Riddle of pyramid’s secret hieroglyphs solved

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]

Zahi Hawass tells New York City: fix Cleopatra’s Needle or give it back

The Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has become famous in recent years for his regular television appearances and tireless campaign to preserve his nation’s heritage. Dr. Zahi Hawass has gotten the Met to return stolen artifacts and severed ties with the Louvre until they coughed up some of their own ill-gotten gains.

Now the fedora-wearing Egyptologist has a new location in his sights–New York City. On his blog he says Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park has become “severely weathered”. He’s sent a letter to the president of the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor Bloomberg describing how some of the hieroglyphs had all but disappeared and that if they couldn’t take care of the obelisk, he’d “take the necessary steps” to bring it back to Egypt.

Dr. Hawass also posted photos showing the weathering the monument has suffered. With the city’s variable weather and acidic pollution, it’s not surprising it’s suffered damage. Manhattan news service DNAinfo, however, talked to Jonathan Kuhn, director of Arts & Antiquities for the Parks Department, who said the damage was done more than a century ago and that there’s no significant erosion happening now.

Considering the level of determination Dr. Hawass has shown in the past, expect to hear more about this story in the future.

(As a side note, “Cleopatra’s Needle” is misnamed. It was actually erected by the pharaoh Thutmose III around 1450 BC, centuries before Cleopatra was born. London and Paris have similar obelisks.)

[Photo courtesy user Ekem via Wikimedia Commons]

Compromise over Rosetta Stone fight?

Dr. Zahi Hawass, the head of Egyptian Antiquities Council, has offered a compromise in his battle with the British Museum over the return of the Rosetta Stone.

The stone was discovered by French archaeologists in 1799 but went to the British Empire in 1801 as spoils of war after they ejected Napoleon from Egypt. It’s one of the most important of ancient Egyptian artifacts because it has the same text written in hieroglyphs, demotic (another Egyptian script), and ancient Greek. Until its discovery nobody could read ancient Egyptian, but Greek had never been forgotten. The key to unlock one of the world’s greatest civilizations had been found.

The Rosetta Stone is one of the treasures of the British Museum, but Dr. Hawass has been leading a fight to get it back. Now he’s said he’ll stop if the British Museum loans the stone to Egypt for a few months.

If it did make it back to Egypt, it would probably be displayed in Cairo’s newly revamped National Museum, a jaw-dropping collection of ancient treasures.

The Brits might want to take him up on this. Dr. Hawass has been a tireless crusader and has already gotten the Metropolitan Museum of Art to return a stolen artifact and had a similar victory with the Louvre. He’s shown he won’t give up until Egypt’s heritage is back home.