ARCENCPostings

Friday, January 27, 2023

Egypt archaeology: Gold-covered mummy among latest discoveries - BBC News

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-64415816

Egypt archaeology: Gold-covered mummy among latest discoveries

  • Published
A tomb found at an ancient                  burial site south of Cairo
Image source,
Getty Images
Image caption,
One of four newly discovered tombs at the Saqqara archaeological site south of Cairo

Archaeologists say they have found a gold leaf-covered mummy sealed inside a sarcophagus that had not been opened for 4,300 years.

The mummy, the remains of a man named Hekashepes, is thought to be one of the oldest and most complete non-royal corpses ever found in Egypt.

It was discovered down a 15m (50ft) shaft at a burial site south of Cairo, Saqqara, where three other tombs were found.

One tomb belonged to a "secret keeper".

The largest of the mummies that were unearthed at the ancient necropolis is said to belong to a man called Khnumdjedef - a priest, inspector and supervisor of nobles.

Another belonged to a man called Meri, who was a senior palace official given the title of "secret keeper", which allowed him to perform special religious rituals.

A judge and writer named Fetek is thought to have been laid to rest in the other tomb, where a collection of what are thought to be the largest statues ever found in the area had been discovered.

Several other items, including pottery, have also been found among the tombs.

Statues were found in                    tombs at an archaeological site south of CairoImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Various statues and items of pottery were found in the tombs

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former antiquities minister, has said all the discoveries date from around the 25th to the 22nd centuries BC.

"This discovery is so important as it connects the kings with the people living around them," said Ali Abu Deshish, another archaeologist involved in the excavation.

Saqqara was an active burial ground for more than 3,000 years and is a designated Unesco World Heritage Site. It sits at what was the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis and is home to more than a dozen pyramids - including the Step Pyramid, near where the shaft containing the mummy was found.

Thursday's discovery comes just a day after experts in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor said they had discovered a complete residential city from the Roman era, dating back to the second and third centuries AD.

Archaeologists found residential buildings, towers and what they've called "metal workshops" - containing pots, tools and Roman coins.

Egypt has unveiled many major archaeological discoveries in recent years, as part of efforts to revive its tourism industry.

The government hopes its Grand Egyptian Museum, which is due to open this year following delays, will draw in 30 million tourists a year by 2028.

But, critics have accused Egypt's government of prioritising media-grabbing finds over hard academic research in order to attract more tourism.

Video: https://www.bbc.com/news/av-embeds/64415816/vpid/p06vpy0t

Media caption,

The 4,400-year-old tomb is filled with hieroglyphs and statues

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Al-Antiquekhana: The looting of Ancient Egypt’s treasures - Reviews - Books - Ahram Online

https://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/18/484908/Books/AlAntiquekhana-The-looting-of-Ancient-Egypt%E2%80%99s-trea.aspx

Al-Antiquekhana: The looting of Ancient Egypt's treasures

Hesham Taha, Thursday 26 Jan 2023

Al-Antiquekhana (The Egyptian Museum) by Nasser Iraq, Dar El-Shorouk Publishing, Cairo 2022. pp.255

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In his new historical novel titled The Egyptian Museum, Nasser Iraq tackles the looting of Ancient Egyptian antiquities by European excavators.

Iraq attributes the looting to two main reasons: foreigners' abuse of Khedive Ismail's blind trust and the indifference that the majority of Egyptians showed towards those antiquities.

The novel is divided into 11 chapters that employ the names of the main characters as titles. Throughout the novel Iraq employs first-person narration. 

The novel starts with Ramadan Al-Mohammedy, a talented carpenter who is soon revealed to be an antiquities' thief and a Lothario. Ramadan's lover Mastoora – whom he kills after she insists that he marries her after getting her pregnant –  used to steal antiquities from the house of her employer, the German Egyptologist Heinrich "Henry" Brugsch.

 Iraq then makes a smooth transition to other characters. These are Brugsch, the School of Egyptology director; Auguste Mariette Pasha, the founder of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities; Joséphine Diori, the young French archeologist; and Ahmed Effendi Kamal, assistant of Mariette Pasha and Brugsch's most brilliant student.

Throughout the novel, Mariette Pasha and Brugsch are always engaged in a discussion about the Egyptians' indifference towards the Pharaohs' entire heritage. Mariette Pasha  firmly believes that Muslim Egyptians are inclined by virtue of their religious faith to overlook ancient Egyptian history, viewing statues as idols. He mentions the shutting down of the School of Egyptology –  due to the meagre number of students – as proof of Egyptians' apathy towards their ancient Egyptian heritage.

Brugsch, on the other hand, cannot believe that among so many Egyptians no one is interested in studying ancient Egyptian history. He cites Ahmed Effendi as an example of Egyptians who are willing to study such a subject and expresses his hope that in time other Egyptians will follow suit.

The novel, however, portrays all its main characters as involved one way or another in smuggling antiquities and selling them to foreigners abroad. Ramadan Al-Mohammedy, Mariette Pasha, Brugsch, Benjamin Jacob, even Ahmed Effendi – who returns the statue he stole – are all involved with stealing and smuggling antiquities.

Ahmed Effendi, who is married and has two children, is portrayed as deeply in love with her. Her love drives Ahmed to steal the statue of Seti I to sell it to provide Joséphine with a decent life. He has, however, a sudden pang of conscience and returns the statue just before being appointed head of an inventory commission responsible for conducting a census of the stolen statues.

Ahmed Effendi is flabbergasted when Joséphine leaves a farewell letter describing their relationship as withered roses. The note comes only two days after she had hugged him intimately. Jospehine, who turns out to be an emotionally disturbed woman, breaks off with Ahmed just as she had broken off with her fiancée back in France one week before her wedding. She runs after the French Consul's brother André whose profession as a photographer had been unknown in Egypt at the time. 

Mariette Pasha, another character involved in smuggling antiquities, gives Brugsch Pharaonic statues to sell them at an auction hall in London.

Brugsch himself has so many statues at his house as if they were personal property. In one of the more heart-wrenching scenes,  an Egyptian mummy is torn in half while Brugsch and his brother Emile carried it to the museum after discovering it and getting rid of its sarcophagus in the desert due to its heavy weight.

Benjamin Jacob, the French Jew who poses as a grain merchant in public but who is an antiquities smuggler behind the scenes, scolds Ramadan when he asks him about Thutmose III. When Ramadan proves ignorant, Jacob shouts at him saying "You, people of Egypt have a chronic flaw, a flaw that hinders your progress and development. A flaw that is similar to an epidemic that destroys and decimates and that is your horrible ignorance of the great heritage of your genius ancestors. You are oblivious of the fact that the dust you are treading on hides the most precious treasures and the greatest of civilizations." He concludes by saying, "Anyway, that's good for the ignorance of some people is the key to wealth for others".

The novel also portrays how foreigners in general viewed Egypt at that time. In a letter to her friend Marie, Joséphine says that only the parts of Cairo that are inhabited by the Khedive and foreigners are radiating with light, while the rest of Cairo is surrounded by poverty and piles of garbage. She describes Egypt as a nice-looking apple on the outside that is rotten at the core. She even believes Oriental music to be poor and slow.

In addition to the European Egyptologists, the novel also portrayed other famous historical figures in cameo roles. Among these characters are Ahmed Orabi, the Egyptian revolutionary, Karl Marx, the renowned German philosopher and Khedive Ismail.

The double standards of Europeans are also portrayed in the novel by Iraq. Europeans generally described the Khedive as the despot of the Orient who doesn't accept any advice. When the Khedive responded positively to the Egyptian Army officers' demands and dismissed the government that included a British and a French minister, a European newspaper described him as the outcast ruler who doesn't keep promises. Clearly, big powers in Europe were pushing the Ottoman Sultan to issue a firman deposing him, which exactly what happened. 

Despite the important projects that Khedive Ismail carried out, there was always in the backdrop of the novel his penchant for squandering money and also his trust, preference and favouring of foreigners both in posts and salaries. For instance, Ahmed Effendi felt severe injustice when he knew that Joséphine, who had just arrived from Paris, earned twice his salary while he spent six years to earn his. At the same time, the Egyptian Army was boiling with anger for not receiving their salaries for months on end.

Although the novel is basically historical, it is also in part a thriller in which the murderer is known from the very beginning.

As for Ramadan the killer, Ahmed Effendi had been suspicious of him and consequently followed Nabawiyya, one of the Egyptian Museum cleaners and Ramamdan's new lover, only to find that she gave him a wrapping and entered his home at night and didn't leave. After climbing the house wall, Ahmed, his Army officer cousin and a group of soldiers found Ramadan dead, Nabawiyya wounded and a number of statues along with Mastoora's and Sabha's corpses in the house's backyard.

The novel discusses a number of themes such as the self and the other, the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, and the absence of any form of overseeing of foreign officials (who smuggle antiquities so easily and who are almost never inspected by customs officials on leaving the country).

 There is also an underlying theme, namely the relationship between men and women. This theme can be seen in Ramadan's seduction of poor girls, luring them with promises of marriage then killing some of them . It can also be seen in Brugsch's relationship with his German wife, and in Ahmed Effendi's relationship with both Zeinab, his Egyptian wife, and his French fiancée Joséphine.

In addition, throughout the novel the reader can feel that white European features are almost always contrasted with dark Egyptian ones, to the extent that Sabha, the Upper Egyptian maid and one of Ramadan's victims, couldn't believe that Ramadan, who inherited his mother's Turkish complexion, sees her beautiful.

Iraq demonstrates in his 11th novel maturity in style and suppleness of prose unmatched in any of his pervious works. His characterisation is brilliant and he makes excellent use of history and historical resources and events. 

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

In competitive world of Egyptology, all-Egyptian team makes its mark - CSMonitor.com

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2023/0125/In-Valley-of-the-Kings-dig-an-all-Egyptian-team-makes-its-mark

Dignity



Dr. Asmaa Ebrahim measures a pottery shard at the archaeological excavation at Aten, a rediscovered city of ancient Thebes in Luxor, Egypt, Nov. 17, 2022

In Valley of the Kings dig, an all-Egyptian team makes its mark

On a mild, late November morning, almost completely hidden behind the 5-foot-high walls of a sprawling, yellow-gray mud-brick city rising from the ground, a dozen members of an archaeological team survey and brush away soil.

In a nearby tent, carefully holding jagged pottery shards in one gloved hand under a lens, Asmaa Ebrahim painstakingly scribbles down notes on the 3,000th piece of pottery.

Traditionally, in this valley, rich with ancient Egyptian history and the iconic archaeological sites to match, the role of ceramicist was filled by a foreign archaeologist with credentials from Cambridge or Princeton, not a South Valley University graduate from upper Egypt.

For decades, as the world's leading archaeologists dug into the rich history buried in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, Egyptians were the laborers, never the discoverers. But not on this dig.

"For once, Egyptians are the leading Egyptologists," Dr. Ebrahim smiles.

As workers brush away dust and sand, a leather sandal pokes out from the ground, strap facing up, slightly sun-dried but looking as if it had fallen off the foot of its careless owner days – rather than 3,400 years – ago.

"This is one of several," remarks a worker.

Today, in Aten, the recently discovered city at the foot of the Valley of the Kings, a new generation of Egyptian archaeologists and specialists is uncovering new details of daily life in ancient Egypt and with them, newfound feelings of professional pride and overdue respect.

Hamada Elrasam/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Dr. Asmaa Ebrahim holds up a pottery vessel uncovered at Aten, a rediscovered city of ancient Thebes in Luxor, Egypt, Nov. 17, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

A rare window

Aten, the so-called Golden City, was the residential, administrative, and industrial center of ancient Thebes, dating back to the 18th dynasty and the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III – the golden age of ancient Egypt. 

Discovered by chance while this rare all-Egyptian team was searching for the mortuary temple of the boy king Tutankhamen in 2021, it is now providing an ever-widening window into the daily life of ancient Egyptians.

Aten was abruptly abandoned by Amenhotep III's son Akhenaten, when he transformed ancient Egypt's religion and moved the capital 240 miles north of Thebes. That means much of the city was left intact as if life was suddenly frozen three millennia ago – Egypt's own Pompeii. 

Bread remains in clay ovens, precious stones are scattered in the jewelry workshop, and sun-dried bricks are neatly stacked in a tiny pyramid waiting to be carted off to build a temple or a palace.

A wavy, zigzag serpentine wall that experts believed was designed to limit Nile floodwaters cuts through the north of the city; at its end in a tent, Dr. Ebrahim holds up a clay oven.

"We have bread in an oven; we have preserved meat, a sandal workshop. A complete residential life is depicted here in Aten," she gushes with enthusiasm, "and it is not so different from our daily life today."

"This is unique. You won't find it at any site currently in Egypt."

Hamada Elrasam/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Members of an all-Egyptian team excavate one of seven districts in the sprawling ancient city of Aten, in Luxor, Egypt, Nov. 17, 2022.

 

 

 

 

Already the team has uncovered seven districts containing homes, a bakery, kitchens, a tailor, a weaver's loom, a leather tannery, a metalsmith, a sandal cobbler, and a butchery complete with dried meats in jars inscribed with the butcher's name, "Luwy."

The team is also uncovering technical clues as to how ancient Egyptians built and furnished some of the wonders of the ancient world.

Its discoveries have included preserved amulet molds, a jewelry workshop, a brick factory, and granite, basalt, and pottery workshops, all of which it believes were used to build and decorate Luxor's lavish temples and palaces – and craft the ornate treasures that were buried in King Tut's tomb.

New generation

The discoveries are thanks to a new generation of Egyptian archaeologists trained and encouraged by Zahi Hawass, who is leading the dig at Aten. The colorful and bombastic former director of Egypt's department of antiquities used his public persona as "godfather" of Egyptian antiquities to help bring along 500 young specialists to staff all-Egyptian excavation teams.

Dr. Ebrahim is one of dozens who studied archaeology and Egyptology in Egypt and then, at Dr. Hawass' urging, went abroad in the 2010s to work and train to gain technical expertise that Egypt lacked – in restoration, conservation, pottery analysis, carbon dating, and surveying. 

Now they are back leading digs like this at Aten, grabbing headlines and changing the way the world looks at ancient Egypt.


Hamada Elrasam/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Dr. Zahi Hawass, former director of Egypt's department of antiquities and leader of the all-Egyptian team excavating the ancient city of Aten, in one of the many workshops unearthed in the city, in Luxor, Egypt, Nov. 17, 2022.

 

 

 

 

"Our role as Egyptians cannot only be serving foreigners and bringing them coffee and tea while they write books and make films and we do nothing," Dr. Hawass says as he walks along Aten's serpentine wall. "We needed to gain the technical expertise that we relied on foreigners for."

"As a young man entering a bookstore, I never found a single book on Egyptology written by an Egyptian. All our work depended on foreigners, and they took all the credit," he says. "But now we are a complete scientific team."

Although recent years have seen more joint international-Egyptian teams, this excavation is one where every role – from extracting and sorting soil to analysis to conservation – is done by an Egyptian, with eight experts overseeing two dozen workers.

One core team member is Siham El Bershawy, a Luxor native who grew up a few miles away from the Valley of the Kings and now preserves and restores everything from papyrus to mummies at Aten.

"That feeling when you take items out from the ground in your own site, in your own country, in your own community with your own two hands – you feel a sense of pride as an Egyptian," Ms. El Bershawy says as she adjusts the humidifier on a child mummy encased in glass in a tomb-turned-storeroom.

"It is your ability and skill that unearthed this item, and now you are the responsible one to protect it for future generations. It is an awesome feeling."

Earned respect

It is a recognition for Egyptian archaeologists that has been decades overdue.

Here in the Valley of the Kings, the names of foreign archaeologists still echo from history, such as Howard Carter, the Briton who excavated the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 and whose residence in Luxor is preserved as a top tourist destination.

Hamada Elrasam/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A child mummy uncovered at the rediscovered ancient city of Aten is encased in glass, in Luxor, Egypt, Nov. 17, 2022.

 

 

 

 

In Aten, 2 miles west of the Carter House, this all-Egyptian team is expanding a discovery that many say rivals King Tut's tomb, earning accolades from academics and listed as one of the top 10 discoveries of 2021 by Archaeology Magazine.

"The real mark we made in this city is to show for the first time the role of the young Egyptians who are leading in archaeology and Egyptology," says Dr. Hawass.

Meanwhile Dr. Hawass' second Egyptian team, working in Saqqara, south of Cairo, last November discovered the funerary temple of Queen Nearit and 50 ornate wooden sarcophagi dating back 3,000 years to the New Kingdom – the earliest tombs ever discovered in that region.

"Two decades ago, we couldn't compete with international teams. But now foreigners look to us with respect. For the first time we are seen on the same level as Western archaeologists," Dr. Hawass says.

Among the most recent discoveries in Aten are five undisturbed tombs and five 4-foot-tall sealed jars at the edge of their excavations.

Dr. Hawass is planning to open one of the tombs this February and is continuing fundraising to extend excavations west of the city, of which so far an estimated one-third has been excavated.

Search for a queen

The team has also uncovered a clue he believes may lead it to the lost tomb of Queen Nefertiti – a name.

"Smenkhkare," the name of a mysterious pharaoh who ruled briefly between Aten and King Tut, was found on multiple inscriptions in Aten.

Hamada Elrasam/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A team member sketches a unique blue, two-headed gazelle vase uncovered at the ancient city of Aten in Luxor, Egypt, Nov. 17, 2022.

 

 

 

 

Egyptologists are divided on the figure; some believe Smenkhkare may have been a brother to Tutankhamen or a hitherto unknown co-regent with Akhenaten.

Dr. Hawass is of the camp that believes Smenkhare was a name assumed by Nefertiti after her husband Akhenaten's death as she ruled briefly as pharaoh.

While a separate British-Egyptian team is guiding a search for the lost queen's tomb farther west in the Valley of the Kings, Dr. Hawass' team believes that by following this clue, they may find it one day near Aten.

Even if future excavations do not lead to major breakthroughs, Aten has already made a major contribution to Egyptology – and for Egyptian archaeologists to be seen as peers.

"We are uncovering and preserving these items for the entire world, just like Western experts do," says Ms. El Bershawy, the conservationist. "This is more than a job. This is a calling. And we are answering this call and being recognized."

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

West Coast Tut Tour: An afternoon with Aidan Dodson in San Francisco, Feb. 5, de Young Museum




To anyone in the SF Bay Area interested in Ancient Egypt,

I wanted to let you know about an exciting event that ARCE Northern California is hosting with the American Research Center in Egypt and the Ancient Art Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. On February 5 at 2pm, the Tut Chapter Tour is coming to the de Young Museum, and features a lecture by Dr. Aidan Dodson. For more information, please go to https://www.arce.org/west-coast-tut-tour.
Be advised that although the event is free, registration is required. To go straight to registration, click on this link:  https://secure.everyaction.com/imoaeYmGY0WyV2Q0J-9qpQ2 .

Hashtags: #TutChapterTour #ARCE #AidanDodson #deYoung

There will be a discount on ARCE membership for people who sign up at the lecture. Hope you can join us!

Glenn Meyer
ARCE Northern California Publicity Director



Egypt archaeologists uncover 'complete' Roman city - Al-Monitor: Independent, trusted coverage of the Middle East

https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/01/egypt-archaeologists-uncover-complete-roman-city

Egypt archaeologists uncover 'complete' Roman city

Mostafa Waziri, the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of            Antiquities, inspects a pot discovered at a 1,800-year-old            Roman-era city, as seen in this photograph from the Egyptian            Ministry of Antiquities
— Cairo (AFP)

Egyptian archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered an 1,800-year-old "complete residential city from the Roman-era" in the heart of the southern city of Luxor.

The city, dating to the second and third centuries, is the "oldest and most important city found on the eastern bank of Luxor," according to Mostafa Waziri, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Archaeologists discovered "a number of residential buildings", as well as "two pigeon towers" -- a structure used to house pigeons or doves -- and a "number of metal workshops," Waziri said in a statement.

Inside the workshops, researchers found a collection of pots, tools and "bronze and copper Roman coins."

It is a rare archaeological find in Egypt, where excavations –- including on Luxor's west bank, where the famous Valley of the Queens and Valley of the Kings lie -- are most commonly of temples and tombs.

In April 2021, authorities announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old "lost golden city" on Luxor's west bank, with the archaeological team calling it "the largest" ancient city ever uncovered in Egypt.

Egypt has unveiled several major archaeological discoveries in recent years.

The excavation site of the Roman-era city                  discovered in the Egyptian city of Luxor, as seen in                  this photograph from the Egyptian Ministry of                  Antiquities

Critics say the flurry of excavations has prioritised finds shown to grab media attention over hard academic research.

But the discoveries have been a key component of Egypt's attempts to revive its vital tourism industry after years of political unrest, as well as after the Covid pandemic.

The government's plans -- the crowning jewel of which is the long-delayed inauguration of the Grand Egyptian Museum at the foot of the pyramids in Giza -- aim to draw in 30 million tourists a year by 2028, up from 13 million before the pandemic.

The country of 104 million inhabitants is suffering from a severe economic crisis, and Egypt's tourism industry accounts for 10 percent of GDP and some two million jobs.

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Frontiers in Medicine - 1/24/23 | Scanning and three-dimensional-printing using computed tomography of the “Golden Boy” mummy

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2022.1028377/full

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

ANE Today - How Did the Kings of the Late Bronze Age Deal with Rumors?

https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2023/01/kings-bronze-age-rumors

How Did the Kings of the Late Bronze Age Deal with Rumors?

By Mohy-Eldin Elnady Abo-Eleaz

 

In the Late Bronze Age, a so-called Club of Great Powers arose and divided the control of the Ancient Near East among themselves. These powers included Egypt, Mitanni, Babylon, Assyria, the Hittites, Arzawa (a kingdom in western Anatolia), and Alašiya (a kingdom on the island of Cyprus).

Near East Kingdoms in the Late Bronze Age.

To ensure their dominance and to maintain diplomatic peace, an effective communication network was necessary to allow the rapid flow of vital information between royal courts. But how did they deal with misinformation, or as we would put it, fake news?

The Great Kings were most interested in the news of other kingdoms pertaining to issues of common concern, such as local politics or even natural disasters such as plagues. Official communication was largely conducted by means of messengers and envoys, and kings were keen to host a large number of envoys in order to ensure the rapid flow of information. Conversely, if the news was interrupted, perhaps by one king preventing or delaying another king's envoy's travel, relationships could deteriorate. Misunderstanding arose on many issues as a direct result of the absence of official conduits for information.

Scribes in a relief from the Tomb of Horemheb, Saqqara, ca. 1400 BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Florence, Italy.
An imaginary reconstruction of a caravan in the ancient Near East.

Given the vast distances between the palaces and the slow travel speeds (especially compared to the modern era), relations between kingdoms were particularly sensitive to disruption by the many varieties of fake news: accidental misinformation, deliberate disinformation, as well as gossip and rumors, which threatened to upset international diplomacy, trading links, and unobstructed travel between states.

King Amenhotep III, British Museum.

Rumors were a particular concern since this form of misinformation threatened the potential loss of prosperity by upsetting otherwise friendly economic policies and peaceful diplomacy. As a result, the kings did not hesitate to cooperate and to resolve contentious issues using diplomatic methods, including the regular exchange of messages and envoys and even very rare face-to-face meetings. In their exchanged letters, the kings were careful to explain their concern over misunderstandings and related difficulties.

One example comes from the correspondence exchanged between Egypt and Babylon, preserved in the so-called Amarna Letters (so named for their discovery at the short-lived royal city constructed at Tell El Amarna). These letters reflect the tension between the two powers, casting it as a product of the Babylonian envoy's negative experience at the Pharaoh's court and lingering court gossip about the welfare of the Babylonian princess languishing at the royal court in Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep III.

Amenhotep III wrote to his peer Kadašman-Enlil I, the Babylonian king, in order to respond to gossip and false reports delivered by the latter's own messengers concerned the fate of a Babylonian princess in the Egyptian palace. He complained that the Babylonian king's envoys were unqualified and did not recognize the princess (Amarna Letter EA 1): "Did you, however, ever send here a dignitary of yours—who knows your sister, who could speak with her and identify her?" Amenhotep III was keen to present himself as the source of information and refute this fake news.

Amenhotep III stressed that she was still alive and wrote that he would have had no reason to cover up the news of her death, had she died. He went on to demand "Why don't you send me a dignitary of yours who can tell you the truth, the well-being of your sister who is here, and then you can believe the one who enters to see her quarters and her relation¬ ship with the king?" He sought to clear himself of any guilt of lying or deception. In order to reinforce the trustworthiness of his words, he swore in the letter that he had no interest in engaging in such conduct.

Letter of Amenhotep III to Kadašman-Enlil I (EA 1, obverse). BM E 29784 © Trustees of the British Museum.
Queen Puduḫepa.

A similar case occurred during the reign of Ramesses II, who had married two Babylonian princesses just as Amenhotep III did a century earlier. As previously, the Babylonian messengers reported false news about their treatment when they came to visit the Babylonian princesses in the Egyptian Palace. Puduḫepa, the wife of Ḫattušili III, the king of Hittites, commented on this in her letters to Ramesses II after the peace treaty was concluded between the two powers. After the initial complaint, Ramesses II apparently responded by refuting and denying the accusations of Puduḫepa, directly quoting her allegation and then disputing it. That letter is lost, but we have Puduḫepa's response, which quotes Ramesses' letter quoting her initial complaint:

As for what you, my brother, wrote to me: 'Thus my sister wrote to me: "When messengers travelled to visit the Babylonian princess who had been given (in marriage) to (the king of) Egypt, they were left standing outside!" It was Ellil-bel-nishe, the Babylonian king's own messenger, who informed me of this.' Because [I] heard the information, should I not have written to my brother about it? (Catalogue of Hittite Texts 176)

Why a Hittite queen should have been told about this affair by a Babylonian envoy in the first place is unclear, except that such gossip was part of the fabric of international relations. The subtle circulation (and creation) of rumors to test reactions and change perceptions of rivals remains a part of diplomacy today, as does use of precise quotations to avoid misunderstanding.

Another example of rumors is recorded in a letter from Tušratta, the king of Mitanni. Amenhotep III had sent Mane, one of his most senior diplomatic officials, to Mitanni in order to escort Tušratta's daughter journey to Egypt where she was to become Amenhotep III's bride. Much time had elapsed since Mane's departure without any news of him. It seems that Tušratta had received a letter from Amenhotep III, containing news about the fate of Mane that the Mitannian king considered false. Amenhotep III may even had reached the conclusion that Mane was dead or sick.

Tušratta wrote back to Amenhotep III, explaining that Mane had been kept in Mitanni because of the time taken to prepare the princess's dowry and for her journey to Egypt. Tušratta assured Amenhotep III that he did not need to worry about his envoy's fate, that he was still alive, and that he, the king, was treating him respectfully:

For this reason, Mane has been detained here a while. I was going to send Keliya and Mane promptly, but I had not finished . . . I did not do the work, in order to do ten times more for my brother's wife. But now I will do the work.
Within six months I will send Keliya, my messenger, and Mane, my brother's messenger. I will deliver my brother's wife and they will bring her to my brother. (Amarna Letters EA 20)

Apparently, the rumors, false news, and gossip were frequent, forcing the Mitanni king to give further attention to the concerns of the Egyptian king in a subsequent letter. He stated:

And I want to say one thing more to my brother: In the presence of my brother evil words are numerous; one, who speaks (to him), is not (however,) at hand, those (evil words) do not come before the sight of a great one. (Now, however) an evil word was spoken (?) to the king; a babbler (?) has in a bad manner spoken to my brother ‹concerning› my person, he has denounced me. (Amarna Letters EA 24)

Letter of Tušratta of Mitanni to Amenhotep III of Egypt (EA 20) Photo: Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

Thus, even the Mitannian ruler Tušratta felt compelled to exonerate himself of slander that someone had pronounced against him before Amenhotep III.

The exchanged letters indicate also how kings of the Ancient Near East aggressively sought to address misunderstandings on any matter, since a failure to respond could allow rumors, disinformation and false news to spread. The Assyrian king Ashur–uballit thus felt compelled to write to Akhenaten explaining why the latter's messengers were late: "As to your messengers having been delayed in reaching you, Suteans had been their pursuers (and) they were in mortal danger. I detained them until I could write and the pursuing Suteans be taken for me." (Amarna Letters, EA 16)

But earlier in the same letter, Ashur-uballit may also have revealed another reason why Akhenaten's messengers were late – a complaint about the paltry size of the Egyptian's diplomatic gift: "Is such a present that of a Great King?' Gold in your country is dirt; one simply gathers it up. Why are you so sparing of it?? I am engaged in building a palace. Send me as much gold as is needed for its adornment."

Likewise, when Ḫattušili III was alarmed that Kadašman-Enlil II, the king of Babylonia, had terminated his diplomatic mission to the Hittite palace, Kadašman-Enlil wrote back with various excuses: "Since the Ahlamu are hostile I have stopped sending my messengers. The King of Assyria prevents my messenger from crossing his territory." Ḫattušili III, however, was not impressed, replying "Only when two kings are at enmity do their messengers cease regular travel between them"

In the past, as today, the continual flow of accurate information between great powers was critical to successful diplomacy and to peace. Learning to read these messages, and reading between the lines, is a valuable skill for diplomats.

Mohy-Eldin E. Abo-Eleaz is Associate Professor History and Civilization of Egypt and the Ancient Near East at Minia University. His article, "Fake News and Rumors in the Diplomatic Correspondence between Egypt and the Other Great Powers during the XIVth and XIIIth Centuries BCE" was recently published in Revue d'Égyptologie.

Click here for a PDF of this article. 



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Intact ancient papyrus scroll uncovered in Saqqara, the first in a century - Egypt Independent

https://www.egyptindependent.com/intact-ancient-papyrus-scroll-uncovered-in-saqqara-the-first-in-a-century/

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New bio explores times, scholarship of Egyptologist George Reisner – Harvard Gazette

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2023/01/new-bio-explores-times-scholarship-of-egyptologist-george-reisner/

Life seeking answers at Giza, Nubia

George Reisner with a bronze vase from a 1923                excavation.

George Reisner transformed the field of Egyptian archaeology.

Courtesy of Peter Der Manuelian

New biography explores times, scholarship of pioneering Egyptologist George Reisner

Q&A

Peter Der Manuelian

GAZETTE: Many may not be familiar with George Reisner. Who was he and why is he important?

MANUELIAN: He came to Harvard in the Class of 1889 and got his Ph.D. in 1893 in Semitic philology. He met Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst — the newspaper magnate — who was looking for archaeologists to enhance the University of California, Berkeley, collections. Reisner saw the plunder and the danger that the sites in Egypt were in, so he thought he would give archaeology a try, and Hearst gave him a five-year contract. He had to basically learn on the job, but he was off and running as an Egyptologist and archaeologist. He became a founding father of modern, responsible scientific method. That meant working carefully, documenting all aspects of the dig before you start, during the work, and the in situ discoveries. It meant keeping diaries, having a numbering system and a logbook for all the finds, and taking interdisciplinary approaches. He lived and worked at the Giza Pyramids, in a cluster of mud brick huts called Harvard Camp that was really his only home for more than 40 years. He worked out the chronology and the history of the Fourth Dynasty of the Pyramid Age, about 2500 BCE. Alongside an Italian, a German, and later an Egyptian expedition, he excavated two-thirds of the tombs of the elites surrounding the pyramids themselves.

GAZETTE: We may accept his field methods and detailed documentation as an obvious standard, but weren't they controversial at the time?

MANUELIAN: The generation before him was about, "Let's get the statues and other finds and take them home." It was basically plunder. The museums doing most of the collecting were in Europe. He led the first legitimate Egyptian expedition from America, and after his success, the Metropolitan Museum and the Penn Museum said, "Hey, we should get into this game too."

His other big contribution was in Nubia — modern Sudan — opening up Nubian studies as a separate discipline. He investigated several royal pyramid fields, cemeteries, fortresses built along the Nile, and temples.

Peter Der Manuelian.
Peter Der Manuelian came across George Reisner's expedition correspondence while working on the Giza Project at the Museum of Fine Arts. Photo by Laurie Thomas

GAZETTE: Nubia is much further up the Nile?

MANUELIAN: Yes. He was very interested in trying to figure out who the Nubians were, what the relationship was between Egyptians and Nubians, and it's a very tangled, complicated relationship. Sometimes it's about trade, sometimes it's about imperialism and annexation, sometimes it's about Nubians coming north and into Egyptian society. Other times it's outright conquest, in both directions. In later periods, the Nubians come north and rule Egypt for a while. So it's a fascinating interplay of these two cultures.

GAZETTE: How did racial attitudes affect Reisner's views of Nubia?

MANUELIAN: People at the time were studying cranium size as an indicator of intelligence and trying to explain the greatness of these ancient civilizations as being tied to Mediterranean or to European cultures. Reisner wasn't tied to eugenics and ideas about racial superiority that some others were obsessed with, but he was curious about who these people were and where they came from. In the case of the Nubians, he got a lot of it wrong. He really thought the Nubians must be Libyans who emigrated southwards, or resettled Egyptians. He had trouble wrapping his head around an indigenous, great, African Nubian civilization.

I've divided the attitudes at that time into what I call "ancient racism" and "modern racism." Ancient racism is the issue of "Where did these people come from? Did they have white European ties or not?" And in the early 20th century, depending on what decade you're talking about, the theories range from, "They must have come in through the Levant." Then, as anti-Semitism rises, the theory changed to "Oh, they must have come in through Libya." And it goes back and forth.

Modern racism is about how expeditions functioned, the feeling that Western archaeologists were entitled to excavate, take the finds home, and pay little attention to Egyptian desires. It all plays out against the backdrop of the British running the government in Egypt from 1882 onwards, the French controlling the Antiquities Service, and the Egyptians in the background, struggling for independence.

Modern racism as it applies to Reisner is more complicated. Reisner favored British rule because he believed it stamped out corruption and protected the Egyptian population against what he viewed as a suspect and corrupt elite Egyptian class in Cairo. He was also very progressive, stood up for his workmen, and saw the country through their eyes. He took a much more enlightened view than some of the other American and European excavators who really looked at the Egyptians as just cogs in their expedition machine. They didn't give them much credit or acknowledgement. We're really trying to change that now, to go back and figure out who these Egyptian workmen and foremen were. Even though they're often not credited in photos and we just have their names on paysheets and lists, we're trying to do justice by them.

The Reisner family in 1939 at Harvard Camp, which was really Reisner's only home for more than 40 years, says Peter Der Manuelian.
Courtesy of Peter Der Manuelian

GAZETTE: He held the title of professor of Egyptology, which you have now, but came back sparingly to teach. What can you tell us about his Harvard career?

MANUELIAN: He definitely had a Harvard loyalty. In 1904, when Phoebe Hearst was strapped and pulled her financial aid, suddenly Reisner was high and dry. That eventually led to a one-year agreement in 1905 to form the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts expedition. It continued for another 40-plus years basically on a gentleman's agreement. In 1910, Reisner became the second MFA Egyptian curator, a post he held until his death. Harvard didn't pay Reisner in these early decades at all. The MFA was footing the bill for the excavations because they wanted to expand their collections. Harvard President [Charles William] Eliot said, "We're not trying to create a competing Egyptian collection in Cambridge. We want the archives; we want the publication rights; we want the scholarship." It was only later that Harvard stepped up and said, "We ought to be paying this guy something too." Reisner was at times frustrated with the University and the museum in terms of their support. His teaching semesters were 1911, then not until 1921 — World War I was a real mess — and then 1925. That's when one of his most famous discoveries at Giza occurred: the hidden burial shaft of Queen Hetepheres, the mother of the builder of the Great Pyramid. That was a hugely significant find. And then his last teaching semester was in 1929. He doesn't get back again until he is blind from cataracts in 1939 and gets an honorary degree. It was also his 50th class anniversary. It's a great honor, but at first he didn't want to lose the work time with the long trip home. They talked him into it.

GAZETTE: He died a few years later?

MANUELIAN: After a month in Boston, he returned to Egypt, then suffered some strokes, and was bedridden for the last year of his life up at Harvard Camp, near his beloved pyramids. He died there in 1942. He was buried in the American Cemetery in Cairo, and efforts are currently underway to restore his headstone.

GAZETTE: So, even when he was ill, he stayed there instead of coming back?

MANUELIAN: He kept on writing, even trying to type when he couldn't see. You should see his later letters. If his fingers are off by one key, you have to decipher them yourself. But he never complained and even through his blindness he never stopped working. He kept running the show. He had a team around him making drawings and typing up his publications. There are thousands of pages of unpublished manuscripts that we've put on the Giza website.

GAZETTE: Have subsequent archaeologists worked through the backlog of data from his finds?

MANUELIAN: At almost all of his 23 sites in Egypt and Sudan, new expeditions are active, asking different research questions, and adding to Reisner's knowledge base.

In terms of his expedition records, that's really what prompted the biography. I was doing the Giza Project at the Museum of Fine Arts — that started in 2000 — and the goal was basically to scan all the photos, type all the diaries, database all the objects, and then link them online for the world community. As we were creating this online archaeological tool, we came across all the other expedition correspondence — the letters and the gossip and the scandals — and I felt that this is a story that should be told.

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