Playing Memory during Thanksgiving

During holidays like (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bring out my archaeological/Egyptological Memory game, which I set up on the coffee table in the living room. When I walk by (while otherwise puttering around the house), I try to find matching pairs of artefacts or galleries of the Neues Museum in Berlin.


A memory game fit for archaeologists and Egyptologists, given to me by my good friend Dana (who happens to be an Egyptologist herself).

When 5pm rolled around, I was officially off for the long Thanksgiving weekend and the game came out.  I have already found four out of thirty-six pairs. (Still looking for Nefertiti.) Even though I do have some activities planned this weekend, I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all by Sunday evening!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.


Investigating Agatha Christie

Are you looking for a little something archaeological to do with the family during the Holidays? If yes, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History is presenting an interesting exhibition about Agatha Christie and archaeology.  Indeed, the Queen of crime is intimately linked to archaeology: not only did she used several important historical and archaeological sites in a number of novels, she also was married to archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she accompanied on excavations in Mesopotamia.

Excerpts about the exhibition from the Museum’s website:

Pointe-à-Callière is mounting Investigating Agatha Christie, an original exhibition focusing on an exceptional woman whose unusual life and compelling novels left their mark on international literature. The exhibition, to run from December 8, 2015 to April 17, 2016, will look at Agatha Christie through her work, her imagination and her world, including archaeology. It is one of the major international events planned to mark the 125th anniversary of the famous novelist’s birth, on September 15, 1890.

Christie drew heavily on archaeology and history as inspiration for many of her famous novels, including Murder in Mesopotamia, They Came to Baghdad, Appointment with Death and Death Comes as the End. She also described daily life on dig sites in a fascinating little book entitled Come, Tell Me How You Live. She wrote that an archaeologist and a detective have much in common: both must come to understand an event (recent or in the distant past) using their observation skills and clues that are brought to light, piecing them together and relying on a bit of luck, too!

No wonder many archaeologists are fans of Christie’s novels!  Indeed, I count myself amongst them: I am quite fond of Hercule Poirot (slowly but surely, I have been re-reading all the Poirot stories in order). I’m very much tempted to go see this exhibition. Perhaps I might have time during the holiday…

Musing about film canisters

When I did laundry earlier this week, the ribbon from my pyjama bottom came out of the waistband. As I threaded it back on, using a safety pin, I mused about the little container I use to store all my safety pins: a photo film canister.

obsoleteDigital cameras having replaced the film ones, the little canister is now an obsolete object, a rare thing. Strangely enough, film canisters were rather useful archaeological digs back in the day. Team members would “collect” them during the year and bring them on the dig each season. We had tons! What were the film canisters used for, you ask? Well, they came in really handy to store the small tiny objects like beads and amulets, which were carefully placed inside with a label and cotton batting so they wouldn’t rattle around. Nowadays, small objects get placed in mini Ziploc bags, but they aren’t quite as protected as in the film canisters. Small objects now need to be placed in baskets separately from the big artefacts because the latter can crush the small items. In this day and age, there are probably very young archaeologists who have never used a film canister on a dig…. Heck, maybe some of them have never used film cameras!

Infrared thermography to be applied to Tutankhamun’s tomb

Egypts Ministry of Antiquities says infrared thermography scanning on Tutankhamuns tomb will begin Thursday, to test Nicholas Reeves theory that it houses hidden burial chambers

To learn more about the investigation, read this article from Ahram Online: Infrared thermography to be applied to Tutankhamun’s tomb – Ancient Egypt – Heritage – Ahram Online

Working on a rainy Monday

Today was a rainy and gloomy Monday… but a couple of things kept me busy all day so I barely noticed the rain. I spent most of the day reading applications submitted by university students interested in the curatorial internship I am offering at the museum next term.  Some candidates were excellent, others were excellent but not qualified in ancient studies and others were… well, not qualified at all.

One thing that bugged me today as I reviewed applications was that I had to refuse one–from  a student who was qualified and had a perfectly good application that was submitted on time–because their documentation was incomplete…. but through no fault of their own.  Because their professor never sent in their recommendation letter… Professors are busy, yes.  But if you’re too busy tell the student that you can’t do it so they can ask another prof who has less on their plate. That way their chances at an interesting learning opportunity won’t be ruined because of your tight schedule…  Frustrating.

The end of the day got a little more frustrating because our internet crashed and for an hour before I left I couldn’t send notices out to the students.  Instead, I changed task and looked up some references in archaeology journals to include in a peer review for an article I looked at this weekend.  I did find what I needed but because the internet was still out and it was 5pm, so I thought it was time to head out to the gym.   Now perhaps I should get back to that peer review….

Treasure of Queen Amanishakheto

My ARCHAEO-crush for the month of October is a treasure…  a real treasure that was unfortunately found by a treasure-hunter, not an archaeologist.

Type: artefact (jewellery)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush
Date: Merotic period, reign of Queen Amanishakheto, 10 BCE – 1CE
ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of the Kandake (queen) Amanishakheto–which is more than the gold jewellery presented here–was discovered in her pyramid at Meroe (pronounced May-roe-ay); however probably not in a funerary chamber inside the core of the pyramid as claimed by the explorer treasure-hunter Giuseppe Ferlini, but more likely in the burial chamber below the pyramid. Unlike Egyptian ones, the structure of Kushite pyramids does not make these inner chambers possible. Considering that Ferlini and his men completely dismantled the pyramid from the top down, it’s possible that he thought the chamber was inside it when in fact he was already beneath it–that poor pyramid is destroyed to its foundations! This was in 1834… and twelve earlier the pyramid was recorded as practically intact. (Insert sobs here.) I have to admit I have a soft for the Meroe pyramids…
As you can imagine, Ferlini sought to sell his fabulous discovery and part of it was acquired for the royal Bavarian collection (jewels pictured above) and are now part of the collection at the Staaliche Museum Aegyptischer Kunst in Munich.  However, he had difficulty finding a buyer for the second half of the Meroe treasure. Although to Meroiticists like me these objects are beautiful, they do not quite compare in quality of craftsmanship with material known from the Hellenistic world at the time. Plus, given that Meroitic art was little known at the time and that it combines known Egyptian and Hellenistic motifs along with obscure Meroitic ones, it is no wonder that people were hesitant to buy it.  In any case, it was Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius who convinced the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin of the authenticity of the treasure and recommended its acquisition in 1844. Hence the reason why part of the treasure is in Berlin.
Meroitic treasure from a Kushite pyramid in Sudan… to me that’s a treasure, indeed!
Bucket list status: I have seen the treasure in both Berlin and Munich (and today’s photos date from my September trip to Munich).
Additional information:  The pyramid of Amanishakheto is Beg. N. 6 in the North Pyramid Field at Meroe.

Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015 was the day on which Marty McFly travelled to the future in Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean in Back to the Future II.  I love those movies and yes, I have found a way to connect them to archaeology….


As archaeologists, we study the past through archaeological excavations… but millennia separate us from the historical periods in which we are interested and to which we devote our lives.  What we find on digs is only a small percentage of what was there thousands of years ago.  And even if we do find lots of architectural vestiges, written texts or artefacts, sometimes it’s rather difficult to figure out what they mean and how they were used. That’s when we wish we had a plutonium-powered flying DeLorean so we could travel back in time… and figure it all out.

How cool would it be to figure out how the pyramids were actually built?  To stand with the masses as the barque of Amun is borne in procession during the Opet Festival? To ask Akhenaten what the heck was he thinking when he decided to be depicted in that odd fashion? To glimpse at Cleopatra and discover if she really was all that and a bag of chips? To witness the Romans get their butts kicked by a powerful Nubian queen?

Would you want to know? Or would you rather the past remained mysterious? Or would you rather travel to the future… and give the archaeologists there a few hints about what is going on back in good old 2015?!

Happy Back to the Future Day!