Thursday, February 26, 2015

Senebkay Killed in Battle?

     You have probably never heard of this ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. His existence was completely unknown until recently when his tomb was found last year at Abydos. He ruled a small kingdom centered around Abydos during the Second Intermediate Period. The existence of this kingdom has been suggested in the past, but it has only been recently that concrete evidence has been found to support its existence.

     The body (bones only) of the King has just just been examined and it seems likely that he was killed in battle. His body shows numerous cuts to his legs and also to his back and head. The position of the wounds in the lower part of his body indicates that he was above his attackers when he was attacked. His body also indicates that he had ridden horses for many years, so he may have been on horseback or in a chariot when he was attacked.

     This now makes Senebkay the earliest known Egyptian King to die in battle, replacing Sekenenre Tao (Dynasty 17) for this dubious distinction.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Relief Fragment from the Tomb of Montuemhat

Figure 1 - a Relief Fragment from Montuhotep's Tomb
     The Dynasty Twenty-Six tomb of Montuemhat is one of the largest and best known non-royal tombs at Thebes. Montuemhat was a priest of the Egyptian god Amun as well as the mayor of Thebes. His tomb was decorated in what is called an "archaizing" style. Many of the scenes in the tomb are done very much in the style of earlier times including the Old Kingdom and the Eighteenth Dynasty. The relief fragment pictured here (which is now in Munich) is believed to be from this funerary monument.

     The fragment shows the bottom of one one register and the upper portion of another register (figure 1). The significance of the scene in the lower register eludes me, although it may be part of the Mayor's funerary rites. The scene in the upper register (fig. 2) seems to be from the Opening of the Mouth ritual, specifically the the so-called "Sleeping of the Sem".

     In the "Sleeping of the Sem", the Kher-Heb, Am-Khent and Am-As priests enter the tomb where they find the Sem priest pretending to be asleep. The Sem, who appears to be wearing an animal skin of some sort, sits up as if awakened when the other priests enter and engages in a conversation the meaning of which is unclear to us. It is possible that the Sem here represents Osiris who has been brought back to life (?).

Figure 2 - the "Sleeping of the Sem" (?)
     The original exact location of this relief fragment in Montuemhat's tomb is not totally certain, although it seems possible that it was originally somewhere on the wall of the West portico of the tomb's first court (as other raised relief decorations are known to have been there when the tomb was first built).

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Looting Bankrolls Terrorism

     The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 11) is reporting that the looting of Syria's archeological sites is lining the coffers of terrorist organizations.  The article claims that looting, often done using bulldozers, is one terrorist group's second largest source of revenue (after oil) and Iraqi intelligence reports that Islamic State made perhaps $36 million just from looting sites around Nabek.

     The site of Mari has also been looted. It has had about 1,300 excavation pits dug in the past few months according to satellite images.

     One can only hope that the ongoing devestation of the Middle East will end soon. The cost to both people and archaeological sites has already been too steep and, sadly, looks to have no end in sight.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

King Snefru

     Snefru is one of the more famous Pharaohs of Egypt. He built at least three (yes, three!) pyramids and reigned for at least twenty-four years (a number of egyptologists suggest a reign of close to thirty years, while others suggest close to forty years for the length of his rule). He was the father of the Pharaoh Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid, and a Prince named Rahotep, whose tomb held a superb pair of statues (one of Rahotep and one of his wife Nefret) which are today considered to be among the greatest works of ancient Egyptian art.

     A story was told about Snefu on the Westcar Papyrus, which was certainly written long after Snefru's death. The story goes that Snefru as feeling rather down and wanted something to cheer him up. One of his officials suggested an afternoon spent boating, with the most beautiful ladies of the Harem rowing the boat. This quickly cheered Snefru up, until one of the young ladies lost an amulet in the lake that was so prized by her that not only would she not row, she would also not accept a substitute from the King. This put a damper on the day until one of the King's officials parted the waters (long before Moses) on which the boat was sailing and reclaimed the amulet for the upset harem lady.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Odd Carvings from Meidum

Figure 1 - Carvings from the Tomb of Nefermaat
     The carvings done in the mastaba tomb of a man named Nefermaat are very unusual. Nefermaat was the son of King Sneferu (4th Dynasty) and he was his father's Vizir (Prime Minister). His mastaba was built at Medium, right next to one of his father's pyramids.

Figure 2 - Three men on a boat
     The tomb featured carvings done in sunk relief and then filled with a paste made of gypsum and clay. The paste has, over the course of thousands of years, largely fallen out, leaving behind only the empty "holes" that were originally carved.

     The three blocks illustrated here show two heads of cattle (figure 1, top left and figure 3), a man herding cattle (figure 1, upper right) and three men on a boat (figure 1 bottom and figure 2). The cattle in figure 3 seems to be licking the leaves on a tree (I am not really sure if cattle actually do this.) All three of these blocks are now in Munich.

      These "reliefs" now seem to be almost unreal and I am not aware of any other occasion where this style of art work was used in ancient Egypt.