Photo Of The Day: Egyptian Sphinx

Thanksgiving is a holiday that embraces traditions. It only seemed appropriate then to close out this long holiday weekend with an image of that most-iconic of Egyptian historical landmarks: the Sphinx. This image was taken by Flickr user robert vaccaro. I like the shot’s side-profile perspective and the nice contrast of sandy rock with clean, blue sky. It’s a simple yet classic image that’s well framed and eye-catching.

Taken any great photos on your trip to Egypt? Or maybe just during your visit to Cairo, Illinois? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user robert vaccaro]

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.

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.

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]

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]