Back into the ancient groove

After having spent most of the past year being buried up to my neck in Art Deco automobiles and motorcycles, I was more than delighted to get back in to the ancient groove in November and December, even though I worked evenings and weekends to make sure everything was done in time. This involved mostly lectures, talks and PowerPoint presentations, but it was all related to ancient things…

On November 19,  I taught my Egyptology Seminar (it had been rescheduled from the spring because of the various deadlines for the exhibition). Also, due to this same lack of time, it was only a half day event instead of a full day affair, but it was very well attended nonetheless. The theme (well, title, really) was “Taking Care of Business at Pharaoh’s Court” and I  presented with short lectures a number of important individuals who helped shape Egypt during its long history–Imhotep and Hemiunu (both from the Old Kingdom), Ahmose son of Ibana (New Kingdom) and Mentuemhet, the mayor of Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period. Luckily, Dr. Bonnie Sampsell—the author of the Geology of Egypt, who happens to be not only a geologist but also an amateur Egyptologist—kindly helped by giving one of the seminar talks. She presented Senenmut, Queen Hatshepsut’s trusted architect and royal nanny. That gave me some time to breathe…

On November 21 I spent the whole day at North Carolina State University as guest speaker, invited by Dr. Dru MgGill, archaeologist at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.  I presented the scientific methods used in museums to study ancient ceramics for the students taking Special Topics in Anthropology, Pots and People: Ceramics Analysis in late morning. Then, after a tasty lunch with my colleague, I spoke to two groups taking Unearthing the Past: Introduction to World Archaeology.  I introduced them to the archaeology of ancient Sudan (Meroe and Dangeil) and mused the work of an archaeologist employed in a museum.  Few students actually think of this option when considering jobs related to archaeology and material culture.

These were intense and very tiring months, but at least I was back into the ancient groove!!

Venus of Meroe

My ARCHAEO-crush for the summer–June, July and August (blame this on the fact that my schedule has been unbelievably busy)–is a wonderful Sudanese Venus.

VENUS OF MEROE

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush, Meroitic Period
Date: 2nd-3rd century
ARCHAEO-Crush: The Venus of Meroe is called Venus because of  because she was found in the so-called ‘royal baths’ at Meroe and the position of her body that reminds us of Hellenistic and Roman statues of Venus… but not so much because of her proportions. Indeed, the Meroitic Venus is not as svelte as those from the ancient Mediterranean with their mathematically calculated proportions. This lovely Venus represents the Meroitic ideals of beauty normally found in Meroitic art, with ample forms synonymous with fertility and wealth.
Also, unlike Greece or Italy, there is no marble in Sudan. This statue is made of sandstone covered with painted stucco to make it smoother and lustrous in appearance, perhaps to resemble painted marble.  (Sandstone is rather rough and granular.)
It is interesting that the Kingdom of Kush, which was never controlled by the Romans, held some interest in Hellenistic and Roman art.  Except for a few skirmishes when Egypt became part of the Empire and the Romans got their butts kicked by a Meroitic queen (but they later signed a peace treaty), Kush had little to do with Rome.  Yet we find we find in Sudan some objects influenced by or from the ancient Mediterranean… and these are often luxury goods.
Bucket list status: I have seen this charming Venus a number of times when visiting the Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst in Munich.  She is wonderfully displayed in the  Nubia gallery.
Additional information: The statue was discovered along with others during John Garstang’s 1912-13 excavation season. Take a look at the photos in this article and near the bottom, you’ll find an image of Garstang and his wife Marie at the bottom of the bassin of the baths, surrounded by sculptures and several fragments that once stood on the steps surrounding it Garstang is actually holding the Venus in his arms.

The Head of Augustus from Meroe

December’s ARCHAEO-Crush is one of my favourite artefacts at the British Museum that comes from the site of Meroe in Sudan.

The so-called ‘Meroe Head’ (or Head of Augustus) at the British Museum is a magnificent bronze head of Emperor Augustus excavated in Meroe, Sudan.

THE HEAD OF AUGUSTUS FROM MEROE

Type: artefact (statue fragment)
Civilisation: Roman Empire, rule of Augustus, 27 BC – AD 14
Date:  27 BC – 25 BC
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a soft spot for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome,  but I’m not quite sure why. (I mean the guy defeated Cleopatra and Antony at Actium and Egypt became a Roman province. I’m an Egyptologist… I shouldn’t like Augustus!) It might be that I am partial to his statues’ beautiful features–his idealised boyish good looks found in both marble and bronze. And, in this particular case, his eyes! These amazing eyes are the original inlays with glass pupils set in metal rings and irises made of calcite.  However, of all the statues of Augustus an archaeologist (or a tourist) will come across, this one is the most amazing in my very humble opinion…  Even more so because it was not found in any part of the Roman Empire… it was discovered in Sudan at the Royal City of Meroe!
This story includes the Romans getting their butts kicked by a girl, the great Meroitic Candace Amanirenas (perhaps more on that another day), whose army looted statues of Augustus that were set up at Aswan during the Kushite attack in 25 BC (remember Egypt had become a province of the Empire and there were statues of the emperor all over the place). The booty was taken back home to Meroe, capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Clearly, not all statues were returned after the Romans and the Kushites negotiated a peace treaty because this more than life-size head of Augustus was excavated by John Garstang at Meroe in 1910 (you’ll find great pics here).  Interestingly, the bronze head of Augustus was discovered underneath the steps of a temple, metaphorically being trampled by the feet of those entering (needless to say it was deliberately placed there). The lovely head’s fate is a remarkable illustration of the Kushites’ opposition to the Roman rule of Egypt.  The Romans never controlled Kush…
Bucket list status:
I have seen this fabulous bronze head a few times, but, strangely enough, I photographed it only once–the first time I went to the BM–before I even owned a digital camera. I had been wanting to blog about it, but had wait until I came home for Christmas to scan the picture because the original was at my parents’ house!
Additional information: 
The accession number for this object is 1911,0901.1 and you can read more about it on the British Museum website.  It was featured in the BM’s wonderful series History of the World in 100 Objects as object #35, and you can listen to the entry by clicking on the pink button using the link.

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.

TREASURE OF QUEEN AMANISKAKHETO
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.

A Visit to Meroe

When I came home from work, there was a nice little surprise in my mailbox: a small but thick envelope from Krzys, my former thesis supervisor. I knew immediately what it was and grabbed my letter opener to open the letter quickly. Inside I found a lovely booklet—with colour pictures on glossy pages—about the archaeological site of Meroe (pronounced MAY-roe-ay) in Sudan. It is a visitors’ guide to the site, which is close enough to Khartoum to do as a day trip (tiring, but feasible). I worked at Meroe with Krzys during my graduate studies and the Great Amun Temple found there was part of my doctoral dissertation (which was on Amun temples in Nubia, published in 2008 by Archaeopress).

It’s pouring down with rain at the moment, so I think I will make myself a cup of tea and read ‘A Visit to Meroe, the Ancient Royal Capital.

(Thanks for the booklet, Krzys!)

A photo I took of the Great Amun Temple of Meroe in November 2000 (it's been a while!).

A photo I took of the Great Amun Temple of Meroe in November 2000 (it’s been a while!).

Day in the life of an archaeologist

A fun new chronicle is now available on An Archaeologist’s Diary: Day in the life of an archaeologist!  The title is inspired by my favourite Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life” and the chronicle gives a detailed account of a day in my life as an archaeologist. Today, I am offering you a glimpse of a day during my first ever archaeological season in Sudan, back in 2000, at the Royal City of Meroe (now on the UNESCO World Heritage list).  Enjoy!

A book in a book

Yesterday, I had to check something in the Louvre’s exhibition catalogue Meroe, Empire on the Nile. We got this superb publication a while ago, but I never had the chance to really read any parts of it.  So, I sat to read a couple of the essays and imagine my surprise when, in one of them, I saw my book on Amun temples mentioned in the references! (Actually, it’s the book listed on Amazon as having been published in 1850, see the OMG! LOL! post dated February 27.)

In a way, I should not be surprised. My book is indeed relevant to the topic presented in the essay. I guess I’m still early enough in my career to be tickled by having other scholars mention my own work in theirs.