Wednesday, February 25, 2015


This portrait was copied from the small unfinished tomb of a son of Harnesses IX of the 20th Dynasty, in the eastern end of the Valley of the Kings, The prince was commander of the army; his side-lock, adorned with a decorative blue and gold band, is indicative of his princely status.

The Pharoah’s Mummy and His Shabti

The Names of Funerary Figurines. Funerary figurines known as shabtis, shawabtis, and ushebtis appeared in ancient Egyptian burials from the 12th Dynasty (about 1938-1759 B.C.) to the end of the Ptolemaic Period, or 30 B.C. (Schneider 16-7). The statuettes were most commonly called shabtis until the end of the New Kingdom (about 1075 B.C.), but villagers at Deir el-Medina (the settlement inhabited by the workmen who built and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings from about 1539 to 1075 B.C.) preferred shawabti. Throughout the Third Intermediate, Late, and Ptolemaic Periods (about 1075-30 B.C.), ushebti was the standard term (Spanel 1986, 249). Like most catalogues, this website disregards shawabti and refers to the funerary figurines as shabtis or ushebtis.

Etymology. Scholars have proposed different theories regarding the etymology of shabti. According to Birch (1864-5) and Newberry (1908), shabti derives from the ancient word swb, meaning “persea tree.” Both claim that shabtis were originally made of this wood. According to Schneider (233), sycamore, tamarisk, acacia, and to a lesser extent, ebony and coniferous woods were used. He suggests that shabti may stem from the verb wsb, meaning “answer” or “respond,” or from words for “food” and “meal” such as s3bw, in reference to shabtis as procurers of food. (Olson [69] notes that while shabti tasks are related to agriculture, shabti texts lack chores associated specifically with the harvest: “The work performed by the funerary figurines was of a preparatory nature, and ended with the planting of the crops.”)

Inscriptions and function. Some shabtis are uninscribed, but most bear a text from Chapter 6 of The Book of the Dead. This spell magically brought to life shabtis to act as substitutes for the deceased and perform his or her obligatory agricultural and other civil service tasks in the Underworld. Some were inscribed with simply the name of the deceased and possibly a funerary formula summoning Osiris, god of the Underworld, on the deceased’s behalf (Scepter I 327). Others, supplied by relatives, included a dedication formula and shabti spell “to cause [both] their names to live” in the Underworld and continue their earthly relationship (Schneider 46; Stewart 8, 12). Some shabtis of the 13th Dynasty (about 1759-1630 B.C.) include hieroglyphs of reptiles, birds, and humans that the artists mutilated fearing that the signs were potentially harmful to the deceased (Stewart 15).

History of Development. Shabtis replaced small, uninscribed wax and clay figurines of the First Intermediate Period (about 2130-1980 B.C.) and varied widely from the 12th Dynasty to the end of the Ptolemaic Period (Scepter I 327). Initially made of wood or stone, shabtis of alabaster (calcite), faience (a glazed ceramic), terra cotta, and occasionally bronze, ebony, and glass began to appear at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty (about 1539-1295/92 B.C.), the most innovative phase in the development of shabtis (Spanel 1989/90, 148). Rare forms include double shabtis and milling servants. Other forms, such as shabtis in costumes of daily life and overseer shabtis wearing projected kilts and holding whips, appeared throughout the 19th Dynasty (about 1292-1190 B.C.) and later (Schneider 260). Worker shabtis in “Osirian pose” (mummiform with arms crossed under their wrappings) carried agricultural equipment including baskets, hoes, and picks (Stewart 37-9). In the Third Intermediate Period (about 1075-656 B.C.), workers wore black bands (fillets) around their heads, and ushebtis of later periods (664-30 B.C.) were always made of faience and had false beards (Schneider 321; Stewart 29).

Numbers of Shabtis. The owner’s economic status and master/servant relationship determined how many shabtis were buried in the tomb. From the Middle Kingdom until the late 18th Dynasty (about 1980-1295/92 B.C.), burials rarely exceeded five shabtis per owner, directly corresponding to the number of former servants owned by the master. Royalty from the 18th Dynasty onwards, who included shabti gangs varying from a few dozen to some hundreds, are an exception. Throughout the 19th and 20th Dynasties (about 1292-1075 B.C.) owners, no longer associating shabtis with individual servants, bought numerous figurines of various materials and quality (Schneider 46, 266-7). By the end of the 21st Dynasty (about 1075-945 B.C.), the number of ushebtis for one owner increased considerably. One burial could contain an “ushebti gang” of 401, with one worker for each day of the year and one overseer for each group of ten workers (Schneider 320). No longer directly associated with individual servants, the figurine’s function altered from substitute to slave. Large numbers of ushebtis circulated throughout the Third Intermediate and Late Periods (about 1075-332 B.C.) and were often made of unfired clay, a cheap substitute for faience (Stewart 44-5).

In Nubia, funerary figurines have been found only in royal tombs. Taharqa, a king of the late 25th Dynasty (about 690-664 B.C.), included more than 1,000ushebtis placed in rows around the walls of his burial chamber (Fazzini 110; Silverman 309; Spanel 1988, 111).

Cost and Distribution. New Kingdom shabtis were relatively inexpensive, costing one to three deben each (Olson 25). In comparison, baskets, workers’ aprons, and simple amulets each cost one deben while footstools and leather sacks were priced two deben each (Gutgesell 372). Simple laborers had around 200 deben (around 30 months’ pay) to spend on their burials (Gutgesell 372). Yet within three New Kingdom cemeteries containing tombs belonging to owners of differing social ranks (“wealthy and less-wealthy”), only a few tombs at each site included shabtis—and not all high-status tombs contained funerary figurines (Olson 303). Because shabtis could be manufactured from materials such as pottery or faience, they were readily available, indicating that expense does not explain the shabtis’ limited distribution (Olson 20, 305). The restricted use of shabtis may suggest some type of divine approval was required or reflect social practices not yet understood.

Stewart (31-2) asserts that clay funerary figurines continued to be made for “commoners” even after the production of royal Egyptian ushebtis ceased with the last pharaoh of the 30th Dynasty, Nectanebo II (362-343 B.C.). According to Schneider (9, 62) shabtis from the 12th Dynasty onwards were produced for privileged citizens and royalty only.

A Mummy's Vitals


New evidence shows that, human sacrifice helped populate the royal city of the dead.
By John Galvin
King Aha, "The Fighter," was not killed while unifying the Nile's two warring kingdoms, nor while building the capital of Memphis. No, one legend has it that the first ruler of a united Egypt was killed in a hunting accident after a reign of 62 years, unceremoniously trampled to death by a rampaging hippopotamus. News of his demise brought a separate, special terror to his staff. For many, the honor of serving the king in life would lead to the more dubious distinction of serving the king in death.
On the day of Aha's burial a solemn procession made its way through the sacred precincts of Abydos, royal necropolis of Egypt's first kings. Led by priests in flowing white gowns, the funeral retinue included the royal family, vizier, treasurer, administrators, trade and tax officers, and Aha's successor, Djer. Just beyond the town's gates the procession stopped at a monumental structure with imposing brick walls surrounding an open plaza. Inside the walls the priests waded through a cloud of incense to a small chapel, where they performed cryptic rites to seal Aha's immortality.

Outside, situated around the enclosure's walls, were six open graves. In a final act of devotion, or coercion, six people were poisoned and buried along with wine and food to take into the afterlife. One was a child of just four or five, perhaps the king's beloved son or daughter, who was expensively furnished with ivory bracelets and tiny lapis beads.

The procession then walked westward into the setting sun, crossing sand dunes and moving up a dry riverbed to a remote cemetery at the base of a high desert plateau. Here Aha's three-chambered tomb was stockpiled with provisions for a lavish life in eternity. There were large cuts of ox meat, freshly killed waterbirds, loaves of bread, cheese, dried figs, jars of beer, and dozens of wine vessels, each bearing Aha's official seal. Beside his tomb more than 30 graves were laid out in three neat rows. As the ceremony climaxed, several lions were slain and placed in a separate burial pit. As Aha's body was lowered into a brick-lined burial chamber, a select group of loyal courtiers and servants also took poison and joined their king in the next world.

Is this how a pharaoh's funeral in 2900 b.c. actually unfolded? It's a plausible scenario, experts say. Archaeologists have been sifting through the dry sands of Abydos for more than a century. Now they have found compelling evidence that ancient Egyptians indeed engaged in human sacrifice, shedding new—and not always welcome—light on one of the ancient world's great civilizations.

"Yellah! Yellah! Yellah!" barks Ibrahim Mohammed Ali, the Egyptian crew boss, spurring his workers to move it, move it, move it. "You are big fat water buffalo! You are dung!" The mostly teenage boys hauling buckets of sand giggle nervously but pick up the pace while keeping an eye on their still ranting foreman. "You chatter worse than a bunch of women!" Standing tall in a loose, flowing galabia and white head wrap, Ibrahim looks somehow wizardly, maybe capable of vaporizing slackers with a cast from the long, intimidating stick-wand he keeps clutched behind his back.

Ibrahim's 125-person crew is working with a team of archaeologists to uncover part of the immense royal burial center at Abydos, located 260 miles (420 kilometers) up the Nile from Cairo. As a line of workers use hoe-like tureyas to scrape away the sand, the so-named bucket boys haul away clanking pails of dirt and pour it like water into the laps of sifters. Excavators are on the ground with trowels in hand, surveyors are plotting the coordinates of artifacts, a photographer is documenting each new find, and illustrators are pencil-drawing an ancient coffin and an infant skeleton.

Kneeling on one knee in the center of this swarm is Matthew Adams, associate director of a multiyear project sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Yale University, and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. Adams is brushing sand away to reveal a smooth, ancient mud floor. "If this is from the time of Aha," he says in a raspy voice dried out from months in the desert, "then it's the oldest funerary enclosure ever found in Egypt. We're talking about the beginning of Egyptian history. Not one trowel has been laid here before now."

Abydos is the source of many of Egypt's most ancient artifacts. In 1988 Günter Dreyer, a German archaeologist, unearthed small bone and ivory tags intricately inscribed with one of the world's earliest forms of writing—crude hieroglyphs developed at about the same time as Mesopotamian cuneiform. In 1991 Adams's mentor and the project's director, David O'Connor, uncovered an eerie fleet of wooden boats buried in enormous brick-lined graves.

Now O'Connor and Adams are digging down into the beginning of Egypt's 1st dynasty, a pivotal period when kings laid down the roots of religion, government, and architecture that would last for the next 3,000 years. Unlike the colossal pyramids of later pharaohs, the more modest burial complexes of the Abydos kings consisted of two separate structures—a tomb and a ceremonial enclosure. The large, walled enclosures where mortuary rituals were performed were situated on the edge of town, while the underground tombs were located more than a mile away on the threshold of the desolate Western Desert, a place known to ancient Egyptians as the land of the dead.

All of the 1st-dynasty tombs and most of the enclosures excavated so far are accompanied by subsidiary graves—hundreds in some cases—containing the remains of elite officials and courtiers. Egyptologists have long speculated that these graves might hold victims of sacrifice but also acknowledged that they could simply be graves reserved for the king's staff, ready to use as each person died naturally.

The question of whether ancient Egyptians practiced human sacrifice has intrigued archaeologists since the late 1800s. Frenchman Émile Amélineau and his English rival Sir Flinders Petrie excavated all the 1st-dynasty desert tombs by 1902. Each had been heavily looted in antiquity, and no royal remains were found except a single bejeweled arm. Still, there was much yet to discover. In Aha's tomb were the remains of dozens of wine vessels, tools, some jewelry, and signs of food. Beside the tomb Petrie discovered 35 subsidiary graves, which he called the Great Cemetery of the Domestics. While he didn't dwell on it in his published papers, he hinted at human sacrifice. Later, in the 1980s, German archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least seven young lions.

The only funerary enclosure standing during Petrie's time was the massive 4,600-year-old Shunet el-Zebib, built by the 2nd-dynasty king Khasekhemwy. The towering shuneh (storehouse), with its three-story walls enclosing nearly two acres of space, still dominates the landscape. Two of Petrie's associates discovered another 2nd-dynasty enclosure, built by King Peribsen, and Petrie returned in the 1920s and found hundreds of subsidiary graves. The graves surrounded three 1st-dynasty enclosures, but curi-ously, Petrie located only one of them. These discoveries led archaeologists to speculate that they had found only half the puzzle of Abydos, and that for each tomb they had uncovered out in the desert, there should be a corresponding enclosure still hidden on the city's edge.
In 1967 David O'Connor came to Abydos to search for, among other things, the funerary enclosures that had eluded Petrie. Almost 20 years later, while digging in the shadow of the shuneh, he made a totally unexpected discovery.

"I opened an excavation pit, and poking into one corner of it was this intrusion," O'Connor recalls. "I knew it was something from the earliest dynasty, I just didn't know what." To O'Connor's amazement, the "intrusion" turned out to be one of 14 ancient boats, each buried in its own brick-lined tomb adjacent to the enclosure of a still unknown king. The boats, which measured up to 75 feet (23 meters) long, were expertly crafted and had been fully functional when buried. They proved to be the world's oldest surviving boats built of planks (as opposed to those made of reeds or hollowed-out logs).

"The boats are like the servants who were buried at Abydos," says O'Connor. "The king intended to use t hem in the afterlife in the same manner that he used them before his death." In life the boats enabled the king to travel rapidly up and down the Nile in a powerful display of wealth and military might. As the Egyptian kings also expected to be kings in the afterlife, the boats would be useful tools.

News of the boats'discovery rippled through the Egyptology world and also energized O'Connor's hunt for the lost enclosures of the first kings. To help focus the search, O'Connor and Adams sought out Tomasz Herbich, a Polish archaeologist who specializes in finding buried ruins with a device called a fluxgate gradiometer, a type of magnetometer. It measures slight variations in the Earth's magnetic field caused by certain types of iron oxides beneath the surface. "These oxides are present in Nile mud," explains Herbich. "And what's the main material used by ancient Egyptian builders? Sun-dried bricks made of Nile mud!"

For nearly a week in 2001 Herbich's assistant walked more than ten miles (16 kilometers) a day over a numbing grid, taking over 80,000 measurements. The survey turned up several small funerary chapels but no enclosures. Then, during Herbich's last hour in the field, his magnetic divining rod finally found royal mud. He downloaded the data onto his laptop, and as the digital map came into focus, he called out, "We have an enclosure!"

Adams and a small crew went to work uncovering part of the enclosure, but the field season was ending, and they had to rebury it and return home. In 2002 O'Connor again asked Adams to go to Abydos, this time to undertake a massive excavation of the new discovery.

After a month of tediously peeling back layers of sand, Adams uncovered jars and wine stoppers bearing Aha's name, confirming that his lost funerary enclosure was at last found.

Once the crew reached the enclosure's floor, they discovered six surrounding graves. Three contained the bodies of adult women, one held the remains of a man, and one held a young child with 25 ivory bracelets embellished with tiny lapis beads. The sixth grave remains unexcavated. In each case the archaeological evidence pointed to a sacrificial death.

"The graves were dug and lined with bricks, then roofed with wood and capped with mud-brick masonry," says Adams. "Above that masonry cap, a plaster floor extends out from the enclosure and covers all the graves." The floor extension is seamless-an important clue, for it would have been impossible to entomb people under the floor except all at the same time.

It's unlikely that 41 people-the six at Aha's enclosure plus 35 at his tomb-would have died of natural causes at the same time. Another possibility is that they died randomly over time and were then stockpiled and reburied en masse. But for O'Connor and Adams, the evidence strongly suggests they were sacrificed.

How were they killed? Petrie believed that he saw signs of post-burial movement in the tomb graves, suggesting that people were alive or semiconscious when buried. Brenda Baker, a physical anthropologist from Arizona State University, examined all the skeletons from Aha's enclosure and found no signs of trauma. "The method of their demise is still a mystery," says Adams. "My guess is that they were drugged."

Or strangled, suggests Nancy Lovell, a physical anthropologist at the University of Alberta. Lovell studied skulls from Aha's tomb and found telltale stains inside the victims' teeth. "When someone is strangled," she explains, "increased blood pressure can cause blood cells inside the teeth to rupture and stain the dentin, the part of the tooth just under the enamel."

It now seems clear that human sacrifice was practiced in early Egypt-as was true in other parts of the ancient world. Sir Leonard Woolley's excavation during the 1920s and '30s at Ur in modern-day Iraq revealed hundreds of sacrificial graves dating back to 2500 b.c. and related to the burial of Mesopotamian kings and queens. Evidence for sacrifice has also been seen in Nubian, Mesoamerican, and several other ancient cultures.

In Egypt enthusiasm for the grim practice seems to have waned quickly. Aha's subsidiary graves are the earliest to be found, and his successor, Djer, embraced the practice with fervor-more than 300 graves flank his tomb, and another 269 surround his mortuary enclosure. But Qaa, the last ruler of the 1st dynasty, had fewer than 30 sacrificial graves beside his tomb, although his enclosure remains lost. And by the 2nd dynasty the practice simply stopped.

O'Connor thinks it ended because the royal staff rebelled. "People tend to say that the Egyptians were becoming more civilized and that's why it stopped, but I think that reflects our own prejudices. These graves included relatively high-ranking people, and the reason it stopped might be more political than ethical." Perhaps it was an honor to serve the king in the afterlife, but it was an honor that could wait.
By the 3rd dynasty Egypt's pharaohs began building their tombs more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) downstream at Saqqara. There, a new tradition arose: The separate tomb and enclosure were combined into a single complex that included a colossal pyramid tomb bounded by the walls of a ceremonial enclosure. The royal necropolis at Abydos lay abandoned for the next 700 years.

Then during the Middle Kingdom the cult of Osiris became a major force in Egyptian religion. Legend held that Osiris, lord of the afterlife, was also Egypt's first king, and so pharaohs dispatched priests to Abydos on a kind of archaeological expedition to locate Osiris's tomb. They excavated several of the 1st-dynasty tombs and ultimately decided that Djer's belonged to Osiris. In so doing they turned Abydos into the mecca of ancient Egypt. Over the next 2,000 years several pharaohs, including Senusret III and Ramses II, built great monuments and temples at Abydos to honor Osiris. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, farmers and pharaohs alike, made the pilgrimage to take part in an annual celebration of Osiris's resurrection. The festival culminated in an elaborate parade that wound from the town past a series of small chapels built to honor the god-king, then up a dry riverbed to the ancient desert cemetery.

Arriving at Osiris's tomb, the pilgrims had no inkling that hundreds of their ancestors-royal staff members sacrificed more than a thousand years earlier-lay buried beneath their feet. Seeking Osiris's blessing for their own passage to the afterlife, the worshippers brought millions of small clay offering pots filled with fruit and smoldering incense. You can still see the potsherds today, piled high like so many hopes that in the wake of death comes eternal life.


This was a site between the second and first cataract of the Nile near WADI HALFA, settled as an outpost as early as the Second Dynasty (2770–2649 B.C.E.). This era was marked by fortifications and served as a boundary of Egypt and NUBIA (modern Sudan) in certain eras. The New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.) pharaohs built extensively at Buhen. A Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 B.C.E.) FORTRESS was also discovered on the site, with outer walls for defense, bastions, and two interior temples, following the normal pattern for such military structures in Egypt. HATSHEPSUT, the Queen- Pharaoh (r. 1473–1458 B.C.E.), constructed a temple in the southern part of Buhen, with a five-chambered sanctuary, surrounded by a colonnade. TUTHMOSIS III (r. 1479–1425 B.C.E.) renovated the temple, enclosing a complex and adding porticos.

The actual fortress of Buhen was an elaborate structure, built partly out of rock with brick additions. The fort was set back from the river, giving way to a rocky slope. These walls supported external buttresses, which were designed to turn south and east to the Nile. A ditch was added for defense, carved out of rock and having deep sides that sloped considerably and were smoothed to deter scaling attempts. A gateway in the south wall opened onto an interior military compound, which also contained the original temples. AMENHOTEP II (r. 1427–1391 B.C.E.) is credited with one shrine erected there.

The fortress of Mirgissa

Mirgissa, the outer northern gate. The fortress of Mirgissa, situated on the western bank of the Nile, c. 16km (10 miles) south of Buhen, is renowned for its impressive outer northern gate. Military architects were well aware that, as the weakest spot within the defence, the gate area had to be highly fortified in order to withstand possible attacks.

In the Middle Kingdom Egypt controlled the Second Cataract as far south as Semna. There it built forts. In fact, under Sesostris I (1964-1916 BC), the forts of Buhen and Kor (on the left bank of the Nile downstream from the Second Cataract) are probably economic units.  The location of Kor at the end of the rapids of the Great Cataract is of an outpost controlling the sending of goods towards Egypt.

His successor, Amenemhat II (1919-1881 B.C.) constructs, upriver from the cataracts, the fortress of Mirgissa, counterpoint of Kor. It controls the river navigation coming from the south.

During the Second Intermediate Period, it is occupied by a Kerma garrison and during the New Kingdom once more by Egyptians. A children's cemetery of the Napatan period and the remains of a Christian building suggest continuity of occupation.

The fort was partially studied by an American team in 1931-1932. Jean Vercoutter took up the excavations when Egypt was authorised by

Sudan to construct the Aswan High Dam. The remains of Pharaonic presence are impressive:

-   A fortress, a fortified town, an open town, cemeteries, a quay, a small fort and a ramp that allows for the pulling of boats or their cargoes overland from one end to the other of the rapids that block the river in this area.

-  The location of Mirgissa is mirrored by the presence of a natural harbour bordered by a natural plain.

-  On an island opposite the fort of Dabenarti dates to the same period. It gives strategic importance to the complex.

According to Francis Geus, who has worked at Mirgissa, this excavation was the most colossal enterprise undertaken by Jean Vercoutter. It runs over more than 2.5 km along the Nile in an essentially rocky environment. To his surprise, the archaeologist discovered in a small sanctuary dedicated to Hathor, ‘mistress of Iu-ka-na', that the famous port of Iken in the Egyptian texts, is no other than the fortress of Mirgissa. The excavations unearthed an impressive number of weapons: lances and javelins with flint heads (some 400) imported from Egypt. The shafts had been devoured by termites but left impressions in the soil.

The fort of Semna South is probably built to protect the fort-depot of Mirgissa.

Faced with the growing power of the kingdom of Kerma, Sesostris III (1872-1854 B.C.) erects in the 8th year of his reign a stela at Semna south, at the extremity of the Batn el-Haggar to mark a zone of influence of the Egyptian territory and so as to impede that any Nubian crossing the frontier, be it by land or in a boat, except those that come to trade at Iken (Mirgissa). After 10 years of reign, he installed his camp at Sai. Six years later, he reinforced the Batn el-Haggar and two other stelae are erected at Semna West and at Uronarti. In the texts, he employs threat and disdain to dissuade any Kushite from taking up arms.

The forts of Semna West, Kumna and Uronarti are completed by a line of exceptional defence with Faras, Shelfak and Askut.

The fortifications of Buhen and Kor were enlarged. The fortresses of Sesostris III are less important but better adapted to a military strategy. The control of this ‘Maginot line' is undoubtedly carried out from Buhen.

The fortresses stand along the river at strategic locations. They carry aggressive names, for example ‘the one that reduces foreign lands'. They embrace the lie of the land, a half-circle at Askut, a triangle at Uronarti. Their size is impressive. Buhen has been calculated to cover 27 000 sq m., Mirgissa is larger still.  It contains official buildings as well as small houses. The excavations have confirmed the presence of granaries, indispensable to an independent life. As for the religious domain, the texts mention the presence of a clergy.

Outside the circuit wall, ateliers form industrial areas. A port completed the infrastructure of the fortresses with storehouses, some of which have been identified at Kor, Askut, Uronarti and at Mirgissa.

It is not until the XVIII Dynasty that the fortresses are once more used without defensive purposes, as in the Middle Kingdom.

From Buhen to Abu Simbel, the Egyptian settlements bordered the Nile: Argin, Debeira West, Akasha, Serra East and West, Faras East and West.

With the creation of the reservoir, most of the constructions in mud brick have been dissolved. Many were almost four thousand years old.

Art and Architecture

A gigantic effigy, one of four 67-foot-high statues of Ramses II, looks out over the River Nile at Abu Simbel. The figures at the bottom represent a few members of the immediate royal family.

With spectacular suddenness, an architecture sprang up that was suitable for kings and gods. Within a century after the first pharaoh of the Old Kingdom mounted his throne, Egyptian builders had graduated from sun-baked bricks to highly sophisticated construction in stone, and their artisans were among the earliest to master this difficult technique. The same omnipotent authority that drafted mass labour for irrigation was able to recruit unlimited sinew to quarry and dress enormous blocks, and to transport them to sites beside the Nile. Within a brief span of 200 years or so, Egypt's builders had so mastered the new material that they had finished the pyramids at Gizeh, wonders of the ancient world and the mightiest royal sepulchres of all time. In succeeding centuries, Egyptian architects flanked the river from the Delta, near the Mediterranean, to lower Nubia, about 800 miles south, with stone monuments that rank with the most impressive of any age.

Art kept pace with architecture. From prehistoric days, craftsmen of the Nile had displayed a sense of beauty and symmetry that touched even the most utilitarian objects—flint knives, stone or pottery household vessels, pins and combs of bone or shell. With the advent of the pharaohs, this aesthetic quality flowered into a mature art, distinctively Egyptian in concept and character. For the next 3,000 years, Egypt produced a graceful and spirited art (that served, among other things, to inspire the great Greek sculptors and artists who followed them centuries later).

Sculptors carved colossal images of impassive gods or rulers in stone, and also fashioned life-sized portraits in stone, wood and copper. Painters added vivid pigments to the works of the sculptors —and also covered temple walls with stately official and religious scenes, and decorated palaces and tombs with animated frescoes. The important buildings of the ancient Egyptians were brilliant with colour.

Travellers from abroad who reached the Valley of the Nile long after its civilization had passed its zenith saw the Egyptians as mysterious, unfathomable. Later ages, drawing conclusions from silent tombs and gigantic monuments, speculated that they must have been a gloomy, oppressed people, preoccupied by thoughts of death and forever hauling huge blocks under the cutting whip of the overseer.

It was, we know now, a totally false picture. Far from being morbid or downtrodden, the Egyptians were sociable and light-hearted, and among the most industrious of ancient peoples. Enamoured of life on earth, they envisaged death merely as its happy continuance.

And life, on the whole, was good in Egypt under the pharaohs. On occasion it was upset by war, political unrest or famine, but in normal times its course flowed serenely. The lot of the peasantry, though hard, was not without its compensations. An Egyptian peasant certainly knew more security and had fewer worries than his counterpart in lands periodically laid waste by conquerors. It is true that his day was spent toiling in another man's fields. But the soil he served provided him and his family with sustenance, though it was usually frugal, and the river was liberal with its fish. During the months when the Nile flood made the fields untillable, he might have been drafted for labour in the quarries or on one of the pharaoh's projects. On the other hand, flood-time was festival time, when all work paused long enough for him to join in celebrating great religious feasts.

From his humble mud-brick home beside the Nile, the peasant might look across the river, busy with its traffic of boats and barges, to where workmen swarmed about some half-completed edifice. Most of the workers—the masons, carpenters and minor artisans—lived as simply and frugally as the peasants did. The sculptors, painters, cabinet makers and other specialists who would add a temple's finishing touches knew a higher standard of living, in prosperous times at least. Their dwellings, like those of the middle-class government bureaucracy, might rise to two storeys and embrace a small garden.


This is the modern name for an ancient religious complex erected at THEBES in Upper Egypt. Called Nesut-Tawi, “the Throne of the Two Lands,” or Ipet-Iset, “The Finest of Seats,” it was the site of the temple of the god AMUN at Thebes. Karnak remains the most remarkable religious complex constructed on earth. Its 250 acres of temples and chapels, obelisks, columns, and statues, built during a period of 2,000 years, incorporate the finest aspects of Egyptian art and architecture and transformed the original small shrines into “a great historical monument of stone.”

Karnak was originally the site of a shrine erected in the Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 B.C.E.), but many rulers of the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.) repaired or refurbished the structure. It was designed in three sections. The first one extended from the northwest to the southwest, with the second part at right angles to the original shrine. The third section was added by later rulers and completed the complex.

The plan of the temple dedicated to the god Amun, evident even in its ruined state, contained a series of well-coordinated structures and architectural innovations, all designed to maximize the strength of the stone and the monumental aspects of the complex. Karnak, as all other major temples of Egypt, was graced with a ramp and a canal leading to the Nile, and this shrine also boasted rows of ram-headed sphinxes at its entrance. At one time the sphinxes joined Karnak and another temple of the god at LUXOR, to the south.

The entrance to Karnak is a gigantic PYLON, 370 feet wide, which opens onto a court and to a number of architectural features. The temple compound of RAMESSES III (r. 1194–1163 B.C.E.) of the Twentieth Dynasty is located here, complete with stations of the gods, daises, and small buildings to offer hospitable rest to statues or barks of the various deities visiting the premises. The pylon entrance, unfinished, dates to a period after the fall of the New Kingdom. Just inside this pylon is a three-chambered shrine erected by SETI I (r. 1306–1290 B.C.E.) of the Nineteenth Dynasty for the barks of the gods Amun, MUT and KHONS (1).

The shrine of Ramesses III of the Twentieth Dynasty is actually a miniature festival hall, complete with pillars and elaborate reliefs. The so-called BUBASTITE PORTAL, built in the Third Intermediate Period, is next to the shrine. The court of Ramesses III was eventually completed by the addition of a colonnade, and a portico was installed by HOREMHAB (r. 1319–1307 B.C.E.), the last ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

The second pylon in the structure, probably dating to the same dynastic era and refurbished by the pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, is graced by two colossi of RAMESSES II (r. 1290–1224 B.C.E.), and a third statue of that king and his queen-consort stands nearby. This second pylon leads to a great HYPOSTYLE HALL, the work of Seti I and Ramesses II, where 134 center columns are surrounded by more than 120 papyrus bundle type pillars. Stone slabs served as the roof, with carved stone windows allowing light to penetrate the area. The Ramessid rulers decorated this hall with elaborate reliefs. At one time there were many statues in the area as well, all removed or lost now. Of particular interest are the reliefs discovered in this hall of the “Poem of PENTAUR,” concerning military campaigns and cultic ceremonies of Egypt during its imperial period. The HITTITE ALLIANCE is part of the decorative reliefs.

The third pylon of Karnak was erected by AMENHOTEP III (r. 1391–1353 B.C.E.) of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The porch in front of the pylon was decorated by Seti I and Ramesses II. At one time four OBELISKS stood beside this massive gateway. One remains, dating to the reigns of TUTHMOSIS I (1504–1492 B.C.E.) and TUTHMOSIS III (1479–1425 B.C.E.) of the Eighteenth Dynasty. A small area between the third and fourth pylons leads to precincts dedicated to lesser deities. The fourth pylon, erected by Tuthmosis I, opens into a court with Osiride statues and an obelisk erected by HATSHEPSUT (r. 1473–1458 B.C.E.). Originally part of a pair, the obelisk now stands alone. The second was discovered lying on its side near the sacred lake of the temple complex. Tuthmosis I also erected the fifth pylon, followed by the sixth such gateway, built by Tuthmosis III.

These open onto a courtyard, a Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 B.C.E.) sanctuary, the Djeseru-djeseru, the holy of holies. Statues and symbolic insignias mark this as the core of the temple. The sanctuary now visible was built in a late period, replacing the original one. A unique feature of this part of Karnak is the sandstone structure designed by Hatshepsut. She occupied these chambers on occasion and provided the walls with reliefs. Tuthmosis III added a protective outer wall, which was inscribed with the “annals” of his military campaigns. This is the oldest part of Karnak, and much of it has been destroyed. The memorial chapel of Tuthmosis III is located just behind the court and contains chambers, halls, magazines, and shrines. A special chapel of Amun is part of this complex, and the walls of the area are covered with elaborate reliefs that depict exotic plants and animals, duplicates in stone of the flora and fauna that Tuthmosis III came upon in his Syrian and Palestinian military campaigns and called “the Botanical Garden.”

A number of lesser shrines were originally built beyond the limits of the sanctuary, dedicated to PTAH, OSIRIS, KHONS (1), and other deities. To the south of the sixth pylon was the sacred lake, where the barks of the god floated during festivals. A seventh pylon, built by Tuthmosis III, opened onto a court, which has yielded vast amounts of statues and other relics from the New Kingdom. Three more pylons complete the structure at this stage, all on the north–south axis. Some of these pylons were built by Horemhab, who used materials from AKHENATEN’S destroyed temple complex at ’AMARNA. A shrine for Khons dominates this section, alongside other monuments from later eras. A lovely temple built by SENWOSRET I (r. 1971–1926 B.C.E.) of the Twelfth Dynasty was discovered hidden in Karnak and has been restored. A shrine for the goddess Mut, having its own lake, is also of interest.

Karnak represents faith on a monumental scale. Each dynasty of Egypt made additions or repairs to the structures, giving evidence of the Egyptians’ fidelity to their beliefs. Karnak remains as a mysterious enticement to the world of ancient Egypt. One Karnak inscription, discovered on the site, is a large granite stela giving an account of the building plans of the kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty. A second stela records work being done on the Ptah shrine in the enclosure of the temple of Amun.

The Karnak obelisks vary in age and some are no longer on the site, having been moved to distant capitals. Those that remain provide insight into the massive quarrying operations conducted by the Egyptians during the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.). The Karnak pylon inscriptions include details about the New Kingdom and later eras and provide scholars with information concerning the rituals and religious practices as well as the military campaigns of the warrior kings of that period.

A Karnak stela, a record of the gifts given to Karnak by ’AHMOSE (r. 1550–1525 B.C.E.), presumably in thanksgiving for a victory in the war to oust the Asiatics, is a list of costly materials. ’Ahmose provided the god Amun with golden caplets, lapis lazuli, gold and silver vases, tables, necklaces, plates of gold and silver, ebony harps, a gold and silver sacred bark, and other offerings. The Karnak King List, discovered in the temple site, is a list made by Tuthmosis III. The document contains the names of more than 60 of ancient Egypt’s rulers, not placed in chronological order.

Suggested Readings: Amer, Amin. The Gateway of Ramesses IX in the Temple of Amun at Karnak. New York: Aris & Phillips, 1999; De Lubicz, Schwaller. The Temples of Karnak: A Contribution to the Study of Pharaonic Thought. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1999; Road to Kadesh: a Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak. Chicago: Oriental Inst., 1990.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Have chisel will chip!

Before recoiling in absolute incredulity that, deep in antiquity, oceangoing mariners from ancient Egypt landed on Australian shores, the evidence unearthed by Michael Terry, the veteran explorer of the Australian interior, should be investigated.

In 1961, on a mining exploration west of Alice Springs, near the Western Australian border, he spotted a carving of a rhinoceros-type animal, with short stumpy legs, a long upswept tail, and a curved back and horn. A short distance away, further search “revealed a horizontal human figure about seven feet long on a cliff face. . . . It seemed to have some kind of headdress, or helmet. There was a proper outline of anatomy. Whereas Aborigines are content to represent legs and arms by straight lines, this figure possessed ankles, calves, thighs and so on” (“Did Ptolemy Know of Australia?” Walkabout, August 1965). Six examples of a “ram’s head” symbol were also found nearby. Both the “rhinoceros” and the horizontal figure were 30 feet above the present ground level, suggesting that the platform used by the carver had eroded away, testifying to their great age. Intrigued by this discovery, Terry embarked on further research into the whole question of pre-16th-century sightings and even landings on the southern continent. He reported that in 1891, Joseph Bradshaw found rock paintings in a cave near the Prince Regent River in Western Australia and quoted him as stating: “the most remarkable fact is that wherever a profile face in shown the features are of a most pronounced aquiline type, quite different from those of the natives we encountered. One might imagine himself viewing the painted walls of an ancient Egyptian temple.”

Terry also documents the finding of a 2,200-year-old coin of Pharaoh Ptolemy IV (221–204 B.C.) by Andy Henderson in 1910, discovered while he was sinking a line of post holes across an Aboriginal track. The coin was two feet below the surface of a gravel ridge in a rain forest, inland from Taylor’s Bay, 10 miles north of Cairns, a location that positively invites enticing speculation because the bay “is an obvious shelter from the south-east monsoon. I hazard that ancient mariners anchored there, and that some of the crew went ashore to explore the tableland, by way of the sole access, the Aboriginal walking-track. Possibly one carried a bag of coins which broke, or in some other way dropped the coin that Henderson retrieved” (“Australia’s Unwritten History.” Walkabout, August 1967).

Of course, it is always pleasant and diverting to indulge in flights of fancy but the impartial observer might conclude that Terry offers a sufficient core of hard facts to warrant further academic research.

Ring Intrusion, Jebel Uwaynat, Sudan/Egypt/Libya

Circular structures are always eye-catching from space since they are such unusual features of the terrestrial landscape. In this respect, the Earth is quite different from all the other terrestrial planets and satellites, on which circular impact structures are by far the most common (and sometimes the only) surface features. This elliptical feature forms the Jebel Uwaynat on the triple point of Sudan, Egypt, and Libya (the topographic feature was used to define the geographic point). The structure is the surface expression of an ancient granite intrusion intruded into the Precambrian metamorphic basement along elliptical ring fractures. The granite is clearly more resistant to erosion than the basement it intrudes, which is mantled by the sand sea of the Sahara. Structures of this sort are common in Sudan and Egypt; they were formed 600 — 700 million years ago during the so-called pan-African event, which affected much of North Africa. Little is known in detail about the Uwaynat structure, which has rarely been visited by geologists. (Uwaynat is spelled various ways, including Aouenat.)

    Ahmed Pasha Hassanein—The discoverer who first published its existence on his 1923 map.
    Prince Kamal al-Dine Hussein (son of Hussein Kamel, Sultan of Egypt)
    Ralph Alger Bagnold—Founder of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and desert explorer
    Pat Clayton—LRDG and Egyptian Government Survey
    László Almásy—Hungarian desert researcher
    H.W.G.J Penderel
    Leo Frobenius
    Hans Rhotert
    Prinz Ferdinand von Lichtenstein
    Mahmoud Marai (who co-discovered the Yam Inscriptions near the southern end of the mountain in 2007)

"Cult of Re" theory

So, why were they built? It is generally accepted that they were tombs for the kings who built them; the fact that some of the pyramids had granite sarcophagi inside them being a major clue, as well as the lack of actual burial tombs being found for the majority of these kings (though one or two did have tombs built as well). But there are those who will point to the fact that no body, or mummy, of a king was ever discovered in any of these pyramids, which is a very good point, until other facts are brought in; namely the known fact that the pyramids were broken into in antiquity and any objects within, if any, were stolen and sold. If one goes into the main burial chamber of the Great Pyramid (the Pyramid of Khufu, or Cheops), which is known as the "King's Chamber", why would a massive granite sarcophagus be in there if it was not to hold a body (inside a coffin), and who, but the king, would be in a position to build such a grandiose edifice? Sometimes it is easier to look at things using common sense rather than looking at ways to disprove the obvious.

How were they built? There are literally thousands of books and papers on this subject, as well as a vast plethora of websites. Learned scholars have written theories about it right through to glorified science-fiction authors, with various architects; archaeologists; engineers; dedicated pyramidologists (yes, they do actually exist); laymen; and an assortment of interested parties, all thrown in for good measure. The simple answer is that there is no answer, or at least no answer that everyone agrees on! Straight ramps; spiral ramps; multi ramps; internal ramps; internal spiral ramps; levers; pulley systems; pulleys based on the Djed symbol; counterweighed shuttles; even aliens! Every known, and unknown, concoction has been theorised and we are still not any closer to the answer as Herodotus in the 5th century BCE, whose 'Histories: Book II' is the first known work that actually mentions a theory on how they were built.

Only if you believe that the ancient Egyptians were simple people, not Einstein's, and would have done things the simple, and easiest, way. They did not go out of their way to invent things, most of their inventions happening by chance, though they were good at adapting things for their own needs: they did not invent the chariot, but when it was introduced by the Hyksos, at the end of the Second Intermediate Period, they adapted it and became one of the most feared, if not THE most feared, chariot armies in the ancient world. Because of our modern day interpretations of hieroglyphs, as well as our better understanding of what tomb reliefs mean, we know that very little changed during the pharaonic period. Because of this many of the theories can be discounted, due to the lack of evidence for them being used for other construction work from the time of Djoser (2667BCE) until the invasion by the Persians (525BCE). Even when the rest of the world was starting to use iron, the ancient Egyptians continued using brass and so there was nothing that can be called unique in the way that they did things. So the pyramids had to be built using the simple tools that they had, as well as the simple methods of transportation, especially for heavy objects. How did the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids? By the simplest method possible!

Why were they built at those sites? Recently this has become a popular question and more books and papers are starting to fill library shelves, with just as many websites dedicated to the subject as well. Again, there is a simple answer to this question and this is that the pyramids were built where they are because they are all on solid outcrops of limestone (well, not so solid in South Dashur, as the Bent Pyramid will testify). This serves 2 major purposes:

1/ a strong base on which to build the pyramid

2/ an adjacent supply of limestone to quarry for building the pyramid

But yet again, the simple is not good enough for some people and various theories have sprung up "proving" why the pyramids were built in those locations. The one that has been most prominent over the past 20 years or so is that they were built where they were to ape the stars in the sky, or the Orion Correlation Theory, with the 3 Giza Pyramids representing the 3 major stars in Orion's belt and the other pyramids representing other stars in the constellation. Many different people have tried to push this theory forward, but just as many have managed to discredit it: the angles are wrong; the land map is reversed; the alignment would have meant the pyramids being about 10,000-15,000 years old. Every theory has its critic! Yes, on paper it looks good, but there would have to be one huge coincidence for the outcrops of rock to be in just the right place as well.

Recently a new theory has been put forward and most of what it says matches known evidence. It is called the "Cult of Re" theory and has shown that the positioning of the pyramids in the various pyramid fields create lines which, when elongated, all reach the same point in modern day Heliopolis in Cairo. Prior to the Greeks renaming the site as the "City of the Sun" it was known as Iunu and there was a huge sun temple, dedicated to the sun god Re, built here. Apart from this idiosyncrasy another interesting fact is that each of the pyramids that line up with Iunu was built by a pharaoh whose name ended with Re. The only field that does not measure up is the one at Abu Sir; the hill on which Saladin's Citadel sits obscures the line of sight, yet interestingly enough, just a few hundred metres to the northwest of the Abu Sir field lie the remnants of a couple of sun temples; and these are in the direct line of site from Iunu. Sun Temples are not near as heavy as pyramids, so could these have been used as some kind of mirror to the cult? Whether this is just another coincidence or not, at least the facts and figures measure up, so perhaps there was another reason for the pyramids being built on the exact spot they occupy in each of the fields.

Why they were built, how they were built and why were they built where they were will go on giving many peoples hours of pleasure working out. The main fact is that they were built and still stand majestically on the edge of the Western Desert for us all to look at, except for those at Zawyet el-Mayitin (near Minya), which is on the East Bank of the Nile, and the pyramid on Elephantine Island that has been accredited to Huni . How many are there? Well, estimates range from 93 to 138 and this discrepancy is mainly due to arguments over what constitutes a pyramid. Most main pyramids had "queens" and/or supplementary pyramids built close to them, but sometimes it is hard to determine whether a pile of rocks is the remains of a pyramid, or just a pile of rocks.

Related links:

Amarna: An Egyptian City

Amarna (ancient Akhetaten) offers an unusually full view of an ancient Egyptian city. Planned as the new capital by the pharaoh Akhenaten (ruled c. 1353- 1337 BC), the city, rapidly built on previously undeveloped land, was inhabited for a short time only. Not long after Akhenaten's death, the city was abandoned in favor of Thebes and Memphis, the previously established royal centers of New Kingdom Egypt. Two factors have helped preserve this site. First, much of the city lies just inland from the flood zone of the Nile, and thus was neither covered with silt nor destroyed by farmers' ploughs. Second, the site was never rebuilt. For its short life and good preservation, Amarna is unusual among ancient Egyptian cities. Air-dried mud brick, with stone or wood for columns and certain details, was the standard building material. Walls have melted or eroded away, with much cut building stone carried off even in New Kingdom times, but nonetheless many ground plans have been recovered. Excavations conducted from the late nineteenth century until 1936, and again since 1977, have revealed much about this city, especially about its overall layout, its city center with palaces and temples, and its suburban houses. Additional evidence for the appearance of the city comes from pictures that decorated tombs.

The city proper lay on the east bank of the Nile, its various sectors linked by a north-south road (the Royal Road) c. 8km long. The territory of the city was much larger, however (an area measuring 16 x 13km2, marked by 14 inscribed boundary `stelai'), that extended across the river to the western desert and included farmlands and small villages. The city was not walled. Desert cliffs to the east were used for rock-cut tombs, including, in a remote valley, that of Akhenaten himself. The population of Akhetaten has been estimated at 20 000-50 000.

The architecture documents social distinctions. First, the great social difference between ruler and ruled is clearly expressed in the contrast between the grandiose royal palaces and the houses used by everyone else. The king resided in a fortified palace in the extreme north end of the city, but the city center contained two additional palaces. The first, the Great Palace, is a huge complex used for receptions and ceremonies. Its plan consists of flat-roofed buildings, courts - notably a large court lined with colossal statues of Akhenaten - and gardens, and larger columned reception halls. Decorations included wall paintings with images of the royal family. A covered bridge across the Royal Road connected the Great Palace with the King's House, a smaller palace in which the king met with officials and dealt with day-to-day affairs. This building contained the Window of Appearances, from which the king, accompanied by his family, could address the people.

Near the palace was the Great Temple, for worship of Akhenaten's preferreddeity, the Aten (life force depicted as a sun disk). Much of this large (730 x 229m2) compound was open to the sun - a contrast with the usual temple residence of Egyptian gods, a small, dark room. The open area contained several hundred offering tables. A butcher's yard and a large bakery complex located nearby contributed to the supply of offerings.

The city center also contained, in fairly symmetrical arrangement, storehouses, police barracks, and administrative buildings, including the Records Office in which the important Amarna Letters were found, clay tablets recording correspondence with foreign states in western Asia.

In outlying districts to the north and south of the city center, excavations of private houses have given a good idea of the lives of Amarnans of all social levels. Here overall planning was much looser than in the city center; Kemp has compared these districts to collections of villages or neighborhoods, with walled house compounds randomly arranged, interspersed with streets and garbage dumps. Houses of both rich and poor resembled each other in design, differing mainly in size. The typical house was built on a low platform inside its walled compound. The focus of the ground plan was a main hall with an adjacent twostory loggia, both with a higher roofline, held up by columns, with windows. The main room might contain a low brick platform where the owner and his wife would sit, a plastered stone washing place for water jars, and a shrine. Off this main room lay smaller rooms, bedrooms, toilets and bathrooms (from which liquid wastes drained into the ground outside), storage rooms, and stairs up to the flat roof. Outside the house, the compound would contain a garden, a well for water, servants' quarters, kitchens (with circular clay ovens for baking bread, open fires for the rest), storage areas, a shelter for animals, and a shrine to the Aten. These compounds served as economic centers, collecting food products from lands leased or owned, either near (in Amarna) or further away in the owner's home region, and for crafts or manufacturing. An example of this last is the house of the sculptor Thutmose; in his workshop was found the well-known painted bust of Queen Nefertiti.

Although Egyptian cities are otherwise poorly preserved, because of the silt covering brought by the Nile flood or subsequent rebuilding, our knowledge of the daily life of the ancient Egyptians is highly detailed. This we owe to Egyptian burial practices - in which tomb decorations and grave offerings reproduce the elements of the deceased person's material world as faithfully as possible - and to the preserving qualities of the dry climate (and burials were placed in the desert areas, beyond the fertile farm lands nourished by the annual rising of the Nile). In addition, the long life of this civilization ensured that these burial concepts continued to be practiced for over 3000 years, leaving us a wealth of examples to study.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Apart from two world wars, the slaughter of millions by totalitarian regimes and, though less certainly, the extension of Homo sapiens' dominion to the moon, no single event in the twentieth century had so profound an impact, nor set up so many resonances, as the discovery of the tomb of Nebkheperu-Ra Tutankhamun (c. 1333-1323 BC) in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The story has been told countless times: how Howard Carter and his employer, the Earl of Carnarvon, after years of largely fruitless excavation in Egypt, in virtually the last days of their concession to dig in the Valley came upon the burial place of the least of the monarchs of the New Kingdom and found it a treasure trove the like of which the modern world had never seen. At once all the stories which had entranced generations since storytelling began, of the finding, in a remote and secret place, of treasures beyond computation, were given the force of truth.

The effect of the discovery was extraordinary. In the immediate aftermath of a particularly dreadful conflict which had caused the deaths of millions, which had destroyed a world which had endured, largely unchanging, for centuries, and which was the prelude to world-wide repression, depression and deprivation, the discovery of this golden boy and his incalculable riches was bound to be an event of great power. It was the more so since, for the first time, the distant past could be brought to life by the application of all the techniques of modern publicity and media exploitation. This last consequence of the discovery has continued without abatement ever since.

The contents of Tutankhamun's small, hidden tomb, with its six little rooms-the very modesty of their scale made it easy for a wide public to identify with them, if not so readily with what they contained-were, in Carter's word, `wonderful'. The abundance of gold and gilding alone would ensure that a world increasingly bereft of splendour would respond with wonder and delight at their revelation. Whilst honesty compels the observer to acknowledge that some of the objects with which the king was buried were, when judged by the highest standards of Egyptian art, of dubious taste, some are superlative: most are of outstanding craftsmanship, even when the design is not of the happiest.

Tutankhamun's tomb reveals the heights which Egyptian technique, especially in wood-carving, gilding and the making of fine jewels, had achieved in the New Kingdom. Workers in precious metals and in a thousand specialisations were recruited, organised and set to work on the king's treasury for the afterlife, all to be completed in the seventy days from death to the final interment in his House of Millions of Years. His tomb was entered by robbers, probably not long after his burial. For whatever reason they left hurriedly, and did not return. The tomb was then entirely forgotten until the twentieth century.

Tutankhamun's paternity is still doubtful, though it is likely that he was a son of Akhenaten, by one of his lesser wives, not by Nefertiti. He was a child when he succeeded: a charming object from the tomb, the golden haft from a walking stick, shows him as a chubby little boy, wearing the warrior's blue crown and holding himself very upright with his stomach drawn tightly in, as no doubt his tutors had instructed him. Little is known of his reign, though it is clear that the priests of Amun who had been dispossessed by Akhenaten reasserted their authority, moved the capital back to Thebes, renamed the king, hitherto Tutankhaten, and execrated `the Heretic of Amarna', cutting away his name wherever it was to be found in inscriptions. But, though his life was obscure and his reign relatively unimportant, the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb gave the world some idea of what it was to be a king of Egypt.

Part of the significance of the recovery of Tutankhamun, for his body was preserved as well as his regalia and possessions, was accounted for by the fact that he was so small a king, amongst the least of the great monarchs who had enjoyed the Dual Kingship, whose very existence had been questioned only a short time before Carter found him in the Valley. If the discovery had been of one of the great Thutmosids or Amenhoteps, for example, paradoxically the impact might not have been as great as the finding of this boy, the formulation of whose given name was unique in all the annals of Egypt before or after his brief lifetime; he died when he was probably about 19 years old.

Thus this most obscure of the kings of Egypt became the most familiar of all, his name applied to countless objects, designs, films and books. It was as if the world had been waiting for his return; the myth of the Returning King is an enduring one and in Tutankhamun's case it had become reality. He was the archetype of the Young Prince, the Beautiful Boy, the Puer Aeturnus, who awaits rebirth constantly in a variety of forms, some benign, some deeply menacing.

But Tutankhamun was all light. The scenes which showed him, with his young wife, hunting in the marshes on his skiff and in the myriad of ushabti figures, some of the finest carvings in the tomb, portray a young prince, carefree and by no means especially god-like.

The portraits of Tutankhamun in his tomb show a remarkable consistency which suggests that they are close to actual likeness. He is represented as quite exceptionally beautiful, an essential quality of the archetype; following the reign of Akhenaten, when there was some attempt to represent the royal family naturistically, a practice which continued in Tutankhamun's lifetime, it can, with reasonable assurance, be assumed that the portraits show the king much as he was. In later years, had he lived, he would no doubt have grown as portly as his likely grandfather, Amenhotep III, whom he somewhat resembles. But Tutankhamun was never to be old.

The circumstances of his burial were remarkable enough. His mummified body, badly affected by the action of the resins in the process which was supposed to preserve it, was contained in a series of magnificent gold coffins, each one with a representation of the king, each subtly different as though the craftsmen were representing the king in different moods, or, simply, as he was seen to each. One of the coffins, the second, was probably intended originally for Smenkhkara and hence is not a portrait of Tutankhamun at all.  The coffins, one inside the other, are hugely bulky; in turn they are contained inside a series of three wooden shrines, which carry on them a version of the Book of the Dead, the spells and prayers designed to carry the King safely to the afterlife, which descend ultimately from the ancient Pyramid Texts, through the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom. The shrines are built on the scale of rooms; the outer shrine is notable for the four exquisite figures of goddesses who stand by them, their wings and arms outstretched protectively around the king's mummy. Even so small a king as Tutankhamun could expect to have gods and goddesses at his service.


The gold mask which covered the head of King Tutankhamun is one of the most familiar of Egyptian icons. The most moving reproduction of the mask is this photograph, less familiar than those which show it after it was cleaned. This was the first record of the mask, taken when it was uncovered by Howard Carter in the king's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The dust and the remains of the garlands which were placed in the king's coffin give this image a living, deeply moving quality.

But the noblest of all the representations of Tutankhamun, which emphasises his divinity and the majesty of his office, is the immense gold mask which was placed over the head of his mummy, in the innermost of the coffins; after the Pyramids it is perhaps the most universally reproduced of all Egyptian artifacts. This is not the portrait of a slender boy but of a god-king, living for ever and ever. Few photographs do the mask justice: gold is a difficult material to photograph without it assuming the consistency of brass. The most successful is perhaps the first to be taken, by Harry Burton, the American photographer who was present in the tomb from the time of its opening.

In Burton's photograph the mask appears still wreathed with the garlands which were laid around it more than three thousand years before. The presence of the flowers and the little smudges of dust which Burton and Carter did not remove, to avoid destroying the garlands, give the mask an extraordinary living presence.

When cleaned and cleared of the scattering of flowers the mask is magnificent, a triumph, if not of high art, then certainly of the highest craftsmanship. But it is clearly an artifact whereas, in Burton's photograph, the king lives.

The impact of the discovery of Tutankhamun can perhaps best be appreciated by comparing the finding of his tomb with the near-contemporary excavation of the Royal Tombs at the Sumerian city of Ur by Sir Leonard Woolley. For barbaric splendour combined with grand guignol, the great death pits at Ur should totally have eclipsed Tutankhamun, yet they did not do so.

Woolley found a number of burials, sunk deep in what was evidently a royal or sacred burial site, on the outskirts of Ur, one of the most important of Sumer's city-states. The burials were much earlier than Tutankhamun's, c. 2600 BC, and thus earlier even than the Giza Pyramids. Altogether Woolley found sixteen burials which he believed were of royal personages. In the stone-lined vaults, deep in the earth, were found the remains of highstatus burials, attended by the most elaborate panoply of death. The principal occupants of the tomb were attended by ranks of courtiers, musicians, soldiers, wagoners (with their wagons and the oxen which drew them) all neatly laid out, for a carefully organised ceremony of death.

The artifacts which were buried with them were of the most superb craftsmanship, elegant, austere but at the same time extremely rich in material and adornment. They are, it must be said, very un-Sumerian in design and craftsmanship.

Unlike the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb, which has never been professionally published, Woolley unleashed a stream of sumptuous and detailed reports on his excavations, supported by many popular publications. 7 Yet for every thousand people who know the name Tutankhamun there may be one who recognises Ur and its royal burials, even when it carries its biblical ascription `of the Chaldees' with its putative connection with Abraham, the Friend of God.

The reason for the lesser impact of the Royal Tombs of Ur is that they were not redolent of the archetypes in the way in which the tomb of Tutankhamun was so liberally provided. Sumer, despite the fact that it is probably the culture in which writing evolved into something more than a simple device for the convenience of accountants, has never caught the world's imagination in the way in which Egypt has done. Waiting in his tomb for three thousand two hundred years, Tutankhamun was the heir to all the immense accumulation of wonder and respect which Egypt had engendered and, in his own person, was to be identified as an archetypal figure such as only Egypt could apparently produce.

Tutankhamun was the last lineal descendant of Ahmose, who had founded the Eighteenth Dynasty more than two hundred years earlier. What has been interpreted as the marks of a blow behind his ear and a displaced piece of bone, possibly dislodged from the interior of his skull, have prompted suggestions that he was murdered. He left no heir though two female foetuses were found in his tomb, perhaps his children who had been born prematurely. He had married a daughter of Akhenaten, Ankhesena'amun, whose name had been changed from Ankhesenpa'aten. She brings her own small element of tragedy to the decline of the Thutmosid house. Evidently bereft at the death of Tutankhamun, for they are often depicted, like two flower children, charmingly engaged in simple pleasures (and she it was who scattered flowers in his tomb), she appealed to the great King of the Hittites, Suppiluliumas, to send her one of his sons, that he might become King of Egypt. That such a message was sent at all is a measure both of the desperation of Ankhesena'amun and those around her and of the state of Egypt. Suppiluliumas agreed and despatched his son Zennanza with a suitable escort south to Egypt. He never reached Ankhesena'amun for he was murdered on the way. Of Ankhesena'amun, nothing more is ever heard.

Scientists solve 3,000-year-old pharaonic whodunit

Photo: The Mummified upper body of Ramses III, a pharaoh believed to have reigned from 1186 to 1155 BC. ( G Elliot Smith)

Forensic scientists believe they have solved a 3,000-year-old royal murder mystery and uncovered the secret of how and why Egypt's last great pharaoh was killed.
The first scans of the mummified remains of Ramses III reveal a seven-centimetre-wide gash in his neck, suggesting his throat was slit.

Ramses, a king revered as a god, met his death at the hand of a killer, or killers, sent by his conniving wife and ambitious son, scientists said.

And a cadaver known as the "Screaming Mummy" could be that of the son himself, possibly forced to commit suicide after the plot, they added.

Computed tomography (CT) imaging of the mummy of Ramses III showed the pharaoh's windpipe and major arteries were slashed and reaching almost to the spine.
The cut severed all the soft tissue on the front of the neck.

"I have almost no doubt about the fact that Ramses III was killed by this cut in his throat," palaeopathologist Albert Zink of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy said.
"The cut is so very deep and quite large, it really goes down almost down to the bone - it must have been a lethal injury."

Ramses III, who ruled from about 1188 BC to 1155 BC, is described in ancient documents as the "Great God" and a military leader who defended Egypt, then the richest prize in the Mediterranean, from repeated invasion.

He was about 65 when he died, but the cause of his death has never been clear.
Sketchy evidence lies in the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, which recorded four trials held for alleged conspirators in the king's death, among them one of his junior wives, Tiy, and her son Prince Pentawere.
Photo: A papyrus showing the reign of Ramses III, believed to have ruled as pharaoh over Egypt from 1184 to 1153 BC. (AFP)

In a year-long appraisal of the mummy, Professor Zink and experts from Egypt, Italy and Germany found the wound on Ramses III's neck had been hidden by mummified bandages.
"This was a big mystery that remained, what really happened to the king," Professor Zink said of the study, published by the British Medical Journal.

"We were very surprised and happy because we did not really expect to find something.
"Other people had inspected the mummy, at least from outside, and it was always described (as) 'there are no signs of any trauma or any injuries'."

It is possible that Ramses' throat was cut after death, but this is highly unlikely as such a practice was never recorded as an ancient Egyptian embalming technique, the researchers said.
In addition, an amulet believed to contain magical healing powers was found in the cut.
"For me it is quite obvious that they inserted the amulet to let him heal for the after-life," Professor Zink said.

"For the ancient Egyptians it was very important to have an almost complete body for the after-life" and embalmers often replaced body parts with sticks and other materials, he said.

'Screaming mummy'

Photo: The Screaming Mummy may have been forced to kill himself over the assassination plot against Ramses III.

The authors of the study also examined the mummy of an unknown man between the ages of 18 and 20 found with Ramses III in the royal burial chamber.

They found genetic evidence that the corpse, known as the Screaming Mummy for its open mouth and contorted face, was related to Ramses and may have been Prince Pentawere.
"What was special with him, he was embalmed in a very strange way.... They did not remove the organs, did not remove the brain," Professor Zink said.

"He had a very strange, reddish colour and a very strange smell. And he was also covered with a goat skin and this is something that was considered as impure in ancient Egyptian times.".

If it was Pentawere, it appears he may have been forced to hang himself, a punishment deemed at the time as sufficient to purge one's sins for the after-life, the researchers said.

History shows, though, that the plotters failed to derail the line of succession. Ramses was succeeded by his chosen heir, his son Amonhirkhopshef.