Category: malcolmj - Part 5

Lewis Chessmen May Be From a Different Board Game

The Lewis Hnefataflmen: doesnt quite have the same ring to it as the Lewis Chessmen, does it?

But if what a new paper by a trio of heritage experts is saying is true, the famous 900-year-old set of ivory-carved pieces discovered on a Scottish island in 1831 may not be from a chess set at all, but rather an ancient Viking board game.

The study also questions the popular notion of how the hoard came to end up on Lewis, and calls for new excavations at a site near to where they were reportedly found.

Hnefatafl, which was popular in Scandinavia in the medieval period, probably wasnt too dissimilar to chess it was also a warfare game that involved protecting a king from marauding opponent pieces. But it was likely played on a larger board (1313 squares, or 1111), and may have involved rolling dice in some way (the game rules were never properly recorded, and no full set survives today). The new study suggests that the artefacts would be best referred to as gaming pieces from here forth.

A Royal Hoard?

Elsewhere in their paper which is set to be published in the journal Medieval Archaeology this week David Caldwell from the National Museum of Scotland, Mark Hall of Perth Museum and Caroline Wilkinson a forensic anthropologist from Dundee University raise doubts over the traditional theory that the gaming pieces arrived on Lewis because they were left there, buried in a sand dune, by a Norwegian merchant.

One of the main things I think we are saying in our research is that it is much more likely that the hoard is in Lewis because it belonged to somebody who lived there rather than being abandoned by a merchant who was passing through, Caldwell told BBC News. He speculated that they could have easily belonged to a wealthy local king or lord or bishop, who really valued playing chess and saw it as being one of their accomplishments.

Opening Up The Debate

He hopes that their hypotheses will open up some new conversation on the nature and origins of the artefacts, which are set to be reunited in Scotland for the first time in over 150 years in 2010. I would be very disappointed if we have written the last word on them, said Caldwell, what I hope we have done is opened up the debate and shown it is possible, even with something very well known, to discover new things.

I hope we have opened up the debate and shown it is possible, even with something very well known, to discover new things. — Dr David Caldwell

Currently, the collection is divided between the National Museum of Scotland who own 11 pieces and the British Museum, who possess the other 82. The thorny issue of repatriation has been raised by the Scottish Government in recent years, but for the time being at least put to bed by a loan agreement, which will see a small selection of the pieces head north for a tour of Scotland over the next couple of years.

Caldwell et als study was wide-ranging, and the first to examine the artefacts in detail in a bid to work out which were made by the same groups of artists. They measured the faces, looked at their clothing, and studied details of the workmanship. They confirmed that the figures are of Scandinavian origin and were very likely made by master craftsmen at the Norwegian city of Trondheim, but admitted that much more remains to be learned about the pieces.

A New Excavation?

Caldwell also pointed out that a large proportion of the hoard is still missing the 93 pieces found may derive from as collection of as many as 128. He and his associates now intend to pursue funding for an investigation at Malasta on Lewis a souterrain, or underground passage, which some maps from the time suggest is the real spot where the chessmen were found, rather than the sand dunes at Uig, as is popularly believed.

Most people have gone to the sands at Uig, which is pretty fruitless, he told Caldwell the Scotsman in another interview. Ivory is an extremely tough material and it is not altogether impossible that they might turn up.

Read more about the complex and mysterious story of the Lewis Chessmen sorry, gaming pieces here.

Its been a busy few days for Dr Caldwell, who last week was also representing the Treasure Trove Unit at National Museum of Scotland in connection with the discovery of a 1 million horde of ancient gold treasure near Stirling.

First Pictures of Stirling Iron Age Gold Hoard Treasure

David Booth proudly shows off his lucky finds, worth an estimated 1 million. Picture by Sandy Young.As blogged by Sean yesterday, a precious hoard of Iron Age gold treasures worth an estimated 1 million has been discovered by a first-time metal detector enthusiast near Stirling. It was unveiled to the media at an event at the National Museum of Scotland this morning. The collection was described as the most important hoard of Iron Age gold found in Scotland to date.

The Stirling Hoard: Gold Iron Age Torcs

The artefacts four neck ornaments of European significance, dating from between the 1st and 3rd centuries BC were discovered by a local man, David Booth, on private land back in September (the precise location has been kept secret, so as to prevent a mini gold-rush at the spot). One of them is slightly damaged; the others are in near-perfect condition.

Two of the pieces are ribbon torcs, which was a local style of jewellery made from twisting rigid pieces of gold. Another is half of an ornate torc of southern French origin to date the only artefact of its kind found in Britain. The fourth is a unique braided gold wire torc, which shows a strong Mediterranean influence.

The treasure of the Stirling Iron Age Gold. Image Credit - Sandy Young.

They would have most likely belonged to an important and powerful local leader, and been worn as a way of showing off his wealth, importance and ability to trade precious goods with the continent.

What is going to happen to the treasure?

When not out metal detecting, Mr Booth reportedly works as the chief game warden at Blair Drummond Safari Park. He may have fed his last lion if the million pound valuation of the hoard based on the 350,000 figure a similar torc found in Newark, Nottinghamshire in 2005 sold for is accurate.

In accordance with the treasure trove statutes of common Scots law, while the pieces technically now belong to the Crown via The Queens and Lord Treasurers Remembrancer (QLTR) Mr Booth stands to net a sizeable ex-gratia reward payment, since the QLTR generously recognises the contribution of members of the public who make chance finds.

Dr David Caldwell, representing the Treasure Trove Unit the body based at the National Museum of Scotland which is currently holding the items on behalf of the QLTR commented:

The torcs are currently in the care of the Treasure Trove Unit, which is responsible for the care of antiquities found in Scotland on behalf of the Crown. The Treasure Trove Unit along with a team from National Museums Scotland is continuing to excavate and analyse the find.

When and where will the Stirling Hoard go on display?

Its not yet been decided if or when the hoard will go on display. Its up to the Scottish Archaeological Finds Advisory Panel (SAFAP) an independent body, acting on behalf of The Treasure Trove Unit to make that call. Voices have already begun calling for reassurance that the artefacts will remain in Scotland, lest they end up expatriated to an English museum like the Lewis Chessmen.

David Booth with the Stirling treasure. Image Credit - Sandy Young.
David Booth. Image Credit - Sandy Young.

Dr Fiona Watson, a research associate at the UHI Millennium Institutes Centre for History, yesterday commented to the Scotsman: The neckbands are of such national significance that they must be kept in Scotland. In the past something like this would have gone to London, but there is no way they should leave Scotland.

An official announcement on the hoards fate isnt expected until next year. Until then: feast your eyes on these first pics.

ArchaeoVideo: The Tomb of Diplomat Montuemhat Featuring Dr Farouk Gomaa

Dr Farouk Gomaa talks about his search for the Tomb of Montuemhat. Click the image to skip to the video.The tomb is one of the largest in Thebes, says Dr Farouk Gomaa, the highly-respected archaeologist from the University of Tbingen in Germany who is leading the exploration of the burial monument of Montuemhat, in a new video interview for Heritage Key by Nico Piazza. Clearly, Montuemhat was a powerful and influential figure in ancient Egypt if he was able to carve out such a substantial resting place for himself in the necropolis of the pharaohs. Yet you wont find him on any Egyptian king lists.

In this latest ArchaeoVideo from the Theban tombs, from where Sandro Vannini has been taking photographs for the new “The Lost Tombs of Thebes:Life in Paradise” book, we learn about the hunt for the chamber of Montuemhat, who from around 660-648 BC was Mayor of Thebes, and a highly skilled and crafty diplomat. Egypt underwent some tumultuous changes during his time in office, as the last Nubian kings of the 25th Dynasty, Taharqa and Tantamani, were driven back into Nubia, first by the invading Assyrians, then by the first kings of the 26th Dynasty.

The tomb of Montuemhat, the shaft of Montuemhat, we have not found. We hope we can find it.

Against this unstable backdrop, Montuemhat managed to maneuver himself into a position whereby he effectively ruled Upper Egypt (it probably helped that his wife, Wedjarenes, was a granddaughter of the Nubian king Piye). History reports that he held onto power right up until his death, after the Nubians had been cleared out, even though he was himself probably of Nubian blood. This allowed Montuemhat plenty of time in which to build for himself his impressive tomb at Thebes a dense complex that extends over multiple levels, with various halls and a large open court at its centre.

Work must have begun on the tomb when Montuemhat who additionally held the title of the Fourth Priest of Amun was only a young man, raising the possibility that it may have originally been built for his father, Nesptah the elder (who was mayor of Thebes before Montuemhat). Inscriptions within his tomb give Montuemhat such glorious titles as eyes of the king in all the land, prince of the deserts and keeper of the gate of the deserts.

Dr Farouk Gomaa and his team examines the stone sarcophagus of Nesptah - the son of Montuemhat. Image Credit - Sandro Vannini.Work on TT34 began in 1941, when Zakaria Gomein began excavation of the site, but unfortunately died in a tale recounted by Dr Zahi Hawass. However, no self-respecting Egyptian dignitary would be buried alone, and as Gomaa describes, one of the most spectacular finds made in the tomb of Montuemhat in 1988, was the burial chamber and mummy of Montuemhats son, Nesptah the younger. Its located at the bottom of a deep, dark shaft, many of which are located around the warren-like tomb. In the video, we see archaeologists descending a ladder by lamplight to polish and treat Nesptahs beautiful stone sarcophagus. After his father he was the main person here in Thebes, notes Gomaa.

Gomaa tells an amusing story about how Nesptahs chamber was initially located thanks to the unwitting assistance of some dopey thieves. It was first found by tomb robbers, he says. They managed to go inside, and take the wooden sarcophagus of Nesptah, and they burned it to have light down there. And this made smoke and somebody [saw] this and the police come and stopped the work in the tomb.

A similar break might be required in the hunt for the chamber of Montuemhat himself, and his sarcophagus, should it still be interred within (some suspect it’s buried beneath the temple). The tomb of Montuemhat, the shaft of Montuemhat, we have not found, explains Gomaa. We hope we can find it, he adds.

ArchaeoVideo: Dr Farouk Gomaa’s Search for the Chamber of Mayor Montuemhat

(Transcription of this video.)

There are loads more great archaeovideos on Heritage Keys Youtube channel. Enjoy the likes of Dr Salima Ikram revealing how ancient Egyptians mummified their pets, Dr Vassil Dobrev describing the hunt for the tomb of the lost pharaoh Userkare and Dr Mark Lehner discussing the lives of pyramid builders in ancient Egypt. You can also keep track of our latest news, views and videos via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and iTunes – not to mention subscribing to our feeds. Exploring the planet’s ancient past has never been easier with Heritage Key: Unlocking the Wonders.

Why The Bust of Nefertiti Should Be Returned To Egypt

With the recent reopening of the Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island, the argument over ownership of the Bust of Nefertiti has once again been stoked. The Germans have made the priceless, beautiful, 3,400-year-old sculpture of the famous Egyptian Queen one of the centerpiece attractions of the 200-million Neues. It seems to have only caused the Egyptians to become more resolute in their efforts to get her back. Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass stated recently that he would send a letter in October to Neues Museum directors containing irrefutable evidence in support of the Egyptian claim for repatriation (no sign of that letter yet, though).

Bija recently laid out the case for why Nefertiti should remain in Berlin. Ever ones for balance here at Heritage Key, we thought it would only be appropriate to articulate the counter-argument, which is just as compelling.

Practical Arguments

Well deal with some of the practical considerations first. One of the main German arguments is that, to do an artefact of such immense beauty, worth and popularity justice, it ought to be displayed in the best possible position and conditions and surrounded by the most state-of-the-art facilities. Theres no doubting that the Neues the worlds newest museum, and one of its most expensive right now ticks every one of those boxes.

But what about a few years down the line when, in 2013, the Grand Egyptian Museum opens at Giza? Its slated to be one of the most spectacular museums ever constructed a $550 million, 100,000 square-metre cultural mecca in the shadow of the pyramids. Surely itll represent every bit as fitting a home for Nefertiti as the Neues? Its also been suggested that Nefertiti is too fragile to move, but that sounds like a bluff she wasnt teleported from her previous location at the Altes Museum to the Neues! Admittedly the two buildings are only a few metres apart, but if the technology exists to safely transport 2,250-year-old Terracotta warriors on long tours around the world, then surely it exists to take Nefertiti on a single trip from Berlin to Cairo?

Bjia also makes the point that Egypt is already over-stocked with ancient sites and artefacts. Is there a chance that appropriate resources wont be available to maintain Nefertiti? And is there also a chance that Nefertitis magnificence could be diminished somewhat if shes surrounded by an abundance of other delights from ancient Egyptian history? Perhaps but its worth bearing in mind that first-hand access to some of Egypts greatest treasures is slowly diminishing. The Valley of the Kings most spectacular tombs, for instance, may have to close to the public altogether over the next few years, lest they become irrevocably damaged. With the long-term impact this might have on tourism in mind, the Egyptians arguably have a right to reign in their most valuable heritage prizes from abroad.

Ethical Arguments

The practical points arent really the bones of this debate as with all disputes over artefact repatriation, its chiefly an ethical argument. In this respect, the Egyptians are comfortably in the right. German Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt tricked the Bust of Nefertiti out of Egypt sometime between 1911 and 1914 in a subterfuge violating statutes of the period and of the present.

He excluded mention of the bust from his published list of discoveries made during excavations in Egypt; when he did finally provide descriptions of the artefact, he lied about its quality and condition, making it out to be a worthless piece of gypsum and producing a photograph of the bust that cast it in a deliberately unflattering light. All the while, he clearly knew how valuable the bust was. It is indescribable, he recorded in his personal diary. You have to see it with your own eyes.

Isnt there a degree of shame on behalf of the Germans that one of their most-prized archaeological possessions was obtained so disreputably? Couldnt and shouldnt this very clear wrong be righted in the 21st century?

Isnt there a degree of shame on behalf of the Germans that one of their most-prized archaeological possessions was obtained so disreputably? Couldnt and shouldnt this very clear wrong be righted in the 21st century?

Its more complicated than that of course. Giving back the Bust of Nefertiti is the sort of move that could pull the proverbial rug out from under the feet of the likes of the British Museum who refuse to permanently repatriate the Elgin Marbles to Greece and the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. Its as if theres an unspoken agreement between museums not to budge when it comes to artefact repatriation, lest Pandoras Box be opened.

But maybe these claims and counter-claims are all somehow relative? If the Neues Museum was to relinquish Nefertiti, surely it would strengthen immeasurably its own case for the return from Russia of artefacts plundered by the Soviets at the end of WWII, such as Priams Treasure?

A Compromise?

As proven by the recent example of the SCA blocking French excavations at Saqqara until the Louvre agreed to return stolen fragments from a Theban tomb and they promptly did Zahi Hawass and the Egyptians arent scared to play hard-ball when it comes to regaining artefacts. But theres a more reasonable way for this and similar arguments to be resolved. Loan systems such as the one recently agreed between the National Museum of Scotland and the British Museum over the Lewis Chessmen can take the sting out of such debates, and establish a strong platform of negotiation upon which to build towards a permanent solution.

The Germans have expressed fears that if they loan the Bust of Nefertiti to Cairo, like a pinched library book, itll never come back. Judging by the humorous tone of comments from Zahi Hawass, quoted recently in The Times, the prospect of the Egyptians committing grand international artefact larceny in full glare of the worlds media seems faintly ridiculous. They think that we will be like the Raiders of the Lost Ark, he joked. That we will take it and not return it.

Money talks of course, and no museum is going to willingly accept the financial hit that comes with giving up an artefact capable of drawing 500,000 visitors per year, as Nefertiti did at her former home the Altes Museum. Yet, if that gap could be plugged, then maybe money can be taken out of the equation to some extent. The Egyptians could offer a loan artefact (or artefacts) in return theyve got plenty of them.

Logistical considerations aside, perhaps all major museums need to be less precious with their prize possessions, and accept that by sending them out on loan, while in turn accepting others from elsewhere, they can avoid time-consuming, reputation-damaging arguments, and at the same time constantly refresh their appeal. Touring exhibits can be hugely successful King Tut exhibitions worldwide have drawn in millions of visitors on their travels around the world since the 1970s, while more recently the Terracotta Warriors too have proven wildly successful.

As Bija mentioned, Nefertiti has a certain unquantifiable power over those who possess her, and the prospect of giving her up may be a simple matter of wounded pride as much as anything else. Yet, if a reasonable and rational compromise based on loans could be agreed, neither the Germans not the Egyptians need come away from this dispute having lost face. If future loan arrangements with other museums elsewhere could be agreed too, the wonder of the Bust of Nefertiti could be spread around the world for others to enjoy as well. Everyones a winner.

Not convinced? Read Bija’s opposing blogpost on why Nefertiti should remain in Berlin.

ArchaeoVideo – Saving Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s Funerary Temple at Thebes

Dr Hourig Sourouzian explains the excavations and work being carried out at the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. Click the image to skip to the video.18th dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III was the king of Egyptian kings. Under his rule, from around 1391 to 1353 BC, Egyptian civilization reached its very apex all powerful, influential beyond compare, rich beyond dreams and basking in opulent artistic splendour. In a list compiled by American business and financial bible Forbes in 2008, Amenhotep was ranked as the 12th richest person in human history.

His funerary temple was therefore never going to be a modest affair. As we discover in a new video interview shot by Nico Piazza with the highly-respected German-Armenian archaeologist leading the excavation of the site, Dr Hourig Sourouzian, it was bold, groundbreaking, and very, very big. It was something extraordinary, as Sourouzian puts it.

Erected in the Theban necropolis on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor, the temple was 700 metres long and 500 metres wide, and covered an area of 350,000 square metres. It was ten times bigger than any other mortuary monument in Egypt, and the biggest religious complex at Thebes, dwarfing even Karnak (despite the fact that Karnak had been added to substantially by Amenhotep).

The work we do here is not only about advancing our historical knowledge but also saving the last remains of a temple that was once very prestigious.

Inside and out were huge stele, papyrus columns and beautiful statues of animal deities such as the lioness goddess Sekhmet. No expense was spared when it came to selecting building materials. All the quarries of Egypt were at the kings disposal, says Sourouzian, so we can find some rare and beautiful stones, like quartzite.

Sadly, little of this splendour is reflected in the temples modern condition. For all the thought and industry that went into its construction, little consideration was given to its location. Built closer to the river than any other temple at Thebes right on the edge of the floodplain after less than 200 years it had collapsed into the desert. Many of its great stones were subsequently pilfered for building projects of later pharaohs, such as Ramesses II and Merneptah.

All that stands today are the ruined Colossi of Memnon two eighteen metre-high stone statues of Amenhotep (father of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten) that once imposingly flanked the entrance to the temple. The fact that so little remains of the monument in the 21st century makes Sourouzians job all the more important. The work we do here is not only about advancing our historical knowledge, she says, but also saving the last remains of a temple that was once very prestigious that was unfortunately managed very badly.

The Colossi of Memnon at the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. Image Copyright - Sandro Vannini.

Since 1998, the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III has been on the World Monument Funds list of the planets 100 most endangered monuments, and Sourouzian and her multinational team have been working hard to keep it there, as well as source funding from other bodies. Their project which has been ongoing since 2004 is one of the most ambitious ever staged in Egypt, and still has about two decades left to run. I believe that in less than 20 years we will have achieved our objectives here, she says.

The goal, Sourouzian explains while gangs of Egyptian labourers are seen dragging a massive stone by rope across the desert, in what could almost be a scene from the age of the pharaohs is to eventually restore every object found at the temple to its original position, and create detailed maps and models of how the building might once have looked.

They wont try and rebuild the temple, that would be foolish to try and impossible to do, says Sourouzian. But we can do virtual reconstructions using modern tools like the computer, she adds (check out Heritage Key’s King Tut Virtual for a great example of a digitally reconstructed ancient world). The final stage of the project will be to create an open-air museum, where the public can view first hand the splendour of Amenhoteps funerary monument something truly magnificent and never seen before, beams Sourouzian. With it, visitors will be able to witness the remarkable ambition, skill and ingenuity of ancient Egyptian civilization at its very peak.

Video:Egyptologist Hourig Sourouzian at the Temple of Amenhotep III, Thebes

(Click here to read the transcript for this video)

For more great archaeovideos, be sure to check out Heritage Keys Youtube Channel. Watch Dr Zahi Hawass speaking about the search for KV64, Dr Salima Ikram discussing the fascinating subject of Egyptian animal cults and Dr Vassil Dobrev describing the hunt for the tomb of the lost pharaoh Userkare. Were adding new movies all time sign-up to the Heritage Key RSS feed and find out as soon as theyre posted.

Missing Link Ida May Not be Human Ancestor

A team of palaeontologists from New York, writing in the journal Nature, have provoked the first exchange of blows in what may prove an almighty scientific sparring match. The subject thats got them so heated? Ida: a tiny $1 million, 47-million-year-old fossil, who has been trumpeted as the missing link between humans and animals.

Shes the eighth wonder of the world, our Mona Lisa and evolutions Rosetta Stone, according to the researchers who discovered her, or rather purchased her for $1 million from a private dealer in a vodka bar in Hamburg in a scene that sounds like it could have been lifted from a dodgy Hollywood movie. The dealer claimed the fossil had apparently been unearthed from Messel Pit near Hamburg in 1983.

The Link a feature length documentary about Ida was premiered by The History Channel in May in what was reported to be the most expensive deal of its kind the broadcaster had ever struck (a David Attenborough-narrated version was also shown by the BBC). A book about the fossil by a leading science writer was published too, at the tail end of a top-dollar, expertly orchestrated publicity campaign publicly backed by the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. A media whirlwind followed, and Ida became front page news across the world, even showing up in the Google logo. Judging by such hysteria, a Hollywood movie about the pint-sized primate may actually not be out of the question in time.

Heres a trailer for The Link:

That is, assuming that the counter claims made about Darwinius masillae to give Ida her formal name by a team of experts from the Big Apple, led by Erik Seiffert of Stony Brook University, dont prove true. They argue that she isnt the missing link at all, but rather the fossil of a lowly lemur or loris. Worse still, just to rub salt into the wound, they claim that Ida has no living relatives, and therefore derives from a dead-end street of evolution that led to extinction.

Our analysis and results have convinced us that Ida was not an ancestor of monkeys, apes, or humans, and if anything has more relevance for our understanding of lemur and loris origins, said Seiffert (as quoted by The Guardian). The evidence, Seiffert claims, is the 37-million-year-old lemur-like fossil of a primate his team unearthed in northern Egypt, analysis of which showed it was a close relative of Ida, crucially with several dental features similar to those commonly seen in apes and humans.

We expected a challenge like this and its interesting it has taken five months for the first attack to come. What we claim about Ida is really quite controversial. — Jrn Hurum

Jrn Hurum, a palaeontologist at Oslo Universitys Natural History Museum and the man who wrote the cheque for Ida, was poised and ready for a fight over his claims about his fossils place in the evolutionary tree, and hit back quick. We expected a challenge like this and its interesting it has taken five months for the first attack to come, he said. What we claim about Ida is really quite controversial.

They are trying to explain all of the traits we see in Darwinius in terms of parallel evolution, he continued.

Seiffert and his team claim Darwinius didnt have much anatomical detail to study because it is so crushed, but none of the authors have ever seen the original specimen. Shes not that crushed; theres a lot of information in the fossil.

There has been widespread discomfort among the scientific community about the way in which Idas significance has been shouted from the rooftops, despite the fact that independent analysis of the fossil which Hurum and his team studied in secret for two years before going public with their findings is yet to take place. The Norwegian is confident that his claims will hold up, and seems ready eager, even to debate them publicly. We really trust and stand by our interpretation, he said.

This will be part of a discussion that will run for weeks and months to come, Hurum concluded.

Ida fossil picture by Ragnar Singass. Some rights reserved.

ArchaeoVideo: Dr Alain Zivie Reveals the Treasures of the Tomb of Aper-el

French archaeologistDr Alain Zivie, Director of Research at the French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS), has devoted many years to investigating the 18th dynasty rock-cut tomb of Aper-el an Egyptian New Kingdom high priest and vizier from the Amarna Period, who served both Amenhotep III and the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten. Zivie discovered it at Saqqara in 1987. In an exclusive video interview, shot by Nico Piazza, he shows Heritage Key some of the abundant treasures hes found there.

As Zivie explains, since the tomb which dates from the latter part of the 18th Dynasty, around 1353-1335 BC is so hard to access, it hasnt been plundered in the modern period, only in ancient times, when the grave robbers werent looking for antiquities. Therefore, many fine pieces have been left undisturbed for centuries, and Zivie and his CNRS team have enjoyed archaeologically rich pickings.

We are not looking for treasure. Personally Im looking for history, for facts, for better understanding of this civilization, this culture and this period.

Among the beautiful artefacts he introduces us to from their display case at the Imhotep Museum at Saqqara are two royal cubits (one of which bears an engraving describing Aper-el as “the two eyes of the king”), a hand-painted fish spoon in ivory, and a wonderfully preserved wooden bust probably used for supporting a womans wig.

Support for a Feminine Wig at the Emhotep Museum Saqqara - photo by Sandro VanniniThis is a miracle, he says of the bust. One season later it would have been disappeared because water was falling down like the Niagara on this, and everything was melted. But we discovered it in time. It is a masterpiece.

Theyre fine artefacts one and all, but Zivie is eager to stress that archaeology, for him, is about so much more than treasure hunting his interest lies in seeking out the stories behind such items, and the light they can shed on the people they were made by and for. We are not looking for treasure; we are not looking for objects, he says. Personally Im looking for history, for facts, for better understanding of this civilization, this culture and this period.

Certainly there are fascinating stories behond the building of the Tomb of Aper-el. Amarna period ruins at Saqqara are extremely rare; Aper-els tomb the entrance to which is through an area known as Abwab el-Qotat (Doors of the Cats), where hundreds of mummified cats had been found interred is perhaps the finest example, and an indicator of the high esteem in which this Egyptian prime minister was held. It bears elegant art work that illustrates the unique style of the Amarna period, a controversial phase of Egyptian history when Akhenten (who was quite possibly King Tuts dad) instituted a controversial rule under one god, which succeeding dynasties attempted to erase from history. Built on four levels, the tomb took years for Zivie and his team to clear completely.

The Vizier of Aper-el - Two Eyes of the King (The Messenger of the King)Aper-el was found buried with his wife, Tauret and his son Huy, who was a pominent general. Both were laid to rest next to Aper-el in similarly beautiful coffins, all of which were located in the funerary chamber of the tomb, which was found concealed behind a staircase. Various articles of funerary equipment and other items were found in the chamber too, including alabaster canopic jars, many jewels and various items of religious and daily use. Paintings elsewhere in the tomb reveal that Aper-el had two other sons who had previously been unknown to ancient historians. They were Seny, who was a high official, and Hatiay, who was a priest.

ArchaeoVideo in HD – The Tomb of Aper-el (Featuring Dr. Alain Zivie)

(Transcription of this video.)

Check out more great archaevideos many of them shot by eminent photographer Sandro Vannini here on Heritage Key. Highlights include Dr Zahi Hawass discussing the restoration of the Synagogue of Moses Ben Maimon in Cairo, a look at prehistoric paintings in Gilf Kebir, Dr Mark Lehner talking about the lives of pyramid builders in ancient Egypt and Dr Salima Ikram describing how Egyptian animal mummies were made.

We regularly release new videos on the site, so sign-up to the Heritage Key RSS feed to be first to hear about each new release(or follow us on Twitter and Facebook), and visit our Youtube channel.

Iran Says Archaeological Agreements are Under Threat in British Museum Cyrus Cylinder Row

A week after Egypt announced it was suspending archaeological cooperation with The Louvre in Paris in an argument over the return of fragments of a Theban Tomb, Iran has threatened to sever archaeological relations with Britain unless an agreement by the British Museum in London to loan out the Cyrus Cylinder is honoured within the next two months.

The artefact a 6th century BC Babylonian cuneiform-inscribed clay cylinder, which has been described as the first charter of human rights was due to arrive in Iran in September. But the British Museum have cited the political situation in post-election Iran which they say they are monitoring as the reason for the delay.

This has outraged the Iranians, who have laid down their ultimatum after questioning what domestic political developments have to do with cultural heritage. An irate Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi is quoted by Reuters as saying: The British party did not honor its pledge on illogical, illegal and unethical grounds. He later adds: If within this period this pledge is not honored then all agreements in archaeological research, trade fairs and so on with Britain might be harmed.

Hamid Baqaei, vice president of Irans Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, reinforced the Iranian position in an interview with the state-run Fars news agency. If the British Museum fails to send the Cyrus Cylinder in the next two months to be shown in Iran, said Baqaei, as quoted by Bloomberg, we will cease any mutual activities with them, including archaeological cooperation and holding cultural heritage exhibitions in the UK.

“As ever with any kind of loan wed want to be assured that the situation in the country was suitable.

Hannah Boulton, head of press at the British Museum, played down the row when she spoke to Bloomberg. We certainly have committed to lending the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, and it is fully our intention to do that, she said. We hope that well be able to honor that commitment as soon as possible. As ever with any kind of loan wed want to be assured that the situation in the country was suitable.

The British Museum is, of course, no stranger to controversy. The Greeks continue to forcefully demand from them the return of The Elgin Marbles, which were removed to Britain from the Parthenon in Athens on dubious grounds by Sir Thomas Bruce between 1801 and 1812. Recently, the debate over the 12th century Lewis Chessmen the majority of which are kept by the British Museum, despite being discovered on an island in Scotland in 1831 has resulted in a loan agreement, but the Scottish Government continues to call for their permanent repatriation.

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, meanwhile, continues to demand the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum, as well as other stolen Egyptian antiquities abroad such as the Bust of Nefertiti, which will this weekend take pride of place at the opening of Berlins Neues Museum.

Picture by M. Ignacio Monge Garca. Some rights reserved.

ArchaeoVideo: Dr Vassil Dobrev on the Hunt for the Lost Pharaoh Userkare

Vasko Dobrev about the Search for the Tomb of UserkareUserkare is a mysterious figure in Egyptian history. He was the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty placed between Teti (who reigned from circa 2345-2333 BC) and Tetis son Pepi I (who reigned from circa 2332-2283 BC) and a usurper to the throne, who took power after Teti was murdered, perhaps in a conspiracy engineered by Userkare himself. His reign lasted just two to four years at most before he was ousted; afterwards he all but disappeared from history. Archaeologists are on the hunt for his missing tomb, to see what secrets it might reveal.

We must find Userkare, states the Egyptologist heading up the search, Dr Vassil (or Vasko) Dobrev of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo, in an exclusive video interview with Heritage Key by Nico Piazza. Otherwise we cannot continue to explain the history of the sixth dynasty.

Relief in the Tomb of Haunefer at SaqqaraDobrev has whittled the hunt for Userkares tomb down to a plateau in the south of the ancient necropolis of Saqqara the royal graveyard of the Egyptian capital Memphis where he has located numerous graves of priests and other high-ranking officials from the Sixth Dynasty.

He reasons that, since kings were never buried alone, Userkares tomb may be nearby.

Dobrevs team have 15 hectares in all to search a tall order indeed. They’ve excavated just one fifth of a hectare so far, finding 15 Sixth Dynasty tombs in that small area alone.

You never know archaeology, says Dobrev, sounding philosophical, you search for somebody you find somebody else.

He points to the discoverer of the tomb of King Tut as being a highly rare example of an archaeologist achieving what he set out to achieve.

Its only Howard Carter who found something clear, he says. He looked for something, he found something. It happens once per century.

Thats not to say Dobrev doesnt believe he wont get as lucky. Now were in the 21th century, the Frenchman adds, we can make it again. Who knows?

ArchaeoVideo: The Hunt for the lost Pharaoh Userkare

(You can find the transcript of this video here.)

See more great video interviews, such as Zahi Hawass talking about the search for KV64 and Dr Mark Lehner discussing the lives of pyramid builders in ancient Egypt, here on Heritage Key. Or visit our HeritageKey Media YouTube Channel to see what else we’ve discovered.

ArchaeoVideo: Prehistoric Paintings, The Swimmers and The Beast in Gilf Kebir

Its hard to imagine that anyone could have once lived on the Gilf Kebir, an arid, remote, desolate sandstone plateau the size of Switzerland, located in the far southwest of Egypt. Yet, as we discover in an exclusive new Heritage Key video report by Nico Piazza, around 10,000 years ago water, and with it vegetation and animal and human life, once ran through the barren land Egyptians today call the Great Barrier.

This long-forgotten prehistoric civilization that once called Gilf Kebir home left their mark in the form of cave paintings and other forms of rock art, in locations such as the spectacular Cave of Swimmers. Located in the 1930s by Hungarian Count and explorer Lszl Almsy (who was later fictionalised as the core character in Michael Ondaatjes book The English Patient, which was adapted into a multi-Academy Award-winning movie) it features images of scores of tiny people swimming elegantly across the walls.

The big question everyones asking is: what the heck are these animals?

Even they pale in comparison to the scenes depicted in the Foggini-Mestekawi Cave, however, discovered much more recently in 2003 by members of a party led by desert tours company Zarzora Expeditions. It bears silhouettes of dozens of hands (not dissimilar to Cueva de la Manos in Argentina) as well as representations of hunting, fishing, games, parents holding their childrens hands even, in some cases, what looks a bit like people taking dancing lessons.

Animals feature heavily too gazelles, giraffes, dogs and lions. Most strange and fascinating of all is the beast a weird, headless creature, with a body like a bull or elephant and the legs of a man. It features frequently, and often appears to be feasting on humans. The big question everyones asking, ponders tour guide Mahmoud Nour El Din in the video, is: what the heck are these animals?

ArchaeoVideo: Prehistoric Paintings in the Gilf Kebir

(What’s said in this short docu? If in doubt, check out the video’s transcription here,
or press the arrow in the right below corner of the player, chose ‘CC’ – close captions – and turn the subtitles on!)

They were probably imagined by the prehistoric Egyptian artists, and somehow represent their understanding of the transition from life to death. Hybrid creatures such as the god of the desert and chaos Set were a common element in the belief system of later Egyptian civilizations, many of whom worshipped animal cults. As Foggini-Mestekawi Cave proves, the germ of the idea of the afterlife and mans ability to communicate with it clearly began to gestate very early in the minds of Egyptians, in a long-forgotten corner of the cradle of civilization.

Sandro Vannini and the Lost Tombs of ThebesFascinated by ‘hidden heritage’ locations in Ancient Egypt?

Then make sure to watch this video, where Sandro Vannini and Nico Piazza take you on a journey exploring the Lost Tombs of the Theban necropolis.

Dr Janice Kamrin and Dr. Zahi Hawass supply us with more information on the over 800 tombs that can be found in the necropolis.

Each one of them is unique and offers us a glimpse into what life on earth must have been like in the Egypt of the Pharaohs.

Follow these experts while they explore TT69, TT79, TT104 and TT100, the tomb of Rekhmire.