Herodotus Returns

Robot will plumb great pyramid at Giza
August 12, 2010, 8:55 pm
Filed under: Egypt | Tags: , , , ,

University of Leeds has embarked on a project to send a robot down two unexplored shafts in the Queen’s chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza.

No one knows what the shafts are for. In 1992, a camera sent up the shaft leading from the south wall of the Queen’s Chamber discovered it was blocked after 60 metres by a limestone door with two copper handles. In 2002, a further expedition drilled through this door and revealed, 20 centimetres behind it, a second door.

“The second door is unlike the first. It looks as if it is screening or covering something,” said Dr Zahi Hawass, the head of the Supreme Council who is in charge of the expedition. The north shaft bends by 45 degrees after 18 metres but, after 60 metres, is also blocked by a limestone door.

Now technicians at Leeds University are putting the finishing touches to a robot which, they hope, will follow the shaft to its end. Known as the Djedi project, after the magician whom Khufu consulted when planning the pyramid, the robot will be able to drill through the second set of doors to see what lies beyond.

More on the robot project at Giza.


Two 4,300-year-old tombs discovered at Saqqara
July 9, 2010, 3:24 am
Filed under: Egypt | Tags: , , , ,

The false door of the unearthed tomb of Shendwas, ...

Two tombs of Old Kingdom ancient Egyptian royal scribes – a father and son – have been unearthed in Saqqara. The photos of the tomb paintings are remarkable. Forty-three-hundred years old and they look like they were painted yesterday. True time capsules. I saw some tombs in Luxor last year that were similar. The tomb of a royal scribe called Roy, in a necropolis called the Tombs of the Nobles was all but perfect. (see photo after excerpt).

The tomb includes two false doors with colorful paintings depicting the two people buried there, a father and a son who served as heads of the royal scribes, said Abdel-Hakim Karar, a top archaeologist at Saqqara.

“The colors of the false door are fresh as if it was painted yesterday,” Karar told reporters.

Humidity had destroyed the sarcophagus of the father, Shendwas, while the tomb of the son, Khonsu, was robbed in antiquity, he said.

Also insribed on the father’s false door was the name of Pepi II, whose 90-year reign is believed to be the longest of the pharaohs. The inscription dates the double tomb to the 6th dynasty, which marked the beginning of the decline of the Old Kingdom, also known as the age of pyramids.

Associated Press has some good coverage on the story, featuring beautiful photos and plenty of face time with Grand Wizard of Antiquity, Zahi Hawass.

Cleopatra killed by drug cocktail?
July 1, 2010, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Egypt | Tags: , ,


Cleopatra, legendary last queen of Egypt, may have committed suicide by drinking a poisonous concoction, not by the bite of a poisonous asp, as has long been the legend.

According to Christoph Schäfer, a German historian and professor at the University of Trier, the legendary beauty queen was unlikely to have committed suicide by letting an asp — an Egyptian cobra — sink into her flesh.

“There was no cobra in Cleopatra’s death,” Schäfer told Discovery News.

The author of a best-selling book in Germany, “Cleopatra,” Schäfer searched historic writings for evidence to disprove the 2,000-year-old asp legend. His findings are to be featured on the German channel ZDF as part of a program on Cleopatra.

“The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing about 200 years after Cleopatra’s demise, stated that she died a quiet and pain-free death, which is not compatible with a cobra bite. Indeed, the snake’s venom would have caused a painful and disfiguring death,” Schäfer said.

According to German toxicologist Dietrich Mebs, a poison specialist taking part in the study, the symptoms occurring after an asp bite are very unpleasant, and include vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory failure.

More on Cleopatra’s suicide.

2,000-year-old Ptolemaic statue found in Egypt
May 9, 2010, 9:24 am
Filed under: Egypt, Zahi Hawass | Tags: , ,

Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed a statue dating to the Ptolemaic period. Ringmaster Zahi Hawass is in true form, calling the  statue “among the most beautiful carvings in the ancient Egyptian style.” Hate to sound jaded, but it seems like everything Hawass touches garners hyperbole and superlative, while anything he does not discover (Cambyses’ army in November; cave system beneath Giza) is fraudulent or at least unremarkable. This makes me think of a story from a few months ago about Hawass announcing that he would to New York to deliver a speech about the repatriation of Egyptian artifacts from the Met. He gave the speech all right – right before reading from and signing copies of his new book about Cleopatra. He’s done extraordinary things to bring Egyptology and archaeology to the masses, but, ultimately, he’s out for himself.

An Egyptian-Dominican team made the discovery at the temple of Taposiris Magna, west of the coastal city of Alexandria, said a statement from the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Alexandria was the seat of the Greek-speaking Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt for 300 years, until the suicide of Queen Cleopatra.

The statue’s height is 53 inches and its width at the shoulders is 22 inches.

Hawass said the statue could belong to King Ptolemy IV and represented the traditional shape of an ancient Egyptian king wearing collar and kilt.

More on the statue from The Telegraph.

Roman-Era Mummy discovered in Egypt Bahariya Oasis
April 12, 2010, 11:43 am
Filed under: Egypt, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Archaeologists digging near the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt have uncovered 14 ancient Egyptian tombs, one of which held a female mummy encrusted in jewels. They were clearing a foundation, apparently, for a planned youth center. I wonder if some construction workers in Egypt are budding archaeologists, if they always secretly hope to be part of the next big find.

The Greco-Roman tombs, in Bahariya Oasis, 300 km (190 miles) southwest of Cairo, were discovered during probes that indicated they may be part of a much larger necropolis, Egypt’s Culture Ministry said in a statement Monday.

A 97-cm (38-inch) tall female mummy, found in the stair-lined interior of one of the rock-hewn tombs, was cast in colored plaster inlaid with jewelry and eyes.

More on the discovery in Bahariya Oasis.

Renovation of Avenue of Sphinxes for tourists means injustice to locals
February 25, 2010, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Egypt | Tags: , ,

This article about the current renovation of the Avenue of Sphinxes, an ancient Egyptian processional route linking the Luxor and Karnak temples in ancient Thebes, is stomach-turning. In order to clear out the route for tourists – they plan to create a whole new attraction by 2030 – officials have had to demolish a number of densely populated local villages. The government is offering the locals new flats, or stipends of $13,500. But the new flats have been oftentimes in the middle of the desert and the stipends are insufficient when they are paid at all. This makes me ill. I spent two weeks in Luxor last year and met a number of people who had been removed with their families from their homes a few years before in a similar situation due to the renovation of the Tombs of the Nobles. They were as bitter as you might imagine, having been moved from land owned by their families for generations to cheap government-issued cinder block-houses in the hills. Of course, this a double-edged sword. The families’ homes were situated directly on top of the Tombs of the Nobles, some of the most remarkable monuments in all of Egypt (not to mention the tombs I was there to study). Had the families not been relocated, the Tombs of the Nobles would not have been accessible – to tourists and scholars alike. So, what takes priority – access to some of the most remarkable pieces of world culture or the homes of a dozen Egyptian families? It’s not a call I would want to make, but I think the answer has to be the monuments. Not just for the profits of tourism (which, of course, are important to Egpyt), but for scholarship. BUT, if it comes to relocation, please, use some tact, be delicate, and let the families keep their dignity! The article about the Avenue of Sphinxes cites families being denied their promised stipend, or being shipped to undersized (sometimes unfinished) flats in remote areas. It’s inhumane. The most telling figure: the government will make an additional $50 million a year from the Avenue of the Sphinxes; they have only allocated $5 million to relocation and compensation of the displaced locals.

Zahi Hawass announces that he will soon announce findings on King Tut’s DNA
February 2, 2010, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Egypt, Zahi Hawass | Tags: ,

The PT Barnum of Archaeology is at it again. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme COuncil of Antiquities, has announced that he will soon announce the results for his DNA test on King Tut.

One of the great remaining mysteries from ancient Egypt, the ancestry of the boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun, may soon be solved, the country’s antiquities supremo hinted on Sunday.

Zahi Hawass told AFP he has scheduled a news conference for February 17 in the Cairo Museum.

The announcement will be “about the secrets of the family and the affiliation of Tutankhamun, based on the results of the scientific examination of the Tutankhamun mummy following DNA analysis,” Hawass said.

The tomb of the boy king, who reigned from the age of nine and died under as yet unknown circumstances at about 19, was unearthed by British archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, causing an international sensation.

Egypt’s antiquities authorities said in August 2008 that they had taken DNA samples from Tutankhamun’s mummy and from two foetuses found in his tomb, to determine whether the still-born children had been fathered by the boy king.

Tutankhamun achieved worldwide fame because of the stunning funerary treasure found in his tomb, including an 11-kilo (24.2-pound) solid gold death mask encrusted with lapis lazuli and semi-precious stones.

Like his ancestry, the circumstances of Tutankhamun’s death remain a mystery. He is believed to have reigned from around 1333 BC to 1324 BC.

More recent news on ancient Egypt.