Reflecting on another crazy busy year

You know you’ve fallen behind when the January/February 2018 issue of Archaeology arrives in your mailbox and you’re still not finished with the July/August issue!

It’s the little things that have fallen through the cracks this year. Things like reading Archaeology magazine and posting on my blogs. Mostly because I’m desperately trying to complete projects at work or volunteer stuff at home so that my schedule (life) can return to some kind of normality.  Each time I actually do complete a project, something else pops up to take its place.  Even though I say no to new endeavours or delegate tasks to others, things still pop up. Just like the heads of the Hydra in Greek mythology. You chop one off and two more sprout up.

It’s been another crazy busy year. The second one in a row. And I know a third one is coming along with 2018. I thought perhaps I should reflect on what I have actually accomplished this year so I don’t feel so bad from having neglected my dear readers. (I’m sure you won’t fault me for spending what little free time I may have away from the computer, taking a dance lesson, eating out with friends, walking in parks to exercise or sleeping in).

  1. An article co-authored with a colleague from the British Museum is about to see the light of day (proofs were sent back to the publisher a couple of weeks ago). The project started back in 2008 (!) but took forever to complete because of other museum tasks that take curators away from their research–mostly exhibitions, which can be very demanding–and sometimes health issues get in the way.
  2. A second article is about to see the light of day soon–proofs should be coming to me this week. This was one of those projects that popped up out of nowhere–a conference paper given as part of a panel discussion that was selected for publication. Can’t say no to that!
  3. An online journal has seen the light of day.  When things had come to a grinding halt, I offered solutions to fix the problem–yes, creating more work for myself. However, that is part of my work ethics: if I sit on a committee it’s because I actually want to accomplish the task given the committee. Luckily, once the problems were fixed, colleagues took up the tasks assigned to them and helped make this a reality. This took up loads of my time on weekends and week nights; however, now that we have a system and the journal has its platform, volume two should be much easier to deal with.
  4. Funds were raised so that my next big project is fully funded. Quite an accomplishment, that! It’s so hard to find funding these days, but I did not give up and working with a colleague who has the same work ethics made this a reality as well.  You’ll hear a lot about this project in 2018 because it will consume my life for the next three years–but it’s very cool and should have loads of blogging opportunities. (Time permitting, of course.)
  5. No consultants were strangled and I consider this an accomplishment because a couple have actually brought my patience to its limit!  :)

I’m very happy about the publications (excited to see them in print soon!), the new online journal, and securing funds for my new project. I can’t wait for my other big volunteer project (not mentioned here) to be over soon because that will free up personal time on weekends. Just knowing that I have brought the project to a point where I am satisfied that it can continue with minimal input on my part–without falling apart–is reassuring. I have done my part; others should roll up their sleeves while I supervise from a distance.

I hope the holidays give me time to read my issues of Archaeology magazine, post a few things for you wonderful readers and will help me recharge my batteries.
I may not have Iolaus to help me, but I’ll get you, Hydra… I’ll cauterise one chopped off  head at a time. Just you wait!

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His Eminence…

In June, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta Clergy-Laity Assembly and Philoptochos Conference was held in Raleigh and the NCMA hosted the opening reception. We took this incredible opportunity to show case our wonderful classical collection, the Bacchus Conservation Project and the philanthropic work of our Friend of Greek Art.  Of course, as the curator of ancient art, I was in attendance (I gave the opening remarks, actually).

Also in attendance was His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios, a wonderful and kind man with whom I had great pleasure chatting. This picture was snapped of the two of us. It’s such a great photo, I thought I would share!

 

Art in Bloom 2017: Ancient Egypt

This past weekend, the NCMA hosted its third annual floral fundraiser Art in Bloom. Once again, designers picked a work of art out of a hat and created a floral arrangement inspired by that artwork.  As I have done in the past, I visited the galleries for this colourful occasion and am presenting on An Archaeologist’s Diary the ones found in my ancient galleries.  Let’s start with ancient Egypt, shall we?

Inspired by the Inner Coffin of Djedmut
By Bonnie Mirmak

I must admit that this particular arrangement did not strike my fancy even though I like blue, indigo and purple flowers. The colours found on the coffin are reflected in the choice of flowers, but I found the arrangement too horizontal for such a tall and slim artefact. (Actually, the design made me think of a boat and there is an ancient  Egyptian model boat nearby.)  However, I did notice how some of the papyrus umbels were gathered and tied at the top and that reminded me of the white crown of Upper Egypt (Whether this was intentional, I did not know. The description references flowers found on coffins…)

Inspired by the Reclining Bull
By Avant Gardeners Garden Club

This was my favourite floral design in the Egyptian galleries.  I thought it was a wonderfully whimsical interpretation of the work–inspired not just be the colours but also the shape,  down to the horns! What made me smile was the little bell hanging from the plants gathered at the top.  A fun element that reminds us all of the bells around cows’ neck and the melodic sound of them moving around.  Nice job!  (And the club has a cool name, too!)

 

 

Answer for Stuff You Missed in History Class

My friend Mary B. at the Museum told me that the ladies who do the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcasts had a question about ancient Egyptian names (which came up in their Unearthed in 2015, part 1.) Apparently a bona fide Egyptologist had yet to furnish an answer to their question…  so, ladies… hope this helps!

Regarding Raneferef and Neferefre (or Neferefra)…. There is this thing with the ancient Egyptian written language called ‘honorific transposition.’ This means that when the name of a god or king is a component of a person’s name, it is put at the front of all the hieroglyphs making up that name (regardless of it being syntactically in the wrong place). The god (or king) is being honoured by having first place, if you will.

TutankhamunCartouche

To be read in very short rows from right to left, starting at the top. Reed leaf+game board+water squiggle = Amun ; half circle+quail chick+half circle = tut ; Egyptian cross with loop = ankh (the name is followed by a title, which you need not worry about!)

As an example, let’s look at the name of Tutankhamun—a pharaoh whose name includes that of the god Amun. Everybody knows Tutankhamun. Tut. Ankh. Amun. If you look at the hieroglyphs that spell his name, you’ll see that it is actually spelled Amun. Tut. Ankh.  (Read the caption to know what sign is what.)

He was named after the god Amun and even though in the short sentence the name Amun should be at the end, it is moved up to honour that god. (Tutankhamun means ‘living image of Amun’.)

Now, do the names above make sense if I tell you that the Fifth Dynasty King listed above was named after the god Ra? (Also spelled Re.) Ra. Nefer. Ef  is really Nefer. Ef. Ra.

 

As for Queen Khentkawes… her name  can be spelled Khentkaus… because the sound U and W are very close. It can also be spelled Khentakawes or even Khentakawess! Egyptian hieroglyphs are primarily phonetic. It is also a language where the vowels are seldom written (which is the case with Hebrew, for example). When you’re stuck with only the consonantal roots of words, you need help trying to pronounce these words today…. So Egyptologists will stick the vowel E in between consonants. You’ll inevitably end up with varied spellings of the same name. An example: Ramses. Can also be spelled Rameses. Even Ramesses! The consonantal root is r ms s… bring on the vowels!

There is also the ancient Greek version/rendition of Egyptian names, which is very confusing.  In English, we tend to use the Egyptian version of these names: take for example, Khufu… (the sounds fit with the hieroglyphs) but in French we prefer Cheops (this is how the Greeks referred to the king who built the Great Pyramid).  Senwosret (also spelled Senusret) versus the Greek SesostrisAmenhotep versus Amenophis!

Plus, it seems that modern languages adapt Egyptian names, too.  Don’t go look for Nefertiti in a German book! You’ll find her name spelled Nofretete instead.

Are you confused yet? Aren’t hieroglyphs and the ancient Egyptian language fun? (Insert grin here!)

If you’re interested in ancient Egyptian language for fun, I suggest you take a look at one of the world’s most ancient and noble blogger’s posts on Circa, the North Carolina Museum of Art’s blog. Fefi is sharing secrets about hieroglyphs… which can be read from right to left, left to right and vertically downwards (not from the bottom).

Check out Fefi’s posts:
Learn Hieroglyphs with FefiViper, viper, reed leaf, nobleman
Name or Nickname? That is the question?
Write Your Name in Hieroglyphs

Egyptian Action Figures?!

Staff members have been helping out during our very, very busy fall exhibitions by taking guard duty in the permanent galleries. A number of colleagues have dropped by my office to share visitor comments regarding the Egyptian galleries (always good comments and fun stories). This morning, Laura F dropped by and made my day with her anecdote. When she was on duty in the Egyptian gallery, a small boy of about 9 zoomed passed her straight to the vitrine with our two statuettes of Isis and Horus and one of Osiris with great excitement. “Egyptian action figures!” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
(Laura’s rendering of story also made it very funny.)

I howled with laughter! It made my day!

A rather poor photograph taken by yours truly this morning of the so-called 'Egyptian Action Figures.' (The Museum is not open to the public on Mondays, so the galleries are not lit... hence the poor photograph.)

A rather poor photograph taken by yours truly this morning of the so-called ‘Egyptian Action Figures.’ (The Museum is not open to the public on Mondays, so the galleries are not lit… hence the poor photograph.)

An afternoon with Agatha Christie

On Sunday, I went to the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History and spent part of the afternoon with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, in the exhibition Investigating Agatha Christie. I have been a fan of Hercule Poirot for decades–and have been re-reading all volumes in order these last couple of years–and, evidently, I know of Christie’s work on her second husband’s archaeological digs.

IMG_20151220_154829

Photo taken by my brother, who tagged along for the afternoon.

The exhibition was interesting because it presented Agatha Christie beyond archaeology (I wished there had been more of that, though).  We learned more about her as a girl (with great family pictures to go with the information) and while I knew she had been trained as a nurse, I didn’t realise that she also had a degree in pharmacology.  No wonder there is murder by poison in several of her novels!

The second floor was dedicated to archaeology, Near Eastern archaeology to be precise because Sir Max Mallowan worked at Ur, Niniveh, and Nimrud (among other places), but there is a small section on Egypt as well.  Artefacts from the British Museum in London as well as the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto were displayed in this archeological section. There were great excavation photos and I did notice on a wall panel a mention that certain archaeological sites presented in the exhibition had been destroyed by Daesh this past year (many people gasped at reading this).  That touched me particularly…

I visited on my own, but there was a guided tour at my heels and I did eavesdrop a little (it was hard not to!).  Should you plan to visit the exhibition, do take the guided tour–it sounded like great fun! The exhibition brings remarkable context to the literary work of this prolific author and it’s worth a visit if you’re a fan of Poirot, Miss Marple or anything else written by Agatha Christie.

 

Alexander the Great and Star Wars

If you’ve been following my blog for while, you should know what’s going to happen in this post.  I’m going to make a crazy link between ancient history and Star Wars… You know that, right?  (I’m very tempted to quote Simply Red here…)

It’s probably not the link you have in mind, though…  If you’re thinking about Samurais, you’re on the wrong track (even though you’re right). In fact, it’s something a little bit more personal, an idea I came up with when I was young: a weird connection between Alexander the Great and Luke Skywalker…

One of three things I absolutely wanted to see at the Archaeological Museum of Naples when I was there in 2014: the famous Alexander Mosaic, representing the Battle of Issus, between Alexander and Darius III.

In my head, Alex was like Luke, a young a man of convictions, fighting an enemy in order to free his universe.  He had the Greek philosopher Aristotle as mentor (Jedi master Obi-wan Kenobi) and his father, Philippe II, was assassinated (Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were killed by the Storm Troopers)… Then, all you need to do is replace the Achaemenid Persian Empire by the Galactic Empire and Darius III with Emperor Palpatine… Needless to say, I had loads of imagination and even if the comparison might be a tad flawed, you get the drift! (Hey, I was just a kid!) Sometimes, one needs to find cool ways of remembering historical facts and people and if Star Wars can help you figure it out, go for it!  Even if you can’t quite make Darth Vader fit in there…

While one of the best military commanders in history and a general never defeated on the battlefield, Alexander failed to fill in the infrastructure vacuum after the fall of the Persians. As as result, at his untimely death in 323 BCE, his vast empire was divided amongst his generals and soon chaos and strife took hold of the Hellenistic world, a world he had fought so hard to unite.

Now what remains to be seen is whether something similar happened in that beloved galaxy far, far away… Were the Jedi able to build a peaceful universe…. or did it go to Hades in a hand basket? I’ll find out tonight…