Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blog update - on holiday

Just to let everyone know that I am on holiday at the moment and will be back next week.

The cat cartoon is for Kat Newkirk and any other cat lovers out there (click to see the big image).

Kind regards


Friday, June 25, 2010

How Tutankhamun died - the latest questions

A new Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) letter from Christian Timmann, MD and Christian G. Meyer, MD, challenges the Hawass et al conclusions about how Tutankhmaum died published earlier this year.

Although this is the letter that the media have picked up on there are also four other letters in the same issue which respond to the article. None of the letters are available free of charge but the introductory paragraphs can be viewed free of charge on the JAMA website.


An extract from the letter

Dr Hawass and colleagues1 suggested Plasmodium falciparum malaria in conjunction with Köhler disease II as a possible cause of death for Tutankhamun. Falciparum malaria was endemic in ancient Egypt. Although detection of plasmodial MSP1, STEVOR, and AMA1 gene fragments in the mummy may prove presence of P falciparum, we are not convinced that the disease pattern suggested by the authors was the primary cause of Tutankhamun's early death. In endemic areas, malaria is a life-threatening disease commonly affecting children until the age of 6 to 9 years, not semi-immune adults of 18 to 19 years,2 the age that Tutankhamun apparently reached.

Heritage Key (Ann Wuyts)

King Tut died from sickle-cell disease, not malaria, say experts. German researchers at Hamburg's Bernhard Noct Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNI) have rejected a theory put forward by Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, claiming sickle-cell disease (SCD) caused King Tut's early demise. A team led by Dr Hawass had said a combination of Köhler disease and malaria was the primary cause of Tutankhamun's death. Yet the German team are calling for more tests on the boy-king's DNA, which they say will easily confirm or deny their claim.

The BNI team have cast doubt on Hawass' conclusions, after studying DNA tests and CT-scans used in the article, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (and accompanied by a host of television documentaries) in February this year.

Google / AFP

Legendary pharaoh Tutankhamun was probably killed by the genetic blood disorder sickle cell disease, German scientists said Wednesday, rejecting earlier research that suggested he died of malaria.

The team at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in the northern city of Hamburg questioned the conclusions of a major Egyptian study released in February on the enigmatic boy-king's early demise.

That examination, involving DNA tests and computerised tomography (CT) scans on Tutankhamun's mummy, said he died of malaria after suffering a fall, putting to rest the theory that he was murdered.

Theban Blindness - the case of Qurna

Thanks so much to Caroline Simpson for making her presentation at the Disciplinary Measures? conference in June so widely available. If anyone wants a copy in PDF format please email me and I will forward it on. I have put the full article below, together with Caroline Simpson's accompanying email.

Dear Archaeologists and Egyptologists who I have known and contacted over the years,

I recently wrote to many of you to ask if you had any photos of your Qurnawi workers you could send for an exhibition I was putting together for Qurna Discovery.

Sadly Qurna Discovery no longer exists - the buildings were demolished in mid May. So I will no longer need any photos.

Below is a mail I sent to Friends of Qurna Discovery 10 days ago, and attached is the paper I gave at a conference in London.

As you were not at the conference, it is only fair that you are able to read what I said. You will see that the paper is very critical of what has happened over the last years. I hope none of you will be deeply offended, but I do hope it will spark debate within your circle..

I also hope that some of you will see the value of an Oral History project even at this late date, and will look for ways this could be moved ahead.

Best wishes
Caroline Simpson
Coordinator, Qurna History Project

Disciplinary Measures? Histories of Egyptology in Multi-Disciplinary Context

A conference in London from 10-12 June 2010, and jointly sponsored by:
• The Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS) of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
• The Egypt Exploration Society.
• The University College London Institute of Archaeology Heritage Studies Research Group.

A paper given in the Panel called :Egyptian and Arab perceptions, by Caroline Simpson (Qurna History Project)

Theban Blindness - a case history of severe archaeological hypermetropia

I am not going to describe the slides – it should be obvious from the text. There will be individual ones as and when… and groups as described here in red.

The pathological condition of hypermetropia is where the sufferers are only able to focus properly on distant objects and unable to see those close to them with any clarity. In the past this was a common condition in the archaeology and heritage disciplines in most countries, but is still rampant in Egypt. It is prevalent in many locations, but is most clearly defined in Luxor, west and east - the ancient Thebes. As people working on Egypt’s superb monuments and antiquities became more highly trained and specialised, the hypermetropia worsened, and the focus became solely on the ancient. Despite advice from international organisations, and colleagues working in less afflicted countries, the conditioned worsened so much that it was felt necessary for near objects to be removed in order to create an uncluttered and sterile foreground for the distant objects. I am delighted to give this paper which I hope will give a greater knowledge of recent advances and events.

The Theban west bank, known as the Necropolis, was never just a place for dead people. The tombs and temples required labourers and craftspeople who lived locally with their families. The temples also required human resources in the same way as any cathedral precinct does today. In the Coptic period there was a fully functioning small town at Jeme in the ruins of the Habu temple, and many monasteries on the hillside whose inhabitants required food and other services. There is a fertile stretch of land, well watered by the inundation, and it is highly unlikely that the area was unpopulated at any time.

In more recent history, 18th century and early 19th century European, short-stay travellers to Thebes, while they recorded their visits to the monuments also recounted stories of local inhabitants. Taking their name from the cluster of dispersed hamlets that make up the village of Qurna, they are generally know as Qurnawi. Most of these early accounts show the Qurnawi in a bad light, something which has persisted to the present day. I have argued elsewhere that this bad reputation is largely explained by a lack of understanding of local social and economic habits coupled with an inability to speak the local language. Pococke’s map of 1743 shows the village of Qurna by Seti I temple. Denon in 1798/9 writes of large groups of people living in the saff tombs in Tarif, and a village around Seti temple – people who take to the hills for refuge when attacked. The early 19th century European fashion for collecting ancient Egyptian antiquities led many of the Qurnawi to move closer to their new work and settle permanently in and around the hillside tombs. The Europeans who came and stayed working in Qurna built substantial free-standing buildings – a habit that was then copied by the Qurnawi. Over the last 200 years a modern built fabric joined what remained of the earlier pharaonic and Coptic built heritage.

The next group of photos documents the recent history of this cultural heritage. The narrative is mainly from UNESCO, from which I will quote at length, firstly because they say it far better than I can, and secondly these documents should be more widely known.

While this is being read I rapidly show a collection of slides of the demolitions.

Thebes and its Necropolis was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. There have been examinations of the state of conservation by the World Heritage Committee and its Bureau in 1997, 98, 2001, 2006, and 7 and 8. The 2008 Report summarises: “ Its related decisions addressed notably the issues of the lack of a management plan, the possible conflict between conservation requirements and safeguarding of socio-cultural character of the local community, notably the destruction of Gurnah foreseen for some decades and the displacement of its inhabitants, that finally took place in 2006, without the geological, archaeological and geographical surveys and mapping, anthropological studies, assessment of the historical and cultural landscape qualities of the foothills and of the presence of Gurnah in the site requested by the World Heritage Bureau in 1997 and 1998.”

ICOMOS, in its review of the 2006 mission report stated: “The demolition of …. substantial parts of Gurnah (is) neither (an) acceptable approach within contemporary conservation theory (which demands that changes be limited to only those essential to meet critical functional needs, and here, only where this can be done without loss to heritage values), nor respectful of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. Even if some of these places are not what would be described as “antiquities”, they should be protected as being indissociably connected to the development of the site, and therefore worthy of the strongest protection efforts. In particular, the loss of Gurnah, whose residents have provided the bulk of the excavation effort at Thebes from the 19th century forward, would involve loss of a place of great importance within the original nomination. Removal of the population of Gurnah, and reduction of the village to a few surviving designated (and empty) historic buildings is an act which goes against all the principles of conservation.”

The World Heritage Centre mission of April-May 2007 noticed: “A large number of the houses of Gurnah were destroyed without any historic or ethnographic survey and the inhabitants moved to a new village to the South” and the 2007 Decision of the World Heritage Committee (31 COM 7B.55) was: “to institute a moratorium on any further demolition at Gurnah and relocation of its population until such time as the studies and impact assessments initially requested are carried out.”

In April 2008 a Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission was sent to Thebes and their report states: “The demolition and gradual eradication of the villages of Gurnah is another plan that is damaging the authenticity of the site and threatening part of the Outstanding Universal Value that led to the original inscription of the property as a World Heritage Site.” And finally in its presentation to the World Heritage Committee 32nd session in Quebec July 2008 the mission reported their visit of April: “The demolition of Gurnah is being systematically carried out despite persistent expert advice calling for the preservation of these traditional villages. Another request that has been ignored is the carrying out of geological, archaeological and geographical surveys and mapping, anthropological studies, assessment of the historical and cultural landscape qualities of the foothills and of the presence of Gurnah in the site, requested by the World Heritage Bureau already in 1997 and 1998, before any further action is taken.
Admittedly, the living conditions in many of the houses are primitive to say the least, and their inhabitants deserve a better life. Also, it is clear that in some cases the inhabitants are damaging the ancient remains. All-out, mass demolition, however, is not the answer – especially when the houses of Gurnah have been part of the archaeological landscape ever since investigations in the West Bank began, and form an inseparable part of the values of the property.
The argument, expressed by local authorities, that the houses must be demolished in order to investigate the tombs lying underneath, is not convincing. Many of the houses of Gurnah are prime examples of traditional Egyptian architecture. Destroying the houses and the historic landscape goes against fundamental principles of conservation. In any case, the tombs already excavated are perhaps more than the authorities can protect and preserve, and no urgency appears to excavate more – at least for the time being.
Recommendation: The demolition of Gurnah should be stopped. A proper Management Plan should integrate the remaining sections of the villages – not just single houses – into the archaeological park. The serious issue of relocating the population is something that should have been studied and analysed by experts in these matters. The need to excavate more tombs in the immediate future should be carefully studied and justified.”

While narrating this I show slides which illustrate the story…..

While the mighty UNESCO was trying to influence from the top, I was trying to save at the bottom. Both efforts were fruitless and extremely frustrating. Having failed (with exhibitions, discussions and papers over many years) to get the authorities in Qurna to respect Qurnawi culture in general, I tried in February 2007 to save a very specific small group of buildings. On Sheikh Abd el-Qurna they stood close above the famous tomb of Nakht. There was a superb collection of domestic earthen structures in and outside a tomb, a family zawyeh (communal guest and meeting room) built just over 100 years ago, the much damaged Yanni House of c.1820 (the first free standing post Coptic house on the hills) and the traditional family house of the Daramallis. These properties formed a distinct group and together could tell the whole story of habitation on the hillside over the last 250 years or so. Permission was obtained from the head of Luxor SCA for these to be retained so that we could restore them and display existing and new displays about Qurnawi history. We did the restoration work, obtained formal written permission from the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr Hawass, and reopened the exhibitions in the zawyeh. Following a tricky period of further negotiations we got final permission from the Minister for Culture, Farouk Hosni and a restatement of his support from Dr Hawass in November 2008. The Minister wrote: “I greatly appreciate all that you have done and continue to do for the preservation of the culture of this remarkable place.” …………. On March 25th 2009 the bulldozers returned to this part of the world heritage site and demolished the Yanni House. On April 4th the destroyers returned and demolished the mud structures. We were assured that the two remaining buildings would indeed remain. Notwithstanding his earlier written permissions, Dr Hawass wrote to me on the 5th of May this year to state that he was sending a committee (which was never seen on site) to judge whether they should be demolished, and a reason for the possible destruction was: “tomb of Nakht must be protected.” Four weeks ago, on May 16th a final bulldozer attack demolished the zawyeh and the Daramalli House. Not only were bulldozers and heavy machines used in the demolitions but they have been very busy moving the debris around the area of the tomb of Nakht ever since. The authorities have plans for the demolition of the three Qurna mosques – after that the cultural genocide will be complete: irrepairable damage to the archaeological infrastructure and the death of a living community in a traditional vernacular cultural landscape that formed equally a part of the archaeological stratigraphy.

Let us look back a while at what we have indeed lost.
For this para’ I run through a selection of photos of standing Qurna (taken 1996 -2009) – various places and types of buildings

We have lost the buildings and the outbuildings in one of the best preserved examples of a mud brick settlement, almost entirely traditional in its use of materials and techniques – apart from a few notable and lamentable exceptions. There were large and small family houses and groups of houses, many zawyeh, a number of domed sheikh shrines.
For this para’ a selection of other mud things.

We have lost the wide range of earthen structures which were so much a feature of this Upper Egyptian culture. The exhibition on the Earthen Structures of Qurna - which you should be able to view tomorrow at SOAS - tells just part of their story – but here are some further examples.
Next two paras slides show Qurnawi – working, in houses, look at my baby goat etc

We have lost a community which had a very special relationship with the monuments on which they worked and lived, and with the tourists who they hosted and served. It was also a community with a very special and spiritual relationship to the Theban hills.

We have lost part of what made the west bank a joy to visit, the local people who greeted, entertained and served their foreign visitors. It was the life of the people with their goats, chickens and donkeys, men busy carving and women making sun bread, that made the ancient lives depicted on the tombs come vividly to life. Many visitors said that this was the highlight of their visit to Egypt, the day they would most remember.

Apart from Winlock and Crum who excavated a Coptic monastery on Sheikh Abd el-Qurna in 1912-14, virtually no archaeologists until very recently have considered either the Coptic or the later structures to be worthy of proper excavation and record. The Monastery at Deir el-Bahari was demolished to clear the way for pharaonic excavation, as were the churches and the town of Jeme. Where post Roman levels have been excavated at all almost no proper reports have been written – many of the notes for Jeme were destroyed in the Second World War and Dr Stadelman has been unable to find the money to pay for the post excavation work on Seti temple courtyard where we know that a Coptic church, if nothing else, was recorded. There is no recognised chronological data for the last 1200 years of local ceramics, because no-one has worked on it.

An architect and planner, Diaa el-Din, faithfully recorded some of the house plans as part of the excellent survey work for the1992 relocation plans which were for a socially respectful new settlement that never happened. These have never been published but hopefully still exist somewhere in his office drawers in Cairo

A couple of French students on a foreign holiday assignment did some studies in 2007.

Luckily the anthropologist Kees van der Spek (from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia) did his doctorate on the lives and work of one part of the Horubat community of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. With its wide ranging historical research and in depth 1997/8 study of this small group, this stands as the prime work on Qurna and the Qurnawi. It will be published by the AUC Press later this year or early 2011.

But where is the post Roman information from the many hundreds of excavations and studies by archaeologists over recent decades? Minimal for the Coptic period and almost non-existent for the last millennia. While having no vision for or interest in their local contemporary surroundings, many have called for greater care of the monuments and continued to criticise, mainly unjustifiably, the indigenous community who lived outside the gates of their mission compounds, whose male members act as their servants and labourers.

Care of the monuments? Not only has a more modern culture been obliterated but it has been done, not with pick axes and shovels wielded by many otherwise unemployed young men, but by heavy machines. In recent years, when these heavy machines have trundled back and forth over the fragile stone of the Theban Hills, beneath which lay countless numbers of unknown tombs, where were the linked arms of the archaeologists to stop such destruction? When did they write, as a group or as individuals, to journals learned or tabloid to protest at what was happening on this world cultural heritage site? They continued to see only the history of the far distance and not what was under their noses and rumbling past their tombs. While the bulldozers filled many unexcavated and open tombs with debris – such as the large tomb under the Omda House that had been used in earlier times as the village jail – the mission staff were recording the minutiae of life three thousand years ago in a tomb that was on their concession. The archaeologists were tickling away at wall sculptures on a recorded tomb while similar, and maybe far superior ones were cracking off unknown walls and ceilings under the weight and vibrations of diggers and dozers. Maybe it has to do with the narrow training that some of these professionals have had, or the blinkered vision of the establishments for which they work. Perhaps it is fear of upsetting the Egyptian authorities from whom they require permissions and licences. Perhaps it is not wanting to spend valuable time on what they felt was a lost cause. Whatever the reasons – and they are multiple – it has happened.

In recent years there has been a worrying growth of walls springing up everywhere. In the Latin medical terminology of this paper’s title perhaps this could be called parietitis, wallitis in English or hetitis in Arabic. A wall has been built to the north near the cemetery road, the cemetery itself has a relatively new one, there is one around parts of the new settlement, many in Luxor, and another is being built south of the Medinet Habu. A long wall has now been built along the Theban hillside that is a gross visual intrusion - although I did hear a rumour that Dr Leblanc got the height reduced from 2 metres to 1. For the first time in history the Theban plain is now divided, end to end, from the Theban hillside. Yet again the archaeologists appear to be suffering from hypermetropia and do not register this suffocating pollution of the cultural heritage landscape enough to verbalise their opposition. A recent culture has been obliterated to better view the ancient, and now a barrier has been built to distance and alienate the viewer.

Dr Hawass wrote in an article about his new book The Lost Tombs of Thebes, in August 2008: “We have decided to demolish most of the old buildings above the tombs, to remove the sight pollution.” It is too late for us to view and analyse this ‘pollution’ – which was indeed not pollution but a rich and varied culture. What has been polluted is our understanding of what is valuable by concentrating on the marvels of the ancient past.

We have virtually no archaeological evidence for a 7-800 year period; however, only a generation or two ago there was a period in English history known as The Dark Ages. We can now see it was only dark because most historians and archaeologists had focused on the more distant Romans - with their solid stone buildings, town planning and visible and lasting inscriptions. In recent decades, with changes in scholarly theory and practice, more enlightened archaeologists and researchers have shed light on what was dark, and the Dark Ages are no longer dark but a rich, vibrant and multi-facetted Saxon period.

At this very late date, when the hillside is largely stripped of its built and lived culture – is there anything which could and should be done? What is there to rescue and study? Now that the buildings have gone and the people moved off the hillside, the subject of Qurna and the Qurnawi is no longer so politically dangerous to handle.

Perhaps one can ask that a thorough record and study is made of all the post Roman levels that are excavated from now on, and a comprehensive data-base and study of the mud structures that will still exist in the tombs that might be excavated in the future. In most countries this would be part of normal archaeological practice – but here it seems that special guidance needs to be given.

Instead of more DNA studies of dead pharaohs it would be fascinating to do a DNA study of members of the older families in Qurna to see how many, if any, are descendants of the people who lived and worked on the hillside in antiquity.

A selection of slides showing more people in Qurnawi houses, on the hillside, women, Fatima’s magic stones etc.

More importantly – and more important because there is limited time in which to do it – a well funded and professional oral history project should be undertaken with the communities that have moved from the hillside. The relocation of the Nubians in 1963-4, while involving a larger population over a greater area, had many similarities with the relocation of the Qurnawi. We should have learnt lessons from the work of John Kennedy and colleagues which could have informed and encouraged a programme of systematic oral history work before now. There should have been work done while the Qurnawi lived on the hillside, but much could be done even now. As with the Nubians: - to quote Kennedy - “the break with the old life created by the resettlement was drastic and complete. The shift was more than simply a change of place; it also involved a break with the old styles of life.” Not only have the Qurnawi had their special relationship with the monuments and tourists, but they – especially the women – had an intricate spiritual and psychological relationship to the hillside with its spaces, stones and spirits. Only dedicated skilled research work by Arabic speakers, probably women, is going to gain the necessary confidences to obtain cultural gems from these rich mines of memory.

I hope that this proposal gets support from a wide range of professionals and institutions including the archaeologists who can perhaps listen and hear better than they can see. I appeal to any among you who have the interest or the institutional connections to commit resources to further research into the history and lives of the modern Thebans, while the opportunity still exists. I will be happy to meet with you after. Thank you.

Caroline Simpson, June 2010
With thanks to Kees van der Spek and Zoe Simpson

Coordinator - Qurna History Project.
Secretary, Friends of Qurna Discovery (closed May 2010)

9 Whittington Road, London N22 8YS
020 8881 9386 mobile 07910073787

Women in Pharaonic Egypt

Asharq Alawsat (Zahi Hawass)

When we talk about the grand history of [Egypt] which extends more than fifty centuries into the past, we find ourselves continually speaking about the ancient Egyptian man, whether this is ancient Egyptian engineers who built temples and pyramids, the ancient Egyptian doctors who carried out the first medical operations in human history, or the ancient Egyptian artists who carved huge statues and inscribed hieroglyphics on the walls of temples and tombs. However we rarely find mention of ancient Egyptian women, as if this great civilization was built by men alone, and as if ancient society was comprised solely of men, which of course is something that is completely untrue.

Yes, there is a clear injustice regarding how the role that was played by ancient Egyptian women in building this ancient civilization is portrayed in comparison to how the role of men is portrayed; however what is strange is that this injustice is a product of modern research and did not exist within ancient Egyptian society.

Online resource: Egypt through the stereoscope

Oriental Institute
Egypt through the Stereoscope: A Journey through the Land of the Pharaohs
James Henry Breasted
Terms of Use

The narrative of the classic Breasted travels through Egypt, accompanied by a stereoscopic camera, is presented with all 100 view cards and the twenty maps and plans of the original publication. This is the final Egyptological publication to be issued by the Oriental Institute with the generous support of Misty and Lewis Gruber.

* Egypt through the Stereoscope: A Journey through the Land of the Pharaohs
* Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2010
* Pp. xi + 187; 100 view cards, 20 maps and plans
* Ottawa: Underwood & Underwood, 1908

Exhibition: Sahure in Germany

Culture Kiosque ()

Sahure: Death and Life of a Great Pharaoh
GERMANY, FRANKFURT • Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung • 24 June - 28 November 2010

Ruling Egypt from about 2428 to 2416 BC, Sahure was a both politically and culturally outstanding king of the Fifth Dynasty and thus a prominent representative of the Old Kingdom, the “Age of the Pyramids.” Amongst all known pyramid complexes, that of Sahure in Abusir near Cairo with a total length of just under 500 meters reveals a pure, classical form of strict axiality and perfection. The walls are decorated with 10,000 square meters of royal relief art and form an abundant picture book of the Old Kingdom.

Reliefs, architectural elements, sculptures, vases, and valuable papyruses on loan from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection in Berlin, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, give evidence of the worship this great Egyptian pharaoh enjoyed.

Conference: Origin of the State

There's no website available yet but further details for registering etc are promised for late summer.

Dear Colleague,

Please find below the announcement calling for papers to be delivered at the upcoming Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt: Origin of the State conference in 2011. If you would like a pdf file of the announcement for posting purposes please just email your request to We hope to welcome you to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York next year.

Fourth International Conference Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt: Origin of the State New York, July 26-30, 2011

The Fourth International Conference on Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt: Origin of the State will take place in New York from July 26-30, 2011. The meeting will be held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave, New York, New York, USA) and co-sponsored by that institution and the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Detailed information on the conference, including registration, will be available later in the summer of 2010.

This announcement is the call for papers. You may submit an abstract for a 20 minute paper, a 10 minute brief communication on current fieldwork, or a poster presentation. The subject of a presentation must pertain to Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt and the origin of the Egyptian State.

If you would like to present a paper at the conference, please send the following:

1. Identify the type of presentation: paper, brief communication, or poster.
2. The title of presentation.
3. Name (s) and affiliation (s) of the author (s)
4. Email and postal address (es) of the author (s)
5. Abstract of 300 words or less in Microsoft Word, 12 pt Times Roman Script with single line spacing.
6. Email as attachment to:

Please also note that because the diverse backgrounds of the participants, the official language of the conference will be English.

Acceptance for presentation at the conference is based upon review by the Scientific Committee of abstracts submitted.

The closing date for submitting abstracts is September 30, 2010. Details about the meeting and the registration information will be available by late summer 2010. If additional details are needed more immediately, please email Diana Craig Patch at

Diana Craig Patch
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Matthew Adams
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Photo for Today - Decorated faience bowl

Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire

Monday, June 21, 2010

New subterranean finds at Tel al-Dabaa near ancient Avaris

Press Release

Cultural Minister Farouk Hosni announced today that the Austrian mission at Tell el-Daba has located the southern suburban quarters of the ancient city of Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos in the Second Intermediate Period (1664-1569 BC). The excavation team found this area using a combination of magnetometry and resistivity surveys.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the computer-generated images of the city, which is still buried under the ground, show a very detailed layout of ancient Avaris. Several architectural features including houses, temples, streets, cemeteries and palaces can be seen. The team has also been able to make out the arrangement of neighborhoods and living quarters.

“Using such a special scientific survey to locate such a city is the only way to gain a better understanding of such a large area at one time,” Hawass pointed out.

Dr. Irene Forstner-Müller, Director of the mission said that approximately 2.6 square kilometers have been investigated using a combination of geophysical survey and excavation.

She explained that the aim of the magnetometric and resistivity surveys were to define the borders of ancient Avaris. The team has succeeded in identifying a collection of houses and a possible harbor area. A series of pits of different sizes are also visible but their function has not yet been determined.

Austrian archaeologists have located an underground Egyptian city which they believe to be Avaris, the capital used by the Hyksos who ruled 3,600 years ago, the culture ministry said on Sunday.

The Austrian mission carried out a geophysical survey of the area allowing them to identify parts of Avaris in the Nile Delta near the modern town of Tal al-Dabaa, northeast of Cairo.

“The pictures taken using radar show an underground city complete with streets, houses and tombs which gives a general overview of the urban planning of the city,” antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said in a statement.

“The aim of the geophysical survey was to identify the size of the ancient city and the mission managed to identify a large number of houses and streets and a port inside the city,” said Irene Mueller who heads the Austrian mission.

“The mission also identified one of the Nile river tributaries that passed through the city, as well as two islands,” she was quoted as saying in the statement.

Yahoo! News

An Austrian archaeological team has used radar imaging to determine the extent of the ruins of the one time 3,500-year-old capital of Egypt's foreign occupiers, said the antiquities department Sunday.

Egypt was ruled for a century from 1664-1569 B.C. by the Hyksos, a warrior people from Asia, possibly Semitic in origin, whose summer capital was in the northern Delta area.

Irene Mueller, the head of the Austrian team, said the main purpose of the project is to determine how far the underground city extends.

The radar imaging showed the outlines of streets, houses and temples underneath the green farm fields and modern town of Tel al-Dabaa.

Archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said in the statement that such noninvasive techniques are the best way define the extent of the site.

Earth Times

Austrian archaeologists located a 3,600-year-old underground city, believed to part of the ancient city of Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos, the Ministry of Culture announced Sunday.

The city was located during the Austrian mission's excavations in the Tel al-Dabaa area, north-east of Cairo, using a radar.

The photos taken give an overview of the urban planning of the city, which appears to be complete, with streets, buildings and temples, Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council Of Antiquities, said.

Irene Mueller, head of the Austrian team, said that the geophysics archaeological survey work done by the team helped them identify one of the Nile river tributaries that passed through the city, as well as two islands.

Photo of construction work at the Avenue of Sphinxes

Flickr (Sphingenallee)

A somewhat staggering photograph of the construction work being carried out at the Avenue of Sphinxes in front of the Temple of Luxor (also shown in the photo).

The other photos in the set also show the work being carried out and forms a photo story in its own right.

When Al-Quseir hit the headlines

Asharq Alawsat (Zahi Hawass)

The Egyptian Red Sea town of al-Quseir hit the headlines after Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that a single gold coin dating back to the Umayyad period had been discovered. This coin was unearthed by an American expedition from Yale University during archaeological excavations at the Monastery of Saint John the Little, which is located near al-Quseir. The coin weighs 1.42 grams, and was equal to one third of a Dinar and dates back to 721 AD. One side of the coin is inscribed with the words: “This Dinar was minted in 103” while on the other side it reads, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The American expedition was led by archaeologist Steven Davis who submitted a report to me about the excavation carried out by his team in this important spot that was once a major trade route linking the cities of the Nile Valley and the eastern and western Red Sea ports.

Al-Quseir is considered one of the most important Egyptian towns that prospered during the Islamic age and it is unique in that it retains a lot of its original features and authenticity.

Book Review: Mummies in Nineteenth Century America

Thanks to Cassandra Vivian for forwarding this to me.

Mummies in Nineteenth Century America: Ancient Egyptians as Artifacts
S. J. Wolfe with Robert Singerman
M cFarland Publishing. 2009
63 photos
ISBN 978-0-7864-3941-6 Orders only Tel: 800-253-2187
Reviewed by Cassandra Vivian

All I can say is, WOW!! The amount of research, minute research, exacting research that went into the creation of this book is astounding. Even more impressive is the number of collaborations the author made with scholars and organizations from all over the world to find and help decipher information. Only through that type of unselfish sharing could the author have covered such a scope of material. This work was slowly compiled with the aid of colleagues, friends, and research fellows from the American Antiquarian Society, fellow researchers in “mummyology, librarians, museum curators, and directors of historical societies around the country and the world who held mummies in their collections.

It begins at the beginning, with the first known mummy to come to the American shores. The first was bits and pieces the artist Benjamin West presented to the Company of Philadelphia in 1767. Others followed, but the bulk of the chapter belongs to Padihershef, brought to Boston in 1823 aboard the Yankee brig Sally Anne to “await his re birth in the Western Lands.” We travel with Padihershef as he makes his way through America to his final resting place.

Through seven chapters and four appendices Wolfe systematically records the who, what, when, where, and why of mummies in America. Relying heavily on 19th century newspaper accounts from all over the country (made easily available via the Internet—oh, the wonders of modern research), Wolfe chases and finds and uncovers her Egyptians. Through George Gliddon, Henry Abbott, P. T. Barnum and a host of other entrepreneurs, museums, and historical societies we follow one imported Egyptian after another finding how they made the journey, how they fared in America, and sometimes learning where they finally found a resting place in ‘the West’. The last chapter ends at the end of the century with a plethora of mummies that were not so well treated and what happened to them when mummymania was on the wane. Throughout it all we receive quote after quote from both metropolitan and provincial newspapers telling the tales of unwrappings, misjudgements, and discoveries. It is a compelling collection of information.

Appendix 1 is a catalogue of pre-1901 references to mummies in America not mentioned in the text. In other words the exhausting list of encounters in the text did not extinguish the list of mummies that made their way to America. Appendix 2 offers suggestions for further reading. More intriguing is Appendix 3, notes on the coffins of the first mummies brought to America. Appendix 4 spreads the news about 19th century newspapers where much of the information was found.

I knew I was going to like the book the minute I read the dedication: To the untold numbers of mummies of ancient Egyptians, in the hope that by ‘speaking their names’ in this book they will live again in the Western Lands.

Angelina as Cleopatra causes backlash

I was waiting for this. It is a highly emotive topic. These are just a small sample of what's landing in my inbox.

Deadbolt News

Although Angelina Jolie has amassed millions of fans and is up for the role of Cleopatra in an upcoming film about the classic Cleopatra, not everyone is onboard with Jolie possibly playing the Queen of the Nile.

According to Mail Online, some members of the African American community are questioning the move of Angelina Jolie to play Cleopatra. Instead of Jolie, some claim Cleopatra should be given to a black actress instead. An Essence Magazine online report asks the question, 'Another White Actress to Play Cleopatra?' The last non-black actress to make the Cleopatra role famous was Elizabeth Taylor in 1963.

CNN (Lisa Respers France)

The latest example is the controversy surrounding the news that Angelina Jolie has been tapped to play the Queen of the Nile in a planned film based on the forthcoming biography "Cleopatra: A Life."

A posting about the backlash on CNN's Marquee blog drew more than a thousand responses as varied as from those who argued Cleopatra was Greek and not dark-skinned to those who noted Hollywood productions are often not historically accurate.

"I believe everyone is overlooking the obvious: Cleo was NOT Egyptian, she was of Greek descent," wrote a commenter named Daniel. "Cleo was a Ptolemy and they were Greek descendents of one of Alexander's generals; they married within their own family almost to the point of inbreeding and stayed that way until Cleo's death."

A visitor to the site named Gregory took a different tack.
(Shirea L. Carroll)

Jolie, a Hollywood A-lister, will do her best in bringing the story of the famed Egyptian queen to life, and it appears no one doubts she can do it… including Pulitzer prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, who penned the biography, “Cleopatra: A Life,” a book that won’t be on shelves until the fall.

Schiff already heavily endorses Jolie, stating, “I think she’d be perfect for it and I can see a possible Oscar in her future. Physically, she’s got the perfect look.”

Gasp, the nerve! “She’s got the perfect look?” Honestly, I don’t care how full Angelina Jolie’s lips are, how many African children she adopts, or how bronzed her skin will become for the film, I firmly believe this role should have gone to a Black woman.

Photo for Today - Pyramidion

Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More re radiocarbon dating of Egyptian material

Scientific American (Richard Lovett)

A three-year study of hundreds of artifacts looks set to settle several long-standing debates about Egypt's ancient dynasties.

The study, which appears in the June 18 issue of Science, is the first to use high-precision measurements of radioactive carbon isotopes to produce a detailed timeline for the reigns of Egyptian pharaohs from about 2650 BC to 1100 BC.

"It is a very, very important finding," says Hendrik Bruins, an archaeologist and geoscientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, who was not associated with the work. "For the first time, radiocarbon dating more or less corroborates the essence of the Egyptian historical chronology."

Led by Christopher Bronk Ramsey, a physicist and mathematician at the University of Oxford, UK, the researchers use the well-established technique of measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 in ancient artifacts. Plants absorb carbon-14 as they grow, and the radioisotope decays naturally over time after they die. Measuring carbon-14 levels in artifacts made of organic material allows archaeologists to determine their age.

Exhibition: Pioneers to the Past

Wall Street Journal (Lee Lawrence)

With slideshow

Given the riches of the Oriental Institute, you might be tempted to skip the modest display of artifacts, letters and photographs commemorating founder James Henry Breasted's first expedition to Egypt and what are now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

But resist that urge. In counterpoint to historical materials, some displayed in cases made to look like wooden packing crates, a contemporary narrative mounted on white panels creates a two-track presentation. As a result, "Pioneers to the Past" triggers interesting insights into the way archaeology has evolved.

Breasted, we learn, helped change our understanding of Western civilization, which earlier scholars believed sprang from Greece and Rome. He helped trace its roots instead to what he called "the Fertile Crescent," a curl of land bordered by the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where people developed the first cities some 8,000 years ago and four millennia later invented the wheel and writing.

Conference notes: Disciplinary Measures?

Disciplinary Measures? Histories of Egyptology in Multi-Disciplinary Context

10th-11th June 2010
12th June 2010
Sponsored by The centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies of the School of Oriental and African Studies, UCL; The Egypt Exploration Society; The University College London Institute of Archaeology Heritage Studies Research Group.

I was rather surprised to find a conference organized within the field of Egyptology which explicity took a look at itself as a discipline. Egyptology seems to have evolved without visible concern from Egyptologists about how it is defined and how it is practised. The medium through which the conference explored the discipline was the history of the development of the Egyptology.

The conference was divided into two parts over three days. The first two days, with registration free of charge, was divided into a number of sessions each with three 15 minute papers, a discussant and an open discussion period following. The final day, for which a fee was charged, consisted of opening remarks, a summary of the previous two days and five 50 minute lectures, all followed by a discussion session, closing remarks and a reception.

The scope for the conference was quite broad and resulted in a mixture of papers on loosely related topics with a common theme of the history of the discipline. Here's the introductory blurb:

'Disciplinary Measures?' aims to provide a discussion forum for the increasing number of people working on the history (or histories) of the discipline of Egyptology. The conference is not limited to Egyptologists. Rather, it seeks to set the multiple histories of Egyptology in the broader, multi-disciplinary context of recent studies such as Whose Pharaohs? by Donald Reid, Conflicted Antiquities by Elliott Colla and Wondrous Curiosities by Stephanie Moser. The conference aims to stimulate critique and constructive dialogue between those from various disciplines.


I only found out about the conference a couple of days before it was due to run (thanks to William Carruthers for accepting my late registration) and as a result I was unable to attend all of the sessions. I missed the last session on the first day and the last two sessions on the second. and attended all on the final day. Apologies, therefore, that these notes are incomplete.

If anyone took notes on Keith Amery's "In the Shadow of War" paper in the last session of the first day I would be most grateful to receive them.

Inevitably my notes reflect my own personal interests rather than the full scope of each of the papers so apologies for not providing complete and detailed overviews of each paper - what follows is very much a set of edited highlights, skimming the surface of some really detailed presentations.

If anyone feels that I have misrepresented them or just noted things down incorrectly please let me know and I will post corrections immediately.

10th June

The first session was entitled "Nationalism" and looked at nationalist versions of Egyptology.

In the case of Jason Thompson's discussion of early 19th Century British contributions, the powerful role of individual people as innovators, facilitators, sponsors and communicators was highlighted. In the absence of academic institutions the role of individuals was important and Thompson provided details about some of these important characters. Thompson emphasised that it appears to be the lack of either institutional organization or continuing individual commitment that saw a hiatus in Egyptological studies in Britain after the first half of the 19th century. Egyptology in Britain had to re-invent itself following that hiatus.

Eric Gady highlighted how the work of Champollion has effectively overshadowed the work of all other French Egyptologists who contributed to the publication and communication of Egyptology, and he discussed some of these writers - many of whom I had not seen mentioned previously. Still, as Gady pointed out, it was a small list of publications from a country that sees itself as a birthplace of science. He also made the point that histories of Egyptology tend to be highly nationalistic and partisan, and that the history of Egyptology should be an international affair, making use of online resources to provide accessible data.

Lynnn Stagg looked at the role of nationalistic viewpoints in the early interpretation of the Palette of Narmer. The influences on Egyptology were many and varied, deriving from scholarship in multiple disciplines. Flinders Petrie supported an invasionist answer to the question of how Egyptian civilization developed and this was highly influential on the interpretation of artefacts and texts. Her presentation put the palette of Narmer into the context of how histories are written and how they can very much be the product of their time in which they were written.

In the second session the value of the individual was again emphasised and these individuals were set against a background of influences, limiting factors and opportunities. Again, insight was provided into how Egyptology was practised against particular mechanisms of social, political and academic contexts. All three presentations highlighted that Egyptologists were not working in isolation from others, in spite of the fact that there were no formal institutions to support them. Social and political connections were important. The presentations also demonstrated that work was carried out on an ad hoc basis rather than as a strategic and co-ordinated plan. In addition they all highlighted the importance of the role of philology in these early years.

John J. Johnston's presentation looked at the "very modern Victorian" Sir Alan Gardiner, and at Gardiner's relationship with the thinking and ideas of the Victorian era. Johnston made the interesting point that Gardiner and Arthur Weigall often discussed philology versus archaeology. Gardiner found it difficult to perceive monuments and tombs as archaeology, something which has survived into present times in a great many fields of research.

Hana Navratilova's discussion of the work of Norman and Nina de Garis Davies tracings looked not only at their marvellous output and at the reasons why the chose to produce the tracings under discussion but also considered the value of revisiting that archival material - a theme that reappeared throughout the conference. Over 1000 tracings from over 70 tombs have been digitized and will soon be available online at the Griffith Institute.

Amara Thornton's presentation about John Garstang looked in detail at how social and political networks opened up or restricted the opportunities available to early Egyptologists. Many of these connections were informal and unofficial but were of critical importance to individuals who wanted to make their way in Egypt and neighbouring areas. Social networks of all sorts were necessary devices for progress in developing scholarship.

The third session was perhaps the one that generated most vigorous response, partly due to the topic but also because of the excellent choice of discussant (prehistorian Sue Hamilton). Two of the three papers looked at how past Egyptology related to other fields and methodologies whilst another looked at how a single integrated work was produced.

The paper by Alice Stevenson discussed the early relationship between anthropology and Egyptology prior to 1930 and why the two disciplines separated. Apart from Lustig's Anthropology and Egyptology (1997) the idea that Egyptologists have any idea that anthropology and Egyptology might have something to do with each other had seemed more than somewhat improbable. Stevenson's paper revealed how the two disciplines were actually very closely associated until the 1930s, after which they diverged, and she explored the reasons for this. Her work was directly connected to her role at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford where some of these patterns in early Egyptology are clearly visible.

Andrew Bednarski looked at a rediscovered book by Caillioud with a view to examining how it was produced both technically and philosophically, and what could be learned from the production process about the use of both primary and secondary resources. Some of the illustrations in Caillioud's publications could be seen to be tidied up or heavily interpreted versions of the originals. I was intrigued by discussant Sue Hamilton's comment that the moment you excavate an artefact out of the ground it becomes secondary because it immediately becomes subject to interpretation.

Finally, Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia's presentation on the peculiarities of Egyptology at the turn of the century looked at Egyptology's isolation from other disciplines and some of the problems emerging from its general appeal to the public and media. Egyptology was put into the context of the social sciences. Moreno Garcia says that Egyptology has always looked at discoveries rather than interpretation and largely ignores social and economic history. Even today the discipline remains isolated which means that inter-disciplinary work is all too often lacking. The late 19th century view of ancient Egypt as a lost paradise was created partly because of the political context of increasing suffrage and socialism and increasing power of the masses in Europe. Elitism was also emerging from research into beautiful objects. These foundations of the discipline have influenced its development. Funding has been given mainly to projects which emphasise that image rather than a more realistic view of of the archaeology. Moreno Garcia emphasised that archaeological interpretation was lost in favour of collecting artefacts, and that the current state of Egyptology has been defined by this past obsession with collecting beautiful things rather than interpreting the arteracts as indicators of socioeconomic develoopment. (Moreno Garcia was not present in person - his paper was read to the audience by William Carruthers).

(I was absent for session 4).

11th June

The first session looked at Egyptian and Arab perceptions of Egypt in the past and present.

Okasha el Daly presented the work of Medieval Muslim scholars who had a considerable interest and made skilled insights about ancient Egypt long before Egyptology as we understand it today was born. Okasha commented that Medieval Arab scholarship much wider and broader scope than today and that there was much less specialization and narrowness of focus.

Donald Reid discussed the role of the Copts from colonial to postcolonial times, and found that their role in Egyptology has altered considerably over that period, with Copts being marginalized in Egyptology since Nasser's regime. He also pointed that while there are no anti-Pharaonic sections of the Coptic community, there are some amongst Islamic Egyptians who find the survival of Pharaonic emblems in modern times controversial - something of which I was previously unaware.

Caroline Simpson's denouncement of the responses (or lack of them) to the destruction of Qurna was a powerful comment about the inability of local people to influence their own future. She explained how Egyptologists, UNESCO and others turned a blind eye whilst the Egyptian authorities ignored strong local feeling and UNESCO reports alike - and destroyed the mudbrick village above the Qurna tombs. These were constructed after the example of the first western European dig houses. Some were around 100 years old and were perfect examples of vernacular architecture. A small number of salvaged houses set up to serve as a museum of Qurna life were later destroyed. The demolition of the village, using bulldozers, filled many of the open tomb entrances with debris and presumably the vibration cannot have done the tombs anything but harm. It is now unclear how the tombs will be protected. Simpson also pointed out that a similar fate has been inflicted upon Coptic remains, as Egyptologists headed for the Pharaonic levels beneath.

In the second session, "Representations," Jasmine Day discussed the character of the mummy in horror films, Steve Vinson discussed the relationship between the story captured on a papyrus of and the Victorian rendering of it which found expression in the the Romance of Setna Khaemwas.

John Tait looked at how language has been studied in the past to assess the character of ancient Egyptians. He says that considering the characteristics of the language as a reflection of the human mind is no longer tackled in modern linguistics.

(I was absent for sessions 3 and 4).

12th June

William Carruthers opened the presentations with a presentation about the contributions and discussions that had taken place over the previous two days. He highlighted how many of the presentations had focused on what had made and what makes a discipline what it actually is and how many discussions challenged the present isolation of Egyptology. He commented on the positive aspect to the discussions, which seemed to be very open and honest and used the example of the three organizers of the conference to suggests that organizations that are not obvious bed fellows are clearly willing to work with each other to produce improved conversations about their disciplines.

Jason Thompson talked about Edward William Lane the Orientalist whose early interest in ancient Egypt expanded into a broader interest in all things Egyptian and beyond. Lane's writings and illustrations provide a fascinating view of the state of ancient Egypt in the mid to late 1800s. Hieroglyphs, for examples, were still poorly understood at that time, and some of the buildings that he went to sketch were in the process of being dismantled for the use of the stone in other building projects and others that he visited had already gone. As with Amara Thornton's presentation it was clear that the value of fitting in with the local elite was of primary importance, leading to him and his friends adopting local Ottoman-Turkish names, clothing and manners.

David Jeffreys spoke about the Armenian-Turkish Joseph Hekekyan who trained as an engineer and worked for Muhammad Ali on a number of engineering projects in Egypt before he was corced to retire from ill health in the 1940s. He was then hired by geologist Leonard Horner to investigate the rise of the Nile floodplain. He made impressively detailed records of archaeological sections with the archaeology and geology clearly marked at Heliopolis and Mit Rahina. He had some wild views on some aspects of ancient Egypt, including the belief that the Giza pyramids were sand breaks. His work seems to have been forgotten by many Egyptologists and Jeffreys suggested that this might have been because his work looks as though it was partly rejection by European scholars because he was a bit of a social misfit, wasn't mainstream or part of the elite, and possibly because he was foreign.

Jaromir Malek presented a thought provoking paper on the possibility and difficulties of writing of a modern history of Egyptology itself. The writing of a history of Egyptology effectively has to address the nature of the discipline as a whole. He suggested that a history of Egyptology should be much more than a who's who of significant people and asked what Egyptology actually is and looks at how scholarship in Egyptology is defined. Egyptology was once limited almost exclusively to philology. He argues that the battle to get value of archaeology accepted is over but that now new methodologies, many of them science-based are under discussion. It is a fragmented subject and does not lend itself to being organized. He next tackled the issue of how to define an Egyptologist - is he or she defined by being salaried or having a university position, having a degree, or using a specialism to contribute to the bigger picture? He argued that it doesn't matter until it comes to deciding what and who to include in a history of Egyptology. He believes that a history of Egyptology should not just consist of developments but reasons and motives and connections - it requires historical context. He also suggested that such a publication should be available in electronic format so that it can be updated easily and accessibly. It was revealed that Jason Thompson has taken on the task of writing a history, so it will be very interesting to see what emerges.
Malek went on to raise the question of why there aren't agreed plans to manage sites under risk to monuments and to prioritise research and field projects. He finds it difficult to comprehend why Egyptologists cannot get together to agree a rational strategy. Full international cooperation should be possible. He gave two examples of work that needs to be completed. Over 400 large decorated tombs in Luxor more than half have not been properly studied, excavated and published. His second example is the tomb of Tutankhamun. Work in it finished 1932 but only around 30% of objects have been properly studied.
Finally Malek also discussed how Egyptology should defend its position in the face of cuts in funding where humanities can be expected to fare badly in comparison with science - and Egyptology will probably suffer against larger humanities subjects.

Stephen Quirke looked at photographic archives at the Petrie Museum and what value this type of archive can offer to research. He made a similar point to that of Andrew Bednarski when he pointed to the differences between an original image and the one tidied up or redrawn for publication. He also point out the value of the archive to an understanding of the contribution of Egyptian workers and specialists, many of whom are lost from sight in the final publications. He looked in some detail at the influences on what was published at the time, and how it appeared. Contemporary ways of presenting information, including the London Illustrated News, had a significant impact on how such publications were designed and what the public received.

Donald Reid's presentation on the waxing and waning of the relationship of the western public with Tutankhamun was illuminating. I had always seen the public fascination with Tutankhamun as a relatively stable and consistent phenomenon, but Reid's presentation showed that it fluctuated considerably since the tomb's discovery. The presentation was full of information that I simply hadn't heard before. For example the way in which Carter and Carnarvon controlled the news of the discovery and access to the tomb was mind-boggling. They ignored the Egyptian press scooped the world by announcing it in the UK and then gave exclusivity over the story to The Times in Britain. They then prevented access to the tomb to Egyptian officials. I also didn't know that in spite of Carter and Carnarvon arguing that part of the collection could go to Britain, Egypt's new independence prevented the export, which is why the collection remained in Egypt. Western enthusiasm for the Tutankhamun discovery helped to establish it as an icon for Egypt as well - internalising the world's regard for Tutankhamun and his treasures as an authentic symbol for Egypt, but effectively chosen by the West. Reid's use of keyword searches in The Times was a fascinating barometer of public interest in Tutankhamun, showing real peaks and troughs. Exhibitions and tourism have ensured that Tutankhamun is at a peak of popularity.

A few comments

It was interesting how quickly a discussion about histories should become a discussion about individual identities, and this emphasises how quickly Egyptology developed out of the work of particular individuals who were either instrumental in or directly involved with early discovery, exploration and, importantly, publication. Many of the presentations concerned the biographies of some of these individual Egyptologists. While the stories of these individuals are fascinating, I would have found it interesting to see more about how some of these individuals helped to shape the future of the discipline. Sadly there wasn't a presentation about any of the multiple Egyptian Egyptologists who have gone largely un-recognized, although Labib Habachi was mentioned several times.

Jaromir Malek's excellent paper about writing a history of Egyptology raised a number of very useful points. I thought that the question "what is an Egyptologist" was something of a red herring in the writing of a history of Egyptology. Those involved in the early exploration of Egypt did not have to have been Egyptologists to have contributed to the birth and development of the discipline. More importantly even though Malek asked the question "what is Egyptology?" there was remarkably little discussion on this subject on the day.

It was interesting that although there was much talk about the isolated nature of Egyptology and the importance of inter-disciplinary perspectives there was not much discussion on the subject (and I'm not sure that anyone actually stated what was meant by inter-disciplinary, but I could have missed it). A few presenters referred to reflexive approaches (an idea adopted and developed by post-processual archaeologists but rarely discussed in Egyptology) but there were few other discussions about the theoretical and methodological developments in related disciplines and how they might be relevant to future approaches in Egyptology. Alice Stevenson discussed the broken relationship between Egyptology and anthropology but the relationships between Egyptology, archaeology and history were not discussed. Speaker David Jeffreys commented that he saw himself as an archaeologist rather than an Egyptologist and added that Egyptology and Egyptian Archaeology were becoming two different fields. That remark should have been worthy of a much more animated discussion its own right.

It is a shame that Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia was not attending in person because his paper was hitting many of the above buttons and it would have been great to have his input in the discussions that followed that session.

The discussion of fiction derived from Egyptology was interesting and thorough, but it would be good to have had a brief insight into how such fictions were accepted by and influenced contemporary thinking about the Egyptian past.

Caroline Simpson's presentation about Qurna was an alarming insight into the conflict between the national machine and local interests. I covered the story over several posts on this blog but I never really got to grips with all the facets of the case, and assumed that everyone apart from the locals thought that removal of the village from the tombs was an imperative from a heritage conservation point of view - but according to the multiple UNESCO reports quoted by Caroline Simpson this was clearly not the case, and the benefits are very hard to assess. At the same time Donald Reid's look at the state of Coptic contributions to Egyptology also raised the point that politics and heritage are rarely independent of each other. The idea that states influence heritage management is not new but these two very different papers brought the issue very vividly to life. Balancing the needs of minorities, heritage and tourism in Egypt is always going to be difficult.

A small gap to my mind is that there was no discussion about the development of prehistoric and Predynastic research, much of it desert-based, within the framework of Pharaonic Egyptology in the Nile valley and the Delta. Although following Jaromir Malek's paper a couple of speakers said that they saw Predynastic archaeology as part of Egyptology, there is an obvious split between Egyptologies of text and Egyptologies which have no text from which to draw conclusions, an idea that would have been useful to investigate further.

Related to that comment is that the textual world of Pharaonic Egypt somewhat drowns out the people whose voices weren't represented by the written word.

I was very interested to see that Moreno Garcia had picked up on the lack of research into broad social and economic subjects. It would also be interesting to reach an understanding of how the economy of Egypt has been so thoroughly excluded from mainstream conversations about ancient Egypt. If you pick up a standard introductory book about ancient Egypt it will have chapters on everything from religion and mummification to hieroglyphs and warmongering - but nothing on how Egypt actually works. There are lots of assumptions and speculations dotted around, and some analyses of specific datasets like the Deir el Medineh ostraca, but most work bases itself on much earlier proposals (e.g. Keynes and Polanyi) and there seems to be no new original research on the subject of the economic foundations and operation of Egypt emerging from universities. Why is that the case?

I enjoyed the conference. The most valuable thing that I derived from it was the crystalization of a number of thoughts that have been brewing in my small head for the last couple of years about the nature of Egyptology and its relationship to archaeology.


The conference must have taken some considerable organization, and William Carruthers said that it had taken the best part of a year to pull together. They organizers are to be congratulated for having done such a good job of presenting such a varied and interesting number of topics from such a wide range of presenters. The discussions were excellent and often provided revealing insights not only into the current state of Egyptology but the gaps that often lead to it feeling so unformed as a formal discipline.

Criticisms aired by many of the members of the audience and one of the speakers were mainly focused on the fact that only 15 minutes was allowed per paper. Although at the beginning of the conference I too had my doubts about the wisdom of this I found that the long discussion periods allowed some of the speakers to elaborate some of the points that they did not have time to cover in the presentations and this seemed to compensate.

One lady asked why the final day was confined to an all male panel. One of the organizers, Will Carruthers, said that he would answer the question as he had spent the last 10 minutes pondering the same question - and it was quite clear from what he said that the all-male panel on the final day was an accident. In all honesty I hadn't noticed which, being female myself, I might have been expected to do. Whilst this could have been because I was near dead from insomnia it was more likely due to the excellent balance displayed on the previous two days. Not only had there been a good balance between male and female presenters and discussants, but there was also a mix of younger and older, experienced and relatively inexperienced, well-known names and relatively unknown names and, if you really want to push the boat out, both straight and gay presenters and discussants. There were also many nationalities represented amongst the speakers. It was not a British-only fest and the only regret, clearly expressed by the organizers, was that there were not enough Egyptian speakers - and this was due to funding problems, not selection biases. The discussants were not exclusive to Egyptology either and in fact, from my point of view, one of the most valuable discussion sessions was chaired by a prehistorian who has nothing to do with Egypt. In short, I saw no signs whatsoever of deliberate exclusion or bias in the choice of presenters throughout the conference.

Photo for Today - Sekhmet

Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire

Friday, June 18, 2010

Carbon 14 dates for ancient Egypt

Science Now (Michael Balter)

Just when did Egyptian pharaohs such as King Tut and Rameses II rule? Historians have heatedly debated the exact dates. Now a radiocarbon study concludes that much of the assumed chronology was right, though it corrects some controversial dates and may overturn a few pet theories.

"This is an extremely important piece of research that shows clearly that historical dating methods and radiocarbon dates are compatible for ancient Egypt," says Kate Spence, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Egyptian records, such as the writings of the 3rd century B.C.E. historian Manetho and inscriptions found at key sites such as Saqqara and Karnak, provide what are called "floating chronologies" because they are internally consistent but not anchored to absolute dates. On the other hand, they sometimes refer to astronomical events whose dates can be calculated today. Thus, scholars are confident that they are not wildly off the mark. But it's difficult to be precise.

AFP / Google

Scientists have established for the first time clear dates for the ruling dynasties of ancient Egypt after carbon dating plant remains, according to research published Thursday.

The results will force historians to revise their records for the two millennia when ancient Egypt dominated the Mediterranean world and hopefully end debate once and for all between rival Egyptologists.

Led by Professor Christopher Ramsey of Britain's Oxford University, an international team tested seeds, baskets, textiles, plant stems and fruit obtained from museums in the United States and Europe for the landmark study.

"For the first time, radiocarbon dating has become precise enough to constrain the history of ancient Egypt to very specific dates," said Ramsey.

"I think scholars and scientists will be glad to hear that our small team of researchers has independently corroborated a century of scholarship in just three years."

A new look at prehistory

Al Ahram Weekly (Jill Kamil)

At last!
Anyone interested in the antecedents of the Egyptian civilisation and the cultures that predated the unification of the country under one king may soon have many of their questions answered. Items showing evidence of the activities of the early peoples of the Nile Valley, from the predynastic cultures of Upper and Lower Egypt, Fayoum and the oases of Siwa and Kharga selected from storehouses around the country, plus pieces from various museums, will soon be on display in a new predynastic museum at Qena.

The museum is currently being built at an ideal location -- a prominent five-feddan site overlooking the Nile. Mahmoud Mabrouk, head of the museums sector of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), which is overseeing the work, says it will represent a long period of history covering about 10,000 years. He adds that a plan has already been worked out to start surveying and registering predynastic items in order to prepare a database of antiquities.

New Book: Hidden Hands

Hidden Hands. Egyptian workforces in Petrie excavation archives, 1880-1924
Stephen Quirke
ISBN 9780715639047

An exploration of one of the great archives of archaeology, revealing the contribution of Egyptian workforces to excavations in Egypt by Flinders Petrie, and including extensive first publication of material, including photographs, from the Petrie Archive.

Exhibition: Journey through the afterlife (British Museum)

Reuters Africa

Papyri from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, a series of spells designed to help guide the dead through the afterlife, will be at the centre of a new show at the British Museum this November.

The star item is likely to be the Greenfield Papyrus, which the London museum called the world's longest Book of the Dead at 37 metres (yards). It has never been shown publicly in its entirety before.

"Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egypt Book of the Dead", sponsored by BP, will run from November 4 to March 6, 2011 in the museum's central Reading Room, used for a series of successful "blockbuster" exhibitions in recent years.

The "book", which is not a single text but a compilation of spells, was used between around 1600 BC and 100 AD and explains much about ancient Egypt's complex belief systems where death and the afterlife were a central focus.

The Guardian, UK (Adam Gabbatt)

It doesn't sound like an ideal day out: a journey punctuated by encounters with crocodiles, snakes and demons, which culminates with your heart being weighed against the balance of good and evil.

These were the ordeals the ancient Egyptians believed they faced en route to the afterlife. Now the route is being recreated for visitors to the British Museum.

Announced today, the museum's showpiece autumn exhibition will draw on its "unparalleled" collection of Egyptian books of the dead, collections of spells provided to help the departed find their way.

The exhibition, Journey Through the Afterlife, which is supported by BP, will include pieces from museums in France and the US in what its curator said was the first international exhibition of such manuscripts.

The Independent, UK

The compilation of texts known today as the "Book of the Dead" was called "Going Forth by Day" by the Egyptians. Leaving the tomb and the Netherworld was one of the main goals of the deceased. "Going forth by day" meant both a triumphant journey as a close follower of the sun god and the ability to go to any place in the human world that one desired – for example, the chapel of the tomb where offerings were waiting on the altar.

Texts helping the deceased to reach this goal were ubiquitous in Egyptian elite burials. We find them on tomb walls, coffins, mummy bandages, shrouds and on papyri buried with the mummy. These papyri start to appear in the early 18th dynasty (around 1500 BC), replacing similar texts written on the insides of wooden coffins. With only a few interruptions, they continued to be standard for elite burials until the 1st century BC, maybe even a bit longer.

The incredible number of Books of the Dead makes them a major resource for the study of many aspects of Egyptian culture – one research project at Bonn University has collected more than 3,500 and none looks exactly like any other.

More on first stages of Grand Egyptian Museum

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

From the moment President Hosni Mubarak laid the foundation stone in February 2002 there was no doubting the scale of the ambition. The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was always intended to be an architectural masterpiece, a fit home for the display of the most outstanding objects produced by Egypt's 7,000 years old civilisation.

On Monday, after eight years of work, the first two phases of the project -- including a power plant, fire station, fully equipped conservation centre with 12 labs and four storage galleries -- were inaugurated. Mrs Suzanne Mubarak attended the opening ceremony and was given a tour of the conservation centre guided by Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Zahi Hawass. She was accompanied by Minister of Education Ahmed Zaki Badr, Minister of Housing Ahmed El-Maghrabi, and columnists Salah Montasser and Anis Mansour.

Peer review and fantastic stories (video)

i09 (Greg Fish)

Thanks to Kat for pointing me to this slightly unusual video contribution!

This spoof video takes you deep into Kraken anatomy, and is hilarious. But, as Greg Fish argues, it also teaches a serious lesson about crank science.

This video took all those curious into the bowels of a creature big enough to swallow ships whole and decapitate eight men with just one of its monstrous suckers. In other words, it was a complete work of fiction spoofing pseudoscientific naturalists of the nineteenth century who couldn't even tell the difference between squid and octopi trying their best to pass off tall tales as the results of years of painstaking research, in an ad for Kraken Brand rum.

The video is funny and should be enjoyed for what it is, but it does strike a note if we look back at what it is spoofing. Back in the nineteenth century, before peer review was as widely used as it is today, the scientists and historians of the time would often make plenty of unsubstantiated claims published in journals which were read by those who were considered wealthy intellectuals, and these claims often stuck for many a decade. Egyptologists are still correcting fictional histories and conspiracy theories about everything from the history of the Sphinx, to the real cause of King Tut's death.

New sound and light show at Edfu

Al Ahram Weekly (Ingrid Wassman)

The darkness surrounding the temple and the whispers from the eager visitors are quickly submerged by a masterful interplay of music, narration and light. As the show begins, the massive 37-metre-high pylon is splashed with colourful laser beams, while an amplified voice begins the fabulous story of Edfu's Temple of Horus, dedicated to the god of the sky.

This new sound-and-light show at Edfu Temple was inaugurated on 1 June, an impressive LE35 million project managed and completed in 18 months by Misr Company for Sound, Light and Cinema, headed by Chairman and Managing Director Essam Abdel-Hady.

"We added a sound-and-light show in Edfu for three main reasons," explains Abdel-Hady. "The Temple of Horus is one of the best preserved in Egypt," and he adds that passengers on a Nile cruise docked overnight in Edfu previously had very few evening sightseeing options. "This project is also a way to develop the economy of Edfu, which is not a wealthy town," says Abdel-Hady.

Iconic Guides website

Iconic Guides

Thanks to Benedict Davies (the author of the Deir el-Medina 'genealogy bible', entitled 'Who's Who at Deir el-Medina'), for sending me details of his new website. The guides are not free of charge but they aren't expensive and you can listen to samples on the website. It looks like a great idea to me. Here's what he has to say:

I just wanted to bring your attention to my new website, which may be of some interest to the followers of your blog - the address of which is Iconic Guides are a series of fascinating 'audio tours' to some of the world's most famous ancient historical sites and monuments. I've primarily been focussing on sites from ancient Egypt (as one would expect), but have also begun to branch out into other civilisations, such as Japan and Greece (two of my other interests). I have recently recruited several other scholars to write guides to further sites in Greece and Italy, and am actively seeking scholars/writers to present ideas for future guides.

Easy to use, each guide comes in MP3 format and can be played on any MP3-compatible device, such as Apple’s iPods and iPhones, as well as most mobile phones. The guides are packed with detailed information and probing insights into the cultural, artistic and architectural heritage of these ancient destinations. Whilst initially aimed at the independent traveller, I strongly believe that they could also be of tremendous benefit to members of traditional tour parties.

Mubarak to open Museum of Islamic Art

Egypt State Information Service

President Hosni Mubarak opens within days the Museum of Islamic Art in the heart of Old Cairo after the Ministry of Culture finalized its renovation which took several years.

The Islamic museum holds more than 100,000 artifacts representing different Islamic arts.

Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni said during a tour in which he inspected the museum after renovation that the museum has been provided with the most up-to-date light and security systems.

The Museum of Islamic Arts is one of the finest museums in Cairo .

The museum's extensive collection of over 10,000 pieces includes mainly Egyptian art, but there are pieces from elsewhere in the Islamic world, as well.

Arranged according to medium, the exhibits illustrate every era of development, from Ummayad to Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Memluk works.

The artworks include woodwork, ceramics, glass, metalwork, textiles, and carpets.