Monday, June 09, 2008

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit poster

[Above - Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit poster at the O2.]

Will Tut-mania comes back to the UK, as it did in 1972 when some of Tutankhamun’s artefacts were last displayed in London? When the exhibit was here in the 1970’s, it was held in the British Museum, and cost all of fifty pence per person to enter the exhibit to view around fifty-five artefacts of Tutankhamun’s treasures. In the 1980’s, after an exhibition in Germany where a statue of the goddess Selket got accidentally broken, it was said that Tutankhamun’s treasures would never again leave Egypt, as they were far too valuable and delicate to take any more chances with. That was until 2004 when President Mubarak authorised one-hundred and thirty artefacts - fifty of which were discovered in KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun - to become part of an exhibit to travel the world. The rest of the artefacts that make up the exhibit come from Tutankhamun’s direct family-line. Only seven pieces in this exhibit were in the 1970’s exhibit, one of them being a lotus shaped calcite cup, so this display is going to be full of artefacts that have never been seen before by many living in the UK. One item that is not part of this exhibit is Tutankhamun’s golden funerary mask - which incidentally was here in the 1970’s exhibit - but that is hardly disappointing once you hear about all the artefacts that are part of the exhibit.

Lotus style calcite cup from the tomb of Tutankhamun

[Above - Lotus style calcite cup from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]

Over the last couple of years the exhibit, named Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, has travelled to Basel in Switzerland, Bonn in Germany, and then on to Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia in the US. Now Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs is in the UK, being held at the O2 Arena (formally known as the Millennium Dome) from 15th November 2007 to the 30th August 2008. A reconstruction of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber is part of the exhibit, as well as a reconstruction of the face of the boy-king himself. Because the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb was an English fellow by the name of Howard Carter working for Lord Carnarvon who is another Englishman, the exhibit in London has added an extra gallery dedicated to the man that found the tomb and spent ten years excavating it: Howard Carter.
Grey granite statue of Tutankhamun

[Left - Grey granite statue of Tutankhamun. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]
Outside the entrance to the exhibit itself, inside the O2, was a modern Egyptian-themed throne for people to sit on to have their photos taken before they went inside (photography of any kind was not permitted inside the exhibit), as well as people dressed up in Egyptian garb. The exhibit consisted of two floors; beginning on the uppermost. First you queued to get into an introduction theatre whereby people were let in in small groups at a time; the two-minute show was narrated by Omar Sherrif and told the basics of the period to which Tutankhamun belonged. The room that followed on from the theatre contained one artefact in a darkened room, which was a life-size grey granite statue of Tutankhamun. The statue depicted Tutankhamun wearing a nemes headdress and kilt and was discovered in the Karnak cachette with another almost identical statue. However, the statue was later usurped by Horemheb. The gallery that led on from here contained artefacts that showed Egypt before the days of Tutankhamun. This room included, among other things, a seated grey granite statue of Djehutymes (IV) and his mother Tiaa, where they both have their arms around each other. Tiaa attained greater prominence during her son’s reign, being given the title of ‘Great Royal Wife’ which she was not given during the reign of her husband, Amenhotep (II), as she was only a minor queen.

Grey granite statue of Djehutymes (IV) and his mother Tiaa

[Above - Grey granite statue of Djehutymes (IV) and his mother Tiaa. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]

Following this room was a gallery on daily life in ancient Egypt, which held one of my favourite pieces of the entire exhibit: that of a model boat belonging to Amenhotep (II). The boat was over two metres in length, made from wood, and painted in beautifully vibrant colours in extremely precise detail. Discovered in Kings Valley 35, the tomb of Amenhotep (II), it was one of three similar sized boats in the tomb, and was in a better state of preservation than the others, though the mast that was once at the centre of the deck is now lost. The next gallery is on the traditional religion, where the wall depicted an image of Ramessu (II) offering incense to a deity. This is slightly misleading seeing as the traditional religion room is supposed to show contrast to the coming heretic religion in one of the following galleries, yet the reign of Ramessu (II) postdates Tutankhamun’s era. Fair enough, the image was only meant as decoration, but there are plenty of similar depictions of ancestors of Tutankhamun that they could have used instead. Back to the artefacts in this room, though; there was an exquisite coiled serpent goddess with outstretched wings and human head. Made from four separate parts of sycamore wood which had been painted, it was found in the tomb of Amenhotep (II), and could possibly be made to resemble the goddess Renenutet or Meretseger.

Wooden model boat of Amenhotep (II)

[Above - Wooden model boat of Amenhotep (II). Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]

Wooden serpent goddess from the tomb of Tutankhamun

[Above - Wooden serpent goddess from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]

Conversely, the wall decoration applied to the succeeding gallery was brilliantly thought up. The artefacts here were on death, burial, and the afterlife in ancient Egypt, and the walls around the perimeter of the gallery were decorated with scenes from the Imyduat. These sacred texts were indeed found on the walls of burial chambers of the ancestors of Tutankhamun, so they fit in here very nicely. The room darkened, with these scenes glimmering above, and the artefacts lit below, made the room look like an authentic tomb chamber itself. By far the most interesting piece here was the gilded cartonnage funerary mask of Tjuya; mother of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep (III). This mask had, in ancient times, been covered in a fine linen pall and anointed with resin, which caused the pall to become stuck to the mask itself; this is the black remains that can still be seen on the wig and collar of the mask. Following this room was a hall flanked by modern pillars, leading to a colossal limestone head of Akhenaten. The rest of the galleries on this floor were about the religious revolution that Akhenaten promoted, Tutankhamun himself, and the daily life in Tutankhamun’s period.
Gilded cartonnage funerary mask of Tjuya

[Right - Gilded cartonnage funerary mask of Tjuya. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]
Moving to the lower level of the exhibit, you start with a section on the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon. This includes a projected video of the discovery and blown-up photographs of artefacts and other things to do with the discovery, courtesy of the Griffith Institute. A small room came after this which held two complimenting statues. Both of these were of gilded wood, depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun stood on a plinth wearing sandals, a kilt, and collar, and holding onto a flail in their right hand and a long curved staff in their left. The main difference between the two statues is that one is wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt and the other is wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, denoting his rule over the whole land. The next gallery is dedicated to the tomb of Tutankhamun, Kings Valley 62, itself. What stood out to me in this room was a gorgeous dummy folding stool. It is made of wood that has been painted dark brown to imitate ebony and has ivory inlays. The whole stool has been given a pattern to make it appear as if it has been draped with goat or cow hide, and the crossed legs are shaped like duck heads. The bars that join two legs of the stool together on each side are partly covered in gold. Going on from this gallery you come to a room that contains just one artefact: the golden coffinette for Tutankhamun’s liver. Aset [Isis] is depicted on the inside of the lid, and a recitation to that goddess is written down the front vertically on the outside of the piece. Inside the piece on the base are spells written that are intended to protect the contents, which includes the first spell from the Book of Coming Forth by Day (Book of the Dead). The mini coffin is made from gold carnelian, obsidian, rock crystal, and glass, and was placed in one of four compartments - along with three other coffinettes - in a calcite canopic chest. Behind the display case that holds this coffinette in the exhibit are two huge TV screens that show the coffinette in detail. The penultimate part of the exhibit was a replica of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. At the centre of the room was a raised section that screened the different coffins that Tutankhamun was entombed in as well as showing whereabouts on the body some of the items were located upon discovery; some of these were displayed elsewhere in the room. Around this raised area were markings showing where the shrines were placed around the outside of the sarcophagus, and TV screens showed computer generated versions of the shrines. The final section of the exhibit was about the modern scans and findings regarding the mummified remains of Tutankhamun.

Dummy folding stool made from wood painted to look like animal hide

[Above - Dummy folding stool made from wood painted to look like animal hide. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]

Mini coffin to hold Tutankhamun’s liver

[Left - Mini coffin to hold Tutankhamun’s liver. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]
I was especially impressed with crowd control at the exhibit. When I first thought about getting tickets for the exhibit I expected that most the time I spent there I would be pushing to the front of huge crowds to get anywhere near a display case to catch but the merest glimpse of an artefact. When, in actual fact, the rooms were very spacious, and even though I was there when there were a few school groups in, I only had to occasionally wait a minute to view an item. No pushing and shoving whatsoever! Throughout the whole exhibit I listened to the audio tour narrated by Omar Sherrif, which went into detail of around twenty or so of the artefacts. He was a clear speaker that gave some interesting facts that I had never heard before about a few of the items. The lighting in all the rooms that lit each artefact individually was superbly done with great finesse; just enough lighting was given that you could see every last detail of the treasures and read their accompanying texts comfortably, but not too much that the artefacts lost their mysterious edge or were lost in a glare. Music was playing gently around the exhibit, and though it had an authentic sound and was fairly quiet, if one was in one room for too long and happened to hear the same track a few times in a row, it could become mildly irritating. I spent all of around three hours inside the exhibit itself, and I found it to be time extremely well spent. A very enjoyable experience indeed.

Wooden handle of an unguent spoon in the shape of a naked lady swimming, from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Currently part of the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the O2

[Above - Wooden handle of an unguent spoon in the shape of a naked lady swimming, from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Currently part of the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the O2. Photo supplied by John DeWerd.]

However, there was one major drawback. Once you had travelled the entire exhibit, you came to the gift shop. At first glance the shop looked to be a wonderful array of fantastic gifts, souvenirs, and items of art, yet once you took a proper look at the prices, you realise that it is more like highway robbery than a gift shop. Prices were extortionate. For example, the companion book to the exhibit was retailing in the gift shop for £30, yet it was being sold at the British Museum for £20 and being sold brand new and factory sealed on Amazon UK for just over £9. Suffice it to say, I purchased the book via the latter option once I had returned home. A gift box of the ancient Egyptian Seven Sacred Oils were being sold in the gift shop for £150, but, firstly ignoring the fact that it is unknown what all of the Egyptian seven sacred oils were, the oils that they were selling in the set could be bought from good aromatherapists in the UK for around £10 each. A scarf with a lotus flower design on it cost £60; even though it was a beautiful item, I would not pay that much for a scarf! I overheard one young kid from one of the school groups say, “Where’s all the cheap stuff?” Yes, where indeed. Regardless of the price, the companion book written by Zahi Hawass was very interesting and gave a fair summery of each of the artefacts, though it did often go into a lot of unnecessary background information. The exhibit DVD was an excellent buy, even if you only looked at the gallery feature on there. The actual movie section of the DVD repeated much of what was said on the audio tour, which will make it great to reminisce on.

Tutankhamun exhibit ticket from See Tickets

[Above - Tutankhamun exhibit ticket from See Tickets.]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ramessu Statue, to be moved.
After discussing moving the red granite statue of Ramessu (II) for more than a decade, officials have finally decided that the statue, that is presently in Bab Al-Hadid Station Square in Cairo, is going to be moved to the Grand Museum of Egypt, located near the Great Pyramids, on the 25th August. This colossus is one of a pair (a replica is still laying on the ground, around which the Museum of Memphis is constructed), it was originally found in 1882 at the Great Temple of Ptah at Mit-Rahina, it was broken into pieces and attempts to re-erect the statue at the time failed. In 1955 the statue was relocated to the Square and re-assembled, using iron rods inside the body, where it has stayed until now. The reason for wanting the statue moved is that, after 50 years of standing in the city centre, the statue is suffering the ill effects of long term pollution damage and vibrations from underground trains. The movement of the statue has been planned by constructing an iron cage around it, which will be connected to steel beams, and transported on two flatbed trucks. Once it is in place the statue will be tested and renovated (this process taking approximately 6-12 months). The Grand Museum of Egypt isn't expected to be open for another 5 years.

The Ramessu statue has now arrived at its new home, after a journey that took 10 hours. "It was a very successful journey and we did not stop for a second".... "The 10 hour journey was the best time of my life. I have never seen thousands of people singing all night and walking for miles just to say goodbye to the statue" said Ahmed al-Gharabawi, the main vehicle driver. It had been wrapped in protective plastic and scaffolding before it set off. A practise run had taken place last month to try to ensure that they would encounter no problems with the Ramessu (II) statue. The movement of the statue was filmed live on Egyptian television, and even though a planned ceremony had been cancelled because of the violence in Lebanon, tens of thousands of people came out in the middle of the night to watch Ramessu pass by and to pay their respects to the statue of 'Ramessu the Great' that had stood in the square for 50 years.
After the statue was moved, it was discovered that had it been left to stand in Cairo, it would've eventually toppled over, anyway, due to a spring discovered underneath. Therefore, the Ramses II statue is now in a far better place.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ancient gold cartouches found in Luxor:
The recent discovery of two sets of nine solid gold cartouches dating to approximately 1400 BC, found close to Hatshepsut's obelisk, is believed to be showing Hatshepsut and Djehutymes (III), - or Tuthmose III, as he is sometimes known - in a whole new light. Both sets were discovered by a team of French and Egyptian archaeologists, and bear the name of Djehutymes (III) and Hatshepsut, found 700km south of Cairo.
Djehutymes (III) was originally thought to have had a strained relationship with Hatshepsut. When Djehutymes (II) died, it was Djehutymes (III) (his son by a minor wife) who was next in line to the throne, but on his Father's death Djehutymes (III) was too young to rule, so Hatshepsut - Djehutymes' (III) step-Mother - acted as co-regent, but she took over while he was still young, and ruled in her own right for 22 years. Upon Hatshepst's death Djehutymes (III) reclaimed his rightful place as Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt, but after around 20 years on the throne he had Hatshepsut's name obliterated from her monuments, leading to the assumption that he'd done it out of revenge or jealousy. The question that has long plagued the experts is, why he waited 20 years or more to strike her name from the records, when he could have done it as soon as he ascended to the throne. Was it to secure his son Imenhotep's (II) right to the throne? Was it about the ancient Egyptian's concept of Ma'at? Maybe this recent discovery will prompt new thinking on Djehutymes' (III) feelings for his step-Mother, and his feelings on his right to become Pharaoh being delayed by some 20 years.
"These cartouches... which have the names of Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III have been found near Hatshepsut's obelisk which proves that the obelisk was erected by both rulers," said Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. "This goes against earlier views that Tuthmose III tried to hide Hatshepsut's obelisk when he took over as ruler and that he worked to erase any traces left by the queen," Hawass said.
The discovery is soon to go on display at the Luxor Museum.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

SESHAT - Seshat literally means 'Female Scribe' (sesh = scribe), she was also referred to as 'Sefket-abwy' meaning 'She who wears the two horns', this is in reference to the headdress she wears. This is believed to be a seven pointed star or a flower with inverted cow horns resting over it, that once may have been a cresent moon.
Other than the headdress, Seshat is also potrayed wearing a spotted, leopard print dress of the priesthood. She is sometimes shown holding the was-scepter, and more often with scribal equipment (pen/brush + palette).
Thoth was believed to have been Seshat's husband, or at the very least her counterpart. Seshat was said to have invented writing while Thoth taught man how to write. There have been cases of women been shown holding scribal equipment (probably to show that they were literate), but Seshat is the only female (as yet) to actually be shown in the act of writing.
Seshat had many roles associated with her, firstly as the architect, she was present at the Stretching Of The Cord - which was a ritual concerning laying the foundations of a monument, which led her to be referred to as Foremost Of The Builders along with Nephthys. Secondly as mathematician, she recorded the nuber of captives on millitery campaigns, and calculated the days of a Phaoroh's life. Seshat was also known as 'Godess Of Libraries'.

Picture's links are from: Off we go to Egypt and Travel Reports.
Egyptian Dreams

'Scribes of Thoth'