Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lecture Notes: An assortment from the Origins 3 Colloquium (part 1)

For those of you who have absolutely no interest in the Predynastic or Early Dynastic all I can do is apologise for the fact that this has been a very tedious two weeks for you. I'm back to real life on Monday, but to be honest with you there has been precious little news to convey. I've been keeping a weather eye on it and there has been nothing terrible interesting around - which is quite usual in the summer months when no-one is actually working in the field.

I would just like to convey sincere thanks to Jan Picton of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology for letting me loose on the colloquium whenever things are quiet at the Bloomsbury Summer School. I missed final registration at the colloquium and was told that it was sold out but thanks to the truly kind assistance of Jo Rowland, I was told that I could attend after all. But by then I had already committed to Bloomsbury. So I have only been able to dash in and out, but I have really enjoyed the papers that I have been able to attend. I thought that some of you might enjoy them too!

The proper title for the colloquium is actually Egypt at its Origins - The Third International Colloquium on Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt. Unsurprisingly, it is referred to as Origins 3. I was at Origins 2 in Toulouse, and publication of the Proceedings from that conference is now available if anyone is interested.

I am still typing up my lecture notes. I always feel like such a poser when I take my laptop along with me but I really should just grit my teeth and do it because I type much faster than I write and I wouldn't now be sitting here trying to decipher my ghastly scrawl. These are not the best notes that ever emerged from a lecture theatre, for which my apologies, and some are rather worse than others, but I hope that they give the gist of some of the work that is being carried out at the moment.

These are my notes from the afternoon of Tuesday 29th July 2008.

David Anderson
Evidence for early ritual activity in the Predynastic settlement at el-Mahasna

David Anderson was not present so his lecture was presented by a colleague whose name I sadly failed to catch.

The site of El Mahasna is located 11km north of the core area of Abydos. The entire area has been encroached upon since the1980s by an extension of cultivated land in the area, and this now reaches right up to the site., which covers an area of some 8 hectares.

The site was first excavated by Garstang in 1900-1901 and the Predynastic cemetery was examined by Ayrton and Loat some years later.

There are two distinct zones of activity at the site: the settlement at the borders of the alluvial plain and the low desert and the cemetery.

The el-Mahasna Archaeological Project began work in 2000. During the first two month season the team did a surface collection of the area believed to be the Predynastic settlement area using a system of controlled collection units. Pottery sherds were particularly dense in one particular area. The distribution was used as a guide for planning the excavation, which took place in a number of areas.

The excavation revealed Predynastic settlement remains from Naqada Ic-Icd.

Amongst the findings from the excavation was evidence for a building made of wooden and reed posts lashed together with cord and matting, of which remnants were found. A similar method of construction has been found at Adaima. The building was divided internally. An external activity area included a hearth and a midden which contained lithic debit age as well as animal and plant remains.

A different area of the site was occupied in Naqada Ic to 2c, where a number of in tact Predynastic layers were found. A building referred to as “Block 3” was marked by substantial reinforced post holes. Considerably more labour would have been invested in this building than in the one described previously, but conclusions are not yet possible as to its function because it has not yet been completely excavated. On the overlying floor there were use remains, which included ceramic vessels, bone awls and needles, spindle whorls, bifacial knives and grinding stones. They have been placed in the period 1c-IIab. A collection of figurines were also found which seem to have had a ritual function. Twenty one zoomorphic figurines were found in Block 3, all heavily stylized and minimalist bovines. Features were only hinted at. There were also five anthropomorphic figurines which appear to have been discarded following use within the structure. This is a very specialized assemblage which appears to have had a specific function associated with Block 3. A faunal assemblage from the same structure includes a number of bovid foreleg limbs, a characteristic feature of offering scenes from Pharaonic times. There was also a concentration of wild game, including fish - some of which were vast. (a similar situation occurred at Hierakonpolis). The combination of wild fauna indicate that they were collected in the period immediately prior to the annual inundation. A considerable amount of effort would have been required to transport some of the catfish and Nile Perch (up to a metre long and very heavy) from the Nile to the site, which is some distance away from the river. There was also a concentration of C and D ware at this part of the site

It was suggested that the evidence from Block 3 suggests an ideology based on women and cattle, and that ritual activity may have taken place at the time of the annual Nile floods. Block 3 was therefore probably a cultic centre belonging to the Naqada Ic-IIab period.

The areas of usage, both settlement and cemetery, appear to have been avoided by occupants of the area in the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Periods, perhaps due to an ongoing sense of respect for the sanctity of those areas.

Veerle Linseele and Wim Van Neer
Animal bones from ritual contexts at Hierakonpolis

Hierakonpolis is the largest known site from the Predynastic period in Egypt. Faunal remains from four seasons of excavation, together with material derived from previous seasons, have provided a large zoological dataset. The analysis of the data from two areas of the site was the focus of the lecture:

HK29A one of the earliest known temples in Egypt, dating to the Predynastic (second temple has also been found at Hierakonpolis)
HK6, the elite cemetery site which has produced some interesting finds, including tombs with superstructures, wild and domesticated animal burials, and the well known masks. It had two phases of use: Naqada IC-IIB and Naqada IIIA2

Both areas produced faunal assemblages which were unusual. The lecture compared the two areas with each other, and with other contemporary sites in Egypt.

Comparisons with Adaima and El Mahansa were being carried out, although the full data from the latter site has not yet been published in full.

The faunal assemblage from HK29A included:

  • Nile Perch (1-2m in length)
  • Softshell turtle
  • Crocodile
  • Wild game
  • Hunted species
  • Carnivores, especially dogs
  • Cattle (which, unlike other sites in Egypt, are more numerous than sheep and goat), slaughtered young

All these animals were available locally and, judging by the species, it seems likely that they were killed shortly prior to the annual inundation. For example, Nile perch is a deep water fish which is much easier to catch at low water, and game is much easier to capture at that time of year because animals tend to gather around the water at the end of the dry season.

Linseele suggests that they may have been linked to elite social status, and that this is indicated by a demonstration of consumption of even dangerous animals. It may also represent a desire to establish order over chaos.

The faunal assemblage form HK6 included animals supplied as food and animal burials. The use of wild animals in the first phase of usage at HK6 is unique in Egypt:

Sea shells, sea urchins
Wild mammals
  • Oryx
  • Elephant
  • Wild donkey
  • Baboon
  • Swamp cat
  • Hippos

Domesticated mammals
  • Sheep
  • Goat
  • Cattle
  • Dogs (9 in one grave)
  • Cats (7 in one grave, next to the dog burial)
  • No pigs

The wild animals are all species which, unlike those from HK29A are difficult to obtain., and the species chosen are not the same as those from HK29A. Lineseele says that the bone pathologies of the animals indicate that they had been held in captivity prior to their deaths.

Her comparison of the two areas with each other suggested that the animals represented had been involved in rituals, and that their presence and treatment were consistent with ritual behaviour,. However, the different types of animals involved in each area implies that the different types of ritual required different types of animal, each specie being associated with different concepts. The fact that some species in the elite cemetery were difficult to obtain may be a demonstration of status or identity by the person responsible for their capture, or they may have had a symbolic association. Linseele pointed out that their presence in graves may not be a sign of ritual slaughter but might instead be an indication that their owners did not have the skills to maintain wild animals in captivity.

Linseele made various observations about the differential quantities of each specie at various sites, comparing them with numbers at Hierakonpolis, but the slides, showing detailed tables of data, moved too quickly for me to note down any useful information on the subject.

Gwenola Graff and Stan Hendrickx
Architectural representations on D-Ware

It was extremely hot during this lecture and my note-taking lapsed in the middle when I left my notes in order to dig out some water, and I can’t for the life of me remember what I missed, so my apologies that my notes fail to do full justice to the lecture.

During the completion of research into the complete known corpus of D-Ware from Egypt Graff was able to list all motifs shown on this type of pottery. Some of the motifs are easy to identify but others are more ambiguous. In the latter category is a particular motif which consists of two rectangles with hache-type fill, connected by lines at the top and bottom and sometimes elaborated with small fringe-like lines, and sometimes arched. Although this lecture focused on D-Ware Graff says that the motif is also found on C-Ware.

It is believed that this motif may represent mat-like fencing which was supported on poles, which is a standard building fabric throughout the early Predynastic - even when more monumental building projects began to take place.

Graff listed a number of examples where similar motifs occur (e.g. Ballas Q593, Ballas Q81, Ashmolean 1958-345, QS76), although she and Hendrickx were first particularly drawn to an example from an unprovenanced vessel in the collection at Tubingen (Tubingen N176, published in 1984). There are 46 vases which show this image.

In the lecture Graff investigated the possible links between the motifs on the ceramics and examples known from archaeological sites.

Graff also examined the contexts within which the patterns on D-Ware. She believes that they are cultic buildings because of their association with other ritual motifs (which she defines on the basis of a set of specific criteria). She that they appear on two thirds of all cases where they are present with ibex, bird and addax images. On the Tubingen example the addax is a dominant motif. Her view is that the addax has an explicitly ritual association, and that this can be extended to embrace the architectural motifs with which they so frequently appear. She
suggested that the buildings may be directly associated with space that was used to enclose these species. A C-Ware example (Turino S1827) shows a white cross-lined scene with similar structures associated with trapped animals.

From there she looked at contexts where huts are involved in ritual contexts from other datasets - for example Naqada III labels, and the Hierakonpolis temple.

Graff says that there are opposing views on whether or not the mat-built buildings were prototypes for the niched architectural form. She suggests that the nature of the architecture was reproduced in stone at Saqqara, where the façade of the temple has similarities with the mat type appearance. However, she says that although Hendrickx supports the idea that the buildings were fore-runners of niched architecture, Alejandro Serrano-Jimenez disagrees.

Graff then went on to compare her suggestions with the data from Hierakonpolis, to see whether there was evidence for death of the aforementioned animals in the temple data. As far as birds are concerned there were no ostriches at the Hierakonpolis temple site but there was ostrich eggshell at the elite cemetery HK6.

Graff and Hendrickx hope that this identification of this type of structure with explicitly ritual contexts will help field archaeologists to identify and understand them when they occur in excavations.

And Finally - a brief and spontaneous update re the Hierakonpolis Temple HK29A

At the end of Gwenola Graff's lecture Renee Friedman stood up and said that the reconstructions shown of the Hierakonpolis temple shown in the presentation were now potentially inaccurate because of work completely in the previous season. Excavation of the main building revealed a set of post holes behind the current set, but the evidence for the building only extends around 9m from the first set of post holes - the rest has been destroyed by sebakh digging, which means that it is impossible to know whether or not the temple structure extended any further backwards than 9m.

Lecture Notes: The Sackler Lecture - Tell el-Farkha

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology: Ivory and gold in the Delta: Excavations at Tell el-Farkha. Krzysztof Cialowicz, Institute of Archaeology, Jagiellonian Univesity, Krakow, Poland

Monday 28th July, The BP Lecture Theatre, The British Museum

The following notes were taken at the above lecture, with chronological help from the publication Ivory and Gold - Beginnings of the Egyptian Art written by the lecturer (Poznan Prehistoric Society 2007). This was only necessary because I couldn’t decipher the dates and some other details in my notes when I got back!

Photographs have been taken from the Poznan website - click on the image to link back to the original on the Tell el-Farkha pages on the Poznan site.

The lecture was held in the larger of two basement lecture theatres in the British Museum. Partly because of the day time Origins 3 Colloquium which had been taking place there earlier, there was a particularly good turnout for the lecture. There were too many of us to watch the lecture in the main theatre, so those of us who were overflow were placed in the neighbouring and much smaller theatre where we watched the proceedings next door via a video link. This was certainly better than not seeing it at all, but it was a somewhat surreal experience which was emphasised by the peculiar quality of the slides which were filmed and sent to us live - the colours were strange and the illustrations almost impossible to make out. But the sound came through very clearly so it was easy enough to get the gist of it.

Tel el-Farkha is located in the eastern part of Egypt’s Delta, 120km northeast of Cairo and near the village of Ghazala. It covers an area of 4 hectares and comprises three mounds: Western Kom, Central Kom and Eastern Kom, which rise 5m above the surrounding fields.

Krzysztof M. Cialowicz began by putting the site of Tell el Farkha, which means Hill of Chickens, into its chronological context. He took us through different phases of the Naqadan and “Loweregyptian” (formerly known as “Maadian or Maadi-Buto” traditions. He explained that the site crosses the period when material culture is seen to change in Egypt, with Upper Egyptian traditions appearing alongside and then replacing Lower Egyptian traditions. As he pointed out, it is not sure how this process took place. There are no archaeological traces of destruction or war, so perhaps a better way of explaining it would be through the concepts of assimilation and acculturation. He believes that Tell El-Farkha is a good place to explore this process precisely because it spans this “transitional” period.

The site had already been examined before the Polish Expedition to the Eastern Nile Delta arrived there. Survey work carried out by an Italian mission from the Centro Studi e Ricerche Ligabue in Venice identified and named this and other sites. They followed their survey work with the excavation in 1988-90 of 4 trial trenches which helped to establish an initial chronology of the site. The Italian mission didn’t pursue the site, but they presented their results in Cambridge in 1995, which caught the attention of Polish scholars who set up a mission to investigate the site.

The Polish Expedition to the Eastern Nile Delta began work at Tell el-Farkha in 1998, and they have now completed 10 seasons of work at the site, each season consisting of two months of work. There are seven phases The oldest part of the site dates to the Loweregyptian period. The next phases all lie within Naqada II and III, and Dynasties 0 to the beginning of Dynasty IV, when the site was abandoned.

The oldest layer at the site, the Loweregyptian, lasts from c.3600-3300BC. The is present only at the Western Kom. It revealed habitation structures with numerous rooms, and is particularly notable for the discovery of one of the world’s oldest breweries. The brewery site is multi-phase, with a total of three different layers to it. Each consisted of several circular features with fire bricks supporting vats. A fire was lit to heat the vat contents. The brewery was in use for 300 years. Other discoveries belonging to this phase are imports from the Near East and Upper Egypt and donkey remains.

The following period, the Naqadan, is divided into three phases and is found at both the Western and Eastern koms: 3300-3200BC, 3200-3100BC and 3150-3100BC. This is the period over which the site is increasingly dominated by Upper Egyptian traditions.

The earliest of these three phases produced the remains of a fairly remarkable building which was constructed over the breweries. It was found under a layer of Nile silts. It measures approximately 25m x 25m and is divided into a number of rooms with an internal courtyard, with walls which in some places were over 2m thick. It is the largest building of this date to be found so far. It produced storage jars, clay seals and buttons (perhaps counters), fragments of Palestinian pottery and labels. It may have been the home of someone important, with storage rooms attached, perhaps associated with the trade of wine and oil. It was destroyed by fire, covered with a layer of black and white ash under the Nile muds. The fire that destroyed it dates to c.3200BC.

The Eastern Kom was also occupied during the Naqadan but at a slightly more recent date. One of the surprising discoveries from this part of the site was a monumental construction within a cemetery area. It was found when excavating more recent wealthy burial chambers, some of which partially destroy parts of the building. It covers an area 400m sq and post-dates the earliest large Naqada building of the Western Kom but pre-dates the big administrative-shrine complex. It has been dated to c.3200-3100BC. It consists of several chambers separated with walls up to 2.5m thick. In the central square chamber a vertical shaft was made. It may be that these are the remains of the oldest known mastaba in Egypt, significantly predating those from Dynasties 1 and 2, the oldest of which is that of Aha, the second king of the First Dynasty. Within it was found a stone pendant surmounted with a falcon with a schematic engraving on it, and a decorated ivory dagger handle. Cialowicz suggested that if it is accepted as one of Egypt’s earliest mastabas then it may have been the burial place of a local governor or ruler.

It is a mystery why more recent graves were dug into it or why these graves were in turn buried by a settlement layer, into which Old Kingdom burials were then sunk. This situation is so far unique in Egypt, where land which has been sacred tends to be respected and is left undeveloped for more recent activities.

The Eastern Kom settlement was not rich but gold fragments were found at the north eastern part of the Eastern Kom, accompanied by two extraordinarily beautiful and highly crafted stone knives and an ostrich eggshell and carnelian necklace. They were found during the excavation of one of the settlement structures. When the items were excavated and taken away for analysis it was possible to reconstruct them - they had originally consisted of two statuettes which would have been built around a central core, now completely vanished but probably made of wood. Gold rivets were used to fasten each piece of gold to the core, and there are 140 of these surviving (4mm long and 1mm in diameter). One of the figurines is 57cm tall and the other is 30cm tall. Both have been given eyes of lapis lazuli (only available from Afghanistan at that time) and the eyebrows also had inclusions, now vanished. Some of the features are very distinctive - the hands and feet are detailed, with finger and toe nails picked skilfully out. The ears are very prominent, and the penis sheath is very long. The knives belong to the Naqada IID period, 3150-3100BC. Cialowicz speculated that they might be a Predynastic ruler and his son. He also speculates that the secondary deposition of the artefacts might indicate that they had been concealed in a hurry in order to protect them from an impending raid. The fact that they were never collected may indicate that their owners were unable to return. However, he said that this must just remain a hypothesis. The statuettes are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

In the period between Dynasty 0 and the mid First Dynasty (c.3100-3000BC) both Western and Eastern Koms were occupied.

In the Western Kom another building was built over the ruins of the previous building, which had burned down in 3200BC but had apparently been covered by a layer of Nile silts. The building dates to Dynasty 0/Dynasty 1 (c.3100-3000BC) and had massive mudbrick walls preserved to a height of 2m, which marked out a complex of rooms which seem to have been built over a period of time possibly to cope with earthquake damage. A remarkable deposit was found within one of the walls which surrounded a small room. It consisted of figurines, miniature vessels of faience, pottery and stone. Amongst the figurines were baboons, a prostrate man wearing nothing but a penis sheath, his hair and beard long, a standing long-haired and bearded man, pear shaped mace heads, miniature vessels, faience beads and gaming pieces. The southeast end of the building had experienced a cave in, possibly earthquake damage, and this had covered a number of artefacts which include large storage jars, thin walled red bowls, clay seals, clay amulets, half of a model boat, cosmetic slate pelettes and a cylindrical jar containing 187 serrated fish fin bones. This has been interpreted as a shrine within a larger administrative and cultic complex.

Another surprise was the discovery in 2006 of a votive deposit in the same building, at its western end. Together with some empty vessels there a 23cm jar, with a bowl for a lid. When opened it produced a collection of 62 objects, all of which are made with considerable skill and most with artistic merit, some very realistic and others more schematic. Raw materials included hippopotamus ivory, stone, faience, and pottery. The items inside included figurines, miniature stone vessels and buttons-like disks.

The figurines usually appear as pairs, except the dwarves, of which there were thirteen. Cialowicz suggests that most of the figurines may have been produced by one artist with few less well executed exceptions.

In the Eastern Kom this is the period when the richest of the burials were deposited. Excavations were begun here in 2001 to clarify the results of a geophysical survey, and the burials began to be found just below the surface of the kom. The wealthiest of these burials were furnished with pottery vessels in separate chambers, many of which were up to 1m in length , as well as ornaments made of semi precious stones, stone vessels, cosmetic palettes, tools and meat and grain. Many of the pots had pot-marks, three of which had the names of Iry Hor, Ka (both Dynasty 0) and Narmer (First Dynasty). These are the oldest of the Naqadan tombs and are both the best constructed and the wealthiest of the three cemetery phases identified. One of the oddities of these graves is that they were dug into earlier settlement remains as well as into the above mentioned “mastaba”.

Between the mid First Dynasty and the Second Dynasty (c.3000-2700BC) the Western Kom was abandoned. At the Eastern Kom there were still burials with grave goods, but these were not as wealthy as those in the previous phase of the cemetery, and the tombs themselves were not as well constructed. In the Central Kom there is settlement evidence for this period.

During the Old Kingdom and up until the Third Dynasty (2700-2600BC) there is an overall deterioration in the standards of living. Both the settlement and burial evidence indicates that this was now a fairly impoverished area. None of the burials was accompanied by grave goods.

The evidence from the Western Kom, which implies diminishing wealth over time, is confirmed by the Eastern Kom, where the wealth and quality of the burials declines. Whatever was happening at Tell el-Farkha, its heyday had passed.

The site was abandoned completely at the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty (between c.260 and 2550BC).

Cialowicz had opened the lecture with a question about the replacement of Loweregyptian traditions with Naqadan ones. He now suggested that the answer was probably connected with growing importance of Tell el-Farkha and other eastern Delta sites in terms of their location on a major trade route and their growing wealth as a result of controlling or at least organizing that trade. He suggests that Upper Egyptian interests could have been served by guarding or controlling those routes. Upper Egypt was not a unified entity at this time and this slow replacement process does not reflect a sudden act of political unification. There was competiton within the Naqada struggle itself, probably between Abydos and Hierakonpolis. Again, Cialowicz suggested that the evidence from Tell el-Farkha argues for a slower process of acculturation or assimilation than had been proposed by earlier scholars, but that a considerable amount of work needed to be completed in the Delta for this process to be clarified.

Cialowicz was asked how much longer he expected to be working at Tell el-Farkha. He smiled and said that as only 7% of the site has so far been uncovered he expects to be working at it for at least another 20 years! There was a lot of laughter followed by a long round of applause.

Here’s a recap of the site’s chronology, copied from the Poznan book:

Loweregyptian 3600-3300BC
  • Western Kom
    • Brewing centre
Naqadan 3300-3100BC
  • Western Kom
    • Residence c.3300-3200BC
Eastern Kom
  • Mastaba? 3200-3100BC
  • Gold figures 3150-3100BC
Dynasty 0 - mid Dynasty 1 3100-3000BC
  • Western Kom
    • Admin and cult centre with votive deposit
  • Eastern Kom
    • Richest burials

Mid Dynasty 1 - Dynasty 2 3000-2700BC
  • Western Kom abandoned
  • Eastern Kom medium wealth in burials
  • Central Kom settlement

Old Kingdom - Dynasty 3 2700BC-2600BC
  • Eastern Kom impoverished burials
  • Central Kom poor settlement remains

Old Kingdom - Beginning of Dynasty 4
  • Abandonment of Tell el-Farkha

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dating the Predynastic for beginners - Part 1

I'd be grateful to hear from anyone who is a relative beginner in the field of Predynastic archaeology and who, most importantly, has struggled to get to grips with the chronology of the Predynastic in the past. If you could let me know if this post is helpful, or simply makes life more confusing than ever I would be sincerely glad to hear from you. I have tried very hard to explain the development of dating systems in Egypt, but it isn't exactly straight forward. Part 2 (scientific dating) will be posted in the next few days.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the first part of Dr Kathryn Piquette’s Bloomsbury lecture on Predynastic cultures in Egypt because I was traveling back from north Wales at the time, so I only caught the second part, which was on the following day. Obviously it makes no sense to write up one half of a lecture, although I very much enjoyed what I heard. But I thought it worth picking up on one of the issues that Kathryn and members of her course raised - the apparently conflicting dates for the earlier Predynastic period in various different books.

I thought that it might be worth sitting down and writing a top-level summary of how dating works, and why the confusion arises, in case anyone else out there is experiencing similar difficulties with the whole concept of dates in the Predynastic. So here it is.

I am going to tackle this in two parts, because it is by far too long a topic to deal with on one post, and there are a number of levels of confusion.

There are two ways of trying to put sites into chronological sequences - relative dating and absolute (also known as scientific) dating. In this post I am going to look at relative dating and how it evolved because it was the way in which the Predynastic in Egypt was first organized into manageable chronological chunks. These were originally proposed by Petrie and still form the backbone of the chronology used for the Predynastic today, so it is important to understand some of the ideas behind them.

Relative dating uses concepts of style, technique, form, decoration etc to put buildings, artefacts and other indicators into a relative sequence. The most basic form of relative dating is to understand that the further down something is the older it must be. An excavation digs from the top down, from the modern to the ancient. By analysing the contents at different layers it is possible to use certain diagnostic features to suggest that, for example, a vase with a wavy handle is always at a lower level than a vase with a different sort of wavy handle, and that this means that the one sort will always be older than the other. When results like this are validated by repeated excavation, the vases can be used to date similar layers at other sites, enabling entire sequences of relative dates to be constructed. The items associated with the vases and the types of site at which they are found can then be analyzed. Pottery in one type of burial will predate pottery in a different type of burial, so it should be possible to chart the development of burial types by using the pottery as chronological markers.

Petrie did something very like this using pottery from graves to develop a chronology for Upper Egyptian cemeteries. He called his system Sequence Dating and he based his sequence dates (S.D.s) on “classes” of pottery. The pottery, decorated and undecorated, was described according to certain diagnostic variables which he believed he could track over time at the cemeteries that he was excavating. He could then group them together in a relative sequence. He produced 50 S.D. dates, starting at S.D.30 in case any older cultures came to light. He showed great insight because the Badarian was later discovered and he used the reserved S.D.s to put the Badarian into the relative sequence (SD 21-29). He further grouped these under five main headings, named after sites he had excavated:

  • Badarian - SD 21-29
  • Amratian - SD 30-34 (earlier) and SD 34-37 (later)
  • Gerzean - SD 38-44
  • Semainean - SD 45-60
  • Late - SD 61-78
  • First Dynasty - SD 78-82
Petrie first outlined this system in 1920, based on excavation of 900 graves at the site of Naqada, but revised it himself a few years later. Since then it has been revised further by different writers - initially by Kantor in 1944, who effectively removed the Semainean, and then by Kaiser in the 1950s, the 1960s and then again in 1990.

In 1957 Kaiser, on the basis of his studies at Armant, recognized the validity of Petrie’s basic model, but saw far more continuity than Petrie had recognized between Amratian, Gerzean and later phases. On the basis of this he divided his three phases into eleven sub-phases.

Kaiser's system is still based on the proportion of which types of Petrie's classes of pottery are represented in graves, in order to refine Petrie's system.

The main weakness of Kaiser’s 1957 model based on the site of Armant, is that Naqada III, the critical period for discussions about unification, is very poorly represented at Armant, because it and other cemeteries were largely abandoned at the end of Naqada II, and it was not at all clearly defined. However, perhaps the biggest problem with Kaiser’s sequence was how it was used. Although it was based on one site his sequence has been used as the basis for dating sites from all over Egypt, which disguises the possibility that there were regionally distinct chronological sequences.

In 1990 Kaiser again revised his chronology, adding a further three subdivisions and extending Naqada III to the end of the First Dynasty. In the new version, Naqada IIIb is further subdivided into IIIb1 and IIIb2, and Naqada IIIc is now divided into IIIc1, IIIc2, IIIc3.

Kaiser’s scheme looks like this:

  • Badarian
  • Naqada Ia, Ib, Ic
  • Naqada IIa, IIb, IIc, IId1, IId2
  • Naqada IIIa1, IIIa2, IIIb
As you can see, it looks radically different from Petrie’s sequence at first glance but it is actually based on Petrie's system. Naqada I equates to the Amratian and Naqada II equates to the Gerzean. The real departures from Petrie’s scheme take place at the end of Naqada II and the whole of Naqada II. As I said above, the names were changed to emphasise the continuity throughout the Naqada period, rather than keeping a system which emphasised differences. The Badarian remains unchanged because it is deemed to be of sufficient difference from the Naqadan period to retain its original label.

The first source of confusion with the dating of the Predynastic lies in the way in which different writers drift between Petrie’s terminology and Kaiser’s. Although you will rarely see the Semainean referred to, unless you are reading Petrie’s own material or an early work, many authors still adopt the terms Amratian and Gerzean rather than using the newer system. So terminologies can end up being mixed within the same book or even document.

Kaiser’s were not the only attempts to revise Petrie’s chronology. Although I won’t be covering them here, other schemes were put forward by Barry Kemp (1982) Stan Hendrickx (1993) and Toby Wilkinson (1996).

Although either one of Kaiser’s two systems is usually the preferred scheme, very few authors actually mention which they are using in their work. This should be borne in mind if dating schemes in one piece of work don‘t seem to quite match up with those in another.

Another source of confusion is that Petrie’s Badarian, Amratian and Gerzean (modern Badarian, Naqada I and Naqada II) are only relevant for Upper Egypt. A completely different and partially contemporary tradition was evolving in the north, in the Faiyum Depression and the Delta. An early farming economy grew up at sites like the Faiyum, Merimde Beni Salama and Sais, all bearing a strong resemblence to each other and known in the Faiyum as the Faiyum Neolithic. This tradition was eventually followed by a more clearly defined and complex set of towns located in the Delta. These were named the Maadian, a label which was then changed first to the Maadi-Buto period and more recently the Lower Egyptian. You might stumble across any of these in the Predynastic literature. More confusing terminology.

Towards the end of Naqada II / the Lower Egyptian phase, Naqada II traditions begin to be practised in the north. For example, some cemeteries have both Lower Egyptian and Naqadan type graves with grave goods.. The term Naqada III represents the period when Naqadan traits had completely eliminated Lower Egyptian ones, and is therefore applied to both Upper and Lower Egypt. In 1964 Kaiser moved his attention to the cemetery at Tura in Lower Egypt. At this site the identified three periods. His work here has often been used to tie in the Upper and Lower Egyptian sequences to synchronize the two areas, which has been helpful.Kaiser's Naqada III, of course, extends into the early Dynastic period, overlapping with the Early Dynastic technology - Dynasty 0 and 1.

As if all of the above was not enough, it has now been recognized that there were things going on in Egypt outside either the Nile Valley or the Delta - in the desert and in the oases. If you’ve ever looked at some of these in books you may well have wondered how on earth it all fits, chronologically, with the rest of the Predynastic. Happily, some of it simply predates the Badarian and has its own set of terminologies. However, that is not always the case. Although the period during which the desert was green enough to be occupied comes to an end during the Badarian, it is often treated as an entity apart, rather than an overlapping occupation which may have had connections with the Badarian. A key site which you’ve probably heard of is Napta Playa - multi phase sites divided into numerous sub-periods and sometimes called the Western Desert Neolithic. Similarly, the Sheik Muftah period in Dakheleh Oasis begins at the same time as the Badarian but survives through to the Old Kingdom.

Finally, what about Dynasty 0? And even worse, Dynasty 00? Dynasty 0 was the first of the two terms to be coined. It was designed to do what Kaiser's re-naming of the Amratian and Gerzean achieved - the sense of continuity rather than discontinuity. The First Dynasty was not born out of a void and the term Dynasty 0 is intended to communicate the idea that things happened during Naqada III which directly influenced the early Pharaonic age. Naqada III is a multi-phase period which is contemporary with the terms Dynasty 00, Dynasty 0 and Dynasty 1. Dynasty 00 is the period immediately pre-dating Dynasty 0. It is a very unpopular term amongst many Egyptologists, but it regularly puts in an appearence. One problem with it is the word "dynasty" because there is no evidence that any of the leaders represented were actually related. A second problem is that in Dynasty 00 the individuals suggested to be leaders were probably geographically apart and some of them could have been contemporary with each other. It would be reinventing the wheel to try to do a better job of doing a proper analysis of these terms than Francesco Rafaelle - to reead more about them see his page on the subject.

Feel free to scream at this point.

So just to recap, here are the main sources of confusion regarding the terminology of the relative dating system which was built on the back of Petrie’s sequence for Upper Egypt.

I said that the major sources of confusion for that system were that:

  • Two sets of terminology are still in use for Upper Egypt (Amratian = Naqada I and Gerzean = Naqada II)
  • Petrie’s original sequence has been refined several times and a number of different schemes exist. Although Kaiser’s 1956 and 1990 versions are the most commonly used, it is rare that an author will say which scheme is in use
  • A different set of terms is used to describe the technology and tradition of Lower Egypt during the Upper Egyptian periods of the Badarian, Naqada I and Naqada II., with which they were contemporary.
  • Contemporary prehistoric cultures outside the Nile Valley in Egypt are usually treated completely separately, although there is often chronological overlap with the Badarian.
  • Dynasty 0 (and even worse, Dynasty 00) are attempts to link in the Predynastic with the Dynastic - but some parts of these periods are very poorly understood and it is almost certain that they don't represent true dynasties and that some of them were contemporary leaders in different areas.
  • Before radiocarbon dating it was impossible to know exactly how long these periods lasted, and how far back in time they extended.

Do let me know if you can think of any others!

Thankfully we do now have radiocarbon dating, and at least that has helped to settle some of the questions about the duration of the periods and the chronological overlaps between different cultures. But you can guess that it is not a bed of roses! Radiocarbon dating will be dealt with in my next post on the subject.

Personal message for Christopher and Jan. . .

Thanks to Christopher Coleman for finding my mobile phone, and also to whoever it was who helped him to work out that it was mine by dialing every number in the phone book. Thanks to Jan Picton for taking custody of the thing. Apologies to Christopher's wife Jen for the fact that my stupidity made him late arriving home. HUGE relief that he found it though!
Andie xxxxxxxx

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two Egyptians rewarded for turning in antiquities

Trend News

Egypt's top archaeologist said Tuesday that two Egyptian citizens were rewarded for turning in two pieces of antiquities they found while each was redecorating his house in the northern Menoufiya governorate.

"The Egyptian Ministry of Culture decided to give each citizen five thousand Egyptian pounds (970 US dollars)," said Zahi Hawass , Head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).

Hawass stated that the two pieces belong to Ancient Egyptian King Ahmose of the 26th dynasty. After asserting the authenticity of the pieces, the SCA took the pieces to start their restoration process.

Hawass added that both pieces are made of pink granite and bore the name of the king in hieroglyphics.

Few years ago, Egypt's SCA had announced that anyone who will turn in a piece of antiquities will be rewarded, in a move to reduce theft and smuggling of archeological findings.

Egyptian tombs beckon

The Leader (Jim Gainsford)

IT'S a long way from Kyle Bay to the tombs of ancient Egypt, but both places share many similarities, according to Egyptologist, Alexandra Woods.

Twice a year, Dr Woods, 25, travels from her home in Kyle Bay to work on an archaeological dig at the ancient cemetery of Saqqara, about an hour's drive from Cairo.

The recently appointed associate lecturer in Egyptology at Macquarie University's department of ancient history is among a team of experts from the university working in the cemetery of King Teti, who ruled about 2450BC.

Her job is to study and record the tomb paintings of the king's officials.

She recently presented her findings at the 10th International Congress of Egyptologists on the Greek island of Rhodes. The event is held every four years and attended by more than 500 of the world's leading Egyptologists.

Dr Woods spoke on her technique of dating tombs from Egypt's old kingdom (2700BC to 2300BC) by studying the art and inscriptions in their tombs.

King Tut exhibit spurs purist-vs.-populist debate

Miami Herald (Michael Granberry)

When "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" comes to Dallas in October, its Texas expectations will be as large as the legacy of the boy king himself.

Bonnie Pitman, the new director of the Dallas Museum of Art, boldly predicts that more than 1 million visitors will make their way to the Arts District to catch a glimpse of the 130 rare Egyptian artifacts.

But is it an art exhibit or a rock show? And who stands to benefit monetarily, the DMA or the organizers?

Pitman is anything but bullish about the show's financial prospects.

"Our goal," she says, "is to break even. I don't see this as a huge moneymaker."

Even so, Pitman considers the objects so extraordinary that she and other civic leaders thought the museum owed its constituency the pleasure of seeing them. The curious can flock from Dallas, Austin, Houston and points beyond to see a collection so ancient that some pieces may predate even Moses. She is, however, mindful of controversy.

Since its debut in Los Angeles in 2005, the exhibition has weathered barbs from critics and museum professionals. The more skeptical see it as purely commercial and not an enterprise that ought to be showcased in venues such as the DMA, which prides itself on a scholarly, encyclopedic collection. If anything, it has stirred a purist-vs.-populist debate that rages anywhere the boy king travels.

See the above page for more.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pharaonic Boat to Be Excavated, Reassembled

Discovery Channel (Rossella Lorenzi)

This story has already been extensively covered both here and elsewhere, but one of the nice things about this article is that it provides a very good round up of all the details scattered throughout the recent stories:

Ancient wood hidden for millennia in an underground chamber beside the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Giza will soon be excavated and reassembled into a unique pharaonic boat, according to Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The glorious heap of beams and planks can now be seen for the first time by the public just as it was left by the ancient Egyptians 4,500 years ago -- fully disassembled and carefully stacked. Tourists can view images of the inside of the boat pit from a camera inserted through a hole in the chamber's ceiling.

View a slideshow about the boat here.

"We are currently reviewing a Japanese proposal to fully excavate the wood fragments and rebuild the boat. The project will take five years and will cost $10 million," Hawass told Discovery News in a phone interview.

Archaeologists have long known the existence of a boat buried 10 meters (33 feet) below the last resting place of the 4th dynasty Pharoah Khufu (2589-2566 B.C.), or "Cheops" as the Greeks called him.

Two pits carved into the bedrock came to light in 1954, when a mountain of debris was cleared from the south face of the Great Pyramid.

Almost perfectly preserved, the cedar timbers excavated from the first pit were painstakingly reassembled into an extraordinary boat. About 142 feet long and made of 1,224 components, Khufu's first ship now stands resurrected in a specially built museum near the Great Pyramid.

While evidence of a second pit very near to the first one was noted first in 1954, it took some 31 years before Egyptian authorities investigated the underground chamber by inserting a camera through thick slabs of stone in 1985.

Now a Japanese team from Waseda University, led by Egyptologist Sakuji Yoshimura, has submitted a proposal to excavate, restore, rebuild and transport the boat along with its mate to the Grand Egyptian Museum. Without a prompt intervention, the vessel would be at risk of serious damage, the Japanese team said.

Soane's Museum fundraising given a boost


Charitable trusts endowed by the late Simon Sainsbury and Paul Getty are giving 1.1 million pounds ($2.2 million) to the Sir John Soane's Museum, bringing the London attraction closer to its 6 million pound fundraising goal after the U.K. Lottery refused a grant request.

The Monument Trust, funded by Sainsbury, has pledged 1 million pounds toward the museum's planned revamp, which would open up rooms and boost visitor access, the museum said in a release issued for a press presentation. The J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust has given 125,000 pounds for stained-glass refurbishment.

“It may not be large and trendy, but this most British and eccentric of all house museums has a special place in the hearts of all who know it,” the Soane's director, Tim Knox, said in the press release. “We still need help” . . . . .

Soane was architect of the original Bank of England building and of the Dulwich Picture Gallery as well as a Royal Academy architecture professor. The house -- a small maze of rooms with lunettes, concave mirrors and skylights -- has treasures worthy of the Louvre: the engraved sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, Hogarth's “A Rake's Progress” series of paintings and pictures by Canaletto.

44 thousand tourists attended sound and light shows in Abu Simbel

Egypt State Information Service

The number of tourists who attended the sound and light shows at the temple of Ramses II and Nefertari in Abu Simbel city during the past six months reached 44 thousands of different nationalities.

Director of the Sound and Light area in Abu Simbel, Ali Mahmoud said that the shows are presented through using the most up-to-date sound technology in 9 universal languages. He noted that shows in Spanish and French occupied the first rank with regards to the number of tourists.

'The land, my lord, will be lost forever'


"To the king my lord and my sun: These are the words of your servant, Belit-nesheti [literally, "mistress of lions/lionesses"]. I fall at the king's feet seven times over. I must tell the king that this country is witnessing [acts of] hostility and that the land of the king, my lord, will be lost forever."

A Canaanite queen from one of the cities in Palestine's lowland sent this desperate request in the 14th century B.C.E. to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The name of the city ruled by Belit-nesheti is not mentioned in this letter or in others that depict violent acts that aroused in her a justified feeling that she was facing a dire threat.

During that period, the city of Gezer, and the Ajalon and Sorek valleys were the scene of events that seriously challenged the rule of Belit-nesheti and other monarchs.

Students help decipher ancient Egyptian writings

ABC 7 News

Eighteen students from around the world are giving new life to ancient Egyptian documents at Stanford University this summer.

The students are helping to decipher 70 texts from Stanford's collection of several hundred papyri.

At first glance, the ancient Egyptian writings look like scraps of garbage. They were used to plaster over mummies. Now they are clues to everyday life more than 2,000 years ago.

Los dioses aterrizaron Saqqara

La Comunidad on El Pais

Articulo realizado por Manuel José Delgado y publicado en la revista "AÑO CERO" en Junio de 1997.


En la necrópolis de Saqqara, inexplicablemente, no se ha encontrado ni un solo cuerpo de faraón. Es la más fascinante de Egipto y la que oculta un mayor número de enigmas. Bien interpretados, los restos allí encontrados pueden arrojar luz sobre algo que hasta ahora sólo es una sospecha bien fundada: los antiguos egipcios aprendieron tecnologías de origen extraterrestre o, cuando menos, de civilizaciones desconocidas para la historia. Hasta tal punto que podrían haber descifrado el genoma humano y habrían sido capaces incluso de construir naves espaciales y misiles, cuarenta siglos antes que nosotros.

Tras el reinado de Menes, legendario fundador de Memphis, las dos siguientes dinastías (la II y la III) continúan su obra. Egipto se reafirma entonces como un país sólido en constante crecimiento. La nación pasa a contar con una capital y con una administración y la institución real se fortalece. Cuando Zóser llega al poder, se inicia el Antiguo Imperio, allá por el siglo XXVII a.C. Zóser (Djoser) significa en lengua egipcia «el prestigioso, el admirable, el sagrado». Manetón le llama Tosorthos y precisa que con él se inicia la III Dinastía. Durante este periodo se le nombra con el patronímico de Neterierjet (que significa más divino que el cuerpo de los dioses).

Se sabe que Zóser reinó en un país unificado dual formado por el Alto y el Bajo Egipto. Debió ser un rey autoritario pero justo, tanto que se le rindió homenaje y dejó fama de hombre sabio y competente. Escribió libros didácticos para indicar a los futuros faraones la actitud justa a seguir ante dioses y hombres.

Oasis in Egypt

The National, UAE (Simon Mars)

Oh alright, so it's not really anything to do with either Egyptology or travel in Egypt, but I found it interesting:

It’s not supposed to be like this. The desert does not give up its grip lightly. Yet some 60 kilometres north-east of Cairo, what should have been (and was 30 years ago) a parched dry scrubland of desert and rock is now a place of vivid green, a patchwork of fields rich in fruits, and vegetables, herbs and spices, all contained within a network of mud brick walls and spotless lanes that lead through avenues of tall trees to the Sekem farm.

Today Sekem produces fruits and vegetables; herbs, spices and seedlings; milk; cotton for textiles and clothing and phytopharmaceuticals (natural medicines, medicinal teas and healthcare products). Everything, including the cotton, is organic.

The first impression when you arrive and breathe in the pure scent of herbs, spices and acacia trees is that it shouldn’t be here. It doesn’t make sense, surrounded as it is by a dry country on the edge of Cairo’s suburban sprawl. But then you meet Dr Ibrahim Abouleish, the man whose vision and laughter and unbounded optimism brought Sekem into being in 1977, and you begin to understand: perhaps the land had no alternative but to surrender to his infectious will.

Exhibition: A mummy of a tale

Surrey Museum's current exhibit Egypt: Gift of the Nile, on loan from the Royal Ontario Museum, reveals secrets about at least one mummy.

The exhibit includes a reproduction of a cartonnage -- a shell-like coffin of linen and glue that housed the mummy of a middle-class Egyptian woman named Djedmaatesankh, who died some 500 years after King Tutankhamen's death. It is inscribed with pictures of gods and protective entities and with Djedmaatesankh's image in gold.

These images tell a story of her life.

Djedmaatesankh's cartonnage surfaced at the Royal Ontario Museum sometime in the early 1900s. Recently, secrets about her life and death were revealed using a CT scanner and computer system that turns the scans into three-dimensional pictures. Without disturbing Djedmaatesankh's mummy, technicians peeled away layers, revealing the structure of the cartonnage, then the linens in which the mummy was wrapped, then her skin and bones, and finally the embalmed and packaged internal organs.

Travel: Experiencing Egypt (Patti Nickell)

After a four-hour flight from London that landed in Cairo just after midnight, all I wanted to do was fall into bed, but the bellhop who showed me to my room at the Mena House Hotel was in a particularly chatty mood. Drawing back my drapes and indicating the inky blackness, he smiled and whispered conspiratorially, ”You can't see them now, of course, but they're out there.“

It occurred to me that my smiling bellhop was in some kind of Egyptian Witness Protection Program and that ”they“ were coming for him, not me. Taking comfort in that thought, I fell into bed and slept soundly until a blistering ball of sun, pouring through the partly open curtains, served as my wake-up call.

Opening the curtains all the way, I gaped in surprise, realizing just what my bellhop had meant the night before. ”They“ certainly were out there — right beyond my balcony — huge, mysterious and more than a little menacing: the pyramids of Giza, including the Great Pyramid, the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. I gulped, the first of many times I would do this over the next eight days. Egypt has that effect on people.

Ever since the fourth grade, when I wrote a report on Egypt for United Nations Week, I have had an insatiable desire to visit the Land of the Pharaohs. Now, here I was, on Abercrombie & Kent's ­”Highlights of Egypt“ tour. More than once, over the course of those eight days, the concept of trying to cram 5,000 years of history into such a short time frame made me smile. But no one can say I didn't try.

See the above page for more.

Exhibition: Tutankhamun to visit Atlanta

Fayette Front Page

The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University brings Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs to Atlanta this fall in partnership with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International and presenting sponsor Northern Trust. Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great

Pharaohs will be exhibited in Atlanta’s historic Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center from November 15 to May 25. The exhibition, spanning 2,000 years of history, will include more than 130 artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun and other ancient Egyptian sites. This is the first time these treasures will be seen in the Southeast. To complement the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Civic Center, the Carlos Museum will showcase at its Emory campus location the photography of Harry Burton, the photographer who documented the Tutankhamun excavation when the tomb was discovered in 1922.

“The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University is honored to bring to Atlanta one of the greatest artistic and cultural legacies of the ancient world. The people of Georgia will be able to experience first-hand the impact and relevance of these extraordinary treasures and we look forward to offering an array of educational programs to further illuminate the life and times of King Tutankhamun and the great pharaohs of Egypt,” said Bonnie Speed, Director of the Carlos Museum.

The Carlos Museum is home to one of the few Egyptian collections in the southeastern United States as well as the only institution in Georgia dedicated to the research and display of ancient Egyptian art and culture. King Tutankhamun, endearingly called the “boy king,” will find a welcoming community in which to reside for a short while. Speaking of the Carlos Museum at the April 2 announcement, Mayor Shirley Franklin said, “Those of us who live in Atlanta have access to the wonders of the world’s civilizations right in our backyard.”

Travel: Temples and hot air balloons

The Mirror (David Walker)

MEN have always been intoxicated by the heady trappings of power and ego.

The proof? Pretend youre Doctor Who and take a trip back in time to Egypt. There you can view some of the worlds most incredible temples and statues dating back over 3,500 years.

Invariably, the biggest and most imposing monuments will be in honour of Ramses II. He was the ruler who did everything on a grand scale including fathering 110 children by eight wives.

Our trip to Egypt was built around a cruise down the Nile on the Viking Premiere. We flew into Luxor to meet the boat and then sailed south to Aswan. There were many memorable moments, but the highlight has to be the sight of Abu Simbel. The great sun temple of you know who, Ramses II.

Ramses was adamant the world should be impressed by his power and glory. To emphasise the point he had four 60ft statues (of himself of course!) hewn from the mountainside in southern Egypt.

The scale is staggering. You're left wondering how did they do it. Then you realise that in the 1960s the awesome temple had to be moved. Yes, man can move mountains.

The Egyptians needed another water supply apart from the Nile, so they built Lake Nasser. Abu Simbel would have been flooded so was cut into 1,041 blocks, moved on to higher ground and a mountain constructed to match the original setting.

Don't think you're short-changed though. Its an epic place and the preserved, interior walls featuring scenes from battles are superb.

Getting to Abu Simbel isn't that easy though. The boat had docked at Aswan and we had a 3.30am start to join a convoy of coaches heading through the desert to reach Abu Simbel by 10am.

Conference: Biodiversity in Agriculture

Harlan II Symposium

Relevant to Egyptology but unlikely to make it onto the usual Egyptology news streams, so here's a quick plug for it. I wish I could go but California is too far and too expensive:

BIODIVERSITY IN AGRICULTURE: Domestication, Evolution, & Sustainability

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the UC Davis Campus —

Agricultural biodiversity is now at the crux of several societal trends and concerns that have gradually surfaced over the last decades. These include an increasing interest in the origin of agriculture as a major milestone in the evolution of humans; concerns about the loss of biodiversity not only of crops and farm animals and their wild relatives, but also natural ecosystems in general; an awareness of the role of agricultural biodiversity in ecosystem function and agricultural sustainability; and the public’s interest in learning more about food, fiber, and feed production, as it relates to the quality and health of agricultural products and the environmental impact of agricultural production.

Our knowledge of the processes that affect agricultural biodiversity, in both plants and animals, has increased considerably in the recent years since an international symposium was held in Aleppo, Syria in May 1997 [“The Origins of Agriculture and the Domestication of Crop Plants in the Near East”, dedicated to Jack R. Harlan, 1917–1998, evolutionary biologist and plant explorer].

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mummies cover-up reversed at Manchester

MANCHESTER Museum has reversed its decision to cover up its Egyptian mummies in response to public opinion.

The museum covered up three unwrapped mummies on display, sparking accusations of political correctness, two months ago.

The cover-up was part of a consultation on how the mummies will be displayed when the museum's ancient Egypt gallery is redeveloped.

Nick Merriman, museum director, has said one of the mummies will now be left partially unwrapped in its original display state, while another will be partially covered, leaving its head, hands and feet exposed.

The decision to reveal more of the mummies came following a meeting of the museum's human remains panel.

Mr Merriman said: "We started the consultation process with a total covering of three of the museum's unwrapped mummies.

The post at the Manchester Website blog, which started all the discussion, can be found at:

See the above for more. My original posts regarding this subject can be found at:

Rock Art Topographical Survey - Second Edition

Thanks very much to Christopher Coleman for letting me know that the second edition of the Eastern Desert Rock Art Topographical Survey (edited by Maggie and Mike Morrow) has been announced and is due to be published in November 2008. This is a fully revised edition of the original catalouge of over 150 rock art sites, accompanied by a new indexed DVD providing colour images selected from the Desert RATS archives. Over 1000 photographs will be published in the book over 248 pages, 16 of which will be in full colour. Analysis of many of the sites will be revised and additional details and identifications will be included. There will be twelve pages focusing on the important but inadequately published Hammamat Schist Quarry. The accompanying DVD will contain over 2500 photographs and additional supporting material.

It will cost £45.00UKP plus postage and packaging. Full details will be shown on the Bloomsbury Summer School website.

If you want to register an interest to be kept informed of progress you can contact the Desert RATS organizers by email ( or post (The Director, Bloomsbury Summer School, Department of History, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK. Please provide the following details:

  • Name
  • Email address (if available)
  • Landline telephone number
  • Mobile telephone number
  • Address
  • Zip/Post code
  • Country

Theban Mapping Project website updated?

VOA News

Thanks to Rhio Barnhart for pointing me at this item recommending the Theban Mapping Project website:

Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations. Our web guide is VOA's Art Chimes.

The latest Indiana Jones film is likely to remind people about the thrill of archaeology. Well, maybe not the adventure, romance and bullwhip-cracking thrill of the Harrison Ford version, but the excitement of discovering the past is still there.

The Middle East has always been a rewarding place for excavating the past. It certainly has been for Dr. Kent Weeks, who has spent decades mapping the burial place of Egypt's Pharaohs at Thebes, the capital of ancient Egypt. In 2000, he and his colleagues published an atlas that mapped out the Valley of the Kings.

WEEKS: "And it struck us at that time that it would be especially useful if, instead of just publishing a hard copy of the atlas, we could also put it up online. And so we established a website that put our atlas up, along with elaborately detailed descriptions of all of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. And, well, as of last count, around 8,500 color photographs of the decorations on their walls."

It is a very long time since I've heard any news about the TMP and its plans for the site, and it is a long time since I've visited it, but it looks to me as though they have a new image database advertised in the What's New section on their home page.

Exhibition: Egipto muestra su relación con el agua a través del arte

La Voz de Asturias

An exhibition focusing on the relationship between ancient Egypt and the importance of water to the civilization:

Entre las pantallas interactivas, los carteles y las maquetas de las intervenciones de la mayoría de los países participantes en la Expo, Egipto ha decidido traer algo más a Ranillas. Su pabellón expone una muestra del arte de los fondos del museo de El Cairo, doce piezas "que demuestran la importante relación entre los egipcios y el agua", según aseguró ayer el embajador egipcio en España, Yasser Morad, durante la celebración del Día Nacional de este país.

Morad se mostró satisfecho de poder presentar el resultado de un largo proceso y de haber conseguido traer las obras a "una tierra tan hospitalaria", ya que nunca antes se habían mostrado en público. "Es una pequeña muestra, por lo cercana y por lo querida, pero muy apreciada por el trabajo que ha supuesto", aseguró el representante egipcio.

En concreto, se trata de cinco maquetas de embarcaciones de madera, procedentes de las excavaciones de Meir y de Saqqara, que ilustran escenas cotidianas del antiguo Egipto como la navegación fluvial, la pesca, la recolección de papiro o la vida militar.

Eastern Desert - renewed gold production

Monday Morning

This may appear to be slightly off-topic, but it is of interest in terms of the potential damage to the Eastern Desert that the mining might inflict on the archaeology. I've written on my Eastern Desert website both about gold exploitation in Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman periods and about the damage that existing quarrying has inflicted on the rock art. Just something to bear in mind.

Egypt, which stopped gold production in 1958, will produce eight tons of the metal from mines in its Eastern Desert in 2009, said Hussein Hammouda, chairman of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority.

Egypt, whose people once considered gold to be the skin of the gods, is revisiting ancient gold deposits, some unworked for 2,000 years.

One of the mines which has started production has a reserve of 13 million ounces of gold, Hammouda said, adding, “Once this mine becomes fully operational, it won’t be only one of the biggest in Africa, but one of the biggest worldwide”.

Egypt’s gold production stopped in 1958 because the volume mined was considered too small to be profitable. The country produced 7.4 tons from 1902 to 1958.

“We’re planning to produce eight tons of gold in 2009, which is more than what Egypt produced in a century”, Hammouda explained.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Core drilling reveals Predynastic presence in Delta

Science Daily

A small but significant find made during a geological survey provides evidence of the oldest human presence yet discovered along the northernmost margin of Egypt's Nile delta.

A rock fragment carried by humans to the site was discovered in a sediment core section north of Burullus lagoon near the Mediterranean coast.

Radiocarbon analysis of plant-rich matter in the mud surrounding the object provides a date of 3350 to 3020 B.C., the late Predynastic period.

This long, thin object, formed of dolomite, had not been deposited by the Nile or the sea, but was collected and transported from an outcrop exposure positioned at least 160 kilometers south of the core site. The fragile object lay buried at a depth of 7.5 meters in dark mud deposited in a brackish lagoon setting close to a marsh.

Stanley et al.'s fortuitous find documents an early human presence in the mid-Holocene wetlands along the delta's paleocoast, a sector where traditional excavation and augering are normally incapable of reaching zones of ancient human activity now at considerable subsurface depths.

Journal reference: Jean-Daniel Stanley et al. August 2008 Geology, Pages 599-602.

BMSAES 9, August 2008


British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan. The British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan (BMSAES) is a peer-reviewed academic journal, dedicated to presenting research on all aspects of ancient Egypt and Sudan. The articles do not need to concern British Museum objects or projects.

This issue features three papers from the Annual Egyptological Colloquium held at the British Museum in summer 2007: The ‘Head of the South’: current research in Upper Egypt, south of Thebes (July 12–13). It is intended that further papers from the colloquium will appear in a future issue of BMSAES.

Visitors to the British Museum website may have noticed that the collection of the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan is now available through the Museum's Collection database online, through which visitors can order images for academic publication, free of charge.


Dietrich Raue
Who was who in Elephantine of the third millennium BC?

Luc Limme
Elkab, 1937-2007: seventy years of Belgian archaeological research

Ilona Regulski
The rock inscriptions at el-Hôsh

Rock art at Qurta - INORA 51 2008

International Newsletter on Rock Art (in PDF Format)

Thanks very much to Dr Dirk Huyge for letting me know that an article about his work at Qurta is available on the above website, free of charge. The article is accompanied by a map of the site's location and some lovely images. Here's a short extract:


The recent discovery (2004-2007) of a vast open air complex of Late Palaeolithic rock art in Upper Egypt, announced in the Project Gallery of the British journal Antiquity (Huyge et al. 2007), has aroused worldwide interest making it already well-known among the international
rock art community. The particular circumstances of this find, which is, at least in part, a rediscovery, have been detailed in the above-mentioned Internet publication and will not be repeated here.

Late Palaeolithic naturalistic-style petroglyphs in Egypt are thus far known from two locations: locality 11 at Abu Tanqura Bahari at el-Hosh (henceforth ATB11) and Qurta (Fig. 1). At Qurta three sites have been localized bearing this type of rock art: Qurta I, II and III (henceforth QI, QII and QIII) (Fig. 2-3). In all, slightly less than 200 drawings have been identified: about 35 at ATB11 and about 160 at Qurta. As the recording of the sites progresses, this number will definitely increase. Both at ATB11 and at Qurta, bovids are the major rock art theme (Fig. 4-6). These animals are undoubtedly aurochs or Bos primigenius. No less than 70 percent of the rock drawings represent this species. Other types of fauna include birds (at least 7 examples) (Fig. 7), hippopotami (at least 3 examples), gazelle (at least 3 examples) (Fig. 7), fish (2 examples) and donkey (1 example). In addition, there are also (at least) 9 stylised representations of human figures (mostly shown with pronounced buttocks, but no other bodily features) (Fig. 8).

If you are intersted in rock art you should check out the other articles in the newsletter too - and don't miss other INORA issues.