Sunday, February 27, 2011

Opening up the Norwich shroud

British Museum (Deborah Phipps)

Deborah Phipps is conservator, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service (NMAS).

Another fascinating installment, with some more great photos.

This is the latest in a series of posts about the unfolding of the Norwich shroud, a joint project between the British Museum and Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

It was with excitement and a hint of trepidation that we approached the unfolding of the shroud… what would we find, and how difficult would it be?

On the first day we had the combined team of British Museum conservators Monique Pullan and Nicole Rode, student intern Melanie Plottu and NMAS conservators Jonathan Clark, Man-Yee Liu and myself present. We would need several pairs of careful hands to support the fragile textile as it revealed its secrets.

Earlier in the process we had discussed the ethics of opening the shroud as we did not want to remove any important evidence during the process of unfolding. We were happy to go ahead as the anomalous cotton thread described in the previous post assured us that the shroud had indeed been opened since its removal from the tomb.

We've been here before

Times Higher Education (Christina Riggs)

Christina Riggs is a lecturer in the School of World Art Studies and Museology, University of East Anglia. She suggests, in this article, that the Western academic community was quick to mourn damage to Egypt's heritage whilst ignoring its own role in altering that heritage in the past.

Three gilded wooden statues of Tutankhamen are among the objects reported to be damaged or missing from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, following an alleged break-in on the night of 28 January. Reports from Cairo have been uneven - several objects have been listed as broken, then fine, then missing, then found - but given the circumstances in Egypt these past weeks, that's not so surprising.

What is surprising is the response from the academic community, which has focused on objects rather than politics, as if the two can be separated. "Heartbreaking", "a catastrophe", "shameful", laments the blogosphere - but with little mention of protests or people, much less the history of Western involvement in Egyptian archaeology.

What comes next?

The Eloquent Peasant (Margaret Maitland)

Margarent Maitland considers the available information so far supplied by the Egyptian authorities and looks at the difficulties of both assessing the situation and ensuring that any looted items don't find their way into undesirable hands.

Libya's Roman sites unscathed by unrest so far

London South East via Reuters (Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

A number of people have been emailing to ask if I know whether the situation in Libya has impacted its heritage in any way. I've been looking but it is remarkably difficult to find any news specific to museums and sites. This is the only well-sourced report I have seen so far. Below is a short excerpt but see the above page for the full story.

Libyans appear determined to safeguard their rich cultural heritage during the popular unrest against leader Muammar Gaddafi, protecting it from the looting seen in neighbouring Egypt's revolution just weeks ago.

Conquered by most of the civilizations that held sway over the Mediterranean, Libya's rich cultural heritage includes Leptis Magna, a prominent coastal city of the Roman empire, whose ruins are some 130 km (80 miles) east of Tripoli.

The birthplace of emperor Septimius Severus, its amphitheatre, marbled baths, colonnaded streets and a basilica are considered the jewel in the crown of its Roman legacy.

While communication with Libya difficult sketchy amid the uprising against Gaddafi's four decade rule, two archaeologists who frequently work in the country said cultural artefacts appeared to have been spared the ravages suffered during Egypt's recent revolt.

'So far there are no records whatsoever of any areas from the cultural heritage of Libya being affected by the troubles,' said Hafed Walda, a Libyan who advises the country's department of antiquities and once led an excavation at Leptis Magna.

'We're always worried about this in terms of chaos. It's going in the right direction so far but I'm not sure it will carry on like this. I don't know,' he said from his London base.

Very Off-Topic: The mismanged "care" of the tea clipper The Adelaide

This is 100%, absolutely and definitively off-topic. It is, however, a rather chilling account of how a mixture of complacency and neglect, followed by belated and somewhat undirected good intentions conspired to let down an almost unique piece of maritime history. It seems remarkable that the various UK authorities who should have taken responsibility for one of the world's only two surviving composite clippers could have allowed matters to reach such a desperate point. Click the photos below to see them at full size on the Wikipedia and Clipper Ship 'City of Adelaide' Limited websites.

The City of Adelaide is the oldest surviving clipper ship in the world, and one of only two composite ships surviving (if you count the Cutty Sark, much of which burned down a couple of years ago in Greenwich, London). The story of the ship, built in Sunderland in 1864, reveals a busy and fascinating career in service between the UK and Australia before being sold into sundry other roles. The sepia photo below shows her in 1884. She finished the first part of her active career in 1894 as an isolation hospital ship, masts removed, moored off Southampton. Many ships which served this function were then broken up.

Thanks to the interest of one individual she survived, remarkably, to become a training ship for the UK Royal Navy from 1923 (and was renamed HMS Carrick) until a decision was made to break her up after the war. Again, she was rescued from that fate. One might have thought that these rescues were a positive sign for her future and that as time went on and she became a floating monument to maritme heritage, her future might actually be secure. The subsequent decline of this important representative of history, however, makes tragic reading on this thoroughly researched and fully referenced Wikipedia page about the ship, last updated in February 2011.

The ship's fortunes began to slide when The City of Adelaide was presented by the Admiralty to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (Scotland) Club where it served as the club's headquarters from 1948, following a refit. From then until 1980 she was in use by the club but apparently allowed to decline because the club realized , belatedly, that they could no longer maintain her and looked for funding and a new owner for her. Nothing appears to have happened until 1989 when "the ship was flooded when the deck edge was trapped beneath the wharf on a very low tide". The mind boggles, particularly if you know anything about mooring boats of all sizes on tidal waters. There's a ghastly photo on the Wikipedia page of the ship below water, only the very top of the superstructure remaining visible.

In a unique move the ship was given Listed Building status by a Scottish quango and was purchased for the token sum of £1.00 (UKP) in 1990. It was put under the charge of the Scottish Martime Museum. A reprieve? Apparently not, because in the year 2000 the trustees of the Scottish Maritime Museum applied for permission to demolish the newly designated Category A Listed Building. The application was refused.

From this point forward the story becomes really quite farcical, with a conference on the subject concluding that funds should be raised to save her (but no real indication as to where these funds were to be found) and the decision to give the ship its original name back, becoming once again The City of Adelaide - a nice gesture but hardly a constructive step for the future survival of the ship. The Scottish Maritime Museum applied once more in 2009 for permission to demolish the ship "at an estimated cost of £650,000". In January 2010, the Australian Adelaide Preservation Trust put forward a proposal to take the ship off the UK's hands. To cut a long story short, the UK has proved unable to preserve this remarkable and once beautiful ship. It has fallen to the Australian organization to rescue her. Here's the concluding paragraph from the Wiki page:

Scottish Minister for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop announced on 28 August 2010 that the City of Adelaide would not be deconstructed, and that Adelaide has been identified as the preferred bidder. Extensive work will be undertaken to allow the ship to be moved and displayed in Adelaide during 2011, the 175th anniversary of the settlement of South Australia, the first stage of which was completed in December 2010. The group based at Sunderland congratulated the Australian group but stated that their campaign to keep the ship in the United Kingdom would continue.

Based on the UK's previous handling of the ship, I sincerely hope that the Sunderland group fail.

Ships of this era are so rare. When wooden ships started to be supplemented with iron frames and were then replaced with ships made almost entirely of iron and steel there was a lot of money to be made from the breaking of wooden ships. This means that even when ships survived the dangers of their maritime careers, their chances of remaining in one piece were very low. The City of Adelaide and the Cutty Sark were two remarkable survivors of this process of industrial change and systematic recycling - and it is little short of a tragedy that one of those two ships was allowed to sit and decay.

I have a serious affinity with ships and the UK's ship building heritage, probably partly because most of the men in my father's family were merchant sailors, my grandfather a rigger. I also live in the middle of a former wooden ship-building centre on the Thames, and it was whilst hunting for information about the locally built Lothair that I stumbled across the above page about The Adelaide. I was seriously upset when the Cutty Sark burned down, but that at least seems to have been a freak (if irresponsible) accident. The City of Adelaide, by contrast, was allowed to decay over a period of decades. It really breaks my heart to see how she so tragically neglected by the UK, when she should have been preserved and honoured as a vital remnant of a rich ship-building and sailing past. I hope that the Australians do a rather better job of caring for her. Surely they couldn't do much worse.

Sorry about this - I just had to get it off my chest.

See the Wikipedia and City of Adelaide websites for more information.

Photo for Today - More from Deir el Medina Temple

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Work to resume at Amarna

Barry Kemp has sent out the following email update regarding work at Amarna. The marvellous Amarna Project website can be found at:

The rapid easing of the tension that developed in Egypt as the demonstrations began on January 25th has removed the obstacles to the resumption of work at most archaeological sites in Egypt.

I am delighted to report that I will travel to Amarna on Monday (February 28th) to re-open the expedition house. The archaeological team will begin to arrive shortly afterwards, with a view to commencing the excavations at the South Tombs Cemetery. We will be a week later in starting than we planned, but that still gives us seven weeks of excavation.

Later in the season, we will also return to the repairs at the North Palace. Last year we set up an appeal to raise an additional sum of £2825 pounds sterling. The site is:
Many people have responded, to give us a total so far of £1430.
Can you help us to reach the target by making a donation?
The site is open until the end of March.

We have all lived through a remarkable moment in history. The attached picture, taken near Tahrir Square, captures the spirit of optimism and friendliness to the outside world that many Egyptians feel.

Barry Kemp, 26th February 2011

Support the work of the Amarna Project at:

Saving history for posterity

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

An engaging account of how the Akhenaten statuette was recovered, followed by a look at which museums remain closed due to security concerns, the improvement in visitor numbers to various sites and the doubts about damage inflicted on a number of sites which remain to be investigated closely by a committee. I was particularly struck by the remark that there have been reports of houses being built over archaeolgoical sites for the purpose of illegal excavation. Here's an experpt but see the above page for the full story:

Hawass said forced entries had been confirmed at a number of storage magazines, including one near the pyramid of the Sixth- Dynasty king Teti and a storeroom belonging to Cairo University, both at Saqqara. "I have created a committee to prepare reports to determine what, if anything, is missing from these magazines," Hawass said. He added that military authorities had caught thieves attempting to loot the site of Tel Al-Basta in the Nile Delta as well as other criminals who were trying to loot a tomb in Lisht. There have also been reports of houses being built over archaeological sites and of illegal digging.

Post-excavation conservation work at Amara West

British Museum (Elizabeth Pamberg)

With before-and-after photos. Here's an exerpt but see the above page for the full story.

I visited the stores where we keep the objects excavated from the site, to check they were in good condition. Objects from a site like this one often contain salts that could damage them, so I wasn’t surprised to observe that several objects had salt crystals on them, particularly the pottery and some stone sculpture.

The artefacts retrieved at Amara West are subject to environmental conditions which include high humidity and salinity, the result of the site’s proximity to the Nile. Ceramic and stone buried in soil absorb the salts present in the deposits.

Following my advice, and discussions with Marie Millet and Neal Spencer, two beer jars from grave 201 were chosen for treatment, as they were affected by salt, with a thick visible layer of white concretions.

Museums of Iraq - cultural assett vs. economic assett

Huffington Post (Larry Coben)

A somewhat un-generous interpretation of why Egyptians gathered to protect museums and monuments from looting.

Why do Egyptians link arms in Tahrir Square to protect their National Museum, while thousands of objects are still missing from the Iraqi Museum and many of their sites look like the lunar landscape?

The differences have nothing to do with love and respect for history, or knowledge of its importance to the world. Most Iraqis know of and revere their iconic sites such as Babylon, Ur and Nimrud; in the same way Egyptians revere the Pyramids, Luxor and Tutankhamen's tomb. All love their history and its importance in the development of civilization.

The difference is that Egyptians also value and utilize their cultural history as an economic asset and not merely an intangible cultural one.

Diplomat caught attempting to smuggle artefact - which was actually a fake

Asharq Alawsat (Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid)

A diplomat was stopped recently by Cairo Airport authorities, who wanted to x-ray his luggage. The diplomat refused, but his objections were unsuccessful, and the Egyptian authorities insisted that all luggage must undergo mandatory x-ray scans, regardless of the passenger's diplomatic immunity, due to the exceptional circumstances in the country.

The inspectors discovered an ancient statue hidden in one of the suitcases, at a time when news was being circulated about valuable antiquities being stolen [from the Cairo Museum]. The customs officers requested the help of experts in the field of Pharaonic antiquities, who examined the statue in question. Afterwards, the experts assured the foreign diplomat that he could take back the statue, as it was not a genuine artifact. Upon hearing this, the diplomat almost fainted, and it became clear that he had purchased this statue for a huge amount of money, believing that it was a genuine artifact stolen in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution. As the realization that the statue he had purchased was a fake dawned on him, the diplomat refused to take back the statue and offered it to the custom officers, claiming that it was a donation to the Egyptian people, in appreciation of their recent revolution!

How many people these days are trying to peddle fake statues as genuine articles?

I am absolutely NOT supporting the creation of fake artefacts for sale as the genuine article, but I do think that anyone evil enough to purchase something fake believing it to be a genuine item looted from Egypt during the unrest deserves to be thoroughly fleeced - and prosectuted.

Update on the state of the Egyptian Museum (Zahi Hawass)

The museum has now re-opened and visitors are beginning to return. In this piece Hawass looks at the current state of the museum, and offers his take on how it was broken into.

I am pleased to report that visitors are coming back to the Egyptian Museum. On Monday, the 21st of February 2011, 2770 Egyptians and 107 foreign tourists came to see the museum, which houses some of the greatest masterpieces in the world. I am proud that we were able to reopen this important institution so quickly, only three weeks after the beginning of our revolution. I want to express my deep appreciation to the staff of the museum: everyone, from the director on down, has worked tirelessly to make this possible. Some people have said that the break-in at the museum was an inside job. There is absolutely no evidence for this, and unsubstantiated statements like these are completely unfair to the dedicated museum staff.

I went to the museum yesterday morning, and reviewed the evidence gathered thus far by the police.

More re Hawass contesting accusations published in Al Wafd

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

Zahi Hawass says allegations that he smuggled Egyptian heirlooms out of the country have been made up by a disgruntled antiquities employee, writes Nevine El-Aref

Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities affairs, has asked Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud to conduct the necessary investigations into allegations published in Al-Wafd newspaper accusing him of smuggling Egyptian antiquities abroad on behalf of the family of former president Hosni Mubarak.

The newspaper quoted archaeologist Nour Abdel-Samad, who accused Hawass of enabling a group of Zionists and suspect Jewish Zionist organisations such as National Geographic to enter the Egyptian Museum eight years ago and mishandle ancient Egyptian mummies.

Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly that the accusations in Al-Wafd were unfounded and nonsensical. He said it was insulting to aim abusive language at him without any evidence to confirm such claims.

Unemployed egyptian archaeologists negotiate with state

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

A day after the old regime fell to its knees following popular demands for political and economic reform, protesters were seen picketing the Zamalek offices of the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs (MSAA). Many of the archaeologists and restorers involved in the protests were fresh graduates campaigning for employment within the newly created MSAA body. Some claimed they had been unemployed since 2002.

Now a group representing the protesters has returned to the MSAA building to offer their apologies to Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities affairs, and offering him flowers as a gesture of goodwill.

During a meeting attended by Al-Ahram Weekly, the former students made it clear that their protests were held only because there had previously been a lack of information as to how the ministry, formerly the Supreme Council of Antiquities, was trying to address the lack of jobs available for newly-qualified archaeologists and restorers.

Calls for change at Al Ahram

The Arabist (by Ursula Lindsey)

This is slightly off-topic but I include it because Al Ahram Weekly and Al Ahram Online are two great sources for reliably presented information about official archaeological work in Egypt. See the above page for the links.

One of the most interesting (and hard to follow) phenomena of the moment in Egypt is the proliferation of demands for reform at the level of institutions and workplaces. At all sort of different organizations, workers are demanding the resignation of top officials and the institutions of more equitable pay scales.

I just did a piece looking at this for the radio show The World. One of the people I spoke is my old friend Sabah Hamamou, who is one of the leaders of an effort to reform state newspapers. She and 300 other journalists wrote a letter of apology to readers for Al Ahram's coverage of the protests. The editors refused to print it so they called a press conferences and read it out loud. They have also created a Facebook group called The Front to Save Al Ahram (there is another Facebook group calling for a boycott of the paper until its management changes).

Photo for Today - More from Deir el-Medina Temple

Four-headed ram Sheft-hat (a form of the deity Khnum with heads
which represent the deities Ra, Osiris, Shu and Geb).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Looting of King Ramses II's colossus thwarted

Ahram Online (Nevine El-Aref)

Last night looters sneaked into the southern quarry of the upper Egyptian city of Aswan in an attempt to cut and remove the statue of King Ramses II. The statue is half buried in the sand as it was originally cut in red granite and left in situ. Following an immediate report from the quarry’s security guards, archaeologists along with security personal headed directly to the site where they caught the thieves red handed.

Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities affairs, described the statue as beautifully carved although it does not bear any engravings. The statue is six meters high, 175 centimeters in width and eight centimeters thick. It depicts king Ramses II in the shape of the god Osiris.

Blue Shield Issues Independent Report

Arts Journal (Lee Rosenbaum)

Blue Shield, an international organization for the protection of cultural heritage, particularly in times of major crisis and upheaval (such as the recent uprising in Egypt), last week issued a report on an on-site "civil-military assessment mission" conducted from Feb. 12-16 by Blue Shield's president, Karl von Habsburg and Joris Kila, chairman of the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group, with help from Thomas Schuler of ICOM's Disaster Relief Task Force, who "coordinated the mission from Germany and did background research."

The report makes it clear that certain areas were kept off-limits to Blue Shield. At Saqqara, for example, "the museum and the main storage facilities next to the main office building were untouched according to the SCA inspector, but could not be visited."

Fences surrounding ancient Coptic monasteries demolished

Assyrian International News Agency

For the second time in as many days, Egyptian armed force stormed the 5th century old St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110 kilometers from Cairo. Live ammunition was fired, wounding two monks and six Coptic monastery workers. Several sources confirmed the army's use of RPG ammunition. Four people have been arrested including three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was at the monastery investigating yesterday's army attack.

Monk Aksios Ava Bishoy told activist Nader Shoukry of Freecopts the armed forces stormed the main entrance gate to the monastery in the morning using five tanks, armored vehicles and a bulldozer to demolish the fence built by the monastery last month to protect themselves and the monastery from the lawlessness which prevailed in Egypt during the January 25 Uprising.

Continental News

This startling piece of news was revealed by journalist Mary Abdelmassih, writing for Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).

"Three monasteries have been attacked by outlaws and have asked for protection from the armed forces, but were told to defend themselves." said activist Mark Ebeid. "When the terrified monks built fences to protect themselves, armed forces appeared only then with bulldozers to demolish the fences. It is worth noting that these monasteries are among the most ancient in Egypt, with valuable Coptic icons and manuscripts among others, which are of tremendous value to collectors."

Abdelmassih writes that on Sunday February 20, armed forced stormed the 4th century old monastery of St. Boula in the Red Sea area, assaulted three monks and then demolished a small fence supporting a gate leading to the fenceless monastery.

Accusation against minister of antiquities referred to prosecutor-general

Ahram Online (Nevine El-Aref)

Zahi Hawass, minister of antiquities, has sent a report to the Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud after allegations were published against him in Al-Wafd newspaper. He has been accused of smuggling Egypt’s antiquities on behalf of former president Hosni Mubarak’s family. The newspaper quoted the accusations of archaeologist Nour Abdel Samad.

Hawass stated that the accusations published in the newspaper are unfounded and an insult without any documents to back them up.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Turin

Al Masry Al Youm

“The road to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin,” wrote the decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphs Jean-François Champollion when he came to Turin in 1824. The Egyptian Museum of antiquities in Turin, an elegant city in the Italian northern region of Piedmont, is the second most important Egyptian museum in the world and the only one exclusively dedicated to the art and culture of ancient Egypt after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Unlike the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the collection in Turin is well organized according to a chronological and thematic principle, resulting in less confusion for visitors.

King Carlo Felice, who acquired Bernardino Drovetti’s collection of 5268 objects, founded the museum in 1824. Since then, it has been hosted in the Academy of Sciences Palace, which was designed by baroque-period architect Guarino Guarini for the Jesuit school.

Interview with Hawass re recent threats to heritage

Spiegel Online

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass has been under pressure since the plundering of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the fall of Hosni Mubarak. He spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about the extent of the damage, the accusations that he is too close to Mubarak and the happiest day of his life.

Hawass vows to stay on as antiquities chief

National Geographic

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquity Affairs, said on his blog today that accusations against him of inappropriate or even illegal behavior had convinced him to stay in office, "so that I can continue to do everything in my power to protect Egypt's cultural heritage."

Hawass added: "I have written to Egypt's attorney general, asking him to look into some of the false accusations that have been made against me. I believe that addressing these issues will help stabilize the Ministry of Antiquities Affairs."

Numerous allegations of corruption, nepotism, and even criminal behavior have been levelled against Hawass by his critics since the fall of the Mubarak government.

About 150 graduates of archaeology schools demonstrated outside the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo on February 14, seeking jobs and accusing Hawass of corruption.

See the above page for the full story.

Science Insider

Egypt's ancient monuments reopened to tourists Sunday as the country's beleaguered antiquities minister forcefully defended his stewardship of its treasures. "Under my direction, the SCA [Supreme Council of Antiquities] has always been an honest department," Zahi Hawass told ScienceInsider in an e-mail. "Unfortunately, at the moment there is a lot of upheaval and some people are saying things for their own benefit and with their own agenda in mind."

Hawass is under fire for his close ties to the regime led by deposed President Hosni Mubarak, who elevated Hawass in late January from his position as head of the SCA to leading a new ministry of antiquities. SCA employees have demonstrated for higher pay outside of his office and individual SCA managers have harshly criticized their boss. For example, Hany Hanna, an SCA conservator, accused Hawass in an online letter 2 weeks ago of overseeing a "system of corruption." Meanwhile, the thefts at the Egyptian Museum and at cemeteries south of Cairo have shaken confidence in the country's ability to protect its ancient heritage.

Exhibition: To Live Forever


It is nice to see that the travelling exhibition continues to be greeted with enthusiasm.

King Tut had a lot of cash. Cash enough to cover the gold and lapis lazuli that adorned the sarcophagus in which he was buried.

When his tomb was discovered in 1922, it wasn't only the adornment of his mummy that awed archaeologists, but the furniture, statues and golden throne buried with him for his use in the afterlife.

This was opulence beyond compare.

But what about the tombs of the little guy who toiled along the Nile or the artisans who carved the detailed hieroglyphic tale of the deceased's life?

The answer to this intriguing question can be found at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach where the exhibition, "To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum." is on display through May 8.

1000 tourists flock to witness an ancient event

Ahram Online

One thousand tourists gathered in one of the largest archaeological sites in Egypt, Abu Simbel, to attend the unique event of the sun shining directly on the face of the Ramses II's statute in his temple. This is a rare engineering and astronomical phenomenon that occurs only twice a year, specifically on 22 October and 22 February of every year.

Tourists enjoyed national songs, music and shows presented by the Aswan and Toshka folk bands in the temple's court.

Photo for Today - More from Temple at Deir el-Medina

Monday, February 21, 2011

AERA 2011 Field Season


I've just noticed that the Ancient Egypt Research Associations 2011 field season blog is now online at the above address and has been updated with reports and photographs since 27th January. A shame that it hasn't been more widely publicized. Here's an exerpt from their first post on Jan 27th, but see the above page for all the posts to date. There are some very informative updates about recent excavation work, with some great photos.

We have just started excavations again at Giza, after a hiatus last year. During this busy hiatus we prepared material for publications, held an Analysis and Publication Field-School in Giza and a second Salvage Archaeology Field-School in Luxor.

This season we are excavating in both concession areas at Giza – the Workers Settlement (a.k.a the Lost City, a.k.a. Heit el-Ghurab) and the town of Queen Khentkawes. Both sites date from the mid 4th Dynasty (circa 2529 -2471 B.C.) although the town of Queen Khentkawes and the village inside the Valley Temple of Menkaure seem to have functioned until the end of the Old Kingdom (late 6th Dynasty, circa 2154 B.C. Click here for more information on how we date the site). The main research questions for this season are the ancient landscape (the southern and eastern approaches to the site), climate change and site formation (especially the process of dismantling, robbing and erosion). The four excavation areas all contribute evidence to these questions. After 10 somewhat boring days of removing the protective sand covering we put in place at the end of our last season we are finally ready to excavate!

Egypt's monuments and museums back in business

Ahram Online (Nevine El-Aref)
Since the 25th January revolution all archaeological sites in Egypt have been closed due to security measures.

Today, following three weeks of closure, they are now open to receive visitors. These include all the Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic, and modern sites in Cairo, as well as in Lower and Upper Egypt.

According to reports written four hours after the reopening, small groups of between 20 to 50 tourists, including some Egyptians, visited the Giza plateau, Saqqara and Luxor.

Ali El-Asfar head of the Giza plateau monuments said that in the last week the number of tourists who came to the plateau was about 800 people a day and that today a group of young people organised a peaceful protest at the plateau, in support of the return of international tourism to Egypt.

In Luxor Mansour Borak supervisor of antiquities, pointed out that at noon today 93 tourists had visited the Karnak temples and on Wednesday there are scheduled visits for two British groups of 200 people.

Photo for Today - More from the Ptolemaic Temple at Deir el Medina

Anubis, Northern Chapel

I've never been much interested in Ptolemaic temples,
but this really is a charming place in very good condition.
I visited it with my father for the first time this Christmas.
If you visit Deir el-Medina don't just stop at the tombs
and the village - go and see the temple too. You won't regret it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Looting of the Egyptian Museum

BBC News

Video. BBC News reporter Christian Fraser looks at the state of play at the Egyptian Museum. Showing the broken display cases that were first shown on Al Jazeera footage, this video dating to the 16th February this is slightly out of date because two of the artefacts said to be missing have now been found. But it is a very good look at how thieves broke into the museum. Fraser also asks the obvious question about where tourist money has gone, given that there is no state of the art security for the museum and virtually no environmental management of the valuable and fragile collections.

Speaking with the Sphinx

The New Yorker Newsdesk (Jenna Krajeski)

A look at the impression that Hawass has made during the Egyptian crisis and the looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The gates to the office of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, and of Zahi Hawass—the council’s Secretary General, then Minister of Antiquities Affairs, and now object of public scorn—were padlocked yesterday, in an effort to keep out protesters. Unemployed graduates of Egypt’s archaeology programs milled around on the sidewalk outside the building, in Cairo’s Zamalek district, demanding jobs and Hawass’s resignation. The calmness of their demonstration raised the question: Was the security measure really necessary, or was it an act of theater staged by Hawass? The gift store inside was still open.

Since the Egyptian Museum was looted on January 28th, Hawass’s official story has fluctuated. First he said that daft, amateur looters stole nothing of value—“They thought the shop was the museum, thank God!”—and all was well. Hawass was appointed as Minister of Antiquities Affairs in Mubarak’s interim government, and announced that protesters should go home; the Sphinx, he wrote on his Web site, agreed: “I looked carefully into his eyes, and imagined that I saw tears. The Sphinx is sad because of what has happened; Egypt will lose billions and billions of dollars, and for Egypt to recuperate this money it will take at least three years.” Then Mubarak resigned, and Hawass revealed that eight pieces remained missing from the museum, among them a statue of Akhenaten and two of Tutankhamun. Broken bits were being recovered from the area around the museum.

What's going on with Egyptian synagogues?

New Voices (Carly Silver)

A post on the National Jewish Student Magazine blog about the lack of information available about the safety of the Cairo synagogues. Exerpt:

Concerns have grown from the Egyptian revolutions about the country’s priceless antiquities. Despite Zahi Hawass’s assurances that many items have remained safe, it appears much has been damaged.

Egypt also has invaluable Jewish sites, like the synagogue at Alexandria, but these are not mentioned in the media as much. During all the chaos, what has happened to Jewish historical sites in Egypt?

The revolutionary heritage

Al Ahram Weekly (Ammar Ali Hassan)

In the midst of their jubilation over the 25 January Revolution, Egyptians may not recall the train of protests and revolutions against foreign occupation, tyranny and deprivation throughout their long history. If we put all these uprisings side to side, it would put paid to the belief that the Egyptian people will perpetually tolerate inequity or that they are prey to a culture of political passivity ingrained by centuries of pharaonic-style rule and deification of the ruler, or by the power and strength of the central state derived from its control over the sources of water and, hence, wealth in an agrarian country, or by the accident of geography that gave Egypt a narrow river valley whose terrain and people were easy to control in the midst of a barren desert whose inhospitable expanse offered no opening for escape, or by an inherited misunderstanding of religion that imparted a spirit of fatalism, submissiveness and resignation to "reaping one's rewards" in the next world.

Perhaps the most salient proof of the fallacy of such notions is the fact that the first revolution in history took place on the banks of the Nile. Such was the scope and force of that revolution that it has stirred the consciences and aroused the amazement of all who have studied the ancient history and documents of the world's first organised state. The chief cause of that revolution, which occurred during the reign of Pepi II, was rampant injustice combined with a vast gap between rich and poor.

Photo for Today - More from the Ptolemaic temple at Deir el Medina

If you click on the top picture and zoom in on the top of the portal you can see some of the original paint, particularly on the left wing of the winged solar disk.

Entrance, Ptolemaic temple,
with offering scenes.
Deir el Medina

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Unearthing more burials at Amara West

British Museum (Dyan Semple)

With photos. Exerpt:

Along with Michaela and Carina, I’m working in cemetery C at Amara West, currently in the western chamber of Grave 201.

This tomb has a central shaft and two chambers to the east and the west. It had already been partially excavated in 2009, but this year we removed the alluvium from above the western chamber, to avoid the possibility of it falling in while we were excavating.

A lot of the bones had been crushed by earlier collapse, but five articulated burials were found at the rear of the space. As they lay one on top of the other, I had to be very careful to separate them – finding a place to stand was the first issue, and then I could remove the more recent burials at the front, after recording them.

From the way the skeletons are arranged, it is possible to tell that some of the individuals had been tightly bound for burial.

Brooklyn's last full week at the Temple of Mut, Luxor

Brooklyn Museum (11th Feb, Mary McKercher)
Brooklyn Museum (14th Feb, Richard Fanzzini)

With details of the final week of excavation at the site, accompanied as usual by some great photos.

This is the posting intended for January 28 but not sent because of the lack of internet service in Egypt at that time. Richard and I have decided to post this dig diary entry as originally written and will follow up next week with an “end of the season” posting.

We were able to finish the short study season as scheduled and never felt at risk while in Luxor. By February 1, though, the options for getting a flight out of Luxor were becoming rather limited as most tourists had left and few planes were flying into or out of the city. We decided to cut down our post-season “leisure time” and leave for home a few days early. Although the internet was back up by about February 2, the need to complete reports and last-minute details before our February 4 departure left us no time for dig diary postings before we left.

Amarna Project latest newsletter available

Amarna Project, Horizon Newsletter Winter 2010

Horizon issue 8, Winter 2010, is now available on the Amarna Project website above (PDF). Earlier newsletters can be found on the Amarna news page. With photos, diagrams and maps.

Five seasons of work at the South Tombs Cemetery at Amarna have now taken place. More are planned, the next scheduled to begin towards the end of February, 2011. Snapshots of findings have been regularly included in previous issues of Horizon. This issue contains more general reflections, on spiritual belief and on physical wellbeing.

Unemployed archaeologists protest at Ministry

National Geographic (David Braun)

Sky News was interviewing Hawass in his office yesterday when the Minister's assistant interrupted to say a crowd was trying to break down the gates. Hawass used his mobile phone to call in the Army, Sky reported.

"It's chaos," Hawass told the Sky News team. "The revolution will destroy Egypt. It's happening everywhere. How can I suddenly give all these people jobs."

As the journalists left the ministry, Sky News said, the crowd forced the gates and stormed the forecourt shouting: "Give us work."

"Ahmad showed us his degree certificate and masters in archaeology. He had come many times to the ministry to find work but nepotism and corruption meant it was always someone else who was hired," Sky News reported.

At the famous pyramids of Giza, Sky News continued, "A camel belched angrily at our camera while his owner said he could only afford to feed him twice rather than five times a day. Others told us they were forced to sell off their animals to raise money to feed their families.

Book Review: La Biblioteca di Alessandria

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Alexandra Trachsel)

Monica Berti, Virgilio Costa, La Biblioteca di Alessandria: storia di un paradiso perduto. Ricerche di filologia, letteratura e storia 10. Roma: Edizioni Tored, 2010.

The study on the Library of Alexandria presented in this book is based on the results of the current research projects of the two co-authors. Both scholars are working on fragmentary texts from the Hellenistic period and have edited collections of fragments from ancient authors where the question of the selection and transmission of texts is crucial.1 In addressing this question, the authors have been brought to focus also on the function and the impact of the Library of Alexandria in processes of selection and transmission. Furthermore, both authors are developing their own projects in the field of digital humanities2 and this is an additional reason, as they admit themselves, for their scholarly focus on the Library of Alexandria. The link between these two topics is clearly stated in the first lines of the book and gets fully developed in the last chapter, entitled "Ritorno ad Alessandria." In between, the study offers a very wide panorama, based on an up-to-date bibliography, including both the process which led to the creation of the Library of Alexandria and the activity carried out within this institution. Another distinctive feature of this study, which differentiates it from other works on the Library of Alexandria, is the fact that it is framed by two chapters of a more deliberative nature. The first is a summary of the controversial evidence from Antiquity about the location of the library , while the last one, as just mentioned, draws parallels between the modern projects of "universal libraries" in digital form, such as Europeana and Google Books, and their Alexandrian model from Antiquity.

Online Resource: Jebel Barkal

An excellent resource for Jebel Barkal (Sudan), with lovely photographs of the site and area. Here's a short exerpt from the introduction:

Jebel Barkal (“Mt. Barkal”) (var. Gebel Barkal, Gebel el-Barkal, and in some early sources Gebel Berkel/Birkel) is the modern Arabic name of a lone sandstone butte on the western edge of Karima, Sudan, about 365 km NNW of Khartoum and 23 km downstream from the Merowe Dam at the fourth cataract of the Nile; its coordinates are 18º 32’ N, 31º 49’ E).1 Situated about 1 1/2 km from the right bank, it rises to a height of 104 m above ground level and confronts the river with a sheer cliff 80 to 90 m high and approximately 200 m long (fig. 1). The mountain’s unusual appearance – its isolation, sharp profile, and spire-like pinnacle, 75 m high – made it a natural wonder in ancient times and excited intense theological speculation.

When the Egyptians conquered northern Sudan (Kush/”Upper Nubia”) in the early Eighteenth Dynasty (ca. 1504 BCE), they identified Jebel Barkal as the birthplace and chief southern residence of their state god Amun. As part of their program of conquest, they established the cult of Amun in many places in Nubia, but Jebel Barkal seems to have had a unique importance for them as a creation site and home of a primeval aspect of Amun who renewed life each year with the Nile inundation. Beneath the Jebel Barkal cliff the Egyptians constructed a major religious center and gave it the same name as Karnak (Ipet-Sut), Amun’s great sanctuary at Thebes, some 1250 km downriver (fig. 2). The Egyptians called the hill variously Dju-Wa’ab (“Pure Mountain”) and Nesut-Tawy (“Thrones of the Two Lands.”) (which in Dynasty 25 and the Napatan Period sometimes became Neset-Tawy [“Throne of the Two Lands”]). The settlement which grew up around it they called Napata, which became the southernmost town in their African empire.

Museums in Luxor to re-open today

Luxor News Blog (Jane Akshar)

Thanks to Jane for the news that the Mummification Museum and Luxor Museum will both be re-opened today, Saturday 19th.

Egyptology News is now on Twitter

It's not exactly the news of the century but for those of you who prefer to follow Twitter to collect your news, you can now find Egyptology News at

If you're in the UK and you really want my posts to follow you around you can get updates via SMS by texting
follow egyptologynews to
- 86444 in the United Kingdom or
- 40404 in the United States

For other countries you can see the above page for the access codes for other countries.

It is set up to give you the heading of the post and a link to the post itself. It only shows the most recent five posts on a given day, and there are usually more than that. Unless someone has some magical fix there appears to be no way around this.


On the subject of social networking I no longer have a Facebook account. This is a temporary state of affairs.

Photo for Today - Ptolemaic temple, Deir el Medina

Ptolemaic Temple at the northern end of the village of Deir el Medina
Started under Pteolemy IV and worked on under the reigns
of Potelmy VI and VIII. Dedicated to the goddesses Hathor and Maat.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Civil-Military Assessment Mission for Egyptian Heritage

Blue Shield

With gallery.
The objective of the mission was to assess possible damages and looting attempts to Egyptian Heritage sites and museums after the recent unrests.Many contradicting messages were reported regarding looting and vandalism, without the possibility of properly checking the real situation. Therefore there was an urgent need to send a mission especially to those sites that were supposedly affected by criminal acts, in order to document the situation, to state damages incurred and to encourage the parties involved to further efforts in protecting the invaluable Cultural Heritage of Egypt.

A Trade Older than the Pyramids

Geoffrey Tassie (Managing Director of the Egypt Cultural Heritage Organization) wrote the following article back in 2006 when discussions about the St Louis Mask were taken up with considerable interest by the media. I posted it on the blog at that time, but thought that it was well worth posting again in the light of recent statements by the St Louis Art Museum.

Trade Older than the Pyramids
by Geoffrey Tassie
Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organization

Not a single great pyramid escaped the attentions of the tomb-robbers. Soon after their burial the tomb-robbers went to work. However, the trade was already over a thousand years old by the time Khufu built his Great Pyramid at Giza. As Egyptian society became more complex and ruling elites arose, creating separate cemeteries for themselves at places such as Abydos, Hierakonpolis, and Naqada, so the opportunity and temptation arose to make a fast buck. Many tombs from the Naqada II period, c. 3,650 BC, have been found plundered at these famous early sites. The robbers often showed complete contempt for the individuals interred, ripping their bodies to bits to get to the glittering jewels that once adorned their bodies. The tombs of the first kings of Egypt at Umm el-Qa’ab, Abydos were not only robbed but show signs of burning.

The great tombs of the First Dynasty high officials at Saqqara were also systematically robbed. Even in the provinces, at such sites as Kafr Hassan Dawood, one of the two great tombs was found with a robbers’ trench in the exact location where the local ruler’s body once lay.

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx

In late Dynasty XX, of the New Kingdom a papyrus scroll (P. Abbott) from year 16 of Ramesses IX’s reign gives the statements of tomb-robbers caught in the act. One such robber was Amenpanufer, a quarryman attached to the Temple of Amun in Thebes. His testament states that he went to the tombs in the west of Thebes with his accomplices and gathered up the gold and silver in the tombs, took their bronze chisels and opened the sarcophagi and carried away the gilded inner coffins to strip the gold from them and the jewellery from the body. They then burnt the coffins and distributed the booty amongst themselves. The fate of these tomb-robbers is uncertain, but they may have ended up skewered on a wooden spike along the banks of the Nile. However, this report led to a commission being established to investigate tomb-robberies from Dynasty XI, and XVII tombs, as well as that of Amenhotep I of Dynasty XVIII and members of the royal family in the Valley of the Queens. The commission did not visit the Valley of the Kings, burial place of later New Kingdom kings, probably as it had no reason to doubt its integrity. However, two reigns later after Ramesses XI was interred in the Valley of the Kings it was abandoned as a royal burial ground.

So serious was tomb-robbing considered in Dynasty XX and XXI that many other papyri record the statements of convicted robbers. In fact, by the end of Dynasty XXI, Nespekeshuty, a high official in the reign of Psusennes II ordered the reburial of the High Priests of Amun, including many members of Herihor’s family and buried them in a secret tomb high in the hills above Deir el-Bahari. This location, above Hatshepsut’s Temple, was also chosen by Nespekeshuty and the priests of late Dynasty XXI, as the reburial place of the New Kingdom royalty. The priests rewrapped and buried many of the most famous kings of the New Kingdom, such as Ramesses II in the large Middle kingdom tomb now known as DB320. The High priests of Amun were buried in one chamber and the kings in another, although coffins were found littering the corridors. Nespekeshuty, in fact chose this tomb as the burial place of Psusennes II. This tomb continued to be used for several years to hold the mummies of the priestly family who ruled Thebes after Psusennes II along with some more royal mummies. A second cache of royal mummies was stored in the tomb of Amenhotep II, KV35 by the High Priests of Dynasty XXI. The recently discovered KV63 also contains a small cache of mummies (5), although their identity at present is unknown.

Deir el Bahri

Egypt’s royalty lay relatively undisturbed for many thousands of years, with only the odd Luxor West Bank villager, particularly those from Qurna, using the mummy wrappings, old furniture and papyri as good burning material for their cooking fires. However, with the influx of Western tourists after the Napoleonic Expedition, the local West Bank villagers, many of whom actually lived in the tombs, found that they could make a small fortune by selling items from the tombs that they lived among. The trade in antiquities soon caught on, with every visitor wanting a souvenir of their visit. There was no real control on the trade in antiquities, and it wasn’t until Auguste Mariette formed the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1858 that real care in preserving Egyptian cultural heritage started to be taken. However, the art of tomb-robbery by this time was being taken up with great gusto by the villagers of Qurna. One particular family, the notorious Abd el-Rassul family were particularly adept tomb-robbers and sellers of antiquities. Mohammed Abd el-Rassul was the eldest brother a ring-leader of this gang of villains. In 1871 he discovered the tomb full of royal mummies behind Hatshepsut’s Temple. To keep prying eyes away he put a dead donkey near the entrance, changing it every-so-often when it got too putrid. He and his band sold some of these antiquities to dealers and collectors. Egyptologists soon became aware of these new royal artefacts and became inquisitive as to their origin. When news broke about the cache of mummies from the local antiquities inspectors in Luxor, Émile Brugsch's (Assistant Curator/Conservator at the Cairo Museum) went down to investigate, due to the absence of his superior, Gaston Maspero who was in France. Brugsch then arranged for these mummies to be transferred to the Cairo Museum, where they remain on display.

Following in the footsteps of Amenpanufer and Mohammed Abd el-Rassul are many modern day illicit antiquity thieves and dealers, such as Mohamed Ali Farag, Gérard Razier, Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, Ali and Hisham Aboutaam, Mamdouh Michael, Frederick Schultz, and Abdul Karim Abu Shanab. Many of these villains’ activities are mentioned in the ECHO News article On the Trail of Illicit Antiquities ( and in the Archaeology article Selling the Past (

In circa 1986, the so-called Sekhemkhet Magazine (Storehouse) at Saqqara was broken into and looted by Ali Farag and his team. Dr Maarten Raven, who has had years of experience excavating at Saqqara states: "Objects of our 1985 season were included in the theft". Raven and his associates reported this theft to the antiquities authorities (the now SCA) who made a full inventory of the Magazine and confirmed that objects from the excavation of Sekhemkhet’s pyramid had also fallen victim to the robbery. One of the objects from the Sekhemkhet excavations, conducted in the 1950s by Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, is the Kanefernefer mask, now on display in the St. Louis Art Museum and published in Goneim’s 1956 excavation monograph. This Museum bought the mask in 1998 from the Aboutaam brothers, who had provided a dubious provenance. Dr. Raven states, in his open letter and further communications, that he cannot say for certain whether the Kanefernefer mask, now in the St. Louis Art Museum, was among the looted objects. However, he is certain that the mask never went to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo with other objects from Goneim's excavations. A good article about the dubious provenance of the Kanefernefer mask is to be found on the website of the River Front Times: (

Ali Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art claims that the provenance for the mask is legitimate, saying “We do our business in the most legal way. Many things were sold from Egypt in the 1970s”. In 1970 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, which binds member nations to help retrieve stolen or illegally exported items at the request of another member state. Although both the UK and USA were late arrivals at UNESCO's party, these two giants of the Western World have now ratified the Convention. In 1983, the same year that the US ratified the UNESCO Convention, the Egyptian government passed a new antiquities law (117) mandating that any cultural artifact unearthed in that country after 1983 belonged to the Egyptian state. This international law means that any object taken out of Egypt illegally (without legal title) since 1970 and residing in a
country that has ratified the convention, must be returned. Therefore, if the Aboutaam’s have objects exported from Egypt in the 1970s, they are legally bound to return them to Egypt. A claim may also be made if an object can be proved to have left the country illegally prior to 1970, although this is a more complicated legal affair.

Since 2002, the year Zahi Hawass took charge of the SCA, Egypt has stepped up its recovery efforts and begun actively litigating for the return of what they see as their cultural patrimony. Dr Hawass founded the Department of Stolen Artifacts for the express purpose of retrieving pieces of Egypt’s cultural heritage. The New SCA regulations state: “Members of foreign missions are expected to yield any information they have regarding stolen artifacts to the Department of Stolen Artifacts. It is absolutely prohibited for any member of a mission to be involved with dealers of stolen artifacts. People who are found by court evidence to be involved with stolen artifacts will be removed from the excavation. If the director is involved, the mission will be terminated.” This new offensive by Hawass and his SCA department has been relatively successful over the past four years (see On the Trail of Illicit Antiquities). Dr Hawass’ actions must be commended upon, for trying to stem a trade that is over 5,500 years old is like trying to stop prostitutes selling their wares on street corners. However, Soho in London is now relatively clean of vice girls, so it is possible. Hawass’ attentions are now focused on the St. Louis Art Museum and the repatriation of the Mask of Kanefernefer. Hawass states: “the mask belongs to Egypt? by every standard, from the strictly legal to the ethical and moral, it must be returned immediately. We are asking for [the Museum’s] cooperation; if this is not immediately forthcoming, we will contact Interpol and start legal proceedings.” (

Zahi Hawass

ECHO has been very proactive in following the rights of legal ownership of the mask of Kanefernefer, and in co-operation with Dr. Zahi Hawass (Secretary General of the SCA), Dr. Hany Hanna (Elected Chair, ICOM and General Director, Department of Conservation, SCA), and a legal representative in the USA are now convinced that there is a legal case for the Egyptian Government to pursue. ECHO are also on the trail of some other artefacts that they believe to be illicit, and will speak out on this shortly.

Although the trade in illicit antiquities will never be stopped, museums must start to question the provenance of antiquities they purchase on the open market more closely, having provenances such as ‘A European collection’ or ‘formerly in the collection of Mr Smythe, Zurich’ is no longer acceptable. The reason that archaeologists are so against the illicit antiquities trade is that the context of the artefact is missing, meaning that most of its archaeological value is lost. All that is left is the artefact itself, which although it may be beautiful, and you may be able to tell how it was made and what it is made of, cannot really tell much about the people that made it. It is only by an artefacts placement on site and its association with other finds that interpretations can be made about the object and the people that used it. Also, sites are often destroyed by the looters, who leave it looking like a bomb site, and destroy all the valuable information about past human societies.

More re the St Louis Mask

Looting Matters (David Gill)

David Gill has had a look a the the St Louis Art Museum in the context of its membership of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). In 2008 the AAMD published "2008 Report of the AAMD Subcommittee on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art", and David Gill considers how this impacts the Museum's responsibilities.

Egyptians (Tim Reid)

Tim has had a look at the background to the St Louis mask, digging out articles from the past few years to follow and explain the story.

Photo for Today - the Avenue of Sphinxes at Luxor Temple

The start of an avenue of sphinxes that originally stretched
to the Temple of Karnak which lies approximately North.

Photo and text by Jon Bosworth, with my thanks.

[This is an old photograph - the mosque at the end of the photo
has been removed so that the Avenue can be used by tourists to walk
from Luxor to Karnak, one of many sacrifices. Andie].

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Official news - Akhenaten statue returned, but bad news from other sites (Zahi Hawass)

With photo of the returned artefact.

Today, I announced that the missing limestone statue of King Akhenaten, the father of Tutankhamun, has been returned to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. This unique statue, which dates from the Amarna Period (ca. 1353-1336 B.C.), is 37 centimeters high and depicts the king standing, wearing a blue crown, and holding an offering table in his outstretched hands. The statue is made of painted limestone, and stands on a base of Egyptian alabaster.

I was informed that a sixteen-year-old male, one of the protestors at Tahrir Square, had found the statue of Akhenaten near the southern wall of the museum, and took it home. The boy's family immediately called the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs to arrange for the statue's return to the Museum.

Last night, at the Antiquities and Tourism Police station at Cairo Opera House, an archaeological committee headed by Dr. Youssef Khalifa, Director of the Stolen Antiquities Department of the Ministry, accepted the statue of Akhenaten from Dr. Abdel Rahman. The committee confirmed its authenticity and identified it as the missing sculpture.

The offering table held between the hands of the statue was found earlier in the museum itself, so the statue will need to be restored.

Bad news from Hawass and his office are as follows:

  • At Saqqara, the tomb of Hetepka was broken into, and the false door may have been stolen along with objects stored in the tomb. A committee will visit the tomb on Saturday to compare the alleged damage with earlier expedition photos.
  • Also at Saqqara strage magazines were broken into. A committee will report on what, if anything, is missing from those magazines
  • In Abusir, a portion of the false door was stolen from the tomb of Rahotep
  • The military have interrupted thieves attempting to loot the site of Tell el Basta and Lisht.
  • Inspections are being made at other archaeological sites where illegal digging and looting have been reported.

Hawass has also announced that Coptic, Islamic, and modern sites would reopen to the public on Sunday, 20 February, 2011. The decision was made in consultation with the Antiquities and Tourism Police.

[NB - Sites in Luxor are reported to be open already and are more than ready to welcome visitors].

Update on current state of antiquities (Zahi Hawass)

Yesterday Hawass issued another update re the current state of antiquities in Egypt. Exerpt:

Dr. Hawass said it seems the looters dropped objects as they fled, and every inch of the museum must be searched before the Registration, Collections Management, and Documentation Department, which is overseeing the inventory, can produce a complete and final report of exactly what is missing. The museum staff is not yet able to move freely within the museum, and has, until now, had to walk in groups of 10-15 people, accompanied by soldiers. Unfortunately, this has slowed down the search, and made it very difficult to carry out a final inventory. The army is allowing very few people into the museum, and the first time the museum’s office staff was allowed in was on 6 February 2011. The list announced in the press release of 12 February, 2011 is preliminary, and will continue to be updated as new information comes to light. As Dr. Hawass has previously stated, until a full and thorough search of the museum and its grounds has been completed and all of the damaged vitrines inventoried, a list of missing objects cannot be finalized.

The main points that the update makes are:

Egyptian Museum, Cairo
  • Some items thought to be missing were retreived from trash cans and other areas of the museum grounds
  • Heart scarab of Yuya, one of missing Yuya and Thuya shabtis have been recovered
  • Part of wooden sarcophagus has been found
  • Re the statue of Tutankhamun carried by the goddess Menkaret, the fragments of Menkaret have been recovered but the Tutankhamun part of the statue is still missing.
  • Stories that the Tutankhamun mask had been stolen are wrong
  • The museum is still closed to visitors

  • All of the large and small blocks are safe
  • The only missing items appear to be small amulets

Qantara East in the Sinai
  • 298 have been returned from those looted at the end of January
  • The committee will take a full inventory and compare it to earlier inventories to determine whether or not everything has been returned

Politics and Heritage in Egypt

Culture In Development (Rene Teijgeler)

Thanks to Jan Picton for the link. The link on the above page opens as a PDF. Exerpt:

The public outcry against the looting of Egypt’s National Museum and several archaeological sites underlines the concern of the international heritage community over the safety of Egypt’s heritage. Many remind us of the blast in 2001 of the Bamyan Buddha’s in Afghanistan and the massive plunder of Iraq’s heritage after the 2003 invasion. As common in times of unrest and chaos the information coming from the conflict zone is often contradictory and not always reliable. To make at least a little sense of the information it has to be put in its context. What is the socio-political and economical context of the recent plundering? What is the role of Egypt’s cultural heritage in this ‘Lotus revolution’?

Rene Teijgeler
Culture in Development

Restoring artefacts - What does it take?

PBS Newshour (Evan Conway)

As the dust settles on Egypt's recent protests, one less-discussed outcome of the uprising is the damage done to some of the country's ancient artifacts. After would-be looters broke into the famous Egyptian museum in Cairo in search of gold on Jan. 29, approximately 70 artifacts were damaged.

Among the items were several small statues, a 3,000-year-old tomb, and a statue of King Tutankhamun. The king, who formerly stood atop a panther, was severed from the animal after the break-in.

With some twenty-five artifacts now in line for restoration, we looked further into the science of conservation.

"Science plays a much larger role than it used to in conservation," said Paul Jett, head of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the Freer and Sackler galleries. Conservation science has a three-pronged focus that includes the study of materials and their deterioration, treatment of those materials, and the use of scientific methods to answer historical questions.

The Tutankhamun panther prior to restoration

A sad photograph of the panther from the damaged statue of Tutankhamun standing on a panther before restoration work began.

After the revolution, who will control Egypt's monuments?

Science Insider (Andrew Lawler)

With thanks to Tony Marson for this link.

As Egypt struggles to lay the foundations of a new government in the wake of its revolution, archaeologists around the world are closely watching the fate of the nation's prized antiquities—as well as the fortunes of Zahi Hawass, long the face and voice of the country's ancient monuments. Hawass, who under Hosni Mubarak was recently named minister of antiquities, has been confronting an unusual uprising among his own staff as well as questions about his political future. And today, he reported a theft at a cemetery south of Cairo, as well as eight missing artifacts from the Egyptian Museum, located on Tahrir Square itself. Archaeologists are left wondering about the effects of the revolution on the dozens of excavations in the country, as well as on the next generation of homegrown researchers.

American collectors eye events in Egypt with mistrust

PR Newswire

Ongoing developments in the Egyptian revolution and its reverberations in the Middle East have the world riveted on this historical event. Beneath the headlines, vacillating reports of vandalism and looting that allegedly took place at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other sites have American collectors skeptical of motivations behind the apparent orchestration of news. Spotty and contradictory reports of museum looting had barely surfaced when members of the American archaeological community were calling for import restrictions on artifacts made in Egypt. It is unclear whether any of these calls have led to consideration of such action within the Obama administration.

According to Kerry K. Wetterstrom, President of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), the reason for concern among collectors is that import restrictions like those sought by archaeologists have typically been applied far and beyond the scope of authority vested under U.S. law. Restrictions are being applied to common objects traded for centuries without provenance requirements.

Protests turn against Minister Hawass

Bikya Masr

Egypt’s Zahi Hawass, the man who has become synonymous with Egyptology, known for his cowboy had wearing, has sparked the ire of Egyptians in recent days, with protests chanting for him to step down from his post atop the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Ironically, as reports of stolen artifacts continues to surface since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power on Friday, Hawass went public during the demonstrations and declared, triumphantly, that nothing has been stolen from the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo following the break-in on January 28.

“Get out,” chanted a crowd of 150 archaeology graduates outside Hawass’ office on Monday. The protest was highly personal: demonstrators called Hawass a “showman” who seeks publicity and has little regard for the thousands of archaeology students who are unable to find work in their field.

Hawass has been under fire from a number of sides in recent years including from rights groups who accuse the man of dictatorial polices concerning debate and scientific findings.


The political upheaval in Egypt has thrown Egyptian archaeology into a state of uncertainty — expeditions have been disrupted and Zahi Hawass, the head of the country's antiquity council, is now coming under fire from protesters.

Known for his flamboyant style – including an Indiana Jones-style fedora – and his boosterism of Egypt's treasures, Hawass is the face of Egyptian archaeology. As secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Hawass is in charge of approving any archaeological research that goes on in Egypt.

And he's now the central figure in a war of words, with some archaeologists taking verbal shots at him for what they see as a corrupt system, and others, in interviews with LiveScience, defending his character and his actions.

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El Aref)

Protesting employees demonstrated Wednesday outside the ministry's Zamalek premises demanding better wages and the appointment of seasonal employees. Another of their demands was the removal of the culture ministry's supervisor, who supervises the construction work of the National Museum of Civilization, the Grand Egyptian Museum and the rehabilitation project of historic Cairo.

Zahi Hawass, minister for antiquities, met with the protesters and announced that procedures to increase the salaries were taken in January. As for the appointment of new employees, he said this will be studied once the country is stable, archaeological sites reopen and tourists return; the main source of the ministry’s budget.

Bikya Masr

Egypt’s antiquities chief found himself in hot water on Monday, the target of angry protesters who want him to quit. At the end of January, Zahi Hawass triumphantly declared that nothing had been stolen from the famed Egyptian Museum after a break-in on January 28.

Recently, however, a number of high-profile artifacts have been declared missing.

“Get out,” chanted a crowd of 150 archaeology graduates outside Hawass’ office on Monday. The protest was highly personal: demonstrators called Hawass a “showman” who seeks publicity and has little regard for the thousands of archaeology students who are unable to find work in their field.

The demonstration is one example of the strikes and protests which have sprouted across the country since the resignation of 30-year president Hosni Mubarak on Friday.

Tour guides at the Giza ask for tourists to return

The Telegraph, UK (Nick Meo)

Some held up signs with a Valentine's Day theme saying "Egypt loves you" and insisted that it was safe for foreigners to come back. The tourist industry has been badly hit by weeks of turmoil at the peak of the holiday season, costing perhaps billions of pounds of lost income for the nation. Tour guides and camel drivers who live off tips from wealthy visitors have earned nothing for weeks and many have suffered real hardship.

"We need to make tourism come back to Egypt," said Hossam Khairy, 27.

"We want to send the message to tourists all over the world that they are welcome here. They will discover a new country and new people." The three great pyramids, one of the wonders of the ancient world, were virtually deserted on Monday, with only two nervous-looking Spaniards and a handful of Egyptian visitors making the most of a rare chance to visit the site without hordes of tourists. Touts who usually pester visitors were also absent, with only a handful trying half-heartedly to sell postcards or plastic sphinxes.

Alerts issued re Egyptian antiquities


UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has called for increased vigilance from national and international authorities, art dealers and collectors following reports of the theft of several important relics from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other sites throughout the country.

“It is particularly important to verify the origin of cultural property that might be imported, exported and/or offered for sale, especially on the internet,” the Director-General said. “This heritage is part of humanity’s history and Egypt’s identity. It must not be allowed to vanish into unscrupulous hands, or run the risk of being damaged or even destroyed.

“UNESCO will be working closely with its international partners in this field, including INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the International Centre for the Study and restoration of Cultural property (ICCROM) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to prevent this from happening.

“But I would also call on security forces, customs agents, art dealers, collectors and local populations everywhere - to do their utmost to recover these invaluable pieces and return them to their rightful home.

The United Nations has alerted art dealers, collectors and governments around the world to be on the lookout for items reported stolen from Egypt.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, responsible for preserving world cultural heritages, said the relics and other artifact have been reported stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other sites in the country. . . .

"It is particularly important to verify the origin of cultural property that might be imported, exported and/or offered for sale, especially on the Internet," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. "This heritage is part of humanity's history and Egypt's identity. It must not be allowed to vanish into unscrupulous hands, or run the risk of being damaged or even destroyed."

UNESCO plans to work closely with its international partners -- including INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, the International Center for the Study and Restoration of Cultural Property and the International Council of Museums.

New Book: Tomb of Hetepi, Abusir

Czech Institute of Egyptology

Miroslav Bárta, Filip Coppens, Hana Vymazalová et al.
Tomb of Hetepi (AS 20), Tombs AS 33-35 and AS 50-53
Charles University in Prague, Prague 2010

The tombs published in this volume of the Abusir series have been excavated during several seasons at Abusir South. The eight tombs are located in the easternmost sector of Abusir South, on the slopes (tombs AS 20 and AS 33) and at the bottom (tombs AS 34-35, 50-53) of a large but low hill, to the north of the so-called Wadi Abusiri. They do not form a single cemetery; rather, they represent different groups of sacral structures that illustrate very well the diachronic development of the Abusir South necropolis during the Old Kingdom and the Late Period-Ptolemaic era. Most if not all of the structures document in a new way important archaeological and historical themes, such as the origin and development of the false door tradition; early administration (tomb AS 20); unique building development of early Old Kingdom tombs (AS 20 and 33); the late Old Kingdom sociology of family cemeteries (tombs AS 34-35 and 50-53) and the appearance of new Late Period animal cemeteries (tombs AS 33, 34-35 and 50-53). Format: A4, 422 pages, many b-w photos and plans, hardcover.

Avaiable from a number of online retailers.

Ideological concealment of mummies

The Independent, UK (Tiffany Jenkins)

Egyptian mummies used to be among the most popular displays in British museum collections. But their days as a visitor attraction may be numbered. Increasingly they are being secreted away by curators, hidden away from the public without consultation.

In the coming year, Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery will publish its first policy specifically on the use and display of human remains. It is clear from the draft that staff are increasingly sensitive about exhibits of ancient bodies and skeletons. Recommendations include erecting signs to "alert" visitors that such material is on display – and reconsidering whether to show it at all.

Already the museum has dramatically altered what is on display. It used to present its celebrated collection of Egyptian mummies in open sarcophagi, but now keeps the lids semi-closed because, curators say, that is more respectful. Visitors are only permitted to see photographs of unwrapped mummies and they have to positively opt in to this by switching on the light.

More discoveries at Amara West

British Museum (Charly Valance)


With some great photos, as usual. Lovely to see things coming along nicely at Amara West, whilst everything goes on hold in Egypt.

In my second season at Amara West – I spend the rest of the year as a field archaeologist in the UK – I have been excavating in the south-west portion of the town, an area never previously investigated, alongside Shadia Abdo Rabo, a curator at the Sudanese National Museum, also acting as our inspector from the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums.

The first stage of our work was to locate the south-west corner of the town’s enclosure wall. You might think a wall 3.5 metres wide and several metres high would be easy to find, especially with the help of magnetometry data.

The architecture of excavation – sandbags keeping sand out of the deep trench

But, after two days of hard digging, there was no sign of the wall corner; local workman Abdul Razig was becoming increasingly frustrated and threatened to move trenches!

On the fifth day, relief, as several areas of mudbrick were exposed and identified as belonging to the town walls. The walls have suffered badly from deep pits dug through them to extract clay for building material.