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‘Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology’ in Moscow – Day Two

 How to get into the tombThe second day of Moscow’s ‘Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology‘ was characterised by a biting cold, thanks to heating problems. But the topics being discussed certainly helped warm up proceedings. The first lecture of the day was given by the British Museum‘s Nigel Strudwick, who focused on the interaction of of tourists and local inhabitants at Luxor and the main historical monuments at Thebes, and the challenges facing archaeologists to carry out meaningful research in a modern environment. Dr Strudwick attempted to resolve some of the issues facing the city, and to reconcile the necessity of tourism to the area with harm being done to the advancement of archaeology.

Next up was Amsterdam University’s Dr Dieter Eigner, who reported on the work being done by a joint Russian-Dutch excavation mission at the eastern Nile Delta village of Tell Ibrahim Awad. Following Dr Eigner’s update, Dr Laurent Bavay from Universite Libre de Bruxelles enlightened a now-thawing audience on the rediscovery of the lost Theban tomb C3, which was first mentioned in 1886 by Swedish Egyptologist Karl Piehl. Now thought to be the rock-cut final resting place of a deputy of the overseer of seal-bearers during the reign of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep II, also called Amenhotep. Dr Bavay described his team’s latest findings and Amenhotep’s context with regards to his namesake and predecessor Thutmose III.

 Avatars in virtual Theban Tomb 14

Virtual TT 14 by Marilina Betro

The next compelling lecture will appeal especially to those with an interest in virtual worlds, such as Heritage Key’s very own Virtual Experience. Dr Marilina Betro of the University of Pisa updated the audience on the progress of her team’s virtual replica of Theban Tomb 14, which was built from 2005 to 2008, and has been improved and polished this year. However the purpose of recreating TT 14, on the west bank of the Nile at Dra Abu el-Naga, was not for entertainment but scientific research. Virtual reality provides a powerful tool for stimulating excavation, testing different hypotheses, reconstructing contrasting views of the site and for sharing new information and perspectives with colleagues all over the world.

The TT 14 virtual reconstruction began with cartography studies, upon which the models of the area were built. Next came 3D laser-scanning, from whence the the site’s high-resolution model was obtained (for web use, the resolution was lowered). Just like King Tut Virtual – and soon Stonehenge Virtual – TT 14 can be visited and explored by avatars, and users can chat with each other, change light and see artefacts found in the original tomb digitised through the 3Dscanning. Viewers can see artefacts both as they were found, and as they would have originally appeared.

Information about specific features of the tomb and its artifacts is available by clicking special links on the walls of the tomb. The other interesting feature of the project is Virtuoteca, a place to keep necessary information. Dr. Betro stressed that the virtual environment has been very useful for teamwork and education, and that they would expand the project to transport users to the whole of Dra Abu el-Naga.

 Dr. Marilina Betro and Dr. Mu-chou PooAnother Theban tomb, this time TT23 – the tomb of Thay, Royal Scribe of Royal Dispatchers at the time of Merenptah, was then discussed at length by Russian Academy of Sciences Egyptologist Sergej Ivanov. His team have been carrying out new surveys of the tomb, whose first excavation was in 1905 by R. Mond. Work was carried out in the 1980s but was never published, so Ivanov presented preliminary results of the latest work, carried out between 2006 and 2008.

After a short coffee break, when everyone was finally able to drink away their early morning chills, Dr Samekh Iskander from New York University’s Abydos Project presented the latest up-to-date architectural plans and observations of the phases of construction for the Temple of Ramesses II, as well as recently developed epigraphy techniques. Studies of pictorial practices in ancient Theban tomb paintings were then observed by Kerstin Leterme, of the University of Gent. She pointed to the dependence of painting style on the profession of the deceased. She also observed how modern technology allows not only to analyse pigments, but also to follow the gestures of the person who created the decoration. That means we’re currently able to identify the work of different painters individually.

Egyptology conference in Moscow, Day 2: the lecure of the chairman Dr. Nigel StudwickDr. Nigel Strudwick

Egyptology conference in Moscow, Day 2: Dr. Erwin Brock presents his lectureDr. Edwin Brock

Egyptology Conference in Moscow, Day 2: KremlinThe Kremlin

Restoration of Ramesses VI’s Sarcophagus

The day was moving fast, and it was now time for a true wonder to be presented to the expectant Moscow masses: the story of the sarcophagus of Ramesses VI, as told by Edwin Brock of the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE). Both sarcophagi of the 20th Dynasty king were broken during a robbery, leaving most of their fragments scattered along the burial chamber. Between 2000 and 2003 the inner sarcophagus was restored by a project funded by the ARCE, yet scientists are still searching for some of the missing fragments.

The restoration involved numbering existing pieces, decoration being transferred onto plastic film and ultimately renovated using typical images of the period. Then the restorators began to join pieces using the restored ornamental image as a clue. The restoration was performed on a special platform, after an Egyptian team cleaned all the pieces. The work required drilling and sometimes filling the gaps of the missing fragments to maintain the sarcophagus’ structure. The restoration also featured a copy of the face of Ramesses VI, which now finds itself in the British Museum. Now scientists are searching for the missing fragments with which to fulfil the restoration of the sarcophagus.

The treats kept coming, as we were handed another revelation by Dr Edward Loring from the Russian Institute of Egyptology in Cairo. Dr Loring revealed that the famous ‘yellow coffins’ of the 21st Dynasty were in fact white! The reason for their turning yellow is that the resin varnish which was initially applied to them began its life transparent, but over the course of 3,000 years turned its current colour, mutating all of the coffins. Restored images of the artefacts in question can be found at, under the special address

Dr Alexander Gormatyuk rounded off an exciting and fascinating day with his inspiring lecture about preserving damaged Egyptian heritage. The main aim of his Russian group’s preservation work was to restore Coptic patriarchate sites. In all the team repaired around 2,000 Coptic icons. In 2004 Zahi Hawass’ Supreme Council of Antiquities invited Russian scientists to restore the church of El Moa’allaqa (the Hanging Church, which Heritage Key covered recently) and the St. Tekla Hamanud Chapel. More than 50 experts worked for six seasons to restore beautiful paintings, mosaics, wall ornaments and an altar with ivory elements.

Restoration works were also performed at the necropolis of Deir el-Banat in Fayum. More then 70 different artefacts were conserved, as well as Greco-Roman and early Christian tombs. In 2006 the Russian team began to work on the preservation of Tomb 23 of Thay in Luxor, which is in rather good condition with different paintings. At present the scientists are searching its best method for restoration and conservation.

After another lunch break the participants were treated to a guided tour round Moscow’s famous Kremlin, before returning to their hotels – their heads filled with even more tasty chunks of modern Egyptological knowledge.

Keep tuned for days three & four, read up on day one or the conference in general.

‘Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology’ in Moscow – Day One of the Conference

IMGP8519The first day of the ‘Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology‘ conference was full of new discoveries, though it started on a typically soggy Moscow day. After participants arrived at the Presidium of Russian Academy of Sciences on comfortable buses, they went in and received a slightly altered conference program – containing lecture lists and ‘Return to Egypt’; a book about the history of Russian Egyptology. The conference started with an opening speech by vise-president of Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander D. Nekipelov, dedicated to the history, development and achievements of Russian archaeology in Egypt, from the research of Vladimir Golenischev to today. The ceremony continued with speeches by a representative from the Ministry of Culture and, of course, Dr. Zahi Hawass.

The opening speech and lecture by Dr. Hawass focused on recent discoveries and the preservation of Egyptian heritage. Many new museums are created in Egypt, but heritage sites are protected from animals (the highly debated decision of closing Giza pyramids to horses and camels) – and maybe someday from tourists (by creating a replica of King Tut’s tomb and new route to the Valley of the Kings).

Opening Lecture by The-Man-With-The-Hat

Dr. Hawass promised to publish the results of DNA studies of Tutankhamun’s family within a few months, after the results of Egyptian team’s research is confirmed by independent experts. He also shared a facinating story about scanning King Tut’s mummy: The first time it was put in the scanner, the machine stopped and didn’t work for over an hour. He admits this was the first – and only – moment he ever believed in the so-called ‘curse of the mummy‘.

Dasha and Dr. Zahi Hawass

Even more fascinating was a story about queen Hatshepsut; we’re talking real Mummy CSI here. Just imagine identifying a mummy of the queen by a mere lost tooth, stored in a special box in the tomb. Further research on Hatshepsut’s mummy shows cancer as the cause of death, and that for some reason the queen’s remains were moved from her tomb to KV60 where they were eventually discovered.

In the last part of his speech Dr. Hawass focused on excavations of of the tunnel of Seti I and further research, and the quest for KV64 in the Valley of the Kings. The search for KV64 has yielded no result thus far, except for the discovery of many osctracons, remains of workmen’s huts, storage rooms, and channels to redirect flooding. Dr. Hawass also mentioned that four intact tombs were found in the Valley of the Nobles.

After a welcome coffee break, we listened to a lecture by Dr. Galina Belova on research and excavations at Kom Tuman, Memphis. Soil investigations have made it clear that the Nile in the past flowed near to the excavated area, making Tom Tuman one of the ‘islands of Memphis.’

The Power of the Image: Propaganda for Pharaohs

The second presentation on day one of the conference was Diana Liesegang with ‘The Power of the Image’: an extremely interesting investigation on how ancient Egyptian images influenced the empire’s peasant populace; it cannot be denied that the images – and the combination of image and text – were extensively used as a form of royal propaganda. The Pharaoh was displayed as conqueror; a victorious person blessed by the gods and smashing his enemies. Ancient artists combined inscriptions and graphical elements for symbolic representation – the Pharaoh was sometimes shown as a lion, a crocodile or a hawk – and the layout created a powerful impression to deliver its clear message. This heavy use of iconography developed from the Predynastic period to the Ramesside period. But afterwards its use was almost entirely abandoned.

IMGP8554Ann Macy Roth from New York University presented an investigation into the Old Kingdom cemeteries and settlements next, looking at the ‘cities of the dead‘ during their construction process, and afterwards as sites of human activity rather than simply a necropolis.

Biblical Figures Guest-starring in Egyptian Religion

Kerry Muhlenstein presented that it’s not just the Jewish religion that adopted some aspects of Egyptian religion in the Bible, but that Egyptians themselves borrowed biblical personalities and stories. The most popular ones are JAO (Jegova), Sabbaoth, Adonai, Michael, Abraham and Moses, and the names of these biblical figures appear on stelae and the so-called ‘magical papyri’; both elements of religous practice in Ancient Egypt.

Why were these stories and personalities adopted by the Egyptians? Because ancient Egyptian religion was highly flexible, and was influenced by many other religions. The biblical stories are faint and deal with clear plots – revelation, the summoning of gods and their subsequent arrival – making them clear and easy to grasp for the ordinary people. This even led to occurrences of Abraham replacing Osiris in certain fragments. The influence of biblical stories was the strongest during the Ptolemaic period: the characters are popularized in Greek literature, one Jewish person even writes a letter to Ptolemy II, telling him there is a God who created the entire world and protects not only Jews but the Pharaoh.

Representing the Chinese University of Hong King, Mu-chou Poo showed the interesting parallels between Ancient Egyptian and Chinese wisdom in literature. ‘Wisdom literature’ has been regarded as one of the keys for unlocking more information on social ethics of the ancient Egyptians, offering notions of social values by practical examples like how to treat one’s neighbours, family or superiors.


The Russian Mission at Giza

After lunch, the day of discoveries continued with lectures by Irene Fostner-Mueller and Erhart Graefe about excavations at Avaris and TT (Theban Tomb) 320 respectively. ThenDr. Eleonora Kormysheva gave a very interesting and detailed presentation on the Russian Archaeology Mission at Giza, which combines geophysical studies carried out before the excavation, GPR research and soil and rock examination.

The Russian mission has been working at Giza since 1996. The excavations and research have been concentrated on the rock-cut tomb of Khafraankh, the chief of the wab-priests of the Pyramid of Khafra and then on the Minor Cemetery beside this tomb. The mission re-excavated two tombs mentioned by Karl Richard Lepsius and O. Mariette: the tombs of Thenti II and Khufuhotep. One tomb – that of Thenti I – was not known before. The tombs are dated to the end of the Fifth Dynasty. Three new rock-cut tombs (of Perinedju, Perseneb and Ibi) are in the initial stage of excavation. Dr. Kormysheva kindly promised to provide Heritage Key with additional information about the Russian mission in Giza.

Then followed lectures by Laura Pantalacci, about work in Qift-Coptos and Cornelius von Pilgrim, and Wolfgang Mueller about excavating the different layers of Aswan and finding a great fortification construction that guarded Aswan, and its banks that was joined with the Elefantina fortress.

After a very nice and warm welcome reception, where everyone could chat and get refreshments and snacks, the participants went to the Moscow city tour and ultimately their hotels, where they could reflect on a day’s work well done.