A good year for the record
Mysteries uncovered, debates enflamed: Nevine El-Aref
sums up the most interesting archaeological events of 2007
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From top: Palaeolithic rock art; the mummy of Hatshepsut; the CFTC; Giza Pyramids; statuettes of Hennu
Identifying the mummy of the female Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut; uncovering the real face of the boy-king Tutankhamun; restoring the Step Pyramid of Djoser; reopening the Kuttub Khana; discovering a New Kingdom fortress in Sinai, an intact tomb brimming with fine funerary pieces in the Delta and Palaeolithic rock art depicting animals in Upper Egypt -- all part of this year's work for Egyptologists.
The year saw several important discoveries, archaeological events and the restoration of ancient Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic monuments. But there was also controversy: a demand for the loan of the Rosetta Stone by the British Museum, disagreement over the planned Cairo Financial and Tourist Centre overlooking the Salaheddin Citadel and the selection of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES: Almost every day an excavator carrying out routine excavation or cleaning at a site somewhere in Egypt stumbles upon a new discovery. It could be shreds of clay vessels or fragments of decoration, but often it is a major discovery that helps Egyptologists understand more about Egypt's history and culture. There were several discoveries in 2007, and one of the most important was the identification of the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut. Three and a half thousand years after her death, a single loose tooth led scientists to the body of Egypt's famous female ruler.
The whereabouts of Hatshepsut's mummy was one of the great riddles of Egyptology. It was not among the caches of royal mummies found in 1871 and 1881 at Deir Al-Bahari, nor in the unfinished tomb KV20, planned for her in the Valley of the Kings in her capacity as the official wife of Tuthmosis II. Hatshepsut's empty sarcophagus, now in the Egyptian Museum, was found alongside that of her father, Tuthmosis I, also empty and now in Boston. Some of Hatshepsut's funerary objects -- canopic jars and ushabti figurines -- have also been discovered, as well as a small wooden box supposedly containing her liver.
The whereabouts of the female Pharaoh's mummy, however, has always been a subject of conjecture. In 1903, Howard Carter, on discovering tomb KV60, found two well-preserved 18th- Dynasty female mummies in royal pose, and speculation that one of them was Hatshepsut has surfaced with regularity. One mummy was lying inside a sarcophagus inscribed with the name of Hatshepsut's wet nurse Sittre-In; the second -- an obese woman with a shaved forehead and long hair at the back of her head -- lay on the floor beside the sarcophagus.
With the launch two years ago by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) of its five-year mummy project involving CT-scans of a large number of mummies, it was decided to scan the obese woman from KV60. Efforts to identify the mummy of Hatshepsut began last year when four unidentified New Kingdom royal female mummies were examined. The mummy thought to be that of Sittre-In, housed in its sarcophagus -- double the size needed for the corpse -- on the third floor of the Egyptian Museum, was also examined, along with two additional unidentified New Kingdom mummies originally found in the 1881 cache at Deir Al-Bahari.
Mummies believed to be most closely related to Hatshepsut were also scanned, including those thought to be of Tuthmosis II and III: the former Hatshepsut's husband and probably her half- brother, the second her stepson. The result of the scans showed that Tuthmosis II was suffering from heart disease which led to his early death. The mummies thought to be those of Hatshepsut's father and her grandmother, Tuthmosis I and Ahmose- Nefertari, were also scanned.
CT-scans indicated that the mummy once believed to be that of Hatshepsut's father, Tuthmosis I, was not actually his. They showed the mummy belonged to a young man who was not placed in the royal pose of mummification, and had the remains of an arrow embedded in his chest which implied he had been killed. Tuthmosis I is known to have died of natural causes. Moreover, the mummy was that of a man who died at the age of 40, making it impossible for him to be Hatshepsut's father.
Scientists also scanned the mummy of the obese woman found in KV60, who was shown to be about 50 years old and to have tooth decay and a number of other illnesses. She was diabetic, and could have died from complications from her diabetes or from the results of a 2cm tumour in her left leg.
Following the scans, the funerary objects associated with Hatshepsut, including canopic jars found in tomb KV20 and a small wooden box bearing her cartouches found with the DB320 cache, were re-examined, and the riddle was solved. In addition to the mummified viscera, the box contained a single molar tooth. During the process of embalming, anything associated with the body or its mummification was ritually preserved in a box and had to be buried properly. It seemed, therefore, that during the mummification of Hatshepsut the corpse lost a tooth, which the embalmers placed in the box.
The CT scans of the four unidentified female mummies were examined for a missing molar. To everyone's surprise, the obese mummy from KV60 was missing a tooth, and the hole left behind matched the tooth found in the box from DB320. The mummy of the obese woman, then, was that of Queen Hatshepsut.
The mummy of Tutankhamun went on public display for the first time in November for the 85th anniversary of the discovery of his tomb. It was lifted from its golden sarcophagus where it had rested, mostly undisturbed, for more than 3,000 years, and placed on a wooden stretcher to be transported to its new home: a high-tech, climate-controlled plexi-glass showcase in the outer chamber of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The mummy is clothed in linen, with only the face and feet exposed.
Meanwhile, Belgian archaeologists working at Qurta on the northern edge of Kom Ombo found a rock decorated with a Palaeolithic illustration of cattle similar to those drawn on the walls of the Lascaux caves in France. They are drawn and painted in a naturalistic style, quite different from the cattle representations of the well-known classical, pre-dynastic iconography of the fourth millennium BC. Illustrations of hippopotami, fish, birds and human figures can also be seen on the surface of some of the rocks.
The first examination of the patination and weathering suggested these bovid representations were extremely old, most probably predating the fish-trap representations and associated rock scenes previously found at several locations in the Al-Hosh area. They are also similar to cattle representations discovered in 1962-63 by a Canadian archaeological mission as part of an attempt to reserve land for habitation and cultivation by Nubians who had been displaced from their homes by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. In 2004, the Belgian mission moved the rock to the modern village of Qurta. This newly-discovered site was still in pristine condition, since they had not been visited by archaeologists since the Canadian team in 1963.
Also this year an intact tomb chamber complete with funerary goods was found on the southern slope of the archaeological hill of Deir Al-Barsha, near Minya, by archaeologists from the Katholicke Universiteit Leuven working on the Middle-Kingdom (2066-1650 BC) tomb of Uky, a top government official. While removing debris from a rock-cut shaft found inside the chamber of Uky's tomb, archaeologists came across a huge limestone block leading to a small, intact chamber stuffed with wooden objects and containing a sarcophagus bearing two lines of hieroglyphic texts representing formulae addressed to the gods Anubis and Osiris. A third line on the lid revealed the name and title of the deceased: Henu, a courtier and the director of a domain, indicating that Henu was a subordinate official in the provincial administration during the late Intermediate Period.
On the right side of the sarcophagus are two painted eyes that allowed Henu's mummy to gaze out on the rising sun. Two wooden sandals were placed on top of the coffin ready for the deceased to wear in the afterlife, along with two well-preserved funerary statuettes portraying various scenarios of work in daily life. The first shows three women in linen skirts grinding grain, while the second, described by Egyptologists as extremely rare, shows the production of mud bricks. The statuette features four men, one working clay with a hoe, two carrying a bag of clay with a yoke on their shoulders, and a fourth forming a line of finished mud bricks.
Four more models were found on the east wall of the chamber of the sarcophagus. The largest is a statue of Henu himself in official dress, the fine details of his facial expression confirming a high level of craftsmanship. In front were two models of women brewing beer and making bread. Behind the statue of Henu was a large boat model with two groups of rowers and a lotiform bow and stern and with five rowers on each side, three standing men at the bow, and a helmsman at the stern. To fit the model between the east wall of the chamber and the sarcophagus, the oars had been placed between the men standing on the deck of the boat. All 10 oars were recovered and could be replaced in their original positions in the hands of the rowers.
Last summer, Qantara East was again in the limelight when an Egyptian team chanced upon the fort of Tharo East. The fortress is 500 metres long, 250 metres wide and with walls 13m thick. Traces of a 12m-wide south entrance and a giant water-filled moat that once surrounded the fort were also visible.
Along with Tharo West, the fort constituted the eastern front of the ancient Egyptian military town of Tharo and Egypt's gate to the Delta. Graves of soldiers and horses were also found, giving concrete evidence of the events depicted on the reliefs of Seti I engraved on the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple relating to the military campaign to smash rebels led by Seti I in the first year of his rule.
RESTORATION SCHEMES: The SCA embarked on several restoration schemes, among them the restoration of the Djoser Pyramid complex, the first complete plan to rescue the Step Pyramid and the southern tomb. The first phase was to clean the pyramid inside and outside and remove accumulated dust and sand in an attempt to reduce the load on the pyramid's structure.
Fallen blocks scattered on the ground and around the pyramid were to be collected, restored and returned to their original location, and blocks damaged beyond repair replaced with replicas. The second phase includes the consolidation of all tunnels, corridors and ceilings of the pyramid's underground galleries and the main burial shaft located on top of the bed rock.
This year an ambitious project was launched to return the mosque of Al-Zahir Baybars in Dahir Square, north Cairo, to its original glory. The mosque is enclosed by a square, crenellated stone wall with four towers to fortify its exterior corners. The only survivor of the mediaeval city in the Husseiniya district, once one of Cairo's most prestigious areas and deeply rooted in Islamic history, the mosque had been seriously neglected. The restoration being carried out by the Arab Contractors will consolidate the foundations, installing a new drainage system to put an end to the leakage of subterranean water and replacing the damaged electrical system. The minaret, dome and columns will be restored, and the decorative items inside and outside the mosque building will receive much- needed attention.
The exquisite 19th-century edifice of Kuttub Khana at Bab Al-Khalq has been restored to its pristine grandeur after several years of renovation. The project not only restored the authentic building of Bab Al-Khalq but also upgraded the 1971 library building. The latter will be Egypt's National Library serving researchers and students, while the Bab Al-Khalq building will hold manuscripts, rare books, papyri, old maps and periodicals. A museum of historical items was also established inside the library to show Egypt's contribution to Arab and Islamic culture.
The main floor contains reading rooms and the newly-established Manuscripts Museum. The first mezzanine has the microfilm and Internet points, while the second has a research hall, a restoration lab and a hall of papyri.
CONTROVERSIES: This year the Ministry of Culture and the SCA entered into two major controversies. The first erupted in March when aviator, explorer, museum curator and film director Bernard Weber, founder of the Seven New Wonders Foundation -- which aims to promote cultural diversity by supporting, preserving and restoring important monuments -- arrived in Egypt to promote his poll, launched in 2001 by his Swiss organisation, to elect the Seven New Wonders of the World. He was received less than cordially. The Egyptian Antiquities Authority made public its opposition to the project. SCA Secretary-General Zahi Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Giza Pyramids did not need to be put to the vote, as they were the only one surviving of the seven ancient wonders. He suggested that Weber's organisation had no right to run such a project, being a private organisation without affiliation to any international scientific society or archaeological institute. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni echoed Hawass's complaint, describing the project as "absurd" and its creator, Weber, as a man "concerned primarily with self-promotion".
"The Giza Pyramids are a great monument which cannot be subjected to auction or comparison," Hosni insisted.
The controversy reached its peak three months before the July announcement when the Giza Pyramids were struck off the voters' shortlist, which provoked a flurry of rumours.
It appeared, however, that Weber had provided a diplomatic compromise. A carefully-worded statement posted on the New Seven Wonders Foundation website stated that "after careful consideration, the New Seven Wonders Foundation designates the Pyramids of Giza -- the only remaining of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World -- as an Honorary New Seven Wonders Candidate. Therefore you cannot vote for the Pyramids of Giza as part of the New Seven Wonders campaign."
The second controversy flared up last September when a UNESCO delegate expressed its unhappiness with the planned Cairo Financial and Tourist Centre (CFTC) overlooking the Salaheddin Citadel, but approved continued construction as long as its recommendations were met. The debate was ignited in 2006 when work on CFTC began without the permission of the SCA's Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Antiquities, which had twice refused to license development of the site, first in 2001 and again in 2005. The proposed scheme, the SCA said, constituted an encroachment on the citadel complex and violated Antiquities Law 117/1983. Disagreement continued until this year, despite the visit of two UNESCO delegates to inspect the planned project and offer their recommendations to protect the citadel.
UNESCO reported that after taking into consideration a range of expert opinions, the CFTC scheme would be modified in such a way as to minimise its visual encroachment on the citadel. The height of the CFTC scheme, it said, should not exceed 31.55m, the height of the upper level of the enclosing wall. UNESCO had said it would prefer the area to be put to an entirely different use from the offices planned, one that might act as an effective buffer zone to the citadel, a World Heritage Site. A third UNESCO mission is now in Egypt to examine the CFTC plans once the recommendations have been incorporated into the design of the site.
Still ongoing is the demand by Egypt that the British Museum loan Egypt its most popular exhibit, the Rosetta Stone. One thing is certain: the issue -- mainly concerning guarantees -- will not be resolved before the bells ring in 2008.