From the Mediterranean bed to Kom Al-Dikka, from Akhmim to Sinai, from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to Basle and Germany and from auction halls in Europe and America to Egypt, there were several exciting archaeological events to highlight this outstanding year. Nevine El-Aref
reviews the past 12 busy months
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A colossal face of Ramses II in Akhmim; A wooden guilded statuette of Tutankhamun wearing the crown of Lower Egypt
TUTMANIA: This was the year when Switzerland, Germany, France, Greece, the United States and China were caught up in the euphoria of Egyptomania, with 14 exhibitions featuring the Ancient Egyptian civilisation. The one that hogged most of the glory was the touring Tutankhamun circus, which is travelling through Europe and America for the first time in more than two decades.
Egypt prohibited any further showing of the treasured collection following its last exhibition in Cologne in 1981 when damage was sustained by the statue of the deity Selket, which at one point fell resulting in the detachment of its scorpion crown.
According to Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, it was far from easy to convince the Egyptian People's Assembly to approve the tour. Permission was finally granted as a reflection of Egypt's strong diplomatic and cultural ties with Europe and on the condition that only duplicate objects from the Tutankhamun collection would be on show. The famous golden funerary mask is regarded as one of Egypt's national treasures and is no longer lent abroad.
The tour's revenue will be devoted to the construction of the scheduled Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Plateau and to restoring more monuments.
The first stop of the exhibition was made last April in Basle, when Mrs Suzanne Mubarak attending its inauguration. The second leg of the exhibition is in the Rhine Valley city of Bonn, which was opened in November by President Hosni Mubarak and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröeder and will continue until April 2005. It will then travel around the United States for 18 months before returning to Europe for a final six months in London.
While the Tutankhamun exhibition was on tour, the Pharaoh's mummy will be subjected to a CT scan. Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary-General Zahi Hawass claims this is the first ever attempt since its discovery to give the mummy a thorough medical check-up in the hope that something will be learnt about the secret behind the boy king's early death, and if he suffered from any illness during his lifetime. CT scans have been conducted on a number of mummies before the procedure is tried out on Tutankhamun himself.
Meanwhile, France was the host of two Ancient Egyptian exhibitions. The first was held in Grenoble, which hosted the ninth International Congress of Egyptologists (ICE). This exhibition, which is on display until May 2005, features 28 of the 779 artefacts discovered by Georges Legrain in 1904 at the so-called Karnak Cachet in Luxor. Mostly statues, these beautiful objects represent different strata of Ancient Egyptian society from the 13th Dynasty through to the Ptolemaic era.
They are a testimony to the ordinary life of the Ancient Egyptians as they reveal details of clothes, air and fashion as well as common traditions.
The second exhibition, which was opened last October by presidents Hosni Mubarak and Jacques Chirac at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, displays 250 unique objects from the pre- historic era to the New Kingdom, with 115 of them carefully selected from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo while the rest are from the Louvre in Paris, Turino in Italy and Philadelphia University Museum in the USA.
Greece hosted an exhibition of Coptic Icons, while Frankfurt -- during the Frankfurt Book Fair -- was the stage for an exhibition of Islamic manuscripts, lamps, and vases inscribed with Qur'anic verses and plant motives. A collection of Coptic Icons featuring Jesus's last supper and the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt were also on show.
Some countries received their first ever Ancient Egyptian exhibition. In China 120 Pharaonic objects toured Beijing and Hong-Kong for six months.
NEW DISCOVERIES: Egypt was overwhelmed with discoveries in 2004. This has been an extremely fruitful and exciting archaeological year, with an Egyptian excavation team headed by Hawass unearthing the largest seated statue of the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II in Akhmim, thought to be 13 metres tall and weighing 700 tonnes. The lower part of the limestone statue is seated on a throne, to the right and left of which are figures of two of the Pharaoh's daughters and princess- queens. The statue and the throne stand on a huge limestone base covered with carved hieroglyphic texts.
The base also carries a register of captured enemies surmounting rings that bear the name of their home cities. Remains of colours are still visible. A colossal face that matches the base of the statue, showing the Pharaoh wearing a false beard, has also been found.
Hawass described the discovery as a splendid one, which would not only attract archaeologists but visitors and the media as well. Early studies revealed that the statue might have stood in front of the entrance of a great temple of Ramses II at Akhmim, and that this suggested the existence of a second statue on the other side which could still be buried in the sand.
However, a large modern cemetery obstructed any further exploration and excavations were put on hold. To resume the excavations and preserve what Hosni called "an important part of Egyptian history", a presidential decree was issued stipulating that the cemetery be transferred to a site in New Sohag.
Hosni announced that President Mubarak had allocated LE5 million from the government budget to help fund the move, with the SCA providing an additional LE15 million.
The sand of the Valley of the Golden Mummies in Bahariya Oasis yielded more of its golden mummies as the mission unearthed 20 mummies, some of them are gilded, or burned or decapitated. A collection of Ushabti (small wooden statues of the deceased), along with pots have been also uncovered. The most beautiful sarcophagus found was an anthropoid clay coffin of a middle class woman whom Hawass sees was the beloved of her husband.
At Al-Sheikh Subi area in Bahariya more tombs of the oasis ruling family have been found along with their sarcophagi and grave collection.
In Alexandria two major discoveries was made, the first under the seabed of Abu Qir Bay where French and Egyptian archaeologists came across thousands of bronze pots, chandeliers, plates, perfume containers, mirrors, spoons, incense burners, glasses, cones and tweezers. Most of them date from the sixth to the second centuries BC, but the objects that generated most interest were life-size Ptolemaic statues, busts and heads of Ancient Egyptian deities such as Isis, Anubis and Bastet. Among them was a beautifully carved diorite statue of a tall, bearded person who may be the god of the Nile. Six lines of royal correspondence written in gold and in a way that reflects the superior standard of living that must have been enjoyed by the city's residents were also found submerged.
Lower Egypt Antiquities head Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud said archaeologists had revealed that the find would help explain elements of religious life in the temple, as well as provide clues to the topographical features and layout of the sunken city of Heracleion as a whole.
In the downtown Kom Al-Dikka area of Alexandria, a Polish-Egyptian excavation team headed by Grzegory Majchereck unearthed a limestone complex of 13 auditoria along the northern side of the Roman theatre Portico, claiming it could reveal the real site of the fabled ancient university of Alexandria which is thought to have schooled some 5,000 students at a time. Most of the auditoria feature three rows of 3.5-metre-high benches running along the walls on three sides and forming a semicircle at the end. Lecturers most probably used an elevated seat in the centre.
This discovery might well throw light on Alexandria's great academic institution, which dominated the Mediterranean region during the late Roman period. It is also concrete evidence of the city's famed intellectual life hitherto only gained from manuscripts, letters, biographies, textual references and other documents by well known philosophers, professors and scholars.
Sinai also revealed some of its military past.
At Tel Al-Borg, 10 kms east of Qantara East, an archaeological mission from Trinity International University in the United States stumbled upon a complete New Kingdom fortified camp. The site includes the remains of two limestone forts, one dating from the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tuthmosis III and the other from the 21st Dynasty.
Bronze arms and a collection of scarabs and reliefs bearing the names of New Kingdom Pharaohs have also been unearthed.
These discoveries show how ancient artists drew accurate topographical maps of the Horus Road -- which stretched from Egypt to Palestine -- on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Luxor.
RECOVERED ANTIQUITIES: This year, stolen and illegally smuggled artefacts continued to make their way back home to Egypt. A collection of looted limestone reliefs, Roman mummy masks, clay vases, statues, and necklaces have returned home. At the same time Egypt succeeded in preventing the sale of pre-historic items put on show at Bonhams auction hall in London.
Egypt also succeeded in cracking two major smuggling rings and putting their members behind bars. The first was a massive ring which allegedly removed at least 300 Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic artefacts from Egypt to Switzerland. The group has also been accused of graft and money laundering.
A Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Tareq El-Seweissi, the gang's mastermind, to 35 years for his role in the smuggling. The conviction was for just one of the crimes with which El-Seweissi was charged. He used his position as the former head of the National Democratic Party's Giza office to help advance his schemes, falsifying weapons and money laundering to the tune of LE33 million as well as $16 million, 111,000 euros and 971,000 Swiss francs.
Twenty-six other defendants each received prison sentences ranging from one to 20 years. Ten foreigners -- from Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Kenya and Lebanon -- were tried in absentia and sentenced to 15 years and LE50,000 in fines.
The scam involved the carrying out of illegal excavations at several archaeological sites and taking possession of countless authentic artefacts which were then disguised to resemble replicas like those sold at the Khan Al-Khalili and other bazaars.
The 300 pieces now back home span the spectrum of Egyptian history, from the pre- historic to Pharaonic, Hellenic, Graeco- Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras. They include mummies, sarcophagi of various types, statues, mummy masks, chandeliers, and manuscripts.
SCA officials say the case is a total success story for Egypt, since it is the first time Switzerland has agreed to help this country with its investigations and return stolen artefacts where they belong.
The second case concerned the Al-Shaeir brothers, who were accused of carrying out illegal excavations at several sites and taking possession of countless authentic artefacts, which they also exported as replicas and sold. Another person in this case was Abdel-Karim Abu Shanab, former head of the SCA returned antiquities department, who was accused of falsifying the objects' licences and claiming they were replicas.
INAUGURATIONS AND RESTORATIONS:
A week before 2004 departs, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Culture Minister Farouk Hosni and other concerned ministers; Tourism Minister Ahmed El-Maghrabi, Construction and Housing Minister Ibrahim Suleiman, Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieddin, Minister of local development Abdel-Rehim Shehata and Cairo Governor Abdel-Azim Wazir inaugurated five newly restored Islamic complexes. Including Al-Ashraf Barsbay school, Suleiman Akha Al-Selehdar Mosque and sabil-kuttab, Al-Nasser Ibn Qalawun dome and school as well as Al-Zaher Barquq dome and school and Al-Sheikh Al-Mottaher Mosque and sabil-kuttab.
All these edifices were like all other Islamic monuments suffered from the ill-use of the area inhabitancies as well as the nonstop encroachments and the leakage of subsoil water.
Delighted with the development work that has been executed in mediaeval Cairo, Nazif asserted that all concerned ministries along with Cairo governorate might cooperate together in order to stop any further encroachments in order to upgrade it with view to be an open-air museum.
Several other restoration projects in the area have been completed and are waiting for official opening. These include the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque, the Ibn Tulun Mosque and the Hanging Church. Other projects such as restoring the Coptic Museum have begun, along with the Al-Sett Wassila house and the Qait Bey complex.
In Alexandria, President and Mrs Mubarak inaugurated a major restoration project described as the rebirth of the Sayed Darwish Theatre, which was suffering from massive deterioration and neglect. Known as the Alexandria Opera House, the theatre has regained its original splendour and fame.
The theatre was built in 1921 to designs by the French architect Georges Barque. It is housed in a 2,568-square metre, three-storey structure decorated with portraits of celebrated musicians. Barque's design fused elements from the Vienna State Opera and the Odeon Theatre in Paris.
At the Egyptian Museum, an inventory of its legendary basement storehouse took place. This move came as a result of the misplacing of a relief of the Nile god Hapi that some believed had been stolen after being retrieved in 1985 from Japan. The relief was found after an intensive search.
The museum is also carrying out a development project to create a more suitable display for its magnificent collection.
Another restoration project is now underway at the Islamic Museum at Bab Al-Khalq. The museum should re-open next year to mark its centennial.
The extension of Luxor Museum saw the light this year after two years of preparation. The extension, which has the same interior design as the older part of the museum, shows the military glory of the Ancient Egyptians. The simple, two-storey building is connected by a ramp, and reveals how well-organised the Egyptian army was during the New Kingdom by displaying 140 objects carefully selected from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, storehouses at Karnak and Luxor temples, and objects from the basement of the Luxor Museum.