Tag Archives: Egypt

Wishful thinking of Egyptologists

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

An interesting story appeared in the news the other day. Nicholas Reeves from the University of Arizona has been studying detailed scans of the inside of Tutankamun’s tomb, made by Factum Arte, which were produced in order to make a facsimile of the tomb. He believes that he has found on the images evidence that points to a hidden, sealed doorway within the tomb that may lead to an undiscovered chamber or series of chambers. All very exciting stuff. However, he also thinks that these chambers could house the remains of Nefertiti, the consort of Akenaten, and the woman who some believe may have been the mother of King Tut. I was slightly surprised when I first read this, as I thought she’d already been found in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings with a cache of other royal mummies, but after doing a bit of digging (no pun intended), it seems as though she was just one possible contender for these remains, and DNA testing carried out a few years back has disproved this and the maternity issue. However, I can’t help but feel that this suggestion is a bit premature, and is purely designed to provoke speculation, interest, media coverage, and increase the chance of permission being granted for work to take place in the tomb. Where is the evidence for this? It would be amazing if it was the case, but an undiscovered chamber of Tut-related tomb goods would be just as interesting and archaeologically valuable. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath on this one, but would love to be proved wrong.

Bust of Nefertiti. Image: en.wikipedia.org

Bust of Nefertiti. Image: en.wikipedia.org

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New books: July

I promise that I will give up buying books for a while now after this month. Having no shelving as of yet for books means that I just keep piling ‘em up and hoping that they will fit somewhere when we move, and I can’t keep on. However, this month has seen me tempted terribly by both pretty classics (Penguin and Oxford, I’m looking at you), and a ridiculous book sale in the only independent bookshop left in Stoke-on-Trent. It would be bad not to patronise them when they have a sale on, surely?

Webberley's Bookshop

Webberley’s Bookshop

All but five of the following books were from the sale, bought over four visits.

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  • Allen Ginsberg – Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems £2.99
  • Daljit Nagra – Look we have coming to Dover!*
  • Thomas Hardy – Wessex Poems*
  • Ian Duhig – The Speed of Dark*
  • Maurice Riordan – Floods*

The Ginsberg was spied in the Oxfam on Turl Street in the centre of Oxford when I went down at the start of the month with a group of Y10 and ex-Y11 students from work for a two-day (one night) residential at my college, St. Hugh’s. I did visit The Last Bookshop (as mentioned in a previous book-haul post), but didn’t come away with anything from there.

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  • Federico Garcia Lorca – The House of Bernarda Alba and Other Plays*
  • Sophocles – The Theban Plays**
  • Bertolt Brecht – The Good Woman of Setzuan*
  • William Shakespeare – Love’s Labour’s Lost*          –               Four Comedies : The Taming of the Shrew – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – As You Like It – Twelfth Night*            –               Anthony and Cleopatra**
  • Oscar Wilde – A Woman of No Importance*           –               Salome*

I already own a copy of the Sophocles plays (the Oedipus trilogy) in a Robert Fagles translation, but this is a different translation, which I thought would be interesting to compare it with. Also it’s a nice Penguin Classics edition.

In the same way, I already own a copy of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, but for the price I thought it daft not to get this four-in-one text; it works out at 5p a play. Also, it frees up some room, as the four-in-one take up far less room than my copies of those two plays do individually.

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  • Sivadasa – The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie***
  • The Tain***
  • William Beckford – Vathek**
  • W. Somerset Maugham – Liza of Lambeth*
  • Colette – Cheri**
  • Jane Austen – Emma***
  • Henry James – Washington Square**
  • Henry Mackenzie – The Man of Feeling**

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  • Laura Schwartz – A Serious Endeavour: Gender, education and community at St. Hugh’s, 1886-2011             £10
  • Philip Ardagh – The Archaeologist’s Handbook**
  • Tracey Turner – Foul Facts from the Perilous Past**
  • Richard Mackay – The Atlas of Endangered Species***

The first of these was also bought when I was down in Oxford, from St. Hugh’s College itself. It was written for the 125th anniversary of the college in 2011, but I never got a copy when I was actually studying. The other three of these are for use at work.

Now, the next book (I hope) speaks for itself:

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How ACE. This was also from the book sale (**)

Now, lastly, these weren’t:

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  • Virginia Woolf – The Lady in the Looking-Glass**
  • Voltaire – Candide and Other Stories         99p
  • Marcel Mauss – The Gift £1.49

The Gift is one of the key texts that I used at Uni, and which I’ve meant to get my own copy of ever since I was studying. Also, on the subject of this book (and more specifically it’s author), our youngest son has a toy mouse that we’ve named Marcel. Only us…

Now- NO MORE BOOK BUYING!


* 20p

** 50p

*** £1

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Sekhemka update

Well it definitely looks like Northampton Museum won’t be getting an Alan Moore manuscript. Following my last post about Northampton Council’s plans to sell an ancient Egyptian statue, I’m a tad irritated to say that the sale went ahead on the 10th July, with Sekhemka selling for the ridiculous sum of £15,762,500- about two-and-a-half-times the expected sale price. The good news for the council is that they won’t need to raise as much money as they had planned to in order to go ahead with their new construction work- they need £14m, and have got about £10m towards that once the 45% of the sale price owed to the Marquis of Northampton has been paid. This interesting arrangement highlights the somewhat dodge nature of the sale, as the question arises whether it was actually the property of the council to sell in the first place, and makes the legal position one to watch.

However, probably the most interesting thing about the sale was the fact that it drew attention from Egyptian government officials, who seemed quite concerned that their heritage was being sold off in another country, and that the object shouldn’t be sold anyway, as it had been stolen from Egypt. Yep; this would be the same Egyptian government who are quite happy to allow the heritage in their own country to crumble, be looted and blown up without a care, as it doesn’t reflect the true people of the country (i.e. those who live there now). I would laugh if it weren’t so tragic.

Christie's staff view the statue. Image: mirror.co.uk

Christie’s staff view the statue. Image: mirror.co.uk

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Alan Moore and Sekhemka

I never thought that the topics of graphic novels and ancient Egyptian archaeology would ever come up in the same post, but it seems that they will now. One  example (out of many, many examples) of a council being idiotic has been playing away in the news for a few weeks, but now I thought that it would make an interesting post, what with the introduction of Alan Moore- of ‘Watchmen’ and ‘V for  Vendetta’ fame- to the fray.

v-for-vendetta

Northampton Borough Council has decided that the best way for it to raise the eight-figure sum that it needs to cover the cost of “a new entrance to the Guildhall Road site, new galleries, a Shoe Resource Centre, education spaces and retail, food and drink facilities as part of the town’s Cultural Quarter” (according to culture24.org.uk) is to sell an Egyptian statue in its collection. This 4,500-year-old statue of Sekhemka was collected by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850, and donated to the people of the city by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880. His descendant Lord Northampton has reached an agreement to share the proceeds of the sale with the council, and it is expected to make £6m at Christie’s on 10th July.

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Here is a description taken from the sale catalogue:

Lot 10. AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA
OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C.
Depicted seated, wearing a tight-fitting wig with rows of carefully-cut curls, his expressive face intact and beautifully carved with subtly moulded brows, his eyes looking slightly downward, with a short nose and a softly modelled mouth, the slightly smiling lips outlined by a raised vermillion line, wearing a short pleated kilt with a knotted belt and a pleated tab angled above, holding a partially unrolled papyrus scroll on his lap with a hieroglyphic inscription listing twenty-two varied offerings, his powerful bare chest with clearly indicated collar bones, muscular arms and strong legs, his hands finely detailed, a hieroglyphic inscription on the seat reading: “Inspector of the scribes of the house of the master of largess, one revered before the great god, Sekhemka”; to his right, his wife in much smaller scale kneeling, her left leg bent elegantly beneath her right, her left arm tenderly embracing Sekhemka’s right leg, wearing a tight-fitting ankle-length dress, the accompanying inscription reading: “The one concerned with the affairs of the king, one revered before the great god, Sitmeret”; to his left a young man sculpted in raised relief, most probably his son, with an inscription reading: “Scribe of the master of largess, Seshemnefer”; the three sides of the cubic seat sculpted in shallow raised relief with a ceremonial procession of male offering bearers bringing a duck, geese, a calf, lotus flowers, unguent and incense
29 ½ in. (75 cm.) high; 12 ¼ in. (31.2 cm.) wide; 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm.) deep
Estimate: £4-6 million ($6,784,000-10,176,000)
Provenance
Probably from the Royal Cemeteries, Saqqara.
Acquired by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850.
Presented to the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery by either Charles Douglas-Compton, 3rd Marquess of Northampton (1816-1877) or Admiral William Compton, 4th Marquess of Northampton (1818-1897).
Exhibited
The Northampton Museum, Northampton, general exhibition, 1866–1899.
The Abington Museum, Northampton, Egyptian room, 1899–1950s.
General exhibition, Northampton Central Museum, Northampton, from 1960.
The Abington Museum, Northampton, Ancient Egypt – Land of Mystery, 1977.
Northampton Central Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Mummies and Megaliths – the Bronze Age in Britain and Egypt, 1983.
Northampton Central Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Ancient Egypt: The Northampton Collection, 1988.
General exhibition, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, 2001-2012.

However, the Museums Association has warned that Northamptons future loans and fundraising prospects would be in jeopardy if the sale goes ahead, as members of the Arts Council are allowed to exchange items with other accredited venues and apply for grants and funding, but14m from once they have their share of the sale proceeds, if their most likely source of funding will be cut following the sale. Ironically, Councillor Brandon Eldred, of Northampton Borough Council, said before a ‘public consultation’ in 2012 that the money from the sale would be used to to a wider audience.

“The statue of Sekhemka is a valuable asset and we do appreciate its significance as an artefact,” he insisted. Hmmm.

“But we have decided to sell it and reinvest the money back into developing Northampton Museum and other parts of our cultural heritage. Every penny raised will go into projects that help to tell the story of our town’s history.”

Hmmm. I can’t help but feel that Northampton are shooting themselves in the foot somewhat with this. What could surely be made into a major attraction for people to the museum is being taken away in favour of what sounds to be a mediocre and somewhat substance-less redevelopment that would take away much of the heritage of the place.

Now, I hear you shout- where does the bearded cartoon god come in? Well, read this:

Image: Northants Herald & Post / Save Sekhemka Action Group (Facebook page)

Image: Northants Herald & Post / Save Sekhemka Action Group (Facebook page)

I think that he makes a valid argument, to be honest. Why would you willingly donate to an institution that is happy to sell its collections and donations to raise funds rather than raising them in the usual ways? Collect donations, charge entry, receive grants. I hope that the museum doesn’t manage to raise the rest of the money needed, and that the statue is purchased by another museum or institution to show Northampton up.

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It seems that the Christie’s catalogue actually provides quite a bit of information regarding the statue. This text is taken from nordonart.wordpress.com, which quotes from the sale catalogue extensively.

SCULPTURE IN THE OLD KINGDOM 2500 B.C. – ETERNITY

Life after death was the primary belief in ancient Egypt and preparing for one’s welfare after death was the project of a lifetime. A tomb needed to be built, funerary equipment had to be arranged, and the mortuary cult needed to be performed. Aside from the royal family, only the elite had the resources to fully realise these demands. The tomb was made in two parts, comprising a substructure where the sarcophagus was placed, and a superstructure with decorated rooms and chapels. It was a favour of the king to be permitted to have a sumptuously decorated tomb, given only to esteemed members of the administration. Artisans from the royal workshop would create the colourfully decorated walls and lifelike statues representing the deceased and his family.

Group sculptures representing the royal family are known since the early Dynastic period, circa 3000-2650 B.C. A relief fragment from Heliopolis shows an early depiction of king Djoser with his family gathered around his legs. The intimate attitude of the wife kneeling on the ground, her legs tucked to one side, her arm around her husband’s legs was reserved only for royal women in the 4th dynasty (circa 2600-2450 B.C.). Only in the 5th dynasty did non-ruling members of the royal family adopt this style, as with the example of the statue of princess Nebibnebty and her husband Seankhuptah, dating to circa 2450-2300 B.C. This type was subsequently gradually adopted by high officials and entered private statuary shortly after.

Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, and is in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.

SESHEMNEFER

On the front of the cubic seat, to the right of Sekhemka, is a figure of a young man, Seshemnefer, walking to the left. He is depicted nude, a sign of youth, and holds a large lotus flower with long stem in his left hand, the symbol of rebirth. As well as providing his name, the hieroglyphic inscription above his head identifies him as a scribe of the master of largess, which suggests that he worked in the same office as his father. That such a young man already has a work title may appear incongruous, however this is a depiction of Sekhemka’s son as an idealized youth. His presence reinforces the carefully constructed image of an idyllic, young and fecund family.

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

SITMERIT AND INTIMACY IN ANCIENT EGYPT

Sekhemka’s wife, Sitmerit, meaning literally “The Daughter of Merit”, is shown kneeling to his right. Though diminutive in scale, her refined features are stately and beautiful. Her imposing wide wig frames her round face, whilst rows of straight and curling natural hair appear on her forehead. Her eyes gaze upwards, in the same direction as Sekhemka’s. She is wearing a tight-fitted white linen dress, revealing the shape of her body. The dress was patterned in blue and orange around her breasts, as the remains of pigment behind her shoulders reveal. Her wrists and ankles are adorned with bracelets and traces of a broad collar are visible on her neck. She is delicately embracing her husband’s right leg, with her left hand carved on the inside of his calf.

Canons in Egyptian art were established by the royal family and followed by the elite, who were always trying to emulate their sovereign. Although appearing quite static at first glance, representations of royal and private couples always have an element of intimacy, showing conjugal affection. In the 4th dynasty, the wife is only touching her husband with one hand, but by the 5th dynasty, she will be gently brushing his calf with her fingertips. Later examples show husband and wife holding hands, arm in arm, or even embracing by the shoulders.

Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression is perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale is not a symbol of women’s place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

THE SCROLL

Sekhemka holds a papyrus scroll open on his lap. The hieroglyphic inscription lists offerings, with much detail about type and quantity, including food, beverages, unguents and liquids, incense and cosmetics, funerary equipment and royal gifts. These are the essential offerings that Sekhemka will need to subsist comfortably in in the afterlife.

Register I
Water-pouring
Incense
Festival perfume, one jar
Hekenu-oil, one jar
Sefet-oil, one jar
Nehenem-oil, one jar
Tuaut-oil, one jar
First quality cedar oil, one jar
First quality Libyan oil, one jar
Green eye-paint, one bag
Black eye-paint, one bag

Register II
Cloth strips, a pair
Incense
Cool water; two pellets (of natron)
An offering-table
Royal offering, two cakes (?)
Royal offering of the hall, two cakes (?)
Sitting
Breakfast, bread and beer
One Tetu-loaf
One Te-reteh-loaf
One Nemeset-jar of beer

Image: nordonaet.wordpress.com

Image: nordonaet.wordpress.com

 

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Dulux paints from history: Mummy Brown

'Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman' by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

‘Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman’ by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

I don’t often do this, as I’m sure that nobody ever bothers to click on the links I provide, but in case anyone is interested, here is a ridiculously fascinating article about the trade in and use of Egyptian mummies for medicinal purposes and paint pigment up until the early 20th century. I learnt a great deal from this, and was somewhat repulsed and upset by it. Just think of all that history that we have lost due to the plundering of Egypt by Western nations for various reasons, and that blatant economic exploitation of the remains of the dead (which incidentally reminds me of another post I must write shortly, which I meant to get up last week but which totally slipped my mind), with no regard for their status as once-living individuals, and for what they could have told us about the past. How many famous pharaohs were there for the discovery, only to be ground up as cod-scientific medicines thanks to a misunderstanding of Egyptian embalming techniques? As an Archaeologist, it’s truly heartbreaking to think about, but all we can do is make the most of the knowledge and resources that we have now, conserve what we have of the past still to hand, and take these tales from history as both lessons in bad practice, and as interesting chapters in the history of the discipline. Spilt milk, and all that. Anyway- here’s the article. Do take a few minutes out to read it- it is well worth it.

http://www.artinsociety.com/the-life-and-death-of-mummy-brown.html

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Ancient socks for sandals

I’ve just found this image on Facebook, and thought it worthy of a post on here. These are clearly a pair of interestingly-shaped socks. However, perhaps more interesting is the fact that they are Romano-Egyptian socks from 250-420 AD, excavated from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, at the end of the 19th century. The strange toes come from the fact that these were made to be worn in sandals. I’m just staggered by the wonderful preservation of these items considering their age.

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After a quick Google search, this came up regarding these socks from the V&A (their current home):

The Romano-Egyptian socks were excavated in the burial grounds of ancient Oxyrhynchus, a Greek colony on the Nile in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. They were given to the Museum in 1900 by Robert Taylor Esq., ‘Kytes,’ Watford. He was executor of the estate of the late Major Myers and these items were selected among others from a list of textiles as ‘a large number of very useful examples.’

And Emily Spivack, writing in the Smithsonian, adds:

Particularly intriguing about these “very useful examples” is the technique used to construct these red wool socks. Called nålbindning, or single-needle knitting, this time-consuming process required only a single thread. The technique was frequently used for close-fitting garments for the head, feet and hands because of its elastic qualities. Primarily from prehistoric times, nålbindning came before the two-needle knitting that’s standard today; each needle was crafted from wood or bone that was “flat, blunt and between 6-10 cm long, relatively large-eyed at one end or the eye is near the middle.”

We don’t know for sure whether these socks were for everyday use, worn with a pair of sandals to do the ancient Egyptian equivalent of running errands or heading to work—or if they were used as ceremonial offerings to the dead (they were found by burial grounds, after all).

This reminds me of a story I was told by a professional archaeologist friend about an exhumation he was carrying out at a local church. An elderly lady who had died in the 1960s was being carefully removed, and she was entirely skeletal. However, over her feet were a pair of intact, perfectly-preserved and almost knee-high socks.

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New Books: April

As promised on my last book-purchases post, here are my new acquisitions from April (albeit a tad late):

 

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  • Geoffrey Berg- The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God     10p
  • Patrick Moore- The Guinness Book of Astronomy     10p
  • Lesley and Roy Adkins- The Keys to Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphics     20p
  • Suetonius- The Twelve Caesars    99p
  • Caesar- The Conquest of Gaul     99p
  • The Paston Letters     10p

 

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  • Charles Dickens- Great Expectations     20p
  • E. W. Hornung- Raffles     20p
  • Penelope Lively- Moon Tiger     20p
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin- We     £2
  • Ralph Ellison- Invisible Man     £2
  • Leo Tolstoy- War and Peace     50p
  • Mary Shelley- Frankenstein     10p
  • Philip K. Dick- The Man in the High Castle     50p
  • Jonathan Swift- Poems Selected by Derek Mahon     Bought for me
  • William Shakespeare- Henry IV Part 2, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night     50p each

 

Also, I had these bought for me (which I’d asked for):

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  • Timothy Taylor- The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture
  • Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
  • Hermann Hesse- Strange News from Another Star and Other Stories
  • Dante- The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno, The Divine Comedy II: Purgatory, The Divine Comedy III: Paradise (I translated by Mark Musa; II translated by Dorothy L. Sayers; III translated by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds)

 

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The Strange Case of the Spontaneously Combusting Mummy

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, and am planning to get up a grand total of 4 ‘Thoughts on…’ posts (I’ve been reading quite a bit recently), but this caught my attention.

I have harboured an interest in the ancient Egyptians since I was 10, and before having children, I had intended this to be my chosen area of study, and later employment. Life intervened, however, and since then I have now realised that my real love in archaeology is the landscape and the Early Medieval period in England and Europe. Despite this change in focus, I have still held an interest and fascination in Egypt, and it was with great joy that I travelled several years ago with a very good friend of mine to the O2 in London to see the exhibition of treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

tutankhamun-exhibition-london1

I cannot adequately describe my amazement at the grave-goods on display- “Wonderful things” indeed- in part due to the sheer quality and the beauty of the craftsmanship, and also because of the fame of some of the items that I was able to see in the flesh, as it were. However, since then I think any further discovery surrounding the boy pharaoh has paled in comparison, and I have paid these new finds about the cause of death or his life less and less attention. Until now, that is.

Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton has re-examined some of the notes made by Howard Carter back in 1922 and analysed a fragment of flesh that was removed from the mummy to reveal that a chemical reaction caused by the embalming oils used led the body to burn within the inner-most coffin once it had been sealed. I don’t know the ins and outs of this research, as I can’t find a lot of information regarding it, but there is a programme on Channel 4 later in the week, and so I hope to be able to say slightly more on this once I’ve watched it.

Personally, I think that this sounds an interesting idea, and when you look at some parts of the body, it does perhaps look as though it may have been burnt, but… I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced, to be honest. Surely there would have been some sort of heat damage to the inner-most coffin and the bandages, and Carter does record some sort of burn damage, but- I need to find out more to make any proper comment. Expect a follow-up post to this one!

 

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Cultural Cards

Archeologist saves cultural treasures with cards | Art & Architecture | DW.DE | 27.08.2012.

Here’s an interesting article I’ve just found from almost a year ago that follows on nicely from my recent posts about the mess in Egypt and the threat to archaeology. It seems that it is not just local people who seem to destroy sites and heritage in times of upheaval and war, and so to prevent the US military from causing damage unwittingly when in the Middle East, these methods are being tried out. It seems as though they seem to be working too, which is nice and promising. Anyhoo- check out the link above if you are interested.

Archeological playing cards created by US Army archeologist Dr. Laurie Rush and academic colleagues

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Egypt and the threat that won’t go away

https://www.facebook.com/StopTheHeritageDrain

I am currently in the process of looking up some information for another blog post when I came across the above page on Facebook. Following on from the vaguely optimistic post I published regarding the mess that Egypt is in at present, there is a Facebook page dedicated to disseminating images of stolen antiquities and artifacts from museums within the country in the hope that these can be tracked down and returned. All of these have been stolen since the start of the civil unrest, on a scale that seems ridiculous. And there is nothing that we can really do to stop it. It saddens me that transient political disagreements in the present should have such a fierce effect upon the past; we should be able to change the actions of the present.  Once the past is gone, though, this is irreversible.

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Egypt and the threat to Archaeology

As an Archaeologist, the mindless destruction of the 12th century Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria during the civil unrest in April 2013 made me feel sick and realise just quite how all-encompassing and total the violence was becoming. UNESCO World Heritage Sites weren’t safe from the threat of modern conflict. We saw back in 2003 that the American entry into Iraq led to the looting of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, and subsequent desert sites became pockmarked with hundreds of pits dug by desperate civilians hoping to find treasures that could be sold. Well just today the death toll in the Egyptian violence has come to over 600, and with all of this unrest, i have wondered how Egyptian archaeological sites and antiquities will have fared; Egypt being renowned for the trade in illegal antiquities. It must be going on at sites that are left unguarded and unprotected in the desert, especially when armed forces and police will be being moved to areas of violence and so leave historic sites unprotected. Dr Zahi Hawass, the head of antiquities in Egypt, left his post in 2011, citing his inability to protect the material and sites during the troubles as one of the reasons (being a supporter of Mubarak may have been another), and so the situation at present could be quite dire- no-one can really know.

However, today I saw an article offering some hope on ahramonline (http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/9/40/79035/Heritage/Ancient-Egypt/Egypts-archaeological-sites-and-museums-closed-ind.aspx), which I will quote in part:

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim established an emergency operation room to follow up on security measures taken at archaeological sites and museums across the country, in order to protect them from looting or encroachment.

During clashes, pro-Morsi protesters destroyed guard kiosks at the entrance to the National Museum of Alexandria, and at the Malawi National Museum in the Upper Egypt city of El-Minya.

Ibrahim told Ahram Online that both museums are safe, however. “Thank God, nothing happened to the museums themselves,” he said.

We can but hope that he is right, and hope that this awful mess in every sense- political, personal, social, as well as archaeological- is sorted soon before we end up with a replica of Aleppo and a gaping hole in the shared heritage and history of the world. It is something that all archaeologists should be concerned about, and which the international community should speak out about before it is too late, more culture is destroyed needlessly, and more lives are thrown away.

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