Monday, June 27, 2016

Ancient Egypt this week: 3-D is the word!

3D Technologies Digitally Unwrap Mummies' Secrets

There is something almost magically fascinating about mummies. Apart from the somewhat macabre notion that you are staring at the wrappings of a dead body, there are notions of the whispered secrets contained within and a connection to a desire for eternity that is irresistible to so many people. Mummy exhibits at museums are supremely popular and nearly every child has gone through a phase in her/his life when they hear the call of Ancient Egypt.

A 3D interactive animation of the tomb-chapel of Nebamun

The British Museum acquired 11 wall-paintings from the tomb-chapel of a wealthy Egyptian official called Nebamun in the 1820s. Dating from about 1350 BC, they are some of the most famous works of art from Ancient Egypt.

Following a 10-year period of conservation and research, the paintings are now on display together for the first time. They give the impression of the walls of colour that would have been experienced by the ancient visitors to the tomb-chapel.

Objects dating from the same time period and a 3D animation of the tomb-chapel will help to set the tomb-chapel in context and allow visitors to experience how the finished tomb would have looked.

Tutankhamun collection to be moved to Grand Egyptian Museum by end of 2016

A documentary on the transportation processes of this distinguished collection will be screened at the GEM during its official inauguration.'

After almost 84 years, the treasured collection of the golden king Tutankhamun will be moved from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir to its new permanent exhibition hall at the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau.

Time to freak out: Cats invade Cincinnati Art Museum

CreditPhoto Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

A mew – err, new – exhibit at the museum illustrates that. "Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt" runs now through Sept. 11. (By the way, you'll find more dubious puns in the exhibit's signage – think "fur-tography purr-mitted.")

Organized by the Brooklyn Museum, the exhibit features 80 pieces from the institution's Egyptian collection that relate to the role of cats, lions and other felines in ancient Egyptian culture.

Here's a piece from the New York Times from when the exhibit was at the Brooklyn Museum.

Egypt Museum's July Piece of the Month to be selected by Facebook vote

The Egyptian community and antiquities lovers worldwide now have the opportunity to take part in the selection of the Egyptian Museum's Piece of the Month

Elham Salah, head of the ministry's Museums Sector, told Ahram Online that the selection of the Egyptian Museum's Piece of the month would not be chosen by the museum's board but instead by the community and antiquities lovers throughout the world through voting on a dozen of artifacts posted on the Ministry's official Facebook page. Move your mouse over the photos until you see the word Voting.

Cruising through antiquity on the Nile, without the crowds
Terri Colby / Chicago Tribune

On the top deck of the cruise ship River Tosca, the swimming pool was cool and inviting in the afternoon heat. Below, the fabled Nile River was wide and blue and calm. Palm trees dotted the shoreline where farm animals grazed.

And I had the deck of the 236-foot ship all to myself.

Great Pyramid of Giza Is Slightly Lopsided
Credit: Mark Lehner

The Great Pyramid of Giza may be a Wonder of the Ancient World, but it's not perfect: Its base is a little lopsided because its builders made a teensy mistake when constructing it, new research reveals.

Picture of the week

An amazing piece by Sanio Digital Art, which you can purchase for the bargain price of $22.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ancient Egypt this week: Books, Baboons & KV55

Rise of urban planning in ancient Egypt

The pyramids and temples of Egypt, which still stand as magnificent monuments to ancient Egyptian civilization, were the result of some of the world’s first urban planners—the ruling pharaohs who invested in town planning.

Sixth formers see the future in ancient Egypt & Mesopotamia

We wanted to show what makes studying Egypt and Mesopotamia so intellectually and culturally exciting
Martin Worthington, Lecturer in Assyriology

The University’s archaeologists recently teamed up with The British Museum to inspire sixth formers to consider studying Egyptology and Assyriology, subjects which very few have the opportunity to study at school.

Fifty students from 24 schools from across the UK attended the inaugural, all-day conference at The British Museum in London.

SF exhibit gives firsthand look at Egyptian mummies

Two mummies whose bodies reflect two ancient humans who once led vastly different lives are lying in state at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.

One was a powerful Egyptian priest who died about 3,000 years ago and the other was a middle-class woman in late middle age who lived some 400 years earlier during a time of dynastic conflict and who must have suffered a severe skull injury as a child.

Study aims to uncover mystery of Luxor's tomb KV55

This week, the Ministry of Antiquities will start the second phase of a study aimed at uncovering the mystery behind an unidentified sarcophagus found in 1906 inside tomb KV55 at the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s west bank.

The study is being operated with a grant of $28,500 from the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) Endowment Fund.

This tomb was thought to hold the body of the monotheistic king Akhenaten, though no definitive evidence has been presented to back up this speculation.

Another article on topic: Ancient Egyptian riddle: Fresh bid to identify mystery pharaoh in Luxor’s ‘KV55’ tomb

Sands of time: ancient Egypt excavated in the 1910s – in pictures

The city of MeroĆ« laid undiscovered for two millennia before British archaeologist John Garstang excavated it in the early 20th century – and created some of the first ever photographs of ancient Egypt’s treasures.

Baboon tax collectors? PhD student Alex Loktionov on deciphering Egyptian texts

Alex Loktionov, 23, is an Egyptology PhD student and teaching assistant at Cambridge University's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, and a postgraduate mentor in the Cambridge Admissions Office.

He was born in Lyon, France, but always studied in Cambridge, completing his BA at Selwyn College, his MPhil at St John's, and is now based at Robinson.

What is your particular area of expertise?

Ancient Egyptian legal texts. I'm focusing on how ancient Egyptian judicial procedure and conflict resolution changed over time, from the early Egyptian state in the Old Kingdom (c.2600BCE) all the way through to the New Kingdom (c.1200BCE).

A Queen's Seat

“Experimental archaeology” at the Harvard Semitic Museum

MUCH IS STILL unknown about the world of the ancient Egyptian elites, whose lives are fossilized in the riches of the ruins at Giza —and reflected by the luminous throne that sits on the second floor of the Harvard Semitic Museum. Crafted from cedar wood, covered in delicate gold foil, and inlaid with turquoise-colored faience tile, the piece replicates a 4,500-year-old chair that belonged to Queen Hetepheres, the mother of King Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Books on ancient Egypt boost understanding - Reviews

“Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt” by Robert A. Armour. New York: American University in Cairo Press (distributed by Oxford University Press), 2016. 208 pages, $19.95 (paperback).

“Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt” by Marie Vandenbeusch, Aude Semat and Margaret Maitland. Cleveland Museum of Art (distributed by Yale University Press), 180 pages, $60 (hardcover).

“The Tomb-Builders of the Pharaohs” by Morris Bierbrier. New York: American University in Cairo Press (distributed by Oxford University Press), 2016. 160 pages, $19.95 (paperback).

Picture of the week

A zeppelin flying over the Pyramids (Giza, 1931)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ancient Egypt this week: Books, shrines, and festivals

Tombs of Nefertari and Seti I in Egypt's Luxor to reopen to visitors

Egyptian antiquities officials have decided to re-open the tombs of Queen Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens and King Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, both of which have been closed for several years.

The tombs in Luxor will re-open in a month's time, and tickets will cost EGP 1,000 (approx. $113).The number of visitors is to be limited to around 100 to 150 people a day.

I so want to go!

New, recently published and forthcoming titles on Ancient Egypt

from Lockwood Press, Harrassowitz Verlag, Peeters Publishers, and more, including a newly distributed publisher, Archeobooks. Follow the link to browse the titles and take advantage of the special offer prices, valid through December 31st:

Captain's shrine of King Khufu's second solar boat discovered

Restorers working on the second solar boat of King Khufu (26th century BC) stumbled upon the timbers of the boat captain’s shrine during restoration works.

Although the cedar beams were in poor condition, the team was able to successfully remove them from the pit where preliminary restoration work was being carried out.

This is what happens when Egyptian gods meet Roman York...

YOU might think it would be the Romans taking centre stage at the launch of York's new Roman Festival next week.

And so they will. But the person giving the opening talk is University of York academic Joanne Fletcher.

She just happens to be one of Britain's leading academics - she was presenter of the recent BBC2 series Immortal Egypt. And she's naturally found the perfect excuse to bring Egypt into things.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Ancient Egypt this week: The color blue

When boxing legend Muhammad Ali came to Egypt

Throughout his glittering 30-year career, boxing great Muhammad Ali had some special memories with Egypt and Egyptians; visiting the country twice in 1964 and 1986.

Ali, one of the iconic sporting heroes of the 20th century, died on Friday in Arizona at the age of 74, leaving millions of his fans grief-stricken all over the world.

Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt (Review)

A Coffee Table Book on the Making of Egyptian Mummies.

The Brooklyn Museum's 2013 Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt focuses on the Egyptian view of animals in the afterlife and was intended to supplement a traveling exhibition. A similarly luxurious coffee table volume named for a famous Agatha Christie mystery, Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt covers the burial materials used for human remains, focusing especially on the construction methods for Egyptian mummies that span more than two millennia.

More about those meteors

Last week I posted the article about Tut's dagger and its meteoric origins.  The internet went wild about this story, and I was tempted to write a whole post on Space Tut. However, there is evidence of other meteor activity in ancient Egypt.

Tut's gem hints at space impact

In 1996 in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Italian mineralogist Vincenzo de Michele spotted an unusual yellow-green gem in the middle of one of Tutankhamun's necklaces.
The jewel was tested and found to be glass, but intriguingly it is older than the earliest Egyptian civilisation.

The meteoric origins of Egypt’s first ironwork

Deep in the Predynastic galleries of the Petrie Museum, there is something truly out of this world.
In the cabinet containing jewellery and beads from a tomb in Gerzeh, a site about 70km from Cairo, there are three iron beads. They may not look like much, they are small, blackened and corroded and placed among more colourful artefacts, but these are no ordinary beads…they are made from a meteorite. At over 5,000 years old, they are the oldest man made iron objects in history.

Ancient Egyptian pigment provides modern forensics with new coat of paint

Egyptian Blue is considered to be the earliest known artificial pigment with origins dating back to 3200 BCE. Even on artefacts dating back several thousands of years, Egyptian Blue still glowed brightly in the near infrared.

Smith asked if Lewis had considered using artistic pigments in his fingerprint research?

New effort seeks to uncover ancient secrets in Egypt's Great Pyramid

CAIRO — What mysteries might still be hidden under Egypt's pyramids? A team accompanied by Egypt's former antiquities minister and famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass are testing a new scanner on the Great Pyramid of Giza on Thursday, hoping that modern technology could help unlock ancient secrets buried deep beneath the stone.

Drilling under the Sphinx video

Dr Zahi Hawass and Dr Mark Lehner talk about the latest conservation tests being carried out at the Great Sphinx, Giza, to test whether this iconic Egyptian landmark is at risk of a rising water table. Assisted by the Cairo University, the team are making holes around the Sphinx to check the porosity of the limestone underneath, as well as a side-benefit of being able to test the theories of whether there are hidden chambers and tunnels underneath.

Beadwork & Hair at the Petrie Museum

Last week, I paid a (research) visit to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London ( If you know the place, I don’t have to tell you about the enormous amount of artefacts this collection houses. It is a wonderful small museum of UCL, and the displays are fantastic as well. If ever in London, you should definitely pay it a visit. I went there to look at the hair samples and the beadwork in the collection.

My favorite tweet of the week

Friday, June 3, 2016

May Reads

I can admit to a couple of obsessions. I read Jane Austen novels every other year or so, because I love them that much. (I even named my daughter after the heroines of two Austen novels.) At the age of seven, I also was totally obsessed with Cleopatra VII. I checked out the Lenora Hornblow biography, pictured on the left and a book called Great Queens of History from the local library so often, the librarian rationed my time.

Because I was dealing with and worrying about an upcoming surgery, I decided to revisit my favorite topics instead of embarking on something new. Probably not the best decision, as I was somewhat disappointed.

Kleopatra  - Karen Essex

Synopsis: High drama and ancient history combine in this novel of the early life of Egypt's infamous queen, at once a beautiful seductress, brilliant politician, and the most powerful ruler of her time.

My take: Right off the bat, the synopsis is only about half-correct. It IS about Cleopatra's early life before any of those myths and truisms that we think  we know occur. However, the book ends before she meets Caesar, which is when the seductress and brilliant politician story moves to front and center.  This novel does a good job of recreating the spirit of the decaying Ptolemaic dynasty that might have spurred a young girl's resolve, but the research is a little shoddy. If what replaces the research had been a bit more compelling, I might not have minded as much.

The novel does a good job of delineating the Cleopatra that we mostly don't know. The one who studies foreign languages and goes into exile with a father so foolish that her love for him had to be genuine. What it doesn't do a particularly good job of is making you care much about her. Kleopatra is a cardboard character whose childhood is no more compelling than most people's, except for being royal and having servants and a lesbian sister, because you know we needed someone to compare Kleopatra to later. Kleopatra would have served better as the first part of the next novel, Pharaoh, where we see the full character arc, instead of a stand-alone in a duology.

Pharaoh - Volume II of Kleopatra - Karen Essex

Synopsis: Following on from 'Kleopatra', the glittering epic of Egypt's queen continues as she allies herself with Anthony and begins a love story that immortalizes her as one of history's greatest political players and most tragic heroines.

My take: Much better than Kleopatra, but still not great. Pharaoh opens with a startling scene of Cleopatra recruiting whores to shore up Marc Antony's sagging manhood after Actium. The novel jumps back and forth between the events of Cleopatra's life, starting with meeting Caesar and ending with her death. Obviously, this part of her life has more natural dramatic interest, so the pace of the novel picks up.  Essex does some interesting work with Cleopatra and her self-confidence, but the character remains somewhat wooden. Possibly the best part of the novel is the final 5% as Cleopatra weighs her options when it becomes clear she has lost everything.

Overall, I can't recommend these books. If you want excitement and to meet the real Cleopatra, you're better off reading Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, which has all the excitement these two novels are missing. The writing is also better.

The Butterfly Garden - Dot Hutchison

Synopsis: Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.

In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

Synopsis: I read this as my Kindle First selection for May.

My take: Shades of The Collector! I couldn't put The Butterfly Gardendown.  The narrative was compelling; the protagonist was fulfilling-ly complex; and the plot was well done. If you like psychological thrillers, check this one out.

Note: Some people might find the whole concept a little hard to take, but if the synopsis doesn't warn them off, then they can't complain they weren't warned.

Jane - April Lindner

Synopsis: Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

My take:  Clearly part of my rewrite/reread the classics months. This was a fun read. While it stuck to the Jane Eyre story, it managed to be more than just a simple retelling. The plot turns and twists were believable for this day and age and not simply a regurgitation of the original novel. Good for a weekend on the patio or the beach.

The Austen Project pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. It has its own Facebook page. As a self-proclaimed Jane-ite,  I decided to give it a whirl. After all I did like Clueless, the Movie, and Pride Prejudice and Zombies. That being said, let me paraphrase Mr. Darcy:
"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how utterly reprehensible I found two of these books."
Emma: A Modern Retelling - Alexander Mccall Smith

Synopsis: The best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series deftly escorts Jane Austen’s beloved, meddlesome heroine into the twenty-first century in this delightfully inventive retelling.

My take: Awful. Just awful.

This is the third entry in the Austen Project.  Smith fails.

The book is neither delightful nor inventive, and it comes nowhere close to deft. The prose is plodding with a lot of explanations rather than character development. Worse, Smith transforms one of literature's most charmingly misdirected matchmaking busybodies into a mean-spirited millennial twit. The other characters don't fare any better. Or as Mr. Knightly might say, "Badly done, Alexander, badly done."

If you want a real revamping of Emma, watch Clueless.

Sense and Sensibility - Joanna Trollope

Synopsis: From Joanna Trollope, one of the most insightful chroniclers of family life writing fiction today, comes a contemporary retelling of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen’s classic novel of love, money, and two very different sisters. . .

With her sparkling wit, Joanna Trollope casts a clever, satirical eye on the tales of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

My take: Sparkling it ain't. Imagine this: you're trapped on a bus. An airhead blathers a synopsis of the original novel while dropping a few contemporary references now and again in a pathetic attempt to make it relevant.  Slashing my wrists with plastic spoon would have been a merciful ending, but it went on way longer than that. To be honest, I tried to forget this book about two minutes after finishing it. My advice: don't bother.

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice –  Curtis Sittenfeld

Synopsis: Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible tackles gender, class, courtship, and family as Curtis Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

My take:  Not gonna lie: I loved this book. I was already a fan of Curtis Sittenfeld after reading Prep and American Wife. Eligible makes me want to read more of her novels. Sittenfeld didn't make one mistake in her rendering of this classic.

Unlike the other two novels, Sittenfeld captured the essence of Jane Austen and then made it relevant to the the twenty-first century. It was like eating a fresh croissant instead of a stale loaf of bread. Although in general, you know how the various couples must end up together, it's an interesting journey with some real surprises to get you there. Read this book!

If you are going to read one Jane Austen knock-off this year, Eligible is the one. You won't regret it.