Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Egypt in Space: A Brief History of 'Pyramids of Mars' - Nile Scribes

Egypt in Space: A Brief History of 'Pyramids of Mars'

This week, in further recognition of Egyptomania in science fiction to celebrate the start of Doctor Who's Season Thirteen, the Nile Scribes welcome the expertise of Egyptologist and cultural historian, John J. Johnston as our guest blogger. As an expert in all things ancient Egypt and Doctor Who, we invited John to tell our readers more about the famous Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (1975) serial which was the theme of last week's blog.

"Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness." – Sutekh

The serial's title card (Photo: BBC)
The serial's title card (Photo: BBC)

Guest Scribe: John J. Johnston

As a fan of 'Doctor Who' from a ridiculously early age – I have distinct memories of watching The Underwater Menace before my second birthday – and, later, much later, as something of a 'Doctor Who' scholar, having lectured and written about various aspects of the series for both academic and general audiences, the 1975 serial Pyramids of Mars has, since its first broadcast, held a special place in my budding Egyptological heart. It is an extraordinarily atmospheric tale, capitalising, beautifully, on the BBC's world-renowned expertise in producing period dramas with authentic-looking sets and costuming, elegantly enabling the suspension of disbelief, necessary for a tale of ancient cosmic horror.

The Doctor and Sarah explain the situation to                      Laurence Scarman (Michael Sheard) in his intricately                      recreated lodge (Photo: BBC)
The Doctor and Sarah explain the situation to Laurence Scarman (Michael Sheard) in his intricately recreated lodge (Photo: BBC)

Robert Holmes' script, hastily written when it became apparent that the somewhat byzantine script, originally commissioned from Lewis Greifer, would prove entirely unworkable onscreen. Out, therefore, went the scenes, which were to have been filmed in the British Museum and the alien plan to propagate the surface of Mars with ancient seeds – a reference to the Victorian myth of 'mummy wheat.' Instead, Holmes' four episode adventure concentrates upon the efforts of an ancient and extraordinarily powerful alien, Sutekh, to escape from his prison-tomb in the First Dynasty necropolis of Saqqara, where he had been incarcerated by his own race, led by his brother Horus, five thousand years before.

Sutekh (Gabriel Woolf) imprisoned for eternity (photo: BBC)

Set in 1911, Robert Holmes draws upon his personal fascination for late Victorian literature, by reworking aspects of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 short story, Lot Number 249, with its murderous mummy lumbering through the leafy Oxfordshire countryside and, more particularly, Bram Stoker's 1903 novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars, with its impotent but malevolent ancient sorceress, working through modern archaeologists in order to effect her resurrection. Perhaps, most evidently, the script is an homage to the mummy films produced by Universal Studios (1932-1954) and Hammer Films (1959-1972). Bernard Archard's lisping, sepulchrally voiced, undead Egyptologist, Professor Marcus Scarman, is distinctly Karloffian, and the entire production is a monument to cinematic Egyptomania.

The series' regulars, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, are on top form with Baker's usually affable Doctor palpably raising the stakes for the audience through his portentously stern portrayal during these episodes.

The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah (Elisabeth                      Sladen) find little opportunity for levity as Sutekh                      attempts to break free from his ancient bonds                      (Photo: BBC)
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) find little opportunity for levity as Sutekh attempts to break free from his ancient bonds (Photo: BBC)

The serial is however, built around Gabriel Woolf's magnificently still portrayal of Sutekh, last of the Osirians: a creature of enormous destructive power and a petty, gloating disregard for all life. Imprisoned, elegantly masked and robed, upon his throne, costume designer Barbara Kidd's chief inspiration is evidently the tiny schist figurine, dating from 3800-3500 BC, known as the 'Barbu de Lyon,' and excavated at Gebelein by Louis Lortet in 1909.

The 'Barbu de Lyon' in the Musée des Confluences, Lyon (photo: Musée des Confluences)

However, it is Woolf's elegantly cultured vocal performance, which effortlessly captures Sutekh's psychopathic fascination with chaos and destruction. Woolf invests his portrayal with a disturbingly sadistic element, as Sutekh, calmly and chillingly, promises to keep the Doctor, "alive for centuries, racked by the most excruciating pain" as "an amusing diversion." This is, in so many respects, the Seth of Chester Beatty Papyrus I, the dissembling, vicious but calculating sexual predator. It is powerful material to be broadcast at 17:45 on a Saturday evening.

Using the power of his mind, Sutekh prepares to                      shred the Doctor's nervous system (Photo: BBC)
Using the power of his mind, Sutekh prepares to shred the Doctor's nervous system (Photo: BBC)

Throughout the serial numerous Egyptological artefacts from canopic jars – generator loops operating a force-field – to mummies – bandage-wrapped service robots – are revealed to be aspects of advanced alien technology, wrongly interpreted and appropriated by Egypt's predynastic inhabitants. Happily, however, the serial owes rather more to the work of Nigel Kneale than the pseudo-archaeological theories, which had begun to proliferate during the 1970s.

The serial is also tremendous fun: a mid-Victorian Gothic folly, stuffed with Egyptian sarcophagi, containing ambulant mummies designed to release an ancient evil…Who could fail to love Pyramids of Mars? Who…?

One of Sutekh's service robots searches the                      priory grounds for intruders (Photo: BBC)
One of Sutekh's service robots searches the priory grounds for intruders (Photo: BBC)

Pyramids of Mars by Stephen Harris (Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer), produced by Philip Hinchcliffe, and directed by Paddy Russell. First broadcast on BBC One between 25 October and 15 November 1975

John J. Johnston is a freelance Egyptologist, Classicist, and cultural historian. A former Vice-Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society, he has lectured extensively at institutions such as the British Museum, the British Film Institute, the National Museum of Scotland, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. His research interests encompass mortuary belief and practice, gender and sexuality, Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, the history of Egyptology, and the reception of ancient Egypt in the modern world. In addition to contributing numerous articles to both academic and general publications, he has co-edited the books, Narratives of Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Literary Linguistic Approaches (Peeters, 2011), A Good Scribe and an Exceedingly Wise Man (Golden House, 2014), and a collection of classic mummy fiction, Unearthed (Jurassic London, 2013). He has also contributed substantially to the documentary extras on a number of recent Blu-Ray releases of gloriously restored Hammer Films. You can follow John on Twitter: @JohnJJohnston

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16th century edition of Ibn Al-Jawzi book seized at Cairo International Airport - Islamic - Heritage - Ahram Online

16th century edition of Ibn Al-Jawzi book seized at Cairo International Airport

Nevine El-Aref , Monday 15 Oct 2018
book 1
A 16th century edition of a book by Muslim scholar Abu Farag Ibn Al-Jawzi (1126 - 1200 CE) has been seized at Cairo International Airport before it could be smuggled out of the country.

Hamdi Hamam, head of the Central Administration for Archaeological Units in Egyptian ports, told Ahram Online that the manuscript was seized at the customs department at Cairo International Airport inside the luggage of a passenger.

Ali Ramadan, director of the archaeological unit at Cairo International Airport, explains that the book is part of a series of books by Ibn Al-Jawzi on history and heritage titled Mirror of Times.

The book will be handed to the Ministry of Antiquities to be sent to the Museum of Islamic Art for restoration after the completion of investigations.


The book describes several historical events since the beginning of humanity until the death of its author.

The book, comprised of 732 papers divided into three separate parts, is inked in black and red and is decorated with gilded geometric ornaments.



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Egypt Exploration Society | Funding available for research
Surveying the standing remains at Shalfak. © Claudia Näser.

Funding available for research

Applications are now invited for our Fieldwork and Research Grants and Centenary Awards to support fieldwork and research in Egypt or Sudan.

Full details and eligibility criteria can be found here.

Applications for the 2019-20 Grants and Awards will close on Friday 14 December 2018 at 5pm (GMT). Any applications received after the deadline will not be considered. Interviews will not be held; applications will be considered by the Society's Research Committee in January 2018 and applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application no later than 31 March 2019.

Proposals must be emailed to before the deadline.

These Grants and Awards are made possible thanks to the generous contributions from our members and supporters around the world. Details of projects currently supported by their donations are available here. We continue our commitment to helping students and scholars of Egyptology by providing this funding alongside an extensive programme of educational training workshops for the next generation of scholars.

We would like to thank our supporters for enabling us to offer these opportunities and look forward to receiving your applications.

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Extensive trade in fish between Egypt and Canaan 3,500 years ago -- ScienceDaily

Extensive trade in fish between Egypt and Canaan 3,500 years ago

October 15, 2018
Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz
Some 3,500 years ago, a brisk trade in fish on the shores of the southeastern Mediterranean Sea had already begun. This conclusion follows from the analysis of 100 fish teeth that were found at various archeological sites in what is now Israel.

Jaw with a durophagous dentition consisting of teeth with thick enamel of the gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata): The large molariform tooth was used for oxygen isotope analysis and to estimate the size of the fish.
Credit: Copyright Guy Sisma-Ventura, Israel

Some 3,500 years ago, there was already a brisk trade in fish on the shores of the southeastern Mediterranean Sea. This conclusion follows from the analysis of 100 fish teeth that were found at various archeological sites in what is now Israel. The saltwater fish from which these teeth originated is the gilthead sea bream, which is also known as the dorade. It was caught in the Bardawil lagoon on the northern Sinai coast and then transported from Egypt to sites in the southern Levant. This fish transport persisted for about 2,000 years, beginning in the Late Bronze Age and continuing into the early Byzantine Period, roughly 300 to 600 AD. "Our examination of the teeth revealed that the sea bream must have come from a very saline waterbody, containing much more salt than the water in the Mediterranean Sea," said Professor Thomas Tütken of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). The geoscientist participated in the study together with colleagues from Israel and Göttingen. The Bardawil lagoon formed 4,000 years ago, when the sea level finally stabilized after the end of the last Ice Age. The lagoon was fished intensively and was the point of origin of an extensive fish trade.

As demonstrated by archeological finds, fishing was an important economic factor for many ancient cultures. In the southern Levant, the gilthead sea bream with the scientific name of Sparus aurata was already being fished by local costal fishermen 50,000 years ago. More exotic fish, such as the Nile perch, were already being traded between Egypt and Canaan over 5,000 years ago. However, the current study shows the extent to which the trade between the neighbors increased in the Late Bronze Age and continued for 2,000 years into the Byzantine Period. "The Bardawil lagoon was apparently a major source of fish and the starting point for the fish deliveries to Canaan, today's Israel, even though the sea bream could have been caught there locally," stated co-author Professor Andreas Pack from the University of Göttingen.

Fish teeth document over 2,000 years of trade

Gilthead sea bream are a food fish that primarily feed on crabs and mussels. They have a durophagous dentition with button-shaped teeth that enable them to crush the shells to get at the flesh. For the purposes of the study, 100 large shell-cracking teeth of gilthead sea bream were examined. The teeth originate from 12 archeological sites in the southern Levant, some of which lie inland, some on the coast, and cover a time period from the Neolithic to the Byzantine Period. One approach of the researchers was to analyze the content of the oxygen isotopes ^18O and ^16O in the tooth enamel of the sea bream. The ratio of ^18O to ^16O provides information on the evaporation rate and thus on the salt content of the surrounding water in which the fish lived. In addition, the researchers were able to estimate the body size of the fish on the basis of the size of the shell-cracking teeth.

The analyses showed that some of the gilthead sea bream originated from the southeastern Mediterranean but that roughly three out of every four must have lived in a very saline body of water. The only water that comes into question in the locality is that of the Bardawil lagoon, the hypersaline water of which has a salt content of 3.9 to 7.4 percent, providing the perfect environment for the growth of sea bream. The Bardawil lagoon on the Sinai coast is approximately 30 kilometers long, 14 kilometers wide, and has a maximum depth of 3 meters. It is separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow sand bar.

"There was a mainland route from there to Canaan, but the fish were probably first dried and then transported by sea," added Tütken. Even back then, sea bream were probably a very popular food fish, although it is impossible to estimate actual quantities consumed. However, it became apparent that the fish traded from the period of the Late Bronze Age were significantly smaller than in the previous era.

According to the researchers, this reduction in body size is a sign of an increase in the intensity of fishing that led to a depletion of stocks, which is to be witnessed also in modern times. "It would seem that fishing and the trade of fish expanded significantly, in fact to such a degree that the fish did not have the chance to grow as large," continued Tütken, pointing out that this was an early form of the systematic commercial exploitation of fish, a type of proto-aquaculture, which persisted for some 2,000 years.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Sisma-Ventura Guy, Tütken Thomas, Zohar Irit, Pack Andreas, Sivan Dorit, Lernau Omri, Gilboa Ayelet, Bar-Oz Guy. Tooth oxygen isotopes reveal Late Bronze Age origin of Mediterranean fish aquaculture and trade. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-32468-1

Cite This Page:

Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz. "Extensive trade in fish between Egypt and Canaan 3,500 years ago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2018. <>.
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'I'm Indiana Jones - with prosthetics' - BBC News

Oxford Professor heads back to Egypt after losing legs

Dr Liz Frood lost her legs, nose and the use of her hands after developing sepsis three years ago.

For the first time since surviving the condition, the Associate Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford has returned to Egypt to work.

Every year, 44,000 people in the UK lose their lives to sepsis, according to the UK Sepsis Trust.

See more on Inside Out South on BBC One in the south of England on Monday at 19:30 BST.

  • 15 Oct 2018
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Lost in Time: Egyptian Photographer Captures Egypt's 1920s Fashion | Egyptian Streets

Lost in Time: Egyptian Photographer Captures Egypt's 1920s Fashion


Egyptian photographer Mohsen Othman, also known as 'Le Mosen' recreated Egypt's roaring 20s fashion in a photo series called 'Lost in Time' reflecting Egypt's appreciation for fashion and art during a time that greatly impacted the country's cultural identity.

Le Mosen believes that "just like Egyptology, fashion is an eloquent witness of the changes that have taken place around the corners of this iconic country." His photo series sheds light on Egypt's fashion influence.

Collen Darnell in "Lost in Time" by Mohsen 'Le Mosen' Othman

The 1920s was a turning point in Egypt's cultural history. That decade, British archaeologist Howard Carter, who was sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, discovered Tutankhamun's tomb located in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. This discovery echoed across the world attracting tourists to visit the ancient land and ultimately turned Egypt into a cosmopolitain hub.

At that point, Egypt was not only an attractive country because of its unique location and rich history, but also because it now became a cultural exchange center.

Collen Darnell in "Lost in Time" by Mohsen 'Le Mosen' Othman

The uncovered tomb sparked a wave of 'Tutmania'. Motifs inspired by ancient Egyptians were used in art, design, architecture and fashion commencing a new era known as the 'Egyptian Revival'.

In an interview with the BBC during the Tutankhamun's exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, co-curator Paul Collin said, "There was an extraordinary outpouring of games and ceramics and costumes and posters. Everybody wanted a little bit of Tut."

Collen Darnell in "Lost in Time" by Mohsen 'Le Mosen' Othman

Headpieces embellished with stones and jewels inspired by ancient Egyptian crowns became a fashion statement of the roaring 20s. Beaded evening dresses and gowns were also a staple piece during that era. In fact, beads set the ground for many of the 1920s fashion, from necklaces to dresses and headpieces because beads were the main decorative element during the ancient Egyptian time.

Collen Darnell in "Lost in Time" by Mohsen 'Le Mosen' Othman

Egyptologist Colleen Darnell has had a long admiration for Egyptian history as well as vintage fashion. She described the pivotal discovery as a "crucial event" that has reinforced her love for Egypt which heavily influenced her fashion sense.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Balmain creates fashion-forward mummies for SS19 | MENAFN.COM

Balmain creates fashion-forward mummies for SS19

(MENAFN - Daily News Egypt) At a time when humans were merely attempting to survive each day at a time, they were building a civilisation for their descendants, thousands of years in the future. Ancient Egyptians have mesmerised humans for centuries after their time, and their heritage has been celebrated through various forms of expression.

With that said, the fashion world has always been the biggest fan, and most accurate narrator. Many of the world's most celebrated designers have competed to reinterpret this vast theme, adding their own vision to an enchanting era.

While the world's most renowned designers have been running towards the future with minimalistic and progressive collections during Paris Fashion Week, Balmain chose to combine the past with the present. The French luxury fashion house looked to the 7000-year civilisation to visualise the summer-spring 2019 collection.

Known for magnificent tailoring and unorthodox materials, Balmain, under the creative directorship of Olivier Rousteing, turned mummies into a fashion uniform for the upcoming season. Bandages were used as an inspiration for several deconstructed dresses, certainly embracing the brand's signature silhouettes. At the same time, the designer was also tempted by the visual identity of Heliographic patterns. Many of the collection's show-stopping designs carried these symbols on their sleeves.

According to Rousteing, his true source of inspiration was, in fact, Paris: the 'City of Lights' hosts impressive obelisks, pyramids, and columns that date back to Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt. The collection also embraces a white and black colour pallet that speaks of light and confidence.

Balmain was founded in 1945 by Pierre Balmain. After its founder, many designers have served as creative director of the Parisian luxury house, notably Oscar De La Renta. Rousteing arrived to the coveted position in 2011. His work has successfully managed to bring the brand closer to a younger audience, and revive its legacy.


Balmain creates          fashion-forward mummies for SS19
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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Egyptian archaeologist 'ashamed' of London's treatment of Cleopatra’s Needle - The National

Egyptian archaeologist 'ashamed' of London's treatment of Cleopatra's Needle

Zahi Hawass claims British refusal to celebrate 'hidden' treasure in central London infuriates Egyptians 

Cleopatra's Needle                  next to the river Thames in London, England. Alamy
Cleopatra's Needle next to the river Thames in London, England. Alamy

One of Egypt's most celebrated archaeologists is calling for London to return the Cleopatra's Needle obelisk on the banks of the Thames if the city will not restore the monument.

Zawi Hawass, a former minister of state for antiquities, told The National the 21-metre-high obelisk should be the centrepiece of a binational celebration in 2019 to ensure the public are more aware of its history.

Cleopatra's Needle is one of two obelisks gifted to the UK and US by the Khedive Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1819. Its American twin is located in New York's Central Park but the London version stands in an unloved part of the Victoria embankment.

Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the Khedive's gift of Cleopatra's Needle to Britain. It was given to commemorate Lord Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercrombie's victories over the French in the battles of the Nile and Alexandria during the Napoleonic Wars.

Cleopatra's Needle being encased for its                      transportation to the embankment, London, circa                      1877. Getty Images
Cleopatra's Needle being encased for its transportation to the embankment, London, circa 1877. Getty Images

Although it was officially granted to the UK in 1819, it took a further 59 years to begin to transport the 224-tonne stone from Alexandria to the UK. During the journey, it was almost lost in a storm at sea but was eventually placed in its current position in September 1878.

The obelisk was originally made for Pharaoh Thotmes III 1460 BC and is almost 3500 years old. It was restored in 2005, but since then, Dr Hawass says, it has been forgotten.

"I don't believe, as an archaeologist, that any squares in Egypt or outside of Egypt should have pharaonic statues or obelisks, it's bad," the man dubbed Egypt's Indiana Jones told The National. "The location should be in a temple or museum, not in a square.

"But if it is in a square, it should be treated nicely. I went to see it yesterday and I was ashamed."

In addition to restoring the obelisk, Dr Hawass would like to see the government create a site management programme to allow the obelisk to be seen by the public and to celebrate the bicentenary.

"If they don't care, they should return it," he told The National.

However, Dr Hawass sees returning the obelisk as a last option, stating his belief that the English people "deserve" to have it.

"The English, they care about the pharaohs, they care about Ancient Egypt, I can see that from my lectures and the emails I receive," he said.

Egyptian archaeologist and former minister of                      antiquities Zahi Hawas in front of the Giza                      Pyramids, on December 6, 2017. AFP
Egyptian archaeologist and former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawas in front of the Giza Pyramids, on December 6, 2017. AFP

"I am excavating now in the Valley of the Kings and I see many English tourists and I see the love in their hearts".

Dr Hawass has not spoken to UK officials about the obelisk, but says he is submitting a report on the issue to the current minister of antiquities in Egypt, asking him to write to the London Mayor's office with his suggestions.

Yehia Segini, who is part of a group endeavouring to preserve Alexandria's colonial-era heritage, is another campaigning for a commemoration of the bicentenary of the obelisk's gifting. He is fundraising to build a replica of Cleopatra's needle to be placed where the original once stood in Alexandria, and a celebration at both monuments to commemorate the gift.

"The common people need a more visible and tangible way by which they can start to think of the West as a friend rather than foe," Dr Segini wrote in a letter to London's mayor Sadiq Khan requesting his backing for the project in August. "Symbolic acts may be more valuable now than ever before."

This isn't the first time Dr Hawass has criticised the way Egyptian artefacts have been displayed in the UK. When the British Museum displayed footballer Mo Salah's boots alongside pharaonic artefacts, Dr Hawass said: "If the British Museum wanted to honour Salah, it should have built a museum for him or put the shoe in a special room," calling the decision "completely inappropriate".

The UK government was not immediately available to comment.

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Did a mummy's curse sink the Titanic? Probably not, but the Washington Post once suggested that it did.
Brow Beat

One Month After the Titanic Sank, the Washington Post Suggested a Mummy's Curse Was to Blame
The culprit, as pictured on the cover of Pearson's Magazine, August 1909.
Pearson's/Wikimedia Commons

One of the great pleasures of reading old newspapers is their credulous approach to the supernatural. The modern-day San Francisco Chronicle would presumably not run an article headlined "A HEADLESS GOBLIN," reporting that a Missouri man found nude in the street claimed his clothing had been stolen by—you guessed it—a headless goblin, but the Chronicle of 1887 was more than happy to. The New York Times' definition of news that was fit to print was once expansive enough to include stories like "A Homicide Pursued by the Ghost of His Victim" (June 20, 1869), "A Talking Ghost in Virginia" (Feb. 2, 1871) and "A Talking Ghost in Nevada" (Nov. 24, 1872). And the Washington Post had an absolute mania for these sorts of stories into the early twentieth century. Between 1904 and 1912, the paper ran four lengthy feature articles about the supposed exploits of a single cursed mummy, the Unlucky Mummy, under these probably not-entirely accurate headlines:

• "Face on Mummy Cace [sic] Comes To Life Again," June 19, 1904.
• "Strange Mystery of a Mummy: Is This Priestess Still Alive At the Age of 3500 Years and Capable of Exercising Her Weird Powers?" April 26, 1908.
• "Coffin Carries Curse: Mummy Case of Priestess Has Sinister Record," Sep. 17, 1910.
• "Ghost of the Titanic: Vengeance of Hoodoo Mummy Followed Man Who Wrote Its History," May 12, 1912.

That last headline means exactly what you think it does: less than a month after the Titanic sank, the Washington Post ran a story blaming the whole thing on a mummy's curse. It's unclear why the Post covered the cursed mummy beat so doggedly, although their decision to end the 1912 version of the story with a lengthy excerpt from William Butler's autobiography suggests that filling space was a concern, as does their decision to refer to Butler's autobiography as "the autobiography of the late Lieutenant General the Right Honorable Sir William F. Butler, Grand Commander of the Bath, which was published last year by Constable & Co., Ltd., of London." Still, it matters what you use to fill space, and if you're going to publish fake news, better that it be about cursed mummies than, say, "economic insecurity." So just in time for Halloween, here's the complete text of the all-time hottest take on the sinking of the Titanic, as published in the newspaper that eventually cleaned up its act enough to sink Nixon. –Matthew Dessem

Ghost of the Titanic


Was the avenging spirit of an Egyptian priestess who died in the holy city of Thebes 1600 years before the birth of Christ present upon the Titanic, pursuing with immortal malevolence those who had desecrated her tomb and her memory? Did the curse pronounced 35,000 years ago by the storied Nile upon all who should insult her bones have power to rush down the centuries into the age of wireless telegraphy and the waters of the New World?

In the twentieth century, with its general rejection of the supernatural, these questions will at once be pronounced absurd. But even now persons will be found to take the problem seriously, because of the mysterious series of shocking tragedies which have befallen all who had to do, either in deed or in word, with the mummy case of a priestess of the College of Amen-Ra which now stands in the First Egyptian Room of the British Museum.

Among those who would not have been skeptical was the famous English editor, William T. Stead, who perished when the Titanic foundered, and who would, in all probability, consider himself as the latest of the long line of victims of the priestess's ancient malice.

Although trained in the modern rationalistic thought, Stead had a strong bias toward the supernatural, as was shown in his well-known interest in occultism and Spiritualism. At the saloon table of the Titanic he related to a fellow passenger, Frederick K. Seward, an uncanny tale of the adventures of the mummy in the British Museum, which had punished, he said, with great calamities all who had written his story. He told of one person after another who had come to disaster after writing its sinister history.

"I know the story, but I shall never write it," added the veteran publicist, thus betraying how powerfully the somber doom of many less credulous persons had affected him.

Stead did not say whether ill luck would attend the mere telling of the story, but it is difficult to see what distinction the malignant priestess would make between the written and the spoken word. The difference in affront would seem to be at most one of degree, not of kind. At any rate, a few hours after Stead related the grewsome narrative with obvious respect, his body lay lifeless beneath 2,000 fathoms of water.

The perilous tale, as related by Stead, was probably in gist as follows, the account being taken from the English edition of Pearson's Magazine for August, 1900.

About 1,000 years before Christ, a priestess of the College of Amen-Ra lived and died in the mighty city of Thebes. Possibly she was a royal personage; she appears at least to have been of high rank, but of her name and life-history nothing is known. No doubt her body was embalmed with all the care that the Egyptians, particularly the priests, bestowed upon this work, an essential part of their religion. The mummy was inclosed in its wooden shell and placed in the appointed burial place of the priests and priestesses of the college.

Probably the burial place was carefully hidden, for the object of embalming was that the body should remain preserved for the use of its owner on her return from the under-world; and the body of the priestess lay in peace through the centuries, until at last it was disturbed by a roving band of Arabs. This was about 60 years ago, and in some way the mummy was separated from its case, and disappeared.

About the middle of the sixties a party of five friends went in a dahabia for a trip up the Nile. They went to Luxor, on their way to the Second Cataract, and there explored Thebes with its temple to Amen-Ra, unequaled on earth for its ruined magnificence.

A well-known English lady of title entertained the party, and the Consul, Mustaph Aga, gave a fete in their honor. One night, the Consul sent to his friends an Arab, who reported that he had just found a mummy case of unusual worth.

Next morning he brought the case for inspection. It bore the painting of a woman of strange beauty, but the dark eyes stared into vacancy with a cold malignity of expression. The case was brought by one of the party, Mr. D., who, however, agreed to draw lots for possession of the treasure; and the case passed to a friend, who may be called Mr. W.

Almost immediately it was recalled afterward with awe the vengeance of the ancient priestess began to display itself. It was as if she were hovering, a gloomy and implacable Nemesis, above them, armed with power to strike them even in their financial affairs in distant London. On the return trip one of the members of the party was shot accidentally in the arm by his servant, through a gun exploding without visible cause. The arm had to be amputated. Another died in poverty within a year. A third was shot. The owner of the mummy case found on reaching Cairo that he had lost a large part of his fortune, and died soon afterward.

If the inferences of the tale are to be believed the spirit of the priestess, with unappeasable wrath, did not halt at the confines of Egypt, but pursued the despoilers of her wooden shroud even to Great Britain. When the case arrived in England it was given by its owner, Mr. W., to a married sister living in London. At once large financial losses were suffered.

One day the famous theosophist, Mme. Blavatsky, entered the room in which the case had been placed. She soon declared there was a malignant influence in the room. On finding the cover, she begged her hostess to send it away, declaring it to be a thing of the utmost danger. The owner, however, laughed at this idea as a foolish superstition.

Presently she sent the case to a well-known photographer in Baker street. Within a week he called upon her in great excitement to say that although he had photographed the case with the greatest care, and could guarantee that no one had touched either his negative or the photograph, the portrait showed the face of a living Egyptian woman staring straight before her with an expression of singular malevolence. Soon afterwards the photographer died suddenly and mysteriously.

About this time Mr. D. happened to meet the owner of the coffin lid, and, hearing her story, begged her to part with it; and she sent it to the British Museum. The carrier who took it died within a week and the man who assisted him met a serious accident.

This is the history as it was verified by the late B. Fletcher Robinson, who for three months was at pains to gather the tangled threads of evidence, and who declared that every one of the fatalities was authentic. He himself seems to have thought that when the mummy's case arrived at the Museum, the anger of the spectral priestess would at last be appeased, for he wrote:

Perhaps it is that the priestess only used her powers against those who brought her into the light of day, and kept her as an ornament of a private room; but that now, standing among Queens and Princesses of equal rank, she no longer makes use of the malign powers which she possesses.

How poor a prophet Robinson proved was shown a few weeks after he penned this hope, when he himself died at an early age, after a brief illness. And now, as the latest link in the chain of disasters intimately connected with the painted mummy case, comes the tragic death of William T. Stead, at the height of his powers and fame, soon after he had ventured to relate the sinister story of the Theban priestess.

The Egyptian's religious faith in the resurrection of both the soul and the body, which students hold is embodied in the Apostles' Creed, made the rifling of a tomb the most infernal of impieties. It was held that if the soul returned from its journey to the under-world and was unable to find its body, it would be compelled to wander for eternity, unhoused, forlorn, and accursed. Hence the art to which the Nile dwellers brought the art of embalming, by which bodies have been preserved even unto to-day; hence, the enormous labors of the pyramids, the tombs of Egyptian Kings, whose bulk has defied time and those cunningly intricate passages, concealing the royal sarcophagi, frustrated until recently the curiosity of man; hence the frightful imprecations written upon the mummy case against irreverent hands which would molest them.

The mummy case in the British museum is not the first Egyptian relic which has been credited with malign powers. Two such cases are recorded in the autobiography of the late Lieutenant General the Right Honorable Sir William F. Butler, Grand Commander of the Bath, which was published last year by Constable & Co., Ltd., of London.

The author told of meeting a number of newspaper correspondents during the campaign to relieve Gordon at Khartoum. One of these, he related, was "one of the most dauntless mortals I ever met in my life. The story of his end is so strange that I must tell it here."

"I first met him in California in 1873," Sir William continued, "on my way from British Columbia to the West Coast of Africa. We next met at the Cataract of Dal, where I found him attempting to work up the Nile in a tiny steam launch which held himself, a stoker, and one other person. He was wrecked shortly after, but got up with the naval brigade, made the desert march and was present with Lord Charles Beresford in his action at Wad Habeshi, above Metemmeh.

"On his way up the Nile he had indulged in the then, and now, fashionable tourist pursuit of tomb-rifling and mummy-lifting, and he had become possessed of a really first-class mummy, which, still wrapped in its cere-cloths, had been duly packed and sent to England.

"When the Nile expedition closed he went to Somaliland, and, somewhere in the foothills of Abyssinia, was finally killed by his elephant and was buried on a small island in a river flowing from Abyssinia southward. The mummy got at Luxor eventually reached London. The correspondent's friends, anxious to get their brother's remains to England, sent out a man with orders to proceed to the spot where he had been buried and bring the remains home.

"This man reached the river, together with the Somali hunters who had accompanied the deceased on the hunting expedition the previous year, but no trace could be found of the little island on which the grave was made. A great flood had descended from the Abyssinian mountains, and the torrent had swept the island before it, leaving no trace of grave or island.

"Now comes the moral. The mummy was in due time unwound in London, and the experts in Egyptology set out to decipher the writings on the wrappings. Truly were they spirit rappings! There, in characters about which there was no caviling on the part of the experts, was written a varied series of curses upon the man who would attempt to disturb the long repose of the mummified dead.

" ' May he,' ran the invocations, 'be abandoned by the gods. May wild beasts destroy his life on earth and after his death may the floods of the avenging rivers root up his bones and scatter his dust to the winds of heaven.' "

--   Sent from my Linux system.

The British Museum --- the problematic yet enduring appeal of Antiquities

The British Museum --- the problematic yet enduring appeal of Antiquities

Tom Teicholz

In London last month, my first stop was to visit the British Museum. Going there seemed an urgent priority. My thinking was that in such turbulent contemporary times, it is reassuring to see the classics of antiquity, those fundaments of Western Civilization that remain. At the same time, given our shifting ethical rationales concerning antiquities, I wanted to see again those British Museum treasures which may, sooner or later, be returned to their countries of origin and explore my feelings about that.

Arriving at the Museum, I made a beeline for the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta StoneTom Teicholz

Right of the main entryway and the Norman Foster-designed enclosure for the reading room sits the Rosetta Stone. It is a very dark slab of basalt whose top left corner has been sheared off, and whose front is covered in ancient script. More to the point, it is covered in three ancient scripts, Greek, Demotic (script of an Egyptian spoken language) and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

It is very much the kind of totem that you can imagine inspiring Stanley Kubrick's monolith in 2001. And, when I visited, it was mobbed by a crowd of Chinese tourists taking selfies in front of it.

The reason is simple: The Rosetta Stone is one of those artifacts that doesn't disappoint.  It has a look of significance, yet it does not give up its secrets easily. That is part of its charm.

Today it is believed that the stone, which dates to two hundred years before the common era, was a proclamation and, as such, was one of many similar stones placed in temples for the Egyptian populace to see.  Once its use was no longer needed, the stone was "recycled" – discarded and reclaimed for use in the walls of a fort outside Cairo.

However, in 1798, Napoleon, then a French military leader, led a campaign to conquer Egypt and extend the French Empire to the Middle East. Napoleon, being Napoleon, and France being France, Napoleon's conquest was not purely political, it was also cultural. Napoleon's Army travelled with its own battery of scholars tasked with appropriating whatever cultural treasures they came across. Napoleon even placed a bounty for doing so.

On July 19, 1799, while rebuilding a fort near the town of Rosetta, some 30 miles outside of Cairo, a French soldier Pierre- Francois Bouchard found the irregularly shaped dark stone as part of a wall, and surmising its significance (and his possible reward), alerted his superiors who convinced of its importance alerted Napoleon himself. Napoleon's bragging rights were short-lived.

In 1801, upon Napoleon's defeat, under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria, the stone became property of the British Empire.      The Rosetta Stone was placed on display in the British Museum in 1802 and has been there ever since (Except during World War One when it was moved for safety to the Holborn subway station underground for protection).

Deciphering the Stone's hieroglyphic text took another two decades and a competition between rivals -- British Scholar Thomas Young and French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion. Young was first to find that some of symbols stood for the sound of Ptolemy's name. Champollion went further, uncovering that hieroglyphics which were thought to be a symbolic language was actually a visual interpertations of the phonetics of Egyptian words. Champollion was able to compile an alphabet of hieroglyphs that allowed Champollion to fully decipher the Stone in 1824.

What is significant is that the same decree – that a cult of priests who venerate the Pharaoh Ptolemy support his regime is listed three times in the three different languages. Until the Rosetta Stone was uncovered no one could decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphics. But now they had a key.

The discovery of the Rosetta Stone led to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics and Ancient Egypt. Ever since – the Rosetta Stone has signified finding a touchstone, a decoding mechanism, to greater understanding.

Given that the Rosetta Stone was not a treasured Egyptian icon, and its possession was awarded to Britain by treaty, Britain's claim to the Stone is strong. However, Egypt could request its return as being culturally significant and deserving of a place of honor in a museum of Egyptian archeology in Alexandria or Cairo. More people would see the Stone in London than in Cairo – but if a perfectly rendered 3-D copy were made would I mind that it wasn't the original – I'm not sure I would.

Two Horsemen Elgin Marbleswikimedia commons

More problematic are the treasures several rooms away in the British Museum. The Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles as they are also called, are housed in a nearby gallery specially constructed to hold them. They represent a series of sculptures that Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed from the Parthenon between 1801 and 1812 and represent about half of the Parthenon's marbles.

Lord Elgin claimed that he had acquired the collection with permission of the Ottoman Empire which then ruled Greece but there is no original documentation to support this (there is what purports to be an English translation made of an Italian copy of the purchase receipt at that time). From its arrival, the acquisition of the sculptures was controversial, with public figures such as Lord Byron condemning them as products of cultural pillage.

However, after debate in Britain's Parliament exonerated Elgin, he sold the Marbles to the British government in 1816 who installed the marbles in the British Museum where they reside to this day – despite continued protest from the Greek government. Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour party leader, no stranger to controversy, has said that he would return the marbles to Greece upon becoming Prime Minister.

The Parthenon Frieze is almost 250 feet long and depicts battles between sons of Apollo, the Lapith warriors and the Centaurs (half men-half horse).

It is hard to describe the effect of the marbles other that being in the presence of such antiquity and the beauty that arises out the human struggle imagined in mythic form builds to the recognition that this is a treasure. Also, the recognition that beauty and the ability to convey it in stone existed several centuries ago, provides a connection through the ages demonstrating that humanity is amazingly the same, despite what sophistication we imagine the present to hold.

However, as to who's treasure it is, and who should be the custodian, I can understand why several hundred years ago England saw itself as a better guardian, or even imagined the ownership of such treasures a spoil of empire, and why it means so much to Greece to have them returned. One can argue that there were times in the last 200 years when the British Museum did a better job of preserving the marbles than if they had been left on the Parthenon – yet the conservation methods used by the British are not without their own faults and consequence.  In absolute numbers, more people would see the marbles in London than in Athens, yet seeing them there (even if they are housed in the Parthenon museum rather than in the Acropolis itself) would be an incomparable experience, and have no small measure of poetic justice.

Regardless, the point is to go see them – that doing so is a profound experience – and that we must continue, one way or another, in one place or another (or in several) to make an encounter with them possible.

I am an award-winning journalist and producer who has created print, video and online media content for Intel, The Museum of Tolerance and The Milken Family Foundation; and my work has appeared on The Huffington Post,, The NY Times Magazine, Interview Magazine, ...


Tom Teicholz is an award-winning journalist based in Santa Monica, CA and co-host of "The Buried Lede: Beyond the Bylines," a podcast about journalism

--   Sent from my Linux system.