Monthly Archives: March 2014

3,300-Year-Old Tomb with Pyramid Entrance Discovered in Egypt by Owen Jarus, Live Science

Dating back around 3,300 years this tomb was discovered recently at an ancient cemetery at Abydos in Egypt.
Dating back around 3,300 years this tomb was discovered recently at an ancient cemetery at Abydos in Egypt. At left the rectangular entrance shaft with massive walls served as a base for a small pyramid that was an estimated 23 feet (7 meters) high.
Credit: Photo courtesy Kevin Cahail

A tomb newly excavated at an ancient cemetery in Egypt would have boasted a pyramid 7 meters (23 feet) high at its entrance, archaeologists say.

The tomb, found at the site of Abydos, dates back around 3,300 years. Within one of its vaulted burial chambers, a team of archaeologists found a finely crafted sandstone sarcophagus, painted red, which was created for a scribe named Horemheb. The sarcophagus has images of several Egyptian gods on it and hieroglyphic inscriptions recording spells from the Book of the Dead that helped one enter the afterlife.

There is no mummy in the sarcophagus, and the tomb was ransacked at least twice in antiquity. Human remains survived the ransacking, however. Archaeologists found disarticulated skeletal remains from three to four men, 10 to 12 women and at least two children in the tomb. [Gallery: See Images of the Newly Found Tomb]



Newly discovered pyramid

The chambers that the archaeologists uncovered would have originally resided beneath the surface, leaving only the steep-sided pyramid visible.

In one of the burial chambers the archaeologists found a sandstone sarcophagus, painted red, which was created for a "scribe" named Horemheb.
In one of the burial chambers the archaeologists found a sandstone sarcophagus, painted red, which was created for a “scribe” named Horemheb.
Credit: Photo courtesy Kevin Cahail

“Originally, all you probably would have seen would have been the pyramid and maybe a little wall around the structure just to enclose everything,” said Kevin Cahail, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, who led excavations at the tomb.

The pyramid itself “probably would have had a small mortuary chapel inside of it that may have held a statue or a stela giving the names and titles of the individuals buried underneath,” Cahail told Live Science. Today, all that remains of the pyramid are the thick walls of the tomb entranceway that would have formed the base of the pyramid. The other parts of the pyramid either haven’t survived or have not yet been found. [Image Gallery: Amazing Egyptian Discoveries]

Military ties

It was not uncommon, at this time, for tombs of elite individuals to contain small pyramids, Cahail said. The tomb was excavated in the summer and winter field seasons of 2013 and Cahail will be presenting results at the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt, to be held in Portland, Ore., from April 4-6.

Cahail believes that Horemheb’s family had military ties that allowed them to afford such an elaborate tomb. Another burial chamber, this one missing a sarcophagus, contains shabti figurines that were crafted to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife. Writing on the figurines say that they are for the “Overseer of the Stable, Ramesu (also spelled Ramesses).” This appears to be a military title and it’s possible that Ramesu was the father or older brother of Horemheb, Cahail said.

He noted it’s interesting that both Horemheb and Ramesu share names with two military leaders, who lived at the same time they did. Both of these leaders would become pharaohs.

 “They could actually be emulating their names on these very powerful individuals that eventually became pharaoh, or they could have just been names that were common at the time,” Cahail said.

Multiple wives?

The bones the team discovered in the tomb indicate that considerably more women than men were buried in the tomb. This brings up the question of whether Horemheb and Ramesu had multiple wives at the same time. Cahail said that polygamy was a common practice among the pharaohs, but it’s uncertain if it was practiced among non-royalty.

Another possibility is that the tomb was used for multiple generations by the same family and contains the remains of daughters, mothers and other female relatives. Yet another possibility is that the tomb was re-used, without permission, at a later date.

Radiocarbon tests, which can provide a date range for the bones, may be done in the future to help solve the mystery.

“You’re left with the question, who are all these people?” Cahail said.

A Jasper treasure

One of the most interesting artifacts the team found was a heart amulet, made of red and green jasper. The hard stone amulet was broken into three pieces.

“It’s a beautiful object and possibly one of the best carved examples of these very rare type of amulets,” Cahail said. “It was probably on the chest of one of the deceased individuals and there probably would have been some sort of necklaces and gold and things like that.”

The purpose of this heart-shaped amulet was probably related to spells from the Book of the Dead that tell the heart of the deceased not to lie. The ancient Egyptians believed that, after death, their hearts would be put on a scale and weighed against a feather representing ma’at, an Egyptian concept that includes truth and justice. If their heart weighed the same or less they could obtain eternal life, but if it weighed more they were destroyed.

“Essentially, your heart and your good deeds and everything that you’ve done in your life is weighed against the measure of truth,” Cahail said.


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Recreating the Tomb of Tutankhamun

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March 30, 2014 · 10:40 pm

Tombs of the High-Priests of Amun via Mail online

An archaeology race is on to secure the ancient burial site of three Egyptian kings which contains relics that will outshine even that of Tutankhamun’s, it has been claimed.

British archaeologist John Romer, 72, believes he has discovered the site where three ancient Egyptian priest kings – Herihor, Piankh and Menkheperre – were buried in Luxor, Egypt, almost 3,000 years ago.

He claims the burial ground will yield such magnificent treasures that those discovered in the nearby tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings will seem like a ‘display in Woolworths’ in comparison.

Like a plot out of an Indiana Jones movie, experts are now racing to secure the site called Wadi el-Gharbi, located in the cliffs on Luxor’s west bank, before the arrival of so-called treasure hunters and tomb-raiders.

Race: Archaeology teams are racing to find the tomb of three ancient Egyptian kings in Luxor's west bank

Race: Archaeology teams are racing to find the tomb of three ancient Egyptian kings in Luxor’s west bank


Search: It is believed three priest kings - Herihor, Piankh and Menkheperre - were buried in Wadi el-Gharbi in Luxor's west bank near the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens

Search: It is believed three priest kings – Herihor, Piankh and Menkheperre – were buried in Wadi el-Gharbi in Luxor’s west bank near the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens


It is feared that ancient rock inscriptions surrounding the site, which has remained largely untouched since 1085BC, could be damaged by their quad bikes, rope ladders and other equipment.

Romer told the Sunday Times: ‘Last week, three people were arrested by the army security services at Luxor for entering it.’

The only person known to have excavated at the site was Howard Carter – the man who first scratched a hole through the sealed doorway of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in 1922.

Carter had previously cut trenches across the valley floor at the Wadi el-Gharbi site over the course of two weeks in 1916.

Mystery: It is believed the tomb where Heridor was buried may contain treasures to rival those found in Tutankhamun's burial site in the Valley of the Kings

Mystery: It is believed the tomb where Piankh was buried may contain treasures to rival those found in Tutankhamun's burial site in the Valley of the Kings


Mystery: It is believed the tomb where Heridor (pictured left) and Piankh (pictured right) was buried may contain treasures to rival those found in Tutankhamun’s burial site in the Valley of the Kings


The Valley of the Kings where Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered. The tomb of the three priest kings is believed to be located just a few miles away in Wadi el-Gharbi

The Valley of the Kings where Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. The tomb of the three priest kings is believed to be located just a few miles away in Wadi el-Gharbi


He discovered huge mounds of limestone chippings on the wadi floor, identical to those found in the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

But Carter gave up on his excavations, possibly because he had little idea of what may be buried at the site.

Romer has since focused on deciphering inscriptions left behind in the area by the royal workmen who laboured there.

Romer and his colleague, Alex Peden, have found the name of Herihor among 150 rock inscriptions.

Romer believes Carter was mistaken to restrict his search to the valley floor and claims the tomb is instead located higher up in the limestone cliffs which soar to around 1,000ft.

Famous discovery: The tomb of Tutankhamun, buried in 1325 B.C., was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922

Famous discovery: The tomb of Tutankhamun, buried in 1325 B.C., was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922


Treasures: The gold burial mask of Tutankhamun, pictured at the Cairo museum in Cairo, Egypt, was among the treasures found in his tomb

Treasures: The gold burial mask of Tutankhamun, pictured at the Cairo museum in Cairo, Egypt, was among the treasures found in his tomb


He claims: Herihor is most likely to be buried in a coffin of gold, like Tutankhamun [250 years before]. There are likely to be canopic chests, objects of alabaster, gold-plated statues, and thrones, though possibly not chariots,.’

Romer, who has been researching the potential tomb for 40 years, still needs to secure a permit from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities to carry out his search.

He now fears he may be beaten to finding the tomb after discovering a rival expedition has already arrived at the area.

Romer says he would be happy to forgo the chance of discovering the tomb so long as the excavation is done properly and keeps valuable inscriptions intact.

Priceless: A pendant found in Tutankhamun's tomb. It forms a rebus for his throne name Nebkheperure and is made of gold set with inlays of colored glass and semiprecious stones

Priceless: A pendant found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. It forms a rebus for his throne name Nebkheperure and is made of gold set with inlays of colored glass and semiprecious stones


Inside the first tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since King Tut's in 1922. The tomb discovered in 2006 in Luxor, Egypt, is thought to date from roughly the same period and contain six sarcophogi

Inside the first tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since King Tut’s in 1922. The tomb discovered in 2006 in Luxor, Egypt, is thought to date from roughly the same period and contain six sarcophogi



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Amenhotep reborn

Archaeologists on Sunday unveiled two colossal statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in Egypt‘s famed temple city of Luxor, adding to an existing pair of world-renowned tourist attractions.

The two monoliths in red quartzite were raised at what European and Egyptian archaeologists said were their original sites in the funerary temple of the king, on the west bank of the Nile.

The temple is already famous for its existing 3,400-year-old Memnon colossi — twin statues of Amenhotep III whose reign archaeologists say marked the political and cultural zenith of ancient Egyptian civilisation.

“The world until now knew two Memnon colossi, but from today it will know four colossi of Amenhotep III,” said German-Armenian archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian, who heads the project to conserve the Amenhotep III temple.

The existing two statues, both showing the pharaoh seated, are known across the globe.

The two restored additions have weathered severe damage for centuries, Sourouzian said.

“The statues had lain in pieces for centuries in the fields, damaged by destructive forces of nature like earthquake, and later by irrigation water, salt, encroachment and vandalism,” she said, as behind her excavators and local villagers washed pieces of artefacts and statues unearthed over the past months.

“This beautiful temple still has enough for us to study and conserve.”

One of the “new” statues — its body weighing 250 tonnes — again depicts the pharaoh seated, hands resting on his knees.

It is 11.5 metres (38 feet) tall, with a base 1.5 metres high and 3.6 metres wide.

Archaeologists said with its now missing double crown, the original statue would have reached a height of 13.5 metres and weighed 450 tonnes.

The king is depicted wearing a royal pleated kilt held at the waist by a large belt decorated with zigzag lines.

– Well-preserved alabaster head –

Beside his right leg stands nearly a complete figure of Amenhotep III’s wife Tiye, wearing a large wig and a long tight-fitting dress.

A statue of queen mother Mutemwya, originally beside his left leg, is missing, archaeologists said.

The throne itself is decorated on each side with scenes from that era, showing the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The second statue, of Amenhotep III standing, has been installed at the north gate of the temple.

The team of archaeologists also showed several other ancient pieces of what they said were parts of other statues of the ancient ruler and his relatives, including a well-preserved alabaster head from another Amenhotep III statue.

“This piece is unique, it is rare, because there are not many alabaster statues in the world,” Sourouzian told AFP.

The head, shown briefly to some reporters and fellow excavators, has also weathered centuries of damage.

Its nose, eyes and ears are intact, and some signs of restoration centuries ago are clearly evident, archaeologists said.

Close to the head lies a statue of Princess Iset, Amenhotep III’s daughter.

Sourouzian said the aim of her team’s work was to preserve these monuments and the temple itself, which according to her had suffered at the hands of “nature and mankind”.

“Every ruin, every monument has its right to be treated decently,” said Sourouzian, whose dream as a student was to conserve the Amenhotep III temple.

“The idea is to stop the dismantling of monuments and keep them at their sites,” she said, adding that what was required was steady “international funding” to conserve such world heritage sites.

The ongoing work to conserve the Amenhotep III temple is entirely funded through what she said were “private and international donations”.

Pharaoh Amenhotep III inherited an empire that spanned from the Euphrates to Sudan, archaeologists say, and he was able to maintain Egypt’s position mainly through diplomacy.

The 18th dynasty ruler became king at the age of around 12, with his mother as regent.

Amenhotep III died in around 1354 BC and was succeeded by his son Amenhotep IV, widely known as Akhenaten.

Luxor, a city of some 500,000 people on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, is an open-air museum of intricate temples and pharaonic tombs.


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Old Kingdom Mummy at Abusir via Luxortimes

The Czech mission discovers an Old Kingdom mummy in Abu Sir

The Czech mission working in Abu Sir directed by Dr. Mirislav Barta discovered a Skelton of a high official called “Nefer” at the time of King “Neferirkare” of the 5th Dynasty. The tomb was discovered last year in November and this season the excavation continued.
The mummy was found when the stone sarcophagus was opened to find the Skelton and a stone headrest under the head.
Ali Asfar, head of the ancient Egyptian department said “The tomb of Nefer is an unfinished stone tomb in a funerary complex of four corridors. The eastern corridor belong to Nefer and a family member; it includes 5 shafts and a false door with inscriptions of Nefer titles.
Nefer was the Priest of the funerary complex of King Neferirkare, he held many titles include “Overseer of scribes of the royal documents, overseer of the golden house and Secret keeper.
 Nefer’s wife called Nefert Hathor and she held a title of “Hathor Priestess”


Alaa Shehata, director of Sakkara antiquities said ” A group of Symbolic pots were found as well as 31 small faience jewellery pieces golden beside fingers and toes stalls which were all transferred to the warehouse No. 1 in Sakkara.
As for Dr. Miroslav Barta, the head of the Czech mission working on the site, he said “The work on not finished yet and we hope to discover more inscriptions and antiquities of this important historical era of the Old Kingdom.”



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Jobs – see also

* The Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University invites
applications for a part-time (0,5 fte) University Lectureship in
Demotic papyrology. Appointment will be fixed-term from September
2014 through August 2017, with the possibility of extensions of up
to three years, and of a permanent position thereafter. (..)
Application deadline: 21 April 2014. Full info at:

Am Departement Altertumswissenschaften der Universität
Basel sind zum 1. August 2014 bzw. zum 1. Februar 2015 zwei
Stellen einer Assistentin/eines Assistenten (50%) in Alter Geschichte
zu besetzen. (..) Voraussetzung ist ein mit dem Master oder einer
gleichwertigen Leistung (Lizentiat, Magister Artium) abgeschlossenes
Studium oder ein Doktorat in Alter Geschichte oder einem verwandten
Fach sowie die Arbeit an einem eigenen Forschungsprojekt zur
Weiterqualifikation. Wünschenswert, aber keine Voraussetzung ist ein
Forschungsschwerpunkt zum Thema griechisch-römisches Ägypten. (..)
Deadline for applications: 15. April 2014. (#)

* The University of Chicago's Oriental Institute is seeking applicants
for the position of Curatorial Assistant, who reports to the Chief
Curator of the Oriental Institute Museum. (..) Requirements:
Bachelor's degree or higher in field related to collections required
(advanced degree in related field preferred); Minimum of one year
relevant experience; Knowledge of database management software

* (&) The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University seeks an
experienced professional and accomplished scholar to serve as
Curator for its preeminent collections of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian,
and Near Eastern Art. The ideal candidate will hold a Ph.D. in Art
History or a related field; have at least five years of curatorial
experience in an accredited museum, and a record of successful
exhibition projects and publications. The application deadline is
May 1, 2014.

* (&) The Department of History of Art and Architecture and the
Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World
at Brown University invite applications for a visiting assistant
professor position in any field of ancient art, architecture and
archaeology. Teaching will be at both the undergraduate and
graduate levels; interdisciplinary offerings are desirable.(..)
Deadline for applications: April 15, 2014.

 (&) The Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World
at Brown University invites applications for Postdoctoral Fellow. (..)
Application deadline is March 31, 2014.

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Egyptians seize pyramid sites for use as cemeteries

Pyramids of Egypt via AFP

By Patrick Kingsley, The Observer

Archaeologists fear for pyramid sites as illegal building gathers pace in wake of Arab spring

In Manshiet Dahshur, 25 miles south of Cairo, the villagers recently extended the boundaries of the cemetery. For Ahmed Rageb, a carpenter who buried his cousin in the annexe, it was a logical decision. “We want to bury the dead,” he said, strolling through the new cemetery after visiting his cousin’s tomb. “The old cemetery is full. And there is no other place to bury my family.”

There is just one problem. The new tombs are perilously close to some of Egypt’s oldest: the pyramids of Dahshur, less famous than their larger cousins at Giza, but just as venerable. This is protected land, and no one is supposed to build here – yet more than 1,000 illegal tombs have appeared in the desert since January.

“What happened was crazy,” said Mohamed Youssef, Dahshur’s chief archaeologist. “They came and took space for about 20 generations.”

The tombs nestle in the dunes below the Red Pyramid, considered the pharaohs’ first successful attempt at a smooth-sided structure. To the south is the Bent Pyramid, named for its warped walls. In the east, nearer the Nile, lies the Black Pyramid – a collapsed colossus on which the villagers are most in danger of encroaching. This is their right, claimed Reda Dabus, a clerk worshipping at the mosque next to the cemetery. “All the people are born here,” Dabus said. “They died here. They should have the right to be buried here.” Inhabitable land is hard to come by in Egypt, where 99% of the population live on 5.5% of the territory.

But it is an argument disputed by local archaeologists, who say there is something darker afoot: looting. “Some of them have a real need for the tombs for their families,” said Youssef, who said that the land had been designated as government property since the late 1970s. “But when you have 1,000 people, some of them will want to do illegal excavation.”

Others agree. “They use the new tombs to hide what they are doing,” explained Ramadan al-Qot, a site inspector who grew up in the village. Observers say the cemetery is the latest in a series of forbidden incursions that have markedly increased since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. More than 500 illegal excavations have taken place at Dahshur since 2011 – an increase mirrored at sites all over the country.

“Dahshur is just a single case study of what’s happening on every archaeological site in Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, who campaigns for greater resources to be allocated to Egypt’s ancient sites. “It’s happened all around the Nile valley, in El Hiba, in Beni Suef. Everywhere.”

In the months following Mubarak’s fall in spring 2011, Nigel Hetherington, a British archaeologist and film-maker, documented dozens of new illegal buildings on ancient sites between Cairo and Dahshur. “They were openly building,” Hetherington said. “They had no fear of being filmed.”

The situation is symptomatic of a deterioration in law and order since the fall of the Mubarak regime. Nationwide, the police, whose brutality was a major cause of the 2011 uprising, no longer had the inclination to patrol either the streets or sites such as Dahshur. “After the revolution,” said Youssef, “the police would not do anything.” This left the inspectors to fend for themselves.

“It’s very dangerous for us,” said al-Qot, three of whose colleagues were hospitalised following a run-in with looters in December. “The thieves hide behind the tombs and shoot at us.”

The retreat of the state is just one explanation for the rise in looting and land grabs. Locals say it is also related to the way that the 2011 uprising prompted many ordinary Egyptians to shed some of their instinctive fear of authority. “The situation changed because the people changed,” said Youssef.

“That’s the reason for the building: the revolution,” agreed Abdo Diab, a carpenter who has built a tomb at Dahshur. “All the people now, we are not afraid of the army or the police or any government.”

“If we want something,” said Dabus, “we do it.”

At Dahshur, that is what has happened. In January, a dozen people who are said to have needed tombs for their relatives started building on restricted pyramid land. The site’s inspectors reported it to the police – but there was no response. “No one demolished their tombs because the government is so weak,” said Youssef. “So the other people realised that there is no punishment.”

Residents from other villages then heard about the free-for-all, and started building too. Then a building contractor allegedly claimed the land and started selling off small plots to those who agreed to pay him to build their tombs.

Soon there was a stampede, as no one wanted to be left out. “When one family built a tomb, the other families wanted new ones too,” said Diab, who also admitted that he had no legal right to build.

But many villagers still differentiated between their actions and the raids organised by armed gangs equipped with expensive diggers. “Some people built tombs to steal archaeology, definitely,” said 28-year-old Walid Ibrahim, picnicking on the boundary between the old and new cemeteries. “But all the old tombs are full and there’s no place to bury our new dead.”

There have been suggestions that both the looting and the government’s failure to tackle it results from the rise of Islamists who are culturally opposed to Egypt’s heathen heritage. One Salafi (or ultra-conservative) preacher recently called for the destruction of the pyramids. “But that’s just one person,” countered Hetherington. “There is some kind of undercurrent in this story [that this is] about Muslims against their foreign past. But it’s not. I’ve met Salafis here, and their views are not mine – but not one of them wanted to blow up the pyramid.”

Hetherington argues that the illegal building stemmed from locals’ economic and social alienation from their ancient heritage. “All they are is a cash cow for tourists,” said Hetherington of the pyramids. “And if you’re not in that business, where’s the benefit? In the past you might have got a spiritual value, because your grandmother was buried there, and you were going to be buried there, or because your mosque was in the temple, and you went to that mosque every day.”

Not any more, locals said. “When I was born, my grandfather and grandmother said that our pharaohs built the pyramids – but that was all they told us,” said Walid Ibrahim. “So many people don’t think about the pyramids. They haven’t any jobs. If the government gave them jobs, they would save the pyramids.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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Egypt’s Dahshur ancient heritage under immediate threat – alahram online

Egypt’s Dahshur ancient heritage under immediate threat
Dahshur archaeological site, home of the first ever complete pyramid, is being plundered by vandals and thieves

the black pyamid zone

A lack of security continues to negatively impact on Egypt’s archaeological sites. A few months ago, Ezbet Kheralla, in Old Cairo, home of early Islamic monuments, was subject to damage by neighbouring residents. Today is the turn of Dahshur.

Inhabitants of Ezbet Dahshur invaded the archaeological zone adjacent to the Black Pyramid of King Amenemhat III with bulldozers and guns. They put their hands on the land and start digging a private cemetery on top of artefacts buried in sand. The area was a cemetery for ancient Egyptian nobles; a German excavation mission unearthed several funerary objects there.

Guards at the site confronted the invaders but their attempts to repell them failed due to lack of arms.

Nasser Ramadan, director general of Dahshur archaeological site, told Ahram Online that he and his team reported the incident to the police but they failed to intervene. Even the minister of state for antiquities failed to take any steps to stop the encroachment.

Ramadan added that Dahshur was subject to thugs and vandals since the January 25 Revolution due to a lack of security, but it was never like this before.

People also dig the sand in search of artefacts, which are sold on the black market, he said.

“Our heritage is in danger and nobody is rescuing it,” Ramadan pointed out, calling on all concerned authorities to move to save and protect Egypt’s ancient heritage.

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim expressed regret that the Tourism and Antiquities Police has insufficient forces to remove any encroachments on archaeological sites. What complicates the situation is that the invaders are armed.

“We will study a new mechanism to compel people not to encroach upon the archaeological area,” he said.

Dahshur is a royal necropolis located in the desert on the west bank of the Nile almost 40 kilometres south of Cairo. It is known for its several pyramids, two of which belong to King Senefru, the founder of the 4th Dynasty and father of King Khufu, along with other pyramids and tombs of the Middle Kingdom, including the Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III and the White Pyramid of Amenemhat II.

It also has the 600 feddan wide lake of King Farouk which is filled in September, attracting different species of birds from all over the world.

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Archaeological Field Work in Egypt After the Revolution – reblogged from asorblog

Archaeological Field Work in Egypt After the Revolution


Looting hole at Tell el-Borg. Photo courtesy of James Hoffmeier.

By: James K. Hoffmeier, Trinity International University

 On January 25, 2011 the Egyptian revolution that toppled the thirty-year dictatorial reign of Hosni Mubarak began. On February 11th, Mubarak resigned. While the political news gripped much of the world, reports of some looting in the Cairo museum surprised everyone. Though limited in scope, security was quickly tightened and a human chair of volunteer guards locked arms around the historic museum. What happened to the museum seemed like a replay of the vandalism that occurred in Baghdad during the Iraq war of 2003, although the losses from the Cairo Museum were minimal. After only a brief interlude, the museum reopened.

Also like the war in Iraq, archaeological sites all over Egypt were plundered for their antiquities in the aftermath of the revolution. This remains an ongoing predicament. Even more distressing, many storehouses of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (now known as the Ministry of State for Antiquities, MSA) were plundered and hundreds of artifacts disappeared. This even happened at Saqqara. The MSA magazines in north Sinai, where the finds were stored from my excavations at Tell el-Borg, were likewise robbed. Pickup trucks drove up to the secure magazines, so the story goes, with well-armed Bedouin. The few guards and antiquities police were overwhelmed. The trucks were loaded up with boxes of stored artifacts and the thieves drove away. Also, in this storage facility were the thousands of sherds and artifacts from Israeli excavations in the Sinai during the occupation of 1967-1982; they were returned to Egypt in the 1990s. I was subsequently advised by an MSA official that the stolen material had been recovered, although I have not been able to verify this in person yet.

Pilfering antiquities in Egypt has long been big business. The harsh economic times and the breakdown in law and order with the revolution provided the perfect storm for pillaging sites. These conditions continue. In Egypt there are just too many sites to monitor. The Minister of State for Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, admits that the there are not enough Tourism and Antiquities Police to protect every archaeological site[i]. What complicates the situation, Ibrahim adds, is that the robbers are armed and well organized.

As the revolution unfolded, some excavations stopped and foreign teams left the country. Betsy Bryan, director of the Johns Hopkins excavation of the Mut Temple at Karnak, opted to evacuate her team (in 2012 she and her team returned to Luxor and the work has continued ever since). On the other hand, some other projects went on unhindered through the revolution. Marcus Mueller, who works with the German Archaeological Institute’s excavations in Aswan, told me that they did not miss a day’s work! In distant Aswan, life went on as before.

But more than two years have now passed and people may be wondering how are things going in Egypt? Are things back to normal for archaeological work? The short answer is “no.” The main concern continues to be security as much of the police force disappeared after the revolution as it feared retribution for its long history of harsh treatment of Egypt’s citizens. The lack of security has resulted in general lawlessness and vigilante justice. As a consequence, archaeologists have cautiously returned to work, some encountering problems, while others have been able to operate rather normally.


Looting hole at El-Hibeh. Photo courtesy of Carol Redmount.

Since 2001, Carol Redmount from Berkeley has been directing excavations at El-Hibeh, an important site from the 3rd Intermediate through Coptic periods. The site was and continues to be looted by a local mafia. Redmount returned recently to find countless robbery pits with human bones, mummy wrappings, and coffin fragments scattered around the holes. But the local mafia has been so intimidating that even the tourism and antiquities police would prefer to stay away, so Redmount and company were only able to gather some of the exposed material and have a study season. The future remains uncertain for work at El-Hibeh.


Looting at El-Hibeh, showing the same area during excavations and after looting. Photo courtesy of Carol Redmount.


Human remains from looted Coptic cemetery. Photo courtesy of Carol Redmount.


Human remains. Photo courtesy of Carol Redmount

One colleague told me of a chilling incident that happened to him during a recent survey trip to a site in southern Egypt. As he approached a site, he was stopped by a man with a rifle who demanded to know who he was and why he was there. He told the vigilante of his mission and so he was permitted to continue. The unauthorized guard told my friend, however, that he had shot the last three men who had trespassed! Apparently some illicit activities were underway in the area that required a lookout. This episode seems consistent with what a European archaeologist told me in early May: “Everyone in Egypt now has an AK-47.”

A recent news article expands on the calamity befalling Dahshur, a UNESCO World heritage site. In the past four months, nearby villagers have illegally established a new cemetery made up of more than a thousand graves in the area south of Sneferu’s Red Pyramid, close to the decaying brick pyramid of Amenemhet II of the 12th Dynasty.[ii]


Newly built cemetery at Dahshur. Photo courtesy of Monica Hanna.

Some MSA officials think that placing the cemetery at Dahshur is actually a pretext for illicit searches for antiquities by “innocently” digging for modern burials! In response to this staggering development that threatens this genuinely significant archaeological site, a group about 100 MSA inspectors from the area, faculty and students from the University of Cairo, and students from the American University of Cairo held a protest at Dahshur in late April 2013 to draw attention to the plight of the Dahshur necropolis.[iii] This demonstration shows that our Egyptian colleagues care deeply about their own cultural heritage.

No doubt the fear of losing sites motivates archaeologists to return despite many personal risks. Sites in the Delta have been threatened for decades due to digging up sites for agriculture purposes (i.e. the work of sebakhim and farmers remove mounds to create flat space to farm) and urbanization. Indeed, Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna reports that sites such as Ancient Heliopolis and Tell el-Yahudiya have been recently damaged, along with Abu Sir el-Maleq, near the Fayyum. It is not surprising then that nearly every project that was working in Egypt before the revolution has either continued unabated or returned to the field after a short hiatus. The only area where work has been completely curtailed is the Sinai. Kidnapping of western tourists, gun running across north Sinai, and terrorist attacks from Egyptian territory on Israel are among the reasons that have created the ongoing security nightmare there. Consequently, the military has refused security clearance for foreign missions to work in the Sinai. In 2011 and parts of 2012, even Egyptian projects were unable to work, although in recent months, Mohamed Abd el-Maksoud’s work at Tell Hebua has reconvened. On the other hand, Dominique Valbelle of the Sorbonne, who has worked at Tell el-Herr for thirty years, has had her work suspended by security officials. The Argentines excavated Tell Ghaba between 1995 and 1999 and renewed their work in 2010, but have not been granted permission since the revolution.


Newly built cemetery at Dahshur, with Black Pyramimd in background. Photo courtesy of Monica Hanna.

At the recent annual meetings of the American Research Center in Egypt (ASOR’s counterpart in Egypt) held in Cincinnati on April 18-20, a session was held for directors of field projects in Egypt. More than twenty projects were represented and all but the above-mentioned El-Hibeh project had worked in 2012 with only minimal distractions. Several teams working at Abydos spoke of illegal digging that was wreaking havoc, but work continued. One surprising concern was that with the hard cash shortage in Egypt, there were fears that project directors might have difficulty obtaining funds wired from their U.S. banks. This in turn would make it impossible to operate. This problem has not to my knowledge materialized yet.


Looting pit at Dahshur with Black Pyramid in background. Photo courtesy of Monica Hanna.

At the end of April, I participated in a conference at the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw on recent excavations in the Delta and the Sinai. All the participants were European except me. While the excavators shared some of the same apprehensions as American archaeologists, they were all nevertheless in the field in 2012 and plan to be there this year too. The French will be back at Tanis in 2013 under a new director, François Leclere. A Polish and Slovak team will return to Tell el-Rebabeh where they have been mapping and excavating since 2007, including 2011 and 2012. One crisis they have had to deal with is that the road running through the site was widened several months ago in their absence. In the process 16 Hyksos period tombs were salvaged by the MSA inspector. Slavomir Rjepka and Jozef Hudec plan to be back at Retabeh during the fall months of 2013.

Other Delta sites continue to be investigated. Penelope Wilson will be back at Sais, Joanne Rowland at Tell Quesna and the Minufiya survey, Eva Lange at Buto, a Polish team at Tell Farakha, and two projects at Tell el-Daba‘ (Manfred Bietak is finishing the excavation of the Hyksos palace, while his successor Irene Forstner-Müller works elsewhere on the site). After some years out of the field, Edgar Pusch plans to return to fieldwork at Qantir/Pi-Ramesses. Without mentioning every Delta project or those elsewhere in Egypt, it is clear that despite the challenges and problems for archaeologists, nearly all of the projects that had been excavating before January 2011 are still at work or are back after a brief hiatus. Given the ongoing plundering of sites and theft of antiquities, it is imperative the Egyptologists soldier on, and they are.

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Zeit online: Die Töpfer Ägyptens


Berühmt ist Ägypten vor allem für seine Pyramiden. Doch in den gigantischen Grabmälern warten ganz besondere Kostbarkeiten: Unzählige Krüge, Töpfe und Büsten, kunstvoll bemalt, nahmen die Pharaonen mit auf ihre letzte Reise – vor einigen Tausend Jahren. Aber bis heute kreieren viele Ägypter regelrechte Kunstwerke aus Lehm und Wasser. So auch in der Stadt Faiyum, 100 Kilometer südwestlich von Kairo. Mit ihren Händen formen die Bewohner Teller und Schüsseln, die sie anschließend in Öfen brennen. Der Großteil wird dann auf dem Markt verkauft.

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