered gates and pottery have been renovated.

Photos of the false doors are shown on the Daily Star website.

Book Reviews: Last Queen of Egypt

Last Queen of Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley, Profile Books Ltd.

The Telegraph, UK (Review by Helen Brown)

If the Emperor Augustus had been able to see into the future, and had a flick through The Daily Telegraph on February 15, 2007, he'd have been delighted to read an article headlined: "Long-lost coin reveals Cleopatra was no beauty".

After defeating the last queen of Egypt, Julius Caesar's adopted son was determined to destroy her reputation. He smashed the images made to glorify her and ensured his pocket historians cast her as a greedy, incestuous, adulterous whore who used her foreign, feminine wiles to emasculate the Roman Empire.

The Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley picks through the Augustan propaganda to assess the woman "as an Egyptian politician rather than a Roman mistress". She is honest about the many gaps in her story: we don't know much about Cleopatra's upbringing but we do know she was raised in the ultimate dysfunctional family.

The Telegraph, UK (Review by Peter Jones)

Joyce Tyldesley, an authority on Pharaonic Egypt, observes that Egyptologists tend to avoid the Graeco-Roman period. To them, it is just not Egyptian. One could argue about that, but all the sources for the period are Graeco-Roman, and Ptolemaic Alexandria (which would have told us much) is buried under the waves.

So what can an Egyptologist bring to the period - especially to the story of Cleopatra, who is so intimately tied up with the struggle for power going on in Rome first between Caesar and Pompey, and then between Marc Antony and Caesar's heir, Octavian (eventually the first emperor Augustus)?

To judge by this book, I have to say 'not a great deal'. There is certainly a lot of information about Egypt, but not so as to give the story a particularly Egyptian spin. Indeed, some of the excursions into Egyptian history and religion add little to the issues at hand.

But Tyldesley's strength has always been her storytelling, and here she is on top form.

See the above pages for the complete reviews

Travel: Stepping off the tourist trail

The Independent (UK)

When hunger strikes, I conduct a quest for koshari in the downtown side-streets. Koshari joints are café-esque, no-nonsense establishments, and I'm served this tasty carb-fest in a stainless steel bowl with a matching beaker of heavily chlorinated tap water. It's a mound of pasta, rice and lentils topped with fried onions and spicy tomato sauce, all for just 20p.

Egypt is refreshingly cheap. It's also sweltering, so when my soles begin to swell I head for the air-conditioned cool of Groppi's. This tearoom is an institution, and I sip Lipton tea in an atmosphere of faded colonialism alongside gossiping middle-class couples and ageing bachelors reading Al-Ahram.

Taking a day to adjust makes me feel I can blend in. On the average street in Cairo, foreigners are rare. Yet despite the repeated terrorist attacks aimed at tourists, travellers are converging on Egypt in record numbers. Last year, the country received nearly ten million tourists, roughly a million of whom were British. But so far I've seen very few of them.

Underground, I remind myself of metro etiquette. The first carriage of every train is for women only. Sometimes I use it; sometimes I don't. But what's remarkable, in every carriage but particularly the first, is that a certain kind of woman has disappeared. There used to be plenty: women who looked like the newsreaders on Egyptian television, or the stars of the popular soaps – smart, with make-up and (the defining feature) carefully styled hair. But many Egyptians are returning to a more fundamental expression of Islam. Hairstyles are out; hijab is in.

See the above page for the full story.

Exhibition: Gift for the Gods

International Herald Tribune (Souren Melikian)

Ancient faiths have a mystery about them that has fascinated the West since Renaissance times. Yet describing them with even the broadest approximation, let alone understanding the emotions that they stirred in the worshippers, seems beyond our grasp.

The exhibition "Gift for the Gods: Image from Egyptian Temples," which recently closed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and reopens at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland, on March 17, spawned a book that includes the latest attempt at deciphering the message of Ancient Egypt.

The radiant beauty that emanates from the faces of many of the bronze figures illuminated by some ineffable certainty is likely to take its source in deeply held creeds with a trend toward mysticism. But when it comes to circumscribing its tenets beyond the names of deities and formal rituals, our helplessness is blatant.

Martha Hill, the Metropolitan Museum curator who edited the book, prefaces her opening chapter, "Art and Influence in Temple Images," with a quote taken from a restoration inscription of Tutankhamun: "As for the gods and goddesses who are in this land, their hearts are joyful; the lords of shrines are rejoicing, the shores are shouting praise, and exultation pervades the [entire] land now that good [plans] have come to pass."

See the above page for the full story, which also has an 8-photographs slide show.

Book Review: The Hunt for Zerzura

The Spectator (review by Justin Marozzi)

The Hunt for Zerzura: The Lost Oasis and the Desert War, by Saul Kelly.

This review dates to 2002 but I've only just stumbled across it. It is less a review than a very short summary of the main themes covered by the book - only the last paragraph comments on the way in which the content is presented.

The hunt for Zerzura, mentioned for the first time by a 13th-century Syrian governor of the Faiyum, was an improbable quest for a place which, said Dr John Ball, the director of desert surveys of Egypt, probably had 'no more real existence than the philosopher's stone'. Desert explorers were not to be dissuaded, however, and the club, which met at the Royal Geographical Society every year and held its own dinner, grew to include pioneering figures such as Major Ralph Bagnold and the enigmatic Hungarian Count Laszlo Almasy. . . .

Kelly's history of the early exploration of the Libyan desert and the swashbuckling operations of Bagnold and Almasy during the war is a fascinating read, packed with detail. Deserts, war and espionage are a potent trio from a literary point of view, of course, and it is a pity the narrative is not always as gripping as the events it relates. A little more romance might have been in order.

The reviewer himself, Marozzi, wrote a book about the rather peculiar camel trek he made across Libya with a friend. If you're interested in desert travelogues his book, South from Barbary, is reviewed concisely but effectively by an customer.

Minoan Art at the Onassis Cultural Center

Suite 101 (Stan Parchin)

From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete, 3000-1100 B.C. Onassis Cultural Center, March 13th 2008 - September 13th 2008.

Crete's early civilization flourished in the 3rd and 2nd Millennia B.C. It produced settlements, palace art and architecture, estates and cemeteries. The exhibition describes Minoan government and society, everyday life, religion, funerary practices, art, writing, foreign relations and trade with Egypt and other ancient Mediterranean basin civilizations.

See the above page for more information and useful links.

Trivia: The archaeology of the future


Click on the image to see the cartoon properly. As a former website developer and present-day archaeology nut it did make me smile!

Daily Photo - Luxor views

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Australians celebrate 25 years of work in Egypt

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

Over the past year the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square has hosted several archaeological exhibitions commemorating the anniversaries of excavation work carried out by foreign archaeological institutes and missions all over Egypt and highlighting their contribution to preserving the national archaeological heritage. Among these were the German, Polish, French and American institutes in Egypt. The most recent exhibition was inaugurated early last week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Australian Institute in Egypt.

Entitled Corroborree, a name that refers to a traditional Aboriginal Australian gathering for the lively exchange of friendship and information, the exhibition contains 31 key objects carefully selected from Australian excavations at Saqqara, Helwan, Luxor and Dakhla Oasis.

Among the most significant objects put on display for the first time, is a collection of glass bottles, jugs and jewellery unearthed during excavations at the Ismant Al-Kharab site in Dakhla Oasis. . . .

Wine clay jars, bone labels, limestone seals and stelae from the Helwan necropolis are also exhibited. Helwan was the main necropolis of Egypt's capital, Memphis, and reflects the social classification of Egyptian society at the time when the Egyptian state was in the process of formation. The site was previously excavated during the 1940s and 1950s by Egyptologist Zaki Saad, who uncovered more than 10,000 tombs. In 1997, an Australian mission headed by Christian Köhler re-excavated the previously discovered tombs and stumbled upon almost 6,000 objects and more than 150 new graves dating from between the First and Fourth dynasties.

See the above page for the full story - it has lots of details about Australian activities in Egypt and offers a lot of useful information about sites investigated.

Valley of the Whales - Wadi Al Hitan

Al Ahram Weekly (Mahmoud Bakr)

In an event organised by the Ministry of Environment, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak inaugurated the Valley of the Whales Protected Area in Fayoum. The valley is part of the Wadi Al-Rayan Protected Area, 150km southeast of Cairo and home to hundreds of fossils of maritime creatures that lived 40 million years ago, when the valley was covered by sea.

"The Valley of the Whales was declared a natural world heritage area in 2005 due to its concentration of fossilised skeletons of whales and other maritime creatures," said Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Maged George at the event. "Remains of those extinct creatures shed light on the evolution of maritime life over millions of years." George said that President Mubarak has made the environment a top government priority. Article 59, recently added to the constitution, states that "protecting the environment is a national duty."

Mustafa Fouda, chairman of the Natural Protectorate Sector at the Environmental Affairs Agency, said that the World Conservation Union has declared the area a world heritage zone. Egypt has submitted studies detailing findings in the valley to international organisations and, as a result, UNESCO described the area as the best region for whale skeletons in the world.

See the above page for the full story.

More re Iker

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

Spanish excavators working at the tomb of Djehuty, overseer of works in Thebes during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, have chanced upon a surprising discovery.

While they were excavating the floor of the open courtyard of the tomb, a well-preserved 11th Dynasty burial was uncovered, including the remains of a large wooden sarcophagus that was painted red and decorated with inscription along its sides mentioning the name of the deceased, Iker, and invocations to the goddess Hathor, mistress of the skies. In the sand surrounding the sarcophagus, five clay vessels were also unearthed, together with five wooden arrows, three of which still bore their original feathers.

See the above for more.

Snap Shot: Colossi of Memnon

Al Ahram Weekly (Mohamed El Hebeishy)

SOME 1,000-tonne twin statues have been standing firm for more than 3,400 years at the entrance of the Theban Necropolis. Mohamed El-Hebeishy takes off the shroud around the Colossi of Memnon.

Amenhotep III ruled for about 40 years during the 18th Dynasty, his reign forever remembered as one of the most prosperous and stable of Ancient Egypt. With no major military activities save one expedition into Nubia, his was a diplomatic rule. International diplomacy thrived during Amenhotep's era with foreign trade substantially increased, with an augmented number of Egyptian goods being found on the Greek mainland. Speaking of monuments, Amenhotep III undertook a grandiose makeover of Karnak Temple, not to mention the mortuary temple he built for himself on the West Bank at Thebes. Though it was the largest and most lavish among Egypt's temples, it was built too close to the flood plains, so it was already in ruins by the 19th Dynasty.

See the above page for more details and and an accompanying photograph (rather good - the colours are rich, one of the statues is enclosed in scaffolding and there is a hot air balloon in the background).

Exhibition: To Live Forever, at Indianapolis

Suite 101 (Stan Parchin)

"To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum" is a special exhibition that explains the ancient civilization's rites of mummification.

Ancient Egyptian funerary practices and religious beliefs about death and the afterlife are vividly described by some 120 pieces of jewelry, sarcophagi (coffins), statuary and vessels in To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (July 13-September 7, 2008).

Selected from more than 1200 objects in the Brooklyn Museum's world-class collection of Egyptian antiquities, the works on display in To Live Forever... range in date from 3600 B.C. to 400 A.D. From predynastic times through the Roman period, they document how the ancient Egyptians sought to conquer death and survive throughout eternity.

See the above page for the full story.

Exhibition: World of the Pharaohs, Idaho

A one of a kind exhibit is making its world debut right here in eastern Idaho. Its called the "World of the Pharaohs" and its opening at the Museum of Idaho.

"Its an extraordinary exhibit, 3,000 years of ancient history are represented here in the most fantastic artifacts," says David Pennock, the Executive Director, The Museum of Idaho.

And starting Friday morning,you can experience history for yourself.

"Everything that you see, is a little glimpse into how these ancient people viewed themselves in the eternities," says Pennock.

More than 200 pieces of ancient history, spanning more than 3,000 years are stopping at the Museum of Idaho. Some of the displays include a Sarcophagus lid, amulets and a kitten mummy. . . .

All these pieces come from The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

See the above page for the full story

Hawass Dig Days - Taking credit for the Nubian rescue

Al Ahram Weekly (Zahi Hawass)

This account appears to be somewhat jumbled, but I think that this is mainly because it lacks any direct reference to the location of the story to which it refers. Hawass appears to be saying that the respected Egyptologist Christiane Desroches Noblecourt has recently taken credit for instigating the Nubian rescue campaign, whilst Hawass believes that Tharwat Okasha was the person responsible. There is no hyperlink or reference to where these claims are supposed to have been made, which makes it very difficult to assess Hawass's statements. Hawass obviously feels strongly on the subject, but this actually makes it more difficult to get to the heart of the story.

The story began a few months ago when Madame Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, the famous French Egyptologist, was stated as making every effort concerning the Nubian campaign, and some newspapers even published this lie. Everyone around the world knows that Tharwat Okasha started the campaign, and made many political and scientific plans for the salvage of the Nubian monuments. When Egypt began building the High Dam in Aswan in 1960, the rising water began to threaten the two famous temples at Abu Simbel, one built for Ramses the Great and the other for his favourite wife, Nefertari, as well as other temples located to the south of the High Dam, such as Wadi Al-Sebua and Amada. At that time, Egypt called for a global, cooperative effort to save these unique temples from being submerged under water.

Noblecourt announced incorrectly that she created the idea for this campaign. This announcement made many of us angry, and we rejected this lady's effort to steal the success from a great man of Egypt, Okasha, who was the minister of culture at that time. When I met him, it was on the occasion of honouring his efforts and ingenious plan to save the Nubian monuments.

See the above page for the full story.