Monday, January 9, 2017

Ancient Egypt this week: A little bit of everything

Mrs. Naunakhte: An Ancient Egyptian Life In Stones
Deir al-Medina (image courtesy of Howard Middleton-Jones)

Three thousand years ago, a scribe sitting near the village of Deir al-Medina — across the hill from the Valley of the Kings — picked up a stone and wrote rapidly across it in the shorthand script used every day for administration.
When, in the twentieth century, an archaeologist picked up that stone, I like to think there was a frisson of excitement on his or her part. What might it say? What new clues might it reveal about ancient Egypt, and the man — or, perhaps, woman — who had written the text?

Victorian Egyptomania: How a 19th Century fetish for Pharaohs turned seriously spooky
Aleistere Crowley in his Egypt-inspired ritul garb, 1910

Antiquities had been brought from Egypt to Europe in the aftermath of Napoleon’s invasion of 1798–1801 (one of the results of which was the extraordinary career of Jean-François Champollion, ‘Father of Egyptology’ and first European to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs), and just as Egypt began the 19th Century under Napoleonic yoke, it would end it as the pith helmeted possession of Great Britain. In the decades between, an Anglo-Egyptian effort resulted in the Suez Canal (completed 1869) – the vital artery of Empire that placed the adjoining land firmly within the foreign policy orbit of Britain and saw the Nile flood into public life.

Irrational and fabulous, or misinterpretation? A study of the fear associated with the epagomenal days in ancient Egypt
Illustration from the Myth of the Heavenly Cow (Source:

The epagomenal days in the Egyptian civil calendar were five days added to the standard three hundred and sixty day year, introduced in order to align the calendar with the Sothic cycle. The earliest mention of the epagomenal days is attested to the Old Kingdom, proving that their inclusion in the calendar had occurred by this time.

It is believed that the Egyptians greatly feared these days due to the prevalence of plague and disease, attributed to the wanderers (SmAjw) and slaughterers (xAtjw) of the goddess, Sekhmet, which were particularly rife at the end of the calendar year.

The beauty secrets that once swept Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian women were well-known for their interest in beauty and cosmetics.

An archeological expert told that at the time each woman would have her own box of facial makeup, kohl (eyeliner), hair pins and combs and perfumes.

Dr. Abdelrahim Reehan added that a study by archeologist Abir Sadeq at the ministry of archeology showed that ancient Egyptian women's makeup was simple and only focused on accentuating the facial features.

Two AUC press books internationally recognized as best of 2016

Two of The American University in Cairo (AUC) Press books have been internationally recognized as distinguished works of 2016. The Financial Times selected No Knives in the Kitchen of this City as one of the top three best Fiction in Translation titles of 2016, and Choice magazine highlighted Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Royal Kingdom Mummies as one of its 2016 Outstanding Academic Titles, reflecting “the best in scholarly titles reviewed by Choice” each year.

Ancient Egyptian pot burials were not just for the poor

New research is stirring the pot about an ancient Egyptian burial practice.

Many ancient peoples, including Egyptians, buried some of their dead in ceramic pots or urns. Researchers have long thought these pot burials, which often recycled containers used for domestic purposes, were a common, make-do burial for poor children.

Nefer’s ancient Egyptian tomb brought back to life in Rome

Those who are passionate about ancient Egypt and happen to be in Rome should visit the Giovanni Barracco Museum of ancient sculpture.

This 16th century building houses the valuable “stele of the false door” of Nefer, a dignitary who lived in Egypt during the fourth Dynasty (2575-2465 BC), ruled by the great pharaohs who built the pyramids.

Picture of the week: Egyptian Guitar Gods

Image may contain: one or more people and guitar

Friday, January 6, 2017

#amreading Ancient Egypt: Daughters of the Nile

I'm trying something new, a Friday review of a book about or set in Ancient Egypt. I  still will do two video Fridays like this one and the usual monthly review of other books like this one.

I'm starting with a book I read awhile back, Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray.

An admission that will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. I'm a dyed in the wool Egypt-o-phile, and my interest in Augustan Rome isn't all that far behind. I read a lot of novels about those cultures/time periods. (I also read a lot of non-fiction in the same area.) Most of the novels aren't very good. They either totally blow the history, or they nail the history at the expense of the writing. There are a wretched few that blow both the history and the writing.

Stephanie Dray's final volume in a trilogy about Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, is the happy exception. Even though  actual historical facts about Cleopatra Selene are somewhat sketchy, Dray beautifully brings to life a woman who stood in the shadow of some of history's greatest legends.

If you want a love story that encompasses a heroine's journey against the vivid background of Imperial Rome (and an exotic Roman vassal state) and a heroine who wields heka (magic) with the skill of Hermione Granger, albeit with sometimes tragic consequences, this is the book (and trilogy) for you.

Unlike many trilogies with only have enough material for one book but stretched to three to satisfy some market niche, I found myself not wanting this trilogy to end, and I was completely satisfied with how it did end.

This third book can probably stand alone. Having read the previous two books and knowing the bones of the historical story, however, I can't say that for certain. And really, why cheat yourself out of the experience of reading all three?

If I have any complaints, and I have very few, my main one was that at times Cleopatra Selene seemed a bit strident. Of course, that made for a nice character flaw.

But don't believe me, judge for yourself. You won't be sorry.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ancient Egypt this week: A New Year

My one, the sister without peer, the handsomest of all!
She looks like the rising morning star at the start of a happy year.

New Years in Ancient Egypt 

First Stanza, Beginning of the sayings of the great happiness, from Papyrus Chester Beatty I

The brightest star SpDt, as the Ancient Egyptians called it, or Sirius "The Dog Star" appears aat midnight on New Year’s Eve. See the article on Sirius from EarthSky.

Sopdet ("skilled woman", also known as Sothis) represented Sirius, the Dog-Star. Sirius was the most important star to ancient Egyptian astronomers. It signalled the approach of the inundation and the beginning of a new year. New year was celebrated with a festival known as "The Coming of Sopdet".

Sopdet was the wife of Sahu ("the hidden one"), the constellation Orion, and the mother of Sopdu ("skilled man"), a falcon god who represented the planet Venus. This triad echoed the trio of Osiris, Isis and Horus, but the connections were not always simple. Sopdet became increasingly associated with Isis, who asserts that she is Sopdet (in "the lamentations of Isis and Nephthys" c 400 B.C) and will follow Osiris, the manifestation of Sahu. However, as well as being considered to be the spouse of Orion (Osiris), she is described by the pyramid texts as the daughter of Osiris.

Although Sopdet started out as an agricultural deity, closely associated with the Nile, by the Middle Kingdom she was also considered to be a mother goddess. This probably related to her growing connection with the goddess Isis. This connection was further strengthened by Sopdet's role in assisting the Pharaoh find his way to the imperishable stars. It may be no coincidence that Sirius disappeared for seventy days every year, and mummification took seventy days.

Building Pharaoh's Chariot

Some historians claim that the Egyptian chariot launched a technological and strategic revolution and was the secret weapon behind Egypt’s greatest era of conquest known as the New Kingdom. But was the chariot really a revolutionary design? How decisive was its role in the bloody battles of the ancient world? A team of archaeologists, engineers, woodworkers and horse trainers builds and tests two accurate replicas of Egyptian royal chariots. Driving them to their limits in the desert outside Cairo, NOVA’s experts test the claim that the chariot marks a crucial turning point in ancient military history.

Click on the title link for a video.

Which Egyptian Pharaoh are you?

For some New Year's fun take the quiz by clicking on the link in the title. For what it's worth, I'm Ptolemy II:
"You are both a very dignified and a very curious person. You love to immerse yourself in literature and the arts, where you find beauty, exotic images, and noble thoughts. Publicly, you are a champion of learning. In your opinion, the world would be a much better place if everyone was a little more well-informed."

Bull fat, bats blood, and lizard poop were the drugs of choice in ancient Egypt
Photo: Mikkel Andreas Beck

Spells and lizard dung were part of the medical treatment in ancient Egypt, as evidenced by this 3,500-year-old papyrus. (Photo: Mikkel Andreas Beck).
“Bull fat, bat blood… donkey blood… what looks like the heart of a lizard. And a little pulverised pottery and a dash of honey.”

Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt traces her forefinger over the hieroglyphs as she reads aloud. We are in the papyrus reading room at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Museum Mysteries: The Mummy in the OR

When, in the early 1800s, a patient was brought into the surgical amphitheater at Massachusetts General Hospital, he or she was likely blinded by the terror of undergoing surgery fully conscious. Yet had the patient looked around, while being lashed to a chair, he or she might have taken in the cupola and louvered windows admitting the morning sun; a gathering of physicians, medical students and other onlookers in the tiered seats; the surgeon preparing his instruments; and a pair of upright glass-fronted cases, one containing an Egyptian mummy coffin, and the other, the mummy himself.

Watch Full Episodes of PBS Egypt's Treasure Guardians online

Premieres December 28, 2016.
Egypt is home to many of the most famous archaeological treasures on Earth. But over the last five years, Egypt has suffered a tumultuous revolution and tourist numbers have plummeted. This show follows a select cast of individuals determined to bring Egypt back from the brink, to discover more of Egypt’s history, to keep its heritage safe and to get tourists to visit the country again.

Ancient Egyptian goddess of protection to greet arriving travellers at Cairo airport

The Egyptian goddess of protection, Serqet, is to welcome Egypt’s visitors at Cairo International Airport starting Thursday, when a replica statue of the deity will be erected in Terminal 2.

From the Ministry of Antiquities Facebook page:
A Replica of the ancient Egyptian goddess Serqet greets Egypt's visitors at Cairo International Airport. 
Upon its arrival to Building Number 2 at Cairo International Airport today evening, goddess of protection Serqet opens its arms to welcome Egypt's visitors.
The replica statue was fabricated in the workshops of the Ministry of Antiquities' Replica Unit in Salaheddin Citadel along the last two months to offer to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in an attempt to encourage tourism to Egypt, highlight the ongoing cooperation between the two ministries and the ministry of tourism as well as promoting the ministry of antiquities' production of replicas. 
The ministry of antiquities has organized its first replica exhibition last August in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir where a collection of 150 replicas was on display.
The exhibition was very successful and encouraged many foreign countries to demand the establishment of similar exhibitions abroad.

Bolton Museum transformation of its Egyptology gallery

BOLTON Museum has revealed how its new Egyptology gallery could look.

The museum is undergoing a multi-million pound transformation which is set to make the town an international tourist attraction, drawing in crowds from around the world to see one of the most significant Egyptology collections.

Recording rematerialising the Sarcophagus of Seti I and all the the tomb's scattered elements

The photogrammetric recording of the sarcophagus of Seti I in Sir John Soane’s Museum in London was carried out between the 14th and the 19th March 2016 by Pedro Miró, Manuel Franquelo and Ferdinand Saumarez-Smith from the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation. This initiative marks the first stage of the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative: a collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities (Egypt), Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation (Spain), and the University of Basel (Switzerland), with contribution from Autodesk and Capturing Reality, and financial support by donation to the Factum Foundation. This multi-year outreach program, launched in 2014, is an ambitious approach to preserve the tombs of the Theban Necropolis in the Valley of the Kings, designed to simultaneously promote a spread of knowledge and research.

Picture of the week: How Pharaoh celebrates