Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More news items from the mountain

Here's another update from the mountainside. It's quite short but there are one or two interesting odds and ends in amongst it all. Thanks very much to everyone to has emailed and I will be replying very soon. Andie xx


The Louvre pieces still under discussion

The pieces from Luxor that the Louvre have promised to return are discussed on Al Ahram Weekly. This is, as usual, a good summary from Nevine El-Aref.

The French decision to conform to the legal requirements and return the antiquities was a good one, but it does raise the question of whether the sort of strong-arm tactics will be used by Egypt on cases where the legalities are not so clear and obvious.

The benefits of loaning disputed items
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There was a good article in the Economist some time ago which looked at the issue of repatriation of artefacts entitled “Snatched from northern climes” and suggests that loans between museums might be the solution. I thought that it might be of interest to some readers in the light of frequent discussions about repatriating items to Egypt from mainly western museums.
The author doesn’t argue the right or wrong of individual ownership disputes but makes the comment that when repatriation of items takes place where circumstances of removal are ambiguous it might set a precedent worrying to museum curators. The Munich declaration, signed by some of the world’s leading museums in 2002 states that today’s ethical values cannot be applied to past purchases but it does acknowledge that more should be done to increase the exposure of disputed items to a wider audience, an agreement which has resulted in an increase of loans between museums, some of them very high profile items. The article does not take a naïve stance and raises the fear that some curators may have of loans not being returned but suggests that loaning important items could be the building of a relationship of trust that could lead to greater commitment to meeting the needs of countries who wish to see their past in their own museums.

On the other hand a recent article about the exhibitions “Secrests of Tomb 10A” (see Exhibitions, below) makes the point that with insurance, transportation and other costs loans can be very expensive to arrange. I suppose it depends on the scale and duration of the loan – whether it is one priceless item or many.

A ushabit returns home to Egypt from America

Purchased from a New York antiquities shop in 1995 the ushabti (shown in a photo) has been returned to Cairo where it is undergoing restoration.

Rossetta stone to visit Egypt?

The above Economist article mentions in passing that although the British Museum did not sign the Munich declaration it “will soon lend the Rosetta stone, the cornerstone of written language, to Egypt for the opening of the Giza museum”. Has anyone seen news of this anywhere else?

Field Investigation

Still hunting for Cleo

The hunt for Cleopatra carries on, with investigations at Taposiris Magna starting up again this month.

Valley of the Kings

This is a short article which looks at the apparently deliberate custom of constructing tombs on fractures in the Valley of the Kings, due to the relative ease of excavating them. Investigators have raised concerns that these fractures may act as channels for flash floods, causing damage to the tomb walls and their paintings.

The identification of fractures as an attractive feature to ancient tomb builders is also being used as a guide to the potential location of new tombs.

Interview with Dr. Josef Wegner who discusses Abydos, Senwosret III, and Egyptian Funerary Practices

Some of the interviews with Egyptologists that I’ve read over the years are painfully thin on content but this one is infinitely better than average and Dr Wegner imparts some useful information and discusses his opinions about Abydos and about Senwosert III in particular.

Lab work - Conservation and Analysis

DNA analysis of mummy tooth

The tooth concerned belongs to a mummy found in the tomb of Governor and Lady Djehutynakht, one of the subjects of the Secrets of Tomb 10A exhibition (link to review below). It is not known which gender the mummy is and it is hoped that the DNA sample will help to provide an answer to this question and perhaps reveal information about family connections. The results aren’t back yet. There’s a short but gratifyingly honest assessment of the value of DNA from a body this old.

As with many of these articles this one revels in the difficulty with which the dentist, sweat on his laboured brow, extracted a tooth after failing to remove one which was too firmly connected to its owner.

Simulating the impacts of wind erosion on the Sphinx

The poor old sphinx is under the microscope again. This time the damaging effects of the wind are being modelled in a 3-d virtual reality environment where the various ebbs and flows of the wind are shown in colour so that they can be visualized.

There are some good pics accompanying the article.

Just two thoughts – one is that the article doesn’t say how the results of understanding the wind flows over and around the Sphinx are going to be used to protect it and the second, the result of a brewing scepticism about climate models, is just that a computer model is only good as the data fed into it – and there is nothing in the article to say how this data is being harvested.

Discussion / Comment

Egyptian Antiquities Spat Fuels Criticism over Lack of Freedom

This is a good one (or a bad one depending on your perspective). Zahi Hawass has found himself in the middle of a human rights dispute over his alleged refusal to grant a colleague academic freedom. Ahmad Salih, a researcher, challenged the research views of Hawass (Supreme Council of Antiquities) and says that as a result Hawass has taken legal actions against him and ridiculed him in the media, undermining both his research and his reputation. A human rights organization (Arabic Network for Human Rights Information or ANHRI) is investigating the matter in case there is evidence of academic repression. The view of Hawass is that Salih’s attacks on him are personally motivated, because Hawass refused to take him on his mummy-restoration team a few years ago. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the investigation, if it ever hits the light of day.

The above page quotes Hawass saying “I am a man who has a doctorate degree and 40 years of experience . . . . This guy has no degree, he hasn’t published a single paper, has no credentials and he attacks me on my projects. I never insulted him publicly at all. I just took him to court and the court punished him.”

That quote, if accurate raises a couple of rather large issues. Why, for example, shouldn’t the well informed amateur challenge academic thoughts in public or private? New ideas often come as the result of opposing opinions. As to the suggestion in his statement that Hawass feels that it okay to “punish” anyone who opposes Hawass’s opinions if they don’t have what he thinks of as sufficient qualifications, that does imply that Egyptian amateur researchers do have something to worry about if they publicly disagree with the party line.
There’s lots of “ifs” in all this and there’s the distinct feeling that the full story isn’t quite out there just yet.


The Secrets of Tomb 10A

This is a good informative article about the exhibition by Sebastian Smee. It is written with humour, picking out particular objects on display and highlighting aspects of the preparation for the exhibition including conservation. He raises the much-debated topic of the value of technology in exhibitions of this sort. His view is that this is an art exhibition and that the presence of a plasma screen showing CT scans of the head of one of the mummies is out of place and distracting in that context although he does admit that some people will probably be fascinated by it. He concludes “If this is the kind of intelligent, collection-based, curator-driven show we are going to see more of in the future, I for one won’t be complaining.”

I have learned to dread exhibition reviews but I really enjoyed this one.

Journals and magazines

KMT Volume 20, Number 3, Fall 2009

Thanks to John Rauchert for sending these details. I have to confess that an ice-cold finger still touches my spine every time I see the name “Nefertiti” – a legacy of having worked on this blog for over five years! But I very much like the look of the Oakey and Ertman articles and shall try to get hold of KMT which tends to elude me as it is not widely stocked in London.

Includes SIX Feature Articles:
KV63 2009 Season by Otto J. Schaden
Ushabtis of King Taharqa in Boston by Joyce Haynes, Mimi Santini-Ritt & Richard Newman
Were Nefertiti & Tutankhaten Coregents? by Aidan Dodson
Symbolism in the Decoration of King Ay’s Tomb (WV23) by Earl L. Ertman
Egypt Seaside at the Brighton Museum, UK, by Michael Oakey
Ancient Egypt on the Tagus, Lisbon, Portugal, by Lucy Gordan-Rastelli

Plus “Nile Currents” & “For the Record,”
As well as reviews of:
The Spies of Sobek by Paul Doherty;
Alexandria: A Marcus Didius Falco Novel by Lindsey Davis;
Refugees for Eternity Part Four: Identifying the Royal Mummies by Dylan Bickerstaffe;
Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris by David O’Connor;
& Ancient Egypt and Nubia in the Ashmolean Museum by Helen Whitehouse

Book Reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.10.26
Gilles Gorre, Les relations du clergé égyptien et des lagides d'après des sources privées. Studia Hellenistica; 45. Leuven: Peeters, 2009. Pp. lviii, 641. ISBN 9789042920354. €105.00 (pb).
Reviewed by M. Weiskopf, Word count: 2007 words

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