Saturday, February 27, 2010

Priests ate like gods – and paid by dying young

Manchester University

The splendid banquets offered to ancient Egyptian gods may have been delicious and bountiful but they were also a killer, blocking the arteries of the high priests who made the offerings in the temples then took them home to their families.

For the first time a team of scientists at The University of Manchester have combined a new translation of hieroglyphic inscriptions on Egyptian temple walls that give details of the food offered daily to the gods with computed tomography of the mummified remains of priests to assess their atherosclerosis.

They have found that the priests would offer the gods sumptuous meals of beef, wild fowl, bread, fruit, vegetables, cake, wine and beer at the temple three times a day, then take them back home to their families. They also found their mummified remains showed high levels of atheromatous plaques and vascular calcification; that is, blocked arteries.

Times Online (Russell Jenkins)

Thanks to Glen Fricker for the above link.

The banquets offered by high priests to appease the gods of Ancient Egypt may have been welcomed as a perk of the job but they also increased their chances of cardiovascular disease and early death, research suggests.

The priests, a powerful bureaucracy under the pharaohs, would place vast plates of roast fowl and copious quantities of wine and beer before a god’s statue in a rite repeated three times each day. Then the food was divided up among the priesthood and taken home from the temple to be shared with their families.

Egyptologists and scientists at the University of Manchester have disclosed in The Lancet the cost of keeping the gods happy.

Also on the BBC website.

What we found in the dump


Thanks to Vincent Brown's Twitter feed for this link, which is part of the Malqata website. Malqata was established by Amenhotep III as a palace on the west bank of the Nile. A full description of the site is available on the above website. Here's an extract from a recent post discussing the excavations at the palace.

Two days ago we decided that one more area we wanted to explore this season, in order to get a better feel for the extent of the village, was a short row of bricks visible west of the “Lower Village.” The Lower Village is what I call a group of what are probably houses at the base of the desert terrace, the area we first began to excavate three weeks ago. As soon as we started to clear the brick (a good thing we did because there is only a partial course of foundation bricks left), we found several pits. We cleaned out the smaller one, away from the wall, to see what kind of material was being dumped there.

Tutankhamen’s Dynasty in the Valley of Kings

Asharq Alawsat (Zahi Hawass)

The press conference held at the Egyptian Museum last week is still being discussed not only among scientists and Egyptologists but also among lovers of ancient Egyptian civilization, especially as the conference highlighted new scientific discoveries that revealed a great deal about the golden pharaoh Tutankhamen and his dynasty.

We all know that several unknown mummies are believed to have belonged to the royal dynasty. Last week, we wrote about King Akhenaten’s mummy which was proven to have not suffered the deformities shown by his statues. The other significant discovery was Queen Tiye’s mummy, a powerful and dominating figure who married King Amenhotep III or the “Pasha of all pharaohs.” She made the king have sculptures of her made equal in size to those of the king, and he even constructed a luxurious palace dedicated to her in a district called Malqata in western Luxor with an artificial lake for her to walk along with its own boat made especially for her.

It is well known that by using her power and influence, Queen Tiye managed to obtain a royal decree to have her father, Yuya, and mother, Thuya, buried in the Valley of Kings, a place designated to kings alone. The tomb was discovered almost untouched and we managed to obtain DNA samples from the mummies of Yuya and Thuya.

More re return of Imesby

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

With two photos.

You don't know what you've got till it's gone. Nevine El-Aref reports on the return of a previously unknown coffin that was only found thanks to the diligence of US customs officers

Following almost 18 months of investigations and legal battles involving fraudulent possession and shipment, a 21st- Dynasty coffin of a private individual named Imesy is to come back to Egypt early in March.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni describes the coffin, which is plastered and painted with colourful religious scenes, as one of the most beautiful coffins of its type.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), says talks on the return of the coffin began in October 2008 when US customs officials at Miami International Airport detained a shipment from Spain containing the coffin, which was found to have no papers or provenance.

The lack of documentation raised the concern of the American authorities, who suspected that the coffin might have left Egypt illegally.

Mummy gets high-tech treatment at BMC

Berkshire Eagle (Jenn Smith)

Though he may be a mummy, the Egyptian priest Pahat can still speak volumes about his ancient civilization.

On Wednesday morning, the nearly 2,300-year-old Berkshire Museum resident and the lower half of his sarcophagus were wrapped to brave the winter weather to undergo a CT scan at Berkshire Medical Center.

The procedure uses advanced X-ray technology as a tool in the scientific study of mummies.

Stuart Chase, executive director of the museum, was among a crowd of nearly 20 other museum, medical and press personnel who squeezed into BMC's CT scanning suite to watch the process firsthand.

"It's a rare situation to have a mummy and to be a museum that's so close to a hospital with the technology to be able to do this," said Chase. "It's an exciting new way to unlock the mysteries of the past."

Pahat himself was first scanned in 1984. On June 4, 2007, the mummy was scanned again at BMC.

Still them and us

Al Ahram Weekly (Gamal Nkrumah)

Drawings of the Time: Impressions from Edfu Temple is an exhibition that displays colourful and engaging portraits of high priests of ancient Egyptian Temples. Gamal Nkrumah discovers they tend to be at odds with contemporary art in many respects. These striking images are definitely not the stuff of daily life in the closing years of the Pharaonic era. They have a broader and more aspiring canvas

The exquisite works of Andalusian artists Asuncion Jodar Minarro and Ricardo Marin Viadel ornament the Egyptian Museum and offer a timely lesson in Mediterranean camaraderie. The exhibition focuses on the miscellaneous aspects of the high priests of the Ptolemaic Period. The focus of this show is art rather than history. And yet the images have quite a tale to tell

What a difference a couple of millennia make. Two thousand years ago, these images were adored as the very likeness of the living gods. Or those destined to serve the gods. Today they are admired as imaginative and ingenious interpretations of an art of an age bygone. They were worshipped then, and they are viewed with wonder now.

Mosaic of the Mestekawi-Foggini cave

Zerzura Club

Thanks to Giancarlo Negro for sending me the above link to a mosaic of the rock art in the Mestekawi-Foggini cave in the western Gilf Kebir (Libyan borders of Egypt). To get the best out of these images you need to click on them and give them time to load. You can then click again to zoom in on specific parts of the cave paintings. If you have been there it is wonderful to be able to zoom in on the bits that you particularly like. If you have never seen the cave it is a great opportunity to see what all the fuss is about :-)

Scents of the past

Al Ahram Weekly (Osama Kamal)

Osama Kamal explores Egypt's past in the company of one of Port Said's best-known antique dealers and collectors

Sometimes chance leads you to things you know very little about, only to delight you with startling details. This is what happens when meeting Ashraf El-Sayyad. Coming from a family that has specialised in buying and selling oriental products, Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic, for generations, El-Sayyad today runs an antique shop in Port Said not far from the Canal. Many of his clients are foreigners who stop by as they pass through the Suez Canal.

What makes El-Sayyad unique in his family is that he sells other relics of the past besides oriental items. Ever since childhood he has been fond of collecting old things, including antiques, stamps, old envelopes, letters, postcards and coins from all over the world. El-Sayyad does not know why he is so infatuated with the material culture of the past, only that he is. His profession, he says, has become a way of communicating with the world.

As a result, El-Sayyad's love for old things nears the kind of obsession one sees in top athletes or award-winning scientists.

Photo for Today: Beit el-Wali

Selket (Serket) seated behind Ra-Horakhty
Beit el-Wali, New Kalabsha island, Aswan

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sunrise in the Abu Simbel sanctuary

Al Massry Al Youm (Andrew Bossone)

With photos.

At exactly 6:20 AM, the first beams of light fall on the sanctuary.

The Abu Simbel Sun Festival occurs biannually, on 22 October and 22 February, dates on which the sun shines directly into the temple's sanctuary. Many people wait to go inside the sanctuary and two troupes perform music and dance for about an hour until officials allow the visitors to enter.

Some people are confused about whether they will even get into the temple to see the site.

"I hope it's beautiful, I hope," says a tourist from Holland.

The police have a considerable presence at the event, creating a rope corridor for tourists and another for VIPs and officials. The window of just six minutes of sunlight in the sanctuary passes quickly as visitors are ushered, in a circle, around the interior. Men shout "No photos!" but the clicking of cameras can still be heard.

The long wait for entry far exceeds visitors' actual view of the sun on the sanctuary statues, which is over in just a few seconds as ushers keep the line moving.

An alternative view on Tutankhamun's family tree

Hall of Ma'at (Katherine Griffis-Greenberg)

Thanks to Alice Gaylor for pointing me at this link where Katherine Griffis-Greenberg has proposed a different family tree from that in the JAMA article. Here's a short extract from her post (part of a discussion on the subject that you can track from the above page) but see the above page for the graphic showing her proposed family tree.

The eSupplement states that the two female foetuses in KV 62 are related to Tutankhamun and Princess KV 21A. Yet, the eSupplement to the article states that it cannot be said for a certainty that this individual is Ankhsenamun.

So, finding that odd, I went back and compared the various alleles in the article's graphs. Interestingly, the alleles that Princess KV 21A has more in common is not with the KV 55 mummy, as would be expected, but with the mummy identified as Amenhotep III!

So, this raises the question which Wente and Harris proposed back in the 1990's: do we have the mummies identified correctly?

TV Review: King Tut Unwrapped

King Tut Unwrapped
Discovery Channel

Always late in receiving the Discovery Channel documentaries it is great when someone reviews one of the ancient Egypt focused ones that have aired in the US. On this occasion I went crawling to Alice Gaylor (Florida, U.S.A) who took the job on with enthusiasm, and pulled no punches. Here's her review, with my sincere thanks.

My thoughts on the Discovery channel's King Tut Unwrapped - Royal Blood. This is a 2 night, 4 hour docudrama.

First, let me say that I am not trained in Egyptology. BUT I can see what's there, and what's not there. And I didn't see a lot there.

I was very disappointed. I guess I expected too much after all the "facts" that have been presented since the 17th. What I saw was a lot of docudrama footage and a lot of Zahi.

What I did not see was any conclusive facts supporting the announcement that the KV55 mummy is Akhenaten. The only real fact that I saw about this was the Wa-A-En-Re on the gold foil. I could just make out the glyphs. and had to take his word for it as to what they said.

Therefore, I'm not as sure as he is that KV55 is Akhenaten (much as I would truly like for it to be.) It could well be Smenkhkare. I know - did he exist? Well, there are a lot of items that have his name on them for him NOT to have existed. The coffin that my guy Tut has been resting in since Carter put him back in the tomb, is not Tut's face. It is the same face that's on the canopic coffins and a statue that I've seen with his name. I have to believe that he is/was real.

Now was he king? How long? Exactly when? Is he the man in KV55? No real clue. But as far as I can tell, it's a toss up as to which one it really happens to be. I believe that this man was Tut's father. The DNA is good here. I just don't believe that his identity was proven beyond doubt.

And now the largest of the fetus show Marfan's. Ithought that it had been ruled out in the family.

I don't understand how he could have ridden his chariot all around the country standing up with that bad foot. But Zahi said he was a strong man. With a deformed foot and 130 walking sticks in his tomb ??

So now Zahi is saying that the Younger Woman in KV55, Tut's mother, might be Nefertiti. He sure gave Joan Fletcher what for when she said that.

I would think that they would have checked the DNA of the younger lady with that of Tut's mother and grandmother, and father. Also that of the lady called KV21a, and b for that matter. That might help to identify them.

Not being trained in Egyptology, I rely on what I read and what I see and hear for knowledge. I expect the things that I see and hear and read to be accurate. I saw a lot of inaccurate things on both nights.

At one point they listed the kings in this order - Amenhotep III, Smenkhkare, Akhenaten. Not in the history books I've read.

In two scenes they had Tut wearing just the white crown. In another one the red and white crown. Couldn't make up their mind. Mostly the Blue crown.

Akhenaten named his city Akhet-Aten, modern Egyptologist have named it Armana. But I never heard the true name mentioned on either night.

The mould for the ring found at Armana had a name, they said it was Nebkheperure. I've been wearing a necklace for the last 15 years with that name and it didn't look like my necklace. It looked like Tutankhamun. It had the glyphs for Thebes and so on. I need to check one of my books that has both, but I'm sure it was Tut.

In short or long, I watched 4 hours , most of it of Zahi marching in and out of tombs, the museum, various storage rooms and the desert. He totally wore me out! I would much rather have had 2 or even 3 hours of facts.

BUT at least Tut has a family, even if we don't know what their names are for sure. So that makes me happy.

Alice G., Florida, USA

JHU excavations at Mut Lake, Karnak

Dr. Betsy Bryan and her team are not working on the Mut Lake Collaboration project this season but they should be back in January 2011.

Exhibition: Tutankhamun's Funeral

Art Daily

In 1908, while excavating in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, American archaeologist Theodore Davis discovered about a dozen large storage jars. Their contents included broken pottery, bags of natron (a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium sulphate, and sodium chloride that occurs naturally in Egypt), bags of sawdust, floral collars, and pieces of linen with markings from years 6 and 8 during the reign of a then little-known pharaoh named Tutankhamun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was given six of the vessels and a good part of their contents in 1909.

In time, Herbert Winlock, curator and field director of the Metropolitan's Egyptian excavations and in the 1930s Director of the Museum, came to realize that the natron and linen were the embalming refuse from the mummification of Tutankhamun. He also suggested that the animal bones, pottery, and collars might have come from a funeral meal. Winlock's analysis was an important clue that led to Howard Carter's 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb some 110 meters away.

Opening March 16 at the Metropolitan Museum, the exhibition Tutankhamun's Funeral will explore the materials and rituals associated with the burial of the pharaoh. The presentation will include some 60 objects, primarily from the Metropolitan's own collection.

There's a rather sad photograph on the page. It shows Hawass gesticulating with one arm and the other leaning in Queen Tiye's glass cabinet, with a wall of photographers surrounding him. In some ways it is ludicrous to be sentimental about the dead, but there's precious little dignity here for the dead, and no respect from the living. Poor Tiye.

Emails re how the pyramids were built

Someone sent me an email recently with their personal theory about how the Giza pyramids were built.

In general I should probably explain that I receive a two or three "how they built the pyramids" emails a month. They are usually well thought out and presented, as far as I can tell, and their authors seem universally nice. But there really is nothing I can do with them on this blog and as I don't have any civil engineering knowledge myself so it is impossible to comment sensibly. The only useful thing I have to say is that at this moment in time there is no evidence to favour one entirely plausible theory over any other. There have been some viable theories, and many of them are (I am told) entirely possible in engineering terms. But there is not suffient data to confirm or deny that any single one of them was the one employed.

Vincent Brown very helpfully provided a series of posts on his Talking Pyramids blog about some of the best regarded theories about pyramid construction. All I can suggest, at this moment in time, is that if you have a theory about how the pyramids were built you should check it against the existing theories on Vincent's site and if someone hasn't already come up with it, perhaps set up your own website promoting your own theory. Here are the links (thanks Vincent!):

To the person who emailed recently with their theory, I so sorry but I have lost the email somewhere in the labyrinthine ghastliness of my laptop's email folders. If you're reading this, I cannot recall if you were asking me a specific question. Do feel free to email again if I can help with something specific.

Photo for Today: Beit el-Wali

Ra-Horakhty (Horus of the Two Horizons)
Beit el-Wali, New Kalabsha island, Aswan

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

US to return 21st Dynasty sarcophagus to Egypt

Discovery News (Rossella Lorenzi)

U.S. authorities will return a beautifully painted 3,000-year-old coffin to Egypt, Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said on Monday.

Decorated with colorful religious scenes, the ornamented coffin contains the remains of a man called Imesy.

Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) had said last year that the coffin likely belongs to pharaoh Ames of the 21st Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt from 1070-945 B.C.

The nearly 5-foot-long wooden coffin was confiscated by U.S. customs officials at Miami International Airport from a Spanish merchant in 2008.

The dealer did not possess the necessary documentation to prove ownership of the artifact.

ABC News

The coffin, described as one of the "most beautiful plastered and painted" pieces found in Egypt, was seized by customs officials upon its arrival at a Florida airport in October 2008, the ministry said in a statement.

An antiquities dealer named as Felix Cerera did not have ownership documents for it, prompting customs officials to suspect smuggling, the statement said.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found the coffin had been smuggled out of Egypt in 1884 and had been exhibited in Madrid in 2007. Egypt requested its return in 2009.


US authorities will return to Egypt an ornately painted pharaonic coffin smuggled out of the country more than 125 years ago, Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said on Monday.

The 3,000 year-old casket, which was painted with inscriptions to help its occupant in the afterlife, would be handed over to Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass next month, Hosni said in a statement.

Egypt had last year asked the United States to return the wooden coffin, which dates back to the 21st dynasty (1081-931 BC) and contains the remains of a man named Emus but about whom little else was known.

On Monday, Hawass said US Immigration and Customs had contacted him in 2008 about the coffin after confiscating it from a Spanish merchant who had shipped it to Florida for sale.

DNA tests on King Tut confirm much, reveal little (Charles Nichols)

Thanks to Jane Akshar for posting a link to this on her Luxor News Blog.

What were these startling discoveries announced by the ever colorful, larger than life Zahi Hawass? Well, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities revealed that King Tut was married to his sister.

And this is news how? We already knew that ancient Egyptian men married their sisters and did so up until at least the year 295 AD when the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued his famous "Marriage edict" making Roman Law the law of Egypt. Technically, Roman Law did not prohibit a Roman man from marrying his sister. However, their children would not be able to inherit their parents property and would not be Roman citizens. The same was true if a Roman married an actor or prostitute.

The Romans, having ruled Egypt for nearly 330 years by this time, had compiled extensive census records which survive to this day. The Romans were meticulous record keepers. Their records show that one in four Egyptian men were married to a younger sister of the full blood (both having the same mother and father). If an Egyptian man wasn't married to his full blooded sister then he was married to his half sister or other close female relative. If he had no close female relative then his bride would be adopted as his sister. Yes, we have these ancient "adoption" notices as well.

Who the Heck is Herwart von Hohenburg?

Seattle pi (Stephen J. Gertz)

With some excellent illustrations. Thanks very much to David Petersen for the link.

No copies have come to auction within the last thirty-five years. OCLC/KVK note only seven copies in institutional collections worldwide, only one of which is complete, in the Bibliothéque National - France. But a complete copy recently appeared out of nowhere and into the marketlace, unheralded, without fanfare.

The book is Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum, published in 1610 by Johann (aka Hans) Georg Herwart von Hohenburg (1554-1622). It is one of the earliest works on Egyptology.

It is a book that profoundly influenced Athanasius Kircher, one of the most fascinating individuals of the seventeenth - or any other - century.

More re Luxor's avenue of sphinxes (Zahi Hawass)

The SCA currently has many restoration projects underway. One of the most important is the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor. This is an avenue that stretches between Karnak and Luxor Temples and is lined with sphinxes, although most of it was covered with modern housing.

The Avenue of Sphinxes dates back to the reign of Amenhotep III in the 18th Dynasty. He built an avenue of sphinxes with ram heads, and we also know that before that, Queen Hatshepsut built seven chapels along this route. The most important phase of the avenue is dated to the 30th Dynasty, during the reign of Nectanebo I. At that time the avenue was made up of 1350 sphinxes lining both sides of the road connecting the temples, which was over 70 meters wide. During the Roman Period, the avenue was subjected to destruction. Many people built roads and houses over the top, and reused the sphinxes in their construction.

We decided to begin an important restoration project a few years ago. The initiative started when we found that President Mubarak himself and the Prime Minister of Egypt, Ahmed Nazif, were both very interested to see this avenue beautifully restored.

A walk through Cairo's religious history

nzherald (Jill Worrall)

A quick dash around the treasures of Tutankhamun and a battle through the tourists around the pyramids and the Sphinx can be the extent of many Cairo itineraries.

But east of the Nile lie two neighbourhoods where life continues at a less frenetic pace than in the rest of the city and that have associations with no less than Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Islamic hero who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders, Salah ad-Din (Saladin).

Egypt's Christian heritage is said to date back to the arrival of Mark, one of the 12 Apostles in the first century AD. Believers were known as Copts (which, via Arabic and Greek simply means Egyptian).

Today there are about six million Copts in Egypt, about 10 per cent of the population, but 1600 years ago Christianity was the official religion of the entire nation.

I reached the area through a vegetable market where fresh produce was still arriving by donkey cart and men were sitting in shady alleys over tiny round tables sipping coffee and smoking sheesha.

HK's Discovering King Tut part 5

Heritage Key (Malcolm Jack)

With videos and an excellent photo of Lord and Lady Carnarvon on a visit to Egypt in 1921.

The fifth and final instalment of Discovering King Tut has now been posted on Heritage Key. It signed off the fantastic videos series – based around an exclusive interview with George and Fiona Herbert, Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, at their Highclere Castle home – with an illuminating look at some of the treasures from the boy king’s tomb that George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon and financier of the Tutankhamun tomb investigation, was able to view before his untimely death in 1923.

With all of Discovering King Tut – totalling almost half an hour of footage – now up online and ready to view, we figured it would be a good idea to put together a single round-up of the films in one handy blogpost. They’ve together yielded all kinds of fascinating, funny, strange, sad and sensational insights into the Tutankhamun tomb exploration. We’ve learned about all from the unique relationship Carnarvon and archaeologist Howard Carter shared, to the significance of the beautiful wall-paintings that covered the walls of KV62, the scandal in Carnarvon’s family that inadvertently helped keep cash for his dig flowing, and the tragic circumstances surrounding the aristocrat’s premature demise.

The exceptional educational content of these videos is plain to see, and they should prove a valuable learning tool for students of King Tut and the discovery and examination of his incredible tomb in the Valley of the Kings, not to mention the lives of the two remarkable men who brought its glittering contents to the world.

Book Review: The Arabic Hermes

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Y. Tzvi Langermann)

Kevin van Bladel, The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science. Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.


Kevin van Bladel has produced an admirable study of the Arabic Hermetic tradition, fleshing out in considerable detail the evolution of Hermes' image, his identification with Qur'anic prophet Idris as well as the forces driving this transformation, and his connections, real, imagined, and still controversial, with the Harranians, the last organized group of astrolators to continue functioning within Islamic civilization. To do this, van Bladel constrains his use "Hermetic" to refer "only to texts attributed by name to Hermes" (p. 21), a definition that he admits is a bit too severe to apply throughout, but which serves well the purpose of weeding out much "Hermetic" nonsense that has no place in his book.

Part One, "Background", comprises three chapters. In the first of these, "Introduction", van Bladel establishes that the Greek Hermetica were produced in Roman Egypt.

Photo for Today: Beit el-Wali

Over the next few days I'll be posting some more photographs from this lovely site. The colours are absolutely marvellous. I took these photographs when was there on a Lake Nasser cruise at the end of 2006. I had forgotten just how fresh the whole site felt, even on its artificial island accompanied by other rescued temples with which it had no direct relationship.

Khnum with Ramesses II
Beit el-Wali, New Kalabsha Island, Aswan

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dig Diaries

In all the fuss about Tutankhamun don't forget that work carries on as normal at the excavations in Egypt.

In the north, the Leiden team at Saqqara have now posted seven weeks of their Mission Digging Diary. Even though the new tomb failed to produce inscriptions and reliefs, the team have learned a lot about the construction methods. There have been three updates for February from the Brooklyn team at Karnak, with some terrific photographs showing the foundations which are still being uncovered and which are providing vast amounts of information about the immediate area. Both the Leiden and Brooklyn teams have commented on how hot the weather is for February.

Down in Luxor the Madrid Djehuty team have ended the excavations at the tomb of Djehuty for this season, and will resume with the tombs of Djehuty, Baki and Hery next season. A lot of work has been carried out in the last week at the tomb of Baki, where they found a new adobe feature and uncovered a hole which leads directly into the tomb of Heri. If you speak Spanish it gives a good idea of the day to day running of an excavation - and even if you don't there are some great photos. I must say that the idea of eating paella at the foot of the Qurna hills doesn't sound half bad! As in Cairo it was obviously hot, hot, hot, with temperatures reaching 44C. Also in Spanish are some online articles which summarize some of the findings.

More re Tutankhamun - Malaria and chronological issues

New York Times (John Noble Wilford)

Tut’s case may be one of the earliest established by genetic tests, but malaria was probably a common scourge then, as it still is. Last year, at least 250 million people contracted the disease, the United Nations estimates, and almost half the world’s population is at risk, mainly in poorer tropical lands. The wasting fever is expected to kill 700,000 children this year.

Malaria courses relentlessly through narratives of history and literature. It blighted the greatness that was Rome, though it may have saved the city from a sacking by Attila the Hun, who may have turned back out of fear of the fever raging there. Archaeologists digging in cemeteries near former marshes around Rome have uncovered evidence of widespread outbreaks of the disease in the empire’s waning years.

News from the Valley of the Kings (Kate Phizackerley)

Reading what has been written in press reports, it's tempting to conclude that the DNA testing of Tutankhamun's family has resolved everything. I don't think that's the case. I want to spend some time on looking at the family tree and chronology because I think it turns up some questions. It also highlights why some margin of error may need to be read into some of the results.

For instance if we take what is being said then we would have:

* Akhenaten reigned for 17 years (I've used his ascension as origin)
* His daughter Ankhesenamun (KV21A) was born in year 4 and was aged 21 - 25 at death
* His son Tutankhamun was born in year 12, ascended the throne at 9 and died aged 19.

As can be seen, that would give us two interesting things. There would be an inter-regnal gap between Akhenaten and Tutankhamun suggesting that there must have been another Pharaoh, possibly two. That's even if we discount co-regencies. But, if there was an intervening Pharaoh, why should be believe that the mummy in KV55 is Akhenaten rather than this other Pharaoh (Smenkhare?)?

Restoring the Naos of Amenemhat I (Zahi Hawass)

The issue of returning stolen artefacts to Egypt is very important to me. I have worked for years on returning pieces that were illegally taken from Egypt, and there are many great institutions that support and assist me in my quest. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York brought a piece of a naos back to Egypt, and we replaced it in its original location in Karnak Temple.

In Karnak is a temple dedicated to the god Ptah. Inside this temple there is a naos built by the Middle Kingdom pharaoh, Amenemhat I. A piece of it, weighing 27 kilograms, was removed around the turn of the 20th century. Auguste Mariette photographed it at the end of the 19th century, but a photograph taken by French Egyptologist Georges Legrain shows the piece was missing in 1902.

The matter remained unresolved until the piece was offered to the Metropolitan Museum in New York by an antiquities collector, who claimed to have bought the piece in the 1970s. The Met officials recognized where the piece must have come from, and acquired it, thinking to bring it back to Egypt. My friends at the Museum did not tell me at first what they were planning, but they convinced the collector to let them have it. The museum curator brought the naos piece to Egypt and we kept it in the Cairo Museum.

Recently we brought the piece to Luxor and installed it in its original location, with the press watching.

Museum showcases life in ancient Egypt

Suite101 (Karen Dabrowska)

It's a really ghastly shame that they cannot spell the name "Petrie" correctly, but here's an extract from the piece because however bad the spelling is the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology deserves all the credit that it is given in this piece:

In a small street on London University's sprawling campus is a small museum which houses 80,000 artefacts from ancient Egypt.

The unassuming building in Gower Street has one of the greatest collections of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology in the world. It illustrates life in the Nile Valley from prehistory through the time of the pharaohs, the Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods to the Islamic period.

The collection is full of 'firsts': One of the earliest pieces of linen from Egypt (about 5000 BC); two lions from the temple of Min at Koptos, from the first group of monumental sculpture (about 3000 BC); a fragment from the first kinglist or calendar (about 2900 BC); the earliest example of metal from Egypt, the first worked iron beads, the earliest example of glazing, the earliest 'cylinder seal' in Egypt (about 3500 BC); the oldest wills on papyrus paper, the oldest gynaecological papyrus; the only veterinary papyrus from ancient Egypt, and the largest architectural drawing, showing a shrine (about 1300 BC).

Vincent Brown's Breaking News on Egyptology News

I have joined forces with Vincent Brown, of the Talking Pyramids website, to add an extra dimension to the blog. Vincent kindly provided access to his daily news updates on Twitter via a feed in the side bar to the right. Vincent has been providing links to all manner of news items, including the lectures and conferences that I don't cover, for a long time now. I am really glad to discover that there are one or two things on Twitter that are well worth seeing! Vincent has used it to excellent effect. It is great to join forces.

Hieroglyph portal

Brittle Voice

A number of people have asked me recently what I've done with my hieroglyph website. There was some problem with the old domain with my web host, and as I had a spare domain I used that instead. I didn't have the impression that the site was used much so I didn't announce the new address here. But if anyone wants it that's where it is!

Photo for Today: Beit al-Wali

The god Khnum

Beit al-Wali, near Aswan, Lake Nasser

Beit al-Wali is a small temple dedicated to Ramesses II which was moved to the small island of New Kalabsha, in the sight of the Aswan High Dam, when Lake Nasser was created. It was dedicated to the deities of Amun-Re, Re-Horakht, Khnum and Anuket (the latter being a particular deity of the First Cataract).

For more information about the site there's a summary on Wikipedia


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hawass on Tutankhamun (Zahi Hawass)

With photos of Hawass.

DNA and CT scan analysis of the mummy of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Tutankhamun (ca. 1333-1323 BC) and of mummies either known or believed to be members of his immediate family have revealed startling new evidence for the young king’s lineage and cause of death. An additional outcome of the new study, in which DNA analysis was able to be used effectively on ancient Egyptian mummies for the first time, is that several previously unidentified mummies can now be given names. These studies were carried out by Egyptian scientists and international consultants a as part of the Family of Tutankhamun Project, under the leadership of Dr. Zahi Hawass. These findings have been published by JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, in their February 17, 2010, edition (Volume 303, no. 7).

The principal conclusions made by the team are that Tutankhamun’s father was the “heretic” king, Akhenaten, whose body is now almost certainly identified with the mummy from KV 55 in the Valley of the Kings. His mother, who still cannot be identified by name, is the “Younger Lady” buried in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35). The mummy of the “Elder Lady” from the same tomb can now be conclusively identified as Tutankhamun’s grandmother, Queen Tiye. New light was shed on the cause of death for Tutankhamun with the discovery of DNA from the parasite that causes malaria; it is likely that the young king died from complications resulting from a severe form of this disease.

Asharq Alawsat (Zahi Hawass)

At a press conference for international media figures held by the Supreme Council of Antiquities last Wednesday at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, I announced that important [archeological] discoveries had been made that shed more light on the dynasty of the golden pharaoh Tutankhamen. These discoveries marked the beginning of a new chapter in using modern techniques and advanced technology in the field of archeological discoveries.

For many years, Egyptian mummies remained silent, disclosing only a few of their secrets until modern science came and presented to us a new key to the secrets of the mummies, particularly those belonging to the same dynasty. These methods are represented in the deoxyribonucleic acid technique, known as DNA testing, and the CT-Scan. At long last, after a full comprehensive 18-month study of the mummy of King Tutankhamen that is preserved in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and of other mummies believed to be from the same dynasty, we have set up a DNA laboratory at the basement of the Egyptian Museum and another at Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine where two teams of distinguished scientists worked. Each team worked separately in its own laboratory away from the other, and both were assisted by German scientists who specialize in studying DNA.

At the press conference, I announced that the mummy in tomb KV55 is King Akhenaten who bewildered scientists and researchers either in their search for his mummy or in studying the conditions of his time.

Saudis return antiquities


The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiques will hand over Sunday a collection of Egyptian artifacts that were confiscated from a man who had smuggled them into the country to sell.

The handing over ceremony will take place at King Abdul Aziz Historical Center in Riyadh.

Golden king was deformed and frail

Thanks to Helena for sending me the link to another video. This one discusses the implications of the malaria testing and Tut's physical frailty. There is evidencepresented from various scientists and researchers.

Book Review: Pline I' Ancien, Histoire naturelle, livre VI 4e partie

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein)

Jehan Desanges (ed.), Pline I' Ancien, Histoire naturelle, livre VI 4e partie (L'Asie africaine sauf l'Égypte, les dimensions et les climats du monde habité). Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2008.

The past few decades have seen renewed interest in Pliny the Elder and the Historia Naturalis with a corresponding growing recognition of the magnitude of the work and of Pliny's achievement in compiling it. The geographical books (Books 3-6), however, have largely been exempt from this revision. Almost 130 years ago E. H. Bunbury1 observed apropos of these books that "we are struck with the almost total absence of any scientific comprehension of his subject," and little has changed in the assessment of them since then. Yet, not only are these books the fullest extant geographical treatise in Latin, but they are of fundamental importance for the geography and history of many parts of the ancient world. This is particularly true of the final fifty-seven chapters of the sixth book (6. 163-220) edited in this valuable addition to the Budé edition of the Historia Naturalis.

These relatively few chapters are critically important sources for the history of ancient Africa. Without them, our knowledge of the historical geography of Hellenistic Nubia and the Red Sea basin and the history of Ptolemaic activity south of Egypt would be greatly impoverished. And their importance is not limited to northeast Africa, since they contain also the earliest account of the discovery and exploration of the Canary Islands. Fortunately, this section of the Historia Naturalis has found the ideal editor in Jehan Desanges.

The Tale of Sinhue

Omezzabo's (Orlando Mezzabotta's) website and here's the introduction.

Thanks very much to Rhio Barnhart for the above links. Rhio knows that I'm an absolute pushover for anything that uses web applications to help people delve into the worlds of archaeology and Egyptology.

If you're reading the Tale of Sinhue in hieroglyphs then look no further. Orlando Mezzabotta has provided a video of the tale written in hierglyphs and accompanied by transliterations, in five acts. I've played some of it in Windows Media Player and it works very well. At 43.3MB it does take a while to download. There's also an experimental audio version.

This is a very imaginative and useful online resource. A great idea.

Photo for Today: Tutankhamun family album

Based on the JAMA paper here's a photographic hall of fame based on Tutankhamun's new ly proposed family tree, just for a bit of fun. I'm sorry that they're not better - these are just the ones I have kicking around on my laptop. One does wonder what some of them looked like in "real life".

Yuya and his wife Thuya were the parents of Tiye (a daughter).



Tiye was married to the pharaoh Amenhotep III, the son of the pharaoh Thutmose IV and his wife Mutemwiya.

Amenhotep III

Queen Tiye, the "Elder Lady" in KV35

Tiye and Amenhotep III produced Amenhotep IV (who re-named himself Akhenaten). He married a daughter of Amenhotep III (but not necessarily of Queen Tiye) whose name is unknown but has been identified as "The Younger Lady", a mummy found in a cache of three in KV35. Amenhotep kept a harem and had 5 daughters, of which she was apparently one.

Akhenaten / Amenhotep IV
(possibly the mummy in KV55)

The Younger Lady (not at her best, unfortunately!)

Akhenaten and his sister, the Younger Lady, produced Tutankhamun and, it is proposed, a sister to whom Tutankhamun may have been married and with whom he had two stillborn children.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Molecular biologist's response to the JAMA paper re Tutankhamun

Pling (Margaret Patterson)

Sincere thanks to John Patterson for sending this link. John's wife, who's an (ex-)molecular biologist, read the JAMA paper (and the supplemental data) and wrote a long blog post about her thoughts on the genetics parts of it on the above link. He says that she wrote the piece mainlyto explain to him more about what the JAMA writers had done, and what they had and what they hadn't shown. Here's a very short extract but go to the above link to see the full post, which is excellent.

I pretty much have to take the anatomical data, and the egyptological discussion, on faith - I have insufficient knowledge in either of those fields to examine the data critically. The genetic analysis on the other hand is closer to my own field, so I can poke at it with a more professional & critical eye. Though you should bear in mind that I'm 5 years out of date and this wasn't quite my field when I was current. So before I go through the actual data, here's some thoughts on the methods/presentation.

They don't discuss the details of the extraction of the DNA from the bones of the mummies - they do however cite 4 papers (only 2 of which have overlapping authors with this paper) for the method they use, so I'm inclined to think (without reading those papers) that this is a known and tried method in the field of ancient DNA extraction.

They use commercially available kits to do the genetic fingerprinting, from a quick glance through the company's website they're used for more modern forensic applications too. I was, though, concerned that although they use 16 markers on the Y-chromosome analysis they only use 8 markers for the autosomal DNA (the rest of the DNA in the nucleus that is not sex chromosomes). The kit seemed to allow you to test more markers than that - but they don't mention why only 8. Was it that they had good data for those 8? or is this an accepted practice? (as I said, this isn't quite my field). Some note of that might have been nice.

They did analysis on 30 samples for each mummy, taken from different biopsies - it might've been nice to have seen a figure with the biopsy locations marked on it (in the supplemental data perhaps). And it would've been nice to see the numbers - the data given is noted as the "majority", but I think I would've liked to see the actual figures. It makes a difference if something came up in 16 of the samples or in 29 of the samples.

I would also have liked to see some controls! In the Y-chromosome analysis they do compare the three male mummies with another unrelated one. But in the bulk of the data they don't show the control data.

Videos re the JAMA paper results

Discovery News

King Tut Unwrapped. Ten videos about the work behind the JAMA paper with interviews, footage of various parts of the process and dramatised reconstructions of the period from which Tutankhamum came. All can be accessed from the above page.

King Tut's Paternal Line (02:18)
A DNA test confirms that the unidentified mummy from KV55 is a genetic match with Amenhotep III and thus must be his son Akhenaton, the likely father of Tutankhamun.

Father and Son Reunited (02:31)
After extensive DNA analysis, Dr. Hawass and his team confirm that the KV55 mummy is Akhenaton and that he is the father of Tutankhamun.

Maternal DNA Match (01:44)
Using the latest DNA analysis methods, the team confirms that a anonymous female mummy in tomb KV35 is Tut's mother.

Mysterious Maternity (02:19)
Dr. Hawass and his team take on the daunting challenge of determining the identity of King Tut's mother.

Search For Tut's Mother (02:23)
After successfully identifying King Tut's father, Dr. Hawass pursues leads that just might reveal the identity of his mother.

Killer Malaria (01:57)
Along with his own DNA, King Tut's tissue samples contained genetic markers for the most severe form of malaria that may well have been fatal.

Family Deformities (01:49)
Inbreeding among the members of King Tut's family may have led to congenital deformities including the young king's club foot.

Tut's Name Change (01:45)
Tutankhamun's magnificent golden throne bears subtle, but clear evidence that the young king changed his name to distance himself from the discredited religious cult established by his father Akhenaton.

Royal Sister-Wife (01:25)
In the tradition of ancient Egypt's ruling families, King Tut married his sister Ankhesenamun who seems to have been the great love of his life.

Pharaoh Forensics (02:20)
Forensic specialists make a strong case that an anonymous mummy from the KV55 tomb may be that of Akhenaton, the probable father of Tutankhamun.

You Tube

DNA tests on the 3300 years old Mummy of the boy king Tutankhamun have revealed the possible cause of his death and mapped his family tree firmer than ever. The new study traces that his father was actually Pharaoh Akhenaten ... his mother's brother.


Video on the above page.

24-Hour News 8 first reported Tuesday about new evidence that identified the cause of death of Egypt's King Tut. Thursday, one of the scientists behind the research spoke to 24-Hour News 8.

Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, reveals not only the cause of death, but the illness caused by Tut's family tree.

BBC (courtesy of Discovery News)

Short extract.
Drilling into the king's bones.

The Mystery Of The Mummy Paper

Seattle pi

Another version of this story appeared a few weeks ago.

Reality or urban legend: were the wrappings of ancient Egyptian corpses recycled and pulped to create so-called "mummy paper?" Archaeologists and other scholars have long debated the veracity of claims that mummies were imported into the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, stripped of their burial shrouds, and their bindings (largely composed of linen and other fibers such as papyrus and something akin to canvas) repurposed into printing paper. But, did this really happen? Are we being fleeced? Is this a fabricated tale? Can this yarn be unwound to get to the meat of the matter?

The answer to this puzzler, perhaps the holy grail of American Egyptology research (pardon the mixed metaphor), may have at long last been found at Brown University's John Hay Library. According to independent scholar and self-taught Egyptologist S.J. Wolfe, a document found in university's rare book collection is "the smoking gun" that proves mummies were mulched for newsprint.

Spotlight on Abu Simbel

Hello Magazine

I never thought that I'd be blogging about an article on Hello magazine, or at least not on this particular blog!

Just twice a year, on February 22nd and October 22nd, the first rays of the morning sun pierce through the darkness of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and illuminate the statues of the pharaoh Ramses II and the gods Horus and Amun-Ra; even then, the face of Ptah, "The Lord of Darkness", is left in shadow.

Dug into the rock in honour of Ramses II and his favourite wife, Nefertari, the temples of Abu Simbel, in the Nubian desert, are the high point of any tour in the land of the pharaohs.

But this amazing treasure was nearly lost due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the Sixties, a civil engineering project undertaken to tame the Nile and control its regular flooding. The dam created the vast artificial Lake Nasser and without the actions of UNESCO, working in conjunction with the Egyptian government, a huge quantity of pharaonic heritage would have disappeared under the waters of the reservoir.

Simulating ancient social networks

Voices of the Past

Wandering slightly off topic, I've posted this because I'm interested in the use of digital media for improving the presentation of archaeology. There's a lot of easily digestible information about the value of this sort of approach in this interview.

As a Registered Professional Archaeologist in North America a Member of the Institute for Archaeologists in the U.K., Shawn Graham knows the finer points of working in the field. But these days, he’s taking the world of archaeology — and ancient civilizations — into the digital realm with simulations called Agent-Based Models (ABMs). Shawn’s blog “Electric Archaeology: Digital Media for Learning and Research,” explores how we can learn more about how digital tools can be used to better understand archaeological phenomena and, more importantly, the people behind them.

Photo for Today from the tomb of Yuya and Thuyu

Four small vessels from the tomb of Yuya and Thuyu in
the Valley of the Kings (KV46),
Cairo Museum (taken in 1996)
The vessel interiors are hollowed out to a depth of only c.4 cms.

Full details of the tomb can be found on the
Theban Mapping Project website.

A non-royal tomb, it had been robbed but was still
found with much of its funerary contents in tact when it
was discovered by Quibell in 1905.

These little jars have always been a favourite of mine.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The High Dam and its negative effects

Al Ahram Weekly (Jill Kamill)

This is a fascinating article, to which a short exerpt simply cannot do justice. Jill Kamill looks at the impacts of the Aswan High Dam on Egypt's heritage - everything from water damage to monuments to the increase in tomb robbing during the dam's construction. If you are interested in the High Dam, in Egypt's heritage and in some of the background to modern legislation in Egypt concerning smuggling you really shouldn't miss out on this article.

Egypt's ancient tombs and temples had survived for thousands of years, but why was it assumed they were indestructible? Jill Kamil looks at how the potential danger of the High Dam was ignored

Half a century ago, we tended to think that the monuments built by the ancient Egyptians along the full length of the Nile Valley had stood for so long that they must be immune to the forces of time and nature.

Now we know differently. As Egypt celebrates the foundation of the High Dam, the cornerstone of the country's economic development envisioned by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, articles are appearing in the press about its planning stages, construction and advantages. I am reminded of some of its disadvantages, especially for the country's ancient heritage.

During its construction between 1960 and 1971, the High Dam at Aswan was regarded as a boon that would improve conditions for the conservation of monuments. The stabilisation of the river would certainly overcome the danger of high floods, and this would enable the reinforcement of undermined foundations and prevent further collapse of large structures. Furthermore, the injury caused to some monuments by the excessive wetting and drying out each year would be ended.

Or so it was thought. Egyptologists were hopeful that the future of the monuments would be assured. Before long, however, it was becoming clear that the higher average water table was damaging reliefs through seepage and salt erosion, and that the combination of these effects was even more damaging than the annual -- and temporary -- inundation. True, the annual flood had totally destroyed reliefs on the lower reaches of the temple walls, but those parts above flood level were -- considering their age -- well-preserved. Now the seepage and salt erosion were also causing progressive deterioration of the reliefs on the upper walls. There was no doubt that the legendary "Hundred-gated Thebes" was under threat.

More re JAMA paper on Tutankhamun

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

A useful summary of some of the findings.

Journalists from across the globe flocked yesterday morning to the foyer of the Egyptian Museum, desperate to catch a glimpse of the mummies of King Tutankhamun's parents and grandmother.

Eighty-eight years after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb the enigma of the 18th Dynasty, one of the most powerful royal houses of the New Kingdom which included Akhenaten as well as the boy king, is finally being unravelled.

"The Amarna period is like an unfinished play. We know its beginning but have never succeeded in discovering its end," Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told reporters at the press conference held at the Egyptian Museum. "Now, using modern scientific technology and DNA analyses of five New Kingdom royal mummies, 70 per cent of the history of the Amarna period has been uncovered and several perplexing questions answered.

Hawass announced that the mummy from tomb KV 55 in the Valley of the Kings, which archaeologists in 1955 believed to be of Semenka Re, who died at the age of 25, belongs to the monotheistic king Akhenaten, who died aged between 45 and 55. DNA tests also show that Akhenaten is Tutankhamun's father, not his brother as some have claimed.

Archaeological evidence supports the results, not least the inscribed limestone block pieced together by Hawass in December 2008.

Discovery News (Rossella Lorenzi)

Study author Ashraf Selim, professor of radiology at Cairo University, told Discovery News that malaria could have been indeed the cause of death for King Tut.

"The type of malaria found is what is sometimes refered to as malignant malaria as being the most viscious of all types and certainly might have lead to his death," Selim said.

However, Selim does not rule out some other interacting causes.

"The fracture of his thigh bone might have had complications like septiceamia (blood stream infection ) and fat embolism (fat in the blood reaching the lungs). Both can lead to the death of an individual," the researcher said.

However, some outside mummy experts contacted by Discovery News are sceptical, and question the claim that malaria and bone necrosis might have caused King Tut's demise.

The article then goes on to quote a number of researchers who were not involved in the study and who have other perspectives to offer: Frank Ruhli, Stephen Buckley and Gino Fornaciari.

Litter in the desert around Cairo

Recently a friend sent me some photographs that she took herself, showing heavy littering at the Saqqara and Abu Sir archaeological sites, one of which is attached in this post. She lives and works in the area at the moment and finds this unacceptable - in her own words "it is terribly frustrating to be told that they are building a wall to keep 'people like me' out of the desert that I love and actively try to care for". She goes on:

A couple of weeks previously a group of us were out in the desert when a tractor pulling a trailer pulled away from one of the Czech sites. As soon as it was out of the line of sight of the diggings, the Egyptian workers began tossing trash from it into the desert. We shouted at them to stop and pick it up and they did so. The big question around here is that if the wall is protecting the antiquities from the local robbers, who is going to protect the desert from the SCA?

It is always so frustrating and sad to see how the Egyptian desert is so often neglected and even abused by both tourists and local inhabitants. It is even worse when the damage is caused by those working in an official capacity and whose role is supposed to be the protection of heritage!

A long time ago I wrote a heartfelt piece on the subject which I never got around to publishing, but which I will certainly update and publish soon in the light of an ever growing body of evidence that shows how much the desert suffers at people's hands.

Al-Muizz Street re-opens

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El Aref)

From the 10th to the 18th centuries Al-Muizz Street, which runs through the heart of Fatimid Cairo, gloried in its splendid Islamic architecture. In the years following it became badly run down. It has taken almost 20 years of restoration and rehabilitation for the street to regain much of the splendour it saw in the days of the Fatimids, Ayoubids, Mamluks and Ottomans.

Formerly the street resounded with the cacophony of shouts as traffic -- both motorised and horse or donkey-drawn -- battled with vendors and pedestrians for right of way. Now by day it is a pedestrian zone, not quite in keeping with the past but rather more suited to the nature of today's visitors.

At the invitation of Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak attended the openning on Saturday and was given a tour of four of the 34 architectural monuments lining the street.

There's a map of the northern part of the street on Wikipedia, which makes for impressive viewing (keep clicking to zoom in on a version that you can actually read), and an excellent photograph also on Wikipedia of one small part of the street. If anyone has any photos of the street that they would like to share please get in touch with me: andie @

Travel: What Guidebooks Don’t Tell You (Christine Bates)

I've more or less stopped posting travel items but I thought that this one stood out from usual monotonous descriptions that we have all read a hundred times before. It provides a reality check on the sunny outlook of many standard travel guides and points out some of the frustrations and surprises of being a first-time tourist in Egypt.

Two days ago, I left Cairo at dawn under a crescent moon. For two weeks, my husband and I had traveled up and down the eternal Nile like all conquerors and tourists. We learned that our three travel books were an imperfect guide to this complex country with a known history of nearly 6,000 years and a population of more than 83 million. There are many important subjects guidebooks do not cover, which we didn’t understand until we were actually there.

We began our trip in Cairo the night that the Egyptian national soccer team beat rival Algeria for the continental championship called the Africa Cup. All roads were jammed with celebratory traffic. Cars were honking, fans were waving Egyptian flags, and fireworks and flames appeared sporadically among the crowds assembled on the side of the roads.

My husband started coughing immediately — he’s a canary when it comes to air quality. According to a recent World Bank study that ranked the air quality of cities, Cairo is the most polluted city in the world — almost twice as polluted as Beijing with 169 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic liter. Compare this to Millerton’s and New York City’s PM readings Friday morning of 2.5. Tourists with allergies and asthma should limit their exposure to Cairo’s air. No guidebooks mention the severity of this problem.

Neither did any guidebooks mention that visiting many of Egypt’s fabulous, historic sites is physically demanding. One needs to get up at 3 a.m. and travel by bus convoy for four hours to visit Abu Simbel, the New Kingdom temple built by Ramses II around 1250 BC.

Amheida 2009 Report

I was rumbling around the web looking for something else when I stumbled across the above link to the latest field report from Amheida (2009). Amheida is in Dakhleh Oasis (Western Desert). The report is in PDF format, and includes photographs and plans.

Warrior Tut

Archaeology Magazine (Raymond Johnson)

Little was known about Tutankhamun when his tomb was discovered in 1922. He ruled sometime after the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten--who abandoned the traditional Egyptian pantheon headed by the god Amun in favor of Aten, a solar deity--and presumably died young after an insignificant reign. Since then, the "boy king" tag has colored our understanding of the young king. But new discoveries contradict that early assessment. Recent CT scanning of his mummy shows that Tut was no boy at death, but was a grown man by the standards of the time and may have been 20 years old. And his 9- to 10-year reign toward the end of the 14th century B.C. was one of the greatest periods of restoration in the history of Egypt. Under Tut, the damage caused by Akhenaten's iconoclastic fury against the state god Amun, which tore the country's social, political, and economic fabric asunder, was repaired and Amun's cult restored.

The rich array of objects found in Tutankhamun's tomb speak to the opulence of the Egyptian court and the young king's pampered life. But other items, including numerous throwsticks (sort of non-returning boomerangs), spears, bows and arrows, and chariots--many inscribed with his name and clearly used--attest his athleticism and youthful energy. Today, new evidence of Tutankhamun's reign has emerged that shows he was much more active than was thought, and may have led military campaigns against the Syrians and Nubians before he died.

Preserving the tomb of Tutankhamun

eTurboNews (Hazel Heyer)

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the J. Paul Getty Trust announced a new partnership for the conservation and management of the tomb of Tutankhamen, a five-year collaborative effort between the SCA and the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI). . . .

Because of its history and its contents, which were excavated over a ten-year period, the tomb of Tutankhamen is of great historic and cultural value. Today the tomb is among the most heavily visited sites in the Theban necropolis and the large number of visitors may be contributing to the tomb’s physical deterioration. The Tutankhamen project will undertake detailed planning for the conservation and management of the tomb and its wall paintings, with the SCA and the GCI working jointly to design and implement the plan.

Nefertiti photo ban

Earth Times

I was surprised, when I read this, that the museum had had a policy of permitting photographs. Apart from the dangers of flash I would have thought that for logistical reasons alone photography would have been banned simply because people taking picutres usually slows up visitor flow around certain exhibits. The problem with people ignoring the restrictions on flash is infuriating. If they don't know how to turn the automatic flash off then they quite simply shouldn't use the camera where flash is banned.

Berlin has banned tourists taking photographs of Queen Nefertiti, amid fears that camera flashes may spoil pigments painted on the limestone and plaster bust, a museum spokeswoman said Thursday. The sculpture in the Neues Museum featuring a delicate skin-tan and perfect eye makeup that make the 3,500-year-old figure look like a contemporary woman, is one of the city's top tourist draws.

The spokeswoman said the previous policy, allowing photographs if the flash was turned off, was changed several weeks ago, "because most visitors were not obeying the ban on flash."

The boat beneath the pyramid

Talking Pyramids (Vincent Brown)

Vincent has done a great feature today on Khufu's boat at Giza. He has displayed some excellent photographs and provided links to PDFs and photographs which describe the boat and its discovery, excavation and reconstruction.

Lecture on Djehuty

Luxor News Blog (Jane Akshar)

Thanks again to Jane for making her lecture notes available. See her website, above, for the full set of notes. Here's a short preview:

Djehuty by Jose Galan
Totally excellent lecture with 203 slides!

Their website in Spanish but you can use Goggle translate to view it.
I also have previous notes and (search on TT11)

The Spanish team have been working there 9 seasons at the northern end of the Theban necropolis at Dra Abu Naga. This was a special place in ancient times as it was connected to Karnak, the sun roses between the pylons across the river and set behind Dra Abu Naga. It was also the 1st landing place of the Beautiful feast of the valley, which was Luxor’s most special ancient festival.

The first excavation was done by the Marquis of Northampton with the Egyptologists Newbury and Spiegelberg but this was a very short season back in 1899. In 1909 both Gardiner and Weigall started work trying to protect tombs and around that time a number of photos were taken which are in the Griffiths Institute. The situation in 2002 was not much different from that of 1909 with TT11 only half visible and TT12 and TT399 not visible at all.

The original aim of team was to document the courtyards of the tombs and in fact TT11 has the longest recorded courtyard. The tombs of TT11, TT12, TT399 and Baki are all connected; TT11 is a t-shaped tomb.

Exhibition: Ippolito Rosellini

Al Ahram Weekly (Gamal Nkrumah)

Every depiction of an ancient portrait has the capacity to change interpretive history. It is mid-February and the Temple of Edfu looks a shadow of its usual self. Instead of picture-postcard columns, the colossal figures etched on its walls and the spirit of the late summer inundation, the ghostly outlines of high-priests look like they are under the spell of a sorcerer of the ancients.

It is not the dead bodies, decomposing mummies, powerful memories of a lost world that entrance the viewer. It is the very image of Ippolito Rosellini, the father of Italian Egyptology and colleague of Jean- François Champollion at work in Upper Egypt that captures the imagination of the visitor to "Ippolito Rosellini and the Dawn of Egyptology" at the Egyptian Museum. It takes some time to come to terms with the imposition imported, or rather on loan, from the Rosellini Archives in the University Library of Pisa, the home town of Italy's "Father of Egyptology".

Photo for Today - Kiosk of Qertassi

Kiosk of Qertassi
New Kalabsha
(Lake Nasser, just south of the Aswan High Dam at Aswan)

The kiosk, the remainder of what was a much larger temple,
was originally erected next to sandstone quarries 40km to the south
and features twin heads of Hathor, who was the deity responsible
for miners and quarrymen

There's a good photograph of it in its original position,
taken by Francis Firth in 1857, on the Megalithic Portal website.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fighting water levels at Medinet Habu


With photos. Medinet Habu is a fabulous site with a lot of the original colours still in tact.

The matching Indiana Jones fedoras on two leading archeologists as they entered the ancient Temple Rameses III of Medinet Habu were necessary shields for working in the 104-degree Egyptian desert in October.

Egyptian excavators emerged from among ancient pillars to greet Egyptologists Raymond Johnson, director of the Epigraphic Survey based at Chicago House in Luxor, and Gerry Scott, director of the American Research Center in Egypt, who are working to save their national history.

Medinet Habu lies miles away from the more famous Luxor and Karnak Temples but, unlike these two World Heritage Sites on the Nile’s East Bank where a USAID-funded dewatering project has slowed the rate of deterioration, the West Bank temple continues to decay due to groundwater intrusion. Building structures become porous and cracked by rising groundwater levels. The wall surfaces where hieroglyphics and drawings are etched have begun falling away.

“The surface is sloughed off the stone, like skin,” Johnson said.

Though some buildings have stood since 2000 B.C., neighboring sugarcane irrigation has caused water levels to rise and bring salt into the base of the ancient buildings, Johnson said.

Comments re Tutankhamun publication in JAMA

For those who haven't had the chance to wade through all the different articles about the JAMA paper (see yesterday's post) Kate has provided an excellent summary of the main findings. See:
News from the Valley of the Kings (Kate Phizackerley).

Some comments have started to emerge which take issue with or question the emphasis placed on some of the findings. The National Post questions the ethics of such work, and the Associated Press wonders if the findings will undermind the fascination with all things Tutankhamun.


This article looks at the JAMA article and disputes some of its claims - and says that other claims in the paper are unsurprising. With family tree.

The team behind the work, led by Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, thinks that King Tut may have weakened and died from some combination of these conditions — especially considering that he also had a fractured leg2, an injury perhaps sustained as a result of his foot problems.

But other experts argue that finding evidence of malaria is unsurprising, given that the parasite was probably common in Egypt at the time. Moreover, in malarious regions people who survive the disease in childhood often acquire partial immunity that protects them against full-blown malaria later in life. The lack of internal organs in mummies makes a definitive diagnosis impossible. "No data are available to assess that malaria was the cause of death," says Giuseppe Novelli, head of the medical genetics lab at Tor Vergata University of Rome.

The authors also believe that the malaria finding is "the oldest genetic proof for malaria in precisely dated mummies". Experts say this is no big deal, however, as mummies thought to be from this period and earlier have already been shown to have had P. falciparum malaria3,4. Moreover, changes in the human genome that have been attributed to malaria's influence show that the disease has been around since ancient times5.
Differential diagnosis

The damage to King Tut's foot may also be open to alternative explanation, experts say. A diagnosis of necrosis cannot clearly be made from the published images, says Gino Fornaciari, director of palaeopathology at the University of Pisa in Italy, adding that it could be secondary to malaria.

Archaeology Magazine (Mark Rose)

News reports are coming out today about Tut, malaria, and his family DNA. Here's a quick take based on an early cut of the Discovery documentary and the Journal of the American Medical Association press release.

The bone degeneration in one of Tut's feet is very clear. Genetic evidence of malaria is said to have been found in Tut's mummy and three others. The researchers speculate that bone degeneration and a broken leg plus malaria might have done Tut in. Some of the versions of the story suggest that Tut was "frail," a view that runs counter to our March/April cover story, "Warrior Tut." I suspect that they are overdoing it a bit.

The positive identification of the mummy from tomb KV55 as Akhenaten--thought by many to be Tut's father--is a little puzzling as the mummy's age at death estimated osteologically and dentally is too young. The individual was perhaps just a bit older than 20, while mid-30s is what we'd expect for Akhenaten. It isn't clear to me that identification of KV55 as Smenkhkare, possibly Tut's brother, can be ruled on the DNA results. (I've emailed the project's DNA specialist about this point.)

Somewhat startlingly, the so-called "Younger Lady" mummy from KV35 is said to be Tut'mother.

Ennahar Online

Experts in Egyptology eagerly await the announcement Wednesday of the results of DNA analysis of the mummy of Tutankhamun, some hoping for a scientific and historical breakthrough, others pointing to the difficulties and limitations of the exercise. . . .

A first difficulty is the condition of DNA evidence taken from embalmed bodies by dozens of people with many products, and may be again handled during excavations and looting.

"The major problem is to have a reliable DNA for remains as old," said Michel Wuttmann, the French Institute of Oriental Archeology (IFAO) in Cairo.

Mummies past under X-rays in the past may also have damaged DNA. The mummy of Ramses II, treated with cobalt bomb to kill the fungi that gnawing, was now a highly degraded DNA.

Mr. Wuttmann hoped however that research on Tutankhamun will advance in this technique. "We are delighted to have a reliable instrument and a validated procedure for many other studies, often less dramatic," he says.

Very critical, Abdel Halim Nureddin, former head of Egyptian antiquities and professor of archeology at Cairo University, declares on his part "not able to say categorically that DNA testing can give true results on mummies over 3500 years.

"DNA tests in archeology are not sufficient. There must be other archaeological evidence that allows us to establish with certainty the genealogy of Tutankhamun," he says.

Gulf Times

Archaeologists are divided among those hoping the DNA results will lead to a scientific breakthrough and others who believe DNA testing can not be conclusive.
“We need other archaeological proof to establish with certainty the lineage of Tutankhamun,” said Cairo University professor Abdel Halim Nurreddin. “DNA testing is not enough.”

Michel Wuttmann of a Cairo-based French archaeology institute said Wednesday’s revelations could help unravel other “less spectacular” mysteries.
American archaeologist Raymond Johnson meanwhile told AFP: “We are very interested in having another tool in the study of these ancient families.”

“I think other analyses have proven that it can be very useful in showing close genetic relationship,” he added.

National Post

Raises some interesting questions, but doesn't attempt to answer them.

As sleuthing tools become more widespread, ethical questions are bound to emerge.

What is considered a decent lapse of time before scientists can carry out a "historical" inquiry on human remains?

And should great figures be entitled to the same protection of privacy as private individuals?

"All historians are guilty of enjoying reading the mail and personal materials of others," said Howard Markel of the University of Michigan in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), where the Tutankhamun probe was published.

"The penetrating wonders of 21st-century medical science... (require) pondering all the ethical implications of such inquiries to avoid opening a historical Pandora's box."

Associated Press

"This is one sick kid," Egyptologist Emily Teeter, assistant curator at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said after learning of the research. It shows that, based on DNA tests and CT scans, Tut had a genetic bone disease and malaria, which combined with a severe broken leg could have been what killed him about 3,300 years ago at age 19.

The results appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. They further dispel the more romantic and popular theories about what did him in, like being murdered by a sneaky palace foe.

The findings stem from the most rigorous research yet on a mummy that has fascinated the world ever since his largely intact, treasure-filled tomb was found nearly 90 years ago.

But historians say the new evidence will likely only intensify public interest in King Tutankhamun because it brings the boy ruler down to Earth.

"It makes him all the more human and all the more fascinating," said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan.

The more realistic picture, fleshed out by testing Tut's mummy and those of his family, has its own mystique. Beneath the golden splendor in which they lived, ancient Egypt's royals were as vulnerable as the lowliest peasant: Three other mummies besides Tut's showed repeated malaria infections.


Unable to resist the opportunity for a backward glance, Reuters have added a piece about how they reported the original discovery of Tutanhkamun's tomb.

Reuters sent Valentine Williams, brother of Chief Editor Douglas Williams, to Egypt as its special correspondent. However, there was a snag. Lord Carnarvon had reached an agreement with The Times for exclusive rights to the story. Despite this, Williams contrived not only to obtain news of the discovery of the intact sarcophagus within minutes of its happening but also to be the first to get a ‘flash’ out to the world.

The climax came on February 16, when taking a gamble that the final breakthrough into the chamber was imminent, Williams made his secret preparations.

First, he telephoned Reuters Cairo office to buy a car, and, as there was then no road, arranged for it and a driver to be sent to Luxor by rail. Under cover of night, 20 Eqyptians manhandled it to the Nile, levered it onto a small boat and hid it in the rushes on the western bank. This would be used to speed the news from the Valley of the Kings to the western bank of the river.

Next, a boat was hired to take the news across. He then arranged for a local car (a very ancient Model T Ford) to be on standby to carry the news from the eastern bank to the cable office in Luxor. As he waited near the tomb entrance, Valentine kept in his pocket two prepared telegram cables, each marked Urgent (triple rates). One read ‘Tomb empty’, the other ‘King’s sarcophagus discovered’.