Sunday, April 15, 2018

Scanning the Pharaohs

Zahi Hawass
Sahar N. Saleem
The American University in Cairo Press
Cairo, New York
ISBN 978 977 416 673 0

I was thrilled when I opened a birthday present from a friend and found this book. Hard to believe I have not read it yet, though, I have done little reading in the last year. The book opens with a rundown of the studies involved in the Egyptian Mummy Project. The non-invasive techniques include CT scans providing detailed information about the physical conditions of the royal mummies as well as DNA results that may show familial relationships between Egypt's collection of ancient royal mummies of the period of the New Kingdom.

Dr. Hawass reviews his discoveries over the years and explains his impetus for the Egyptian Mummy Project which includes questions regarding those mummies believed to be relatives to Tutankhamun as well as the searches for Nefertiti and the female king, Hatshepsut. Looking at the identity of Unknown man "E" and a verification of the cause of death of the mummy of King Ramesses III by a conspiracy within his harem.

Chapter one with all the technical words needed to layout the sciences involved is a bit of a difficult read, though, there is an ample supply of images to guide the reader. If the rest of the book is anything like the first chapter it is likely suitable for those readers 18 and over, definitely not for the younger reader. In the second chapter, Dr. Hawass explains the discoveries of the royal mummies including the great cache of Deir al Bahri in tomb 320 and Valley of the Kings tomb 35 belonging to King Amenhotep II. We are also informed that there are only two mummies left in the Valley of the Kings including the boy in the tomb of Thutmosis IV and the boy in the tomb of Amenhotep II.

There is a mistake in picture fig. 14 as it is described as the mummy of Amenhotep II when in reality it is Amenhotep I that is pictured.

Dr. Hawass begins his search by examining the mummy labeled in the Cairo Museum as Thutmosis I, Hatshepsut's father. This mummy has long been doubted to be of that king as his arms are not crossed over his chest as well as the mummy appears to be young at the time of death when the historical record indicates Thutmosis I was probably around 50 when he died. The youth of the mummy and an arrowhead in its chest make it unlikely to be that king.

We are next on to the search for the mummy of Hatshepsut with a number of unnamed female mummies under consideration including two mummies found in the small tomb in the Valley of the Kings known as KV 60. Two more unknown females having been found in tomb DB320 along with a canopic box bearing Hatshepsut's cartouche, a liver, and a broken tooth. In the end, the discovery of the unfortunate cancerous mummy believed to be Hatshepsut may be Dr. Hawass' greatest legacy.

Chapter four examines a number of mid-to-late 18th dynasty mummies including the parents of Queen Tiye, Yuya, and Thuya. Also included the younger and elder ladies from the tomb of Amenhotep II as well as the controversial mummy from Valley of the Kings tomb KV 55. The DNA results provide Dr. Hawass and his team their second great discovery by giving the elder lady back her name, while the CT scans demonstrate that Tutankhamun's mother likely met with an early and traumatic death.

The CT scans on the mummy of King Tutankhamun confirm once again the carnage the king's mummy suffered at the hands of Howard Carter and anatomist Douglas Derry who cut apart the body to remove the accouterments of the mummy. These operations have not only damaged the king but also potentially marred any evidence of the cause of death ever being discovered. The results of the scans and DNA of late 18th dynasty royal mummies reveals that among other things that Tutankhamun's mother and father were full blooded brother and sister.

The fame and legendary beauty of Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife Nefertiti have led many people to speculate about her presence among the known royal mummies including myself, that is if she has been discovered and is not still in her sealed tomb. The DNA findings certainly show that she is not Tutankhamun's mother and probably not buried behind a wall in his tomb the truth is potentially a lot more disturbing.

The authors move on to tests on some of the Dynasty 19 mummies in the collection including Seti I father of Ramesses II. Seti's head is the masterpiece of the art of mummification though his body has been badly damaged probably by ancient tomb robbers. The mummy has been piously restored a number of times by priests according to dockets on his coffin and wrappings. Because of x-rays, it has been known for a long time that Seti has an amulet of a wadjet eye on his left shoulder, however, the CT scans revealed it is not alone among his wrappings. This section of the book is followed by forty pages of color pictures with many of the amazing CT scans and their findings from the mummies.

With chapter 10 we find the authors dealing with the mummy of King Ramesses III and the possibility that this king was murdered as it is described in contemporary court documents known today as "The Harem Conspiracy". The conspiracy involved more than three dozen people many who had associations with Ramesses III's harem and in particular, Queen Teye whose ambition was to put her son on the throne though not the legitimate heir. Dr. Hawass has believed for some time that a mummy found in the royal cache tomb DB320 known as Unknown man "E" may be Teye's son Pentaware. The papyrus tells us that more than two dozen people were found guilty and put to death and that ten of the most senior members of the plot were allowed to commit suicide. The CT scans of Unknown man "E" displayed an anomaly in the mummies neck indicating a cause of death as strangulation possible hanging this being a lot more pleasant than what probably happened to those sentenced to death.

The CT scans have greatly enriched our knowledge of the evolution of mummification among the royal courts of ancient Egypt's New Kingdom as the DNA samples have exposed family relations, particularly in this case Tutankhamun's family and ancestors of his dynasty but also the mummies of  Dynasties 19 and 20. Many readers will find the reading difficult with the large latin names of various parts of the human body that are often followed by a measurement and/or a formula for a measure.

We are next to objects found on the bodies including jewelry and funerary amulets and other articles including a pair of metallic shoes on the feet of the mummy of Thuya mother of Queen Tiye and what appears to be a metallic arrowhead in the chest of a young Thutmoside mummy formerly regarded as a king. A number of the mummies have scattered beads among their wrappings or in their chest cavity.

The book ends with a section on the reconstruction of faces of the royal mummies with an emphasis on the debateable reconstruction of Tutankhamun from a number of years ago looking a little too Anglo-Saxon for comfort.

It is true the book was hard to put down I was enthralled as I am a total mummy guy who has read many of the previous studies of the royal mummy collection, however, the detailed nature of the book will make for excellent references and if your a mummy person or a doctor you will enjoy this book but for those looking for light reading this will not be the book. Egyptologist and those interested in mummies and in the field of medicine should run and get this book it is a must-have!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Still Searching for Amenia

This statue is of the last king of ancient Egypt's 18Th Dynasty, Horemheb, who reigned from about 1323-1295 BC. The statue was found at his Saqqara tomb he had created before his accession to kingship. Here the king is seated next to his likely first wife Amenia, and sadly this is what the statue looks like today in Luxor.

Over the years I have been running this search on my site in hopes that someone will return Amenia. Certainly the missing piece is unsalable, and as a result, she may just be hidden away being a dangerous lady to be found with. She may have undergone alterations like cutting away the lower torso, and perhaps the join between her and her husband. Add a little paint, and she may be now the bust of an unknown woman sitting in plain sight.

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities has a number of objects they are looking for besides Amenia including 38 gold mainly Greco-Roman bracelets stolen since the 1970's.


The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities

Top photo: (from Martin, The Hidden Tombs of Memphis)

Bottom photo: Luxor Museum

Saturday, May 13, 2017

17 Mummies Discovered

A very interesting discovery at an animal necropolis south of Cairo at the Minya archaeological site. Among the mummies is also one that appears intact complete with a garland on top the shrouded body.

The apparent lack of offerings may point to the mummies being from the Third Intermediate Period or later. Many of the mummies appear to be quite deteriorated. Most of the bodies are without coffins though there are at least one stone and one terracotta sarcophagi.


Egypt Today

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Classic: Intact Old Kingdom Tomb

Back in July of 2008 came the discovery by Miroslav Barta and the Czech Institute of Egyptology the discovery of an intact Old Kingdom tomb at Abusir. Such a discovery of an intact tomb of that age had not happened in 50 years.

The 4400-year-old burial likely has brought much knowledge in the past decade. Since then Miroslav Barta and the Czech Institute have had many more exciting days but this important discovery is clearly the rarest of finds.


Radio Praha by Jan Velinger
Photo: Czech Institute of Egyptology

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Perfume Bottle of Hatshepsut

Many people will remember this perfume bottle in Germany's Bonn University Egyptian Museum from an article in 2009 about recreating the perfume by deconstructing the residue of its contents. There was big fanfare about it belonging to King Hatshepsut, and that the bottle was found among her belongings. I know of no excavation in which Hatshepsut's belongings were found except for her tomb in the Valley of the Kings which to my knowledge contained mostly damaged funerary goods.

The photo presents a good view of the bottles outline which bears no symmetry that I would expect from a royal vessel. A finer craftsman would have worked the simple bottle to a much more sharper finish. An object with a cartouche on it does not mean that it belonged to a king other than the technicality that everything belonged to the king. But, if you were Hatshepsut and wanted to reward a courtier for their loyalty would you give this shabby production.

This is not suitable for a queens dressing table, can you see this thing on Queen Victoria's dressing table or Queen Elizabeth's? I might suggest that the lord of the two lands would likely be furnished by the royal workshops and not with provincial mediocrity as is presented here. I would also suspect that such a vessel for a queen's boudoir might be made out of gold or silver such as Tutankhamun's double cartouche scent box.

In the tomb of Tutankhamun were found many vessels carved from alabaster including two shaped like lions, and though many of the vessels may be seen as gaudy all of them are the creation of the finest carvers. The Hatshepsut bottle in Bonn does not belong in the tradition of any of Tutankhamun's alabaster vessels, The bottle in Bonn does not belong to a royal tradition.

This tradition can be found in numerous examples of cosmetic vessels predating Hatshepsut from the Middle Kingdom in which some examples have been even carved of obsidian. A much more challenging medium to carve in than alabaster. This tradition of quality in cutting stone vessels goes back to the earliest dynasties leading up to the Old Kingdom.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an amazing alabaster scent bottle in the form of a cat much more worthy a royal boudoir. Unfortunate that the object is without provenance.

I have little doubt that the Bonn bottle and its contents are indeed ancient and as a bottle without the cartouche that it would have had very little value as a souvenir. Carve Hatshepsut's cartouche on it and it becomes a royal object worth many, many times more than without. A definite motive for deception.

So what's wrong with the Hatshepsut cartouche?

The three characters include the elements of Hatshepsut's throne name including the element in the center of the goddess Maat, below the goddess we find the upraised hands of the Ka element and lastly on top the sun disk of the god Re. The hieroglyphs are correct it is the spacing here that is in question.

It seems that the engraver started with the cartouche outline followed by the Ka element which dominates almost half the space in the cartouche causing the Maat and Re elements to be crammed into the remaining space above. This element is also not centered. The flat base of the cartouche, the goddess, and the Re element have been drilled uncomfortably deep and even the cartouche outline is scratchy in appearance.

It is for me, however, the patina within all these engraved elements that is not right. If anything these details should be darker than the body yet there is signs the color of the patina has been damaged in the area of the cartouche as these engravings appear at least from this photograph to be lighter than the surface of the bottle itself. It is, of course, impossible to fully judge a work of art from one photograph as in this case the object appears to have been photographed with a light source above the bottle and this may interfere with the patina in the cartouche as photographed.

Whether I am right about the cartouche being fake or not the bottle's manufacture is beneath a royal purpose after all the king is citizen number one and as such worthy of the finest products the workshops produced, and for this reason alone, it is unlikely that Hatshepsut ever came in contact with this meager object.


Photograph Courtesy of Bonn University Egyptian Museum
Bonn University
Article on the bottle from National Geographic by Christine Dell'Amore 
Photo of Tutankhamun's waving lion bottle: Tour Egypt
Cat Cosmetic Vessel: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Links to more Perfume Bottles;
18th Dynasty perfume bottle: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Trussed ducks bottle: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Harry Burton photographs of vessels in Tutankhamun's tomb: The Griffith InstituteOxford University

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Search for Senenmut

The supposed success with finding King Hatshepsut has brought to light many new questions about the location of the mummy of her foremost courtier Senenmut. The thought that he may be among the unidentified royal mummies is intriguing. Though the finding of Hatshepsut was made by the presence of a tooth there is still a lot of faith being placed in DNA perhaps not with mummified tissue but with bone or teeth.

Fortune has played its hand with the discovery of the intact tomb of Hatnofer and Ramose in the courtyard of their son Senenmut's prominent tomb at Sheik Abd el Qurna, TT71. Senenmut's tomb was explored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition in 1936 with the prize being the smashed brown quartzite sarcophagus which because it was unfinished has led some to believe that it was never used by Senenmut.

Though if it was used by Senenmut hopefully his mummy was not in it at the time of its thorough destruction. The DNA of Hatnofer and Ramose may well identify their son out of the unknown royal mummies if his mummy has been found though the chances of discovery of this individual is very remote

As it happens Senenmut's father Ramose was a skeleton when found and was probably not mummified while his mother was mummified but since excavation has become mostly a skeleton as well. This is good as little damage will occur to their remains for DNA tests to find their famous son.

Among the male mummy's from the cache tombs DB 320 and KV 35 that appear not to be a direct family member of the Thutmoside king's families. Perhaps the best choice must be the mummy in the coffin inscribed for Nibsoni and known as "Unknown man C". Described in his 1912 "Mummies Royal" G. E. Smith refers to the mummy as "tall, vigorous man","must have seemed a very giant amongst them, and is hardly likely to have sprung from such puny stock".

Mr. Smith makes this statement in reference to the XVIII Dynasty king's found in the cache with our unknown man "C". He say's little more about this mummy other than the mummy had been riffled in modern times before the official discovery of the tomb. Unfortunately, the research on this individual is sparse though Mr. Smith believed the mummy's arm position suggests he dates before Thutmosis II.

A contender from around the correct period of the early Thutmoside king's including the reign of Hatshepsut. A couple thoughts have come to me in that the king's cache tomb DB 320 held a box with the name of Hatshepsut though the body of that king was not found in that cache. The box seems to be all that was collected from its find-spot unless it was found, and came into DB 320 with one of the mummies found there.

It has come to my notice that many if not most of Senenmut's statues are in good condition suggesting that he and his statues did not face a thorough damnatio memoriae after death, and that might make the smashed sarcophagus an anomaly that could have occurred hundreds or even thousands of years after Senenmut's passing.

From the king's cache at Deir el-Bahari was found the small box that contained the tooth belonging to the mummy identified as Hatshepsut found in Valley of the Kings tomb KV 60. Somehow the box became separate from Hatshepsut's burial. Hard to believe that the reburial commission would take the box and leave the kings mummy behind. There has to be the thought that her mummy was already gone by the time the reburial commission entered whichever tomb the box was found in. Perhaps removed by Thutmosis III, Hatshepsut's successor.

Senenmut had two choices for his burial including a tomb inside the Hatshepsut quarry near her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari. The tomb, when found by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's excavations was completely empty. It suggests that he was buried in his extremely prominent hilltop tomb at Sheik Abd el-Qurna where the smashed sarcophagus was found, and where his parents were buried.

Still, he may have died before Hatshepsut and been buried in her tomb. Thutmosis III or his successors may have removed the queen to KV 60 and left Senenmut and the box still in the tomb when found by the reburial commission, and as such both mummy and box may have ended up together in tomb DB 320.

The Mummies Royal
Photo of Sarcophagus: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo of Senenmut statue in the Brooklyn Museum by Keith Schengili-Roberts
The Royal Mummies, G.E. Smith
Senenmut TT7