Thursday, June 10, 2021

Now on YouTube: "Ancient Egypt and Its Reception in Black America: From Afrocentrism to Afrofuturism"

Dr. Rita Lucarelli's recording of her fine lecture for Northern California ARCE, "Ancient Egypt and Its Reception in Black America: From Afrocentrism to Afrofuturism," has been uploaded to the chapter's YouTube channel, and is now available at .

If you have any difficulties viewing the video, please contact me.

Otherwise, enjoy!


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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Upcoming Egyptology Lectures from Northern California ARCE

American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE)
Northern California Chapter

Upcoming Lectures

ARCE's Northern California Chapter is pleased to present the following lectures by renowned Egyptologists. Until further notice, all lectures are virtual, Sunday at 3 p.m. Pacific Time. Registration instructions will be sent out one month before each lecture. In normal times, most lectures take place on the University of California Berkeley campus.

Akhenaten's Main Temple to the Sun God at Amarna:
How Archaeology Is Revealing Its Development and Use

Aug. 15, 2021
Dr. Barry Kemp, Amarna Trust

Hand Unto Ethiopia: The First African-Americans to Visit Nubia
Sept. 12, 2021
Dr. Jeremy Pope, University of William and Mary

Virtual Saqqara
Oct. 10, 2021
Dr. Elaine Sullivan, UC Santa Cruz

Development of the Royal Titulary in Reflection of Important Prehistoric Sites
Nov. 14, 2021
Dr. Ronald Leprohon, University of Toronto

Topic TBD
Dec. 12, 2021
Dr. Stuart Tyson Smith, UC Santa Barbara

For more information, please visit,,, or To join the chapter or renew your membership, please go to and select "Berkeley, CA" as your chapter when you sign up.

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Phar-old Find: Farmer Discovers Ancient Egyptian Monument As He Plants Crop  - The Tennessee Tribune

Phar-old Find: Farmer Discovers Ancient Egyptian Monument As He Plants Crop 

This ancient sandstone monument dating back to around 600 B.C. was discovered by an Egyptian farmer while he was clearing land to plant crops.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said in a statement that the ancient sandstone stela from the 26th Dynasty of Egypt (664 B.C.–525 B.C.) had been found by a farmer in the Ismailia Governorate of Egypt on June 3.

'Stela' is a Latin word used for a stone slab typically shaped like a gravestone which on the surface has either text or ornamentation, and was created to pass on a message.

The farmer who found the ancient stela on his plot of land immediately notified the Tourism and Antiquities Police.

Mostafa Waziry, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the stela measures 90 inches (230 centimeters) in length and 40 inches (103 centimeters) in width with a thickness of 17 inches (45 centimeters) and it was sent to The Museum of Antiquities in Ismailia.

He added that the arch of the stela is marked with the winged sun symbol associated with divinity, royalty and power in Ancient Egypt and a cartouche of pharaoh Wahibre, also known by his Greek name Apries, who was the fifth king of the 26th dynasty. Also, 15 lines of hieroglyphs are seen engraved on the rock.

The 26th dynasty was the last dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 B.C. Apries ruled Ancient Egypt from 589 to 570 B.C. and led Egypt during a period that was fraught with internal problems.

The Ismailia Museum in Egypt received a sandstone stela dating back to the 26th dynasty that was discovered on a farm in Ismailia governorate, Egypt. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities/Zenger News)

Apries faced a mutiny from soldiers in the Kingdom of Judah, failed to protect Jerusalem from Babylonian forces and saw his army mauled by the Greeks during a war in Libya.

Waziry explained that the stela was probably erected by Apries during a military campaign in which he led his armies to the East.

The stela is currently being analyzed by experts at the Antiquities Museum.

(Edited by Angie Ivan and Kristen Butler)

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Egypt traces relics of Ramses III back to Saudi Arabia - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East

Egypt traces relics of Ramses III back to Saudi Arabia

An Egyptian archaeological mission is preparing to launch an excavation project in Saudi Arabia after several discoveries showed that ancient Egyptian King Ramses III had a presence in the Arabian Peninsula.
A sparrow perches in a recess along a wall adorned with            reliefs at the Mortuary Temple of the 20th dynasty Pharaoh            Ramses III at Medinet Habu, on the west bank of the Nile            outside Luxor, Egypt, April 10, 2021.

CAIRO — Egypt's former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs and prominent Egyptologist Zahi Hawass said in a press statement May 27 that he discussed in a meeting with the CEO of the Heritage Commission of the Saudi Ministry of Culture, Jasir al-Harbash, the mechanisms needed to kickstart the excavation project at the site of King Ramses III, one of the kings of the 20th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, in Saudi Arabia in November.

Hawass noted research showed that King Ramses III had deployed several missions to extract copper from a neighboring country and recorded this on a papyrus from that era. This neighboring country is believed to be Saudi Arabia, he added.

Once the trade route is unveiled, he continued, a lot of information regarding its use during historical eras will be coming our way.

He pointed out that there are many other regions found on the trade route that linked the two countries, and excavations will be carried out in these regions to find new evidence of Egyptian kings who sent missions to Saudi Arabia more than 3,000 years ago.

An important group of scarabs found in Saudi Arabia came from Egypt, he said.

On Nov. 7, 2010, the Saudi Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) announced the discovery of what it described as the first hieroglyphic inscription in the Arabian Peninsula dating back to the 12th century B.C., an inscription found on a rock in the Tayma region of northern Saudi Arabia. The inscription includes a cartouche (royal signature) of King Ramses III, the last king of Ramesses (the kings of that period were all called Ramses), who ruled Egypt between 1192 and 1160 B.C., which confirms the existence of a commercial relationship between the two countries at that time.

The commission said that Saudi archaeologists conducted a field and desk research that led them to conclude that there is a direct trade route linking the Nile Valley with Tayma in northwestern Saudi Arabia that was used during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses III. Egyptian convoys would travel by this road to buy valuable goods in Tayma, which was famous for its incense, copper, gold and silver.

Ali bin Ibrahim al-Ghabban, vice president for Antiquities and Museums at the SCTA, said back then that the discovery of this road will be a turning point as far as studies about the roots of civilizational relations between Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula are concerned.

He expected more cartouches of Ramses III to be found on the trade route, or cartouches of other kings of Egypt in Hasma — a sand desert in the Tabuk region of northern Saudi Arabia, stretching over 400 kilometers (248 miles) between Tayma and the Aqaba Gulf on the Red Sea. The area is characterized by rocky facades suitable for writing and engraving. 

Saudi Arabia, one of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, is located in Asia to the east of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and the two countries are separated by the Red Sea.

Asked about the details of the excavation project in Saudi Arabia, Hawass told Al-Monitor over the phone that this is the first time that an Egyptian mission digs for Pharaonic antiquities in Saudi Arabia, as the missions that were previously deployed there were mainly foreign. He pointed out that the excavations will take place at two sites, one of them near the coast and another near the area where the cartouche belonging to Ramses III was found — the Tayma region.

Asked about his expectations of what the excavation will lead to, Hawass said that there will be no expectations regarding the shape or nature of the antiquities that the mission is looking for before the excavation begins, but the mission is trying to find out more about the existence of a commercial relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the era of the modern Egyptian state dating back 3,000 years.

The mission, he added, set a period of three months for the excavations before the announcement of any discoveries.

Tayma is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula in general, and includes antiquities dating back more than 85,000 years. It was traditionally a commercial and economic hub and a melting pot for the ancient trade routes.

According to a report published by the Saudi Press Agency on Oct. 7, 2018, many civilizations settled in the Tayma region.

Hussein Abdel Basir, director of the Antiquities Museum at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told Al-Monitor over the phone that the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, has a rich civilization, and there were lines of communication between this region and Egypt in the past, as evidenced by the inscriptions that belonged to King Ramses III. Also, there was a relationship between Egypt and the Qataban region in Yemen (in the Arabian Peninsula) during the reign of King Thutmose III, who belonged to the 18th Dynasty, he said.

Asked about Tayma particularly, Abdel Basir said that it served as the seat of the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, who ruled during the period 556-539 B.C., as mentioned by the Arabs in the Assyrian texts in the seventh century B.C.

He noted that the presence of an Egyptian mission excavating antiquities there is pivotal, as it enhances cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the archaeological field.

"I believe that the mission's goal is not to prove the existence of a relationship between the two countries per se but to focus on the value of what will result from this drilling irrespective of its nature," he concluded.

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Canadian Museum of History welcomes spectacular Queens of Egypt exhibition - Ancient Egypt - Heritage - Ahram Online

Canadian Museum of History welcomes spectacular Queens of Egypt exhibition

The majority of the objects on view come from Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, which houses the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt

Ahram Online , Friday 4 Jun 2021
Museum of History

The Queens of Egypt are ready to rule the Canadian Museum of History. Opening tomorrow, this magnificent and highly anticipated exhibition is an enthralling journey into the world of Nefertari, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, and other women of power and influence in ancient Egypt.

Step 3,500 years back in time, into an immersive, multi-sensory experience that reveals the stories of seven fascinating female figures who played important military, political, diplomatic, and religious roles in the New Kingdom (1539-1076 BC). They ruled as the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of Pharaohs — and, in one case, as the Pharaoh herself.

"We are thrilled to welcome this exceptional exhibition at last," said Caroline Dromaguet, acting president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History. "Queens of Egypt is a rare opportunity to see treasures from one of the most important collections of ancient Egyptian objects, but above all to focus on an aspect less known and just as important: the place of women and their role within Egyptian royalty."

Visitors to the museum will be spellbound by more than 300 monumental statues, sarcophagi, funerary objects, jewellery and other iconic artefacts. One of the highlights is the "Harem Conspiracy Papyrus," a remarkable document describing the accusations, convictions, and punishments meted out to conspirators who plotted to assassinate Pharaoh Ramses III. The majority of the objects on view come from Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, which houses the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt.

"We are very glad to have the Canadian Museum of History hosting Queens of Egypt, especially in such a complex time globally," said Christian Greco, director of Museo Egizio. "The artefacts displayed in the exhibition are much more than silent objects, but indeed a living world heritage, capable of transmitting universal stories from the past to today. We are sure that they will enthrall and captivate the Canadian public."

Queens of Egypt is a unique and unforgettable journey into one of history's most important ancient civilisations. Presented against a backdrop of giant screens depicting landscapes and ways of life in the New Kingdom, the exhibition culminates with an evocation of Queen Nefertari's lavishly decorated burial chamber, and her journey into the afterlife. The tomb is considered one of the most beautiful ever uncovered in Egypt.

"We are very proud of how our institutions have collaborated to present Queens of Egypt at the Canadian Museum of History," said Anne Élisabeth Thibault, executive director of Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex. "In showcasing these remarkably diverse and beautiful objects in an eloquent museum setting, this exhibition gives the items on display an opportunity to tell a touching story through their acknowledged links to legendary Egyptian queens."
The exhibition was originally due to be presented at the Canadian Museum of History in the summer of 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Queens of Egypt also features Mission Nefertari, an area dedicated to family activities for visitors of all ages. In addition to on-site events and activities related to the exhibition, the museum is offering special programmes online, including a guided tour with the curator and a virtual adventure.

The show is on until 22 August 2021. To ensure a safe and memorable experience for all, we are limiting the number of visitors inside the museum through timed admission tickets that can be purchased at

The exhibition was developed by Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex, in collaboration with Museo Egizio (Turin, Italy), and adapted by the Canadian Museum of History.

Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History welcomes over 1.2 million visitors each year. The museum's principal role is to enhance Canadians' knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped Canada's history and identity, as well as to enhance Canadians' awareness of world history and culture. Work of the Canadian Museum of History is made possible in part through financial support of the Government of Canada. 

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Waziri: Ancient Egyptian Palette Dates Back to 26th Dynasty Found in Ismailia

Waziri: Ancient Egyptian Palette Dates Back to 26th Dynasty Found in Ismailia

Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr. Mostafa Waziri said that the latest discovered Ancient Egyptian palette arrived to Ismailia Museum.

He added that the palette was unearthed at an agricultural land owned by an Egyptian citizen in Ismailia.

The citizen found the ancient archaeological piece during planting his land, so, he informed the police immediately.

Waziri expressed that a committee headed by the Director of Ismailia Antiquities asserted the originality of the unveiled piece.


Its height is 230 cm tall, 103 cm width, and 45 cm thick; in addition, it is made from sandstone.

Furthermore, it depicts the winged sun, and the name of King Wahibre who was the fifth king of the 26th dynasty.

In addition, the palette carries 15 lines scripted in Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic writing.

Waziri concluded that the palette belongs to the pieces kings used to establish during their military campaigns to the East.

Contributed by: Rana Atef

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

As calls grow for the return of looted Egyptian artefacts, Durban Museum wants to give back a 2000year old Mummy

Kwazulu Natal
According to history, the mummy was bought by the                Durban Museum sometime between 1889 and 1910 from a                British army officer, Major William Joseph Myers, who                brought the mummy from Egypt when he came to South Africa                at the end of the 19th century, having served in Egypt for                five years. Picture: Eric Apelgren Facebook.
According to history, the mummy was bought by the Durban Museum sometime between 1889 and 1910 from a British army officer, Major William Joseph Myers, who brought the mummy from Egypt when he came to South Africa at the end of the 19th century, having served in Egypt for five years. Picture: Eric Apelgren Facebook.

As calls grow for the return of looted Egyptian artefacts, Durban Museum wants to give back a 2000year old Mummy

By Lee Rondganger Time of article published 18h ago

Durban - For generations, visitors to the Durban Natural Science Museum have been drawn to one of its the most prized possessions – a more than 2000-year-old Egyptian Mummy that has enthralled young and old alike.

According to history, the mummy was bought by the Durban Museum sometime between 1889 and 1910 from a British army officer, Major William Joseph Myers.

Myers brought the mummy from Egypt when he came to South Africa at the end of the 19th century, having served in Egypt for five years.

It is believed that Myers, who built up "the finest 19th-century private collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities which he bequeathed to his old school, Britain's famous Eton College", according to the Egyptian Society of South Africa, stole and smuggled the artefacts out of Egypt.

The mummy in the Durban Natural Science Museum is said to be that of a minor priest named Peten-Amun (Ptn-'Imn), thought to have died aged about 60 years.

It is believed to be from Akhmim, Upper Egypt, and comes from the early Ptolemaic period, 300 BC.

Now, as Egypt and several other African countries push to have their stolen and looted artefacts returned – from mostly European museums – the Durban Natural Science Museum is offering to return the mummy under its care.

Eric Apelgren, the Head of Department International and Governance Relations at the eThekwini Municipality, said the city would opening negotiations with the Egyptian Government through the embassy in Pretoria, to explore if the mummy in the Durban Natural Sceince Museum should be returned.

He said that in addition to keeping good relations with Egypt and Durban's sister city, Alexandria, recent changes to legislation regarding how museums keep mortal remains have necessitated them to re-look at the mummy that the city had under its care.

"Secondly, globally Egypt has started a process of collecting these mummies that were taken out the country and begun documenting them and keeping them in specialised facilities, both for the own historical record, and preservation of their culture, but also as part of the tourist, offering," Apelgren said.

He said that negotiations were still at a very early stage with the Egyptian government.

"We want to explore, firstly if they want the mummy back and secondly, how would we share the responsibility of getting them back, and then also looking at the scientific and technical logistical approvals process of that process.

"It's really at a very early stage. We were checking that the Egyptian government whether they want the mummy that is in Durban, because if you look at the history of the how the money came here, it was a soldier who literally stole it. We, being an African city and being part of the continent, this something we must look at," he said.

A reconstruction of the head of a mummy at the Durban Museum of Peten-Amun, was completed in 1990 by Dr Bill Aulsebrook who holds a PhD in Forensic Facial Reconstruction. A Computerised Axial Tomography (CAT) scan was taken at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban and plastic templates were made from the individual sectional images. The templates were then assembled to form a three-dimensional construction of the skull. Using this reconstructed skull. Dr Aulsebrook was able to build up the facial musculature features. The bust is displayed alongside the coffin and mummy. Picture: Eric Apelgren Facebook.

Apelgren said the challenge will come if the mummy is returned on how the city will keep the next generation of children interested in Egyptology.

"How do we sustain interest and passion, and, and knowledge of that history for local children without having the display there? I'm not sure if we need the display to do that, I don't know. You might have to find other ways of inspiring our kids, the next generation to understand respect our history on the continent and in particular the history of Egypt," he said.

According to the Egyptian Society of South Africa, there are three recorded ancient Egyptian mummies in South Africa. One is preserved in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown another in the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria. And the third in the Durban Natural Science Museum.

According to an article published by the Egyptian Society of South Africa in November 1984, the mummy in Durban was X-rayed, revealing that the top half of the mummy was almost complete though there were a few molars and pre-molar teeth missing.

A minor fracture of one rib was evident through this had healed during the man's lifetime. The density of the bone in the lower vertebral column suggested some arthritis. A mystery surrounds several missing bones: femur and tibia (left leg), patellae (left and right legs), and feet (left and right). All these bones were replaced by false structures, possibly made of wood and linen stuffing, within the wrappings.

The X-rays show that the shoulders have been compressed by the linen wrapping. Rapid decomposition prior to embalming can explain the disordered state of some Ptolemaic mummies, which seem to have disintegrated partly before mummification. As a result, parts of bodies were lost.

A reconstruction of the head of Peten-Amun was completed in 1990 by Dr Bill Aulsebrook who holds a PhD in Forensic Facial Reconstruction.

A Computerised Axial Tomography (CAT) scan was taken at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban and plastic templates were made from the individual sectional images. The templates were then assembled to form a three-dimensional construction of the skull. Using this reconstructed skull. Dr Aulsebrook was able to build up the facial musculature features. The bust is displayed alongside the coffin and mummy.

The mummified body is approximately 150 centimetres in length and the coffin itself about 175 centimetres long and 4 centimetres thick.


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On Cats, Bes, and Christopher Hitchens


Christopher Hitchens

"Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods."

Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Hobby Lobby Sues Oxford Professor Over Stolen Bible Artifacts – Courthouse News Service

Hobby Lobby Sues Oxford Professor Over Stolen Bible Artifacts

An ancient cuneiform tablet is one of thousands of Iraqi artifacts that the U.S. government seized from Hobby Lobby in 2010 and 2011.

BROOKLYN (CN) —  Craft chain Hobby Lobby is going to court again, this time to recover some $7 million it paid a former Oxford University classics professor for ancient fragments of the Christian gospels and other artifacts that turned out to be stolen.

Hobby Lobby says it had looked to professor Dirk Obbink while curating artifacts for its planned Museum of the Bible in Washington. Owned by a billionaire evangelical named Steve Green, the store has made Christianity a pillar of its business, perhaps most famously when it sued to be exempt from providing employees with free contraception under the federal health care law.

Since its 2017 opening, however, Hobby Lobby's museum has been plagued by scandal over its acquisitions, resulting in the returns of manuscripts that were smuggled out of Egypt and cuneiform tablets looted from Iraq. Last year, experts concluded that "ancient" Dead Sea Scrolls that served as the museum's centerpiece were in fact counterfeit. 

Hobby Lobby's dealings with Obbink are another chapter in that story. Represented by art lawyers at Pearlstein & McCullough, the store sued the disgraced 64-year-old professor Wednesday in Brooklyn. The 10-page federal complaint notes that Obbink earned a reputation as "one of the world's leading scholars of ancient papyri" but had been privately dealing antiquities throughout that storied career. As general editor of the Egyptian Exploration Society, part of the Sackler Classics Library at Oxford, the American-born Obbink oversaw the world's largest collection of ancient papyri — including artifacts excavated at the ancient Nile valley capital of Oxyrhynchus.

Those honors disintegrated, however, when Obbink was arrested in March 2020 for the alleged theft of as many as 120 pieces of Oxford-owned ancient papyrus. The school began investigating Obbink a year earlier over his sales to Hobby Lobby.

While the probe remains ongoing, according to the complaint, "to date, thirty-two (32) items have been identified as having been stolen by Obbink from EES and sold directly to Hobby Lobby."

Hobby Lobby wants to be refunded in full, saying Obbink had fraudulently held himself out as the owner of all of the items he sold it.

"The fact that some unknown number of the fragments were stolen renders all the fragments unsalable and worthless to Hobby Lobby, which stands to lose both the fragments and the entire value of the purchase price it paid to Obbink," according to the complaint.

Nailing Down Obbink's 'Mistake'

Obbink could not be reached for comment on Wednesday but he denied wrongdoing through his lawyers in 2019. 

"The allegations made against me that I have stolen, removed or sold items owned by the Egyptian Exploration Society collection at the University of Oxford are entirely false," Obbink told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "I would never betray the trust of my colleagues and the values which I have sought to protect and uphold throughout my academic career in the way that has been alleged.

"I am aware that there are documents being used against me which I believe have been fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career. I am working with my legal team in this regard."

In the complaint, Hobby Lobby notes that it paid Obbink more than $7 million for various artifacts over the course of seven transactions spread out between 2010 and 2013. Though Hobby Lobby usually managed to import its purchase into the United States after the sales, it says its seventh and biggest acquisition never arrived.

At $1.8 million, the seventh set was billed as containing papyrus fragments from the four gospels of the New Testament, plus other antiquities. Hobby Lobby says it waited over four years for Obbink to conduct "further research" on the items before he revealed in December 2017 that "he had 'mistakenly' sold the Gospel Fragments in Purchase #7 and that they were, in fact, owned by his employer."

While the store was initially ready to settle for a partial refund, Obbink allegedly told it to hold tight while he purportedly auctioned off other objects, held up by an export permit process. The Museum of the Bible waited about six months before it got in touch with Oxford's Egypt Exploration Society about the purchase. 

Hobby Lobby says Obbink did send it a wire transfer of $10,000 that fall, but no more money ever arrived.

"I crave your indulgence to exercise some patience to enable us get this export permit and have the clients make the payment so we can close this long drawn out issue," Obbink wrote to Hobby Lobby in October, as quoted by the complaint. "I am convinced that this whole issue will be settled latest by November and if complete payment is not made by then, I will accept whatever actions you decide to take against me."

Wikipedia image/Corey Coyle, CC BY 3.0

Stolen Collections

Earlier this year, the Museum of the Bible returned 5,000 manuscripts and bits of papyrus to Egypt. The country had "long asserted the items were ferreted from the country in 2011 amid the upheavals of the Arab Spring," as The New York Times reported in January. 

In 2017, U.S. federal prosecutors seized thousands of artifacts from Hobby Lobby, including cuneiform tablets and ancient seals called bullae, saying they were likely looted from Iraqi archaeological sites. 

The company agreed to a $3 million settlement and to return the items to Iraq. Fareed Yasseen, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, held a repatriation ceremony at his Washington home in 2018. 

An attorney for Hobby Lobby did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, nor did company representatives. Back in 2017, Hobby Lobby's president acknowledged that his team should have vetted its acquisitions more closely. 

"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," said Green, who is also chairman of the store's Bible museum. "Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation," he continued, and was "pleased the matter has been resolved."

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

ANE TODAY - 202105 - Monotheism or Monopoly? Akhenaten and His Religious-Political Reform - American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR)

Monotheism or Monopoly? Akhenaten and His Religious-Political Reform

By Jiří Janák


Few personalities of the ancient world excite as much interest for scholars, artists, religious believers and general public as Akhenaten, the Egyptian ruler who carried out a fundamental reform of religion and political ideology in the mid-14th century BCE. He introduced and supported the cult of the sun disc (called the Aten) as the only god venerated by the king and his royal family.


Was the king an enlightened religious leader and an idealistic politician, or was he a mentally ill and physically frail person? Should we see in him the predecessor of Moses, Thales or Jesus, or should we label him as a dictator and the first sectarian? Although archaeological, material, textual and pictorial data do not reveal much about the inner motivation of Akhenaten (who began his reign under the name of Amenhotep IV), we may analyse them in the light of his actions.

It must, however, be pointed out that many of the iconic motifs of the so-called Amarna reform (called after the modern name of Akhenaten's residential city of Akhetaten) had been present in Egyptian religion and ideology long before the ascent of Amenhotep IV to the throne. This even applies to the use of the word aten (sun-disc) in Egyptian cult, to the concept of the singularity or uniqueness of one god, to the substantial union between the sun god and the sovereign, and to the king's symbolic function as a mediator between human beings and deities. The main difference of Akhenaten's reform was a radical and untraditional notion of exclusivity. Nevertheless, we can still gain new insight into Akhenaten's motivations by analysing theological, cultic and iconographic changes within his religious-political reform.

Akhenaten and family.


One god, one city, one ruler

Before Amarna, there were two dissimilar, yet interconnected planes in ancient Egyptian religion. The first was represented by the locally specific cults of individual towns or administrative regions, the other by the nation-wide pantheon dominated by cults of several major centres (mainly Memphis, Heliopolis and Thebes) closely tied to royal ideology. Local cults were usually bound to a single deity, a town god with whom other deities were connected in relevant constellations, such as triads of major political centres (e.g., Amun, Mut and Khonsu of Thebes) who were recognized throughout Egypt during the New Kingdom. Still, some local deities may have been truly site-specific and limited to a single region or place, not known or mentioned in other parts of the Egypt. Thus, Egyptian gods often appeared as the gods of towns, and the towns used to represent places of their earthly abodes.

Within the national pantheon, these local deities retained some of their domestic roles, bonds and statuses but they also yielded to the authority of the state-recognised king of gods, gained new roles and formed new constellations with gods of different cities. Political authorities of the state could not ignore the importance of the region and the allegiance of every person to his or her town, nor was it possible to leave out the original, town-specific characteristics of any of gods in the state plane of religion. Hence, just as the Egyptian state represented the Two Lands composed of individual regions, ancient Egyptian religion was rather a federalized system than a homogenous unity.

Although the number of officially acknowledged gods supported by the palace was reduced to one during Akhenaten's reform, the texts of the Amarna period reveal that (like all the locally based gods of the Egyptian pantheon before Amarna) both the Aten and his cult were closely connected with a city. Akhenaten's new administrative and residential town of Akhetaten (modern Tell el-Amarna) did not only represent a royal seat, but it mainly was considered the seat of the god Aten himself. It was built in a pure place solely for the sun god whose close bonds to this cultic centre are also reflected in his epithets. The new residence thus represented the god's dwelling place, sacred territory or a temple-like settlement rather than a city in the traditional sense. From the symbolic point of view, it seemed as if the whole Egyptian state dominated by the order of maat (royally maintained cosmic balance) had materialised in a single city.

Tell el-Amarna.

Besides being the sun god's representative (or rather representation), here the king became the true life-provider of the people. Akhenaten was well aware of the traditional notion of god–town inseparability. This implies that the withholding of official support from the majority of gods and their local cults, which resulted in the flattening of the federalized system of the pantheon, represented the means to suppress the autonomy of local authorities –both divine and human.

By restricting the number of officially recognized and supported gods to a single entity endowed with universal authority, the Egyptian religion and ideology would form a fully centralized state. Moreover, the reform also allowed Akhenaten to absorb a great deal of influence that was formerly ascribed to powerful dead, the so-called akhu. These mighty spirits of the blessed dead had traditionally functioned as intermediaries between the common people and the world of the divine. It was not by chance that Amenhotep IV chose the name of Akhenaten to deliver the main ideological message about his religious reform. As Akh-en-Aten (i.e., the akh of Aten), the ruler was the exclusive intermediary of the exclusive god.

Regardless of whether the reform was motivated by political needs or not, it resulted in centralisation of authority, which allowed the king to gain control over spheres of power previously dominated by town-gods and their priests, local administrative authorities and high officials. Thus, although it cannot be proved that Akhenaten – with his vision of a single god dwelling in a single city – tried to eliminate the power of local administrative and religious centres, absolute centralisation of power in one place, in the hands of one person and tied to one divine cult was exactly what he achieved. At least for a very limited period of time.


Far from People's Hearts


Besides their roles and cultic constellations within the pantheon, Egyptian gods were characterised by their names and iconographic forms. These two aspects made the essence of the hidden divine beings comprehendible. The traditional Egyptian way of depicting divine beings oscillated between zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representation, but frequently the two were joined into a combination of a human body and an animal head.

Solar deities Ra and Horus, for example, were often depicted as men with the head of a falcon. One of the reasons for matching an animal to a deity was to point out characteristic features and functions of the respective entity, which in the real world would manifest themselves in the appearance, behaviour and symbolic meaning of a certain animal. Such natural associations could present the basis for emphasising various aspects of a specific manifestation of the divine. However, the Egyptians did not consider this manner of representation of deities to be a depiction of their accurate images or their real shapes. The iconographic images of the gods represented "composite hieroglyphs", whose purpose was not to capture the real image of the entity in question, but rather to describe the nature of this entity and make it understandable. The human relationship to the world of Egyptian gods was not so much a matter of faith as of knowing and cognition.

A comparison between the traditional style of representing Egyptian deities and the form used to depict the one god during the Amarna period reveals another important aspect of the Aten reform. Like other creator gods before him, the Aten was considered to be the supreme creator and ruler of everything on earth, but his cult bore also features taken from the royal cult, evident from his name and titles, or from hymns and prayers addressed to him.

In the oldest attestations of the cult introduced by Akhenaten (still as Amenhotep IV), which survived in the temple complex of Karnak in Thebes, the god Aten appears in a more traditional form. Like Ra, Horus or Harakhty, he is shown as a man with a falcon's head adorned by a sun disc and uraeus (solar cobra). Later, this traditional form disappears and makes space for a new iconographical feature: the Aten then starts to be represented purely as a sun disc with the uraeus and many rays. The rays of the disc have human hands at their ends and with those hands the Aten reaches to offerings and to the king and his family, whom he presents the sign of life (ankh).

Horus wearing the solar disk and uraeus.
Solar disk with human hands.

Solar disk with human hands presenting an ankh.

Unlike the images of deities with animal heads, human bodies and various attributes, the new manner of depicting the Aten did not offer a detailed testimony about the god's essence, traits, characteristics, functions and about his mythological background. Nor were the images of the Aten equipped with captions referring to his speech. This mute image of the light emanating from the sun disc was the same as anyone could see in nature. The Aten was the life-giving sun.

Images of religious or cultic motifs, as well as scenes of everyday life appear in Amarna art without mythological references and thus seem to depict only the real world perceivable by the senses and observed with the eyes, as if Akhenaten took the symbolic literally. Hence, one may interpret the so-called realism of the Amarna art as an artistic tool for diminishing the symbolic and hiding the sacred. Only the natural world illuminated by the life-giving sun and experienced by senses was available to the people: they could see the Aten. But the king, as the only son of the Aten, has been entrusted with much more: he knew his divine father and the mysterious ways of the sun. The Aten even resided in the king's heart when the sun set below the horizon.

Even the all-embracing cosmic authority and power of the god must be understood in political context of the king's earthly power and authority. The hymns thus make sure to assert this concept in their concluding statements: the all-powerful Aten who resides far away in celestial heights had created all the cosmos for his only son, the king Akhenaten. The sun god of the Amarna reform was visible daily in the sky, he brought everything to life and looked down on his creation, but he also lived too far from the world and its inhabitants. The Aten rested in a close, exclusive relationship with his son, who was the sole person who had placed the god into his heart and who knew his hidden ways. This theological concept was (again) very well mirrored in iconography. Aten's rays reached exclusively to his son and to his royal/divine family.

In Amarna, the sun became a god who might be far way, but whose rays still reached the ground; a god people could look at, yet no one could know; a creator, who creates himself, yet craftsmen do not know him. In spite of all his visibility and theological simplicity, the Aten was a god uncomprehended to all with the exception of his only son Akhenaten. And, in this theological paradox, the Aten (the Sun Disc) has become more hidden than Amun (the Hidden One).


Jiří Janák is director of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, Prague.

All photos and drawings: © archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, Prague.

For further reading:

Jiří Janák, "Akhenaten: Monotheism or Monopoly?" in M. Bárta, M. Kovář (eds.), Civilisations: Collapse and Regeneration Addressing the Nature of Change and Transformation in History, Academia: Prague 2019, pp. 187–212.

Click here for a PDF of this article. 

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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Does this ancient Egyptian fresco depict an extinct goose species? | BirdLife

Attendees of Dr. Francescp Tiradritti's lecture to the Northern California chapter of ARCE will note his complete disagreement with Dr. Romilio's argument:


Does this ancient Egyptian fresco depict an extinct goose species?

When ancient Egyptian artists painted strange but lifelike geese on the side a tomb 4,600 years ago, they could never have expected they would become the subject of rigorous modern scientific study. But are these geese an extinct species, or just a flight of artistic fancy? We ask the experts.

'Meidum Geese' – painted plaster, the Chapel of Itet,              Meidum, Egypt c. 2575–2551 BC © C K Wilkinson
'Meidum Geese' – painted plaster, the Chapel of Itet, Meidum, Egypt c. 2575–2551 BC © C K Wilkinson
By Shaun Hurrell

One of the joys of exploring art is the challenge of understanding the artist's original intention. Whether musing over a painting or a musical performance, the creative drive is always fascinating – often elusive – for both ancient and contemporary works. Mystery surrounds the moment of making, and will always shroud the thoughts of the Egyptian artists that painted the Meidum Geese 4600 years ago.

Considered a masterpiece and even dubbed 'Ancient Egypt's Mona Lisa', the fresco was painted on the north wall of what would become the Tomb of Nefermaat and Itet, at Meidum, Egypt. We know that this pair were members of a royal family, so they could afford the most sought-after artists of the time, who "took great care in rendering the colours and textures of the birds' feathers and even included serrated bills on the two geese bending to graze," according the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where a facsimile copy is shown.

One theory even goes so far as to say that the original painting is a fake – a reconstruction made at the time of discovery in 1871. What we can safely deduce, though, is that the artists did not expect the geese in their work to be subjected to the rigorous scientific criteria of modern taxonomy.

When Dr Anthony Romilio examined the painting, a speckle-breasted goose caught his eye. "The strange but beautiful bird was quite unlike modern Red-breasted Geese [Branta ruficollis], with distinct, bold colours and patterns on its body, face, breast, wings and legs," said the University of Queensland researcher. "Artistic licence could account for the differences with modern geese, but artworks from this site have extremely realistic depictions of other birds and mammals." This revelation sparked a new piece of research that speculates the birds depicted are a distinct (and now-extinct) species.


The Tobias Criteria

To pursue this possibility, Dr Romilio applied the 'Tobias criteria' to assess the unknown geese, along with other geese in the fresco. Co-developed by BirdLife's taxonomy expert Dr Nigel Collar and Dr Joe Tobias in 2010 to provide a more consistent way of recognising species, the Tobias method is a fast, reliable, points-based system that assesses differing characteristics of an animal. The method is central to the taxonomic classification of species that underlies BirdLife's work on the Red List, and species are the most fundamental unit of biology, conservation and environmental legislation.

"The Tobias method is a highly effective method in identifying species, using quantitative measurements of key bird features," Romilio says, "and greatly strengthens the value of the information to zoological and ecological science."

The results of Romilio's investigation showed that while the other geese depicted were highly consistent with two known species (Greylag Anser anser and Greater White-fronted Anser albifrons – both notably not found in Egypt today), the speckle-breasted bird was similar to, but a very poor match with the Red-breasted Goose.

A life reconstruction by Romilio          next to a modern Red-breasted Goose - .
A life reconstruction by Romilio next to a modern Red-breasted Goose

This study of course raises many questions. If the geese in the mural were indeed Red-breasted, why are they so different – with mostly white necks – from the species we know today, when the other geese have been depicted so accurately? Was it perhaps a copy of a copy of a copy, becoming less accurate as artistic licence grew? Or could it conceivably represent a globally extinct species, matching the bones of one found on Crete? And ultimately, what were the artists thinking whilst they painted? One thing's for sure – it's a highly original application of the Tobias criteria and shows the value of art far beyond the original intention of the artists.

"Art provides cultural insight, but also a valuable, graphical record of animals unknown today," says Romilio, whose work also looks at other potentially extinct species, such as the Aurochs, a predecessor of modern cattle. "I see it also as a reminder of humans' influence over the survival of species that are with us today."

Assessing 'Meidum Geese' species identification with the 'Tobias criteria' was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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Gentleman Scholar and Pioneering Artist - Sir John Gardner Wilkinson’s remarkable contribution to Egyptology

Gentleman Scholar and Pioneering Artist - Sir John Gardner Wilkinson's remarkable contribution to Egyptology

Gentleman Scholar and Pioneering Artist - Sir John Gardner Wilkinson's remarkable contribution to Egyptology

Reading May 28. 2021

Written by Júlia Schmied, Egyptologist, Blockyard Assistant at the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

John Gardner Wilkinson, aged 46, in Turkish dress by Henry Wyndham Phillips (National Trust, Calke Abbey)

We would like to present this article as the second entry in our new series called the Evolution of Epigraphy here at digitalEPIGRAPHY, in which we introduce the path that epigraphy has taken since the dawn of Egyptology to the digital advancements of today. Our first article (written by Survey artist Dominique Navarro) reflects on James Henry Breasted's extraordinary vision in establishing the Epigraphic Survey and creating the Chicago House Method  in order to utilize new technologies in epigraphic work. In our second article we would like to go further back in time to the rediscovery of Egypt following the Napoleonic Wars, when epigraphic methods were yet to be conceived and early scholars could rely only on their observation skills and artistic talents to convey the magnificence of the ancient monuments. 

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875) was exceptional in this regard. He has been referred to as "the founder of Egyptology in Great Britain", and indeed, his contribution to Egyptology has been profound. He toured Egypt with a firman in his pocket, an official permission from the authorities to visit sites and carry out excavations, and filled notebook after notebook with drawings and watercolors of the monuments he saw. His sketches are astonishingly accurate, even though he was a self-taught artist, and can still be used as reliable evidence for scholarly purposes. In many instances his drawings and paintings are the only records of monuments that have suffered intensive damage in subsequent decades or have since been lost or destroyed. His precision in documenting monuments owed much to the fact that he was the first person to work in Egypt with the knowledge of the ancient Egyptian language. Indeed, while Wilkinson set out on his Egyptian journey as a gentleman traveler of modest means and classical education, his interest in pharaonic civilization awakened by the discoveries of the Napoleonic expedition, he emerged as one of the pioneers of Egyptology and epigraphic documentation. 

I. Rediscovering Ancient Egypt

Luxor Temple from Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte (on the left) and the Ramesseum from Description de l'Égypte (on the right)

Egyptology is usually considered to have been born out of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. The French invading forces were followed by a large contingent of scientists and scholars (including engineers, artists, mathematicians, geographers etc.), whose objective was to document everything they saw while traveling up and down the Nile valley. They made topographical surveys, studied Egypt's flora and fauna, collected and classified minerals, and, most famously, recorded the monuments of ancient Egypt in meticulous detail. 

The first notable book to result from the expedition was the two-volume Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte by Vivant Denon, one of the expedition's scholars and later director of the Louvre, published in 1802. An eyewitness account of Napoleon's journey through Egypt, it became an instant success. It was translated into English and German and remained in print for 150 years. However, it was the monumental and unparalleled Description de l'Égypte, published between 1809 and 1828, that truly captured the fascination of the public. It comprised eight huge folio volumes of text (four on antiquities, two on modern Egypt, and two on natural history) and nine accompanying folio volumes of plates, "providing the most extensive panorama of ancient and modern Egypt ever published" (Thompson, Wilkinson, 23). However, many of the hieroglyphic inscriptions were recorded incorrectly because the artists had no knowledge of what they were copying – in light of which Wilkinson's later achievements become all the more noteworthy.

The Rosetta Stone (Description de l'Égypte vol V. Pl. 52-54.)

A full-sized reproduction of the expedition's most important discovery, the Rosetta Stone, was also published in the Description de l'Égypte. It is a black basalt stone slab with a trilingual inscription – one of them Greek, the other two Egyptian demotic and hieroglyphic – which eventually led to one of the greatest scholarly rivalries of the 19th century between Thomas Young in England and Jean-François Champollion in France and, ultimately, the deciphering of hieroglyphics in 1822. 

As Egypt became increasingly popular, scores of travelers and scholars, initially mostly British, came to explore the country for themselves, to write about their journey, and to collect antiquities. This coincided with and was supported by the political changes taking place in Egypt following the French defeat and the withdrawal of the British army soon after. Egypt was left in the hands of Muhammad Ali pasha, nominally a vassal of the Ottoman empire, who established a much more effective government then before, making the country a lot safer and more accessible for travelers. In his history of Egyptology Thomson notes: "The Napoleonic Expedition, with its copious and comprehensive survey of the monuments between Alexandria and Philae, opened an entirely new artistic dimension in Egyptology. Subsequent travelers and sojourners in Egypt were inspired to equal, correct, or surpass the magnificent plates in the Description de l'Égypte. Wilkinson, Hay, Lane, Hoskins, and others filled their notebooks, sketchbooks, and portfolio with sketches and watercolors. For the first time, scholars began to appreciate the uniqueness and excellence of ancient Egyptian art… Then, dismayed as the monuments deteriorated or vanished entirely within the space of just a few years, they became increasingly convinced of the need to record them before it was too late." (Thompson, Wonderful Things I, 240)

Wilkinson arrived in Egypt in 1821. His first visit lasted twelve years during which he visited almost every site then known, from the Second Cataract to the Egyptian deserts, filling his notepads with sketches of the monuments he saw.

II. The gentleman scholar - Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875)

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson by James Charles Smallcombe (National Portrait Gallery)

John Gardner Wilkinson was born into a comfortable, educated, middle-class family which "fully embraced the ideals and opportunities of the Enlightenment". He was the only surviving child of Reverend John Wilkinson, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a member of the African Exploration Society (later the Royal Geographical Society), and Mary Anne Gardner Wilkinson who was "every bit as erudite as her husband, taught her son French, Latin and Greek while he was still in the nursery" (Wilkinson, A World Beneath the Sands, Chapter 3). After his parents' early death, Wilkinson was left a modest income. He was sent to Harrow School, an independent school for boys, by his guardian, and later attended Exeter College at the University of Oxford.

After leaving his studies, in the spring of 1819 Wilkinson went on a Grand Tour of Europe, as was customary for well-to-do men with classical education, traveling to France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. He arrived in Rome in the spring of the following year and was delighted by the classical antiquities. There he made the acquaintance of Sir William Gell, the man who would soon change the course of his life. Gell was a classical scholar, bibliophile, and a skilled artist; a fellow of both the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries, who was knighted for his services to archaeology. He was also an avid correspondent, who communicated regularly with other serious scholars in his fields of interest, including Thomas Young, Champollion, and Henry Salt, an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist and the consul-general in Egypt since 1815. 

Gell was the one who aroused Wilkinson's interest in ancient Egypt, offering to teach the younger man everything there was to know at the time, including the method of deciphering hieroglyphics developed by Young. They visited some of the archaeological sites in Italy and practiced sketching the antiquities in local museums, Gell noting that "Wilkinson had a genuine enthusiasm for antiquities, a deep love of classical learning, and the ability to sketch accurately" (Thompson, Wilkinson, 11). In effect, it was Gell who encouraged Wilkinson to visit Egypt not as a mere wandering traveler but as an antiquarian researcher instead. 

III. Wilkinson in Egypt

Arrival of some foreigners in Egypt, Beni Hassan (Plate XII. Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians vol. I. 1878)

Wilkinson arrived in Alexandria on 22 November 1821. From there he traveled on to Sais and then Cairo, and in February 1822 he began his journey south. He sailed past Meidum, Beni Hassan, Antinopolis, Abydos and Dendara; visited the best-known sites of the east and west bank of Luxor; then travelled on to Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan and Elephantine, as far south as Semna, below the Second Cataract. In the following year he visited such far-flung destinations as the oases of the Western Desert and the wadis of the Eastern Desert as well. His primary guide was Travels in Egypt and Nubia by Frederick Lewis Norden, a Danish navy captain who in 1737-1738 traveled through Egypt. Throughout his journey, Wilkinson "made many sketches, drew floor plans of temples, and occasionally noted mistakes in the works of Norden and others," but there was just too much to see for any concentrated work. (Thompson, Wilkinson, 40)

After returning to Cairo, Wilkinson intensified his Egyptological studies. He focused on the ancient Egyptian language and soon began to achieve results: alongside Champollion and Young he became one of the very few experts on hieroglyphics at the time. His Materia Hieroglyphica appeared in 1828 and Extracts from Several Hieroglyphical Subjectsin 1830.  

He also worked hard at documenting monuments and inscriptions, his copies achieving an extremely high standard of accuracy. As his biographer writes: "These copies are probably his most enduring Egyptological accomplishment for, besides being minor works of art, they are often the best and sometimes the only surviving evidence for objects that have since been damaged or destroyed." (Thompson, Wilkinson, 41)

From the mid-1820s, Wilkinson began spending more and more time in Luxor, especially on the west bank. He built a remarkable house in and around the tomb of Aametiu (TT83), located in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, which would become a local landmark and a convenient base for archaeologists and scholars working in Thebes, including the artist Robert Hay and his wife, and later Prussian Egyptologist Karl Lepsius, who used the house as his base during his expedition between 1842-45. Wilkinson's neighbors included Henry Salt's assistant Giovanni d'Athanasi, known as Yanni, who lived down the hill, and whose house served as the consul-general's headquarters in Thebes. 

Wilkinson's first major endeavor in Thebes was to make a comprehensive topographical survey of the west bank. He mapped the area, identified the monuments, and numbered the tombs; the resulting book was his Topography of Thebes, and General View of Egypt, published in 1835. His survey included the Valley of the Kings, where he assigned numbers to the 21 tombs then known to him, painting them over their doors. His numbering system is still in use, tombs with numbers higher than 21 belong to those discovered since he worked there. He opened and copied some of the tombs at Deir el-Medina and sketched objects from the village that were circulating on the Theban antiquities market. Many of the objects depicted in the book have since disappeared, the tomb scenes damaged or destroyed within a few years. 

Illustration from Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (1937)

While living in Thebes, Wilkinson was especially interested in the Tombs of the Nobles, for he believed that they revealed more about how the ancient Egyptians lived than did the great monuments. He was among the first to realize the naturalistic nature of ancient Egyptian art, especially in the tomb of Rekhmire, which was his favorite. Here he could observe the broadest spectrum of ancient Egyptian life: "Here, manners and customs, historical events and religious ceremonies, carry us back, as it were, to the society of those to whom they refer; and we are enabled to study the amusements and occupations of the ancient Egyptians, almost as though we were spectators of the scenes represented." (Wilkinson, Topography, 127) He also noticed the natural posture of the figures and the fact that one of them was shown in perspective; and sent a drawing of the wall scene to Gell with the commentary, "You will observe the maid is drawn ¾ figure & not as a stiff Egn [sic]– which shows they knew something more of perspective than people fancy, & I have many specimens of things done in what we should now call & allow to be perspective." (Thompson, Wilkinson, 110-111)

Indeed, Wilkinson's intention as an epigrapher was to copy and render on paper what he saw – be it a mural or an object of use – as faithfully as possible. Even though his drawings were done freehand, he managed to convey the style of the wall paintings remarkably accurately. He convincingly rendered the reliefs into line drawings, applying sun and shadow transitions in the representation of figures more or less consistently. His line drawings show a remarkable wealth of detail. With toning, he suggests the different shades of color, since, for printing reasons, the illustrations in his early publications were all reproduced in black and white. The few color plates in his books could not yet faithfully convey the original hues the ancient artists had used. Wilkinson's watercolors on the other hand, which to the best of my knowledge have not yet been comprehensively published, do indicate the original colors of the ancient murals.

While mostly Wilkinson was carefully copying into his notebooks, he used other techniques as well to document the monuments. In 1826 he made a series of rubbings and squeezes of reliefs in tombs and temples all over Egypt, some 5500 of them altogether, including scenes from tombs in Gurna and Deir el Medina, as well as from the temples of Karnak, Luxor, and the West Bank (Moss, Rubbings, 108-109). On one occasion he even used chemical analysis on tomb paintings: he sampled the pigment in them, and after returning to England gave the samples to a chemist friend who determined the composition of the paint used by the ancient artists (Thompson, Wilkinson, 108).

Pl. LXIV (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians 1937)

Wilkinson's greatest Egyptological undertaking, however, was a comprehensive study of daily life in ancient Egypt. Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians was published in 1937 and, owing partly to the illustrations he had meticulously copied in the Tombs of the Nobles, it became an instant success and went through many printings. "It was the first book to use ancient Egyptian (as opposed to classical or biblical) evidence to illuminate pharaonic civilization, the first to present the ancient Egyptians as real people rather than figures of myth and legend. Above all, it made Egyptology accessible to a general readership, both creating and feeding an appetite for popular history… The book was printed in a handy size and sold at an affordable price (unlike the huge and expensive folio volumes of the Description de l'Egypte). Published in the year of Queen Victoria's accession, it remained the definitive account of ancient Egypt throughout her long reign" (Wilkinson, A World Beneath the Sands, Chapter 3).

Pl. IV. (Architecture of Ancient Egypt)

Wilkinson went on to publish several more books about ancient Egypt, although none quite as successful as Manners and Customs. His Architecture of Ancient Egypt, published privately by subscription in 1850, was the result of his keen interest in ancient Egyptian architecture and close study of monuments. Its impact on mid-19th century Egyptian Revival architecture in the British Isles however was quite substantial.

IV. Wilkinson's Legacy

Today, all Wilkinson's papers, including his manuscripts, notes and sketches, are held at the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford, where they are catalogued and readily accessible to scholars. His role in the development of Egyptology has been debated, although his contribution to the discipline is unquestionable. As Thompson, his biographer, acknowledges, "no nineteenth-century writer did as much as Wilkinson to make the ancient Egyptians known to the general reading public." However, for scholars today, "his most meaningful contribution is the wealth of Egyptological and other data in his notebooks" (Thompson, Wilkinson, xii). 

Spending twelve years in Egypt, Wilkinson visited practically every major archaeological site in the country, making notes and highly accurate copies of the remains in his sketchbooks. They often record monuments and antiquities that were damaged or destroyed shortly after Wilkinson's time, thus becoming invaluable sources for researchers trying to reconstruct all that once was. 

Indeed, Wilkinson's watercolors and drawings were important sources for the Epigraphic Survey's reconstruction of the Roman frescos in the Imperial Cult Chamber at Luxor Temple, especially where the once vivid murals have been reduced to a few painted contours only. Moreover, his paintings and sketches of the chamber are a clear testament of his skills as an accomplished artist. 

Documenting the Imperial Cult Chamber and its frescos at Luxor Temple

Figure A.I. (Art of Empire)

After leaving Luxor in 1833, Wilkinson visited Egypt briefly three more times. Again, he filled notebooks with comments and sketches, gathering material for future publications. During his last journey in 1855-56, his primary scholarly purpose was to study and record Christian remains in Egypt. In January 1856 he made pencil and watercolor sketches of the Imperial Cult Chamber and its frescos at Luxor Temple. The chamber had been excavated not long before, in 1854, and Wilkinson's drawings provide the most complete and detailed documentation known of the now fragmentary fresco groups in the mid-19th century. 

Wilkinson's watercolors of the chamber cover six double pages in his sketchbook. The double-page panoramic view from inside the northwest corner is his most magnificent, it shows the two halves of the north wall with the entrance in the center, the whole of the east wall with the doorway leading into the east side rooms, and the south wall with the niche and two granite columns. Some of the figural images and decorative motifs on the paintings comprise a unique record of sections that have since disappeared from the walls. 

He devoted a double painting to a group of figures on the south wall west of the niche, whose lower parts have only been preserved. On the left side of a double page "four standing figures and the lower legs of a fifth are roughly sketched in pencil, skillfully suggesting their stance and positions relative to one another" (Jones, Art of Empire, 116). A one-page color sketch shows a detail of the soldiers and horses on the east wall, capturing the dynamic nature of the original scene perfectly. Wilkinson also included detailed studies of soldiers' footwear, as well as the patterns from the painted imitation opus sectile dado. Some drawings seem to have been left as preliminary pencil sketches or outlines, indicating perhaps that Wilkinson intended to copy more. However, a sunstroke kept him confined for much of his stay in Luxor, leaving his work in the imperial cult chamber incomplete.

The Epigraphic Survey's recent documentation and reconstruction of the Roman frescos, partly based on Wilkinson's artwork, was a unique project. You can read our ten-part synopsis of the process here.

V. Supplement – Methods of printing in early Egyptology

Interior of the Portico of Esna (Topography of Thebes)

Artists returning from Egypt in the first half of the 19th century were faced with the dilemma of how to reproduce their work for publication. The traditional techniques of printmaking include woodcut, etching, engraving, and lithography.

The simplest and oldest method of printmaking is the woodcut, a relief process in which the image is carved into the surface of a block of wood. During the process, the non-printable parts are cut away, and the remaining raised areas are covered with ink. The image is retained by pressing a sheet of paper onto the block. The woodcuts provided only outline images with no color and not a lot of nuance in texture. The images in Wilkinson's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians were printed using this method.

A similar technique is engraving, a process in which lines are cut into a wood block or a metal plate in order to hold the ink. This method creates thinner and more delicate lines. In metal engraving, the plate is usually made of copper or zinc. Copper plates offer greater texture, but they are too soft to produce many prints without deterioration in image quality. Zinc engravings hold up better, but they will also flatten over time due to the pressure from printing, causing less contrast in later impressions. In case of the plates of Description de l'Égypte metal engraving was involved.

The printmaking method most frequently used in Egyptological publishing was lithography, a process in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone (or prepared metal plate, usually zinc or aluminum) and affixed by means of a chemical reaction. The technique was invented around 1798 by a German playwright, Alois Senefelder, "who accidentally discovered that he could duplicate his scripts by writing them in greasy crayon on slabs of limestone and then printing them with rolled-on ink. Because the local limestone retained so relentlessly any crayon marks applied to its surface, even after repeated inking and printing, lithographs (so called from the Latin for stone, litho, and mark, graph) could be printed in almost unlimited quantities" (Lithography in the Nineteenth Century).

Lithography became widespread in the 1820s; Wilkinson's hieroglyphic publications in the late 1820s, as well as his Topography of Thebes in 1835 were printed using this method.

Color plate from Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (1837)

While lithography produced prints in various shades of gray, color lithographs – called chromolithographs or oleographs – were developed in the second half of the 19th century. This technique involved using multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, and could take months to produce. Although an expensive process, printing in color offered the possibility to reproduce ancient Egyptian art with its approximated colors. Some chromolithographed plates were published in Wilkinson's Manners and Customs already in 1837; however, they could not yet convey the ancient artists' palette faithfully. 

Additional reading

Jones, M. and McFadden, S. (eds): Art of Empire: The Roman Frescoes and Imperial Cult Chamber in Luxor Temple (Yale University Press, 2015)

Moss, R.: "Rubbings of Egyptian Reliefs Made in 1826 by Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson" in: JEA 62 (1976), 108-109.

Thompson, J.: Wonderful Things I: From Antiquity to 1881 (The American University in Cairo Press, 2015)

Thompson, J.: Sir Gardner Wilkinson and His Circle (University of Texas Press, 1992)

Wilkinson, J. G.: Topography of Thebes, and General View of Egypt (London, 1835)

Wilkinson, J. G.: Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians vols I-III. (London, 1837 & 1878)

Wilkinson, J. G.: Architecture of Ancient Egypt (London, 1835)

Wilkinson, T.: A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology (Picador, 2020)

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