Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The New Issue of KMT Magazine

     The new issue of KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt arrived in my mailbox. As always it is full of interesting articles and gorgeous photographs. The magazine contains an article on the contents of the almost intact tomb of Maiherpri (found in the Valley of the Kings in 1899) as well as coverage of a Ramesses II special exhibit in Karlsruhe, Germany and another special exhibit in the Turin Museum. The usual information packed columns are on display as  "For the Record" contains information about exhibits and new publications in Europe and the Americas and "Nile Currents" reports on the latest excavations in Egypt. All in all, another great issue.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Old Kingdom Sarcophagus

     At the end of the Pre-Dynastic Period, Egypt was unified by a Pharaoh of Upper Egypt (possibly Narmer) and royalty began distinguishing themselves from the "average" Egyptian. Their mastabas tombs in the first two dynasties became larger than the burial places of the average persons, who were usually buried in simple graves with a few pots, some jewelry and, once in a while, a wooden coffin or bed (examples of both can be seen in the Old Kingdom galleries of the Metropolitan Museum). In the early third Dynasty Djoser and his architect Imhotep built a step pyramid that was, at the time, the largest stone building erected in human history.

     In the Fourth Dynasty this trend continued as Khufu, Khafra and Menkara built the great pyramids. But other members the royal family also began showing their wealth. They were often buried in large mastabas in the shadow of the king's pyramid.
   
     Pictured here is the sarcophagus of a prince or his wife which is currently in the Brooklyn Museum. It was carved from an incredibly heavy granite block and is decorated with a pattern of niches that imitate the front of a major building complex. The lid, which was carved from a separate block of granite, has four holes drilled in it to allow ropes to be used to lower the lid onto the body of the sarcophagus after the body was laid to rest in it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Find in Egypt

     Unlike Iraq and Iran where archaeological excavations are currently almost non-existent, Egypt has a lot going on. A couple of the latest finds include:

1) A Greco-Roman necropolis has been found at Tuna el-Gebel- this necropolis contains the burials of numerous animal mummies (birds and baboons at least). But as excavations continued a cachette of seventeen non-royal human mummies was found. Some of the burials were in limestone sarcophagi and a couple of wooden coffins were also found.

2) The Thirteenth Dynasty Pyramid found at Dashur - some clarity is arriving as to exactly what has been found. Some thought it was the re-discovery of a pyramid that was found many years ago, but now it does seem to be a new pyramid. The original pyramid was found in 1957 and contained the remains of a canonic jar bearing the name of King Imeny-Qemaw. The new pyramid contains a fragment of a Pyramid Text for that pharaoh.  Also, a wooden canonic chest has been found bearing the name of the princess Hatshepsut who is known from two other Dynasty Thirteen objects inscribed with her name. The canpoic box was found in the pyramid's burial chamber, so this pyramid seems to have been built for Imeny-Qemaw's daughter Hatshepsut.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

An Early Pesesh-kef?

     A Pesesh-kef is an implement used during the ancient Egyptian funerary ritual known as the Opening of the Mouth. Small kits containing a Pesesh-kef and some vases used in purification rituals are known from the Old Kingdom (as early as the Fourth Dynasty).

     In the Pre-Dynastic Period, a fair number of objects that are similar to the Pesesh-kef have been found in burials. Some egyptologists call these objects "fish-tailed knives" rather than Pesesh-kefs. The exact use of this object is unclear. It does have a very fine and sharp cutting surface in the "Y" portion of the "knife".

     But what was it used to cut and is having a Y-shaped cutting edge really useful? The answer to these questions is unclear, but Ann Macy Roth has proposed an interesting theory. She says the fish-tailed knife / pesesh-kef was used to cut the umbilical cord after a child was born.

     This object was found in a Naqada 1 grave at Ma'mariya and is now in the Brooklyn Museum.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Pre-Dynastic Jewelry

Fig. 1 - Naqada II Necklace
     Jewelry has been used by humans since time immemorial to enhance their appearance and, in many cases, to function as amulets that magically protect the wearer. The necklaces shown here came from Pre-Dynastic burials and may have been used for either or both purposes.

     The necklace in figure 1 comes from the Naqada II Period.  The large beads at the bottom look like cowrie shells and remind me of the golden cowrie shells found on one of the girdles of Princess Sit Hathor Yunet (dating to the reign of Senwosret II in Dynasty 12).

Fig. 2 - Naqada II Necklaces
     Figure 2 shows two more necklaces, but these date to the Naqada III Period. Figure 3 is a close up of the necklace in the upper left corner of figure 2.

Fig. 3 - Close up of a necklace in fig. 2
     These objects are made of a mixture of semi-precious stones and faience, which is ground quartz, a glaze and a binder mixed together. Faience was made by the Egyptians for thousands of years as an imitation of Lapis Lazuli stone. In fact, faience became so common that when an Egyptian text referred to the actual lapis stone, the text would usually call it "real Lapis Lazuli".




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pre-Dynastic Knives

     A number of stone knives have been found in Pre-Dynastic excavations and one of the best examples is in the Brooklyn Museum. The blade is flint, polished on one side and delicately flaked on the other to give a sharp cutting edge. The handle is made of elephant ivory and has extremely small carvings of many animals (including elephants, giraffes, lions and sheep as well as some animals that have not yet been identified to everyone's satisfaction) on it. The upraised portion of the handle is a "thumb-rest" (according to the museum's label) for a right-handed user.

     The knife dates to the Naqada III period (about 3100 B. C.) and is from Abu Zaidan, where it was found by de Morgan during the 1907 - 1908 excavation season. A similar knife, found at Abydos seems to be from a slightly earlier period (Naqada II, 3400 - 3300 B. C.).
 



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pre-Dynastic Egypt

Fig. 1 - Typical Pre-Dynastic Pottery, Brooklyn Museum
     Back when I was an archaeology student the Pre-Dynastic Period was divided into three parts by Egyptologists. The earliest was the Badarian Period, followed by the Amratian and finally by the Gerzean. I always remembered the order of the periods as they we "in the BAG". In some older books, you can still find these terms used.

     Then scholars decided that there were not really three separate cultures in Pre-Dynastic Egypt, but rather there was only one with three sub-periods, Naqada I, Naqada II and Naqada III. The pottery of each period is quite distinctive and can easily be recognized, even by a confirmed non-pottery person such as myself.

Fig. 2 - Pottery from Naqada I (left) and Naqada II (right)
Fig. 3 - Naqada III pot with painted boat decoration
     Figure 1 shows an example of pottery from each of the three periods. The pot in the middle, with the black top is from the Naqada I period (formerly the Badarian), while the bowl to the right is from Naqada II (once called the Amratian) and the pot to the left is from Naqada III (Gerzean). Figure 2 shows a close up of the pottery from the first two periods, while figure 3 shows a close-up of the pot from the Naqada III period.

     In figure 3 the pot is decorated with a painted boat with oars and two small "buildings" on the deck of the boat. This is a very typical type of decoration for the pottery of this era and serves to remind how the Nile formed the primary travel route in Egypt even in the earliest of times.

     Or is this right? According to the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, the Badarian Period is now, once again, called  the Badarian. Naqada I is what used to be called the Amratian, Naqada II is what used to be called the Gerzean, while Naqada III may have seen a Pre-Dynastic unification of Egypt (the evidence for this is that local Lower Egyptian pottery is replaced by Upper Egyptian Naqada pottery in Naqada III).

     Incidentally, I corrected a paragraph above to read "Badarian" not "Bavarian" (spell check strikes again!)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Brooklyn "Bird Woman"

     I went to the Brooklyn Museum last weekend. It was the first time I had been there in many years. The collection has been completely re-installed, is brightly lit and has a very modern look to it. Many of the objects in the collection are justifiably famous. One of those objects is the famous Brooklyn "Bird-Lady".

     This object dates from the Naqada II period, about 3,500 to 3,400 B. C. and is made of terra-cotta. What exactly is it supposed to represent is unclear. Perhaps it is a fertility figure? The reason it is often called a "bird-lady" is that its face resembles a bird with a large beak.

   

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Confusion over "New" Pyramid Find

     We reported a couple of days ago that the remains of a new pyramid have been found at Dashur, North of the Bent Pyramid of King Snefru. Now it is being reported that the find is actually South of the Bent Pyramid.

     Now the question is arising that this "new" pyramid may actually be a re-discovery of a Thirteenth Dynasty pyramid that was originally found in the 1950s. In any event it is an interesting find and I do have some links to share:

     Ahram Online (in English)

     Ahram Online (in Arabic)

     A paper discussing the 1950s find

Over the next few weeks I am sure the confusion will get sorted out. When it does I will let you know.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A New Pyramid Found in Egypt

     A new pyramid has been found in Egypt, or to be more exact, the remains of a pyramid have been found. It seems to date to the thirteenth Dynasty and was found at Dashur near the Bent Pyramid.

     The find has brought out the usual suspects. One "newspaper" has revived the "curse of the Pharaohs" story, while a couple of other publications claim that the pyramid might have been Egypt's first attempt at a smooth sided pyramid! Given that it was built hundreds of year after the Giza Pyramids this story is a bit of a laugh. Possibly the author has gotten things garbled a little. The bent pyramid might have been the first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid, but the "reporters" are saying the nearby Dynasty Thirteen pyramid was the first try at a true pyramid.

     In any event, this is an interesting find and hopefully it will provide some useful information about the poorly understood Thirteenth Dynasty.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Mummy Exhibit at New York's Museum of Natural History

     To all of you who will be in New York City in the next few months, you may want to check out a new mummy exhibit that has opened at the Museum of Natural History. Naturally Egyptian mummies are part of the exhibit, but so are mummies from Peru. I have not yet seen the exhibit (it has just opened) and will provide more details once I do see it. In the meantime, here is some more information about it. 

   Also in the news is the discovery of the tomb of one of the Ptolemaic "Kings" in Cyprus. The tomb is that of 12 year old Ptolemy Efpator, who was appointed King of Cyprus by his father Ptolemy the Sixth of Egypt. The child ruled Cyprus for about two years. The Ptolemy were the descendants of General Ptolemy, who was a commander for and close friend of Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death, Ptolemy declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt and promptly stole Alexander's body, which was en route to Macedonia for burial. Ptolemy had Alexander buried at Memphis, but the world conquering Macedonian was later re-buried in Alexandria. Another article on the discovery, with a re-construction of the tomb, can be found here.






Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tutankhamen's Funeral Objects from Nefertiti's Funerary Equipment?

     It has been known for many years that some of the objects in Tutankhamen's tomb were not made for his funeral. Nicholas Reeves has taken a look at this in an article in the latest copy of the Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar ("Tutankhamen's Mask Reconsidered", BES volume 19, 2015). He lists a number of objects that seem to have been made for some one else's funeral, but which were used in Tutankhamen's burial. The canonic coffinettes, some of the mummy trappings, and even the world famous gold death mask were actually made for Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten.

     It has been suspected that Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was Queen Nefertiti serving as a co-regent with her husband Akhenaten. Strong support for this theory has now emerged as Dr. Reeves has re-examined Tutankhamen's death mask and noted that the young king's cartouche on the mask was altered in ancient times to replace a cartouche of Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. This would seem to prove that Ankhkheperure did rule as a Pharaoh. It does not prove that this was the throne name of Nefertiti, but it would seem very possible that it was her throne name.

     If you can get a copy of BES 19, do read Dr. Reeve's article as it contains some very interesting material. BES 19 is also a "festschrift" commemorating the career of Dorothea Arnold, who is well-known and well-respected in the field of egyptology.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Palace of Sennacherib Found

     Archaeologists working in Mosul to assess the damage caused by ISIS to what is believed to be the tomb of the Prophet Jonah have discovered that the palace of Sennacherib lies below the Prophet's final resting place. Apparently ISIS had dug tunnels into the site looking for artifacts to loot.

     One of the tunnels contained an inscription from the reign of Esarhaddon. who was the son of Sennacherib. The tunnels are apparently in danger of collapsing which would do even more damage to the site.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dynasty Thirteen Group Statue

     As the Middle Kingdom wound down and the Second Intermediate Period began, group statues like the one illustrated here became more common. This group is of a nobleman named Senpu and his family. They are shown standing in front of an altar which they hoped would have offerings placed on it in their memory. Senpu is the cloaked figure in the center, and he is surrounded by his mother, two brothers and another woman (his grandmother?).

     The garments of the men are are good examples of some that I have mentioned in the last few posts. Senpu wears a cloak that he holds together with his right hand, while his brothers wear long "kilts" that are tied at the waist (you can see the knot sticking out above the top of the kilts).

     The women are dressed in fairly traditional sheath dresses that come up to just below the breasts. The breast are covered by straps that go over each shoulder.

     This statue is now in the Louvre in Paris and was originally found at Abydos.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

More Middle Kingdom Statues

     There are some other garment styles on the statues of Middle Kingdom nobility than the one shown in the previous post. Figure 1 shows a mid to late Dynasty 12 statue of a man wearing an almost all-covering shawl. You can see the edging of the shawl below the chin of the man and notice how his right hand is almost covered by the garment (it almost seems as if the right hand is holding the two sides of the shawl closed around him). Statues wearing such shawls continue on into the Second Intermediate Period.

     Figure 2, also from Dynasty 12, shows a man names Nemithotep seated and wearing a shawl like the one in figure 1. This statue also shows the nobleman wearing a wig with the pointed lapets mentioned in the previous post.

     Finally there is the seated scribe  statue (figure 3) of the Dynasty 13 high steward Gebu. This statue shows yet another commonly worn garment of the period. This one covers Gebu from just below his breast, down over his abdomen and over his legs. If you look carefully at the top of the garment (on the left side of the photo) you can see some cloth showing above the tip of the garment. This is likely a representation of a knot that holds the garment in place. Gebu also wears a wig with pointed lapets.


   

Saturday, January 7, 2017

12th Dynasty Statue of Sehetepibreankh

Figure 1 - Sehetepibreankh, Met Museum
     Each major period of Egyptian history has distinctive features in its art work. In the statues of the nobility the clothes they wear are very different from period to period.

Figure 2 - Folded Cloth in the Right Hand
     The statue shown here shows a typical representation of a Middle Kingdom nobleman. In figure 1 we can see a statue of Sehetepibreankh (Sehetepibre is one of the names of the Pharaoh Amenemhat I, during whose reign this nobleman began his career, so his name means Amenemhat Lives). There are some details of the statue which are a holdover from the Old Kingdom. For instance, Sehetepibreankh holds in his right hand a folded cloth (figure 2) which is commonly shown in statues from the Old Kingdom (and would be shown in the statuary of the New Kingdom as well). The legs of the statue are also carved in a way that reminds me of Old Kingdom sculpture.
Figure 3 - Showing a common Middle Kingdom Wig
Figure 4 - Notice the Hair at the Bottom of the Wig's Lapets
     But the wig worn by this nobleman is quite different from that worn in the Old Kingdom. Note how the lapets slant down to a point (figure 3). This is common in the statuary of Dynasties Twelve and Thirteen. Also, look at the lapels closely in figure 4. I am not quite sure what is being represented here. It might be that a cloth is covering the actual wig (notice how the hair seems to stick out below the "cloth" at the bottom of the wig's lapets and on the owner's forehead). Or is the hair arranged differently at the bottom of the lapets than it is in the rest of the wig and there is no cloth being shown over the wig at all?


Copyright (c) 2017 by John Freed

Monday, January 2, 2017

Somethings Never Change

     Many years ago I was in Egypt for the second time. I had learned enough on the first trip to be confident that I could get around without a tour group the second time. So I decided to take the bus from Midan Tahrir (just outside the Cairo Museum) to the Great Pyramid. I waited patiently for the bus. When it arrived everyone else who was waiting for it pushed their way on at the same time as everyone on the bus was pushing their way off. Not wanting to be the bad American tourist, I decided to wait until the dust settled and then politely board the bus. Needless to say the door to the bus closed in my face and I settled down for the long wait for the next one. Guess who led the pushing when the next bus arrived? Yes, it was the bad American tourist.

     As the bus rolled along the road to Giza the local kids were jumping up and grabbing a hold onto the side of the bus to ride for free. There were dozens of kids (and a few adults) hanging onto the outside of the bus this way. As I stood on the bus I had this vision of a Volvo getting too close to the bus with tragic results. Fortunately that did not happen.

     After  a short time I was able to start taking in the scene around me. Taking public transportation when you visit another country is a good way to learn a little about the lives of the locals. There were folks holding baskets of something or other, others excitedly talking, etc. There was also a woman who was holding two geese by the wings. The geese were, not surprisingly, honking and flapping around covering the bus (and me) in their feathers.

     This reminded me of the many scenes carved on tomb and temple walls by the ancient Egyptians, where a servant brings live geese to the tomb owner by holding the birds by their wings. Figure 1 shows a representation of such a scene. This piece is from the pyramid complex of Amenemhat I at Lisht and is now in the Brooklyn Museum. It clearly shows that somethings never change. At least some of the modern Egyptians do the same things their ancestors did thousands of years ago.