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Friday, March 31, 2023

Researchers use 21st century methods to record 2,000 years of ancient graffiti in Egypt

Researchers use 21st century methods to record 2,000 years of ancient graffiti in Egypt

30-Mar-2023 6:55 PM EDT, by Simon Fraser University

Newswise — Simon Fraser University researchers are learning more about ancient graffiti—and their intriguing comparisons to modern graffiti—as they produce a state-of-the-art 3D recording of the Temple of Isis in Philae, Egypt.

Working with the University of Ottawa, the researchers published their early findings in Egyptian Archaeology and have returned to Philae to advance the project.

"It's fascinating because there are similarities with today's graffiti," says SFU geography professor Nick Hedley, co-investigator of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded project. "The iconic architecture of ancient Egypt was built by those in positions of power and wealth, but the graffiti records the voices and activities of everybody else. The building acts like a giant sponge or notepad for generations of people from different cultures for over 2,000 years."

As an expert in spatial reality capture, Hedley leads the team's innovative visualization efforts, documenting the graffiti, their architectural context, and the spaces they are found in using advanced methods like photogrammetry, raking light, and laser scanning. "I'm recording reality in three-dimensions — the dimensionality in which it exists," he explains.

With hundreds if not thousands of graffiti, some carved less than a millimeter deep on the temple's columns, walls, and roof, precision is essential.

Typically, the graffiti would be recorded through a series of photographs — a step above hand-drawn documents — allowing researchers to take pieces of the site away and continue working.

Sabrina Higgins, an SFU archaeologist and project co-investigator, says photographs and two-dimensional plans do not allow the field site to be viewed as a dynamic, multi-layered, and evolving space. "The techniques we are applying to the project will completely change how the graffiti, and the temple, can be studied," she says.

Hedley is moving beyond basic two-dimensional imaging to create a cutting-edge three-dimensional recording of the temple's entire surface. This will allow the interior and exterior of the temple, and the graffiti, to be viewed and studied at otherwise impossible viewpoints, from virtually anywhere— without compromising detail.

This three-dimensional visualization will also enable researchers to study the relationship between a figural graffito, any graffiti that surrounds it, and its location in relation to the structure of temple architecture.

While this is transformative for viewing and studying the temple and its inscriptions, Hedley points to the big-picture potential of applying spatial reality capture technology to the field of archaeology, and beyond.

"Though my primary role in this project is to help build the definitive set of digital wall plans for the Mammisi at Philae, I'm also demonstrating how emerging spatial reality capture methods can fundamentally change how we gather and produce data and transform our ability to interpret and analyze these spaces. This is a space to watch!" says Hedley.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Ancient Art Council - Lecture - Saturday - 6 May - 2 pm (PDT) - Dr. David Silverman


Supporting Antiquities at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Legion of Honor | de Young Museum


Programs are free and open to the public.

Seating is limited and unassigned.


Gunn Theater | Legion of Honor | Lincoln Park
Live stream (Please register here for a webinar link)

Saturday, 6 May, 2023, 2:00–3:30 pm (PDT = GMT -07:00))


Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Professor of Egyptology, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Curator, Egyptian Section, University Museum

University of Pennsylvania


The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun and Exhibiting Its Treasures


Not long after the young king died, around 1332 BCE, his name and reign fell into obscurity for more than 3,200 years. 

That changed, however, on 4 November 1922, when Howard Carter located this royal burial in the Valley of the Kings.  

Now, Tutankhamun's name, history, and treasures are known worldwide.  How did it happen?


Upcoming Lectures

In person + Live stream

Gunn Theater | Legion of Honor

Saturday, 9 September, 2:00 pm (PDT): Francesca Rochberg, University of California, Berkeley

Saturday, 7 October, 2:00 pm (PDT): Steven Tuck, Miami University

Saturday, 2 December, 2:00 pm (PST): Annual Saturnalia--directed and presented by Carey Perloff


We are grateful for your support of Antiquities at the FAMSF. Keep well and keep safe.

Become an AAC member or make a donationand help us grow ancient art at the Museums.

For more information, please visit
For membership, please email:


Monday, March 27, 2023

Northern Cal. ARCE Lecture April 16: The Hidden Treasures of Elephantine Island

The American Research Center in Egypt, Northern California Chapter, and the Near Eastern Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley, invite you to attend a lecture by
Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper, National Museums, Berlin:

The Hidden Treasures of Elephantine Island

Sunday, April 16, 2023, 3 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Room 20 Social Sciences Building (formerly Barrows Hall)
UC Berkeley
This lecture is in-person only, and will not be recorded.

Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper (Image courtesy of the lecturer)

About the Lecture:

Elephantine was a militarily and strategically very important island on the river Nile at the southern border of Egypt. No other settlement in Egypt is so well attested through texts over such a long period of time, 4000 years. Its inhabitants form a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious community that left us vast amounts of written sources detailing their everyday lives from the Old Kingdom to beyond the Arab Conquest. Today, several thousand papyri and other manuscripts from Elephantine are scattered in more than 60 institutions in 24 different countries across Europe and beyond. Their texts are written in ten different languages and scripts, including Hieroglyphs, Hieratic, Demotic, Aramaic, Greek, Coptic and Arabic. 80% of these manuscripts were unpublished or unstudied before.

Thus, access was gained to these texts, making them publicly available in an open access online research database. Links could be identified between papyrus fragments from different collections, and an international 'papyrus puzzle' undertaken, incorporating cutting-edge methods from digital humanities, physics and mathematics (e.g. for the virtual unfolding of papyri). For the first time in the history of papyrology, papyrus packages can now be read virtually, without physically opening them. Using this database with medical, religious, legal, administrative, even literary texts, the everyday life of the local and global (i.e. 'glocal') community of Elephantine can be studied. Elephantine can thus be used as a case study and a model for the past, present and future.

About the Lecturer:

Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper  is the Curator of the Egyptian and Oriental Papyrus Collection of the Egyptian Museum, National Museums Berlin (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and Honorary Professor at the Humboldt University Berlin. She is in charge of a collection with around 30,000 objects in ten different languages and scripts and has managed several exhibition and research projects in Germany and abroad (Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Bonn, Doha, Harvard) with a team of employees.

She conducts research on topics such as Egyptian and Oriental papyri, literary and cultural history, and the history of science and art. To this end, she has published numerous books and exhibition catalogues with international publishers.

Dr. Lepper studied Egyptology, Semitic Philology, Christian Orient Studies and Hebrew Bible at Bonn, Cologne, Tuebingen, Oxford and Harvard University.  She has received several awards for her scientific and curatorial work, including the highly renowned ERC-Grant from the European Research Council for the project: "Elephantine".

To promote Arab-German academic exchange, she founded the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA) in  2013. She is involved in numerous committees in the field of scientific and cultural policy and diplomacy. Visiting professorships and fellowships have also taken her to Harvard and Princeton University.

Parking is available in UC lots all day on weekends, for a fee. Ticket dispensing machines accept debit or credit cards. Parking is available in lots around the Social Sciences Building, and in lots along Bancroft. A map of the campus is available online at

About ARCE-NC:

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.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Ancient Egypt excavation uncovers 2,000 mummified ram heads at Abydos - The Jerusalem Post

Ancient Egypt excavation uncovers 2,000 mummified ram heads at Abydos

The team uncovered a large palatial structure with walls approximately five meters thick from the Old Kingdom's sixth dynasty.

 Impressive three-dimentional sculpture of a man              carrying a leapord from Göbeklitepe on exhibit at the              Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum. (photo credit: JUDITH              SUDILOVSKY)
Impressive three-dimentional sculpture of a man carrying a leapord from Göbeklitepe on exhibit at the Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum.
(photo credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY)

At least 2,000 mummified ram heads dating from the Ptolemaic period and a palatial Old Kingdom structure have been uncovered at the temple of Ramses II in the ancient city of Abydos in southern Egypt, antiquities officials said on Saturday.

Mummified ewes, dogs, wild goats, cows, gazelles, and mongooses were found in the temple along with the ram heads, which are thought to be votive offerings indicating continuing reverence for Ramses II at the site about 1,000 years after his death, a statement from the tourism and antiquities ministry said.

It added that the discoveries would expand knowledge of the site over a period of more than two millennia up to the Ptolemaic period. The Ptolemaic period spanned about three centuries until the Roman conquest in 30 B.C.

Abydos, located in the Egyptian governorate of Sohag about 270 miles (435 km) south of Cairo, is one of Egypt's major though lesser visited archaeological sites.

It was a necropolis for early ancient Egyptian royalty and a pilgrimage centre for the worship of the god Osiris.

Mummified cats statues that were found inside a                cache, at the Saqqara area near its necropolis, are                pictured in Giza (credit: REUTERS)Mummified cats statues that were found inside a cache, at the Saqqara area near its necropolis, are pictured in Giza (credit: REUTERS)

Excavations were carried out by a mission from New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

What else did the archaeologists uncover?

Alongside the mummified animal remains, the team uncovered a large palatial structure with walls approximately five meters thick from the Old Kingdom's sixth dynasty, in addition to several statues, papyri, ancient tree remains, leather garments and shoes.

The structure could help "reestablish the sense of the ancient landscape of Abydos before the construction of the Ramses II temple," the head of the mission, Sameh Iskander, was quoted as saying.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Have we got Ancient Egypt's mummies all wrong? - BBC Culture

Have we got Ancient Egypt's mummies all wrong?

(Image credit: Manchester Museum)

People have long wanted to look inside mummies' casings at the 'real' people beneath. But a new show is ditching the scans and honouring the dead as it sees fit, writes Holly Williams.

Mummies, like werewolves, vampires and witches, are the stuff of legend in the popular imagination. The idea of bodies from an ancient civilisation, mysteriously preserved for thousands of years, discovered in glittering tombs, has always held an allure: from the Victorians holding mummy "unwrapping" parties through to "Tutmania" in the 1920s following the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, to a wealth of movies from Hammer Horror flicks to Indiana Jones. 

Given all this, it's no wonder that myths and misconceptions about them abound. But a British exhibition aims to shed new light on this ancient practice – and maybe even shift our perspective.

Curator Campbell Price says that the main                          intention of mummies was not to preserve the                          dead, but transform them into gods (Credit:                          Manchester Museum)

Curator Campbell Price says that the main intention of mummies was not to preserve the dead, but transform them into gods (Credit: Manchester Museum)

Manchester Museum in the north of England reopened last month after a £15m redevelopment project – and their free opening exhibition, Golden Mummies of Egypt, showcases their incredible Egyptology collection. It includes eight mummies dating from the Graeco-Roman period (300BC to 300AD), brought to Britain by archaeologist Flinders Petrie, following his 1888–90 and 1911 excavations of a huge necropolis at Hawara, in the Faiyum region south of Cairo.

The show has arrived home in Manchester after touring North America and China while the museum was shut for refurbishment. And now Campbell Price, the curator, is on something of a mission: to change how we think and talk about mummies.

Flipping the mummy narrative

For starters, and rather unusually these days, they are not including any X-rays or CT scans of the human remains below the wrappings; there is no bio-medical speculation on how old these people were when they passed away or how they died. Scans of the mummies were included while the show was on tour – but have now been removed (which involved reworking information displays at some cost), to reflect Manchester Museum's new thinking about how to present such sensitive artefacts. "We're stepping back from this desire to unwrap," says Price, adding that they hope to "flip the narrative" by refocusing the attention "from the inside – what we expect we have the right to see – on to the outside – what the Ancient Egyptians expected people to see."

Rather than including arguably voyeuristic speculation over human remains, Golden Mummies focuses more on the astonishing casings that the Egyptians crafted for their dead to spend eternity in. 

And this is the main myth that Price hopes to bust: mummies were not actually about preserving the dead – they were about transforming the dead into gods. The ostentatiously decorated coffins and casings don't reflect the person inside, but use divine, idealised imagery to help the spirit to live on in greater glory. By using iconography associated with funerary gods – the male god Osiris and the female god Hathor – it's as if the embalmers were offering reassurance that, yes, this person is ready for the afterlife.

I have been in hospitals where mummies have gone into the CT scanner and there are Egyptologists, biomedical Egyptologists, and clinicians, and no one can agree what CT scans show – Campbell Price

"There are texts that say 'the dead person is going to become a god' – that is what the mummification process is about," insists Price. "When we find mummies that are judged by modern people 'well-preserved', that may be a symptom, rather than an intention." 

Some evidence for this can be found in the fact that the late-period mummies, like the ones in Manchester's show, often won't even have had their organs removed. The fact that ensuring the entire physical body was neatly preserved clearly wasn't always the aim arguably suggests that it may in fact never have been the sole or main intention – but rather just one aspect of a wider ritual around death.

"A myth has developed in Egyptology itself, that in Ancient Egypt there's lots of experimentation [in embalming], they get it right for a few generations, and then 'forget' how to do it," Price says, sounding deeply unconvinced. "And it just declines, till you get to the Graeco-Roman period, where they so don't care about the inside that they're not removing the internal organs, they're just sloshing on resin, and they make it look pretty on the outside."

He considers this a condescending and colonial interpretation, thinking it is more likely that the long-term physical preservation of the body was always simply less significant than the performed, ritual act of preparing the body for the afterlife – essentially, giving the dead a fabulous send-off.

Looking around the exhibition, at the gilded masks and jewellery, the intricately painted hieroglyphs, patterns and scenes, it's impossible not to be struck by how vivid the mummies still are. Although now displayed horizontally, it is thought these later period mummies were likely stood upright to be publicly displayed and admired for years, possibly even generations, following their death – as a kind of "divine statue". With low lighting catching all that gold, the atmosphere in the exhibition does indeed feel reverential.

Several                          of the exhibition's mummies fit the classic                          image that most people have – with their gold                          and blue, heavy-eyed 'death masks' (Credit:                          Julia Thorne)

Several of the exhibition's mummies fit the classic image that most people have – with their gold and blue, heavy-eyed 'death masks' (Credit: Julia Thorne)

And it is this external deification that the show centres – rather than scanning coffins to see if the people inside were well-preserved, or if they had gammy knees or died of cancer. 

"I want to get away from that biomedical interpretation, and focus on the becoming-a-god bit," says Price. "I'm not saying all those scientific inquiries are 'bad' and shouldn't be done. I'm just saying, it's a chance to look at the material in a different way."

This is partly about respect; Manchester Museum's new director Esme Ward's stated mission for the institution is "to build understanding between cultures and a more sustainable world", with their core values being "inclusion, imagination and care". And when talking about showing care, in the case of this particular exhibition, it felt important for the team behind it to acknowledge that we were never meant to see under the mummies' wrappings.

Some in the sector even suggest that mummies shouldn't be on display at all; in 2020, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford removed a mummy, alongside other human remains such as shrunken heads, from its displays. The decision was made following audience research that showed visitors often understood the Museum's displays of human remains as "a testament to other cultures being 'savage', 'primitive"' or 'gruesome'… [reinforcing] racist stereotypes". The Museum said that the decision to remove human remains was an attempt to "show our respect for the communities around the world with whom we work".

"It's fairly clear that the Ancient Egyptians involved in making works like this didn't want them to be unwrapped," confirms Price. But it's not just sensitivity to this that has informed Manchester Museum's decision-making: he also isn't terribly convinced by the science available to us. "I have been in hospitals where mummies have gone into the CT scanner and there are Egyptologists, biomedical Egyptologists and clinicians, and no one can agree what CT scans show," he laughs. After all, CT scans were designed for living bodies, not dried-out corpses. "You can say 'this is evidence of a health condition', and someone else will say 'no it's an effect of mummification'. Something may appear like a calcified whatnot or a fossilised ding-dong – but actually you've got to own up to the public and say 'we do not know'." 

The legacy of Western archaeologists unwrapping mummies (often destroying them in the process) also has the tang of colonial entitlement to it – from Victorians making macabre entertainment out of 'unrollings' through to the fact that some institutions continued to unwrap in the name of research right up until the 1980s. Since then, digital unwrapping has taken over – and of course, does not damage the mummies. And CT scans can offer astounding detail: from revealing amulets buried with the body right down to how hardened an artery was.

The argument for 'unwrapping'

Speaking out against 'unwrapping' is somewhat controversial: there will be many who think pursuit of knowledge trumps all other considerations, or that after thousands of years, it is overly reverential to worry about the feelings of the dead. "Some biomedical [Egyptologists] maybe have had their noses put out of joint; more hard scientists may be disappointed [by our exhibition]," acknowledges Price. And Manchester Museum is also placing itself in opposition to other notable institutions, such as the British Museum, whose Exploring Ancient Lives exhibition is literally about using scans to humanise the individuals inside their mummies.

First seen at the museum itself in 2014, that exhibition has since been on a whopping international tour; it heads to Japan and Spain this year. No one from the British Museum was willing to discuss it for this piece, although in an article for BBC Culture in 2014, original curator John H Taylor said their intention was "to get back to the idea that these were once real, living people".

Faiyum portraits were flat painted images                          attached to the casings of mummies in the later                          Roman period (Credit: Manchester Museum)

Faiyum portraits were flat painted images attached to the casings of mummies in the later Roman period (Credit: Manchester Museum)

The show, seen by more than 2m visitors, offers undoubtedly compelling insights and speculation into the sex, age, health and even diet of six mummified people. "It is only through the study of the individuals' carefully preserved remains that we are able to further our understanding of the people who lived thousands of years ago," the curators, Marie Vandenbeusch and Daniel Antoine, have written.

One thing that their research does reveal is that there's often a gap between what the physical body was like in death, and the outward depiction on coverings, which feature idealised figures. This is most clearly seen in the case of mummified children, who were represented as adults – to allow them to live their best (after)life. For Price, this only supports the idea that mummies were less about celebrating the individual in death, and more about allowing them to transcend human frailty. 

Lifelike mummy portraits – or are they?

While several of Manchester Museum's mummies perfectly fit the classic image we all have – with their gold and blue, heavy-eyed visages – the exhibition also features late-style ones that look very different. These feature remarkably lifelike painted portraits; you'd assume they were from Renaissance Italy, perhaps, not Ancient Egypt. They are astonishing – and likely to jolt many viewers with their surprisingly direct gaze. These are the Faiyum portraits: they were flat, 2D painted images on thin wood, that were attached or bound to the outer casings of some mummies in the Roman period (100-300AD), and also intended for display.

And they reflect another myth-busting fact – Ancient Egypt was not some high, mysterious, isolated culture, but a multicultural country. The mummies of the Graeco-Roman era often feature a "mish-mash of images", says Price. So, the show features a mummy labelled with a Greek name – Artemidorus – but featuring a Faiyum portrait, suggesting he may have been "a Roman elite person". And the casing is decorated with images of Egyptian gods, including Osiris, while stars decorating the shoulder of his casing reference Serapis – "a newly-minted god who seems to have been created to promote Egyptian-Greek cohesion," says Price. Why go for this Egyptian-Greek-Roman mash-up? "I suspect you are hedging your bets when you get to the pearly gates: let's appease all the gods!"

Imagine you go to the chapel, and there are 20 mummified people there, you want your mummified relative to attract the attention and prayers of passers-by – so maybe you use that painted technique – Christopher Price

When Flinders Petrie first found the mummies at Hawara he was dismissive of this incongruous multicultural style. But Victorian England soon went mad for the portrait mummies, in particular. Artists such as Holman Hunt and Laurence Alma-Tadema were influenced by an exhibition of them in 1888, and it's thought they even inspired Oscar Wilde to write The Picture Of Dorian Grey: his famous novel featuring a beautiful young man who, after his portrait is painted, never ages. 

Of course, it's even more tempting to wonder about the real person beneath a Faiyum portrait – one can't help but assume they're a literal depiction of the deceased. But Price isn't having that either: he thinks these are also idealised depictions – the image of how the person might like to look for all eternity. It's true that the faces of the Faiyum portraits tend to be young, healthy, handsome – perhaps flatteringly so. "I think they are, at best, an idealised approximation of what the person looked like," says Price. "People would debate this I'm sure, but I think that they look like gods: images of divine-like beings."

Mummified children were represented as                          adults, which Price believes supports the idea                          that the mummies were intended to transcend                          their human origins (Credit: Julia Thorne)

Mummified children were represented as adults, which Price believes supports the idea that the mummies were intended to transcend their human origins (Credit: Julia Thorne)

He points to a Faiyum portrait in their collection that shows a man with laurel leaves in his hair and a line of gold leaf between his lips. The hairstyles in the portraits seem to follow changing fashions set by the Roman Emperor and Empress – also considered divine figures. Maybe it's fashion; maybe it's a bid for eternal life.

Why does the style mutate so wildly, then, in the Graeco-Roman era – when both golden mummies and portrait mummies would have potentially been on display, side-by-side, at the same time? "I wonder if it's to get people's attention; in crude terms, clickbait," says Price. "Imagine you go to the chapel and there are 20 mummified people there, you want your mummified relative to attract the attention and prayers of passers-by – so maybe you use that painted technique, with its glint in the eyes…"

One thing, however, is surely true: the Ancient Egyptians probably weren't banking on us still paying attention to their mummified relatives, thousands of years later. But their mission to make them look remarkable – whether that's via a gold and lapis mask or a sharp-eyed portrait eyeballing you down the millennia – certainly continues to work. Whether we find ourselves more interested in their god-like images, or drawn to what we might discover about the bodies beneath, mummies continue to hold an incredible, glittering fascination.

Golden Mummies of Egypt is now booking at Manchester Museum. Holly Williams's novel What Time is Love? is out in paperback.

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