Egyptian Police Stop Modern Burials Near Pyramid

pyramid
Wikimedia Commons

Egyptian police have stopped an attempt to expand a modern graveyard right next to the ancient site of Dahshur, home of the Bent Pyramid, Ahram Online reports.

The pyramid had already been damaged earlier this year by the encroaching cemetery. Authorities stopped construction at that time, but now new incursions are threatening the site. In the more recent incident, police arrested one man and are looking for three more.

The pyramid, which reopened to the public in 2009 after many years of being closed, is believed to have been built by the Pharaoh Sneferu. It gets its name from the fact that its upper portion slants at a different angle from the lower portion. Egyptologists believe that as the structure was being built, engineers changed their design out of fear that it would collapse. As a result, the bottom part of the pyramid rises up at a 55º angle, then transitions to 43º as it nears the top.

Dahshur is a royal necropolis and several other pyramids and tombs are in the area.

This is just one of a series of incidents that are threatening Egypt’s priceless ancient heritage. Continuing political chaos and a lack of sufficient security are making archaeological sites easy prey for “developers” and looters. Last month an entire museum was looted. Most artifacts were stolen. Those that couldn’t be moved were destroyed, with vandals smashing statues and burning mummies. The economic crisis in Egypt is fueling much of the theft, and a rising Islamist movement that has no respect for pre-Islamic cultures is creating an atmosphere of callousness.

Egyptian Mummies Weren’t Given Enemas, Study Shows

mummies
Ancient Egyptian mummies have been an object of fascination. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century B.C., visited Egypt and wrote a description of the mummification process. Since no ancient Egyptian text survives, his account forms the basis of many descriptions in modern books and museum displays.

Now a new study by two Canadian scientists suggests Herodotus may have gotten it wrong.

Yahoo News reports that two of the key points in Herodotus’ account – that the internal organs were dissolved with cedar oil enemas and the heart was always left in place – don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Researchers have examined studies of 150 mummies and put seven through CT scans and found little evidence of cedar oil. Also, in three-quarters of the mummies the heart was missing.

Herodotus also said that the brains were removed with a hook pushed through the nose. The study shows brains in about a fifth of mummies.

So why did Herodotus get it wrong? The study’s coauthor Andrew Wade of the University of Western Ontario says mummification was a lucrative business and its secrets closely guarded. In other words, Herodotus was handed a line. Imagine a bunch of mummy makers drinking wine by the Nile after a busy day at the office and laughing about that clueless Greek who showed up asking questions. “Cedar oil enemas? Yeah, save that for the tourists!”

Another possibility is that the mummy makers cut corners. In many animal mummies, used as offerings to the gods, researchers found only partial skeletons or wrappings that contained nothing. Temples made lots of money selling animal mummies to the faithful, and they created fakes to increase profits.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has a longer account of Herodotus’ writings on mummification here. The study was published in the latest issue of HOMO: The Journal of Comparative Human Biology.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Egypt Reopens Important Tombs At Saqqara


Despite facing political turmoil, authorities in Egypt have been forging ahead with renovations of key archaeological sites. Last week saw the renovation and reopening of two important tombs, the Serapeum and the tomb of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep.

The Serapeum dates to 1390 B.C. and was a tomb for holy bulls. I visited in 1991 and the memories of the gloomy underground corridors and giant sarcophagi are still vivid in my mind. It was closed in 2001 due to water leaking inside and shifts in the earth that threatened the underground structure.

The tomb of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep housed a father and son who were both high officials for the last two pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty around 2375 B.C. The double tomb is brightly painted with scenes of religious rituals, agriculture, hunting, and children playing.

Both tombs are at Saqqara, 30 kilometers south of Cairo and the site of Egypt’s first pyramid.

Authorities plan to open five more tombs soon. The government has spent millions of dollars on this work and hopes to lure back tourists who have been scared away by the recent unrest.

Check out this video from the Chinese-American NTD Television for some striking visuals of these two ancient tombs.

Ancient Egyptian tombs to be reopened

Ancient Egyptian
A visit to the pyramids at Giza in Egypt has just become even more interesting with the imminent reopening of six ancient Egyptian tombs nearby.

The tombs have been closed for many years for restoration, including the removal of graffiti left by people who don’t deserve to travel. The tombs are part of the Western Cemetery reserved for minor royalty and high officials of the Fourth Dynasty (c.2613-2494 BC) who were important enough to be buried near the pharaohs they served in life.

One is the tomb of Seshem-Nefer, who had the august title of “overseer of the two seats of the House of Life and keeper of the king’s secrets.” His large is visible in the foreground of this photo courtesy Hannah Pethen.

Other tombs include those of a royal treasurer, high priests and other functionaries. Only one of the tombs is for a member of the royal family — Princess Mersankh, the granddaughter of King Khufu, whose pyramid is the largest in Egypt.

Several of the tombs have brightly painted scenes of daily life, such as hunting and spending time with family, making them a good way to gain insight into the world of ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egypt–Art and Magic, opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida

Ancient EgyptAncient Egypt never ceases to fascinate. Its elaborate religion, art, and ritual make it at once foreign and compelling. Now a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, showcases some of the highlights of this unique culture.

Ancient Egypt–Art and Magic: Treasures of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art brings to the public eye one of the greatest private collections of Ancient Egyptian art. These 100 choice pieces from the collection of Jean Claude Gandur of Geneva, Switzerland, include mummy cases, statues of pharaohs, papyrus texts, and precious jewels.

Each item emphasizes the skill of the ancient Egyptian artisans and their culture’s deep connection to magic. Alongside the works of art are explanations of how magic played a part in every aspect of Egyptian society, and how these particular objects fit into that belief.

Some of the items have an interesting modern history too. One sarcophagus was owned by the late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

It’s rare for so many items from a private collection to go on display all together, so if you’re passing through Florida, be sure to make it to this exhibition. The exhibition runs until April 29, 2012.

This photo shows the lid from a sarcophagus, made of gessoed and painted wood from either the 21st or 22nd dynasty (1080-720 BC), from the Collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art.