Riddle of pyramid’s secret hieroglyphs solved

pyramid, pyramids, Cheops, Giza
Last month we reported on some secret writing discovered in the Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, near Cairo. A robot with a camera went down a mysterious passage only eight inches wide and found some hieroglyphs daubed with red paint onto the floor of a secret chamber at the end of the tunnel.

Egyptologist Luca Miatello has deciphered the writing and says they’re engineering marks. They make the number 121, which corresponds to the length in cubits of the so-called Queen’s Chamber of the pyramid.

The numbers are written in hieratic. Ancient Egyptian writing had three forms. Proper hieroglyphs were the most formal style and the one we usually associate with ancient Egypt. Hieratic was a cursive style that was quicker and easier to write. It was usually used for religious texts but since a royal tomb was a highly sacred place, it’s no surprise to find it here. Demotic was derived from hieratic and was used much later, after Egypt had lost most of its power and glory. All three styles are often termed “hieroglyphs”.

The numbers in the pyramid are sloppy, as if written by some foreman who wasn’t completely literate. Because of this, new interpretations of the writing will probably be published in the future.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Ancient art stolen from Egyptian Museum recovered by police

ancient art, EgyptEgyptian police have recovered four stolen statues, two of which were taken from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, Ahram Online reported.

Two of the statues were among several items that went missing when rioters broke into the Egyptian Museum. The other two were apparently looted from somewhere else, perhaps an archaeological site. There were scattered incidents of looting from several museums and archaeological sites across the country during the January Revolution, and the extent of the thefts remains unclear.

The statues are all of bronze and depict important gods such as Osiris, god of the afterlife, pictured here in an image courtesy of user Rama via Wikimedia Commons. This is not one of the recovered statues.

The statues date to the Late Period, a period dating from 664 BC to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. This era saw a final flowering of Egyptian art and religion before it went through a long period of domination and decline under Greeks and Roman rule. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, poor old gods like Osiris were slowly forgotten.

The thieves possessing the ancient art were arrested. Of the 54 objects missing from the museum, 23 have been recovered.

Tutankhamun statue and other artifacts stolen from Egyptian Museum, Zahi Hawass reports

TutankhamunThe Head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, has posted some sad news on his blog. During the recent political upheaval in Cairo the Egyptian Museum was broken into and some artifacts were stolen. We reported earlier that two mummies were damaged but nothing was stolen. Now that the museum staff have been able to do an inventory it appears that during that incident the intruders also took some artifacts.

The most famous is a gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess, shown here. Another Tutankhamun statue was damaged. Several other priceless artifacts are also missing. A complete list can be found here. Dr. Hawass writes that 70 artifacts were knocked over or damaged.

Dr. Hawass also reports a storeroom near the pyramid at Dashur was broken into. There were attempted break-ins at a few other museums as well. No word yet on any missing artifacts.

The Egyptian Museum is on Tahrir Square where the Cairo protests were centered. Dr. Hawass and museum employees have been sleeping in the museum to protect it. On several occasions during the past weeks many protesters made a human barrier to protect the building. Sadly, the thieves took advantage of the confusion on the street level to break in through the roof.

The BBC reports that previous reports of damaged mummies appear to be incorrect and were the result of confusion over a couple of skulls that had been taken from their cases. Also, a group of suspects have been arrested and are being questioned in relation to the break in. The museum remains closed for an indefinite period.

Breaking: Cruise crew member dead in Cozumel

cruise crew member dead in cozumelWhile foul play has not been ruled out, the drowning death of a Royal Caribbean crew member in Cozumel brings the safety of Mexican ports of call back into focus along with the broader issue of cruise passenger safety in general.

The body of Monika Markiewicz a musician on Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas. 32, was recovered from the ocean off the southern part of the island Saturday. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be drowning but Markiewicz also suffered a blow to the head. Police are investigating.


“Tragically, we recently became aware that the crew member was a victim of a violent crime while ashore in a remote area in Cozumel,” said Royal Caribbean spokesperson Cynthia Martinez. “We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our crew member.”

The topic of Mexican ports of call is a hot issue with cruise lines and Mexican government officials alike. The tragic death of a crew member in Mexican waters, regardless of the reason, brings safety back into the spotlight.

Cozumel is a popular port of call for cruise ships, far removed from the drug gang violence in Mazatlan, a center of Mexican drug cartels. Cruise lines, always vigilant regarding the safety of passengers and crew recently and dropped calls to Mazatlan due to crimes against passengers and crew members.

Disney Cruise Line, Princess and Holland America dropped Mazatlan as a port of call on Mexican Rivera cruises last month. Mexican government officials responded with a cry of “no fair” saying their ports were safe, meeting with cruise line officials and promising a safe experience for cruise passengers.

“We highly value our long-standing relationships within the cruise industry, and are dedicated to ensuring that Mazatlan remains among the top cruise destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Mazatlan has hosted nearly 1.5 million cruise passengers since 2008 and is widely regarded as one of the safest destinations in Mexico.” said Julio Birrueta, spokesperson for the Mazatlan Tourism Trust.

Newly relocated Disney Wonder, bumped to the West coast when new Disney Dream took over in Florida was scheduled to visit Mazatlan on a series of seven-night sailings through April. Instead, that time will be spent in what is believed to be a safer Cabo San Lucas.

Just last week, cruise lines returned to Mazatlan after they believed safety issues had been addressed. The Mexican government bolstered its tourism police force with a special unit of plain-clothes security personnel in the main tourist areas, including shore excursion sites.

Still, crime involving tourists is an ongoing problem in Mexico. Tourism officials have been accused of attempting to minimize the issue. The US Department of State has urged caution visiting Mexico issuing a Travel Warning in September of last year saying “It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks involved in travel to Mexico.”

A cruise line crew member being found dead, for whatever reason, is indeed cause for concern in an ongoing look at the safety of ports around the world.

Last week, chaos and demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt sent cruise lines sailing in a different directions and land tour operators cancelling booked tours.

Cruise lines are modified itineraries for ships calling in Egypt and Tunisia, canceling all port calls in these two countries. While unrest/chaos continues in the area, cruise lines are playing it safe by keeping ships and passengers out of harms way.

Most recently, citing a “changing political environment” Disney Cruise Line as well as land tour operator Adventures by Disney is dropped Tunisia from all land and sea tours. They are just the latest of a growing number of cruise lines and tour operators to pull out of the troubled region.

“We continually evaluate our itineraries, and the decision to modify this itinerary was made in part due to the changing political environment in Tunis and the recent Travel Alert issued by the U.S. Department of State for Tunisia,” Disney spokesperson Christi Erwin Donnan told USA TODAY.

Indeed, cruise lines constantly monitor the situation at every port they call on, most commonly skipping ports for weather related reasons. More difficult to monitor but equally important, changing political environments and crime ashore too are a cause of concern regarding the safety of passengers and crew.


Evacuation of foreigners from Egypt: what you need to know


Rising threats of violence and political unrest in Egypt has prompted many foreign visitors and residents to plan evacuation plans. Our friends over at World Nomads have compiled a highly-useful guide to evacuation procedures for countries like the United States, Australia, Turkey and the UK.

US Citizens: The latest updates are on the State Department’s website.

Air travel ticket holders, take note: Delta has suspended flights to Cairo indefinitely at this time, while an American Airlines and British Airways have announced that tickets to and from Cairo can be changed at no charge. Emirates and Etihad are currently operating as scheduled, but travelers should expect long delays at the airport and a “far from normal” operating schedule.