Friday, August 29, 2008

New Egyptian Gallery at the British Museum to Open in Winter

Art Daily

This is very exciting news. The Nebamun paintings are famous for their delicate beauty, the best known of which is shown to the right. To see more of the Nebamun paintings go to the British Museum Collection Database and type in "Nebamun". To see a large version of the image to the right click on the image, which will take you to the dedicated page on the British Museum website, where there is also a full description.

This winter the British Museum will open a new Ancient Egyptian gallery centered round the spectacular painted tomb-chapel of Nebamun. The paintings are some of the most famous images of Egyptian art, and come from the now lost tomb-chapel of Nebamun, an accountant in the Temple of Amun at Karnak who died c. 1350 BC, a generation or so before Tutankhamun. They show him at work and at leisure - surveying his estates and hunting in the marshes. An extensive conservation project – the largest in the Museum’s history – has been undertaken on the eleven large fragments which will go on public display for the first time in nearly ten years.

The tomb-paintings were acquired by the Museum in the 1820s and were constantly on display until the late 1990s. Since then, the fragile wall-paintings have been meticulously conserved, securing them for at least the next fifty years. The project has provided numerous new insights into the superb technique of the painters called by one art-historian ‘antiquity’s equivalent to Michelangelo’ - with their exuberant compositions, astonishing depictions of animal life and unparalleled handling of textures. New research and scholarship have enabled new joins to be made between the fragments, allowing a better understanding of their original locations in the tomb. They will now be re-displayed together for the first time in a setting designed to recreate their original aesthetic impact and to evoke their original position in a small intimate chapel. The gallery will include another fragment for the same tomb-chapel on loan from the Egyptian Museum, Berlin. Drawing on the latest research and fieldwork at Luxor, a computer ‘walk-through’ of the reconstructed tomb-chapel will be available in gallery with an interactive version online.

See the above page for the full story.

Answer to my Gilf Kebir translation request

Thanks very much to Phil Durbidge who answered my plea for help re translating a page. He used Google Translate to decipher it. It didn't even occur to me to try a translation engine because they are usually so dire, but I will keep a more open mind in the future! Here's what Phil's attempts on my behalf produced, for anyone else who shares an interest (I've left it exactly as Google Translate produced it):

In autumn 2008 the first Czech scientific expedition into the depths of the Western desert, in the area is still little known Gilf the Kebíru (south-western edge of the territory of today's Egypt). Hence comes the ancient monuments of indigenous peoples Sahara, who finally settle the Nile valley, and participated in the birth of ancient Egyptian civilization. The aim will be to map these sites and study the natural environment, geology and geomorphology.

The expedition is planned for 21 days and will participate Czech experts many scientific focus.

The expedition is funded partly from sources GA Czech Republic, part of the donation of private sponsors - the sponsorship.

There is still sháníme means to purchase goods off-road vehicle with a value of 800 000, -.

This expedition is one of the official events held on the occasion of the celebration of fifty years of existence Czech Institute of Egyptology Charles University.

Media partner for the project is the National Geographic Czech Republic.

Digitizing Egypt's memory

Egypt Daily Star News

Now people around the world interested in the different eras of Egypt's heritage can access information and download pictures online, through the new e-shop

Yesterday IBM organized a media conference in cooperation with the Egyptian Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT) of Bibliotheca Alexandrina at the Smart Village to launch the website.

Through the conference, professor Fathi Saleh, CULTINAT director, engineer Amr Ghoneim, IBM general manager, and engineer Hania Saleh, CULTINAT project coordinator, introduced the website and gave a slide show presentation to help attendees to understand their ideas and objectives.

The website gives users around the world the opportunity to purchase pictures relating to Egyptian history and society in different eras: Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic.

The website also provides publications, namely books and CDs, such as the “Atlas of Archeological Sites,” “Guide to the Plants of Ancient Egypt,” “Encyclopedia of Great Arab Music Figures” and “Thesaurus of Egyptian Folklore.”

The material from Egypt Memory’s mainly come from, which was launched earlier in cooperation between CULTNAT, Supreme Council for Antiquities and IBM.

See the above page for more details.

Exhibition: More re Queens Of Egypt in Monaco

14-photograph slideshow from the exhibition:

Visitors to the Queens of Egypt exhibition, in Monaco, are plunged into 3,000 years of the country's history in this lavish, $4.2m show. The focus falls on the three star acts - Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut - but the show also looks at the role of Egypt's ancient queens as mothers, priestesses and powerful politicians. Take a sneak peek around the show ..

New Book: Philae and the End of Ancient Egyptian Religion

Dijkstra J.H.F.,
Philae and the End of Ancient Egyptian Religion. A Regional Study of Religious Transformation (298-642 CE)
Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 173

The famous island of Philae, on Egypt's southern frontier, can be considered the last major temple site where Ancient Egyptian religion was practiced. According to the Byzantine historian Procopius, in 535-537 CE the Emperor Justinian ordered one of his generals to end this situation by destroying the island's temples. This account has usually been accepted as a sufficient explanation for the end of the Ancient Egyptian cults at Philae. Yet it is by no means unproblematic. This book shows that the event of 535-537 has to be seen in a larger context of religious transformation at Philae, which was more complex and gradual than Procopius describes it. Not only are the various Late Antique sources from and on Philae taken into account, for the first time the religious developments at Philae are also placed in a regional context by analyzing the sources from the other major towns in the region, Syene
(Aswan) and Elephantine.

Order online:

Some recent open access journal material

Ancient World Bloggers

Charles Ellwood Jones, who is almost an icon in the information sharing world, has published a list of open source material on the Ancient World Bloggers Group. The material includes items on Egypt and Nubia in Spanish, French and English. Have a look at the above page for more details.

Call for Papers - BANEA 2009

Another conference which has a particularly good theme, which should be of interest to some visitors. There's no website just yet.

BANEA 2009 - Networks of Movement in SW Asia

The next BANEA conference will be hosted by Department of Archaeology, Durham University,
8th, 9th and 10th of January 2009.

The theme, Networks of Movement in SW Asia, is intended to unite widely disparate areas of the greater Near East, and necessarily will encompass a region extending from South Asia to Egypt. Networks of movement have been fundamental to the development of society and economy in the region throughout the past 10,000 years and include systems of movement, trade, maritime and overland routes, population diasporas, and material culture. We therefore invite session and lecture titles that approximate to this theme.

The Keynote Lecture will be held on the evening of 8th January, and will be delivered by Professor Steve Mithen, University of Reading, who will report on the work of his project 'Water, Life and Civilization' which has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

We emphasize that Durham BANEA also welcomes sessions and lectures that are "off-theme"; for example one session will be devoted to the topic of Recent Fieldwork in the Near East.

Further details on the venue, programme, accommodation etc will be circulated in due course.
Please send suggested session or lecture titles and abstracts to:

Due date for individual papers (as word files): November 1st 2008
Speakers should include full contact details.

As session titles will need to be finalised rather earlier than the individual lectures, the final date for receiving notification of sessions for consideration will be 1st October 2008 (again as word files). Organizers of sessions should supply the title of their session and the names of at least three speakers who have already agreed to participate to:

Graham Philip, T.J. Wilkinson, Eleanor Wilkinson, Matt Whincop

Daily Photo - More Late 18th Dynasty faience from the Petrie


Copyright: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology,
University College London
With my thanks

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Problems with Blogger

I have finally managed to update the blog, but it was a complete nightmare - apologies for all the test messages. I don't know whether it's the Blogger service or me. For some reason the underlying HTML of my posts was unacceptable, although I wasn't doing anything different and I couldn't see what the problem with the HTML was myself. Anyway, apologies for the odd formatting on some of the posts. I daresay I'll get to the bottom of it all eventually.

Update re Grand Museum in Cairo

Egypt State Information Service

"The second phase of establishing the new Grand Museum is nearing completion," Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni said during the press conference which he held on Monday 25/8/2008 after his meeting with the international teamwork, chaired by the British expert Stephen Grenburg who is charged with designing the Grand Egyptian Museum.

He added that the museum will be an architectural and civilizational masterpiece by all means to be added to the great works of the ancient Egyptians.

The museum is being established on 117 feddans on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road at a total cost of $300 million.

The Minister said the designs of the third phase are almost finished. “We have six months to go,” he noted.

He said the main building of the museum will be opened in 2011, adding that the museum would display up to 100,000 monuments and artifacts.

Hosni projected that up to seven million tourists would visit the museum annually after its opening.

Egypt Daily Star News

The project kicked off in February 2002 when President Hosni Mubarak lay the first brick of the foundation at the sprawling construction site.

The decision came after authorities realized the Egyptian Museum in Tahir Square, located in the heart of Cairo, was overflowing with artifacts.

“The Egyptian Museum now is so crammed with artifacts. It is going to stay but we will be relocating some artifacts,” explained Salah.

“The new museum will be able to accommodate 15,000 visitors per day. The place is breathtaking especially with the Pyramids in the background,” he added.

However, not everyone is hailing the move. Renowned Egyptian architect Mamdouh Hamza disagreed with the Ministry of Culture’s decision to build the GEM in Remaya Square, saying that the area is congested with traffic and the museum will only cause more traffic problems. The atmosphere will be inappropriate for tourists, he added, since the area is also heavily polluted.

Hamza also said that not enough studies were conducted before deciding on the location.

New Egyptian gallery at Ipswich Museum

EADT24 (John Howard)

A NEW Egyptian Gallery is being created at Ipswich Museum to display artefacts including a mummy mask, amulets and scarabs.

The Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service announced today that it has secured a £50,000 grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Wolfson Foundation, which will provide vital funds towards the area.

From the Mummy's Tomb gallery will involve the redevelopment of part of the building to house eight new display cases and some of the extremely important objects in the site's collection.

It will feature objects including the gilded mummy Mask of Titos Flavius Demetrios and will see the service's most significant Egyptian item, The Coffin of Lady Tahathor from Thebes, currently on display in Colchester Castle, moved to the town.

Judy Terry, Ipswich Borough Council's arts, culture and leisure portfolio holder, said: “The securing of these funds is fantastic

“The current Egyptian Gallery is one of the most popular parts of the museum with our visitors and its development is sure to be a very exciting project.

See the above page for more details. Ipswich is in the UK. The museum has its own website for anyone interested in visiting.

Exhibition: More re Queens Of Egypt in Monaco

Guardian Weekly

In the summer of 2007 the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco devoted a lavish exhibition to the memory of Princess Grace. Pursuing its policy of organising spectacular and costly summer exhibitions, the forum currently offers a show devoted to the "Queens of Egypt", which covers an area of 4,000 square metres and cost $4.2m to stage. Visitors are plunged into 3,000 years of Egyptian antiquity covering the reigns of Nefertiti, Cleopatra and many other queens. Laudably, the exhibition aims to throw new light on a little explored aspect of Egyptology: the role of women in the upper reaches of power.

In organising the show, Christine Ziegler, who was honorary chief curator of the department of Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre Museum in Paris until 2007, has tried "to construct a discourse on a complex subject that is both scholarly and intelligible to the great majority of people". Scholarly but accessible? The show strives constantly, but not always successfully, to strike a balance between the two.

While there is some sense in resorting to papier-mâché when evoking the myth of Cleopatra and Hollywood films, elsewhere the top-heavy design rather swamps the delicately wrought treasures brought together by Ziegler in her bid to bring her heroines to life. These include, in addition to other less well-known queens, Hatshepsut, whose face, painted in red on limestone, dates from 1479-1458BC; Nefertiti, whose face, sculpted in stone around 1350BC, radiates a very modern charm; and Cleopatra, immortalised as a Greek beauty, but minus her nose, in a 30BC marble.

Art Daily

With a fabulous photograph of one of the exhibits.

The exhibition starts with Cleopatra, the most popular Egyptian queen although she was actually of Greek origin. From the mythical image of Cleopatra now so familiar from films and advertising we move on to the historical figure revealed by archaeology and documents. The exhibition ends with another queen, less familiar to the general public: Queen Tausert whose tomb can now be visited in the Valley of Kings. She was the inspiration for Théophile Gautier’s well-known novel The Romance of a Mummy.

Between these two, the exhibition takes visitors on a fabulous journey of discovery through Ancient Egypt and the many facets of its royal women. First, their social status. Their titles were based on their relationship to the reigning king: they were called “mother of the king” or “wife of the king”; in some cases a pharaoh gave the title of “wife of the king” to a daughter, otherwise princesses were “daughters of the king”. Visitors are shown how the pharaoh’s close links with several generations of women probably derive from Egyptian mythology, the mother/wife/daughter association being a symbol of perpetual creation. Thus the Egyptian queens played a fundamental role in the renewal of royal power and in the pharaoh’s survival in the afterlife.

We then enter one of the most famous harems, at Gurob. Christiane Ziegler has entrusted this section to her assistant Marine Yoyotte, who is writing a doctorate thesis on the subject. The king had many secondary wives, some of whom were foreign princesses taken in marriage to strengthen alliances with neighbouring powers. Most of the royal household’s women and children lived together in institutions usually referred to as harems. A harem was both a centre of social activity and an economic hub, by no means shielded from the turbulence of political life. Echoes of palace plots hatched there from the age of the pyramids on have come down to us through the centuries.

Request for help - short translation from Czech (third link in the left hand menu)

Whilst looking at links on the previous Bahariya post I stumbled across this page, which describes details of an expedition to the Gilf Kebir in 2008. Anyone who is a long time reader of this blog will know of my attachment to the area. However I was unaware of a Czech expedition - could someone who speaks the language give me the gist of what the above page says? I would be very grateful. It is a VERY short page and I just need an overview of what it is saying.

Thanks in advance,

Bahariya workshop

Here's another one of those conferences which I've picked out from the usual collection because it is slightly unusual. Baharaiya is the northernmost of the Western Desert oases.

Czech Institute of Egyptologyof the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Geoinformatics Laboratory of the J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem have the pleasure of inviting you to participate in the Bahariya workshop.

2nd call for papers

The workshop will be held on 9–10 December 2008 at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, at Nám. Jana Palacha 2, Prague 1.

The workshop marks the conclusion of the second phase of the research project pursued by the Czech team in the El Hayez Oasis since 2003. The workshop shall bring together experts from different fields of science engaged in the exploration of the Bahariya Oasis and the northern part of the Western Desert of Egypt, to share and discuss the theoretical and methodological challenges of archaeological research and survey of the oases and adjacent desert areas, the results achieved so far, and the possibilities of reconstruction of the local environment and the cultural and social development in the area in prehistory as well as in historic periods.

Abstracts and contributions

Please send an abstract of your contribution by September 22, 2008. Abstracts should not exceed 150 words. Contributions should be approximately 20 minutes long with additional 10 minutes for discussion. The workshop's working languages are English (preferred), German, and French. The proceedings of the workshop shall appear in 2009.

Practical information

Accommodation will be provided for the speakers for the duration of the workshop.

Speakers participate free of charge. The registration fee for other participants and visitors is 40 EUR (20 EUR for doctoral students).

Contact information

Applications and enquiries concerning the workshop should be sent to

or addressed to:
Miroslav Bárta
Czech Institute of Egyptology
Charles University in Prague
Celetná 20

Lenka Suková
110 00 Praha 1
Fax. 00420221619618

Marek Dospěl

Sad news: Maria Hopf

I am sad to report that Maria Hopf, who was born in 1914, died at the age of 94 on August 24th 2008. Anyone interested in the domestication of plants and their use in the Near East will know here name. The book Domestication of Plants of the Old World, which she co-authored with Daniel Zohary, is a classic and remains an essential resource on the subject.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pharmacy and Medicine in Ancient Egypt

Oriente Antigo

Thanks to Paula Veiga for the latest details of the upcoming Pharmacy and Medicine in Ancient Egypt conference in Manchester (1st - 3rd September 2008). Details of the conference programme are available at the above page.

For other conference information see the dedicated page on the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology section of the University of Manchester website.

This looks as though it is going to be a terrific conference. I wish that I could attend!

Daily Photo - freestanding block from Karnak

Many thanks to Thierry Benderitter for sending me this photograph of a lovely block from Karnak, probably from the Open Air Museum. The cartouches contain the names of Amenhotep III (Amenhotep Neb-Maat-Re).

I'll try to update the blog later today, but failing that it will have to be tomorrow. I need to drive up to town today to collect some things from a storage facility - and I'm already running late.
Reminder to self - PAY CONGESTION CHARGE.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meryteti details added to OsirisNet

Thanks very much to Thierry Benderitter for letting me know that the details of the mastaba of Meryteti, son of Mereruka, are now online at the excellent OsirisNet website.

These pages were created by Jon Hirst, with photographs contributed by Jon Hirst, Christian Marais, Verety Endal and the ACE publication:


After having released the mastaba of Mereruka some weeks ago, we can now go further into the complex with that of the mastaba of Meryteti, son of Mereruka. Though his rooms are clearly delineated from his father's, with them belonging to the same complex, many people do not even realise there are actually three different monuments in what is usually called the "Mastaba of Mereruka".

The third and last part of the complex, the mastaba of Wathekhetor, wife of Mereruka, is planned for some time in the future.


Nous vous avons proposé voici quelques semaines de découvrir le mastaba de Mererouka.

Comme signalé à l'époque, ce monument est en fait un complexe de trois mastabas différents : celui de Mererouka lui-même, celui de son fils Meryteti, et celui de son épouse Wathekhetor, ce qui échappe le plus souvent aux visiteurs.

Nous vous proposons aujourd'hui le second volet de ce monument passionnant : le mastaba de Meryteti, fils de Mererouka.

Le troisième et dernier volet, celui de Wathekhetor, est programmé, mais il faudra attendre quelques semaines / mois.

Je n'ai pas encore eu le temps de traduire l'original en Anglais, désolé le ferai le plus rapidement possible (avant fin septembre, c'est promis).

Bonne visite

Exhibition: Queens of Egypt receives 35,000 visitors

Egypt State Information Service

The Queens of Egypt exhibition inaugurated by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak in Monaco last month has already received more than 35,000 visitors.

The exhibition's organizers expect the number of visitors to reach 60,000 until September 10.

The exhibition, the first to be allocated to the wives, mothers and daughters of ancient Egyptian kings, occupies 4,000 square meters and showcases 250 pieces gathered from large museums in 15 world countries.

Book Review: The Secret of the Great Pyramid

Publishers Weekly

The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin. Collins/ Smithsonian

Since its construction 4,500 years ago for Pharaoh Khufu, the Great Pyramid of Giza has remained an engineering mystery. According to Egyptologist Brier (The Murder of Tutankhamen) and architect Houdin, the monument was designed by Khufu’s brother Hemienu, an architectural genius, and built in two decades by 25,000 paid Egyptian construction workers. Having studied the structure minutely and using computer graphics to visualize every aspect of the pyramid and its construction, Houdin offers a radical proposal of how the huge limestone and granite blocks were raised: the pyramid was built from the inside out around a mile-long ramp corkscrewed up to the top, which remains in the pyramid’s walls.

See the above page for the remainder of the short review.

Fiction review: The End of Sleep

New Yorker

The End of Sleep, by Rowan Somerville

In this madcap picaresque, we follow Fin, an Irish journalist, as he spends a day in the streets of Cairo pursuing a story of buried treasure that he believes will restore his floundering career at an English-language newspaper there. Fin seeks a “pacy linear narrative with obvious and satisfying climaxes,” but Somerville leads us, instead, down numerous back alleys and side streets, with frequent breaks for mint tea.

See the above page for the rest of this short review.

Early use and spread of domesticated animals

It's a very slow news day today, so here are a couple of off-topic items to keep you going:

Just when
did the cows come home?

The Jerusalem Post

Until now, researchers thought that the processing, storage and use of domesticated cow, sheep and goats' milk in the Middle East and the Balkans began around 5,000 BCE. But now an international team of archeologists, including an Israeli from the Hebrew University, have concluded on the basis of milk residue in over 2,200 pottery vessels from the area that it goes back 2,000 more years.

Dr. Yossef Garfinkel of HU's archeology institute and colleagues in the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Romania published their findings in a recent issue of Nature. The authors note that "the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place in the Near East" by the eighth millennium BCE. "Although there would have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these animals for their milk and other products..., the first clear evidence for this appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennium. Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practiced remain unknown."

But the scientists examined thousands of pottery vessels from the Middle East and southeastern Europe that were created seven to nine thousand years ago and found clear organic evidence that they contained milk lipids from domesticated animals.

The use of domesticated animals for milk, wool and pulling without killing them for meat "marks an important step in the history of domestication," they write. Some researchers have argued that as soon as animals are domesticated, the benefits of these products would have been exploited rapidly; others suggested that the lack of early evidence of arts, plows and milking scenes shows that domesticated animals were first exploited mostly for meat and hides.

Evidence of milk lipids on the pottery at Shikmim and Sha'ar Hagolan in Israel showed that dairy products were consumed here between the seventh and fourth millennia BCE, the article reported. The earliest use was in Turkey.

"Organic residues preserved in pottery not only extend the history, but show that milking was particularly important in areas more favorable to cattle, compared to other regions where sheep and goats were more common," they concluded.

How the first farmers colonized the Mediterranean

Visual Science

Many thanks to Jan Picton for sending this one to me. The article is accompanied by an excellent map.

The invention of agriculture was a pivotal event in human history, but archaeologists studying its origins may have made a simple error in dating the domestication of animals like sheep and goats. The signal of the process, they believed, was the first appearance in the archaeological record of smaller boned animals. But in fact this reflects just a switch to culling females, which are smaller than males, concludes Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution.

Using a different criterion, that of when herds first show signs of human management, Dr. Zeder finds that goats and sheep were first domesticated about 11,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought, with pigs and cattle following shortly afterwards. The map, from her article in the August 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the regions and dates where the four species were first domesticated. Other dates, color-coded as to species, show where domesticated animals first appear elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent.

The earlier dates mean that animals were domesticated at much the same time as crop plants, and bear on the issue of how this ensemble of new agricultural species – the farming package known as the Neolithic revolution – spread from the Near East to Europe.

Some experts say the technology spread by cultural diffusion, others that the first farmers themselves moved into Europe, bringing their new technology with them and displacing the resident hunter gatherers.

Daily Photo - Naqada I bowl, Ashmolean Museum

Naqada I period bowl, Ashmolean Museum

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Getty Conservation Institute to Study the Tomb of Tutankhamun

Many thanks to Fred Sierevogel for the above link. There are some lovely photographs of the tombs of Tutankhamun and Nefertari.

Since Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, there have been many questions and concerns about the state of conservation of the painted scenes that decorate its walls.

In order to be sure that there is no immediate danger to them, and that all possible measures are being taken to conserve and protect this important monument for future generations, the Getty Conservation Institute has agreed to conduct a comprehensive study of the tomb.

The GCI will examine such issues as what the spots might be that have been observed in the paintings for many years. The GCI has extensive expertise in administering such critical projects, as shown by their excellent handling of the conservation of the tomb of Nefertari, which was saved through the work of the great Italian conservator, Paolo Mora.

Book Review: Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt

STLtoday (Allen Barra)

Cleopatra has generated more fame — in the form of poems, paintings, books, plays and films — per known fact than any woman in history. As Joyce Tyldesley phrases it in her fascinating and irresistible biography, "Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt," "It is clearly never going to be possible to write a conventional biography of Cleopatra."

So Tyldesley has gone ahead and written one.

An archaeologist, author ("Daughters of Isis") and popular consultant for TV shows on ancient history, Tyldesley has chosen to re-create her subject by putting together the puzzle pieces of history that surround Cleopatra's life and legend.

"With an almost complete lack of primary sources," she writes, "we cannot hope to hear Cleopatra's true voice, and we are forced to see her through secondary eyes. … Few of us would wish to be judged this way."

True, but the queen, actually Cleopatra VII, would perhaps not be displeased with the impression she has made more than 2,000 years after her death. Of course, she might have some trouble understanding her story as it has taken us so long to put it into perspective.

See the above page for the full review.

Photograph of Bagawat


An exceptional black and white photograph of Bagawat in Kharga. Here's the caption, but go to the above page to see the photograph:

The Necropolis of Bagawat is a reminder of one of the most central battles of early Christianity; the dispute over the nature of Jesus. The 5th century bishop Nestorius was exiled to Bagawat (as the village was called) for having claimed that only one of Jesus' natures had suffered on the cross; the earthly nature, not the divine.

The large extent of the Necropolis of Bagawat is the result of his and his supporters' exile. The tombs here are believed to indicate that worship of the dead was continued in a Christian style.

There are 263 mud-brick chapels climbing up a ridge, the oldest dating back two centuries before Nestorius, the last dating back to the 7th century.

Travel: Nile cruise

Vancouver Sun (Mark Angelo)

As our plane approached the town of Aswan in southern Egypt, I could see the meandering Nile below. Beyond the line of the river and the green ribbon of lush irrigated lands that paralleled it, there was nothing but the vast sands of the Sahara.

The dramatic contrast between fertile riverside lands and the emptiness of the nearby desert exemplified the fact that virtually all life here is nurtured by the river. As the Greek philosopher Herodotus so aptly said, "Egypt is a gift of the Nile."

Over the years, I've been fortunate to explore much of this great river and, on this trip, I was returning with my wife to travel the Nile by boat from Aswan to the city of Luxor.

For first time visitors to Egypt, this is the most popular part of the river where one can catch a glimpse of rural Egypt and a way of life that has changed little over the centuries. At the same time, this stretch of the Nile, once the royal route of the pharaohs, is steeped in history with many of the world's best-known attractions of antiquity.

After landing in Aswan, we headed to the stately Old Cataract Hotel, which would be our base for a couple of days before heading down river. Located on a picturesque bend in the river, the hotel is a magnificent historic structure.

Built in 1899, the Old Cataract has a fascinating history in its own right and so captivated Agatha Christie that she stayed here to write much of her book, Death on the Nile. Many of the rooms have large decks overlooking the river which, with its palm-studded islands and granite outcroppings, is at its most beautiful. The sunsets from the hotel lounge are also legendary!

Minister of Culture: If an Arab headed UNESCO, reconciliation will be established

Egypt State Information Service

Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni candidate for the post of General Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that if an Arab personal headed the UNESCO this will contribute in finding a formula for reconciliation between East and West, especially in light of current problems.

He said that Islam is always accused by the west and there is always an East-West kind of battles and therefore I believe that if an Arab personal headed the UNESCO reconciliation can be achieved.

He said that he wants to convert UNESCO to a public organization and not just for the elite to serve the people, adding that we have to look at the organization as an entity to carry reforms in the ideas and vision of the organization to face the challenges.

He added that there are humanitarian challenges facing the Organization thus there is a need to implement a program of reconciliation among religions as all the divine religions are experiencing problems and there is also a reconciliation of man and nature.

He praised the efforts by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Higher Education to support his candidature for the post, saying that the Foreign Ministry made a wonderful effort and also the Ministry of Higher Education in contacting with UNESCO.

Travel: The Art of the Daytrip

Financial Times UK (Rahul Jacob)

When Florence Nightingale visited Abu Simbel in 1850, she was so moved by the sight of the four colossi of Ramses II that she returned a couple of times at dawn to look at them again. “The figures are clumsy ... excessively short from thigh to knee, the legs like posts. Yet no one would say that those faces were expressionless ... they will live in [the traveller’s] memory as the sublimest expression of spiritual and intellectual repose he has ever seen.” Nightingale’s experience of multiple visits to the site of the temples of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari was akin to a religious conversion. As the boat pulled away from Abu Simbel, “Our eyes were full of sand and tears,” she wrote.

Give or take that in the 1960s the temples have been moved about 200m behind and 61m above their original site in order to escape the rising waters of Lake Nasser – nothing about this extraordinary monument has changed, and yet everything has changed.

In the age of Airbus, Abu Simbel has become the ultimate day-trippers’ destination – an extreme example of the “been there, done that” tempo of our travel. Depart, say, by the EgyptAir 10:10am shuttle from Aswan and about 40 minutes later you will arrive in Abu Simbel, where a free bus takes you to the temples. Soon enough you will find yourself in front of the daunting statues with which Ramses II intended to intimidate his Nubian enemies coming into Egypt. It is quite a shock-and-awe campaign, even millennia later.

See the above page for the full story.

Daily Photo - Predynastic figurine from the Petrie

UC15155. Pottery figure of beak-faced woman wearing long white dress from above breasts to ankels-red slip portraying bare flesh- arms raised (but both missing) -feet missing. Broken at waist and repaired. 16.5cms. Naqada I (3500BCE-4000BCE).

Copyright: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology,
University College London
With my thanks

Friday, August 22, 2008

More re Manchester mummies

Thanks very much to Bob Partridge (editor of Ancient Egypt magazine) for copying me in on an update re the Manchester mummies. As I reported on on August 4th the Manchester mummies, which were covered up in May pending the outcome of a consultation re the public display of bodies, have now been uncovered. The reaction to the act of covering the mummies was immense and inspired some very useful discussion. A massive 85% of people wished to see the mummies back on display. The Museum's blog alone now has over 150 comments in response to this issue, many of them quite lengthy. The subject engaged the interest of everyone from professionals to visitors. Some of the responses were very strongly expressed.

Bob says that the Mummy of Khary (the one showing, as the Museum described it "apparent genitalia" has been uncovered and is now displayed as before. The mummy of Asru now has her head and feet uncovered, though her hands are covered.

The rare and beautifully preserved child mummy has been returned to Styonyhurst College, as it was on loan to the museum.

The debate on the subject of displaying the dead still continues and it is still possible to post comments on the Manchester Museum web site and to write to the museum in support of their action and the way the mummies are now displayed:

Bob himself has posted a response on the Manchester Museum blog supporting the Museum's decision but asking some questions about the covering of Asru's hands and the ultimate fate of the child mummy. Here's an extract, but do see Bob's post for the entire comment:

I am now pleased to see that the Museum has reacted to the many comments made both in the museum and on the museum’s web site and that two of the mummies have now been uncovered, reverting almost to the way they were displayed before.

The museum is still asking for public feedback, which is good and there is the implication that the display might still change depending on the reaction. I have one concern here, in that people tend not to necessarily comment or react to displays that they are happy with and that any feed-back received from now on, might be biased in favour of those who do not like mummies on display.

Personally I would like to see than hands of Asru uncovered if at all possible, for, with no suitable explanation, or photo of the mummy on display, it is clear from my recent visit to the museum that visitors are now wondering what the large lump under the wrappings are (Asru’s hands are in front of her body, but few visitors will know this).

I also think it is a great shame that the museum has now lost the child mummy from Stoneyhurst College.

Zahi Hawass lecture - notes by Paul Rymer

Thanks SO much to Paul Rymer, who has very kindly sent me his notes from the August 19th Zahi Hawass lecture at the O2 Bubble complex in Greenwich, where the Tutankhamun exhibition has been running. Paul's notes are excellent, and here's what he has to say:

The event was sold out, with a massive queue snaking around the Dome.

I was one of the minority with a reserved seat in the front stalls - all the people around me were expecting something a bit more academic.

We were treated to a video about Hatchepsut (edited highlights from the recent documentary), and then another general one of Hawass "highlights" before the man himself came to the podium.

Zahi is a fast talker! He managed to pitch things just about right - there were a lot of kids in the audience and I gather a lot of people with just a general interest in AE. He gave enough away to make it worthwhile for those who are committed to detail, but frustratingly one lady dominated the Q&A session, which he cut short.

New information:

Zahi and the team he first worked with at Saqqara have been clearing space in the VOK that has not been explored before. They have found two tomb entrances. The first found was near the tomb of Merneptah and is of Ramesside style. The tomb entrance here is being designated KV64. The slides that came with this part of the talk were new to me; this dig is not really in the area people speculated it was (judging from online pics) the other dig (nearer KV62/63) is the really interesting one. Zahi's team found part of an ancient man made wall, and evidence that debris from the Pharonic period had been dumped there (he mentioned this was the situation with Tut's tomb - it had been undiscovered because the area had been covered over and used.

The second tomb entrance is of 18th Dynasty style. I expected him to mention Tuthmosis II but he said he is expecting it to be someone related to Tut or Nefertiti. Some debris found in the clearance included mention of a queen so far not known to Egyptology (so he said!). A slide was VERY briefly shown of a fragment of something beige in colour with glphs on it. I meant to ask Zahi for the name of this queen (which he deliberately did not mention I'm sure) but did not have the chance. He said (as he has in prior interviews) that there are many tombs so far not identified - where are the Queens?

The implication was that Zahi's team think they have something new as the 21st Dynasty tomb restorers would not have been able to get to the tombs under the debris (some slides of massive boulders being moved were shown). Another slide showed a badly eroded staircase going down a slope; he used the phrase "up down" - KV65 is the tomb he is talking about in the interview - the wording implies that there may be a third tomb - there is not. I think he means it is up the other side of the Valley and the stairs go down the Valley side.

Confusing. Graffitio and fragments have been found dating that site to Dynasty 18; the location and style of stairs indicate late Dynasty 18.

DNA Testing:

This has started to throw up some interesting results. Zahi now seems much less certain that the KV55 body is Akhenaten; he said it could be the son or grandson of Amenhotep III. He also said Tut could be the son of Amenhotep III not the KV55 body (he said Akhenaten but that's what he meant).

Of the fetuses he said one may be male - results to be published soon.

A lady in the audience was very persisitent asking detailed questions about the DNA testing - but nothing really new was forthcoming except that Zahi said they are working with definite identities (Yuya and Tuya plus Tut and AIII) and are filling in the gaps. The fetuses are crucial in this; in theory they should have some DNA from all, plus Nefertiti and Akhensamun. Apparently no question that Tut and Amenhotep III are closely related; this was interesting to me as I thought there was some doubt that his mummy had been correctly identified.

Tuthmosis 1st - definitely not the mummy that most have thought it was. Waiting for confirmation but Zahi believes Tuthmosis I to be the unidentified mummy with the very deformed face (been trying to find an image - he looks like a mummified caricature of Jimmy Hill with a very bad skin condition - almost looks like he's made of stone). Zahi said the mummy was found near the tomb of Seti II or Siptah, then corrected himself (and I can't now remember which way round it was).


Three teams are in competition, working on projects to present ideas to Zahi to resolve problems relating to the various inaccessible areas of the Great Pyramid. Once Zahi has decided which team can do the best job plans will be made to investigate the unseen areas. Zahi sees the GP as a puzzle and it is his intention to find the key. There will be a documentary following the work of the robotics teams on the project.

Paul added that much of what he talked about was on his site already, in the interview on Hawass’s own site at:

Paul also says that thread below at Glyphdoctors shows where KV65 is being excavated. It's an old thread but the photos are worth another look considering what Dr. Hawass has talked about in the last few weeks. You will need to register for Glyphdoctors to read this thread if you are not already registered:

X-ray fails to identify metal object in 1708-year-old body (Chris Henwood)

A MUMMY murder mystery got Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery bosses scratching their heads.

The 1,708-year-old mummified body of a man, believed to be in his mid-30s, is set to go back on show at the Chamberlain Square museum this month after extensive tests failed to shed light on a mysterious metal object lodged in the back of its neck.

The Graeco Roman mummy underwent X-rays and conservation work, but museum bosses are now thinking of sending it for a CAT scan to find out more.

Deborah Cane, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s collections care officer, said: “We believed it had an arrow in the back of the neck and it does have something metallic there, but we’re not sure what it is.

“The scans also revealed he was very healthy, so no indication as to why he died. We’re hoping to do a CAT scan of the head to get a 3D image of the metallic object that could reveal its shape, and if an arrow head, then potentially the cause of death.”

The elaborately-bandaged specimen, with gilt terracotta studs, was donated to the museum in the 1920s by Albert Phillips, a bedstead maker from Birmingham who travelled to the Middle East.

See the above page for the full story.

More re tidying up the Giza Plateau

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

With photographs.

Who has not heard cries of complaint from visitors to the Pyramids of the confusion of ticket buying, the persistence of touts foisting horse and camel rides on tourists and the lack of toilets? All that is about to change. For once the Giza Plateau, the icon of the world's historical treasures, is in the limelight for a reason that has nothing to do with a conflict over a road, or a new discovery, or restoration work. This time it concerns the completion of the first phase of a site management plan that will serve the twin goals of establishing a suitable visitor reception centre and preserving the site from the inherent dangers of mass tourism.

Last week Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), embarked on an official tour of the Giza Plateau to inaugurate the first phase of the project and inspect the progress of the work on the second and third phases.

See the above page for the full story.

New Standards On Collecting Of Archaeological Material, Ancient Art

Huliq News

The American Association of Museums (AAM) today announced the establishment of standards regarding museum acquisition of archaeological material and ancient art that emphasize proper provenance of such objects and complete transparency on the part of the acquiring institutions.

The product of two years of concerted research and vetting from the museum field, Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art provides clear ethical guidance on collecting such material so as to discourage illicit excavation of archaeological sites or monuments. Crafted by the specially created AAM Task Force on Cultural Property the standards were approved by the AAM Board of Directors at its July meeting in Minneapolis. The complete document can be found at (insert link).

“The museum community is deeply concerned about international looting of cultural materials and the resulting destruction of sites and information,” said Ford W. Bell, AAM president. “These standards will help U.S. museums shape their policies and practices to effectively promote the preservation of our common cultural patrimony.”

The new Standards require museums to have a publicly available collections policy setting out the institution's standards for provenance — that is, history of ownership — concerning new acquisitions of archaeological material and ancient art.

See the above page for the full story.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Daily Photo - Ankh amulet and mould at the Petrie

There's no blog update today because I am rushing up to town, but I'll update again tomorrow morning. I don't think that we're missing much - it all seems very quiet in the world of public-facing Egyptology today. Here's a rather nice pair of photos from the Petrie to keep you going - the ancient Egyptian symbol for life and life in the hereafter.

UC2093. Amulet: ankh; blue faience, with 4 stringing holes. 1.5cm long. Late Dynasty 18. Found at Amarna

UC2092. Mould: ankh. 2.9cmlong. Late Dynasty 18. Found at Amarna.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Satellite image of pyramids at Dashur

Thanks very much to everyone who sent me this link, which seems to have had a wide appeal.

ISS017-E-008285 (30 May 2008) --- Pyramids of Dashur, Egypt are featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 17 crewmember on the International Space Station. While the pyramids of Giza are perhaps the most famous, there are several other ancient Egyptian royal necropolis ("city of the dead") sites situated along the Nile River and its delta.

One of these sites is located near the village of Dashur (upper right). The gray-brown built area of Dashur is surrounded by green agricultural land of the Nile Delta, which forms a distinct boundary with the tan desert to the west. It is in the desert that the monuments of the ancient rulers of Egypt are found.

See the above page for the full sized photographs (one of them high resolution) and the rest of the description.

I have always liked the amazing views offered by satellite imagery and did a couple of posts on the subject on this blog. Most of them are much more distant views than this one, showing different areas of Egypt, but if interested just click here to bring up the relevant posts.

The Giza Archives Project update

Giza Archives Project

Have a look at the above page for the latest features made available by the Giza Archives Project, which is continuing to extend its terrific resource.

Daily Photo - Decorated rim sherd from the Petrie

UC19110. Rim sherd from large red ware black fracture pottery jar with black and white running calf on blue background, painted. length 27.7 cms. Eighteenth Dynasty. Found at Luxor.

Copyright: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology,
University College London
With my thanks

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Inverting the pyramids (Khaled Diab)

The quack theories about my country's history can be very entertaining, with the all-time classic being that only aliens could have constructed something as magnificent and precise as the pyramids. Astoundingly, up to 45% of people who took part in a recent survey believed that the pyramids (and Stonehenge) were physical evidence of alien life. Of course, this poll appeared in the Sun, the same newspaper which reported on an "alien army" that had been spotted over England and Wales. Some Ufologists even claim that civilisation itself was an alien import.

One man of the cloth has come up with an ingenious solution to the mystery of the pyramids which also "disproves" evolution. Maltese evangelist pastor Vince Fenech believes that dinosaurs helped build the pyramids, presumably after being domesticated. There is a certain eccentric beauty to this "Flintstones" theory: the ancient Egyptians didn't have any mechanical heavy-lifting equipment that we know of, so let's give them a biological variety.

But even when human agency behind the pyramids is acknowledged, the credit for them is disputed. The most famous alternative theory is that Israelite slaves built these colossal structures. The late Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, stirred up a furore in Egypt when he claimed, prior to arriving for the first official visit by an Israeli leader to Cairo, that his ancestors built the pyramids.

See the above page for the full story.

Report on Oirigins 3 colloquium at the British Museum

Ancient Egypt (Juan Jose Castillos)

Thanks to Juan Jose Castillos (Director of the Uruguayan Institute of Egyptololgy) for publishing his notes from the Origins 3 colloquium at the British Museum, which took place from July 28th to August 1st 2008. The reports are available in both English and Spanish.

Juan Jose Castillos has published many other articles and reports online at his portal:

New blog: Coptic News and Archive

This is a new blog which deals exclusively with Coptic heritage and culture. It is hoped that it will provide a useful resource to those who are investigating Coptic heritage, an area of interest which is expanding fast. It has been compiled by Howard Middleton-Jones and myself.

There aren't enough news items on the subject to post on a daily basis, so we are going to run it as a frequently updated archive. It has initially been populated with backdated articles, and will be updated whenever we have new items to add.

At the moment it is very much a work in progress, so if you are interested in the Coptic period and have anything that you think might help us to develop this resource your thoughts would be very welcome. Links to any articles, old or new, would also be most welcome.

Anyone who visits this blog can see my profile to know all they need to know about me. Howard is a Coptic specialist (which I, of course, am not). He has a website dedicated to Coptic studies, "Coptic Research" which includes his Coptic Monastery Database Project, and can be found at:

Travel: Capturing Cairo, The Old Way


This well above average travel piece is accompanied by some really lovely photographs of Cairo.

Behind the madness, traffic and pollution of Cairo there sits a seductive mistress of a city that sucks you in and bites you with a an addictive elixir making it very difficult to leave. Cairo is the capital of the Arab world, but here in the city where pedestrians battle with cars, trucks and busses for rights of passage across a maze of streets, canals and the wonderful River Nile there is no pretension, no expectation nor forced behavioral rituals other than respect. A medieval city until the mid 1800's, Cairo is a living museum that rests in the shadows of the pyramids and Sphinx. It's easy to get lost and one can slip into anonymity as easy as putting oneself as a tourist with a bulls-eye on your forehead.

With a few days to kill in Cairo and newly made friends, I made my way through the dissonant sounds of the city and to the Egyptian Museum. According to Lonely Planet if you were to spend one minute at each exhibit in this massive museum it would take you nine months to see everything. Then again, one minute at an exhibit would mean you really saw nothing at all. So it's easy to spend a day here. But without credentials or studies in archaeology or Egyptology the Museum is a maze and confusion.

See the above page for the entire account.

What's new at ETANA

Thanks to Chuck Jones for the latest news:

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University ( is the newest member of the ETANA collective (

Both ISAW and ETANA now have presences in facebook:

As of 1 July 2008 there are 355 digitized books and one developing resource (eTACT) in ETANA Core Texts. I present at this link all of those titles in a single list organized alphabetically by author's name.

If you check Abzu regularly, you will see new material appear at the "View items recently added to ABZU" link at:

You can also check the What's New in Abzu blog, which lists nearly everything entered into the database in the order in which it is entered:

There are RSS feeds from both of those URLs. For those of you who need assistance with such feeds, I refer you to:

An alternative for those who wish to receive regular Abzu updates by email is to use

Go there, enter the Abzu URL:

When prompted, enter your preferred email address. You're done.

If you wish to use the What's New in Abzu widget on your own website or blog, you will find the code and instructions at:

Egypt of David Roberts screensaver


50 images of Egypt by David Roberts. Beautiful Pharaonic and Islamic scenes chosen from his six volumes of prints published in 1846. This screensaver includes a portrait of David Roberts plus scenes along the Nile of Abu Simbel, Karnak, the Temple of Luxor, the Colossus of Memnon, Temples of Kom Obo, Esna and Edfu, views of Philae, interiors and exteriors of mosques in Cairo, views of Cairo, Pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx. All images have been enhanced to show the vibrant colors of Cairo
and the heiroglyphic details and delicate colors of the pharaonic ruins that Roberts painstakingly captured in his watercolors which were drawn during his travels of 1838 and 1839.

Daily Photo - Bronze vase from the Petrie collection

UC16428. Bronze vase of piriform shape with long neck and flared rim, with incised hieroglyphic inscription 'for the washer of the sandals of Amen, Dhutihotep', between horizontal lines. 22.5cm. Eighteenth Dynasty

Copyright: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology,
University College London
With my thanks

Monday, August 18, 2008

Update on KV5

Theban Mapping Project, KV5

Many thanks to Gary Maher for letting me know that the KV5 section on the Theban Mapping Project has been updated with an August 2008 progress report.

The 2008 season of the Theban Mapping Project's work in Valley of the Kings tomb KV 5 began on the morning of 10th February and continued until 19th March. During that time, significant restoration and stabilization of tomb walls was undertaken, especially in the doorways preceding the intersection of corridors 7, 10, and 1l, near the statue niche of Osiris. Here, techniques similar to those used in previous seasons to stabilize and restore the pillars in chamber 3 were used to strengthen the walls between doorways 7i, 7j, 7k, and 7l, and the doorway into corridor 11. This work was important because the bedrock above this part of KV 5 is over 34 meters thick and its great weight has resulted in numerous compression fractures in the tomb's walls. In addition, chambers 7i and 7j were cleared of debris. Both their doorways revealed cut limestone blocks that had been laid on the floor of each, creating 10 centimeter high sills. This feature is not found in the doorways of other side-chambers along corridor 7.

Corridors 25, 26, and 27 were filled to a depth of about 1.5 meters of fine silt, overlaid with large blocks of limestone fallen from the chambers' ceilings. We cleared the corridors of stone and silt. Very few potsherds were found. In contrast to corridors 20 and 21, where 3, 749 and 1,204 sherds were found, respectively, corridor 25 contained only 123 sherds, corridor 26 only 3, and corridor 9 only 9. These low numbers are due to early flooding that blocked doorways into corridors between here and the tomb's entrance, slowing later floods and making them unable to carry anything but small, light weight objects. Corridor 27 was left unfinished by ancient workmen, and ended after about 5 meters. The eight side-chambers of corridors 25 and 26 have not yet been cleared.

Side-chamber 8b was also cleared. Only six potsherds were found, in contrast to the 450 sherds found in earlier clearing of chamber 8, and 240 found in 8c. Again, the blocking of the doorway into chamber 8 by early flood events reduced the number and size of objects that could be transported into it.

A major undertaking this season was the clearing and stabilization of chamber 5, the only chamber in KV 5 known with some certainty to have served as a burial chambers. That identification is based upon the fact that there are four small brick niches cut into the chamber's four walls. Such niches are found only in New Kingdom royal burial chambers. Only a part of the chamber has so far been cleared: a strip about two meters wide along its west wall, a strip about 1.5 meters wide along the western half of its south wall, and a strip about 1.0 meters wide along its north wall. The ceiling of chamber 5 had suffered badly over the years, both because of the many fractures in the limestone in this part of the hillside, and because tourist buses used to park directly above the west side of the chamber, and vibrations from their running engines caused many tons of the ceiling to collapse into the room.

See the above page for the entire report.

Travel: Sahara safari

Deccan Herald (Arjun Manjunath)

A description of a brief trip to Farafra's splendid White Desert. The reference to "the most amazing desert cheese" made me feel like abandoning rainy London and getting straight on a plane! Gibna beida is something that I could eat until it comes out of my ears. I have no idea why something so mild is so addictive.

So far, National Geographic had been our window to the pyramids, sphinx, mummies and everything about Egypt. A 12-day trip to Egypt this summer exposed us to an Egypt beyond the pyramids. The Desert Safari was one of the major highlights of our Egypt trip. The desert itself was totally new. Before Egypt, I had visited tombs if not the pyramids, rivers and cruises if not Nile but never had I been to a desert. Although I had seen a lot of it on television, it is something to step on that undisturbed wavy dunes of sand and leave a footprint which gives you a momentary impression that you are the first one to be there.

After a day’s trip to Alexandria from Cairo, the next morning we set out to the Bahariya oasis. It was a five-hour journey and we were scheduled to meet our desert guide Wahid. We took the Upper Egypt Bus service. As we eased ourselves out of Cairo, the desert started to appear. It is customary to see a huge gigantic mountain or lush green thick forest in front of you and feel amazed, but to see a vast expanse of nothingness (not even water) and still feel amazed is something only a desert can offer.

It was an amazing view but a five-hour journey into the desert can be quite dehydrating and left us starving towards the end. After reaching the oasis, we met Wahid — the ‘king of the desert’ (as he fancies himself). He is by far the most energetic person, a genuine desert lover and hence a passionate guide in the true spirit. Wahid took us to his house. A typical desert house from the outside but had everything from a refrigerator to a DVD player inside. An amazing vegetarian lunch was waiting for us.

See the above page for the full story. There are no photographs of the White Desert accompanying this article but here's a page with some good ones from an earlier post: