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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Robert K. Ritner Jr., eminent Egyptologist and beloved teacher, 1953–2021 | University of Chicago News

Robert K. Ritner Jr., eminent Egyptologist and beloved teacher, 1953–2021

Prof. Robert K. Ritner Jr. is remembered not only for his immense impact on the study of ancient Egyptian religion, magic and culture, but also for his ability to make complex topics accessible.
Photo by George Jacobi

Scholar remembered for masterful lectures that made 'complex topics easy to understand'

Prof. Robert K. Ritner Jr., a world-renowned Egyptologist and beloved teacher who spent decades at the University of Chicago, died July 25 after a yearslong battle with kidney disease and leukemia. He was 68 years old.

Robert Ritner wearing a green jacket and a                          camera hanging from his neck
Prof. Robert K. Ritner Jr.

Remembered by colleagues for his devotion to Egyptology in his professional and personal life, Ritner wrote The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, one of the most influential volumes in the study of ancient Egyptian religion, magic and culture. First published by the Oriental Institute in 1993, the book launched a renaissance in the field and remains an OI bestseller even now in its fourth printing.

"Ritner's use of original source materials added unique perspective to his groundbreaking work," said OI research associate Foy Scalf. "He studied the original language from different periods and desired to have the Egyptians speak for themselves to gain an unfiltered view of ancient Egypt in his work." Those translations include The Libyan Anarchy: Inscriptions from Egypt's Third Intermediate Period (2009) and The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition (2011).

The inaugural Rowe Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute and in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), Ritner, PhD'87, influenced many colleagues and students. A skilled lecturer who often spoke without referring to notes, Ritner used colorful slides to engage audiences in the classroom, at academic conferences and in the public.

During a 2014 lecture at the OI, Prof. Robert K. Ritner Jr. discussed the Egyptian goddess Isis, including the DC comic books she inspired in the 1970s.
Video courtesy of the OI

"Robert was one of the best lecturers I've ever heard because he made complex topics easy to understand," said Janet H. Johnson, the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of NELC at the University of Chicago. "He loved to share his knowledge and understood the meaning and implications of the ancient texts. I'll miss knowing he is down the hall and ready to answer a question anytime."

"Robert had an incredible gift of relating to people who were not academics," said Sue Geshwender, who manages volunteers at the OI and knew Ritner for more than a decade. She remembers the scholar for his "fun, loving side"—a fan of comics and horror who loved collecting.

Robert Ritner dressed as a pharaoh for                          Halloween, accompanied by his wheaten terrier                          Sheshonq
Robert Ritner was constantly accompanied by his dog Sheshonq, whom he would enlist in his Halloween costumes.
Photo by Sue Geshwender

Ritner amassed a vast collection of Egyptomania objects and kitsch, which decorated his office and his home. He was constantly accompanied by his dog Sheshonq, a wheaten terrier whom he named in honor of his favorite Egyptian pharaohs. Every Halloween, Ritner and Sheshonq would arrive at UChicago dressed as mummies or pharaohs.

His fascination with Egypt began early. Born in Houston on May 5, 1953, to Robert Kriech Ritner and Margaret (née Shelton) Ritner, Robert Ritner Jr. considered himself an Egyptophile by second grade. He made repeated visits to Houston's Metropolitan Theater, which was decorated with Egyptian-themed architecture.

Ritner graduated from Rice University in 1975, earning his bachelor's degree in psychology with honors. His first publication in 1976 focused on the spread of Coptic Egyptian influence to Ireland. Ritner then studied at the Oriental Institute at UChicago, where he worked with Klaus Baer, Ed Wente, Janet H. Johnson, and George Hughes. He received his Ph.D. with honors in 1987, and his dissertation defense drew a crowd of admirers from students and faculty members. His dissertation became the foundation for his first book, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice.

"Owing largely to Robert's dissertation, the field of magical studies has exploded, with new interest not only in Egyptian magic and its centrality in religion, but also its contacts with Greece and Israel," former OI director Christopher Woods wrote in 2019, after Ritner was named the first-ever Rowe Professor of Egyptology.

"Robert was one of the best lecturers I've ever heard because he made complex topics easy to understand."
—Prof. Janet H. Johnson

After completing his graduate studies, Ritner remained at UChicago for several years as a lecturer and a guide at the OI, and as a research associate in the Department of NELC. He joined Yale University in 1991, becoming the Marilyn M. Simpson Assistant Professor of Egyptology. He returned to UChicago in 1996 as an associate professor, earning tenure in 2001 and a full professorship in 2004.

In addition to his work at UChicago, Ritner also helped identify "The Death of Cleopatra" by Edmonia Lewis, a 19th-century sculpture which had been languishing at the Forest Park Mall. Presumed lost until its rediscovery in the 1980s, the work was donated to the Smithsonian, where it was restored and now is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Robert Ritner (center) with Jeanne and John Rowe                    (left and right)
Robert Ritner was named as the inaugural Rowe Professor of Egyptology in 2019. He was recognized during an OI centennial gala, an event co-chaired by Jeanne and John Rowe (left and right).
Photo by Anne Ryan

"Robert was an exceptional Egyptologist, respected in his field and completely dedicated to the field of ancient Egypt," said Theo van den Hout, the Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor and interim director at the OI and in the Department of NELC. "On the other side, he had very strong opinions and beliefs. He kept us alert and, on our toes, not to give into pressure from the outside."

Ritner is survived by his brother, Rick Ritner; his sister-in-law, Jody Ritner; and his nieces Michele Hillyard, Alyssa Ritner and Nicole Waters.

—This story was also published by the Division of the Humanities.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Egyptologists refute British theory doubting King Tut’s mask - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East

Egyptologists refute British theory doubting King Tut's mask

A British Egyptologist argues that the famous King Tut's mask might not have belonged to the young ruler but rather to a woman, which could be Queen Nefertiti — a theory that was refuted by Egyptian Egyptologists and archaeologists.
The burial mask of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun is shown            during the 'Tutanchamun - Sein Grab und die Schaetze'            Exhibition Preview at Kleine Olympiahalle, Munich, Germany,            April 2, 2015 .

CAIRO — British newspaper Express published July 16 an article quoting a passage from the book of "The Valley of Kings: The Egyptian Golden Age," by English Egyptologist professor Joann Fletcher.

In a detailed account, Fletcher argues that the famed mask of Tutankhamun was originally made for another famous ruler, and it may have belonged to a woman, which was Queen Nefertiti.

Fletcher based her theory on the examination of photographs and records of the excavation and the discovery of King Tut's intact tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. According to her, the mask shows a pharaoh with pierced ears. Meanwhile, when he died at the age 20, Tut "would not have been portrayed with pierced ears," Fletcher said.

"This mask was not made for an adult male pharaoh — when the gold was compared, [they found] the face is made of completely different gold to the rest. Evidence of soldering is clearly visible on the mask. It now seems as if Tutankhamun's own face was effectively grafted onto the mask of the previous ruler," she explained.

Tutankhamun is considered the most famous king of Ancient Egypt, especially in the 18th Dynasty (1336-1327 B.C.). Despite his short rule, which lasted nine years only, his international fame is due to the sensational discovery of his intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor governorate, southern Egypt, in 1922. The cemetery included some 5,000 artifacts, all in good condition.

Until this day, the discovery of the tomb is seen as one of the most significant archaeological breakthroughs.

The famous mask was designed to protect the mummy's face through a magical formula engraved on its back, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities' website.

Former Minister of Antiquities and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass told Al-Monitor, "Fletcher's theory about the ear piercing is unfounded because all the 18th Dynasty's rulers wore earrings during their period of rule."

He noted, "The mask does not bear the name of Queen Nefertiti, which was confirmed by a German archaeologist when he examined it when the mask's chin area was being restored after it was damaged back in October 2015."

The golden mask is currently housed in the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo. It weighs more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and is 54 centimeters (1.8 feet) high. It has two mixtures of gold: 18.4 carats for the face and neck and 23.4 carats for the rest of the mask.

The mask is a face cover for a ruler with a false beard, holds a three-branched necklace and is topped by the royal insignia of a cobra and a vulture for protection. It also has holes in the ears for earrings.

Hussein Abdel Baseer, director of the Antiquities Museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told Al-Monitor, "There has always been controversy about King Tut's mask, which was previously said that it belonged to Queen Meritaten of the 18th Dynasty and daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, which is not true."

"It is true that some of the treasures found in King Tut's tomb did not belong to him, but to other rulers during the Amarna Period. But the mask did indeed belong to him," he added.

"When it comes to the ear piercings, it was a natural and common thing among kings. Earrings were not limited to women — or children — in the case of King Tut. It is also worth mentioning that some of the rulers of ancient Egypt took hold of the treasures of kings who preceded them and attributed them to themselves. But this is something that can be verified through examination," Abdel Baseer said.

He added, "It is different in the case of King Tut's gold mask because it bears little indication that it might have belonged to someone else." 

He explained the difference in the color of gold on the upper part of the mask compared to the rest of it, arguing that the yellow-golden color was associated with the worship of God Aten, in the Amarna period, and who was symbolized by the sun.

Bassam al-Shamaa, a tour guide and Egyptology writer, told Al-Monitor the funerary mask for kings did not necessarily bear the real features of deceased kings, but usually takes the form of God Osiris, the god of death and resurrection.

Shamaa concurred with views regarding ear piercings, explaining, "The antiquities found in King Tut's tomb included a set of earrings, and therefore we could not assume that the mask belonged to a woman or to Nefertiti in particular."

He said, "Queen Nefertiti was not King Tut's mother but his father's wife and therefore it is far-fetched that he would get her belongings."

Shamaa concluded, "The golden mask bears a hieroglyphic text engraved on its back, which is a magical writing like a spell, the purpose of which is to help the deceased in the pass over to the other world. The writings mentioned several names usually used to refer to King Tut like, 'Ra and Nebra' among other names, which completely refutes Fletcher's theory."

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Archaeologists discover new urban precinct in Egyptian settlement of Marea - HeritageDaily - Archaeology News

Archaeologists excavating the ancient port settlement and cemetery of Marea in Egypt have discovered a complex urban precinct.

Marae was founded during the time of Alexander the Great from the 3rd century BC on the shores of Lake Mareotis, 45 kilometres west of Alexandria.

The settlement was an industrial centre and harbour, which was inhabited throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods until the 8th century AD.


Excavations were conducted by the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw (PCMA), which applied non-invasive geophysical methods in conjunction with excavations.

The study revealed a detailed plan of one-story "modular" buildings from the 6th to 8th century AD, built on the ruins of a Roman farm producing wine, with the overall area studied covering an area of 13 hectares.

The precinct consists of what could be shops and residential dwellings located next to each other in neat linear rows, and a structure used during the 6th century by pilgrims who were travelling to the Christian shrine in Abu Mena.


The first construction boom in the region took place in the Hellenistic period, and later, when the Romans subjugated it. By the Islamic period, the volume of urbanised settlement meant that there was no need to construct further population centres, for which Dr. Mariusz Gwiazda from the PCMA said: "It was a big surprise for us, because around this period there was no new cities built in Egypt".


Header Image Credit : Mariusz Gwiazda

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Feds Take Ownership Of Smuggled Ancient ‘Epic Of Gilgamesh’ Tablet Owned By Hobby Lobby

Feds Take Ownership Of Smuggled Ancient 'Epic Of Gilgamesh' Tablet Owned By Hobby Lobby


The Justice Department on Tuesday ordered the forfeiture of an ancient tablet containing part of the Epic of Gilgamesh from craft stores giant Hobby Lobby, which the DOJ said purchased the tablet after it was smuggled into the U.S. and later put it on display at a biblical-themed museum.Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In ACA          Contraception Case

Key Facts

The approximately 3,600-year-old tablet, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, contains a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh—a Sumerian poem that is among the oldest known pieces of literature.

The tablet was apparently looted from Iraq before the DOJ said it was purchased in 2003 by an antiquities dealer—which the DOJ has not named—and later sold to Hobby Lobby in 2014.

According to the DOJ, Hobby Lobby then displayed the tablet at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which Hobby Lobby's owners largely fund.

Federal agents seized the tablet in 2019 as part of the investigation into its arrival in the U.S., and the DOJ said the museum has cooperated with the investigation.

Hobby Lobby also consented to Tuesday's forfeiture order.

Big Number

More than $1.6 million. That's how much prosecutors said Hobby Lobby paid for the 5-by-6 inch tablet, according to NPR.

Crucial Quote

"Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department's dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice," said Kenneth Polite, the top prosecutor in the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

Key Background

Prosecutors claim Hobby Lobby was not aware the tablet was taken illegally, since the antiquities dealer that brought the tablet to the U.S. used a fake provenance letter stating that the tablet was found inside a box of bronze fragments purchased in 1981. But this is far from the first time Hobby Lobby's been at the center of a smuggling scandal. Over the past few years, Hobby Lobby has turned over thousands of artifacts believed to have come into the U.S. through illicit means. In 2017, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay the U.S. government a fine of $3 million and forfeit more than 5,500 artifacts believed to have been looted from Iraq. And last year, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green agreed to turn over some 11,500 artifacts to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments after acknowledging he didn't know how the pieces came to the U.S., saying he "knew little about the world of collecting." All of the artifacts were intended to be housed at the Museum of the Bible.


Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against Christie's auction house in 2020, claiming "deceitful and fraudulent conduct" in selling Hobby Lobby the tablet. Christie's responded by saying any illegal activity involved with the piece "predated Christie's involvement," according to The New York Times.

Surprising Fact

The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet gets its name because its inscription describes the story's hero telling his mother about recent dreams. She interprets them as meaning a new friend will arrive, saying: "You will see him and your heart will laugh."

Further Reading

U.S. Authorities Say Hobby Lobby's Gilgamesh Tablet Is 'Stolen,' Must Go Back To Iraq (NPR)

Authorities Seek Forfeiture of Ancient Gilgamesh Tablet From Hobby Lobby (The New York Times)

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Ancient Egyptian priest statue returned home

Ancient Egyptian priest statue returned home

Egypt recovered the figure of Ni Kau Ptah from the Netherlands after it was put up for sale at a fine art fair

An ancient statue of a priest that was smuggled out of Egypt has been returned after being spotted at a fine art fair in the Netherlands.

The legless figure of Ni Kau Ptah, dating back to the Old Kingdom, was handed to a committee of experts at the tourism ministry in Cairo on Monday.

It is now at the Egyptian Museum in the city's Tahrir Square, to be studied and restored, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, the general supervisor of the Recovered Antiquities Administration, told The National.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said it co-ordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian embassy in The Hague and the Dutch authorities to retrieve the statue, as part of Egypt's efforts to recover stolen artefacts from abroad.

"It's very important to have it back to Egypt. Small or big, it's a part of our history," Mr Abdel-Gawad said.

The statue was discovered at the annual European Fine Art Foundation fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht in 2018 and transferred to the Egyptian embassy.

It was illegally smuggled and is not from the holdings of museums or stores belonging to the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The figure depicts the priest standing with his arms by his sides and wearing a short kilt. His name is engraved on the right arm.

"We know from the name of this statue that it's from a place in Saqqara," Mr Abdel-Gawad said.

Saqqara is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the necropolis for Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt.

The Ni Kau Ptah statue dates back to the era from 2000 to 2500BC and was probably part of the walls of a tomb, Mr Abdel-Gawad said.

It is one of thousands of Egyptian artefacts repatriated this year.

"In 2021, we started with 5,000 pieces from the United States and we have two pieces from Italy and also 114 pieces from France and this statue from Holland," Mr Abdel-Gawad said.

The 5,000 items at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, include funeral masks and heads of stone statues.

They were returned in January after years of negotiations.

In April, two smuggled Greco-Roman artefacts were seized in the Genoa region of Italy.

Last month, Egypt recovered 114 artefacts smuggled to France and three from Britain.

The smuggling of Egyptian antiquities has been a problem for many decades. An antiquities ministry statement from 2018 said that 32,638 artefacts had been lost in the previous 50 years.

Egypt is preparing to open the Grand Egyptian Museum this year. It will be the world's largest archaeological museum dedicated to a single civilisation, with 50,000 antiquities on display.

The country is focusing on preserving its heritage, as well as boosting tourism amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Friday, July 23, 2021

New Video from Wadi el-Hudi

New Video from Wadi el-Hudi

Watch a new video on Lessons on Labor and Industrial Organization from Wadi el-Hudi

Premiering tomorrow at 2:30EST

The Wadi el-Hudi Expedition is proud to share a new video made in conjunction with Digital Hammurabi's #AncientHIstoryDay.  The theme this year is "Hindsight is 2020".  It includes a series of videos about lessons from Ancient History that are still relevant today.  Wadi el-Hudi's contribution, "Lessons on Labor and Industrial Organization from Wadi el-Hudi, Egypt"  premieres on Youtube on Saturday, July 24 at 2:30pm EST.  It can be watched any time after that as well.  Mark your calendars and share the video.  If you love history, check out all of the new videos on Digital Hammurabi's youtube channel or Wadi el-Hudi's youtube channel

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