International Congress of Egyptologists

My volunteer work has kept me away from my computer. Actually, let me rephrase that. It hasn’t kept me away from the computer, it’s kept me so busy that I didn’t even have time to blog! However, this alone isn’t the reason of my rather sporadic posting activities. I thought I would backtrack a little and tell you what I have been up to.

Banner of the International Congress of Egyptologists hanging at the University of Florence

Banner of the International Congress of Egyptologists hanging at the University of Florence

Back in August, I attended the International Congress of Egyptologists, which was held in Florence, Italy. It was my first time at the ICE and it was a bit of a zoo! There were something like 750 Egyptologists attending… can you imagine? Despite the large number of people that made it difficult to find a seat as we hopped from lecture hall to lecture hall (which meant that people left during the question periods, so as to get a seat when they got to another room—which I thought was a little rude), there were some really good papers. Some were about recent archaeological discovered, other on really great topics… there were so many to chose from!

Of course, being in Italy, we ate very well and the coffee break spread at the conference was absolutely amazing!  Baristas making espressos and cappuccinos (can you believe it?), lots of sweet treats (but not too sweet), fruits and yogurt, finger sandwiches…  All in all, it was a good conference.

Statue of Hatshepsut seated

My ARCHAEO-Crush for September is an amazing statue of a female pharaoh at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

The delicate and feminine features of the great New Kingdom female pharaoh. (Photo by yours truly taken during a trip to the Met in 2011)

The delicate and feminine features of the great New Kingdom female pharaoh. (Photo by yours truly taken during a trip to the Met in 2011)

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, joint reign Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III (circa 1479–1458 BC)
ARCHAEO-Crush: Queen Hatshepsut is undoubtedly the most remarkable female pharaoh of Egyptian history. Daughter of Pharaoh Thutmosis I and wife of Thutmosis II, her half-brother, she found herself at the death of her husband the regent of a young boy king, Thutmosis III–who is both her nephew and her stepson. (Thutmosis III was the son of Thutmosis II and his second wife Isis.) At the beginning, she is not opposed to the reign of this five year old child because as the wife of the deceased king she is regent and has all the powers necessary to rule the country on the young king’s behalf. However, a few years later–with the support of powerful officials–she is crowned pharaoh, usurping her stepson/nephew’s throne. While she may appear to be the evil stepmother of fairy tales, her reign is nonetheless peaceful and prosperous. She dedicates her energies to artistic endeavours and architectural projects (her funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri is one of her remarkable constructions).
The statue presented here shows Hatshepsut in the royal accoutrement of a male pharaoh wearing a kilt and the nemes headdress.  Yet her delicate features are utterly feminine and graceful. There is not doubt that this is the face of a woman. I find this particular statue incredibly beautiful and delicate, even if stone sculptures in ancient Egypt tend to be very heavy and blockish.
Bucket list status: Every time I’m at the Met, I go see Hatshepsut…
Additional information:  There are a number of statues portraying Hatshepsut in that particular gallery at the Met. However, this one (object # MMA 29.3.2) is displayed at all by herself and softly illuminated the end of the room, seated majestically.

Fan mail for Fefi!

While he was on ‘vacation’ (and his ghost writer at conferences abroad–more on that later),  Fefi, the NCMA’s most noble and ancient blogger, received fan mail. An avid reader enquired about Fefi’s well-being and made voice offerings of bread and beer so that our favourite ancient scribe would have the energy to continue his hieroglyphic blog posts. (Seriously! I’m not kidding… the Museum received an email for Fefi and it was a brilliant missive. I loved it!)

A post–written by yours truly and made available a couple of days ago–adds to Fefi’s lessons on Egyptian hieroglyphs. You can read What’s in a Nickname? on Circa. It should keep you (and our avid reader) satisfied until Fefi resumes his blogging activities!

The bust of Nefertiti

My ARCHAEO-Crush of August is one of the most beautiful ancient Egyptian sculptures… one that is somewhat controversial. Isn’t it always the case with Nefertiti?

Photo of the bust of Nefertiti that I took in 2009 during my last visit to the Museum.

Photo of the bust of Nefertiti that I took in 2009 during my last visit to the Museum.

Type: artefact (painted sculptor’s model)
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of King Akhenaten (14th century BCE)
ARCHAEO-Crush: It goes without saying that this is one of the most beautiful and most well-known sculpture from ancient Egypt.  This spectacular bust represents Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, whose name means the beautiful one has come. The statue is carved from limestone and augmented with plaster and beautifully painted in polychrome. It was discovered in 1912 by Ludwig Borchardt of the German mission excavating at El-Amarna–the city founded by Akhenaten. The statue of Nefertiti wasn’t discovered in a tomb (we still haven’t found the queen’s tomb despite rumours you may have heard recently) but in the studio of a sculptor named Thutmose at Amarna.  Early in the 20th century, the Egyptian Antiquities Service would share the archaeological discoveries excavated by foreign missions working in Egypt–this is called ‘partage’ (from the French word meaning ‘to share’) and it seems that Borchardt may not have presented this particular discovery looking its best so that it would be given to Germany rather than kept in Cairo.  The bust is now at the Ägyptisches Museum (Egyptian Museum) in Berlin, which is located in the Neues Museum on Museum Island. Some scholars have also grumbled about its authenticity, thinking that it was actually made in 1912 and that the bust is in fact modern! The beautiful Nefertiti–a real ancient women of whose origins and death we know very little–will undoubtedly remain mysterious for a little while longer… and so will her now-famous and incredibly beautiful bust.
Bucket list status: I have actually seen this sculpture twice: the first time in its old home at Charlottenburg and more recently when the Neues Museum reopened.  One should drop by the Egyptian Museum just to see her… she’s the Mona Lisa of Berlin! It’s worth the brouhaha.
Additional information: There are loads of books that have been written about Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten or the so-called Amarna Period…

Black light on Bacchus

The recent work on the NCMA’s statue of a Bacchus was featured in my post on August 11; however, there appeared yesterday on Circa, the Museum blog, a fabulous post (if I may say so myself) that delves into the actual UV examination and the Bacchus Conservation Project like never before. Check out the very awesome video on Circa: Black Light on Bacchus: Inside a UV Exam.

I have to thank Luke for the video editing, sound editing and film footage, Karen M. and Chris for the stills and UV photos, Karen K. for the post storyboard and editing, Stacey and Corey for their conservation eye, Maggie and the guys for moving Bacchus around, Noelle for poking her head in the studio once in a while to check if we needed anything and Emily for mentioning our UV session on social media (which actually attracted the attention of journalists). 

Has Nefertiti’s tomb been discovered?

Over the last few days, I have been bombarded with questions regarding the “discovery” of Nefertiti’s tomb.  People are asking me if it’s true, has Nefertiti’s tomb been discovered? (There are several articles online…)

So what do I think? Well, first off, nothing was discovered.  My colleague, Nick Reeves, believes that he has detected fissures in the painted walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb that may be indicative of entrances to previously unnoticed chambers. His hypothesis is based on the study of photographs and scans made of Tutankhamun’s tomb in order to create a facsimile of it.

That being said, the (obvious) next step is to verify whether these chambers actually exist. (Reeves himself has stated that his hypothesis needs to be verified in the field.)  Considering that these supposed chambers are located behind the only two painted plaster walls of Tutankhamun’ tomb, this necessitates much cogitation and the approval of the Minister for Antiquities of Egypt.  A geophysical survey is probably the way to go in determining if the rooms do exist. Geologists have all sorts of ground penetrating radars, magnetometers, etc… that could help.

If they do exist, only archaeological excavation will tell us if we are in fact dealing with the tomb of Nefertiti–and that’s going to be problematic to say the least. Let’s not forget that these supposed rooms are extensions of Tutankhamun’s tomb; one needs to find a way to enter said chambers without destroying the most well-known royal tomb in Egypt. However, like many colleagues, I think it is premature to put forth the identity of the owner of these chambers.  Several Egyptologists have commented on the ‘discovery’ and many doubt that the previously unknown rooms could actually belong to the famous queen. (Read here and here and here, for example.)

So. Has Nefertiti’s tomb been discovered? My answer is no.  It is much to early to confirm anything about anything at this point.  Let’s just wait and see what happens.

Bacchus in one day

This week, I had planned a three or four day photography session of the statue of Bacchus… the statue that is soon to be object of a special conservation project. The session included regular photography, documentary photography and videography as well as UV examination and photography. Basically, Bacchus got the treatment he did not receive last summer during our nights at the museum.

The statue was brought to the museum’s photo studio and we spent the whole day examining every surface and every break under ultraviolet and regular light.  Below are some pictures I took with my BlackBerry (and one is courtesy of Corey and her iPhone–that would be the one of me on the ladder with Chris).

We were so efficient and everything went so smoothly that we were done by 3pm today!  Bacchus was done in one day! All of us working on this project were rather pleased because it means we have the rest of the week to catch up on stuff.  In my case, I’ll work on a conference presentation… and, if I can get that done quickly, get back to my revisions of an article slated for publication. I’m so glad we finished early!