Saturday, 27 June 2009

Report back on Valley of Kings and KV57 Horemheb

Well I went up there early this morning, in fact I was the first person in the valley. I went straight to Horemheb, quick before it is closed again. there was no indication from the outside it was open but later I noticed a number of guides who were telling their guests.

The tomb was fantastic, I won't bother describing it as you can get all that from the Theban Mapping Project but i enjoyed the well chamber, the fourth hour and the judgment scene the best. The patterns on the Goddesses dresses were gorgeous.

The tomb is quite large, lots of stairs and ramps. It was quite hot below and humid and I could see crack monitors, and what looked like a moisture monitor.

The valley has changed a lot recently. this picture was taken along the wadi to the tomb of Merenptah. You can clearly see the channel that was used in ancient times to keep water away from the monuments.

Also they have removed the inspectors office next to KV55 so obviously excavation is going to start there soon.

Friday, 26 June 2009

KV57 Horemheb open but who knows for how long

I got an email asking if it was true and I have just got of the phone to Mansour Boraik head of the SCA in Luxor who says it is.

I tell you I am up the valley tomorrow at 6 as I have never seen this tomb.

Mr Mansour told me they are opening as an experiement and monitoring the levels to see how it goes. When I asked him how long it is going to be open he said it depended on the results.

Here is a link to the Theban Mapping Project

Mr Mansour also told me that they are going to be starting the final clearance of the Sphinx Avenue so one wonders what that will turn up.

Breakfast in Cairo

I recently had to go to Cairo and had the most wonderful street breakfast. Great foul, fresh bread and a huge variety of pickles and salads. I promised the owner I would advertise him on the internet. Well why not. This stall is located just outside the Hamburg Hotel at El Borsa St in down town Cairo.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Saving the West Bank temples in Luxor

Good news about the problems of the rising of the water table and destruction of the monuments. The problems is that with the building of the Aswan Dam water is now available to the farmer all year round. The temples were built taking into account they would be flooded 3 months of the year and bone dry for the other 9 months. The farmer would have one crop a year, he would sow his seed as the waters of the inundation receded and the yearly crop would grow and be harvested.

Now water is available all year round. The farmer flood irrigates his field and can crop 2 to 3 times a year. This has risen the water table and the temple foundations how sit in water all year round. This is decaying the stone and sand stone becomes sand again. Restoration work at Medinet Habu and Seti I temple done recently is already affected and the original temples are in a dangerous and hazardous situation.

At Karnak and Luxor temple they have surrounded the temples by huge pipes allowing the water inside the circle to be drained away and pumped into the Nile. This has been very successful reducing the water table inside the circle and the temples have not been destabilised, they were monitored for cracks and tilts.

Now it is the West Banks turn, I understand the proposal is to have a pipe going along the West Bank parallel to the Nile from Seti temple at Gurna to Medinet Habu. This pipe would be between the cultivation and the temples. The other side of the temples is the desert.

Work has now started, these photos show the construction at the Ramasseum and Medinet Habu. Hopefully this will save the temples.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


After a long year of unceasing activities and some moments of discouragement, the international association SAVE THE HERITAGE OF HASSAN FATHY is very pleased to foresee the beginning of an action plan concerning the village of New Gourna. The Director of the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, Mr Francesco Bandarin, has recognized in a letter addressed to the Association, the importance of the safeguarding of New Gourna village and has just sent a mission on site at the beginning of this month. The Egyptian press has largely covered the mission.

You can contact them

Press Release - New Tombs Found on Luxor's West Bank | - Zahi Hawass

Great discovery in Luxor annouced on Dr Zahi Hawass website.

This is in the area around TT11 and 12 which is a popular area for burials, it is opposite Karnak. You can see the first pylon from there. So a really prestigious burial site.

Press Release - New Tombs Found on Luxor's West Bank | - Zahi Hawass

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Egyptology Blog

I know news is a bit slow during the summer months in Luxor with all the digs closed until it gets cooler so I encourage you to have a look at this blog Andie does a great job collecting all Egyptology news (and we finally got to met in person last month.) so plenty to get your teeth into until excavations get underway again.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Understanding Egyptian Art

I just recently had to write an essay about the conventions of 2 dimensial Egyptian art and gave it to one of my guests to review before I submitted it. She found it really helpful to read before she visited the tombs so I thought I would give a section of it a wider audience. Especially now it has been marked and I have not made any glaring errors. The biblography is at the end and I really recommend Gay Robbins book's, she is by far the most readable.

It is important when looking at Egyptian wall paintings to remember what we are looking at. This is not some pretty picture to cheer up a tomb but it had a vital and significant purpose . To provide for the deceased in the after life. The artist could not experiment or he might destroy the whole purpose of what he was trying to achieve. Art as, defined by European standards , did not exist, the decoration of the tomb had a specific function and, as such, artistic considerations were not important. According to Aldred (1980 p15) the artist “… represented not what could be seen transiently, but what he expected to exist for perpetuity, symbols rather than images”.

This does not mean the tombs are devoid of beauty but rather should be viewed with an unprejudiced eye. The tomb craftsman used two dimensional art to fully represent what he was trying to show. It was ‘fit for purpose’; indeed it was more than that as some of the small vignettes are testimony to skill to the largely unknown craftsman. Indeed “to represent was, in a way, to create” (Robins 1997 p12) so they needed to represent the clearest picture of the object or figure, so it was instantly recognisable.

The Figure
The figures in the tomb were drawn according to a convention that was well established, first shown on the Narmer palette. The convention was: head in profile, eye full frontal, shoulders full frontal with distinct collar bones, arms in profile, hand does not appear as a hand but as a symbol for a hand, upper chest side view with one nipple, navel three quarters with belly button showing two thirds along, legs profile, feet striding, inner side of foot always shown so depending on the direction of the figure there will be two left or two right feet (Smith 1946 p273 Robins 1990 p14). It is not until the New Kingdom that both left and right feet will be shown. Mostly the figure is shown facing left which means when it was turned to face right, for example on both sides of a doorway, it can be a little clumsy.

The Cannon of Proportion
Not only was the figure drawn according to this convention but the figure also has rules about proportion. Some Egyptologists believed that these rules are rigid. “The small cubit equals the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the outstretched thumb. It is divided in 6 hand breadths, each of 4 fingers, measured across the knuckles at the back of the hand. Each finger has sub division ½ 1/3 ¼ 1/8 1/16. An extension of the hands breadth is 5 fingers or 1 ¼ hands breadth. The fist represents 4 fingers and thumb (which equals 1 1/3 fingers), making 5 1/3 fingers or 1 1/3 handbreadths, 2/3 of the cubit is the length of the arm elbow to wrist, which is equivalent to 4 handbreadths. It corresponds to a foot in Greek metrology. Lastly we have the fathom, which measures 4 small cubits and represents the height of a standard standing male figure.” (Iverson 1975 p22)

“As has been the custom, we take the baseline as 0 and count upwards horizontal 5 runs beneath the knee cap, 6 above the kneecap, 7 beneath the tips of the fingers hanging by the body, 8 under the thumb, 9 beneath the buttocks, 11 through the naval, 12 through the elbow, 14 through the nipple, 16 through the junction of the neck and shoulders, 17 beneath the nose, 18 through the hairline” (Robins 1994, p36). A proper grid is a later tool and during the Old Kingdom it is not often seen.
“Based on the small cubit the figure is drawn. Although grids are not generally used at this time, Old Kingdom figures can be analysed on the bases of hypothetical grids.” (Robins 1990 p35).

However whilst grids, rules and lines are common they were not always followed exactly and good artists did not always need them. “Once Iverson has established his hypothetical system, he attributes discrepancies between it and the material to errors arising from the incompetence of the artist.” (Robins 1994 p53). So it is a mistake to think that grids and rigid rules were always used, perhaps one could theorise that the very worst and the very best did not . “One has to assume, therefore, that these lines were merely aids to the artist and he was not tied to them”. (Robins 1994 p66) and “…proportions are not dependent on the grid and that the grid was simply adopted as an aid to obtaining them” (Robins 1994 p229)

Groups of Figures
Size matters, the most important person in the scene is the biggest, if shown “the king and the deity are equal footing” (Robins 1994 p8). However the most important person in an Old Kingdom noble’s tomb is the owner, as neither the king nor a god appears until after the Old Kingdom. He is the dominant figure in every scene. Men are in front of women , who are usually shown on a smaller scale or occasionally on the same scale. Adults are always shown in their prime, women are slim, and men are muscular. “The owner could be displayed either as a young man with a short kilt or a mature man with a calf length kilt. The wife was always displayed young as maturity might indicate lack of fertility.” (Robins 1997 p76). “The elite have no disease, deformity or old age…identity was established by the inscriptions” (Robins 1997 p75).
Young are shown as mini adults with a finger to their mouth or forelock of youth and they are generally nude.

Depiction of the minor figures in a scene was much more flexible and here you see much more lifelike poses and attitudes, humour or a snap shoot of real daily life.
“Where as major figures had to be depicted as ideal in formal poses, minor figures could be shown as far from perfect, perhaps suffering from deformity, disease or hunger, in positions which caught the body in transitory actions or engaged in energetic movement.” (Robins 1990 p38)

The Tomb
Neither time nor space are reflected and within the same set of registers you could see ploughing and threshing, gathering grapes and bottling wine. The figures and objects completely fill the space available with appropriate hieroglyphic inscriptions filling and balancing the scene. The only occasion registers are not used is when there is a deliberate invocation of chaos, a desert hunting scene, a battle or a marsh hunting scene.

The central figure was usually male, accompanied by wives , parents and offspring. His titles and name would be constantly repeated and a biography would be included . There would be a false door connecting the dead with the living. The deceased would be shown before a table of offerings and there could be a procession of offering bearers. There would be the production of further supplies in scenes of everyday life showing the production of food, clothing, objects (furniture, jewellery, and boats). “The owners would be shown benevolently supervising these activities.” (Aldred 1980 p87) The peasants are shown in a variety of lively poses. The owner is shown taking an active part in fishing and fowling in the marshes and hunting in the desert. These have the threefold purpose in the afterlife, enjoyment, food provisions and also the religious concept of overcoming chaos. The depiction of the funeral would ensure the correct funerary rights. The common scene of the clap net being employed in the marshes shows the owner bring order and rule to the chaos of the marches, as he hoped would happen in both life and death.

A mixture of carving styles was used depending on where the scene appeared.
Traditional, sunk relief was used on the outside walls and raised relief on the interior ones. (Robbins 1997 p25). It would often be indicative of a reward from the king that a noble had a top quality tomb. The best non royal tombs would belong to members of the king’s family or very senior members of his court. “The ability to command first rate artists displayed the tomb owner’s wealth and status”. (Robbins 1997 p25)

Perspective v Plan
They draw things in plan because this shows most of the contents. If you drew a building with an enclosure wall drawn in perspective you would know nothing of the interior of the wall. By drawing in plan you can seen the house and garden. The art is “conceptual rather than purely perceptual” (Robins 1990 p11). If you take the plan of a house you have no idea of the internal structure when shown in perspective, it was important to the Egyptians that this would understood and represented. Indeed the hieroglyphic for house and courtyard show the plan rather than the elevation or perspective.

There is an attitude that not showing perspective is somehow primitive or na├»ve and that being aware of it they should use it. “…men have always been conscious of the phenomena of perspective at all periods, but for some reason they have not at all periods made use of this awareness in their drawing”. (Schafer 1986 p81).

Fig 1

However the apprentice board discovered by Dr Jose Galan in the courtyard of TT11 shows us in unmistakeable terms that the Egyptian artist was capable of fully representational drawings. This board, Figure 1, shows a picture of the king fully frontal. It is thought to have been a practice piece for a sculpture. There are two drawings side by side, one by the confident hand of a master and the other by the more hesitant hand of a student. As the shoulders are five squares across it is believed to be a representation of Hatshepsut as females are traditionally shown with the smaller shoulder width where as a male would be six squares across. The second picture shows the reverse of this piece with the more usual sideways view. It shows us that artists were taught both methods but only one type would appear on a wall and the other would be used for sculpture. But they could do it and were obviously expected to.

Offerings & Contents
These are vital to the survival of the owner so need to be shown in detail from the best possible angle to make it completely obvious what they are. A table would be shown with the contents tipped or piled up so every object is clearly defined.
The contents of a chest or box are drawn individually above the container. Again without this the contents would not be useable by the owner. The figures would be shown carrying offerings so in the unlikely event of the descendents neglecting to provide offerings; a combination of artistic skill depicting offerings, the hieroglyphics removing any ambiguity and magic e.g. the opening of the mouth, would provide for the tomb owner.
“The drawings could occasionally reinforce the hieroglyphs with a picture of a scribe having the palette and staff that comprise the hieroglyphics for scribe. Likewise offering bearers are shown carrying the hieroglyphic for offering” (Robbins1997 p51).

“… the role of representational art was closely interwoven with the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and often one cannot be understood without reference to the other.” (Wilkinson 1992 p11). He continues “It is only knowledge of this aspect of Egyptian Art which can transform such a scene a relatively meaningless to the richly detailed tapestry of symbols which the artist originally produced”

Figure 2 tomb of Kheruef (photo Ray Johnson 2008)
The ceremony of the opening of the mouth will make these drawings come alive so they will sustain the owner but they could also bring danger to him so certain hieroglyphs will be incomplete or cut through so the dangerous creature would not hurt the owner, see Figure 2. This mutilation of hieroglyphics is shown in Pyramid Text and it demonstrates how vividly the Ancient Egyptian believed in the magical potency of the pictures. Likewise removal of the name beside a figure is enough to remove that person from the tomb .
Scenes often reflect mystic values such as order v chaos, the battle against demons in the after world . The clap net bringing order to the marshes. Spearing the hippopotamus destroys the demons of chaos.

Tones and shading are not shown but there is some clever use of colour including a white, white and a black black. The white white is shown on a kilt (hunite) on the while back ground (Calcium Carbonate). (Robbins 1997 p27). Also black, black wigs or the ‘T’ glyph on a black background. Although men are shown a reddish colour and women a yellow sometimes there are variations of this where several people are shown on top of each other and there is a need to differentiate or a very high status man will be shown a lighter shade than the workers in the field. (Francisco Tiradritti pers comm. 2008).


Where is says personal communication these are from lectures at the Mummification Museum.

Aldred, C. (1980), Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharaohs, 3100-320 BC, Thames and Hudson, London.
Harper Y & Scemin, P (2006) the Chapel of Kegemni, Oxford University Press
Iversen, E. (1975, 2nd edition), Canon and Proportions in Egyptian Art, Aris & Phillips Ltd, Warminster.
Robins, G. (1997), The Art of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London.
Robins, G. (1990), Egyptian Painting and Relief, Shire Books, Princes Risborough.
Robins, G. (1994), Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art, University of Texas Press, London.
Schafer, H. (1986), Principles of Egyptian art, translated and edited with an introduction by J. Baines; foreword by E.H. Gombrich, Griffith Institute, Oxford.
Smith, W (1946) A history of Egyptian Sculpture and Painting in the Old Kingdom, Oxford University Press
Wilkinson, R (1992) Reading Egyptian Art, Thames & Hudson (Accessed February 2008)

Sunday, 7 June 2009

New Ferry Luxor.

The Nile separates Luxor into East and West, one side with the monuments and small local hotels and the other the airport, railway station, 5* hotels and MacDonald’s. So at some point in your stay you have to cross from one side to the other. There is a bridge south of town but it is a good 9km away so a more convenient solution is to use a boat. The local water taxis/motor boats are cheap and easily obtainable but a more authentic experience is to use the local ferry. It is ridiculously cheap, only 1LE (very approximately 20 cents or 15p). You catch it just by Luxor temple.

They have just put a number of new boats into service but there are still the same people using it, even the friendly little tissue seller. He works the boats selling small packets of tissues.

They are also developing new landing stages on the West Bank, one hopes it is going to be easier to get on and off :)

Finally here is little Mohammed who works at my flats with his little daughter Zenaib.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Mummification Museum

Today I was asked by the Director of the Museum, Mohamed Shet, to help him with the translation into English of a description he had written about the museum.

Mummification Museum, Luxor, Egypt

The museum opened 1997 and gives today’s visitor a detailed idea about the mummification process, the Ancient Egyptian concept of judgement & the afterlife and shows us some objects associated with mummification.

The word mummification is derived from Persian word (mummiya) which means bitumen and in Arabic and gives us the word mummification

The visit starts with scenes copied from an original papyrus (any and honfer) which is kept in the British Museum.


The ancient Egyptian believed that they will pass into the judgment hall immediately after the death and mummification. There is a balance where the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather which was symbol of truth, the god of Thoth with ibis head holding reed and palette to write down the result of the weighting if the heart was heavier he was guilty, equal with the feather he will be safety to Osirian paradise.

The most important scene represents the judgment hall. We see the weighing of the heart on the scales. On one side of the balance we see his heart and on the other side we see the feather of Maat, symbol of the truth; if they were equal means he was not guilty.

The deceased passed safety to the paradise and appeared with white linen on a white sand island and goes to great lake which in the middle of the fields of the peace where great Gods sit and give him bread to eat and food of life .

We see Ani making offerings to the Gods, paddling a boat, handling oxen which tread the corn and adoring benu bird from funerary papyrus of (Ani 1250 B.C.)

We know if the deceased was guilty will go to lake of the fire which had four jets to absorb the blood of the criminals.

The burial scenes including the funeral procession, the men are carrying the funerary furniture including all the equipment of the deceased in the tomb. This scene copied from the tomb of Ramose on the West Bank of Luxor. Some followers are carrying as the funerary furniture which the deceased needs in the tomb.

.The sarcophagus is on a sledge, women were putting dust on their head with their loose hair. The funerary boat will carry the mummy to the west bank to the Goddess.

Isis mother of Horus, wife of Osiris collected his body after Seth had killed him and spread his body on the land of Egypt and she was goddess of great magic. Nephthys mother of Anubis, wife of Seth, sister of Isis. These two ladies were considered protective Goddess

The most important funerary ceremony was opening the mouth performed by the high priest with setp tool . When the priest or relatives speak his name the Ba returns to his body and can enjoy the offerings on hearing the call. Anubis has to protect the entrance of the burial chamber and he mummified the body of Osiris with the help of four sons of Hours and for this the Egyptian religion gave Anubis many titles like God of Mummification who protects the deceased.

The ancient Egyptian believed that the "Ba" spirit comes holding (shen) symbol of eternity.

Osiris was father of Horus brother of Isis and Nephthys and Seth and son of Gob and Nut was represents the first one who was mummified by Anubis the first one who was raised to the second life lord of judgment hall and god of death he was the most famous God of Egypt


This took place over 70 days and was presided over by the embalmers (High Priests) who were responsible for the mummification operation.

During the first 15 days firstly they transported the body of the deceased to the mummification House (pr nfr). Then they purified the body with water which they obtained from the sacred lake of temple. Inside any main temple e.g. Karnak there was sacred lake which was used for the cult purposes and the daily use of the priests. It was also used to wash the body of the deceased which was then dried using natron salt.

They placed the body on the operating table to extract the brain and viscera. They broke the ethmoid bone of the nose by chisel at the top of the nose with a chisel which gave them access into the skull cavity. And cut it using the spatula into small pieces and picked it out with a spoon. They made an incision in the left hand side of the abdominal cavity, which was about 10 cm long. Through this they removed the viscera. Various tools were used in this process. The embalmers used scissors during the cutting of the viscera from abdomen. The cutter was also used to extract the viscera.

These were mummified separately put into four canopic jars, often alabaster. They wrapped the viscera in a linen bandages.

The four sons of hours in the form of a mummy stand guard over the viscera

Imsety with human face to protect the liver
Duamutef with jackal's head to protect stomach
Hapy with baboon's head to protect lungs
Qebekh-sennuef with a falcon's head who protected the intestines

They put the temporary stuffing in the abdominal cavity (linen bags, spices, myrrh, resin, sawdust, cassia) and they covered the body with natron salt for 40 days to absorb the moisture.

During the last 15 days they removed the salt and changed the temporary stuffing with fresh stuffing. They covered all of the body with resin to protect against bacteria and to keep it in a good state of preservation. They anointed it with cedar oil.

The mouth and the nose were sealed with linen and molten resin, the body was wrapped with linen and bandages. They wrapped the body with 38m .of linen making 375 bandages between each layer they put an amulet. A scarab was put next to the heart and the deceased asked his heart not to say any bad things against him at the judgement. They drew on it Osiris god of the dead world. They covered the head and shoulder of the mummy with a mask. After that they put the wrapped body in a wooden coffin and then in a stone sarcophagus.

The last part was a ceremony conducted by the high priests called the Opening of the Mouth. Using the setp tool to touch the mouth of the deceased they gave him the gift of eternal afterlife and he is able to receive offerings.

The mummification process reached to the golden age during the 21st dynasty. In that period they cut an incision under the cheek and filled them with stuffing making them very life like.

The Ancient Egyptian believed that death means separation of the spirit from the body. The spirit then returns to the body and gives the deceased life again in the underworld. The name of the deceased was carved on the wall of the tomb to be written and said forever.

The remains of mummification's liquid: the Egyptian Expedition discovered the tomb of "Amon tef nakt” from 27th dynasty He was a General of the Army against Persians when he died. The embalmers mummified him and left all materials of mummification in the sarcophagus, the liquid came from result of the interaction between the material and the body.

Medical Tools
These were the medical tools used by the embalmers.

Scissors: used to cut the end of the viscera from abdominal cavity, made from bronze 17th dynasty Thebes.
Chisel: used to break the ethmoid bone, made from bronze.
Spatula to remove and cut the brain, made from bronze.
Cutter: used to cut the viscera, made from bronze .the big one is from Abydos and the small one from Saqqara 18th dynasty.
Tweezers: made from bronze Talbasta. Roman period. Used to separate the viscera.
Puncher: one from Qurna – used to make incision in the bone, made from bronze.
Needle: used for sewing the incision in the body, made from bronze Tell el Gorab 19th dynasty.
Spoon: used to remove the brain.
Forceps: to separate the viscera.

Mummy of a fish. The ancient Egyptian believed that the fish represented rebirth, its cult centre was Esna and it is called Lattee fish
Mummy of baboon representing the god Thoth, God of knowledge he was always [present in the judgement hall standing by the balance holding the scribes palette and reed pen to record the result of weighting of the heart of the deceased .
Mummy of a cat: animal of the goddess Basted lady of Bubastis where magnificent temple was built for her, she was a daughter of Atum, she gives the power health joy
Mummy of ram: representing the god Khnum his cult centre was at Elephantine

Ushabti means “I answer” and can be made from gold, wood, faience or pottery. It is in the tomb to do the work for the deceased. May be in the afterlife the king asked him to fill the canal with the water, carry the sand from the west to the east then the figure has tools and replies “here I am ready”.

The Djed pillar amulet is a symbol of stability and representing back bone of God Osiris. It is the cedar tree which keeps the heart of Osiris inside it, as the legend has it. It also represented the columns which supported the heaven.
The head rest, they used it to protect the neck and it carries the name of the deceased.

The coffin consists of three parts. The lower part which contains the mummy with the mummy lying inside it. The mummy cover which takes the shape of the deceased. The coffin lid which showed the Gods of the underworld, the 'ba', the djed pillar, Nephthys with wings outstretched, Nephthys with sons of Hours all protecting the deceased.

The beautiful mummy cover of Padi Amun: the high priest of Amun with a beautiful wig and the goddess Nut with wings, representing the sky, receiving the deceased in the after world. The god keeper representing the Rebirth the cover is full of the bright colours and the mummy has a handsome face with bright eyes.
The mummy board of Masaherti: Without face and the hands because the thieves that found it took the golden face and hands 1871-1881 Representing the deceased with the different gods Nut with her wings at the end of the cover also the four sons of Horus. The name and titles of the deceased appear on the cover.

The Mummification Museum is also an important centre for the cultural and education life of Luxor, hosting a series of lectures sponsored by the SCA during the season. When visiting archaeologists talk about the latest discoveries and the work in Luxor. With a library and conservation centre it also plays a role in education of future Egyptologists. The local governor and city council use its 250 seat lecture theatre for important meetings. Finally a cafeteria to relax in after all that culture.

Monday, 1 June 2009

David Rohl

You may remember that I attended some thought provoking and excellently run lectures in Luxor back in March that were conducted by David Rohl. I didn't agree with everything he had to say but I hugely enjoyed the debate. Anyway at the time I was asked for a website and here it is