Cache Of Severed Hands Discovered In Ancient Egyptian Palace

ancient EgyptianArchaeologists digging at the ancient Egyptian site of Tell-el-Daba have made a grisly discovery – sixteen severed hands.

They were all right hands, and all large enough that they were probably from men, leading investigators to think they were trophies from a battle. Ancient Egyptian records mention the practice of collecting enemy hands to trade in for gold, but this is the first material evidence.

Like many sites in the country, Tell-el-Daba was inhabited for many centuries. Its high point, however, was actually a low point for the rest of Egypt. Around 1610 B.C., archaeologists believe it became the capital for the Hyksos, a little-understood Eastern people who conquered much of northern Egypt.

Known as Avaris, the town grew and a large palace was built. It was in the palace precinct that the team found the severed hands. According to the team’s press release, 14 were deposited in a pit in an outer courtyard, and two more in two pits in an outbuilding. One can imagine Hyksos warriors coming back from a successful battle against the Egyptians and showing off the hands to their ruler to claim their reward. The Good Old Days were pretty brutal.

The location didn’t stay in the invaders’ hands for long. It was reconquered by the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose around the year 1530 B.C.

Archaeologists Discover Funerary Boat Of One Of Ancient Egypt’s Earliest Pharaohs

Ancient Egypt
A funerary boat dating back 5,000 years has been discovered in Egypt, Ahram Online reports.

The boat was meant to take the Pharaoh Den to the afterlife and was buried in the northeast of the Giza Plateau, site of the famous (and later) pyramids. Den was a ruler of Ancient Egypt’s poorly understood First Dynasty, which saw the unification of Egypt and its development as a major civilization. Den, shown here smiting his enemies in this image courtesy CaptMondo, was the first to use the title “King of Lower and Upper Egypt.” He ruled for 42 years and was famed for his organization of the state. His tomb at Abydos, shown below in this Wikimedia Commons image, is one of the finest of the era.

The French team that made the discovery hope to restore the boat in time to put it on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization when it opens next year.

Ancient Egypt

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.

Video: Visiting The Pyramids of Sudan


Sudan is near the top of my list of countries I haven’t been to that I want to explore. One of the main things I’m aching to see are the pyramids of Meroë. This site has dozens of pyramids built starting around 720 BC.

Meroë was one of the capitals of the Nubian Empire, which at times rivaled its more famous northern neighbor, Egypt. As archaeologists continue to excavate in the Sudan, they’re finding that it had more influence on ancient Egyptian culture than previously thought. The Nubians even took over Egypt and installed their own dynasty there, ruling from 760-656 BC before the Egyptians kicked them out.

The pyramids at Meroë are a two-and-a-half hour drive north of the modern capital Khartoum. This video takes us on that journey, with a classic soundtrack to get us in the mood. The camel crossing reminds me of a similar holdup I experienced in Ethiopia’s Somali region!

New Ancient Egypt And Nubia Galleries At Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Ancient Egypt
The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has always been famous for its collection of art from Ancient Egypt and Nubia (Sudan). It recently revamped these galleries as part of a major remodel.

While the new galleries reopened in November, I didn’t want to write it up until I got to see it for myself. The old galleries were dark, cramped and had endless cases crammed with artifacts. In other words, they were arranged in the old style. Museums are changing, though. The trend these days are to have brighter, more open and inviting spaces that reduce museum fatigue. Most of the Ashmolean got this treatment back in 2009, and after a big fund raising effort the famous Egyptian and Nubian galleries have also been revamped.

As you can see from the above picture, the gloomy old galleries have been opened up. Signage has been improved with lots of detailed information about each piece. The Ashmolean has become the poster child of new museum design, and its impressive collection certainly helps make it a world-class destination.

Personally I walked through the galleries with mixed feelings. Creating more space means displaying fewer artifacts. The crowded cases filled with dozens of figurines or amulets are gone, replaced by displays showing single pieces or at most half a dozen. As one of my friends complained, this slants the displays towards the best objects, while the more day-to-day objects familiar to the common people aren’t represented. She also pointed out that you lose the chance to compare typology, how the appearance of artifacts change over space and time.

On the other hand, the new galleries are definitely a more user-friendly experience. All the objects for which the galleries were famous are still there, like the phallic statue of the god Min, the Shrine of Taharqa and a Roman-era female mummy complete with golden tits. While obsessive archaeology buffs will be a bit disappointed with the new look, most visitors will find it a pleasant change.

All photos courtesy copyright Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

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