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!!

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.

Temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb

My ARCHAEO-Crush for April is…

TEMPLE OF AMENHOTEP III AT SOLEB
Type: monument (jubilee temple)
Civilisation: ancient Egypt
Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep III, circa 1386-1349 BCE
ARCHAEO-Crush: The temple at Soleb, built in Sudan by the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, is probably my favourite Nubian monument. (During the New Kingdom the Egyptians had colonised Sudanese Nubia.) I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Amenhotep III, but the reason of my ARCHAEO-Crush is much more visceral than that. The temple at Soleb is in fact the first Egyptian temple I ever visited, even though I had visited Egypt 18 years prior. I have a very vivid souvenir of seeing this temple for the very first time, on the trip from Khartoum to Sedeinga. I was on the lorry that crossed the Bayuda Desert and travelled further north to remote towns and villages. It’s a long trip and a fun story that I hope one day to include in the Day in the Life of an Archaeologist chronicle. As I was saying, I was on the lorry, sharing the front seat with the driver and another gentleman, when I saw magnificent ruins in the distance. I knew immediately it was the temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb—its profile is unmistakable. The other passenger, with whom I had been chatting in horrible Arabic (me, at the time I knew about a dozen words!!!) and slightly better English (him), pointed to the ruins and asked me if that’s where I was going to work. No, not there. There are too many columns at this temple. The temple at Sedeinga has only one column still standing. This is Soleb. The temple of Amenhotep at Soleb…

During the dig season, when the Sedeinga dig director offered me to visit Soleb in the company of Hourig Sourouzian, visiting Egyptologist and expert Amenhotep III, I immediately said yes. I had a fabulous day exploring the site with Hourig and two other archaeologists. We also helped her search for fragments of statues of Amenhotep in the old storerooms of the Schiff-Giorgini mission. It was amazing to have the site entirely to ourselves… something you’ll not experience at Luxor or Karnak where you’ll be surrounded by tons of tourists.

The site of Soleb is amazing and one of the most impressive in Sudan: several columns are still standing and two of them actually still hold up an architrave! I could talk about this temple and many others until your ears fall off (I wrote my thesis on Amun temples in Nubia and this temple was included in my corpus). So, instead, I’m leaving you with a few pictures I took of this incredible temple during my one and only visit to Soleb.
Bucket list status: Been there, done that… and would love to do it again!
Additional info: The site of Soleb and its temple are not on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Miniature Pyramids of Sudan

There is a nice article in Archaeology, the AIA magazine, on the Miniature Pyramids of Sudan, about fieldwork at Sedeinga. Actually, during my first dig season in Sudan back in 2000, I worked at the site with the French mission for one month (after spending the previous month with the Canadian mission at Meroe–see the Day in the life of an archaeologist chronicle). That is where I met my friend Vincent Francigny, who is now co-director of the excavations. Enjoy the article!

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!).

Emory’s Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia online course

Taught by my colleague Peter Lacovara, this online course offered by Coursera and Emory University “examines the development of the art and architecture of the cultures of ancient Nubia through what we have learned from archaeology and how that evidence has helped us create the picture we now have of the culture and history of the birth and development of art and civilization in the Nile Valley.”
(I may have had a little something to do with it, too.)

The above description of the course, course syllabus and more information, can be found here. The course starts on April 30.