‘Egyptomania’ grips Houston

EgyptomaniaThe Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, has just opened a new exhibition exploring the West’s fascination with ancient Egypt.

Egyptomania” collects forty objects from the Egyptian revivals of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was the time when the West became widely aware of the great civilization of Egypt and started excavating there. Cutting open mummies became popular entertainment, the rich collected Egyptian artifacts, and it seemed like everyone wanted to own something in the Egyptian style — like this Art Deco perfume bottle shown here in a photo courtesy MFAH. It was designed by Baccarat c. 1930. Other items on display are Egyptian-style furniture, garden sphinxes (much cooler than garden gnomes) and even Egyptian asparagus tongs.

Visitors to the museum can get a double dose of ancient Egypt right now because the traveling exhibition “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” is on display through April 15. This exhibition features more than a hundred artifacts, most of which have never been shown in the U.S. prior to this tour.

If this isn’t enough to stave off your Egyptomaniacal cravings, I suggest a trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium in San Jose, California. This place is a strange hybrid of serious museum and cultish quackery founded by a modern spiritual group inspired by ancient Egypt.

“Egyptomania” runs from March 18 through July 29.

Previously unknown Egyptian pharaoh discovered

Karnak, Egyptian pharaoh

Egyptologists have made a stunning discovery at the famous temple of Luxor: an inscription naming a previously unknown Egyptian pharaoh.

A French team restoring a temple of Amon Ra found hieroglyphs bearing the name “Nekht In Ra.” The inscription dates to the 17th dynasty, a relatively little-known dynasty from a murky period in Egyptian history.

The mysterious dynasty was the last of the Second Intermediate Period, a time when northern Egypt was ruled by Semitic invaders called the Hyksos and the rest of Egypt had fragmented into various factions. The 17th dynasty dated from around 1585 to 1550 BC and had their capital at Thebes, next to Luxor. Most of the dates of its rulers are not known for certain and in many cases it’s not even known how long they ruled or who was related to whom. Thus the discovery of a “new” pharaoh, while important, doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

It’s unclear just how Nekht In Ra fits into the king list of the ten previously known 17th dynasty pharaohs. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has called for further excavation at the discovery site to find more pieces to the puzzle.

While the 17th dynasty is obscure, it was hugely important to Egyptian history because the last two pharaohs waged war on the Hyksos and eventually defeated them, although both pharaohs appear to have died in battle. The 18th dynasty marked the beginning of the New Kingdom, a flowering of Egyptian culture and power that lasted five centuries.

Several interesting items survive from the 17th dynasty and are now on display. Check out the gallery for a sample.

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Photo of entrance into the Precinct of Amon-Re courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sacred ship from ancient Egypt is undergoing restoration

ancient Egypt, solar boatA sacred boat that lay hidden in the sands of the Sahara for 4,500 years will be restored and put on display, Egyptian authorities say.

The boat is one of a pair discovered buried next to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu at Giza, also known as the Great Pyramid. They rested in long, stone-covered pits.

The first boat, shown here in this photo courtesy Berthold Werner, was excavated in 1954 and is already on display at the Solar Boat Museum at Giza. It’s considered one of the most remarkable finds from ancient Egypt and is similar in design to the feluccas that still ply the Nile today.

Japanese and Egyptian archaeologists are working together to gather samples of the second boat’s wood in order to understand how best to restore and preserve it. The current project to uncover and analyze the second boat has been going on since 1992. Last summer the painstaking task of excavating and removing the boat from its pit was completed.

According to tests, the boat is made of Lebanon cedar and is actually a little older than the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu, who ruled from 2551-2528 BC, according to the Japanese team. His name has been found inscribed on the boat.

It’s not certain that the two vessels were actually used, and may have only been symbolic boats to carry the pharaoh across the sky with the sun god Ra in the afterlife. Egyptians were often buried with little statues of servants, animals, soldiers, and even entire farms to serve them in the hereafter.

Animal mummies discovered in Egypt

animal mummiesA cache of animal mummies is among the finds from a recent excavation in Egypt.

The discovery was made by a University of Toronto team last summer at Abydos and was announced at a recent meeting. Abydos was the first burial ground for the pharaohs and remained a holy place throughout the history of ancient Egypt. The tomb of Osiris, king of underworld, was believed to be there.

Because of this, Egyptians wanted to be buried there too and numerous tombs have been found at the site. The Canadian team found a mysterious building that contained a pile of animal mummies. These animals could have served various purposes. Usually they were offerings to the gods, but they could also act as food for the afterlife or even post-mortem pets.

Many of the deities of Egypt had animal heads and aspects, and animals that were mummified as offerings were of the same species as the associated god. Hawks were dedicated to Horus, ibises to Thoth, cats to Sekhmet, etc.

Most of the 83 animal mummies found in Abydos in the latest field season were dogs, and may have been offerings to Wepwawet, a wolf-headed god associated with Osiris. Wepwawet was a war god and an “opener of the ways” who protected the dead on their journey into the underworld. The team also uncovered mummified sheep, goats, and two cats.

The function of the building where these mummies were found is unclear, although it may have been a temple. It’s not known exactly when it was built either. A few inscriptions at the site refer to Seti I, who ruled from 1290–1279 BC. The team also found a wooden statue that may represent Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh who ruled from 1479–1458 BC, and two tombs. One of them tombs has yet to be opened.

Animal mummies are common finds throughout Egypt. Everything from shrews to catfish to bulls were dipped in preservatives and wrapped in linen. Some were given elaborate sarcophagi, like the gilded one shown in the photo gallery. Others mummies were fakes. There was a big market for animal mummies as they were a popular sacrifice. Thus unscrupulous priests would often create mummies that contained only a few bones or feathers of the animal, or sometimes no animal parts at all.

Any museum with a good Egyptian collection will have at least some animal mummies. Museums that I’ve seen that have especially large collections include the British Museum (London), the National Museum (Cairo), the Louvre (Paris), the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the Ashmolean (Oxford), and the Met (New York). Have you seen a good collection of these pickled pets? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Photo of cat mummy in the Louvre, Paris, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Egypt to reopen Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor

Egypt, Luxor
The Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim has announced that the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor will reopen in March after a long period of restoration.

Egypt, LuxorLuxor is a sprawling complex of temples and one of the greatest monuments of the ancient world. The Avenue of Sphinxes is a long road stretching 2.7 kilometers flanked by hundreds of sphinxes. It was built by the Pharaoh Nectanebo I (ruled 380-362 BC) to replace and earlier one built by Queen Hatshepsut (ruled 1502-1482 BC).

While some stretches of the avenue have always been visible, much of it was buried or destroyed over the centuries. Now the entire length is being restored as part of an ongoing project to improve the entire site.

The opening is planned to coincide with next year’s Berlin International Tourism Market. Egypt is anxious to draw tourists back to the country after the recent political instability. Considering the current protests in Cairo, the government has a lot of work to do before March.

Top image courtesy Przemyslaw “Blueshade” Idzkiewicz. Bottom image courtesy Dennis Jarvis.