Monday, December 31, 2007

A Banner Year for Egyptology

As reported in the world press the field of Egyptology experienced many successes and extraordinary discoveries during the year just past.

Several of these include:

The first part of the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ comprehensive plan to conserve the Step Pyramid of Djoser began.

The mummy of Hatshepsut, the most famous female monarch of Egypt, was definitively identified.

Kuttub Khana at Bab Al-Khalq, a 19th century landmark, was fully restored.

The Kingdom fortress was discovered in Sinai.

A undisturbed tomb was discovered with many funerary pieces in excellent condition

Paleolithic wall art of animals was discovered in Upper Egypt.

Tutankhamun’s real face was finally shown publically in November on the 85th Anniversary of the finding of his tomb

Step Pyramid of Djoser: There had long been concern that the build-up of sand and general disrepair were endangering the integrity of this very important site at Saqqara. A good way to experience the vastness of this site is the Djoser Step Pyramid Model in Gallery D of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. You can learn more about Imhotep’s revolutionary design through our Podcast on this ancient site.

In March of 2007, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni reported the start of restoration work. Dr. Zahi Hawwas, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities explained that this is the first such project to conserve the step pyramid and the southern tomb. It will be accomplished in three stages: First, during 2007, a thorough cleaning of the interior and exterior of pyramid inside and outside with removal of sand and dust was accomplished. Materials fallen or scattered were collected, restored and returned to their original location, while materials too damaged for use were replaced with casts.

Stages two and three, including the restoration of tunnels, corridors and ceilings of the underground galleries of the pyramid, and above the bedrock, the primary burial shaft, will take place in subsequent years, at a total cost of approximately $4.5 million dollars.

Hatshepsut Identified: As reported in our Museum Blog last October, Dr. Zahi Hawass, undertook a scientific search for Hatshepsut last year. During the course of this process he examined and analyzed four female mummies, including the anonymous mummy from KV 60. Much of the team’s analysis hinged on a single molar sealed inside a box that was inscribed with Hatshepsut’s name. Teeth are similar to fingerprints, as the precise size of a person’s teeth is unique to that person. To the surprise of many of those involved, the tooth inside the inscribed box matched the anonymous mummy from KV 60 down to a fraction of millimeter. “Not only was the … lady from KV 60 missing a tooth, but the hole left behind and the type of tooth that was missing were an exact match for the loosened one in the box,” reported Dr. Hawass. An excellent summary of the century long search for Hatshepsut may be found at Egyptomania.

Kuttub Khana: At the historic Gate of Creation in Cairo, the exquisite 19th century buildings have now been fully restored, and will now serve as Egypt’s National Museum with rare items and research materials. A Museum has also been established to focus on Egypt’s role in Islamic culture.

New Kingdom Fort found in the Sinai: The largest Egyptian fortress in the Sinai yet found was discovered by chance in the summer of 2007, as Egyptian archeologists came across the fort of Tharo East. in the area of Qantara East. The dimensions of this new discovery, are quite impressive: 1640 feel long, 820 feel wide, with over 42 foot thick walls. The southern entrance was over 39 feet wide. A moat, once filled with water, surrounds the fort. Dr. Hawass emphasized how this discovery shows that the events during the reign of Seti I depicted on the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple are accurate.

Undisturbed Tomb comes to Light: The tomb of Henu, a mid-level official of the late First Intermediate Period was discovered in necropolis of Deir Al-Barsha in Minya. While the discovery of a new tomb is always news, the difference is that this seems to have been unmolested by vandals or thieves, and so has a rich cache of grave goods. The accidental find by the Belgian team from the Katholieke Leuven University reveals not only a number of artifacts, but also a particularly rare model of workers making mud bricks. This later tomb is in an area previously thought to house only Old Kingdom Tombs.

Paleolithic Animal Paintings: In the late spring of 2007, a team of Belgian archeologists were working at Qurta, Kom Ombo, in Upper Egypt. Here is their story, as reported by, from Al-Ahram:

“The story of the discovery began two months ago when a Belgian archaeological mission from the Royal Museum of Art and History, financed by Yale University, resumed its intensive archaeological survey on the Nubian-sandstone cliffs at Qurta. While carrying out their routine survey, excavators stumbled upon three rock art sites spreading over a distance of about two kilometres on the eastern side of Qurta. Entitled Qurta I, II and III, each site contains several prehistoric rocks bearing a rich collection of Palaeolithic illustrations featuring a large number of bovids, hippopotami, birds and human figures.

"Bovids are the most common animals depicted in the illustrations, with at least 111 representations in different positions. Of other animals there are seven examples of birds, three hippopotami, three gazelles and two fish. There are also 10 highly stylised human figures shown with pronounced buttocks, but with no other distinct bodily features.

"All the rock art images are very darkly coloured and seem to be covered by a substantially developed varnish. Most of the images also have traces of intensive weathering through Aeolian abrasion and water run-off."

The images. estimated at 15,000 years old, are strikingly reminiscent of those from the Magdalenian European culture, best known in the caves in France, including Lascaux and the Grotte de Niaux (which the Rosicrucian trip to France visited in August of 2007) and Altamira in Spain. The question arises whether there might have been some trans-Mediterranean contact between these peoples, or if this represents a larger, pan-early-human cultural characteristic. Different from the European rock art, however, these examples are not in caves, but on large stones in open air.

Tutankhamun: 85 years to the day after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter, his mummy was placed on public display in November 4, 2007 for the first time. The mummy, wrapped in linen (since Carter had dismembered the mummy in a search for amulets), has been removed from his gold Casket and placed in a temperature and humidity controlled plexi-glass case, in his tomb at Luxor. The mummified face and feet of this young King is now in public view for the first time. The move was necessary to protect the mummy from the humidity and heat generated by the large number of visitors.

In addition, in September of 2007, eight baskets of doum fruit, a common funeral offering, were discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb, as well as fifty clay pots bearing the royal seal. Dr. Hawass has said that the pots will be opened and examined soon.

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