Pyramids Discovered In Egypt And Sudan

pyramids
You’d think archaeologists would have found all the pyramids of Africa by now, but two recent discoveries show there’s a lot more discovering to be done.

A team of archaeologists working in Luxor, Egypt, have just announced they’ve discovered the pyramid of Khay, a powerful vizier of the Pharaoh Ramses II (ruled 1279-1212 B.C.). The pyramid was made of mudbrick and originally stood 49 feet high.

In the seventh and eighth century A.D. it was dismantled and turned into a Coptic Christian hermitage. Hieroglyphic writing on the surviving bricks told the archaeologists to whom the pyramid belonged.

Earlier this month, archaeologists announced they had found the bases of at least 35 broken pyramids at the site of Sedeinga in Sudan. They’re about 2,000 years old and belong to the kingdom of Kush, which lasted from c.1000 B.C. to 350 A.D. before finally being conquered by the Empire of Axum in Ethiopia. For almost a hundred years from 747-656 B.C., the Kushites ruled Egypt as the 25th dynasty.

The Sedeinga pyramids really just pyramid-shaped tombs. The largest measures 22 feet to a side, while the smallest is only 30 inches to a side. Others in Sudan, such as those at Meroë, are much more grandiose. Those at the pyramid field at Nuri, shown here courtesy Vít Hassan, are up to 150 feet tall.

Last year, a satellite survey conducted by Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama found 17 suspected pyramids.

So how could these pyramids go missing? Well, most pyramids were much smaller than the famous ones at Giza and Saqqara that we always see pictures of. Shifting sands and erosion helped hide them. In the case of the Sedeinga tombs, later people took stones from them to build other structures.

Even some sizable pyramids have all but disappeared because they were made of inferior materials. Some of the last pyramids of Egypt are barely visible today because of shoddy workmanship or having been made with mudbrick instead of stone.

Palestine, Israel In Controversy Over King Herod’s Tomb

PalestineAn upcoming exhibit is causing friction between Palestinians and Israelis, the Associated Press reports.

On February 13, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem will open “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.” It will be the first exhibition dedicated to the architectural legacy of the infamous Jewish king, who ruled as a vassal of the Roman Empire from 37-4 B.C.

Best known for the Biblical story of his killing the male children of Bethlehem to try to get rid of the baby Jesus, he was also one of the region’s great builders, expanding the Second Temple and erecting many other monuments.

The exhibition will display remains from his many building projects. The centerpiece will be his recently discovered tomb, shown here, and what may be his sarcophagus, painstakingly reconstructed from hundreds of shattered pieces. Archaeologists believe it was destroyed by Jews to show their hatred of Herod.

Almost all the artifacts are from the West Bank, part of Palestine, and here is where the problem lies. Palestinian Authority officials say they weren’t consulted about the exhibit and that excavating and removing artifacts from Palestine without their permission breaks international antiquities laws. The Israel Museum denies this and says they have authority over the artifacts. They also say the material will be returned to the West Bank after the exhibition closes October 5.

In this part of the world, history frequently gets enmeshed in politics, with both sides trying to claim the land by historical precedent.

The BBC has an interesting article on the troubles archaeologists face in Gaza. Besides a shortage of funding, sanctions keep them from getting many of the materials needed for excavation and conservation. War has also taken its toll, with Israeli bombs hitting the antiquities office and also damaging an early medieval mosaic in a Byzantine Church.

[Photo of Herod’s tomb courtesy Deror Avi]

The Last Pyramids Of Egypt

pyramids
They just don’t make pyramids like they used to.

The pyramids of Egypt have fascinated people ever since they were built. The Step Pyramid at Saqqara started things off around 2650 B.C. Later came the iconic pyramids of Giza. What’s often forgotten, however, is that pyramid construction continued for more than a thousand years and there are at least 138 built to house the remains of pharaohs and queens. More are still being discovered. Last year, satellite imagery revealed seventeen previously unknown pyramids.

The later pyramids of Egypt tend to be overlooked, and it’s easy to see why considering the sad state of most of them. Just take a look at this photo of the pyramid of Senusret II (ruled 1895-1878 B.C.) and photographed by Jon Bodsworth. Like a lot of later pyramids, it was made of mud bricks instead of stone blocks to save money, and that’s why it’s a giant sad lump today – an interesting lump, though.

The interior tunnels are still intact and archaeologists discovered the nearby village where the workmen lived. Contrary to popular belief, slaves didn’t construct the pyramids. Actually, it was trained craftsmen and farmers who didn’t have any other work to do when their fields were underwater during the annual flooding of the Nile.

Senusret II was part of the 12th Dynasty, a high point in Egyptian power and civilization. It’s strange then that pyramids were in decline. You can see several of these pyramids at Dahsur, not far from Saqqara and an easy day trip from Cairo. One is the Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III (ruled 1842-1797 B.C.). It started to collapse almost immediately so he had to build a second one at the Faiyum Oasis near a giant temple to the crocodile god Sobek. This site reopened last year.

%Gallery-155699%The experimentation with cheaper building methods may have started with Senusret I (ruled 1962-1928 B.C.). Instead of a solid geometric shape, the builders first constructed a network of walls crisscrossing each other and dividing the pyramid into 32 parts. These were then filled with loose stone. A smooth limestone facing was put over the whole thing. It sounded good in theory, but it’s another sad lump today.

Perhaps as a compensation for the cheap building styles, the later pyramids had elaborate tricks to stop tomb robbers: dead end tunnels sealed with thick stones; interior chambers made of quartzite, the hardest substance worked in Ancient Egypt; elaborately sealed rooms that contained nothing; and sarcophagi as big as the rooms that held them in order to deny robbers room to work.

Sadly, none of these tricks worked and the pharaohs eventually resorted to hidden underground tombs in places like the Valley of the Kings. After the 12th and 13th dynasties, pyramids went out of fashion. Many of the 13th dynasty rulers didn’t bother building one at all. Only a few were made by later dynasties. The last pyramid made for a pharaoh was for Ahmose I around 1525 B.C. It’s a pile of rubble now that barely measures 30 feet high. Much later, pyramids briefly became fashionable in the Sudan.

The pyramid was dead, and last year, so was Egypt’s tourism industry. It’s been gradually rebuilding itself, though. Cruise lines are returning, as are independent travelers. The tourist sights remained mostly unaffected by the unrest and there’s not much trouble outside of a few spots in Cairo.

Visitors will have more to see with six tombs at Giza having reopened and Egyptologists hard at work uncovering more ancient wonders. Many of the later pyramids haven’t been excavated and while all the ones that have been explored were plundered by tomb robbers centuries ago, there’s always a chance that the treasure of a pharaoh remains hidden inside one of them.

The Great Walls of China

China, Great Wall of China
There was more than one Great Wall of China, a Chinese archaeology team has discovered.

Several portions of the wall are actually double, triple, or quadruple walls running closely parallel to one another. This was a common feature in many ancient fortifications because it made the position harder to take. Often the troops would be garrisoned between the walls for protection against surprise attacks from the rear. The land between the walls also offered a protected area for flocks and farmland to provision the troops.

The Chinese team found that the main wall was larger than the others. The investigation continues.

Several walls were originally built starting in the 5th century BC or perhaps earlier. Under the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in c.220 BC, the earlier scattered walls were linked together to make a continuous fortification to protect China from nomadic tribes to the north. The Great Wall was lengthened, added to, and rebuilt several times in later centuries. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) there was a major expansion during which 5,650 km (3,511 miles) of wall were built. A recent survey found the entire wall, with all of its branches, runs for 8,852 km (5,500 miles). This figure will have to be reassessed now that parallel walls have been found.

[Photo courtesy Francisco Diez]

Robot discovers secret writing in Great Pyramid

pyramid, Egypt
The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza has always sparked the imagination. Among its many mysteries are four tiny passages running through the interior. The smallest are only eight inches square, far too small for a person to crawl through, so what were they for?

As you can see from the cutaway above, two of the tunnels angle up from the King’s Chamber to exit the pyramid. Some researchers believe these have astronomical alignments. Like with all ancient agricultural societies, observing the heavens was important to the Egyptians. The other two tunnels seem not to go anywhere. Some claim they lead to hidden chambers, or allowed the pharaoh’s soul to pass out of the tomb, but nobody really knows. Now a robot has added new pieces to the puzzle by going down one of these tunnels and filming it.

Robots in the pyramids are nothing new. Robotic exploration started in the 1990s, when remote-controlled cameras on wheels rolled up the two lower tunnels, only to find them blocked by strange stone “doors” decorated with a pair of copper pins. One of the doors had a small hole drilled in it, and a new robot with a camera on the end of a flexible cable looked on the other side.

What it found raises more questions than it answers. The secret door doesn’t seem to have any way to open, and on the other side of it are hieroglyphs. Egyptologists are hoping the hidden message will explain one of the pyramid’s greatest mysteries.

Why is there writing where nobody can read it? And why is the back of the door highly polished? There’s also a mason’s mark on the stone that the researchers are puzzling over. Egyptologists are busy trying to decipher the hieroglyphs and are planning more journeys for the intrepid robot. For more on the technology behind the discovery, check out this post on Dr. Zahi Hawass’ website.

These are good times for pyramid studies. A satellite has detected what could be seventeen lost pyramids, and last summer the pyramids of Abusir and Dahshur opened to the public.

[Image courtesy Jeff Dahl]