Friday, September 28, 2012

The Serapeum

Photo 1 - Sphinxes from the front of the Sertapeum
     The finding of the Serapeum is one of the most interesting stories in all of archaeological history. It was found in 1850 by Auguste Mariette, who was in Egypt to buy Coptic manuscripts for a client. Mariette found the head of a sphinx sticking up out of the sand at Sakkara, slightly to the northwest of the step pyramid of Djoser.

     When Mariette cleared away the sand, he found an avenue of sphinxes which was probably built by Nectanebo I (Dynasty 30). Some of these sphinxes are now in the Louvre Museum in Paris, (see photo 1).

     Mariette followed these sphinxes until he came to an underground passage, which proved to be the burial place of the "Apis" bulls, which were sacred to the god Ptah.

      Construction of the Serapeum seems to have started during the reign of Ramesses II. Over hundreds of years passages and side chambers were tunneled under the ground. In side chambers the remains of the Egyptian's sacred bulls were interred with all the pomp and splendor due these important animals.

Photo 2 - An offering stela from the Serapeum
          Mariette found one intact Apis bull burial, as well as many other objects, including a large statue of an Apis bull (now in the Louvre) and many stelae. The stelae were brought to the Serapeum by worshipers of Ptah and left as evidence of their piety. The stele shown here (photo 2) is one of the oddest that I have ever seen. It shows two obelisks flanking a pyramid and one of the Apis bull sarcophagus. The bull is shown above the sarcophagus (by convention), even though it was likely meant to be understood that the bull was in the sarcophagus. The stele is unusual because it does not have the rounded top so typical of Egyptian stelae.
Photo 3 - Apis bull embalming slab, Memphis, Dynasty 26

     The Apis bulls probably lived in the temple of Ptah at Memphis. Each day the priests of Ptah would have fed and cared for the bull. When it died, it was mummified on a huge slab in that temple (photo 3 shows a slab dating to Dynasty 26). The slab slopes toward one end, so that the bull's blood and other bodily fluids could run off during the mummification process. After mummification was completed, the bull was buried in a huge sarcophagus in the the Serapeum. Since an Apis bull was required to have certain markings, when one died a new one had to be found, and the priests of Ptah would search throughout the land until one with the correct markings was found.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Louvre's Seated Scribe

The Old Kingdom seated scribe is one of the most famous works of Egyptian art in the world. The scribe sits cross-legged with a papyrus scroll on his lap. The face is lively and enhanced by the quartz eyes (inlaid in a copper setting). The scribe has a slight roll of fat on his chest / belly, which is is an ancient convention designed to show that he was well off. The statue was probably set in a separate base (now lost) that would have been carved with the names and titles of the owner.

The statue was found by Auguste Mariette in November, 1850 near the row of sphinxes leading to the Serapeum.

While this statue is clearly from the Old Kingdom, a more specific date cannot be arrived at.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sarcophagus of Ramesses III

The Foot End of the Sarcophagus, with Isis protecting the King
The huge granite sarcophagus box of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Ramesses III is in the Louvre (the lid is in the Fitzwilliam Museum). Ramesses was one of the few Egyptian kings that we know of who was assassinated. After the assassination attempt, Ramesses seems to have lived long enough to order trials for the conspirators before dying.

This king has been called the "last of the great Egyptian Pharaohs". Ramesses was able to repel the invasion of the "Sea Peoples" and the Libyans. But there seems to have been serious problems in Egypt late in his reign as there are reports of workmen going on strike because they have not been paid. The kings who followed him in the Twentieth Dynasty were mostly weak and ineffective.

Part of the Book of the Amduat
Nephthys at the Sarcophagus' Head

The royal sarcophagus is covered with religious texts (the Book of the Amduat), which begin at the head of the sarcophagus, near the representation of Nephthys, with the first seven hours of the Amduat being on one side of the sarcophagus and the remainder of the text being on the other side. This text describes the journey of the sun god through the twelve hours of the night and is extremely difficult to understand for modern readers. The Amduat may be derived from the Middle Kingdom "Book of Two Ways" and appears for the first time in tomb KV20 (the tomb of Hatshepsut and Tuthmose I).

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Burial of Sekhemre Herhermaat Intef

Coffin of Sekhemre Herhermaat Intef
The King's Name Written in Ink

 Sekhmere Wepmaat Intef was succeeded by Sekhemre Herhermaat Intef who was buried (most likely at Dra Abu el-Naga) in one of the cheapest, and ugliest, royal coffins in the history of Egypt. It was clearly an undertaker's stock coffin to which a royal uraeus was hastily pegged. The name of the King was added in ink on the lid of the coffin (see the second photo).

Sekhemre Herhermaat Intef seems to have ruled for only a few months and was, I believe, the twelfth king of Dynasty Seventeen. He was succeeded by Senakhtenre Tao I, who was married to the famous Queen Tetishei, whose famous (forged?) statue in the British Museum was discussed in on of my earlier posts.

Photos copyright John Freed, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Another Obscure Pharaoh

Coffin of Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef

The Louvre has coffins used for the burial of two kings of the Second Intermediate Period. The first of these two kings was named Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef, who ruled for about three years.

His coffin is a cheap "rishi" (feathered) coffin, that bears an inscription stating that it was a gift from his successor, Sekhemre Herhermaat Intef.

Canopic box of Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef

The Louvre also has the canopic chest of this Pharaoh in it's collection. This canopic chest, which originally would have held the king's internal organs after their removal from the body by the embalmers, is small and cheaply made and painted. Stylistically, it is typical of this period in Egyptian history.

The location of the tomb of this Seventeenth Dynasty Pharaoh is unknown to archaeologists, but his burial was found by tomb robbers (at Dra Abu el-Naga most likely) in the 1800s.

Canopic box of Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef
Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef, is by my reconstruction of the period, the eleventh king of Dynasty Seventeen, a period of political chaos in Egypt which saw the northern half of the country being ruled by foreign kings called the "Hyksos". Dr. Ryholt places this king in the third spot and believes that Nebkheperre Intef is Sekhemre Wepmaat Intef's successor (I place Nebkheperre as the first king of the dynasty).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sobekhotep IV

The main event during my trip to Paris was a visit to the Louvre Museum. Since I have done quite a bit of research into the history of Egypt's Second Intermediate Period, it was only natural that I quickly located a number of pieces from that period.

Sobekhotep IV of the Thirteenth Dynasty was likely one of the most able Pharaohs of the period. Not only did he reign for at least nine years, but there are also at least nine known sculptures of this king. Most of the pharaohs of this time have left us little but their names.

The statue shown here may have been originally discovered at Tanis, but that is not certain. Even if the statue was found at Tanis, it was not originally erected there. Possibly it was brought from Memphis? In any event, this statue is carved from red granite and is about 2.71 meters in height (slightly larger than life-size).

We do not know a lot about the reign of this king. He was preceded on the throne by his brother Neferhotep I. Sobekhotep V (possibly a son of Sobekhotep IV) succeeded him. His parents do not seem to have been of royal blood.

For more information on this pharaoh, see: Ryhol, K. S. B., The Political Situation in Egypt During the Second Intermediate Period, Copenhagen: CNI Publications, 1997.

The known statues of Sobekhotep IV are catalogued in: Davies, W. V.: A Royal Statue Reattributed, London: British Museum, Occasional Papers #28, 1981, pp. 25 - 7.

Photos copyright John Freed, 2012.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tutankhamen in Paris

There was a very interesting exhibit in Paris when I was there. The exhibit is called "Tutankhamen, his Tomb and his Treasures". I only found out about the exhibit when I saw posters for it in the Paris Metro.

The exhibit consists of hundreds of very accurate reproductions of the objects in his tomb. Each room of the tomb is reconstructed at its full size, with all of the objects in the room placed as they were when the tomb was first opened by Howard Carter. Visitors can actually see how small the tomb is and how all of the objects were crammed into such a small space (see the photo of the antechamber to the left).

The reproductions are quite good and fully detailed. Those who have never been to Egypt can now see the large and heavy objects that do not travel to exhibits in foreign countries, such as Tutankhamen's sarcophagus and canopic chest.

The sponsors of the show (Wulf Kohl and Paul Heinen) began prototyping the reproductions in 2002. By 2004 enough of the reproductions had been finished, and were of high enough quality, that the sponsors decided to proceed with a full, life-sized reproduction of the entire tomb.

The artists who did the work are the finest artists available in Egypt. They included painters, sculptors and specialists in gilding, casting and wood working. Egyptologists (Dr. Martin von Falck and Dr. Wolfgang Wettengel) were also engaged to make sure that the exhibit was as accurate an informative as possible.

The show is in the Paris Exposition Center and runs until the first week of September. I enjoyed the exhibit a great deal and thought that it was well worth the fairly long trip by Metro to get to the Exposition Center.

Photos: Top Left - the Antechamber of the tomb showing the royal chariots; Middle Right - the king's sarcophagus; Lower Left - the canopic chest which contained the king's internal organs.

All Photos copyright John Freed.