Thursday, January 19, 2017

Vintage Find: Intact 2nd Dynasty Burial


I recently found this old article from eight years ago on what I believe was the last time an intact 2nd Dynasty burial was found in Egypt. The article comes with some fantastic pictures of the discovery.

Notes:

Photo and Article: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sed Festival Block of Akhenaten in the Fitzwilliam


This talatat block features king Akhenaten in two complete scenes including on the left side of the face a crudely carved scene of the king beneath the rays of the Aten. These rays terminate in open hands above the scene of the king before an altar making offerings while wearing the white crown with his arms raised in exaltation.

The second larger scene on the right side of the talatat face is slightly better executed and features the king in Sed festival robes beneath the rays of the Aten which terminate in hands holding alternating ankh signs and was scepters while a row of three attendants is bent over in the background adoring the king. The king strides forward holding his flail and scepter out from his body while the attendants are faced the same direction.

The scene is surrounded by cartouches and hieroglyphic inscriptions with one cartouche behind the king and two large cartouches in front with the lower half of two more beside each other to the extreme right of the block. The clumsy hieroglyphic inscription tells us the Aten titulary and a place name "Jubilation in the horizon [or seat] of the Aten"*.

The hieroglyphs tell also that the attendant behind the king is his chief prophet carrying his sandals. The attendant in front of the king is his lector priest holding a papyrus roll and the third attendant is in front of the lector priest but only the back of his leg remains of this figure. From here on the face of the block has been destroyed.

Why would the central focus of the block be complete in the manner of a lesser scenic block instead of it displays one of the most important events in Akhenaten's life? The Sed festival was important political propaganda and worthy of notice on the walls of his monuments and for an entire Sed festival scene to appear on a single block leads me to ask what the surrounding blocks contained that the king needed to be kept small within his own monument?

Other talatats generally contain only fragments of the royal family as they are of course depicted far larger than their subjects who themselves regularly occupy two or more bricks but the Fitzwilliam piece is far different in conception.

The block is pleasing to look at with the benefit of the contents being of great importance in king Akhenaten's reign, the block being forgivingly damaged where it was probably least important. How would you mount this on a temple wall or even a shrine so as to be set out from the other blocks in the construction?

Certainly, the two cartouches on the far right of which only the bottom of the cartouches is present on the block allude to a block above as do the rays of the Aten in both scenes but that would have left the solar disk of the Aten at the bottom of those blocks.

The damage to the right side of the block makes this illusion that there was a block there unknown. Nothing about the bottom of the block says that there was any connection with a block below and the same is true of the left side which appears to be independent of a block next to it.

But at the same time, it may well be an artists draft to be followed by the artists at the monument if so one would wonder about the misshapen crown and it would be doubtful that this artist would have been in charge of decoration for a larger much more expensive monument.

Though the talatat wall in the Luxor museum from the Gem Pa-Aten displays king Akhenaten 2.5 talatats high with the Aten at the bottom of the above block below the floor line of that block, these blocks are far more central to an overall program of temple decoration and much more finely executed. While a talatat found recently at Sheikh 'Ibada is merely the head and neck of a king's wife from a much larger and dominate scene.*

The other thought is that the block maybe by an artist copying a larger monument on to the talatat as practice but this would seem to be in mistake too as the preciousness of a cut block of stone to be used by an amateur seems unlikely. An important scene in a monument of which would have been hard to discern from surrounding blocks causes me problems and makes me feel the block that has no provenance may well be a forgery perhaps created from a backing cut off another talatat and used to create the Fitzwilliam block?

Let's take the case of the famous forger of Egyptian art Oxan Aslanian who specialized in the art of the Amarna period. While in Egypt between 1900 and 1914 Mr. Aslanian was carving pieces in the style of the Old Kingdom until he moved to Germany where in the 1920's he became inspired by Amarna Period art.

Unlikely the master of Berlin creating fake Amarna pieces in Germany in the 1920's would then send them to Egypt to sell but the possibilities that an early experiment in his art while still living in Egypt may have been some Amarna pieces including the Fitzwilliam piece.

Artists rarely begin at the styles they become known for this is more often than not the result of years of experimentation and the late Mr.Aslanian would have been no different. Unfortunate that Major Gayer-Anderson did not provide anything on the Fitzwilliam's blocks provenance and though not considered to be in the regular style of Mr. Aslanian it's conception is greater than the hand that carved it, a master forger may have been at work on the block.

The idea that the block was created between 1900 and 1914 by Mr. Aslanian is a stretch I realize however master artists are very rare with only a few in each generation especially when they are in the right place. I recently viewed a number of pieces displayed on the Mansoor Collection of Amarna Art website. These soulless pieces are in doubt whether authentic or not, they are however not the work of a master but of a lesser artist who lacks imagination and has only copied other well-known pieces.

The creativity in the Fitzwilliam talatat is clearly above the talents of the Mansoor artist. Furthermore, there are a number of other pieces in the Fitzwilliam that have come from the Gayer-Anderson collection including E.G.A.3077.1943, a block with a man's head which appears the face was carved after the block was broken.

Let's hope further research may someday clear up the lost history of the Fitzwilliam's talatat but whichever way it goes the "Jubilee Scene" 2300.1943 is a wonderful and important work of art.

Notes:

Photo of block: The Fitzwilliam Museum
  • *1 Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Cyril Aldred pg.97

Oxan Aslanian: The Shifting Values of Authenticity and Fakes

The Mansoor Amarna collection:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Lamps Stolen From Al-Rifaai Mosque


Six heavy large glass hanging lamps have been stolen from the Sultan Hassan Complex and the Al-Rifaai Mosque within. The lamps were stolen from the tombs of king Fouad and princess Ferial without any sign of a break-in. A film crew working around the tombs have been questioned by the authority responsible for the security of the mosque, as has the people responsible for the mosque's security.

The lamps hang more than 4 meters above the floor and are too heavy for one person to carry. The inspection of the remaining lamps has also revealed that one is a replica.

     'The stolen lamps are similar to those in situ and are dated to the year 1328 of the Hegira (1910 CE). They are made of opaque white glass embellished with golden enamel and decorated with a Quranic verse from the Al-Nur surah written in Mameluke raised script.

The verse says “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp.” The stamp of the khedive Abbas Helmy II is also found on part of the lamps.'


Notes:

Picture from a previous article by Nevin El-Aref from four years ago after another attempted theft of the lamps. The lamps can be seen at the top of the photograph.

The two articles above spell the name of the mosque differently.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

In the Year 2016



In the year 2016, the discoveries were largely that of laboratory exercises though field excavation brought some interesting finds. Perhaps the most beautiful work of art found in 2016 came in November with the discovery of the Third Intermediate Period coffin of a servant of the palace Amenrenef, and hey what would a year be without finding more statues of the goddess Sekhmet. The year also brought the opening of the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings to tourist as well as the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens, something that I do not expect to last for long.

The year began with the big story of the possibility that Nefertiti may be buried behind the north and /or west wall of Tutankhamun's tomb. Expert Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believed this to be a possibility and as an expert on the 18th Dynasty, his words were taken with gravity. The theory had legs and the world reacted with excitement to find Nefertiti. The article "The Truth in the Search for Nefertiti" examines one of the more flawed news reports and the subject.

In January as well the Biblical Archaeology Society published an article on a study in The International Journal of Paleopathology on what is the oldest known case of scurvy. The subject being the skeletal remains of a 6000-year-old infant found at Nag el-Qarmila, Egypt. Newsweek had a very interesting article on science and the Elephantine Papyri. The January review of Ancient Egypt: Kingdom of the Pharaohs has been among the runners for this site in 2016.


In February we were presented with a nice video on "The Lost Egyptian Throne of Queen Hetepheres", Hetepheres being the mother of King Khufu builder of the great pyramid on the Giza plateau. Hetepheres' furniture was discovered in 1925 by the Harvard-Museum of Fine Arts excavation at Giza, though all the wood of her furniture had disintegrated into a cigar ash texture only the gold casings were left. Through careful excavation and restoration, most of Hetepheres' furniture has been restored in a glass cased room in the Cairo Egyptian Museum with replicas in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. All but her throne which was immensely complex and until now unable to be restored.

The Egyptian-University of Alabama Mission excavating in the Dashur necropolis at El-Lisht found the tomb of the stamp bearer of King Senosert I. Senosert was the second king of ancient Egypt's glorious 12th Dynasty. February's edition of "Tuesday's Egyptian: The Lost Mummy of King Kamose" has also been a runner over the course of the year


The month of March brought a number of discoveries such as a 4500-year-old boat found at Abusir and still more Sekhmet statues at the mortuary temple of King Amenhotep III. Most interesting however was the discovery of a 3400-year-old cemetery at Gebel el Sisila north of Aswan. The excavators found tombs which had suffered considerable damage from the annual rise of the Nile.

April brought in articles on scanning pyramids including the Bent Pyramid, Red pyramid and the pyramids of Khufu and Khafra on the Giza plateau. Blocks from a barque station for the creator god Khnum erected by Hatshepsut have been found on the island of Elephantine. In the inscriptions, it refers to Hatshepsut as a woman making the station for Khnum's boat an early building of Hatshepsut.


In May the good folks from Spain's Jaen University discovered an important late Middle Kingdom burial of a daughter of the Nomarch Sarenput II named Sattjeni. The burial is much destroyed by insects which have reduced the outer coffin to wood dust. The important lady had two sons who ruled the island of Elephantine at the end of ancient Egypt's 12th Dynasty.

 A great surprise for Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum when a micro-CT scan revealed that inside a tiny ancient Egyptian coffin, in their collection, was found the youngest known Egyptian mummy of a fetus. The fetus is even younger than the two found in Tutankhamun's tomb which respectively is 25 weeks and 37 weeks gestation


Very exciting find in June of a wood box in the basement of Cairo's Egyptian museum that contains gold sheets found in the controversial Valley of the Kings tomb KV55. As interesting as the inscribed gold sheets are equally as interesting are the two fragments of a human skull found in the box and presumably tomb KV55. The excavation of the tomb was poorly done leaving the mummy found in the coffin in doubt even though surviving inscriptions say the coffin belonged to the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten. So if the mummy in the coffin is not Akhenaten then maybe the fragments of this extra skull belong to this extraordinary pharaoh. This article was followed with another in July.

The Egyptian-Polish Mission at the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut is studying the use of the temple as a cemetery by the royal families of the 23rd and 25th Dynasties. The cemetery was created in the upper terrace of the destroyed Deir el-Bahri temple.


"The Writing Pallete of Meketaten" is a mystery as to how an exceptionally well-preserved ivory pallete belonging to one of Tutankhamun's sisters came into the collection of Lord Carnarvon around the same time as the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb which included similar ivory palletes for both Tutankhamun and another of his sisters Meritaten?

Also in August the fine people at Poland's National Museum in Warsaw received a bit of a surprise when they scanned their mummy of the priest Hor-Djehuti and found the mummy was actually that of a woman.


In September came the article "Cartouche of Akhenaten" the article is about a jewel pried from the lid of a coffin found in the Valley of the Kings in tomb KV55. A number of objects found in the tomb were stolen at some point including the gold foils that were all that was left of the decayed trough of the coffin. These stolen objects have over the years turned up in various museum collections.

The big discovery in October were two Late Period tombs found near the Aga Khan Mausoleum on the west bank at Aswan. An Egyptian-German Archaeological Mission to Matariya has found blocks belonging to a temple of Ramses II west the obelisk of Senusret I.



November brought the discovery of one of the most beautiful coffins to have been found in years. The coffin belongs to a servant of the palace named Amenrenef, who lived during Egypt's Third Intermediate Period and was buried beneath the mortuary temple of King Thutmosis III. It will look nice in the Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art.

The Rijksmuseum Van Oudheden had their impressive 3-meter long Egyptian crocodile mummy put through a CT-scanner which identified dozens of individually wrapped baby crocodiles within the beast. Throughout the year various artifacts including many items from Tutankhamun's tomb have made their way to The Grand Egyptian Museum which is set to partially open in 2017. Many of the artifacts are to undergo long overdue restoration in the new museum's state of the art laboratories.


The end of November brought an article on the mummified legs found in the tomb of Ramses II's great royal wife Nefertari. The article suggests that Ramasside chronology may be off but more likely the carbon 14 readings are off or that the legs do not belong to Nefertari.

Another fine year has flown by with many interesting discoveries though no real spectacular find. Unfortunately, the Nefertiti in Tutankhamun's tomb looks less likely and turned into a bit of a sideshow with a man allowed into the tomb whose equipment could only be read by him. Regrettably, equipment that could be read did not come up with positive results.

I would like to thank my readers and wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all the best to you and your loved ones for the coming year.

Thank You

Timothy


Notes:

Photo of Ramses II making offerings  Olaf Tausch
Photo: Elephantine Papyri, requesting the rebuilding of a Jewish temple on Elephantine
Photo of tomb entrance: The Gebel Sisila Project
Photo of coffin of Satjeni: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities 
Article about Sattjeni from Seeker
Photo of coffin: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Image of Pallete of Meketaten: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo of Warsaw mummy by Olek Leydo
Polish National Museum in Warsaw
Scan Pyramids 
Coffin of Amensenef: Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities 
Photo of legs courtesy of Michael Habicht

(Spelling of kings names are according to article mentioned)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Resandro Collection at Christie's


Christie's London auction house will be having an auction of the Resandro Egyptian collection this coming Tuesday. The collection contains some very impressive and large bronzes as well as shabti's of the 21ST Dynasty Priest-King Pinudgem I, and Queen Henutawy found in the famous cache of royal mummies. There is also a wood shabti of King Seti I which is on my Christmas wish list! 



Notes:

The Resandro Egyptian Collection at Christie's catalog

Christie's Online Magazine