A new beginning.

Last year, I slacked off with writing this blog, but I’m very happy to be back and starting afresh.

As most of you know, 2011 was an extremely eventful year for the status of Ancient Egyptian antiquities and archaeology in Egypt.

January 2011 saw the Egyptian Revolution and opportunistic looting of many of Egypt’s museums and monuments. The following months saw the departments in charge of Egyptian antiquities and the invidiuals in charge of those departments go through various iterations.

As it stands now, in January 2012, Dr. Mostafa Amin is the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (which now reports directly to Egypt’s Cabinet and Prime Minister).

Excavations continue in Egypt and experts are also focused on repairing objects and sites that have been damaged in the past year.

2012 has already seen a mix of good and bad in the state of Egyptian antiquities.

Thousands of valuable and irreplaceable manuscripts housed in the Institut d’Egypte were badly damaged or destroyed by fire during ongoing conflicts between Egyptian demonstrators and the Egyptian army. Teams of experts and volunteers are now working on correcting the fire damage and mitigating the water damage (from putting out the fires).

Books drying

Damaged books and manuscripts drying in the sun.

From the Valley of the Kings near Luxor comes better news. The discovery of the officially designated King’s Valley 64 (KV 64) was announced just last week. The tomb itself was discovered in January 2011 on the same day as the Egyptian Revolution began, but was hastily secured and left unexcavated until this season. The current occupant of the tomb is not the original occupant, but a later burial of a female temple singer named Nehmes-Bastet. Excavations at the tomb are ongoing.

Coffin of Nehmes-Bastet

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New Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities: Mostafa Amine

Obviously, there has been a lot going on with government positions since the revolution, and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is no exception.

The most recent development is that Mostafa Amine has replaced Hawass as the Secretary General of the SCA.

Amine was formerly serving as the head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department. Now, in his first week as Secretary General, Amine has already started dealing with the ongoing complaints about hiring policies in the SCA.

Stay tuned…

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Would You Like to Play a Game? Let’s Play “Decode Ancient Texts”

Truth be told, I am sad I only just learned about this “game.”

From the comfort of your home, YOU can help create the digital transcription of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (documents written in Greek and found in Egypt). All you have to do is check out images of the papyrus fragments and help recognize the Greek letters visible on the fragment; you don’t even have to be able to read Greek.

Wanna play?

Check out the Ancient Lives site and get started. They have a great tutorial to help you understand how it works.

You can also check out a good description of the project from Citizen Science here.

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Hawass Resigns

Various sources report that Hawass has apparently resigned (or been forced to resign by the current Prime Minister).

For more information, see the articles here and here.

Stay tuned for more information on the resignation and the appointment of a new Minister of Antiquities.

 

UPDATED July 20.

Apparently, it’s not a sure thing yet. It’s hard to get definitive answers about the whole situation. The latest reliable information I’ve found is that Hawass may not have officially lost his post, though a change may be in the works.

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Second Solar Barque Excavations Underway–Cartouche of Khufu Discovered

In addition to the famous pyramids and Great Sphinx, the Giza plateau is also home to an impressively large ancient boat, housed in its own museum.

Now, excavations are underway to unearth and reconstruct a second boat (or barque) from the same area.

In 1954, excavations at Giza revealed the presence of a number of large pits dug into the plateau, including two that contained disassembled boats. The first of these pits was excavated and found to be filled with 1224 pieces of a large boat (see Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids, p. 118-119). Over the course of 13 years, the pieces of the boat were carefully reassembled and eventually went on display in the Solar Boat Museum at Giza.

The second pit was examined (using radar) but its contents were left in-situ.

After a lot of planning and preparation, today (June 23), the first of the enormous limestone blocks that cover the pit was lifted.

The boat pit that was excavated in the 1950s is shown here, complete with some of the large limestone blocks that covered it.

When the excavation is complete, this second boat will also be reassembled and eventually go on display in the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

These boats may have been symbolic transportation to the underworld, or may have been involved in transporting the pharaoh’s body for the burial. You can read more about the preparation for the excavation of this barque at Wasaeda University’s website.

According to Dr. Hawass, the excavation has also revealed “a cartouche for King Khufu and beside it was the name of the crown prince Djedefre, without cartouche” (though it is not clear from his description where these inscriptions are located). This is an important find because it is only the second cartouche of Khufu found in association with these Giza monuments he and his descendants commissioned.

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Modern Archaeology

Hooray for modern technology applied to archaeology!

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ARCE Annual Conference

Every year, ARCE (the American Research Center in Egypt) hosts its annual meeting in some U.S. city; the city varies from year to year, but there are repeats (and traditionally, every 10 years, the conference is held at the University of California, Berkley).

I’ve attended for the past four years, and my only regret is that I didn’t start attending sooner.

Going to the entire conference every year appeals almost exclusively to the most hardcore fans of scholarly work in Egyptology because of the time and money involved. Although reasonable for a scholarly conference, the non-student ARCE member registration cost of $150 makes some balk, as does the idea of 2.5 days of lectures. But the ARCE annual meeting offers an incredible opportunity for those who choose to attend, and has a draw for many of us; this year there were a record 450 attendees!

Using this year’s conference as an example, here’s what you can expect from the ARCE annual meeting: sessions begin at around 8:30am on Friday and Saturday and run till 4:30pm (with a lunch break and short morning and afternoon breaks), with Saturday’s sessions starting at 9:00am and running only till 12:30pm.  This can make the days feel extremely long, though of course attendees are welcome to skip sessions at their discretion. Most years, the conference also includes a Friday night activity such as a museum reception or special lecture, along with a Saturday night reception for ARCE members.

Papers presentations take 20 minutes, with a 10 minute break to move between rooms; each session has four papers, and there are generally four sessions running concurrently. Attendees are welcome to stay for an entire session, or move between rooms based on the topics of individual lectures. Sessions are divided into general groups. This year’s topics were

Archaeology

Religious topics

History

Greco-Roman Topics

Art history

Coptic studies

Language and literature

Islamic archaeology

Religion and ritual

Mamaluk studies

Egyptology topics

Funerary arts

Conservation

With such a ride array of topics, any Egyptologist can find lectures they’re interested in; in many cases, there were so many interesting lectures that I wished I could be in two places at once.

With very few exceptions, the lectures are informative and entertaining. The most famous lecturers or most interesting lectures sometimes end up being standing room only!

Some of my favorite lectures this year were Dr. Ben Harer’s “OB-GYN in Ancient Egypt,” Kate Liszka’s “Ethnogenesis of the Medjay,” Dr. Salima Ikram’s “New Sites in the Kharga Oasis,” and Dr. Gay Robins’ “The Meanings of Individual Items Depicted on Tables of Offerings in Funerary Contexts.”

If none of those lecture titles appeal to you, check out the full line-up from this year, and you’ll see how many different subjects there really are.

Hopefully I’ll see you at the 2012 meeting in Providence, R.I.

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