Saturday, March 17, 2018

Solar alignments in Ancient Egypt - Features - Egypt - Ahram Online

Solar alignments in Ancient Egypt

Nader Habib watches the sun's rays shining on the faces of Ancient Egyptian gods at an exhibition at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum in Alexandria

Nader Habib , Saturday 17 Mar 2018
Solar alignments
Head of the Antiquities Museum at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Hussein Abdel-Bassir among the audience listening to the explanation of Ahmed Awad, the exhibition curator (Photo: courtesy of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina)
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The title of a current exhibition at the Antiquities Museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria was peculiar enough to arouse the curiosity of this writer.

Through a friend of a friend I got in touch with the curator of the "Chapels of the Sacred Horizon" exhibition, who explained that the horizon referred to was where the Ancient Egyptian afterlife began or ended.

I decided I had to find out more about the enchanting world of the Ancient Egyptians who even today still mesmerise the globe.

Ahmed Awad, the exhibition curator, is a researcher and professor at the Faculty of Engineering Department of Architecture at 6 October University.

His exhibition at the Antiquities Museum investigates the phenomenon of solar alignment where the sun illuminates the faces of statues of the Ancient Egyptian gods at different times of the year. Awad's academic thesis also discussed the symbolism of architecture in Ancient Egypt.

Awad has investigated the sun's relationship to Ancient Egyptian religion, dividing his research into four main parts.

The first looks at the sun in Ancient Egyptian religion, it being seen as a sacred celestial body embodying the creator.

The Ancient Egyptian religion contains material on the genesis of the universe and the beginning of sun worship, and its myths recount the daily journey of the sun across the sky and its three sacred phases.

According to Awad, the sun is the dominant god in Ancient Egyptian religion.

The second part of his research looks at the theological status of the temple in Ancient Egyptian religion, as well as the religious symbolism of its main architectural components.

He thinks that Ancient Egyptian temples and chapels represented a "celestial isthmus" which the sun god took as a passage to the afterlife lest he got lost in the underworld.

Thirdly, in his research Awad rejects the findings of previous researchers, especially those of an Egyptian-Spanish mission in 2007 which used religious beliefs in Ancient Egypt to identify the direction of sacred buildings.

Previous research has not tackled Seshat, the goddess of architecture, wisdom and astronomy, he says.

Fourthly, Awad's research relates the astronomical phenomenon of the sun to the Ancient Egyptian belief that on certain festival days the spirit of the god or the Pharaoh returns to a statue.

In the exhibition he has provided photographs of temples and chapels where solar alignment takes place, such as the Deir Al-Bahari temples, Deir Al-Shalweit, the Temple of Hibis, the Temples of Dendara, Philae and Edfu where annual rites of birthing were once held, as well as Gabal Al-Selsela, the Temple of Al-Ghweita and Deir Al-Hagar.

"I have made a detailed study of the direction of Ancient Egyptian temples and chapels. My conclusion is that all of them face the sun either in a direct way related to the three sacred phases of the sun — sunrise, noon and sunset — or in a symbolic way that relates to the theological idea of sunrise in Ancient Egyptian religion," Awad told Al-Ahram Weekly.

"Light and darkness had great importance in Ancient Egyptian beliefs.

Light represented life, and darkness death. Therefore, strong sunlight signified the power of the god Ra, whose sun rays descend from the sky to the earth to give it life. Sunlight was seen as the creating power that erases darkness and renews creation.

When the sun god dies and descends into the underworld, he is reborn when the sun touches his body. In Ancient Egyptian myth, Osiris came alive again when he was touched by the sun, and along with him all good people whose deaths were related to Osiris," Awad added.

"Strong sunlight was directly related to the return of the spirit to the dead, which is why Ancient Egyptian temples contain statues and images of those who built them.

During annual festivals when the solar alignment takes place, the statue or inscribed images become vessels that host the return of life into the person, be he a king or a god. An example of this can be found at the Dendara and Edfu temples, where there are inscriptions depicting a winged solar disc arriving along with the spirits of the gods," Awad said. 

In Search Of Sunlight: Varying climatic conditions may lead to the sun being hidden, like when it did not shine on the Abu Simbel Temple on 22 February 2016 even though this day has been designated as the annual sun festival since ancient times. 

"Ancient religious beliefs explained solar eclipses as a temporary victory for the forces of darkness and chaos. Ancient scriptures mentioned that the enemies of the sun were three natural forces: storms, which affect the sunrise and sunset; clouds, which hide the sun; and the cold, which affects all creatures and angers the god of the sun.

The enemy of the sun was often depicted in the form of a snake," Awad explained.

From there comes the importance of the sun in Ancient Egyptian theology, also explaining the importance the Ancient Egyptians gave to solar alignments when the sun illuminates the faces of gods in temples and chapels.

"The architecture of a temple or chapel is a representation of the celestial isthmus that connects the world and the underworld. The structure of the building is a manifestation of the transportation of the sun god and his sacred convoy between the two worlds, across the two dimensions of time and space," Awad said.

Ancient texts prove how entrenched this solar phenomenon was in the creed of the Ancient Egyptians. Some texts and inscriptions depict rituals of "unity with the solar disc" or the "chapels of the sun god".

The walls of temples in Thebes carry inscriptions saying that it is the will of the sun god to rise in the east after his disappearance in the underworld.

On the walls of the Temple of Amenhotep III in Luxor, there is a message from Amun Ra, for example.

"My son from my body, Neb-Mat Ra, Amenhotep III, I am your father who loves you. Your face is beautiful, and your heritage is great. I celebrate my achievements. My heart is happy to see your beauty resembles Ra on the horizon… You speak like the king of Lower Egypt and are reborn as the king of Upper Egypt and rule what the sun disc has in the house of your father Amun Ra, master of the two worlds, who stands in front of Karnak, whose coronation took place on the throne of Hur for the living, just like Ra, forever," it says.

"This text refers to the presence of the god Ra in front of the Karnak Temple in Luxor at sunrise, indicated by the illumination of the temple when the sun is perpendicular to it. This happens annually on 21 December, the day of the winter solstice," Awad explained.

Head of the Antiquities Museum at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Hussein Abdel-Bassir said that "astronomical phenomena in Ancient Egypt played an important role in the lives of its people.

The Ancient Egyptians didn't work haphazardly. Everything was planned and systematised, whether in administration, engineering or astronomy."

"When Awad discovered how the phenomena of solar alignment work in a scientific and organised manner in many of the temples and chapels of the Western Desert and in Qena, Luxor and Aswan, it was like a revelation. It proves that we have laid our hands on the scientific methods the Ancient Egyptians used for constructing their buildings, just like in the case of the Giza Pyramids," Abdel-Bassir said.

"The Pyramids lie at a central point on the Giza Plateau, with temples and the ramp road surrounding them. This indicates that the Ancient Egyptians excelled in the fields of astronomy and engineering and that the solar alignment that takes place at the Abu Simbel Temple is not by chance or simply a coincidence," he added.

"Some archaeologists have dismissed Awad's findings over the past three years.

But his study leaves no room for doubt that the phenomenon of solar alignment has taken place annually on a certain day from Ancient times until today. Even when the Abu Simbel Temple was moved, the sun still illuminated it on a certain day, though this happened some days earlier.

The different date is because the temple was moved and not relocated at the same angle," he explained.

"As archaeologists, we are always thrilled to work with engineers and astronomers, because their findings complement our own. Their contributions to the study of different aspects of Ancient Egyptian society helps us to draw a more accurate picture of the lives of the Ancient Egyptians," Abdel-Bassir said, adding that some aspects of these remain unknown.

"This is why research in other fields such as medicine and pharmacology is still needed to understand medical papyri the secrets of which have yet to be revealed," he added.

"We want to know how the Pharaohs lived and died and how they were treated for illnesses. The main quality of the Ancient Egyptians, however, is that their work was always accurate and systematic. They must have strongly believed in its value," he said.

According to Mona Dabbas, deputy director of the Antiquities Museum, attendance at the exhibition has been overwhelming.

"It presents something unusual, even for archaeologists and specialists in the field. Everybody is aware of the solar alignment at the Abu Simbel Temple, but few knew about all the other places where the sun's rays fall on the faces of the gods on other days," she said.

"This is sure to have a positive effect on tourism, especially at the places Awad presents in the exhibition."

Awad himself said of his research that "it is not the first conducted in this field, but it has reached better results in identifying the solar alignments in the Ancient Egyptian temples and chapels.

Maybe others will continue researching in this area and reach more accurate measurements. It depends on what technology has to offer in the future to better probe into the secrets of the Ancient Egyptians.

Solar alignments at Ancient Egyptian temples

Solar alignments

The famous phenomenon of the sun's rays falling on the face of a statue of the Pharaoh or a god at particular times of the year, in other words solar alignment, is not restricted to the Abu Simbel Temple in Upper Egypt.

Solar alignments

Deir Al-Hagar Temple

The sun's rays fall twice annually on a rock platform at the Deir Al-Hagar Temple on 9 March 6:25 am and 5 October 6:03am. The platform is inscribed with a royal cartouche, indicating that the text within it is a royal name. Some have suggested there may be a statue of Amun Ra under the platform.

Solar alignments

The Temple of Hibis

On 7 April 5:50am and 6 September 5:46am the sun's rays fall on an image of the god Amun Ra at the Temple of Hibis.

Solar alignments

Kalabsha Temple

Also known as the Temple of Mandulis, on 14 February 6:27am and 29 October 5:56am every year the sun illuminates images of the sun god Mandulis and the sun goddess Isis on her solar throne at the Kalabsha Temple.

Solar alignments

The Mamisi at the Dendara Temple

The sun's rays fall on the mamisi, or birth chapel, at the Dendara Temple twice annually on 4 February 6:38am and 8 November 6:07am and on a false door that connects to the other world. Images on this door include three winged sun discs and a line of cobra snake figurines crowned by the sun.

Solar alignments

Edfu Temple

The sun's rays are aligned with the Edfu Temple on 21 June 11:50am every year to illuminate a statue of the god Horus and his solar boat and offering table.

Solar alignments

Gabal Al-Selsela Chapel

The sun's rays fall on statues of the gods Horemheb and Amun Ra on 29 September 5:43am and 15 March 6:02 every year at the Chapel of Gabal Al-Selsela.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly  

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Friday, March 16, 2018

The Exodus Debunked: Archaeological Issues

The Exodus Debunked: Archaeological Issues

I will continue my deconstruction of the Exodus accounts by concentrating on the archaeological issues. The articles so far have been:

I want to compile them all into a series as I have done with the Nativity and Easter.

The basis for a lot of what I will be telling you will come from my friend and Skeptic Ink Network colleague Rebecca Bradley and her chapter, "The Credibility of the Exodus", in John Loftus' Christianity in the Light of Science (for which I also contribute a chapter on free will).

As I have stated many times in this series, the evidence for the Exodus account as derived from the Bible amounts to somewhere around nothing. Well, nothing. The rationalisations around the chronology, as seen by some of the Christian commenters during the series, shows you how tenuously they try to hang on to the literal truth in light of there being nothing else to use. They can only seek to find gaps and potential harmonisations about when it could have happened rather than resort to good solid evidence that shows when it did happen.

Still, we plough on.

We must first remember that Ancient Egypt was a very literate context with a huge amount of recording of events and, well, an awful lot of things. As with any sort of Bayesian approach to history, we can do away with claims such as absence of evidence is not evidence of absence because when we would expect evidence and it is not there, then we genuinely do have a problem when assessing the overall probability of a given interpretation of data being true.

In this case, we would definitely expect to see some evidence of the Exodus as described in the Bible because it was such a massive supposedly historical event. The rebuttal so often heard is that, since history is written by the victors, the Egyptians were interested in rubbing out this embarrassing set of events from their recorded history. However, the ramifications of the Exodus would have been so huge that there simply would be no way that this event wouldn't be referenced in some manner.

In fact, the only appearance of Israel as an entity in all the texts and inscriptions and is artefacts of Egypt's is in a very brief reference dated to the end of the 13th century BCE. This is, of course, the famous Merenptah Stele, a victory stele of the Nineteenth Dynasty. It is on one-line postscript to some detail all is of some victories in Libya. As Bradley states, it is a sort of "meanwhile, back in Canaan" (p.267):

"Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured; Yano'am is made non-existent. Israel is laid waste and his seed is not."

And that's it. That is the totality of reference to Israel in Egyptian history at the time.

Whether "Israel" refers to a region, a pastoral or an ethnic group is up for grabs. As Bradley also adds (ibid):

This similarly, the word "happy room quote" in Egyptian texts, often interpreted as "Hebrew," was almost certainly a generic term for rootless nomads, Wanderers, bandits, and people generally living on the margins of settled society.

In any event, the children of Israel do not appear to have loomed large on the Egyptian horizon; this is ironic, as the sheer size of the Exodus described in the Bible is also something of a problem. Literalist believers defend the number of men claimed in Exodus 12:37 – 38 and extrapolated to the total figure of 2–2.5 million, plus herds

Taking the figures in the bible of 603,550 fighting men, that gives an estimate of 2-2.5 million people in total. There is no archaeological evidence for the Exodus, the number of Egyptians in Egypt only numbered some 3-6 million.

Now, some apologists, like Kenneth Kitchen, point out that this could well be a translation error and so the numbers are vastly lower than a literal interpretation would claim. With a more plausible estimate of 20,000 people, all the same issues still remain. There has also been no archaeological evidence found of anyone fitting this narrative in the wilderness area, especially requiring settlements of the size necessary to support such large numbers.

If this literal interpretation is to be taken seriously, then there will be some massive ramifications to this many people walking around the Sinai for 40 years. In order for the Pharaoh's army to defeat such a massive number of people, then the army would have to be pretty substantial itself. And if this army was to be destroyed by the Red Sea, this incredible and miraculous event would almost certainly be recorded somewhere else other than in a later-written religious text or a parochial neighbour. The ramifications of having an entire army and all those virile men killed in one fell swoop would be incredible. But it's not just that, it's a fact that there would have been a massive depopulation of livestock throughout Egypt if we are to believe that the plagues happened (again and again, as according to three of the plagues). The sheer devastation of having all firstborn children killed, of having the entire army decimated, and having livestock destroyed en masse, would have meant Egypt would have been crippled for generation upon generation. But there is absolutely no evidence of this in Egyptian records. Quite the opposite, indeed, because this period of Egyptian history was one of flourishing. As Bradley states, "it is quite the reverse: the dates proposed by believers land squarely in the middle of Egypt's greatest period of prosperity and empire-building."

She continues (p. 268):

As noted above, the Exodus narrative pushes an estimated 2-million-plus people, with extensive herds, out into the Sinai wilderness – agricultural peasants and (reputedly) construction workers, who were several generations away from any expertise in nomadic herding and life in the deserts and were moreover heavily laden with children, the elderly, and the treasure "borrowed" and pilfered from the Egyptians. The Sinai is not a welcoming place format a mass migration: stretches of desert, broken backside-of-the-moon rockskapes, winding escarpments, fractal wadis that are dry much of the year. No wonder we're told the Children of Israel complained.

The 2 million wanderers were given manna by God for the forty years, a miraculous substance that sustained the people. This is a very convenient narrative tool to allow for such a ridiculous situation. However, even if you were to believe such an outlandish claim (that in other holy books you would dismiss out of hand), the narrative says nothing about miraculous provision being made for feeding the livestock, which would have been a huge issue in such a deserted area. Fuel to keep the 2 million people warm on those cold nights in the desert seems to have been another issue forgotten by the narrators. As for hygiene issues, without access to fresh water, I can barely imagine what an awful existence these people and animals must have had. Of course, it never happened, so we don't really have to imagine what they went through. But, if the literalist is to be believed, then there are myriad issues with such an account, on logistical, hygienic, geographical, archaeological, and plausible levels.

As ridiculous as this whole situation appears to be, the main issue to bring up is one of archaeology. There is simply no archaeological evidence to suggest a mass migration of people across Sinai ever happened. And this is despite the fact that there have been several archaeological expeditions to try and find evidence to support such an exodus.

The problem is that we have contemporaneous evidence of far smaller communities of nomads and Bedouin who have travelled and existed in the area (Kadesh-Barnea). Nomads do leave archaeological evidence:

Actually, they do, often in patterns that reflect seasonal transhumance, clustering around certain resources at certain times of the year and in places where they interact with sedentary populations. Of course, because pastoralist or foraging groups tend to be small and mobile, the archaeological footprint is more subtle than those of sedentary populations, but nomads are by no means invisible in the archaeological record. As for the Exodus, however, there would be nothing subtle about a great mass of people and animals shuffling across the landscape. The equivalent of a fair sized city on the move – say, Greater Cleveland, or Calgary plus Edmonton – should have left a large, clear footprints, including a good scatter of artifacts.

The idea of the series that I am doing is one about probability. Where I have had certain Christian commenters ad hoc rationalising different harmonisations to allow for the claims I am making, they need to understand that the probabilities are compounding them into a rather difficult corner from which they must extricate themselves. In other words, for each rebuttal to be the true explanation of what the Bible claims, of the data, the low probabilities compound themselves to give a final probability that is very, very low.

If, on the other hand, you consider that the Bible, as the only source for the Exodus, is simply incorrect, then you don't have to ad hoc rationalise and compound your probabilities for each and every difficulty.

Simply put, the most likely thesis is that the biblical account of the Exodus is incorrect. And this is what Christians and Jews do for every other holy book from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Rigveda of Hinduism to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. They don't spend hours upon hours reading around to try and harmonise the claims in there to external claims as they do with the Bible. They don't presuppose the truth of these books and then post hoc rationalise from henceforth. They claim they evaluate the Bible on its merits as a historical document but that is patently false.

Back to the archaeology again. Bradley continues:

Further, scholars have a reasonably clear idea about what was happening in the Sinai in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age: it has been designated the Tiomnian Complex, a sequence of hunter-gatherer groups that added sine pastoralism to their subsistence by about 5500 BCE and segued by the Early Bronze Age into full nomadic pastoralists with an additional, critically important, resource: The Sinai Peninsular is the site of very ancient copper and turquoise mines, an activity that the Egyptians took over as early as the Third Dynasty and maintained (with the odd hiatus) right through to the mid-twelfth century BCE, toward the end of the Late Bronze Age. During this long period of Egyptian mining, pastoralist camps continued but tended to be scarcer, clustered around the Egyptian mines and interacting regularly with the Egyptian, who referred to them as shasu. Egypt was clearly in control, maintaining a strong military presence in a string of forts along the coast, though Elizabeth Bloxam also suggests a certain integration between the indigenes and the Egyptian mining authorities, rather than "forceful domination."

The bottom line is this: at times when Exodus-positive scholars propose the Israelites were in a holding pattern in the wilderness, (1) the Egyptians maintained a strong presence in the Sinai peninsular due to the valuable copper and gemstone deposits, (2) Pastoral groups displaying a high degree of cultural continuity from predynastic times continued to subsist in the Sinai, and (3) Kadesh-Barnea, where the Israelites were said to have hung out for much of their forty years in the wilderness, was archaeologically barren at the time – though known for its Iron Age fortress dating from the seventh century BCE. All these factors rule out a migration across Sinai on the scale described in the Bible and give no support for a sojourn in Kadesh-Barnea.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, in The Bible Unearthed (p.63-64), agree:

Even if the number of fleeing Israelites (given in the text as six hundred thousand) is wildly exaggerated or can be interpreted as representing smaller units of people, the text describes the survival of a great number of people under the most challenging conditions. Some archaeological traces of their generation-long wandering in the Sinai should be apparent. However, except for the Egyptian forts along the northern coast, not a single campsite or sign of occupation from the time of Ramesses II and his immediate predecessors and successors has ever been identified in Sinai. And it has not been for lack of trying. Repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the peninsula, including the mountainous area around the traditional site of Mount Sinai, near Saint Catherine's Monastery (see Appendix B), have yielded only negative evidence: not even a single sherd, no structure, not a single house, no trace of an ancient encampment. One may argue that a relatively small band of wandering Israelites cannot be expected to leave material remains behind. But modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing even the very meager remains of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world. Indeed, the archaeological record from the Sinai peninsula discloses evidence for pastoral activity in such eras as the third millennium BCE and the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods. There is simply no such evidence at the supposed time of the Exodus in the thirteenth century BCE.

The conclusion – that the Exodus did not happen at the time and in the manner described in the Bible – seems irrefutable when we examine the evidence at specific sites where the children of Israel were said to have camped for extended periods during their wandering in the desert (Numbers 33) and where some archaeological indication – if present – would almost certainly be found. According to the biblical narrative, the children of Israel camped at Kadesh-barnea for thirty eight of the forty years of the wanderings. The general location of this place is clear from the description of the southern border of the land of Israel in Numbers 34. It has been identified by archaeologists with the large and well-watered oasis of Ein el-Qudeirat in eastern Sinai, on the border between modern Israel and Egypt. The name Kadesh was probably preserved over the centuries in the name of a nearby smaller spring called Ein Qadis. A small mound with the remains of a Late Iron Age fort stands at the center of this oasis. Yet repeated excavations and surveys throughout the entire area have not provided even the slightest evidence for activity in the Late Bronze Age, not even a single sherd left by a tiny fleeing band of frightened refugees.

Ezion-geber is another place reported to be a camping place of the children of Israel. Its mention in other places in the Bible as a later port town on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba has led to its identification by archaeologists at a mound located on the modern border between Israel and Jordan, halfway between the towns of Eilat and Aqaba. Excavations here in the years 1938-1940 revealed impressive Late Iron Age remains, but no trace whatsoever of Late Bronze occupation. From the long list of encampments in the wilderness, Kadesh-barnea and Ezion-geber are the only ones that can safely be identified, yet they revealed no trace of the wandering Israelites.

And what of other settlements and peoples mentioned in the account of the Israelites' wanderings? The biblical narrative recounts how the Canaanite king of Arad, "who dwelt in the Negeb," attacked the Israelites and took some of them captive – enraging them to the point that they appealed for divine assistance to destroy all the Canaanite cities (Numbers 21:1-3). Almost twenty years of intensive excavations at the site of Tel Arad east of Beersheba have revealed remains of a great Early Bronze Age city, about twenty-five acres in size, and an Iron Age fort, but no remains whatsoever from the Late Bronze Age, when the place was apparently deserted. The same holds true for the entire Beersheba valley. Arad simply did not exist in the Late Bronze Age.

The same situation is evident astward across the Jordan, where the wandering Israelites were forced to do battle at the city of Heshbon, capital of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who tried to block the Israelites from passing in his territory on their way to Canaan (Numbers 21:21-25; Deuteronomy 2:24-35: Judges 11:19-21). Excavations at Tel Hesban south of Amman, the location of ancient Heshbon, showed that there was no Late Bronze city, not even a small village there. And there is more here. According to the Bible, when the children of Israel moved along the Transjordanian plateau they met and confronted resistance not only in Moab but also from the full-fledged states of Edom and Ammon. Yet we now know that the plateau of Transjordan was very sparsely inhabited in the Late Bronze Age. In fact, most parts of this region, including Edom, which is mentioned as a state ruled by a king in the biblical narrative, were not even inhabited by a sedentary population at that time. To put it simply, archaeology has shown us that there were no kings of Edom there for the Israelites to meet.

The pattern should have become clear by now. Sites mentioned in the Exodus narrative are real. A few were well known and apparently occupied in much earlier periods and much later periods – after the kingdom of Judah was established, when the text of the biblical narrative was set down in writing for the first time. Unfortunately for those seeking a historical Exodus, they were unoccupied precisely at the time they reportedly played a role in the events of the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness.

We are really seeing a pattern here: every single aspect of the biblical Exodus story presents a problem for the literalist. Here, archaeology condemns the literalist to the fringe wilderness, the Kadesh-Barnea, of scholarship and believability. If you really, really want to live in Kadesh-Barnea, I am sure you could make it your home, but I would rather live somewhere more comfortable, more reasonable.

Whilst you're here, please check out my treatment of the Nativity accounts:

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The Revelation of the Reconstructed Nefertiti Image on the Today Show Prompts Nefertari’s Vault to Release A New Line of Nefertiti Pendants
Friday, March 16, 2018 RSS Email Newsletters Put PRWeb on your site

The Revelation of the Reconstructed Nefertiti Image on the Today Show Prompts Nefertari's Vault to Release A New Line of Nefertiti Pendants

Nefertari's Vault, an Egyptian-inspired jewelry company, will be launching a new line of Nefertiti-related products with a variety of settings and styles. While these products have been in development for some time, their launch has been moved forward to better align with a special episode of Expedition Unknown, which offered a new look at the 'true' face of Queen Nefertiti.

Nefertiti from the London Bust (left) | Nefertiti Reconstructed on the Today Show (right)

The image depicted is not in line with the centuries of known facts and history of Ancient Egyptians.

A unique combination of archaeology and computer modeling gave us a new glance at one of Egypt's most beautiful women. Up until this point, a bust housed in London provides our best guess at what Nefertiti looked like. Created in 1345 BC, this limestone bust is thought to have been created by Thutmose in Amarna, Egypt. It was discovered in 1912 by a team of German archaeologists. One of the most iconic works of ancient Egypt, it has been copied countless times. Thanks to this bust, Nefertiti became an icon of feminine beauty and a true icon of the ancient world.

The bust showcased on Expedition Unknown and the Today Show took over 500 hours to create. It showcased custom jewelry from Dior. An admirer of Nefertiti, and Egyptian culture in general, Mai Abdelal eagerly awaited the revelation. "I was so excited to see such a powerful woman brought to life," she said. Her excitement turned into shock when she saw the end results.

Although there are slight similarities between the two busts, the modern day bust with her fair skin and green eyes are a stray from the ancient Egyptian image. You can see an image of the bust to the left. "Ancient Egyptians of that time were known to have dark features, meaning olive skin and dark eyes," continued Abdelal. "The image depicted is not in line with the centuries of known facts and history of ancient Egyptians." To reinforce its respect of Egyptian culture, and its support of the more traditional depictions of Queen Nefertiti, Nefertari's Vault will be releasing two new Nefertiti pendants.

The first pendant is made with the traditionalist in mind. It showcases a bust of Nefertiti carved from 80-percent pure silver and 20-percent mixed alloys. The second Nefertiti pendant is double-sided with bright accents of cyan and navy blue. Though it's a twist on a classic, this Nefertiti pendant still remains respectful to the iconic London Bust. Both products will be available for purchase starting at 12 A.M. on March 14th.

The first part of the earlier mentioned episode of Expedition Unknown aired on February 7, 2018 on the Travel Channel. Please visit to learn more. You can learn more about Nefertari's Vault and their other lines of Egyptian jewelry by visiting

About Nefertari's Vault: Nefertari's Vault is a fine jewelry boutique dedicated to sharing the fashion and accessories of Ancient Egypt with the rest of the world. All of their products are made from high quality silver ranging from 80 percent to 92.5 percent of purity and imported directly from Egypt. Common themes include Egyptian pharaohs, the evil eye, and khamsas or the Hand of Fatima. Nefertari's Vault is currently headquartered in in Jackson Heights, New York and can be reached at TarisVault(at)gmail(dot)com.

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The Field Museum's Mummies Exhibit Uses Science to Reveal Humanity - Third Coast Review

The Field Museum's Mummies Exhibit Uses Science to Reveal Humanity

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

When you think of uncovering the secrets of Ancient Egypt or unravelling the mysteries of Peruvian mummies, the first thing that comes to mind is likely far more Indiana Jones at the Great Pyramids or hacking his way through a jungle than it is scientists with a CT scanner. But that's about to change with the Field Museum's highly-anticipated Mummies exhibit, which opens today. Mummies is instead perfectly in tune with the rebrand that recently happened at the museum, showcasing the science that made the most recent discoveries about mummies possible- everything from CT scanning to 3D printing and imaging technology.  

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

The exhibit is so science forward, in fact, that the very first thing you'll see upon walking in is a CT scanner. And it's not a prop—it's real. GE donated the scanner to the Field Museum for the exhibit. CT scans and MRIs were done on the Field Museum's mummies starting back in 2011, and the results helped scientists learn far more about the people whose bodies were preserved this way than they had ever known before- even things as personal as whether they had curly hair.  

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Mummies isn't just science forward, though—it's learning forward. Most people have at least passing knowledge of the traditions of Ancient Egypt, including mummification. But mummification was already practiced by other cultures well before the Ancient Egyptians started to use the technique, and in arid climates where mummification sometimes happened somewhat naturally. Ancient Peruvians mummified their dead up until 500 years ago, and the Field Museum devotes quite a bit of time and space in Mummies to introducing you to the culture of different tribes in Ancient Peru- like the Chinchorro, Chancay and Nazca. 

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

You will see amazingly well preserved and cared for mummies in the exhibit, of course, but you'll also learn quite a bit about what these various cultures were like, and how the people who lived out full lives in them went about their daily lives- what they did, what their families were like. There are beautiful artifacts out of the Chancay and Nazca cultures in particular, from pottery to textiles, as well as a look at body modifications commonly practiced in those cultures. 

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

In fact, one of the most amazing things about the exhibit as a whole has to do with the Chancay culture of Ancient Peru. Using CT scanning technology, scientists and conservators at the Field Museum were able to image not only the human remains, but also the items wrapped with them. Using 3D Printing technology, they were able to actually reproduce these, and you'll find the 3D printings of these objects, available to run your fingers over, on the walls of the Mummies exhibit.  

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Once you do make your way over to the Ancient Egyptian portion of Mummies, you'll see the same treatment there. One of the first mummies you'll come across is more similar to the Ancient Peruvian mummy bundles in appearance. This particular example is predynastic and comes years before the mummies we usually think of. You'll be able to see the actual mummy, and then using 3D imaging technology, explore every aspect of it, in cross-sections or from different angles, so that you can examine each piece in some of the same ways conservators would when handling it in preparation for the exhibit. 

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

One more unique aspect of Mummies is in what you can't do. While exploration and observation are what the Field Museum are all about, they're also about respecting people and their culture, so you'll note, as you wander through this exhibit, that there are many "no photography" signs. This was at the request of the Field conservators themselves, as though the museum has not made contact with any known ancestors of the dead, they'd like to respect the remains as what they were- real humans with loved ones. The Field asks all visitors to the museum to also respect those wishes and keep all photography, including selfies, to the artifacts and reproductions rather than the mummies themselves. 

In fact, bringing life to the mummies is one of the things that Mummies does the best. You will see spectacular things- wonderful pottery, painted sarcophagi, elaborate canopics and other artworks, among the mummies, but there is a strong emphasis on who these people were when they lived- fisherman, families, royals and peasants. CT Scanning at the Field has provided us with more information than we've ever had before about the people entombed so long ago, down to their hair type and face shape. In fact, there's enough information to actually recreate these people so well that you can look into their eyes—and you will. The 3D scanning led to facial reconstruction, and once facial reconstruction was complete, the models were sent to an effects house to be turned into incredibly realistic busts. As you end your time with Mummies, you will find yourself face to face with these Ancient Egyptians. 

Mummies at The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

It's easy to get complacent when you're regularly visiting the world class museums basically littering the streets in Chicago, and easy, too, to forget how truly priceless the things we see at them are. Mummies at the Field Museum represents some of the most precious artifacts ever found from Ancient Peru and Egypt (all of which come solely from the Field Museum's own collection), as well as some of the most groundbreaking science happening in the world. You are seeing and touching things that up until a few years ago, no one had ever seen or touched before, and coming face to face with these cultures in a way that is only now possible. It's truly stunning, and the reason we think everyone should make a trip out to see this dynamic new exhibit. 

Mummies opened at the Field Museum today and will be at the museum through April 12, 2019.  Click here to purchase tickets or for more information, visit the exhibit's website.

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Astronomy can help us understand how ancient Egyptians built the pyramids | The Independent

Astronomy can help us understand how ancient Egyptians built the pyramids

Today, we struggle to imagine how prehistoric people built such precise monuments. But to understand the past, we'll need more than just modern science

The Independent Online

The ConversationEver since humans could look up to see the sky, we have been amazed by its beauty and untold mysteries. Naturally then, astronomy is often described as the oldest of the sciences, inspiring people for thousands of years. Celestial phenomena are featured in prehistoric cave paintings. And monuments such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge seem to be aligned with precision to cardinal points or the positions where the moon, sun or stars rise and set on the horizon.

Today, we seem to struggle to imagine how ancient people could build and orient such structures. This has led to many assumptions. Some suggest prehistoric people must have had some knowledge of mathematics and sciences to do this, whereas others go so far as to speculate that alien visitors showed them how to do it.

But what do we actually know about how people of the past understood the sky and developed a cosmology? A scientific discipline called "archaeoastronomy" or "cultural astronomy", developed in the 1970s, is starting to provide insights. This subject combines various specialist areas, such as astronomy, archaeology, anthropology and ethno-astronomy.

Simplistic methods

The pyramids of Egypt are some of the most impressive ancient monuments, and several are oriented with high precision. Egyptologist Flinder Petrie carried out the first high-precision survey of the Giza pyramids in the 19th century. He found that each of the four edges of the pyramids' bases point towards a cardinal direction to within a quarter of a degree.

But how did the Egyptians know that? Just recently, Glen Dash, an engineer who studies the Giza pyramids, proposed a theory. He draws upon the ancient method of the "Indian circle", which only requires a shadow casting stick and string to construct an east-west direction. He outlined how this method could have been used for the pyramids based on its simplicity alone.

So could this have been the case? It's not impossible, but at this point we are in danger of falling into a popular trap of reflecting our current world views, methods and ideas into the past. Insight into mythology and relevant methods known and used at the time are likely to provide a more reliable answer.


Some believe Stonehenge marks the ritual passage through the underworld (Alamy)

This is not the first time scientists have jumped to conclusions about a scientific approach applied to the past. A similar thing happened with Stonehenge. In 1964, the late astronomer Gerald Hawkins developed an intricate method to use pit holes and markers to predict eclipses at the mysterious monument. However, this does not mean that this is how Stonehenge was intended to be used.

Way forwards

To start understanding the past we need to include various approaches from other disciplines to support an idea. We also have to understand that there will never be only one explanation or answer to how a monument might have been aligned or used.

So how can cultural astronomy explain the pyramids' alignment? A study from 2001 proposed that two stars, Megrez and Phad, in the stellar constellation known as Ursa Major may have been the key. These stars are visible through the entire night. Their lowest position in the sky during a night can mark north using the merkhet – an ancient timekeeping instrument comprising a bar with a plumb line attached to a wooden handle to track stars' alignment.

The benefit of this interpretation is that it links to star mythology drawn from inscriptions in the temple of Horus in Edfu. These elaborate on using the merkhet as a surveying tool – a technique that can also explain the orientation of other Egyptian sites. The inscription includes the hieroglyph "the Bull's Foreleg", which represents the Big Dipper star constellation and its possible position in the sky.

Similarly, better ideas for Stonehenge have been offered. One study identified strange circles of wood near the monument, and suggested these may have represented the living while the rocks at Stonehenge represented the dead. Similar practices are seen in monuments found in Madagascar, suggesting it may have been a common way for prehistoric people to think about the living and the dead. It also offers an exciting new way of understanding Stonehenge in its wider landscape. Others have interpreted Stonehenge and especially its avenue as marking the ritual passage through the underworld with views of the moon on the horizon.


The merkhet, an ancient timekeeping instrument (Getty)

Cultural astronomy has also helped shed light on 6,000-year-old passage graves – a type of tomb consisting of a chamber of connected stones and a long narrow entrance – in Portugal. Archaeologist Fabio Silva has shown how views from inside the tombs frame the horizon where the star Aldebaran rises above a mountain range. This might mean it was built to give a view of the star from the inside either for the dead or the living, possibly as an initiation ritual.

But Silva also drew upon wider supporting evidence. The framed mountain range is where the builders of the graves would have migrated with their livestock over summer. The star Aldebaran rises for the first time here in the year – known as a heliacal rising – during the beginning of this migration. Interestingly, ancient folklore also talks about a shepherd in this area who spotted a star so bright that it lit up the mountain range. Arriving there he decided to name both the mountain range and his dog after the star – both names still exist today.

Current work carried out by myself in collaboration with Silva has also shown how a view from within the long, narrow entrance passages to the tombs could enhance the star's visibility by restricting the view through an aperture.

But while it is easy to assume that prehistoric people were analytic astronomers with great knowledge of science, it's important to remember that this only reflects our modern views of astronomy. Findings from cultural astronomy show that people of the past were indeed sky watchers and incorporated what they saw in many aspects of their lives. While there are still many mysteries surrounding the meaning and origins of ancient structures, an approach drawing on as many areas as possible, including experiences and engaging in meaning is likely our best bet to work out just what they were once used for.

Daniel Brown is a lecturer in astronomy at Nottingham Trent University. This article first appeared on The Conversation (

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Egyptian campaign speaks up for architectural heritage

Egyptian campaign speaks up for architectural heritage

Article Summary
Inspired by the plight of an Alexandria villa that has played an important literary role, a group of Egyptians are working to educate the public and protect the remaining palaces and other architectural wealth of Egypt.

CAIRO — The destruction of historical palaces in Alexandria was foreshadowed by a popular TV series called "The White Flag" in 1988. It depicted the efforts of a woman, illiterate but rich and influential, to buy an old palace and have it torn down to be replaced by a huge residential tower.

In February, in response to so many old mansions being torn down, including the Alexandria villa that inspired British author Lawrence Durrel to write his famous "Alexandria Quartet," a campaign called "The Country's Architecture: An Identity Worth Saving" alerted Egyptians to the heritage that is being destroyed. To enhance awareness of the country's historic buildings, a website is archiving Egypt's historical and architectural heritage.

Welad al-Balad, an award-winning media production and advertising firm, ran the campaign in every Egyptian governorate from Feb. 11 to March 11. Its media partners included Al-Masry al-Youm, Masrawy and the Emirati Al-Ayn as well as several development partners such as the Misr el-Kheir Foundation, Al-Warsha group and Al-Turath Library.

Fatima Farag, manager of Welad al-Balad, told Al-Monitor that the archive project is based on the concept of citizen journalism. The company trained volunteers in writing, editing and photography before assigning them various tasks. Some wrote articles about the historical buildings in different governorates and others took pictures. Another group was trained on social media and web maintenance. Yet another group of volunteers organized seminars and meetings with specialists.

Within a month, the participants of "The Country's Architecture: An Identity Worth Saving" posted more than 130 articles, ranging from press reports about the history of historical buildings to investigative reports and photo albums. At the closing ceremony March 11, the campaigners presented a documentary on the historical heritage of Egypt and the need to protect it.

The campaign also put on several seminars in the various governorates. At a March 5 seminar at the Swedish Institute of Alexandria, prominent media figure Ahmad al-Meselmani and France Desmarais, program and partnerships director at the International Council of Museums, discussed how to protect Egypt's heritage, especially its aging palaces.

Ahmad Sedqi, architectural designer and expert in strategic and architectural development for historical areas that are in deteriorating condition, told Al-Monitor, "Most buildings from the 20th century in Egypt are threatening to collapse" because of poor maintenance. She said, "The Egyptian laws do not acknowledge a building as historic unless it is at least 100 years old. Many of those palaces and villas date back to 70, 80 or 90 years and they also must be preserved because they are of architectural value, even if they are not considered antiquities."

Sedqi added that many buildings in danger of being torn down and replaced with modern buildings are in private hands, such as the Hafez Afifi Pasha Villa, which used to belong to the former head of King Farouk's Royal Court, and Villa Ambron, where English writer Lawrence Durrel, the author of the "Alexandria Quartet," lived in the 1940s. Sedqi called on the state to pass new legislation that would put these palaces under state protection and compensate the owners.

Mohammad Farag Amer, a member of the youth and sports committee in parliament, told Al-Monitor that a new law is under discussion.

On the sidelines of the March 5 seminar, Desmarais said she expects the campaign to receive international acclaim and that perhaps get funding from international associations. The "International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas" fund has a yearly funding of $100 million, said Desmarais.

Amira al-Nashqani, head of folk and culture at Welad al-Balad, told Al-Monitor that many state and civil organizations are interested in the campaign and that she hopes officials will use the archive of the campaign to monitor historical palaces and buildings and save them from destruction.

Found in: Cultural heritage

David Awad, an Egyptian journalist, began his career as a trainee at Al-Ahram al-Ektesady and then moved to Radio Mubashir al-Ektesady as a producer. Awad focuses on economics, media and the arts.  

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