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Bonaparte-Before-the-Sphinx_2

Mystery of the Sphinx: Was it built to the likeness of the Pharaoh Khafre?

In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

At the time, most Egyptologists believed the Sphinx had been carved in the likeness of a pharaoh named Khafre during his reign around 2500 BC (approximately 4,500 years ago.) This was based on a vague hypothesis from the fragments of a stela (stone marker) found near the front of the massive sculpture.

An antique photo of the Sphinx of Giza, circa 1890. (Photo Zangaki brothers/Public Domain)

Shocking Findings

During his many travels to Egypt, West had uncovered the research of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, a French Egyptologist who believed the Sphinx to be significantly older than what historians described. To support his research, West invited Schoch to analyze the Sphinx from a geological perspective and make an age determination from his findings. West and Schoch would later publish their conclusions which revealed the Sphinx and surrounding enclosure (made of limestone) to be significantly older by many thousands of years. Dr. Schoch’s conservative estimates were in the neighborhood of 9,000 years, which West felt was somewhat inadequate and privately expressed dates to 20,000 years or older.

The news shocked the scientific world, which could not grasp the possibility of an advanced civilization existing before 2600 BC. The documentary Mystery of the Sphinx highlighted the West/Schoch discovery which today has left the scientific community divided.

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, 1867 (Public Domain)

Face of the Sphinx

One of the interesting aspects of the documentary, and the focus of this article, was the forensic reconstruction of the face of the Sphinx and its ethnicity. Most, if not all Egyptologists agree that the head of the Sphinx represents the Pharaoh Khafre, and over the years have presented sculptures of Khafre they felt were a good likeness. West was suspicious of this claim, and called on Frank Domingo, a New York Police Department forensic expert to reconstruct the face of the Sphinx to confirm or deny Khafre’s likeness.

Domingo Head. Photo composite of Sphinx head, by Frank Domingo, NY Police Department. (Image via author).

Domingo took hundreds of photos from a variety of positions inside and outside the Sphinx enclosure, capturing the subtleties of the face of the Sphinx, the carving technique, and the intent of the artisans who fashioned the sculpture. At the end of his analysis, the face he re-established through careful reconstruction was not the Pharaoh Khafre. Using portions of the head that remained after erosion, and the changes resulting from artillery fire from earlier wars in the area, Domingo revealed the head of the Sphinx was that of an African individual, (Nubian) and the possible likeness of an unknown pharaoh.

The Egyptological community was immediately in uproar and dismissed the conclusions of Domingo, Schoch, and West with a series of character assassinations and accusations. Given the new scientific conclusions, rather than consider the possibilities of an even earlier dynasty, they rejected the data as unsubstantiated and unscientific. But, the story doesn’t end here. One of the important considerations of West’s research was the discovery that the face was not Khafre, but distinctly African.

Racial Diversity in Ancient Egypt

My own research of early pre-classic Maya society (1500 BC – 1500 AD) now reveals evidence of racial diversity on a massive scale, thousands of years before Columbus reached the Americas. Abundant images of people from this time period and for centuries after are found on terracotta figurines, pottery, and in some examples, jewelry. It’s not known how these ethnic groups migrated to Central America, but over the last 50 years, a number of authors have documented a Maya society with people from unmistakably different racial groups. Most prominent of these writers was Professor Alexander von Wuthenau, a scholar who fled Nazi Germany, settled in Mexico and lived there until his death in the early 1970s. A keen observer, his collection of ancient Meso-American artifacts is startling, with examples of people from Asia, Africa, and Europe, and is documented in hundreds of photos in his book, Unexpected Faces in Ancient America. Similar racial types can also be found in Dynastic Egypt.

On a recent trip to Paris, I paid a visit to the Louvre, and the Egyptian Antiquities wing to view the artifacts. The current exhibit opens with a beautifully carved, large, red granite sphinx, which leads you upstairs to a collection of monoliths and sculptures collected by French archaeologists in the late 17th century. As you enter this portion of the museum, you face six small but distinctly carved individuals with sphinx bodies. The title of the exhibit reads (translated from French): Six of the Sphinxes bordering: Leading to the Serapeum of Saqqara.

Entrance sphinxes. Six small, beautifully carved sphinxes greet you as you enter the Egyptian portion of the Louvre. Each has the face of an individual from Asia. (Photo by the author).

Each sphinx is executed in the refined style we’ve come to appreciate from early Dynastic Egyptian artisans, but in these examples, all have distinctly different faces; they’re Asian. According to August Mariette, the French archaeologist who excavated the site in 1850, each sphinx was part of 600 small sculptures which lined a causeway entering the Serapeum. This is the first time I’ve noticed Asian features on the head of an Egyptian sculpture and I can only surmise that ancient Egypt was far more culturally diverse that we understand.

Cultural and Genetic Exchange

In a recent paper on DNA and mitochondrial genome research of early Egyptian populations, the authors conclude that because of its close proximity to Africa, Asia, and Europe, “from the first millennium BCE onwards, Egypt saw a growing number of foreigners living and working within its borders and was subjected to an almost continuous sequence of foreign domination by Libyans, Assyrians, Kushites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks and Brits. The movement of people, goods and ideas throughout Egypt’s long history has given rise to an intricate cultural and genetic exchange and entanglement, involving themes that resonate strongly with contemporary discourse on integration and globalization.”

It appears that geneticists have determined that, for thousands of years, ancient Egypt was a society made up of multi-racial communities, living, working, and interacting with one another as a cohesive group. Why is it so hard for Egyptologists to accept the possibility of an African or even Asian pharaoh from an earlier epoch?

It appears that the ethnically diverse experiment that is the United States of America is not new after all. Racial diversity has been cultivated in different parts of the world for thousands of years.

Source article on ancient-origins, by Cliff Dunning.

References
Verena J. Schuenemann et al, 2017. ‘Ancient Egyptian mummy genomes suggest an increase of Sub-Saharan African ancestry in post-Roman periods’, Nature Communications 8, Article number: 15694 (2017), doi:10.1038/ncomms15694 [Online] Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15694
Alexander von Wuthenau, 1975. ‘Unexpected Faces in Ancient America’. Crown Publishers.
Mystery of the Sphinx, 1993 Documentary. Director Bill Cote.

Meretites-and-Kahai

A Priestess and a Singer Locked in a Lasting Egyptian Love Story

A beautiful love story bloomed around a tomb painting found in Saqqara, Egypt. The image shows an ancient Egyptian couple in a tender scene. While sweet, this type of image isn’t a common one – so researchers may be as interested in the painting and story as romantics are.

The intriguing painting graces the wall of a 4,400-year-old tomb belonging to a couple, their children, and possibly even their grandchildren. A priestess named Meretites and her husband, a singer named Kahai who performed at the pharaoh’s palace, are the primary owners of the tomb, and are the couple depicted in the painting.

Miral Lashien, a researcher at Macquarie University, suggested the beautiful nature of the tomb can be attributed to the social status the couple held in the Pyramid Age.

Saqqara, chapel of Kahai and his family, 5th Dynasty, around 2420 BC – 2389 BC. (Image Source: pinterest http://www.ancient-origins.net/)

In fact, colorful scenes of people singing and playing musical instruments, such as harps and flutes, are splashed across the wall of the duos tomb. However, the scene that draws in the viewer the most is undoubtedly the portrayal of the priestess and singer lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes while Meretites places her right hand over Kahai’s right shoulder.

This type of image would be considered a tame or gentle depiction of a couple in the Western world today, but in ancient Egypt it was not normal – not even for a married couple. There are actually few examples of a face-to-face embrace from the Old Kingdom period (2649 – 2150 BC), the time period when Meretites and Kahai lived and pyramid building thrived. As Lashien reflected, “I think that this indicates very special closeness.”

Although a full-color image of the tomb painting didn’t appear in the media until 2013, the tomb itself was found in 1966 and the couple’s moment was portrayed in low quality black-and-white in a book in 1971. The more striking representation of the ancient Egyptian couple made global headlines thanks to the work of scientists at Macquarie University’s Australian Center for Egyptology.

Lashien explained that making higher quality color images of the tomb available was a necessary action, “This tomb is one of the most colorful examples of Old Kingdom art and certainly deserves a full-color publication.”

Apart from the eye-catching murals, the tomb also has five “false doors” with images of the deceased. The ancient Egyptians believed that these were a conduit between the world of the living and that of the dead. Furthermore, the living loved ones would place food in front of these ‘doors’ as offerings for the dead.

By April Holloway
Source: Ancient Origins (ancient-origins.net)

great-pyramids-giza

Archaeologists discover a mysterious void inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Archaeologists have uncovered a mysterious enclosure hidden deep inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The massive cavity stretches for at least 30 metres and lies above the grand gallery, an impressive ascending corridor that connects the Queen’s chamber to the King’s in the heart of the historic monument. It is the first major structure found in the pyramid since the 19th century.

It is unclear whether the void is a chamber or a corridor, or whether it played any more than a structural role in the pyramid’s construction – such as relieving weight on the grand gallery below. But measurements show that it has similar dimensions to the grand gallery, which is nearly 50 metres long, eight metres high and more than a metre wide.

Inside the great pyramid

Scientists discovered the void using sensors that detect particles known as muons, which rain down on Earth when cosmic rays slam into atoms in the upper atmosphere. The muons travel at close to the speed of light and behave much like x-rays when they meet objects. Armed with suitable equipment, researchers can used them to reveal the rough internal structure of pyramids and other ancient monuments.

“We know that this big void has the same characteristics as the grand gallery,” said Mehdi Tayoubi at the HIP Institute in Paris, a non-profit organisation that draws on new technology to study and preserve cultural heritage. “It’s really impressive.”

NG STAFF. SOURCE: MORISHIMA, K. ET AL. DISCOVERY OF A BIG VOID IN KHUFU’S PYRAMID BY OBSERVATION OF COSMIC-RAY MUONS. NATURE – Image Source: National Geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com

Also known as Khufu’s Pyramid, or the Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Pyramid was built in the 4th dynasty by the pharaoh Khufu, who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BC. The monument rises 140 metres above the Giza Plateau and has three chambers known from previous explorations: a subterranean one at the base of the pyramid, the Queen’s chamber at the centre, and the King’s chamber above. While a granite sarcophagus sits in the King’s chamber, King Khufu’s mummy is missing, and his queens were buried elsewhere. Whatever riches were once in the chambers were looted long ago.

Egyptologists have scores of theories about how the pyramid was built, but there are no reliable accounts of its construction. Herodotus wrote of stones being drawn from quarries near and far, with some being shipped down the Nile on boats. The mammoth construction project occupied the lives of a hundred thousand men, fuelled in part by radishes, onions and leeks, he noted.

To pinpoint the cavity, scientists from Nagoya University in Japan, and KEK, the country’s high energy physics lab, installed muon-detecting photographic plates and electronic muon detectors around the Queen’s chamber. At the same time, researchers from CEA, France’s energy research organisation, trained “muon telescopes” on the pyramid from the outside. All three techniques can tell from which direction incoming muons arrive.

When the teams compared their results, all had found a muon hotspot in the same place, indicating the presence of a large cavity in the pyramid. While most of the monument is made of stone that absorbs muons, chambers and cavities let the particles pass through.

Muon analysis allows scientists to look deep inside ancient monuments without drilling holes or causing other damage to the precious structures. But the technique produces low resolution images, making it impossible for the researchers to tell if the newly-found void runs horizontally or parallel to the grand gallery. Nor can they be sure it is a single enclosure rather than a series of smaller cavities close together, they report in Nature.

“What we are sure about is that this big void is there, that it is impressive, and was not expected by any kind of theory,” said Tayoubi. To shed more light on the purpose of the cavity, Tayoubi called on specialists in ancient Egyptian architecture to come forward with ideas of what it may be so they can be modelled and checked against the team’s data. The cavity may have relieved weight on the roof of the underlying grand gallery, or be a hitherto unknown corridor in the pyramid. The team has no plans to drill into the cavity to explore inside, but they are developing a tiny flying robot that might one day be sent in, if the Egyptian authorities approve.

“It’s a tribute to humankind,” said Tayoubi of the pyramid. “It asks a question about what is our future. If they have been able to do this with the means they had 4,000 or 5,000 years ago and they left this heritage today, what will our own society leave for future generations?”

Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, said the discovery was “potentially a major contribution to our knowledge about the Great Pyramid.”

“I’m sure there are imperfections and perhaps small voids or cavities in several locations in the pyramid. What makes this one so interesting is the size, seeming to rival the grand gallery itself in scale,” he said.

“The muons can’t tell us about chambers, form, size, or any possible objects, so it’s far too early to speculate. I know most people want to know about hidden chambers, grave goods, and the missing mummy of King Khufu. None of that is on the table at this point. But the fact that this void is so large warrants further non-invasive exploration,” he added.

In 2011, Rob Richardson, a researcher at the University of Leeds, sent a small snake-like robot into one of the tunnels of the Great Pyramid and took pictures of hieroglyphs that had not been seen for 4,500 years. “I think people assume that all these mysteries of what’s in our world are known but there are still places like the pyramids where we simply don’t know,” he said. “The pyramids have been there for thousands of years and we still don’t know exactly why they are there, what they were used for, or how they were built.”

Source: theguardian.

osiris-isis-templewall

The Myth & Mysteries of Osiris

After the creation of the world, the first five gods were born of the union of Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) and these were Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and Horus. Osiris, as the first born, assumed rule as Lord of the Earth, with Isis as his queen and consort. He found the people of Egypt uncivilized and lawless and so gave them laws, culture, religious instruction, and agriculture. Egypt became a paradise under Osiris’ rule where everyone was equal and there was abundant food as the crops were always plentiful. Set was jealous of his brother’s success and grew resentful. Their relationship deteriorated further after Nephthys, Set’s wife, disguised herself as Isis and seduced Osiris, becoming pregnant with the god Anubis. Set had a beautiful coffin made to Osiris’ exact height and then threw a grand party where he presented this box and told the guests that whichever of them fit in it most perfectly could have it as a gift. When Osiris lay down in the coffin, Set slammed the lid on, fastened it shut, and threw it into the Nile, where it was carried away down river.

Osiris’ body traveled out to sea and eventually his coffin became lodged in a great tamarisk tree growing near Byblos in Phoenicia. The tree grew quickly around the coffin until it completely contained it. The king of Byblos, Malcander, came to the shore with his wife Astarte and admired the tree and the sweet scent which seemed to emanate from it. He ordered the tree cut down and brought to his palace as an ornamental pillar for the court, and there Osiris remained, trapped inside the coffin within the pillar, until he died.

Isis had meanwhile left Egypt in search of her husband and eventually came to Byblos, disguised as an older woman, where she sat down by the shore and cried for her missing husband. She was invited to the palace by the royal handmaidens who had come to the shore to bathe and there ingratiated herself to the king and queen so she was asked to be nursemaid for their young sons. Isis tried to make the younger boy immortal by bathing him in fire and, when Queen Astarte discovered this, she was horrified. Isis then revealed herself as the goddess and the king and queen promised her anything she wanted if she would only spare them. She requested only the pillar – which they swiftly granted to her.

Osiris as the kind and just ruler, murdered by his resentful brother, who comes back to life is the most popular and enduring image of the god.

After leaving the court, Isis cut Osiris from the tree and carried his body back to Egypt where she hid him from Set in the swampy region of the Nile Delta. She left him to go gather herbs to make a potion to return him to life, leaving her sister Nephthys to guard the body. While she was gone, Set learned of his brother’s return and went out to find his body. He managed to get Nephthys to tell him where it was, and when he found it, he hacked it into pieces and scattered it across the land and into the Nile. When Isis returned, she was horrified but quickly composed herself and went to work finding the pieces of her murdered husband. With Nephthys’ help, she recovered all of the body parts except the penis, which had been thrown into the Nile and eaten by the oxyrhyncus fish, which is why this fish was forbidden food in ancient Egypt.

Isis was able to revive Osiris and, once he was alive, she assumed the form of a kite and flew around him, drew the seed from his body into her own, and became pregnant with a son, Horus. Even though Osiris now lived, he was incomplete and could no longer rule the land of the living. He withdrew into the afterlife where he became Lord and Judge of the Dead. Isis, fearing what Set might do to her son, hid Horus among the swamps of Egypt until he was grown. At that point, Horus emerged as a mighty warrior and battled Set for control of the world. In some versions of the story, Set is killed but, in most, he is defeated and driven from the land. The chaos Set had unleashed on the world was conquered by Horus, who restored order, and then ruled with his mother.

Source: Ancient History (www.ancient.eu)

nefertiti-unfinished-Berlin

The Disappearance & Controversy of Queen Nefertiti

Around the year 14 of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s reign, their daughter Mekitaten died in childbirth at the age of 13. An image in relief from the time shows the couple standing over their daughter’s body in mourning. Shortly after this, Nefertiti vanishes from the historical record. There have been many theories offered to explain her abrupt disappearance and, among these are:

  1. She fell out of favor with her husband because she could not produce a male heir and so was replaced by Kiya.
  2. She abandoned the religion of Aten and was banished by Akhenaten.
  3. She committed suicide in grief over the loss of her daughter.
  4. She continued to rule under the name of Smenkhkare until her step-son, Tutankhamun, was old enough to assume the throne.

Of these theories, none of them can be substantiated but the fourth, and even that, many argue, is uncertain. The leading proponent of the Nefertiti-as-Smenkhkare theory is Zahi Hawass who writes:

This king [Smenkhkare] is shown as a male in the company of Meritaten as `his’ queen; however, his throne name was virtually identical to that of Akhenaten’s coregent, now convincingly identified as Nefertiti. Whether this king was Nefertiti herself or an otherwise unattested son of Akhenaten’s (or Amenhotep III’s) he or she died only two years after ascending the throne, and left Egypt in the hands of a young boy named Tutankhaten [later Tutankhamun].

The problems with the other theories are that Akhenaten already had a male heir in Tutankhamun and so would not have deserted his wife on that account (theory one); there is no evidence to support Nefertiti leaving the cult of Aten (theory two); she was still living after the death of her daughter and the throne name of Akhenaten’s successor is the same as hers (theory three). The reason why theory two has long remained popular is because of evidence that the worship of the old gods began to revive toward the end of Akhenaten’s reign and, it is thought, this could not have happened without some kind of royal support or encouragement.

Since it is considered impossible that Akhenaten would have abandoned the religion he created, it is speculated that it was his coregent who was behind this. The revival of the old religious practices, however, could easily have been a grassroots movement by the people of Egypt who had grown tired of being forced to neglect the traditional faith of the land. The Egyptians held that their actions were intimately tied to celestial balance and that their relationship with the gods was of vital importance. In abandoning the old gods of Egypt, Akhenaten would have thrown the universe out of balance and it is quite likely that the former priests of Amun, and those of other cults, finally decided to try to restore harmony to the land on their own, without consulting their ruler. Since it is known that Nefertiti was a devotee of Aten prior even to Akhenaten’s conversion, and that she regularly took part in religious services, as well as the fact that no images or inscriptions give any evidence that she forsook the cult, it is highly unlikely that she would have led a return to the traditional religious practices of Egypt.

The hatred the people had for the new monotheistic religion of their pharaoh is exemplified in its complete eradication after the death of Akhenaten’s successor Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun himself, upon taking the throne, abandoned the religion of Aten and returned Egypt to traditional practice. His successor, Ay, (possibly the same man suggested as Nefertiti’s father) continued his policies but the last pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Horemheb, went further than either of them. Horemheb, claiming he had been chosen by the gods to restore the true religion of Egypt, tore down Akhenaten’s temples, defaced his stele, and tried to eradicate all evidence that the heretic king and his family had ever ruled Egypt. It is because of Horemheb’ s decrees that so little is known of Nefertiti, and other royals linked with the Amarna Period, in the present day. The wonder, really, is not that so little is known but that, considering Horemheb’s hatred of Akhenaten’s reforms, and his dedication to the mission of erasing the king and his family from history, that modern day scholars have any information on the Amarna Period at all.

Unfinished bust of Nefertiti

The Controversy, Modern-day Controversy

Nefertiti was the subject of controversy, between Egypt and England, when the British archaeologist, Joann Fletcher, claimed to have found the queen’s mummy in 2003 CE. Fletcher’s claim was based on details of a mummy, known by Egyptologists as the “Younger Lady”, which she felt matched depictions of Nefertiti. The Discovery Channel aired Fletcher’s theory as though the mummy of the queen had been positively identified when, in fact, this was hardly the case. As a result, Fletcher was banned from working in Egypt because of an alleged breach in protocol which requires all archaeologists working in the country to first report their findings to the Supreme Council of Antiquities before releasing anything to the international press. Although this ban was later lifted, and Fletcher returned to Egypt, the controversy surrounding the mummy is unresolved. Fletcher’s supporters claim that the “Younger Lady” is Nefertiti while those who side with Hawass maintain the opposite. The very same details are used by both sides to support their claim and it seems unlikely there will be any resolution until some future discovery is made which lends more weight to one side than the other.

Nefertiti has also caused an on-going dispute between Egypt and Germany over the famous bust presently residing in the Egyptian Museum (Neues Museum) of Berlin. Nefertiti’s face is one of the most instantly recognizable images from antiquity, perhaps, only second to her step-son Tutankhamun. Even if one does not know the queen’s name, statuettes and posters of the famous bust have been reproduced world-wide. Even so, when it was discovered in 1912 CE, no one knew who Nefertiti was. The bust would have been remarkable for its beauty, of course, but not for the individual it represents. Because of the decrees of Horemheb, the royal family had been forgotten. Inscriptions from Horemheb’s reign show him as the successor of Amenhotep III, completely erasing the reign of the `heretic king’ and his successors. The bust was created c. 1340 BCE by the court sculptor Thutmosis as a model for his apprentices in their representations (whether sculpture or painting) of the queen. Because it was a model, and never intended for display, only one eye is completed. The Egyptian Museum of Berlin describes the Bust of Queen Nefertiti as “one of the first ranking works of Egyptian art mostly due to the excellent preservation of the colour and the fine modeling of the face…the bust is made of limestone which is covered with modeled gypsum. The eye is inlayed with crystal and the pupil attached with black coloured wax. The second eye-inlay was never carried out” (1).

The bust is housed in Room 2.10 of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin in Germany where it was taken after its discovery at Amarna. Hawass writes, “One day in the winter of 1912 CE, a German archaeologist named Ludwig Borchardt was excavating at Tell al-Amarna when he found a beautiful bust of Nefertiti in the workshop of a sculptor named Thutmosis” (39). What happened after this discovery is an ongoing, often heated, debate between Egypt and Germany.

Since the enforcement of the rules governing antiquities in Egypt was fairly lax in the early 20th century CE (as, in some areas anyway, were the rules themselves) it does not seem there can ever be any way to resolve the dispute. The Germans claim that Borchardt found the bust, made a legal declaration of his find, and then brought the piece back to Germany. The Egyptian claim (as articulated by Hawass) argues that “the German mission covered the head with mud to disguise its beauty so that during the division of antiquities at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo the curator did not notice its remarkable features. Therefore, the bust was allowed to go to the Berlin Museum” (39). The Egyptians, then, claim the bust was obtained illegally and should be returned to Egypt; the Germans, of course, argue it is their legal property and should remain in the museum. Hawass notes that, “Plans were made to return [the bust] to Egypt just before World War II, but Hitler asked to see it before it left the country, fell in love with it, and refused to let it out of German hands” (41). This claim has also been disputed by the German government and the former, and current, director of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.

In 2003 CE this controversy became more heated when the museum allowed two artists, known as Little Warsaw, to place the bust on a bronze body of a naked woman in order to show what the queen may have looked like. This very poor decision resulted in Egypt renewing its efforts for repatriation of the bust but, as the Little Warsaw exhibit lasted only a few hours, the controversy cooled and the bust remains where it has been since 1913 CE and where it continues to be one of the most popular pieces of art, if not the most popular, in the permanent collection.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (ancient.eu)

amarna-letters,

The Amarna Letters – Marks of Early Diplomacy in Ancient Egypt

The Amarna Letters is a correspondence found in the city of Amarna between the kings of Egypt and those of foreign nations, which provide evidence of Akhenaten’s negligence, also show him to have a keen sense of foreign policy when the situation interested him. He strongly rebuked Abdiashirta for his actions against Ribaddi and for his friendship with the Hittites who were then Egypt’s enemy. This no doubt had more to do with his desire to keep friendly the buffer states between Egypt and the Land of the Hatti (Canaan and Syria, for example, which were under Abdiashirta’s influence) than any sense of justice for the death of Ribaddi and the taking of Byblos.

Amarna Letters

There is no doubt that Akhenaten attention to this problem served the interests of the state but, as other similar issues were ignored, it seems that he only chose those situations which interested him personally. Akhenaten had Abdiashirta brought to Egypt and imprisoned for a year until Hittite advances in the north compelled his release but there seems a marked difference between his letters dealing with this situation and other king’s correspondence on similar matters.

While there are, then, examples of Akhenaten looking after state affairs, there are more which substantiate the claim of his disregard for anything other than his religious reforms and life in the palace. It should be noted, however, that this is a point hotly debated among scholars in the modern day, as is the whole of the so-called Amarna Period of Akhenaten’s rule. Regarding this, Hawass writes, “More has been written on this period in Egyptian history than any other and scholars have been known to come to blows, or at least to major episodes of impoliteness, over their conflicting opinions”. The preponderance of the evidence, both from the Amarna letters and from Tutankhamun’s later decree, as well as archaeological indications, strongly suggests that Akhenaten was a very poor ruler as far as his subjects and vassal states were concerned and his reign, in the words of Hawass, was “an inward-focused regime that had lost interest in its foreign policy”.

“Akhenaten did not, however, abandon the rest of the country and retire exclusively to Akhetaten. When he laid out his city, he also commanded that a series of boundary stelae be carved in the cliffs surrounding the site. Among other things, these state that if he were to die outside of his home city, his body should be brought back and buried in the tomb that was being prepared for him in the eastern cliffs. There is evidence that, as Amenhotep IV, he carried out building projects in Nubia, and there were temples to the Aten in Memphis and Heliopolis, and possibly elsewhere as well.” – Egyptologist Zahi Hawass

Any evidence that Akhenaten involved himself in matters outside of his city at Akhetaten always comes back to self-interest rather than state-interest.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (ancient.eu)

mummification-process

History and Secrets of Egyptian Mummification

Egyptian embalmers were so skilled that people mummified four thousand years ago still have skin, hair and recognizable features such as scars and tattoos.

The practice of mummifying the dead began in ancient Egypt c. 3500 BCE. The English word mummy comes from the Latin mumia which is derived from the Persian mum meaning ‘wax’ and refers to an embalmed corpse which was wax-like. The idea of mummifying the dead may have been suggested by how well corpses were preserved in the arid sands of the country.

The word mummy comes from the Arabic mummiya, meaning bitumen or coal and every Egyptian, except the most abject criminal, was entitled to be embalmed and receive a decent burial.

Early graves of the Badarian Period (c. 5000 BCE) contained food offerings and some grave goods, suggesting a belief in an afterlife, but the corpses were not mummified. These graves were shallow rectangles or ovals into which a corpse was placed on its left side, often in a fetal position. They were considered the final resting place for the deceased and were often, as in Mesopotamia, located in or close by a family’s home.

Graves evolved throughout the following eras until, by the time of the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 – c. 2613 BCE), the mastaba tomb had replaced the simple grave, and cemeteries became common. Mastabas were seen not as a final resting place but as an eternal home for the body. The tomb was now considered a place of transformation in which the soul would leave the body to go on to the afterlife. It was thought, however, that the body had to remain intact in order for the soul to continue its journey.

Once freed from the body, the soul would need to orient itself by what was familiar. For this reason, tombs were painted with stories and spells from The Book of the Dead, to remind the soul of what was happening and what to expect, as well as with inscriptions known as The Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts which would recount events from the dead person’s life. Death was not the end of life to the Egyptians but simply a transition from one state to another. To this end, the body had to be carefully prepared in order to be recognizable to the soul upon its awakening in the tomb and also later.

The Osiris Myth & Mummification

By the time of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE), mummification had become standard practice in handling the deceased and mortuary rituals grew up around death, dying, and mummification. These rituals and their symbols were largely derived from the cult of Osiris who had already become a popular god. Osiris and his sister-wife Isis were the mythical first rulers of Egypt, given the land shortly after the creation of the world. They ruled over a kingdom of peace and tranquility, teaching the people the arts of agriculture, civilization, and granting men and women equal rights to live together in balance and harmony.

Stela of Neskhons Queen of Pinezem II

Osiris’ brother, Set, grew jealous of his brother’s power and success, however, and so murdered him; first by sealing him in a coffin and sending him down the Nile River and then by hacking his body into pieces and scattering them across Egypt. Isis retrieved Osiris’ parts, reassembled him, and then with the help of her sister Nephthys, brought him back to life. Osiris was incomplete, however – he was missing his penis which had been eaten by a fish – and so could no longer rule on earth. He descended to the underworld where he became Lord of the Dead. Prior to his departure, though, Isis had mated with him in the form of a kite and bore him a son, Horus, who would grow up to avenge his father, reclaim the kingdom, and again establish order and balance in the land.

This myth became so incredibly popular that it infused the culture and assimilated earlier gods and myths to create a central belief in a life after death and the possibility of resurrection of the dead. Osiris was often depicted as a mummified ruler and regularly represented with green or black skin symbolizing both death and resurrection. Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes:

The cult of Osiris began to exert influence on the mortuary rituals and the ideals of contemplating death as a “gateway into eternity”. This deity, having assumed the cultic powers and rituals of other gods of the necropolis, or cemetery sites, offered human beings salvation, resurrection, and eternal bliss.

Eternal life was only possible, though, if one’s body remained intact. A person’s name, their identity, represented their immortal soul, and this identity was linked to one’s physical form.

The Parts of the Soul

The soul was thought to consist of nine separate parts:

  1. The Khat was the physical body.
  2. The Ka one’s double-form (astral self).
  3. The Ba was a human-headed bird aspect which could speed between earth and the heavens (specifically between the afterlife and one’s body
  4. The Shuyet was the shadow self.
  5. The Akh was the immortal, transformed self after death.
  6. The Sahu was an aspect of the Akh.
  7. The Sechem was another aspect of the Akh.
  8. The Ab was the heart, the source of good and evil, holder of one’s character.
  9. The Ren was one’s secret name.

The Khat needed to exist in order for the Ka and Ba to recognize itself and be able to function properly. Once released from the body, these different aspects would be confused and would at first need to center themselves by some familiar form.

BURIAL PRACTICE & MORTUARY RITUALS IN ANCIENT EGYPT WERE TAKEN SO SERIOUSLY BECAUSE OF THE BELIEF THAT DEATH WAS NOT THE END OF LIFE.

The Mummification Process

When a person died, they were brought to the embalmers who offered three types of service. It would seem, however, that people still chose the level of service they could most easily afford. Once chosen, that level determined the kind of coffin one would be buried in, the funerary rites available, and the treatment of the body. Egyptologist Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University at Cairo, has studied mummification in depth and provides the following:

The key ingredient in the mummification was natron, or netjry, divine salt. It is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, sodium sulphate and sodium chloride that occurs naturally in Egypt, most commonly in the Wadi Natrun some sixty four kilometres northwest of Cairo. It has desiccating and defatting properties and was the preferred desiccant, although common salt was also used in more economical burials.

According to Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century BC, described the different methods:

In the most expensive type of burial service, the body was laid out on a table and washed. The embalmers would then begin their work at the head:

  1. Draw out the brain through the nostrils
  2. Take out the whole contents of the belly, and clean the interior with palm-wine and spices.
  3. Fill the belly with pure myrrh, cassia and other spices and sew it together again.
  4. Cover up in natron for seventy days.
  5. Wash the corpse and roll it up in fine linen.

In the second-most expensive burial, less care was given to the body:

  1. Fill the belly with oil of cedar-wood using a syringe by the breech, which is plugged to stop the drench from returning back; it dissolves the bowels and interior organs.
  2. After the appointed number of days with the natron treatment the cedar oil is let out and the corpse is left as skin and the bones.
  3. Returned the corpse the family.

The third and cheapest (For the Poor) method of embalming was “simply to wash out the intestines and keep the body for seventy days in natron”. The internal organs were removed in order to help preserve the corpse, but because it was believed the deceased would still need them, the viscera were placed in canopic jars to be sealed in the tomb. Only the heart was left inside the body as it was thought to contain the Ab aspect of the soul.

  1. Cleanse out the belly with a purge.
  2. Keep the body for seventy days of natron treatment.
  3. Return the corpse to the family.

Canopic Jars

Except for the heart, which was needed by the deceased in the Hall of Judgment, the embalmers removed all of the internal organs from the body. These were placed into four vases, called Canopic Jars. The lids formed the shape of the Four Sons of Horus. The liver was associated with Imset who was depicted with a human head. The lungs were associated with Hapi who was depicted with a baboon’s head. The stomach was associated with Duamutef with the head of a jackal. The intestines and viscera of the lower body was associated with the falcon headed Kebechsenef.

Canopic Jars

Embalmer’s Methods

The embalmers removed the organs from the abdomen through a long incision cut into the left side. In removing the brain, as Ikram notes, they would insert a hooked surgical tool up through the dead person’s nose and pull the brain out in pieces but there is also evidence of embalmers breaking the nose to enlarge the space to get the brain out more easily. Breaking the nose was not the preferred method, though, because it could disfigure the face of the deceased and the primary goal of mummification was to keep the body intact and preserved as life-like as possible. This process was followed with animals as well as humans. Egyptians regularly mummified their pet cats, dogs, gazelles, fish, birds, baboons, and also the Apis bull, considered an incarnation of the divine.

The removal of the organs and brain was all about drying out the body. The only organ they left in place, in most eras, was the heart because that was thought to be the seat of the person’s identity and character. Blood was drained and organs removed to prevent decay, the body was again washed, and the dressing (linen wrapping) applied.

Although the above processes are the standard observed throughout most of Egypt’s history, there were deviations in some eras.

Funeral Rites & Burial

Once the organs had been removed and the body washed, the corpse was wrapped in linen – either by the embalmers, if one had chosen the most expensive service (who would also include magical amulets and charms for protection in the wrapping), or by the family – and placed in a sarcophagus or simple coffin. The wrapping was known as the ‘linen of yesterday’ because, initially, poor people would give their old clothing to the embalmers to wrap the corpse in. This practice eventually led to any linen cloth used in embalming known by the same name.

Mummy Case

The funeral was a public affair at which, if one could afford them, women were hired as professional mourners. These women were known as the ‘Kites of Nephthys’ and would encourage people to express their grief through their own cries and lamentation. They would reference the brevity of life and how suddenly death came but also gave assurance of the eternal aspect of the soul and the confidence that the deceased would pass through the trial of the weighing of the heart in the afterlife by Osiris to pass on to paradise in the Field of Reeds.

Shabti box

Grave goods, however rich or modest, would be placed in the tomb or grave. These would include shabti dolls who, in the afterlife, could be woken to life through a spell and assume the dead person’s tasks. Since the afterlife was considered an eternal and perfect version of life on earth, it was thought there was work there just as in one’s mortal life. The shabti would perform these tasks so the soul could relax and enjoy itself. Shabti dolls are important indicators to modern archaeologists on the wealth and status of the individual buried in a certain tomb; the more shabti dolls, the greater the wealth.

Besides the shabti, the person would be buried with items thought necessary in the afterlife: combs, jewelry, beer, bread, clothing, one’s weapons, a favorite object, even one’s pets. All of these would appear to the soul in the afterlife and they would be able to make use of them. Before the tomb was sealed, a ritual was enacted which was considered vital to the continuation of the soul’s journey: the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony. In this rite, a priest would invoke Isis and Nephthys (who had brought Osiris back to life) as he touched the mummy with different objects (adzes, chisels, knives) at various spots while anointing the body. In doing so, he restored the use of ears, eyes, mouth, and nose to the deceased.

The son and heir of the departed would often take the priest’s role, thus further linking the rite with the story of Horus and his father Osiris. The deceased would now be able to hear, see, and speak and was ready to continue the journey. The mummy would be enclosed in the sarcophagus or coffin, which would be buried in a grave or laid to rest in a tomb along with the grave goods, and the funeral would conclude. The living would then go back to their business, and the dead were then believed to go on to eternal life.

Sources: ancient.eudiscoveringegypt.com

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Secret of all Secrets Unveiled: How the ancient Egyptian built the Great Pyramids (with the proof)

By Narjas Zatat for Independent.

Archaeologists believe they have solved one of the history’s most puzzling questions – how the ancient Egyptians transported over 170,000 tons of limestone to build the Great Pyramid at Giza.

New findings at the site on the outskirts of Cairo have revealed purpose-built boats were used to transport the huge stones.

The findings shed new light on how King Khufu’s tomb, built over 4,000 years ago in about 2550 BC, was built

Archeologists have long known that some rock had been extracted eight miles from Giza in a place called Tura, while granite was quarried from over 500 miles away.

The way in which these materials were transported, however, has long been a source of disagreement amongst academics.

A group of archaeologists working at the Giza pyramid complex – an archaeological site – have unearthed an ancient papyrus scroll, remains of a boat and a network of waterways at the site of the pyramid, providing new evidence that points to how the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was built.

Pierre Tale, who spent four years painstakingly deciphering the papyrus written by an overseer working on the pyramid’s construction, told Channel 4 in the new documentary Egypt’s Great Pyramid: The New Evidence: “Since the very day of the discovery it was quite evident that we have the oldest papyrus ever found in the world.”

The document was apparently written by a man called Merer who was in charge of 40 elite sailors. Archaeologists discovered that thousands of trained workers used boats to navigate canals dug along the River Nile for the purposes of transporting limestone.



The boats were held together by thick, twisted ropes, some of which have survived and were found in good condition.

The discovery of an ancient papyrus, a ceremonial boat and an ingenious system of waterworks have shed light on the infrastructure created by the builders (Source: dailymail)

After collecting the materials, workers would bring them to an inland port a few meters from the base of the pyramid. In total, some 2.3 million blocks of stone were shipped across the land over the course of two decades.

The papyrus scroll details how specially built waterways were used to transport 2.5 ton limestone blocks (Ch 4)(Source: The Sun)

American archaeologist Mark Lehner, who has over 30 years experience excavating in Egypt, said: “We’ve outlined the central canal basin, which we think was the primary delivery area to the foot of the Giza Plateau.”

Source: Independent.

New proof shows how the Egyptians transported 2½-ton blocks for 500 miles.
Blocks of limestone and granite built the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu in 2,600 BC.
170,000 tons carried along the Nile in wooden boats held together by ropes.
Boats used purpose-built channels and canals to inland port yards from site.

By Claudia Joseph For The Mail.

The detailed archaeological material shows that thousands of skilled workers transported 170,000 tons of limestone along the Nile in wooden boats held together by ropes, through a specially constructed system of canals to an inland port just yards from the base of the pyramid.

A scroll of ancient papyrus has also been found in the seaport Wadi Al-Jarf which has given a new insight into the role boats played in the pyramid’s construction.

An ancient papyrus scroll that dates back to 2600BC has been recently discovered and is the only first hand account of how the pyramid was built (Source:dailymail)

Written by Merer, an overseer in charge of a team of 40 elite workmen, it is the only first-hand account of the construction of the Great Pyramid and describes in detail how limestone casing stones were shipped downstream from Tura to Giza.

The detailed archaeological material shows that thousands of skilled workers transported 170,000 tons of limestone along the Nile in wooden boats held together by ropes, through a specially constructed system of canals to an inland port just yards from the base of the pyramid. (Source:dailymail)

In his diary, Merer also describes how his crew was involved in the transformation of the landscape, opening giant dykes to divert water from the Nile and channel it to the pyramid through man-made canals.

Although it has long been known that the granite from the pyramid’s internal chambers was quarried in Aswan, 533 miles south of Giza, and the limestone casing stones came from Tura, eight miles away, archaeologists disagreed over how they were transported.

Now archaeologist Mark Lehner, a leading expert in the field, has uncovered evidence of a lost waterway beneath the dusty Giza plateau. ‘We’ve outlined the central canal basin which we think was the primary delivery area to the foot of the Giza Plateau,’ he said.

The new discoveries are revealed in tonight’s Channel 4 documentary Egypt’s Great Pyramid: The New Evidence, which also includes another team of archaeologists who have unearthed a ceremonial boat designed for Khufu to command in the afterlife, which gives new insights into the construction of vessels at the time.

A team of specialists restored the wooden planks before scanning them with a 3D laser to work out how they were assembled. They discovered that they were sewn together with loops of rope.

Source: Dailymail

ramses-2-statue-revealing

Colossus 82-Ton Statue of Ramses II Unveiled in Egypt After Restoration

The latest tourist attraction at the Luxor Temple in Luxor, Egypt, is a towering statue of Ramses II, now fully restored for the first time since it’s 1958–60 discovery, when it was found in 58 pieces. The massive work measures 36 feet tall and weighs 82 tons.

The black granite statue, which depicts the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, was damaged during an earthquake in the fourth century. The unveiling of the restored colossus took place the evening April 18, just after Egypt announced the discovery of the 3,500-year-old tomb of the nobleman Userhat.

A newly restored colossus statue of king Ramses II is seen at the Luxor Temple in Luxor. Courtesy of Ahmed Gomaa/the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

“There are 10 coffins and eight mummies. The excavation is ongoing,” Mostafa Waziri, head of Luxor Antiquities, told Agence France Presse of the new discovery. The tomb contains more than 1,000 funerary statues. The coffins, some of which were added some 500 years after the tomb was initially built, are said to be mainly well-preserved.

A dramatic floodlit ceremony served to debut the Ramses statue in front of the walls of the Luxor temple on the bank of the Nile River.

Also known as Ramses the Great or Ozymandias, as immortalized in the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, Ramses II ruled from 1279–1213 BC, and was known for his building projects and successful military expeditions. His statue at Luxor would have originally stood alongside five others in front of the temple’s first pylon, or two-towered gateway.

Restoration work on the statue began in November 2016. It was first discovered by an archaeological team led by Mohamed Abdel-Qader.

Members of an Egyptian archaeological team work on a wooden coffin discovered in a 3,500-year-old tomb in the Draa Abul Nagaa necropolis, near the southern Egyptian city of Luxor, on April 18, 2017. Egyptian archaeologists have discovered six mummies, colorful wooden coffins and more than 1,000 funerary statues in the 3,500-year-old tomb, the antiquities ministry said. Courtesy of Stringer/AFP/Getty Images.

“What we’re happy with is that (the kind of tourists drawn to) classical Egypt, Luxor, Aswan, Nile cruises… are back to normal levels again,” Hisham El Demery, chief of Egypt’s Tourism Development Authority, told Reuters. His optimism comes despite an ISIS attack this week near St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai that killed a police officer and wounded four.

By Sarah Cascone (artnet.com)

tomb-discovery-aug-4

The Tomb of a Pharaoh’s Jeweler Reveals Some Very Fancy 3,500-Year-Old Mummies

Sarah Cascone (artnet), September 11, 2017

The drumbeat of Egyptian archaeological discoveries continues, with that country’s Ministry of Antiquities revealing that it has uncovered an ancient tomb belonging to an Egyptian goldsmith named Amenemhat. The site is just the latest archaeological find in the Draa Abul Naga necropolis, located near the Valley of Kings in the city of Luxor, some 400 miles south of Cairo on the Nile River.

Egyptian archaeologists unearthing mummies at a newly-uncovered ancient tomb in Luxor. Courtesy of the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

“We found many objects of the funerary equipment inside and outside the tomb,” said Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anani in a statement, as reported by the BBC. “We found mummies, coffins, funerary combs, funerary masks, some jewellery, and statue.”

Lead archaeologist Mostafa Waziri stressed that an Egyptian team, rather than foreign professionals, was responsible for the find.

“We used to escort foreign archaeologists as observers, but that’s now in the past,” Waziri told the Daily Mail. “We are the leaders now.”

About 3,500 years old, the tomb is thought to date to the 18th dynasty. Amenemhat was a jeweler, and his tomb was dedicated to Amon-Re, the main Egyptian deity. Inside, archaeologists found a statue of Amenemhat and his wife, featuring a portrait of their son between them. The site also contained 150 small carved wood, clay, and limestone funerary statues.

Archaeologists found two separate burial shafts, both of which contained mummies. Later sarcophagi, from the 22nd and 21st dynasties, were also excavated.

“We are not sure if these mummies belong to Amenemhat and his family,” Waziri told the New York Times.

Egyptian archaeologists unearthing mummies at a newly uncovered ancient tomb in Luxor. Courtesy of Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images.

Waziri also pointed out that he and his team are not the first to have found the ancient crypt, which, he revealed, was likely disturbed long ago. “Others have clearly reused this tomb and poked around in ancient times,” he said. “That’s probably why their heads are uncovered.”

The latest find follows other recent discoveries in the region. Last November, archaeologists discovered a lost city thought to be Egypt’s first capital. In April, a Japanese team unearthed a 3,500-year-old tomb belonging to an ancient Egyptian nobleman named Userhat. It was work on the latter site that first offered clues about the whereabouts of Amenemhat’s tomb, according to CNN.

The country hopes excitement over archaeological sites can help boost tourism levels, which have remained low in the years following the 2011 ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak. Egypt has since struggled with political instability, as well as car bombings and other terrorist attacks.

The spate of recent discoveries has led to a 170 percent increase in tourism between January and July, according to the Times.

“This is not the end,” said Waziri of the latest find. “This will lead to more discoveries in the future.”