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.


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

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

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… but many of us actually doubt the chambers even exist because they wouldn’t fit in the traditional architectural plan of tombs of this period.

Idaho Spud and other tchotchkes

Many Egyptologists have Egyptian tchotchkes in their office. For some strange reason, family members and friends like to give the Egyptologist in their life those tacky souvenirs and trinkets. Over the years, I too have received such baubles and now some of them decorate my office. (According to some of my co-workers’ kids, my office is the “one with the cool toys.”)

Idaho Spud and other tchotchkes in my office.

Idaho Spud and other tchotchkes in my office.

As you can see, I have a superb Idaho Spud: an Indiana Jones Mr. Potato Head! (When you press on his hat, the Indiana Jones theme song plays! Isn’t that fun?) I also have a Tutankhamun Christmas ornament, a small figurine of the god Amun and a William the Hippo stapler from the Met. I actually bought that one myself… and it’s not a trinket, it’s a stapler! I have others elsewhere in my office (which is also sprinkled with Canadian flags and conference name tags), but these are the coolest tchotchkes on display.

(Yes, there is also a Lego Han Solo and Millennium Falcon (a gift) and a mini Coloseum, which I picked up in Rome last summer.)


I’m at a lost for words…

You may have read about the reported damage to Tutankhamun’s mask earlier this week. If you haven’t, take a look here, here and here (and many other places).  There is much conflicting information out there and an investigation is underway. There may be hope here, but it seems premature to hope.  I’m at a loss for words…

Wonderful things…

Did you know that on November 26, Howard Carter made a breach in the second door to Tutankhamun tomb. After the hot air gushed out of the tomb, he took a closer look by candlelight and, when Lord Carnarvon asked him if he could see anything, answered: Yes, it is wonderful!

Ninety-two years ago today Carter was the first person to lay eyes on the wonderful things in the antechamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb.  As with the Nov. 4 post, you can read the Nov. 26 entry in Carter’s diary on the Griffith Institute website.

Stairway to… Tutankhamun’s tomb

Did you know that 92 years ago today Howard Carter found the first step of the stairway leading to Tutankhamun’s tomb?  You can see a scan of Carter’s very own diary entry for November 4, 1922  (and several others) on the Griffith Institute‘s website dedicated to Howard Carter’s diaries and journals. The discovery of the young king’s quasi-intact tomb is one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

Photo of Tutankhamun’s beautifully carved canopics jars, used to store miniature coffins that contained his internal organs removed during mummification. I took this photo more than a decade ago. This is actually a scan from the first version of An Archaeologist’s Diary back in 2002!