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A Day Exploring Flinders Petrie’s World of Excavation and Collecting

Simon Eccles, Stephen Quirke and Bill Manley at the Burrell Collection for a Study Day on PetrieIt was a lovely sunny day throughout the UK and everyone at the exquisite Pollok Country Park was making the most of the sunshine. I walked passed the sunbathers to where The Burrell Collection is housed, to attend a Study Day about the work and life of Flinders Petrie, organized by Egyptology Scotland.

Magi Sloan, chairperson of Egyptology Scotland, did an excellent job of putting together three specialists on Petrie collections from different parts of the country: Professor Stephen Quirke from the Petrie Museum in London, Simon Eccles, senior curator of Ancient Civilizations at the Burrell Collection and responsible for Glasgow Museums Ancient Civilisations collection as well, and Dr. Bill Manley, former Senior Curator of Egyptian Scripts at the NMS in Edinburgh.

In the Footsteps of Petrie

The first to grab the microphone was Professor Quirke, offering us an introduction to Petries background and elaborating on his technical achievements such as the Great Pyramid survey. The discussion divided Petries career as an archaeologist in Egypt into phases and this meant that we could learn about Petries associates and his publications in relation to certain periods of his work, his excavations in Egypt and his personal notes on the men working for him. He had supervisors for excavations as he was not omnipresent, and he took pictures of many of them on site. Children also caught his artistic eye.

Many of the items in the collection are still in their post-war shelter. The new building housing the museum will be in the UCL complex, and three floors are needed to store everything and display them properly. 6,000 objects are on display, 2,000 are in drawers while 72,000 are in storage

He started by digging in Giza, followed by the Delta region (Tanis), the Fayum oasis area, Qift/Koptos (Upper Egypt), Naqada, Abydos and Um el-Qaab (the probable place for the tomb of Osiris) as well as Mit Rahina (Memphis). Professor Quirke explained that Petrie changed the way people thought about Egypt at the time. He found 3,000 burials in Naqada – a very important piece of information for the history of Egypt.

However, he was not an easy man to get on with and when he took a disliking to someone (for example other Egyptologists such as Naville or his workmen) he wrote about it in his diaries. At Qift, Petrie kept a journal where he classified people working with him as good, medium or bad. But despite his difficult personality, he nevertheless had a good relationship with his workers and they refused to go on strike at Petrie’s excavation sites even in 1919, when Egyptians were suffering from malnutrition, caused by revolution.

The Fayum phase started to be a recruiting ground for excavators, but the archaeological findings of this area did not satisfy Petrie, as he was not attracted to the Late Period. One curiosity is that Petrie bought locally produced beeswax to conserve the Fayum portraits. At Lahun or Kahun, he said:“When I first discovered the town in 1887, I asked an old man whom I met, what the name of it was, and he replied at once Kahun, and so it has been since called.”

The site is now being explored under a new team, which is picking up Petrie’s work. The El-Lahun Survey Project was initiated by the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. It is a multidisciplinary geo-archaeological fieldwork project that applies geodesic, GIS, archaeological and remote sensing methods to study the architectural landscape of the area in the neighbourhood of the modern village of el-Lahun.

Petrie’s Working Methods

Petrie’s fatal decision, according to Professor Quirke, was that he didn’t teach his co-workers how to record their findings and daily work. Petrie himself did not record everything because he did not have the techniques we have today. He used to pay Egyptians by the hour or by their findings, and there were sometimes disputes between him and the children who found beads at the site.

Click To Watch Video
Stephen Quirke on Amelia Edwards and The Petrie Museum
Heritage Key enters the Petrie Museum in London to talk to the curator Dr Stephen Quirke, who explains the importance of one of the co-founders of the Egypt Exploration Society – Amelia Edwards.

Hilda, his wife, helped his work by sketching the excavations and Petrie himself produced detailed drawings that recorded, for instance at a burial in a cemetery, the exact position of the body and the surrounding objects, as we do today, showing the original positions, intended for ritual purposes or not.

Petrie was a man of lists and he listed nearly everything. He describes the journey taken by his crates, moving his findings across the globe to the UK, to be re-distributed. The typical itinerary would be: from the excavation site to Cairo, from Cairo to the Alexandria port, then onto a steamboat, final destination being London, UK.

Some of these objects were dispatched by train from Euston to Glasgow and that is how they ended up in Scottish Collections.

Many of the pictures taken at his sites were made by Margaret Murray, his student and later also a prominent Egyptologist associated with collections found by Petrie both at the UCL in London and in Manchester. She was the pioneer of biomedical Egyptology as she unwrapped the first mummy, and got photographed doing it for posteriority.

Petrie and the NMSMuseums

The second talk titled Bricks at 12: Petrie and the NMS Museums was presented by Dr. Bill Manley. It began with a brief introduction to Petries ancestors and his relationship with Scotland and Scottish ancient Egyptian collections with a reference to the Egyptian mummy presented in 1819 by Coronel Straton at the museum in Edinburgh. When Petrie was not in Egypt excavating he went on tour all over the UK giving lectures about his findings. His pupil Margaret Murray published the Catalogue of Egyptian Antiquities in 1900.

The arrival of Iufenamun is discussed as he was brought to the UK by Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff, an engineer who did some work on dams in the Egyptian Delta and had this gift from the Egyptian government in recognition of his services. Iufenamun is currently on loan from the NMS to a special exhibition, ‘Ancient Egypt and Prehistoric Ayrshire’ from 8 May to 28 August 2010. He came from the famous royal cache, discovered officially in 1881 where many of the royal mummies were hidden.

Dr Manley also discusses Petrie’s protgs who worked with him in Egypt and learned his methods and the journey of some of his archaeological findings to the UK; some objects came by steamboat from Alexandria to Liverpool. He used to send his assistants first to Egypt to prepare the housing at the excavation site, with precise instructions on building. Another curiosity is his preoccupation with white ants.

The Qurneh queen, the famous coffin of a probable Nubian woman with her child is described by Dr. Manley. She was discovered in 1908 and there were issues concerning the jewellery found with her. The mummy was already scanned, seemed to have lived in good health and a facial reconstruction was done.

Petrie and the Glasgow Museum’s J May Buchanon Collection

The third talk of the day was from Dr. Simon Eccles, called Generosity and tragedy: Professor Flinders Petrie and Glasgow Museums’ J. May Buchanan Collection, and it started with a mention of the certificate given to Petrie by the city of Glasgow, which related to his loan of Egyptian artefacts. These included different kings’ cartouches, the original New Year Bottle – given by the mistress of the house to her husband at the New Year – and others. Dr. Eccles continued talking about the history of the Kelvingrove Galleries Egyptian collections, as the objects were first loaned by Ms. J. May Buchanan in 1902. These of course turned out to be permanent.

ashmolean<br /> museum hosts finds by Petrie

We learned that what inspired Petrie’s passion for Egyptology was the great modern advance of knowledge of the past, as the museum means the illustrations of the subjects.

Dr Eccles also touches on the story of how two Fayum portraits were misplaced and forgotten, having been badly stored in a way no one would see them, facing each other.

He also mentioned J. May Buchanan and her life as a fundraiser and organizer, which ended on a sad note. I did not know she died in an avoidable accident in 1912, hit by a tramcar while going to church.

Petrie gave many objects to J. May Buchanan’s collection, including copper needles and dancing wands. Other objects were donated by Nora F. Buchanan, including linen, beads, amulets and shabtis. The Egyptian Research Students Association added 142 more items including soul houses, offering vessels and stelae.

The coffin of Nakht, from Beni Hassan is a very interesting object showing a leopard skin on the lid, which could mean the owner was a priest. All these loans are in the permanent collection now.

Dr Eccles also discussed the concept of the archaeological object, noting that what we classify as an object today is in some cases not the same as what was considered to be an object in the early 1900s. He said that this means there might be more material in private hands than we know of. For example, pot shards and uninscribed shabtis were not registered as objects as they were not complete. Petrie gave many objects away because he did not consider them to be worthy of a collection.

Petrie’s Collection Today

A brief documentary about The Petrie Museum was shown next. ‘Returning the Petrie Collection’ is a film by Louis Buckley, featuring students of different subjects in London speaking about their feelings towards the museum and its collection. The documentary is about the return of some selected objects from their America tour. This proved that the fascination for Egyptology has not disappeared. Some 25 crates were packed and transported to Kentucky, South Carolina, Miami and California and were visited by 100,000 people.

Many of the items in the collection are still in their post-war shelter. The new building housing the museum will be in the UCL complex, and three floors are needed to store everything and display them properly. 6,000 objects are on display, 2,000 are in drawers while 72,000 are still in storage.

Professor Quirke says: when it rains hard in London, I stay awake. His concern for the collection is caused by some objects already in danger of water damage. He finished his introduction to the documentary by saying: “A growing problem for museums is to determine which items to show and what really interests people as we cannot assume what others might be interested in.

I really enjoyed this day as I learned more about Petrie and Egyptology. It is always a pleasure to meet new colleagues and spend time discussing projects with friends within the Egyptology field. I hope more events like these are organized in the future!

In the Footsteps of Petrie: a Study Day at Glasgow’s Burrell Collection

The Burrell Collection (Glasgow)I will soon be visiting Scotland for a exciting archaeological event. No, it won’t involve traipsing around soggy fields looking for cup and ring marked stones. Instead, I will be finding out about one of Egyptology’s most respected figures, William Flinders Petrie.

In the Footsteps of Petrie is a study day dedicated to the life of Petrie, founder, along with Amelia Edwards, of the Petrie Museum. The event will be held at the exquisite Burrell Collection in Glasgow, and will explore Petries life of excavation and collecting.

A lineup of Egyptologists from across Britain’s museums will offer lectures, a film projection and a roundtable discussion – see the full schedule below.

Click To Watch Video
Stephen Quirke on Amelia Edwards and The Petrie Museum
Heritage Key enters the Petrie Museum in London to talk to the curator Dr Stephen Quirke, who explains the importance of one of the co-founders of the Egypt Exploration Society – Amelia Edwards.

I am looking forward to all the lectures; I know Prof. Quirke is going to talk about his personal experience with the Petrie archives and artifacts at the museum, maybe some news about the museum new venue and some details about the contents of Petrie’s letters and journals (read Heritage Key’s interview with Prof. Quirke here). Quirke recently spoke at the launch of the exhibition Framing the Archaeologist: Portraits and Excavation, which looked at photographs to examine Petrie’s work in Egypt.

Dr. Manley is going to tell us about the National Museum Scotland’s collection. The museums are undergoing massive redevelopment as part of the Royal Museum Project, with some Egyptian antiquities being sent out on loan, and others remaining in storage until the opening of the refurbished museum in 2011.

I still haven’t met Dr. Eccles but I am sure it will also be very fascinating and interesting to know about the Glasgow Museums’ J. May Buchanan Collection (displayed at The Burrell). A very beautiful collection, my favourite being the bronze figure of a mongoose (Herpestes Ichneumon).

Schedule of Talks

  • 10.30: Dr Stephen Quirke In the Footsteps of Petrie
  • 11.30: Coffee Break
  • 12:00 Dr Bill Manley Bricks at 12: Petrie and the NMS Museums
  • 13:00: Lunch (not provided)
  • 14.30: Simon Eccles – Generosity and tragedy: Professor Flinders Petrie and Glasgow Museums’ J. May Buchanan Collection”
  • 15.30: Returning the Petrie Collection a film by Louis Buckley introduced by Dr Stephen Quirke
  • 16.00: Closing panel roundtable with all of the speakers

How to Look Ten Years Older: Photos From the Scanning of a Mummy in Porto

The mummy in question was brought to Porto after some exchanging of merchandise between Portugal and Germany in the years following the First World War. Image Credit - Paula Veiga.A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to take part in the scanning of a female mummy from ancient Egypt, and to take photos to document the experience. This young girl was only around 25 at the age of death, and survived in relative peace for thousands of years. In the last century, however, she’s been used as a bargaining tool by the Germans, survived attacks by torpedos and fires, and even suffered physical traumas. I discovered that the scientific analysis of a young mummy can show us a lot about the life in ancient Egypt, but tell us even more about her afterlife, in our custody.

Swaps With Germany

The mummy in question was brought to Porto after some exchanging of merchandise between Portugal and Germany in the years following the First World War. The cargo of the ship Cheruskia consisted of pieces found by German excavations from 1903 to 1914 in Assur by Walter Andrae, an eminent German Assyriologist of the early 20th century. As part of an agreement made with Great Britain, Portugal imprisoned 70 German ships anchored at Portuguese ports in 1916. But Germany declared war on Portugal on March 9th. Cheruskia was seized at Lisbon by Portuguese authorities in April 1916, and, while interned at Lisbon, renamed Leixes. But the ship wasn’t safe yet – after the war, in 1918,it was torpedoed by the German submarine U-155 south of Newfoundland.

It stayed at Lisbons docks, in the Tagus river, for some years, and its cargo was sent to Portos Faculty of Letters to be identified and studied by a team of French Assyriologists. The valuable Assur artefacts were returned to Germany after they insisted on their repatriation. Some Egyptian Artefacts were given to Portugal as a gift in exchange. The documents read: ‘Offered to Portugal in 1926 by German authorities in exchange for the spoil brought from Assur by the Germans that was imprisoned by Porto University’.

These Egyptian artefacts came as part of a mixed bag of ancient objects from Berlin’s collection. They went to Portos Faculty of Letters where they stayed until 1928, when they were passed on to the Faculty of Sciences. The collection was transferred to Museum Mendes Corra where it stayed from 1940 onwards. In 1996, the Natural History Museum of the Sciences in Porto integrated the Egyptian Collection displayed at the Mendes Corra Archaeology and Pre-History Room. This collection has been housed in the Faculty of Sciences Museum since 1996, but the Museum suffered a fire, and so the collection is now stored to be exhibited at what will be the new Mendes Correa Anthropology Museum in 2011.

The total of 102 pieces was listed in 1996, sponsored by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, but nothing – catalogue or study report – was ever published. Two mummies came with this gift collection, and they are dated probably from the Late Period or Ptolemaic Period; a male mummy, completely wrapped (scanned and analyzed in November 2007 with some evaluation still in progress) and a female mummy, completely unwrapped – this is the mummy that I got the chance to see.

State of the Mummy

So how did our mummy fare throughout this?Well, remarkably well, in general, but one particular part of the mummy was showing excessive wear and tear – her teeth. This presented a dilemma – she appeared to have the constitution of a young adult, but the teeth of somebody at least ten years older.

Teeth are one of the most reliable sources of information regarding the determination of age-at-death, along with the pubic symphysis, the midline cartilaginous joint uniting the superior rami of the left and right illiacs. In this case doubt had arisen between the members of the team at the hospital, as the teeth showed extensive abrasive texture and couldn’t be indicative of the real age.

The abrasion in teeth of ancient Egyptians was caused primarily by their diet; bread and other food was prepared in open air and caught sand particles. This made chewing very hard and besides caries, periodontal disease and premature tooth loss, it also made many ancient Egyptians suffer from temporomandibular disfunction (this articulation connects the skull to the mandible allowing the mouth to open and close).

Infections like gengivitis and rotten teeth were common, but this one only missed a couple of teeth or so, so she was in pretty good shape for an ancient Egyptian.

The accuracy of these scans is very high and we can get proof of her exact real age from her teeth. In fact, all we need is one tooth – or even just a bit of a root. Scientists use a process called ‘dentin translucency’ to determine the age of the mummy from the teeth. This involves microscopic examination of the root’s dentin. A proposal to do this test was indicated by an odontologist present at the scanning. Let’s hope this project gets the funding to do all the tests needed…

The mummy also showed signs of stress marks on the atlas, and we discussed whether she might have carried weights on her head.

Evidence of Trauma

Our mummy did have evidence of trauma in the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae, and three lumbar vertebrae show trauma resulting from the impact of different objects (one perforating object and another cutting one). These didn’t seem to have killed our sturdy young lady, and were probably inflicted after her death. Any of the following might have caused the injury:

  • An apprentice mummification professional, not really sure where to pierce, maybe tryied to cut the kidneys out of the body
  • Tomb robbers looking for jewellry in the thoracic/pelvic areas tryied to extract the amulets and gemstones, piercing the body and causing the damage seen on the vertebrae.
  • The body was mishandled some way while still in Egypt, perhaps while changing sarcophagi, or moving from the tomb to the market/seller/warehouse
  • The body was damaged in Germany while moving the mummy – she has no case and I believe she arrived in Portugal in a simple wood box; maybe the one she is still in.

This is an ongoing project but I know everyone is curious about Egyptian mummies’ mysteries and the paradoxes science unveils today with the help of new technologies. Looking at a single mummy in detail like this helps us to see that they are human and, like us, subject to trauma, accidents, disease, and aging. But they are all beautiful. At least to me.

King Tut’s Medical History and Autopsy Report

Tut's face We are just learning fresh news about research on King Tut’s mummy, in advance of tomorrow’s publication in the American Medical Journal of the results of the most recent DNA and other tests. Over the years, there have been many different theories, but now we can scientifically prove what killed the Boy King, his parentage, and other health conditions affecting him at the time of his death.

Early Research

KV62 – Tut’s tomb – was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Multiple attempts at proving kinship between various royal mummies have been made since then, including tests by Connolly (1976), Flaherty (1984) and Harrison (1969). In the case of Tutankhamun and Smenkhare, these tests have included estimates of both mummies’ blood groups in order to compare them.

Both mummies share the same rare blood type (group A2, and both with the serum antigen MN), suggesting close consanguinity.

In 2000, Tutankhamun was due for testing again. This time, a Japanese team would attempt tot extract DNAfrom the mummy. Shortly after the announcement was made, the Egyptian government decided to revise the granted permissions, and the planned geneaology and paleopathology research was cancelled.

The Two Fetuses – King Tut’s Daughters

In the case of the two fetuses found in KV62, the DNAtest confirmed a theory. The two girls have different body shapes, but their DNAwould quickly prove if they really are sisters, and even twins – as suggested by Connolly. He believes the difference are symptoms of a rare event in which one twin consumes more nutrients from the mother than the other, and is therefore born much bigger and stronger. Dr. Connolly explained this theory to me himself, when I was attending Manchesters KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology in 2008.

Premature or severely ill newborn babies hardly ever survived in Ancient Egypt, and often a child died in the mother’s womb. It is very probable that Tutankhamun’s daughters are an example of this, as they were far from full-grown: they died at five and six months gestation.

One of Tut's daughters

The First CT-scans

In 2005, Madeeha Katthab, Dean of the Medical Department of Cairo University, together with his team and aided by specialists from Italy and Switzerland, performed a CAT scan of Tutankhamun’s mummy (using equipment kindly donated by National Geographic and Siemens Medical Solutions).

Based on these scans, in 2007, Dr. Benson Harer was the first to suggest that King Tut’s early death might have been linked to the pharoah’s leg.

An interesting detail worth mentioning from Harer’s research is that if Tutankhamun had a deficient immune system, ancient Egyptians were already knowledgeable in this area. Black cumin oil was known in Egypt as a stimulant and as an reinforcing agent for the immune system. When the tomb of Tutankhamun was first opened, archaeologists discovered a bottle of black cumin oil, no doubt gifted to the King to ensure a painless afterlife.

Where Was His Willy?

Not related, but too funny not to mention, is that Tutankhamuns lost phallus had been hiding in the sandbox (the sand around the mummy) since the 1960s. The missing member generated a lot of controversy; it is clearly present in Burton’s photographs, but at a certain point disappears from the (not Burton) picture. King Tut’s member was rediscovered by Dr Hawass in 2006, who found that it had never left the sandbox after all.

The Murder Conspiracy

Speculations about Tut’s cause of death – and his missing penis – started in 1968, when a team from Liverpool University, led by Professor Ronald Harrison, X-rayed Tutankhamun’s body in his tomb. These images revealed a possible blunt force injury to the back of the King’s head and the presence of what looked like bone fragments inside the skull.

I learned from Dr. Connolly (I also had a glance at the original X-rays myself) that the bone fragments inside Tutankhamuns skull, commonly called the vault, were small fragments from the smallest bones we have in the skull next to the eyes and nose (nasal, lachrymal and palatine). These tiny bones break easily, so could have well been damaged in the process of mummification.

tut's legs

Break a Leg

The pathological condition that King Tut suffered in his leg was a bone inflammation that, according to the recent released article, was enhanced by his weakened immunity system.

Sir Marc Armand Ruffer studied several Egyptian bodies. Writing in 1921, he described the typical condition of leg bones: “In contrast to the spine, the femurs showed, as a rule, but slight lesions, and even these did not occur often. Altogether only nine femurs showed any lesions, the most pronounced of which, at the upper end.”

Osteomyelitis is the inflammation of the marrow cavity; thirty-one cases were noted on twenty-six individuals from the Predynastic cemetery at Naga ed-Der. The tibia and maxilla are the most frequent affected bones, with ten examples known for the tibia.

Elliot Smith and Wood Jones nevertheless concluded that inflammatory diseases of bone were rarely seen in ancient Egyptian skeletons. New data published show they also found that “the left second metatarsal head was strongly deformed and displayed a distinctly altered structure, with areas of increased and decreased bone density indicating bone necrosis.”

One Pharoah, 130 Walking Sticks

The deformities found in King Tut’s foot indicate that the disease was ongoing at the time of his death. Since Howard Carter discovered 130 whole and partial examples of sticks and canes in the kings tomb, we might say that ancient Egyptians prepared themselves well for the afterlife. These finds support the hypothesis of a walking aid being a necessity for the young kings travel after death. Some of the canes found in KV62 are worn, which consolidates the idea that he must have needed some kind of cane to walk.

A Rather Rare Physiognomy?

According to Dr. Corthals, genotype defines phenotype, so, the application of DNA testing can also help to determinate if the strange physiognomy observed in depictions of Akhenaten and his children – possibly including Tutankhamun – may derive from a genetic corridor set up by his ancestors, meaning a genetically-inherited feature.

During the New Kingdom, the environment did not changed substantially enough to disrupt a genetic trace, so it would be possible to confirm Akhenatens genetic characteristic and its passage to his offspring.

The research also concludes that the KV55 mummy, who is most probably Akhenaten, is probably the father of Tutankhamun

The newly published article in JAMA states that “a Marfan diagnosis cannot be supported in these mummies.” This means that all the theories suggesting feminine traits in this dynasty crumble, as science – once again – proves them wrong.

The full text reads: “Macroscopic and radiological inspection of the mummies did not show specific signs of gynecomastia, craniosynostoses, Antley-Bixler syndrome or deficiency in cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase, Marfan syndrome, or related disorders.”

Another fascinating part of this study is that, in many cases, DNA analysis (see how they take the samples in this photo preview of ‘King Tut Unwrapped’) provides information that makes it possible to detect an otherwise invisible infection.

Akhenaten is the Father of King Tut (Probably)

The research also concludes that the KV55 mummy, who is most probably Akhenaten, is probably the father of Tutankhamun. According to the latest scientific data published today in the JAMA (Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family), “Syngeneic Y-chromosomal DNA in the Amenhotep III, KV55, and Tutankhamun mummies indicates that they share the same paternal lineage.”

KV55 is thought to have housed Akhenatens body and the article clearly states that “…the KV55 mummy, who is most probably Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamun. The latter kinship is supported in that several unique anthropological features are shared by the 2 mummies and that the blood group of both individuals is identical.”

However, this does not mean the identification of the mummy in KV55 is conclusive.

A Mean Case of Malaria

Last but not least, after PCR amplification of DNA samples they found indicative proof of at least a double infection with the P falciparum parasite (malaria) in Tutankhamun, as well as the mummies of his ancestors Thuya and Yuya. The type diagnosed is malaria tropica, the most severe form of this disease. Although Tut’s relatives suffered from malaria as well, they lived much longer than him. Apossible explanation is that, although they all lived in a malaria endemic area, the ladies did not suffer from the same other pathologies (almost all of the above) that Tutankhamun did.

The photos of Tut and his daughters I’ve mentioned can be consulted in a publication by Leek F. The Human Remains from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Oxford, UK: Tutankhamun Tomb Series V; 1972. More bibliography on the serological tests, previous tests done on Tut and his daughters can be browsed in the JAMA article references list.

Could Frankincense Revolutionise Cancer Treatment?

Fanner of FrankincenseThe ancient Egyptians were well aware of the properties of Frankincense, and used it to treat phlegm, asthma, throat and larynx infections that bleed, and for calming down vomiting. The inhalation of the melted stem relieves both bronchitis and laryngitis. But new research by immunologist Mahmoud Suhail suggests that it may contain properties that could cure cancer. Could the knowledge of the ancient Egyptians be scoured to revolutionise cancer treatment today?

Frankincense is grown in green valleys, on the other side of the Dhofar Mountains that catch India’s summer monsoons, making the area a paradise in the Arabian Peninsula. Boswellia sacra was produced there as far back as 7000 BCE, locals say. Almost as long ago, the ancient Egyptians began importing the substance. The journey from what is now Oman to ancient Egypt must have been made millions of times by ancient caravanserai.

The Egyptians had many uses for Frankinsence. The kohl, which the Egyptians painted their around their eyes, and which was also effective as a eyetreatment, is made of melted frankincense (the charred remains of the burnt frankincense was ground into a black powder), and other resins.They used it as a depilation agent, blended it with other herbs into a paste to perfume the hands. In colder weather Egyptians warmed their bedrooms with a fire infused with frankincense and also aloe wood. In fact the word ‘incense’ originally means the aroma given by the smoke of any odourific substance when burned.

Evidence of Frankincense

On the Ebers Papyrus several prescriptions use resins as ingredients for treatments. On the Treatise of Tumours section of my work Oncology and Infectious Diseases in ancient Egypt: The Ebers Papyrus? Treatise on Tumours 857-877 and the cases found in ancient Egyptian human material, incense is prescribed in prescription number 861, and in the section about liver diseases, in prescriptions 477, 478, 479, 480.

The use of frankincense is reported in the embalming ritual is described in two Papyri, dating from the Greco-Roman period: Papyrus Bulaq 3, housed in Cairo, and Papyrus 5158, in the Louvre. The ancient Egyptians used incense oil along with fragranced resins. Boswellia africana and arabica was used in the embalmment process, as was the Sudanese Boswellia papyrifera. The resin worked as glue, to help the linen bandages adhere.

Egypte, muse de Nubie  AssouanIn Isis and Osiris, Plutarch comments that Egyptian priests burn incense three times a day: incense (pure) at dawn, myrrh at noon, and kyphi at sunset. Kyphi was a compound of incense used in ancient Egypt for religious and medical purposes. The mixture was rolled into balls and burnt in hot coal to exhale its perfume.

The Harris Papyrus I has a record of a donation and delivery of plants and resins for its manufacture in the temples from Ramesses III. He describes how the 16 ingredients of kyphi were mixedtogether whilst sacred writings were chanted.

Plutarch adds that the mixture was used as a potion. All kyphi prescriptions mention wine, honey and raisins. Other ingredients include cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), aromatic rhizomes from cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), cedar, juniper berries, incense resins, myrrh, benzoin resin, extracted mainly from Styrax benzoides and Styrax benzoin (which would have been imported to Egypt from Asia), and mastic gum.

Searching for the Magic Ingredient

Now, immunologist Mahmoud Suhail from Iraq is teaming up with more scientists in Oklahoma to find out how some agent within frankincense stops cancer spreading, and which induces cancerous cells to close themselves down.

“Cancer starts when the DNA code within the cell’s nucleus becomes corrupted,” he says in an interview with the BBC. “It seems frankincense has a re-set function. It can tell the cell what the right DNA code should be”.

In his laboratory in Salalah, he extracts separate oils from locally produced frankincense, then he separates the oil into its constituent agents, such as Boswellic acid. In the BBC interview, he says:

“There are 17 active agents in frankincense essential oil. We are using a process of elimination. We have cancer sufferers – for example, a horse in South Africa – and we are giving them tiny doses of each agent until we find the one which works.”

What was used yesterday with so many applications related to the general well-being of people can now be researched as a probable ingredient for a cure for cancerigenous cells in the people of today and tomorrow.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous… Egyptians

The rich and famous people of ancient Egypt lived a decadent lifestyle with fine wine, sex, high fashion, and plenty of partying. How do they compare with their equivalents today – the modern western celebrity set?

The main differences might be regarding who were the richest people then, and who are the richest people now. In ancient Egypt the pharaoh was at the top of the pyramid and his family, noble people who owned land, and the priests came after. Scribes, architects and doctors were well off, and skilled craftsmen also had many privileges.

Peasants and unskilled workers were low down the scale of Egyptian society, but it was the servants and slaves that skirted the bottom of the class pyramid. Those working in mines and quarries were really asking for trouble, as diseases, physical strain and dangers lurked in every turned stone in the desert. Slaves working in rich domestic environments were the lucky ones as they were assured security, housing and food. Many of these endured hard physical work and usually died young as we can see from the osteological remains found at Amarna site analyzed by Dr. Jerome Rose which proved that people building those megalomaniac buildings for Akhenaton died young with severe bone lesions.

Jobs For the Boys

Men in the armed forces, like today, were not wealthy in Ancient Egypt.. a similar story today. Image Credit - The US Army.Men in the armed forces, army and navy were not afforded a high social status, and neither were entertainers. Members of the armed forces are still not wealthy today, and face the same dangers. Many still die in wars like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, or return with physical and mental injuries that haunt them for life.

However, it is somewhat different now regarding entertaining. Although there are still many badly-paid wannabes, entertainers today are amongst the richest people on the planet. Beyonce (who Zahi Hawass called “a stupid woman” because of her lack of interest while touring ancient Egyptian monuments with him), Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell are some of today’s high-earners.

Professions were usually hereditary, not chosen; a man followed his fathers trade and so on. We also have that today as seen for example by the careers of actor Martin Sheen and his sons (both actors) Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez or Gwyneth Paltrow, famous actress and daughter of Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner (both actors too). And of course, there’s the Bush ‘dynasty’ in US politics.

Scribes were the top dogs in the sphere of learning and teaching. Not every child was able to learn how to read and write; this was restricted to those following the scribe profession. We can compare this to the present computer industry where people like Bill Gates and Larry Page rule the world of communications and fight for more people using their scripts. A paradox: we can have hieroglyphics in our cellphones now.

These days the situation is different, as the presidents and kings of nations might not be the richest people in their country. The priests of any religion nowadays are not the richest people, that is for sure, as cults and religions are not considered as economically important in society as they were back then.

Gotta Get to… the Temple

Priests loved to eat and drink well. They had all those succulent leftovers from the rituals at the temple to take home. That is why arteriosclerosis (high cholesterol) was found in ancient Egyptian mummies. Unlike today, when there’s a branch of Greggs (British bakery chain, famous for its sausage rolls) on every corner it seems, in ancient Egypt, only the elite could afford such a decadent disease!

Different kinds of meat were available for the elite: beef, veal, antelope and gazelle meat. The poor ate mostly birds such as geese, ducks, quails, cranes, and from the New Kingdom onwards raised their domestic poultry animals. Different fish from the Nile were consumed, though some were forbidden because of the myth of Osiris where he travelled along the Nile and the Mediterranean Sea while dismembered by his evil brother Seth. The fish were most frequently dried in the sun.

Sweeteners were different too; the rich used honey, while the poor used dates, left to ferment in the heat.

Booze Nation

100_0055Similarly to today perhaps, wine was the booze of choice for high society individuals. Fine wines were labelled with the date, vineyard and variety as the tax assessors requested, such as the ones found in Tutankhamuns tomb.

Beer was the poison of the masses. Rich people also drank beer though… loads of it, in fact.

People loved to drink, as they do today, according to maximas written in the New Kingdoms The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep, a vizier under King Isesi of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty (c. 2414-2375 BC).

These writings functioned as advice and were intended to be directed to his son. There are several copies available today; the Prisse Papyrus dating from the Middle Kingdom, at the Bibliothque Nationale in Paris, and two slightly different versions at the British Museum.

Ptahotep explains why he wrote these; he had reached old age and wanted to leave a legacy of good sense instructions to his son. These are rules on how to be kind, just, peaceful, and on how to behave in the correct manner in general. Among those there were some pieces of advice on how bad your reputation gets (it goes down the drain, really), if you drink too much. Just like what happened to Charlie Sheen and his wife last Christmas…

Grand Designs

As homes were built with adobe bricks, none of these buildings survived. The most modest houses, for the poorest people, were built with straw, palm leaves and also some rudimentary bricks, and were incapable of resisting the winds and sands of centuries. The houses built for the rich and powerful were obviously different from the ones built for

In an ancient Egyptian version of the Emmys or the Oscars, guests such as Victoria Beckam, Ivana Trump or Paris Hilton would all have wigs, and perhaps also burning perfume cones, on their heads.

labourers and farmers.The two main differences were: materials and space.

Not that the rich all had golden taps, literally made of gold, like Saddam Husseins, in their bathrooms, or Carrara marble like many rich people do today. But, for example, wood was expensive in Egypt. Egyptian trees did not provide the best wood for furniture-building, so the good stuff was imported from Byblos present Lebanon. Furniture made of good wood was only found in the homes of the rich. Wooden beds and wooden headrests featuring gods protecting the occupants from demons were not available for lower classes.

Rugs from Persia, ebony and ivory pieces from African kingdoms, golden vases, jewellery and sculptures from Nubia, various precious stones and gold ornaments were some of the treats rich people could afford in ancient Egypt. As far as we know, they didn’t have their own version of Hello magazine in which to show off their interior decor.

The equivalent to present day Beverley Hills or the Hamptons, the rich had their patch of land outside the city, where they had room for orchards and vineyards. The poor were clustered together on the outskirts in small brick houses. An example of housing for the poor were the villages expressly built for workers like the one at Deir el-Medina – similar to the workers camps outside Dubai.

Dressed to Party

Another distinctive trait of rich people in ancient Egypt was the use of wigs, made with sheep or real human hair, and worn at parties and in domestic environments as well as at festival and important cults. Fashion thrived, and found its victims amongst the wig wearers. In an ancient Egyptian version of the Emmys or the Oscars, guests such as Victoria Beckam, Ivana Trump or Paris Hilton would all have wigs, and perhaps also burning perfume cones, on their heads.

Sandals were the footwear of choice in Ancient Egypt, although more of a summer option in the modern age. Image credit - Sarah Felicity.But what about the gowns? It seems from archaeological findings that everyone wore tunics. Men wore them down to their knees and women down to their ankles. These tunics were made from linen, from the Flax plant very abundant across the Mediterranean. Not the choice of Victoria Beckam for sure!

Like a school uniform, people found a way to customise the ubiquitous tunic. Richer individuals wore their tunics folded, as depicted in art, with some with gold lines and designs. Add on the jewellery and the headdresses, and there was no way could you mistake a celeb for her personal assistant.

Sandals (ankh) were worn by everyone (without socks, you’ll be pleased to hear). The difference was that poorer people could only afford papyrus or palm fibre sandals, while richer individuals had their sandals woven in leather. There were no high heels like the ones models refused to put on at the latest Alexander McQueen fashion show!

Men and women wore makeup (the rich ones). Kohl for eyes was also used as a protective balm as many of the medical papyri prescriptions suggest, and henna was worn on the lips and nails. Tattoos were common, applied to both the living and the deceased. Today tattoos are becoming common amongst all types of people, and many male celebs slap on the face paint as well as the women.

Love, Sex and Adultery in Ancient Egypt

NYC - Brooklyn Museum - Kneeling Statue of Senenmut

Women had more freedom than their counter parts in Mesopotamia, for instance, but never as much as Paris Hilton and pals. Egyptians married young, very young indeed, and, in royal families, between themselves. Childbirth was dangerous but encouraged in ancient Egypt – prosperity was a goal for everyone and that included having a big family.

The love and sex lives of the Egyptians were as complicated as they are today. Turin’s famous Erotic Papyrus assures us that the Egyptians were sexually adventurous, with a penchant for naked belly-dancing, and collections of love poetry from the Amarna era reveal that they were also big romantics.

According to Angelina Jolie in recent news fidelity is not essential in her relationship with Brad Pitt, but adultery is one of the oldest reasons for divorce, death and depression – the 3 Ds – and in ancient Egypt as in most of the modern world, women often still file for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Divorce was legal and the problems arising from it were usually when it involved property that had to be divided. The bigger the stake – the bigger the battle, as the recent multi-million divorce case between ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and Heather Mills clearly illustrates.

The love and sex lives of the rich and famous captivated the less fortunate in ancient Egypt just as the romances of Jordan and Peter Andre or ‘Bradjelina’ do today. The alleged affair between Hatshepsut and Senenmut clearly occupied the minds of workers at Deir el-Medina – one of them drew a caricature of their love affair in an ostracon. Then, as now, there would always be somebody who didn’t approve!

Playboys of the Ancient World

There are many similarities between the leisure pursuits of the rich and famous now and in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians practised many sports, including hunting and fishing (still high on the country gent’s agenda), and wrestling, which has perhaps suffered some decline in status over the centuries.

King Tutankhamun enjoyed riding a horse-drawn chariot, which ultimately caused his death. Perhaps comparable to the death of Princess Di in a fast car? Image Credit - Sandro Vannini.Like now, the rich had a need for speed. They loved racing horses and chariots (after the horse was introduced in Egypt), just as the modern elite love their fast cars. It was a dangerous passion that possibly caused Tutankhamuns death as well as James Deans, but led rich playboy Lord Carnarvon to his career as an explorer.

Dinner parties, or banquets, were also frequent in rich houses with dancing, drinking and maybe sex included – just as today.

No scientific proof of the use of recreational drugs in ancient Egypt has been found yet, but jars from Cyprus found in Egyptian sites reveal that they used opium as medicine. Now, there is a growing practice of the legitimate use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, to treat MS amongst other complaints. No doubt Amy Winehouse and Pete Docherty have used ‘medicinal purposes’ as an erroneous excuse at some point too.

Celebs Behind Bars? Not in Egypt

Scandals like the 1970s allegation of a young girls homicide by the hand of director Roman Polanski (linked to sex offenses) are not known to ancient Egypt.

However, the ancient world wasn’t without its bad boys. High treason and attempts to the kings life were among the top crimes to be punished in ancient Egypt. Robbery existed but there is no evidence of homicides or other death crimes. Justice was Maat, the supreme balance against chaos, and everything in life had to be done accordingly. Just as we respect our Constitutions and laws, ancient Egyptians had their laws and ordinances. Viziers and judges were appointed by the pharaoh to decide upon requests for intercession.

Forget not to judge justice. It is an abomination of the god to show partiality. This is the teaching. Therefore, do you accordingly. Look upon him who is known to you like him who is unknown to you; and him who is near the king like him who is far from his house. Behold, a prince who does this, he shall endure here in this place. From The Instructions of Rekhmire, in The Wisdom of Ancient Egypt by Joseph Kaster.

So, it seems like the rich and famous of ancient Egypt had a lot in common with today’s celebs when it came to lifestyle choices. They could probably drink, race, eat and party our paltry lot under the table – but when it comes down to it, they were a lot better behaved.

Video: The Lifestyle Objects of the Most Famous Egyptian Celeb – King Tut

(Read the transcript on the video page)

CRE XI – Religion and more Religion; Egyptology versus Egyptomania

Paula Veiga CRE XICRE XI’s Religion Day – if you’ve missed day 1 of the Egyptology conference, read up here – started off with Susanne Tpfer from Leipzig. In this very very interesting session, we all heard about how some papyri describing embalming rituals can have direct connections to religion myths as the body and the afterlife were treated with the best care.

Many publications have been published on Papyrus Boulaq 3 in Cairo, from 1871 to 2009. The position of body parts, the instructions on the application of anointments and other products onto the body of the deceased, how the bandages should be wrapped and of course the words to be recited over these proceedings as nothing was effective in ancient Egypt if it did not include magic. The body was prepared first and the head was done afterwards with special requisitions. Osiris is mentioned in the recitations as all deceased become Osiris at some point.

The session continued with Jared Krebsbach from Memphis, talking about how and why the Persians in Egypt have chosen Atum over Osiris to be their main worshipped god.

Osiris green: his body represented in medicinal plants

I presented my own research after this and explained how the deification of plants can be done by analyzing plant references in religious papyri and comparing those with the ingredients from medical papyris prescriptions. Osiris is then portrayed to be green not only as the god of agricultural since Neolithic times but also as the mentor of rejuvenation for ancient Egyptians as well. Egypt was called kemet in ancient times which means the black land and uses green as its national colour today.

Renate Dekker CRE XI In the afternoon some sessions were cancelled due to bad weather in the UK which prevented some speakers to fly but the early Christianity session was one of the best for me, in this conference so far.

Early Christianity in Egypt

Renate Dekker had the chance to present her own paper on Pesynthios, a Coptic bishop, and she showed the audience how the research is going reading letters from the bishop scattered around the world. Fragments are to be found in Florence, paris and England as well as new York and Egypt of course.

She reviewed Walter Crums research on Coptic language as he studied some of these letters, and she explained how the project in Leiden is aiming to get accurate translations, list names and toponyms, identify scribes, reconstruct the social context where the letters existed, and distinguish between the various types of letters. Some of the papyri where the letters are written were reused so we have a letter to one bishop in the verso and another to another bishop in the recto.

Joost Hagen CRE XI Next Joost Hagen showed us the stage of his own research on Nubian churches and the documents found in buildings now under the waters of the Nile. The chronology of the monasteries use the Muslims invasions, the Ottomans presence, and the dichotomy between Greek and Coptic in Christian Egypt, kings that could be bishops and the amount of materials found in Qasr Ibrim: textiles, pottery, and documents.

Virtual Reconstruction of Qubbat al-Hawa

Renate Dekker returned to present Howard Middleton-Jones work on the Coptic database project, more precisely on the virtual reconstruction of Qubbat al-Hawa church. Part of a monastery, this church got its name from the geographical position (it means the mountain of wind) and also the patrons name. Built in the Xth century and consecrated in the XIIth century. Using high resolution images it is possible to help the conservation projects as well as capture the art and inscriptions in situ.

Miguel Versluys CRE XI

Egyptology vs Egyptomania

Our evening lecture of today, given by Miguel Versluys, focused on the terms Egyptology versus Egyptomania. Egyptomania is thought to be everything that is not the real thing as he stated.

The discussion included, for instance, Alexandria which is geographically located in Egypt but associated with classical culture. Egyptian symbols and language was widely spread among the Mediterranean world and foreign rulers in Egypt used Egyptian styles and motifs in Egypt.

How did the Egyptian people felt about that? The same person could have Greek and Egyptian names. Egyptian artifacts provenance and dating is done how? Was it made in Egypt?

Rome is considered to be a successor culture to Egypt. And Egyptian is something in itself. Alexandria shops had clients all over the world and manufactured pieces both Egyptian and Classical even the Macedonian kings like Alexander the great used Egyptian iconography to identify himself with Egyptian power.

We then moved on the restaurant for our dinner party which was extraordinary; food was exquisite and service was great! We all felt very cozy in there and chatted along the eveningmore to follow tomorrow on the last day. Dont miss out the report for tomorrow! In the mean while, you can also read up on the highlights of CREXI’s day one.

Looking Forward to Speaking (and Listening) at ‘Current Research in Egyptology’ in Leiden

osiris (RMO Leiden)

Another exciting CRE conference is about to begin today, as I write this, this time and for the first time ever in Leiden, The Netherlands. Current Research in Egyptology (CRE) has always happened in The UK but, last time, at Liverpool, no one from UK universities wanted it, so our beloved colleagues from Leiden applied and won!

CRE is the best way to show your work, explain your research, collect contacts from all over the world and get access to books that don’t exist in your country either by buying them at sale prices or by browsing the nicest libraries in the UK and now Leiden.

I started my international approach by coming to CRE for the first time in 2005. Along the way I met famous Egyptologists, made friends with people of different nationalities, and got all kind of information relevant for my research.
I am very glad to be here for the first time as Leiden is famous for its library and the quality of teaching. I am sure it will be a very successful event!

This year, I am going to present a session called Osiris’ green: his body represented in medicinal plants. The session in which my presentation is included, Tuesday January 7th, from 9.30 to 11.30, is about religion.

The papers include a session by Susanne Tpfer about embalming and its instructions on Papyri Boulaq 3 and Louvre 5158 (embalming was a necessary part of preparations for the afterlife and was practiced by priests). There will aslo be a session by Jared Brent Krebsbach focusing on the worship of the god Atum. Atum was one of the first gods to be worshipped in Egypt but, in the Persian period, he resurfaces and I am also curious to know what will be presented. Kata Jasper will give a talk on the god Ha – a god that can be personified. Ha, the lord of the Lybian desert, and also creator of oases, is one I would like to know more about as a human morphological-featured god with sand dunes on his head (Khadafi?).

Last but not least, my own Green Osiris, in which I will try to establish the relationship between Osirian cults, with focus

I am very glad to be here for the first time as Leiden is famous for its library and the quality of teaching. I am sure it will be very prosperous!

on the annual festival, and some medicinal plants used in ancient Egypt, referring to Papyrus Salt 825, which mentions a tree identified with Osiris. Therefore, we must admit that the ancient Egyptians considered this tree to have magical/divine/medicinal properties. From the hundreds of plants, trees, bushes, spices and other elements of the vegetal kingdom used in ancient Egyptian pharmacopoeia, listed in prescriptions in the various medical papyri, there are a few with relevance.

I am very excited about this conference as there are people coming I have not met yet. I am looking forward to some special treats in this conference. From the abstracts, I can say I really want to hear Dr. Demare on later Ramesside kings, Nathalie Andrews on a chapter from the Book of the Dead and all the funerary texts sessions as they are very close to my subject now. Also the cross-cultural relations session and the radio carbon dating one, as it is one of my favorite techniques, and it is being used to date our Porto sarcophagus.

I’m also looking forward to the early Christianity session as I have been studying a Coptic period amulet for some years now, and I am always interested in knowing more and learning more with my colleagues who are specialists on Coptic language and culture. The interdisciplinary approaches session also interests me, as my former colleagues from Manchester are presenting their research and the work of my friend Howard Middleton-Jones about the Coptic monasteries is also present. The lecture by Dr. Versluys promises to shake some heads too, so it is worth going to, and the temples session looks very good with Kalabsha, Abydos and Deir el-Bahari being presented.

I am going to be posting updates daily, throughout the course of this conference, so, just log on everyday to see what is happening!

King Tut’s Treasures: Perfumes, Alabaster Vessels and Wine for the Afterlife

Dr Janice Kamrin shows some of the alabaster ornaments found in King Tut's tomb and now kept at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Click the image to skip to the video.In this Heritage Key video, Dr. Janice Kamrin, head of the EgyptianMuseum Database Project, shows and discusses some of the lifestyle objects found in Tutankhamuns tomb by Carter in 1922, and now housed in The Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Board games, and containers for perfumes, cosmetics and unguents, are amongst the objects shown in this video that give an insight into the livestyles of the rich and famous ancient Egyptians. You can catch up on the previous videos in this series when Dr Kamrin looks at Animal iconography (Watch the video), The Canopic Shrine, Chest and Jars (Watch the video) and last week’s video on the Ritual Figures inside the tomb of King Tut (Watch the video).

A Senet game box with game pieces is one of the most intricate and impressive pieces described by Dr Kamrin. King Tut was evidently a big fan of senet, as evidenced by the number of board games found in his tomb. Senet is known to have associations with the gods and goddesses. Dr. Kamrin refers a passage from The Book of The Dead where you would have to play against an invisible opponent and you have to win in order to progress into your own afterlife, although the exact rules of the game are unknown.

A calcite cosmetic jar is the form of Bes is one of Dr Kamrin's favourite artefacts. Image Copyright - Sandro Vannini.Kamrin also shows us some of the unguent and perfume containers (check out the alabaster perfume vase in detail in King Tut Virtual) that would have been used by King Tut. The ibex-shaped unguent container is a remarkable artefact, with one horn fashioned from real ibex horn, although the second horn is missing. Using real ibex horn would ensure that the content was effective in medicine or magic, or both, as it was usual in ancient Egypt.

A calcite cosmetic jar in the form of the god Bes is also on display. The container was perhaps intended for a new mother, as Bes was the protector of women in childbirth, and women and children in general. With his frightening lion face and his tongue hung out, he was meant to scare any demons approaching.

Kamrin then shows us King Tut’s stash of wine jars. The wine jars have their year written as a label on the outside, just as we do it today. The king had estates all over Egypt and one of the jars, says Dr. Kamrin, is from the western delta region vineyards. Wine was a sophisticated industry in Egypt, with a proper grading system in place. But there were no beer jars in his tomb; did Tut dislike beer? It could just be that beer was not considered royal enough for this king. Beer was a common drink of the ordinary people of Egypt and so considered an inferior choice. Perhaps this is the reason that only wine is present in the king’s tomb.

The collection only represents some of the found jars, as Tut had many in his tomb. He was well stocked up for the afterlife with a lot of food and drink (he evidently liked his feasts!), the ordinary supplies for the afterlife. But wine for eternity? No problem. The wine jars could be magically refilled in the afterlife.

With perfume, cosmetics, entertainment and plenty of food and drink available, the objects shown here help build up a picture of a rich and comfortable lifestyle for the ancient Egyptians – and a particular insight into the personality of King Tut. You can read more about the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun in a book authored by the Countess of Carnarvon Egypt at Highclere: The Discovery of Tutankhamun” (Buy) as well as finding out more about the men who made the amazing find in “Carter & Carnarvon” (Buy)

HD Video: Tutankhamun’s Burial Treasures: Lifestyle Objects

(Read the transcript on the video page)

Enjoyed the video? Then youll love looking through Heritage Keys videos page. Youll find fantastic interviews with top heritage experts, such as Dr Zahi Hawass on the discovery of an intact tomb in Saqqara, theCountess of Carnarvon discussing the tomb paintings of King Tutankhamun’s tomb (KV62) and Kathleen Martinez’s search for the elusive Tomb of Cleopatra. New videos are posted every week sign up to our RSS feed and you wont miss a thing.

Workers and/or Archaeologists: an Exhibition of the Hidden Hands Behind Petrie’s Egypt

Ayman El-Kharrat, Stephen Quirke Petrie MuseumUnseen photographs by Flinders Petrie are now on temporary display in the Petrie Museum in London in an exhibition called Framing the Archaeologist: Portraits and Excavation. The photos were taken by Petrie on site in Egypt, featuring himself, his wife and the excavation workers, and offer a remarkable view of the early years of archaeology.

To mark the exhibition, the museum hosted an informal talk between Stephen Quirke and documentary maker Ayman El-Kharrat, entitled Workers and/or Archaeologists: In Conversation, questioning the status of Bedouin workers involved in early excavations in Egypt.

You can watch Dr Quirke in this video interview with Heritage Key talking about one of the greatest women in Egyptology – Amelia Edwards.

I went along to see what they had to say about this excellent archive of images, and the mysterious archaeologists portrayed in them.

The discussion centred on the subject of Quirke’s upcoming book Hidden Hands which will be published in May 2010. The book is the result of research he has done into the Egyptians who worked with Flinders Petrie on archaeological excavations from the 1880s to the 1920s. He questions how and why these people have been lost from the landscape of archaeological archives, and how their memoirs and records can be found.

Having returned himself from Egypt two weeks ago, Professor Quirke starts by saying he went there trying to re-connect to the past; what would it have been like in those days to work in an excavation site, to remove the artefacts first-hand from the soil?

Petrie was interested in people, in their social history; his writings on Lahun even portrayed him as an ethnographer. He recruited Bedouins from the Giza Plateau in 1882. At the time, Bedouins, or ‘Kuftis’ had only been in Egypt for around 100 years; they were originally from Tunis, and were different to Egyptian fellahin. In his notes, Petrie brands the kuftis as rascals and spies, before explaining why he chose them as part of his excavation team:

Hilda Petrie on horseback, taken in 1898. Image courtesy of University College London, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.Among this rather untoward people we found however, as in every place, a small percentage of excellent men; some half-dozen were of the very best type of native, faithful, friendly, and laborious, and from among these workmen we have drawn about forty to sixty of two following years at Negadeh and at Thebes. They have formed the backbone of my upper Egyptian staff, and I hope that I may keep these good friends so long as I work anywhere within reach of them.

He also recruited Sudanese people to work in his Sinai excavation sites as they were more close to their own desert climate. Researching for any references to these people, Professor Quirke says there are none; the archives do not mention who went to the market or who cooked, and we cannot see the name of these people in printed publications.

Petrie was a mathematician, not an educated Egyptologist. There was no Egyptology chair before him, and we have to put his work in the context of other archaeological work done at that time by other European archaeologists to understand how he functioned. Petrie was much closer to the workers than most modern archaeologists.Professor Quirke finds in Petries personal letters bits of information not mentioned in his publications, such as when he writes to his wife (he was in Sinai, she was in Memphis), and complains about the mail not being delivered, either his own or the workers.

Muhammad Darwish in 1899 - one of Petrie's workmen. Image courtesy of University College London, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

El-Kharrat comments that Petries understanding of social history being filled with passion as his finds are different from the ones at next doors museum’ (the BM). Professor Quirke elaborates on the European construction of knowledge and how it should be interesting to have Egyptian views too.

You have to go beyond pyramids, mummification and hieroglyphs to see daily life and its meaning. Did these Egyptians have academic training? What do we know about the life choices, opportunities, and skills of these people who worked in Egypt in excavation sites? There is also the issue of integrating Egyptian linguistics and literature with African and Arabic counterparts.

Things might be changing. El-Kharrat commented on the way the media, both Egyptian and Western, portray the work of these people. Professor Quirke stresses the need for European archives to link with the National Library in Cairo, and he also points out that the rigid construction of institutions of knowledge prevent many people to access knowledge as not everyone knows how to use a library.

Who showed Petrie where to dig for the Greek Papyri of el-Bahnasa? Some boy whose name we don’t even know. Petries manuscripts are a valuable source of information as they contain many side notes and records not included in the printed publications. There must be records done by the people who worked in these excavations; do they keep them at home?

Petrie's sister in law - Amy - purchasing antiquities. Image courtesy of University College London, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

As libraries cannot accommodate all the family records presented to them, many end up in peoples houses and pass on from generation to generation. Petrie relied on previous seasons excavation workers to train the next season’s workers.

Petrie was happy in the wilderness; he only came to big cities to deal with logistics; most of his time he was in the desert.

El-Kharrat comments that Petrie’s viewpoint was a colonizing one, and that his description of the way Egyptians lived is filtered by that view.

Is the self image of Egyptians a stable one? “Image is a changing field”, Professor Quirke replied, “as Egypt is still a key country between Arabic and African worlds.”

These touching images, however, seem to portray Egypt in its era of discovery in a series of fixed moments that can’t help but arrest the imagination of those who pay the exhibition a visit.