A fruitful archaeological year
sums up this year's most interesting archaeological events and highlights the 2009 agenda
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Clockwise from top left: the Egyptian Museum's restoration lab; Giza Plateau; Ibn Tulun Mosque minaret; underwater archaeologists before a stele; the hypostal hall of Seti I Temple; restoring Haremohab tomb and a fresco at the Coptic Museum
This year saw several important discoveries, the restoration of ancient Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic monuments, and the return of artefacts smuggled illegally out of Egypt.
Almost every day, excavators carrying out routine excavation or cleaning stumbled on a new discovery. It might be potsherds or decorative fragments, but it could be a major discovery leading to further understanding of Egypt's history and culture.
One of the most important discoveries of 2008 was made at the forefront of Karnak Temple in Luxor. According to archaeologists it has changed the landscape and the history of this great religious complex. Supreme Council of Antiquities' (SCA) archaeologists found a Ptolemaic ceremonial bath, a private ramp for the 25th-Dynasty Pharaoh Taharqa, a large number of bronze coins, an ancient dock and the remains of a wall that once protected the temple zone from the rising Nile flood.
SCA Secretary-General Zahi Hawass says further excavation will lead to the ancient harbour and canal that once connected the temple to the Nile. According to an old map, this canal was used to gain access to the west bank of the river in a position corresponding to Hatshepsut's Deir Al-Bahari Temple, which was built on the same axis.
The first evidence that the Nile once ran alongside the temple is found in the so-called Madrasa area, 50 metres southwest of the first pylon. It includes remains of what was a massive, sandstone embankment wall built some 3,000 years ago to reinforce the bank of the river, which has since moved.
The discovery of the embankment has changed the thinking about the temple's ancient façade. Previous theories, based on depictions found in several 18th-Dynasty private tombs such as that of a government official named Neferhotep, were based on the view that Karnak Temple was linked to the Nile by a canal through a rectangular pool dug in front of the temple. Boraik says this theory was supported by the uncovering in the 1970s of a small part of this embankment, which was assumed to be the back wall of the pool.
Archaeologists now believe that the pool depicted in ancient drawings was backfilled in antiquity and that the temple was expanded on top of it, built out to the edge of where the Nile flowed 3,000 years ago.
One of the most important discoveries in the area was the remains of a great circular Ptolemaic bath with an intricate mosaic tiled floor and seating for 16 people, with some seats flanked by dolphin statuettes.
The latest technology has helped, more or less, solve the enigma of the mummy of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, the father of Queen Hatshepsut. Up to now the mummy of Tuthmosis I was assumed to be known until this year, when a CT scan of the supposed mummy the Pharaoh indicated that it belonged to a young man who was not even placed in the royal pose and had an arrow embedded in his chest, while Tuthmosis I is known to have died of natural causes.
Not only were the pose and the cause of death wrong, but the dates did not fit. The mummy was that of a man 30 years of age, making it impossible for him to be Hatshepsut's father since she died at the age of 50.
To solve the riddle, CT-scans and DNA tests were being conducted on three unidentified mummies, Pharaoh Seti II and two other mummies of unknown females and were discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in tomb number 21 in 1817, but were later deliberately damaged.
CT-scans and DNA analysis were carried out on two foetuses found in Tutankhamun's tomb, one four months old and the other two months, in order to identify their genders and the identity of their mother and grandmother. It was long thought that Ankhesenamun was Tutankhamun's wife and step-sister and their grandmother was Queen Nefertiti, wife of the monotheistic King Akhenaten.
At the Valley of the Kings on the west bank at Luxor, Egyptian excavators cleaning the corridor of Pharaoh Seti I's tomb unearthed a quartzite ushabti (human representation) figure and the cartouche of Pharaoh Seti I, the second ruler of the 19th Dynasty, while a number of clay vessels were also unearthed along with fragments from the tomb wall paintings that may have become dislodged and fallen off after its discovery.
The length of the corridor was remeasured and found to be 136 metres long, not the 100 metres recorded in the original report by Belzoni, the tomb's discoverer. Geological studies revealed the corridor was not carved inside the tomb as one single piece but was formed of separate parts, each with its own architectural features as if it were a gate leading towards the afterlife. Utensils used by the famous 19th-century tomb robber Abdel-Rassoul and his family were found in the dust, among them a tea caddy, cigarette packets and a fly whisk.
The SCA undertook an underwater exploration on the Nile bed at Aswan, this time searching for objects that sank more than 2,500 years when obelisks, blocks and statues were transported from the quarries at Aswan to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. Underwater archaeologists raised a complete portico of the Khnum Temple and two huge unidentified columns. Several 26th-Dynasty decorative pieces, along with Roman amphora and a number of clay vessels, were also removed from the river.
Japanese archaeologists working on the Giza Plateau enabled King Khufu's second solar boat to be seen by the public. They inserted a tiny camera through a hole in the boat chamber's limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat to a small TV monitor. The images screened show layers of wooden beams and cedar and acacia timbers, as well as ropes and other materials.
At Saqqara the discovery of the subsidiary pyramid of Queen Sesheshet, mother of the Sixth-Dynasty King Teti, was another clue to understanding more about this enigmatic dynasty, while the discovery of the tombs of King Unas's favourite singer and the supervisor of his exploration missions revealed new burial patterns.
There were also several small finds such as Ptolemaic artefacts from the north coast near Alexandria, traces of a fortified New Kingdom city in North Sinai, and a Byzantine wine factory in South Sinai.
The SCA embarked on several restoration schemes, among them was the restoration of the Arab Kelly house in Rosetta with a view to transform it into the city's national museum.
The house illustrates the history of Rosetta from the city's construction in ancient times right through to the modern era. On display are 600 artefacts carefully selected from the Islamic and Coptic museums and the Gayer Anderson House in Cairo, along with another 200 objects unearthed from archaeological sites around Rosetta. These include Omayyid and Ottoman gold and bronze coins, pots and pans, versions of the Quran and a number of 18th- and 19th-century weapons such as arrows, swords, knives and pistols. Tapestry, military and national Ottoman and Mameluke costumes are also exhibited.
The Karnak Temple forefront, which for decades was a stage for encroachment, chaos and grime and a large parking lot have been transformed into one of the most beautiful areas of the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor. The LE85 million Karnak development project has been implemented in collaboration with the Luxor City Council and is now almost in place. Following 18 months of studies and field work, all infringements on the archaeological site have been removed, clearing a plot for further excavation.
In the meantime, bazaars neighbouring the temple walls have been removed from what was formerly the Luxor stadium on the Nile Corniche. The vacated area is now a one-storey commercial zone with a vast parking area along with a visitor centre, built in the same colonial style as George Legrain's house -- now demolished -- to provide visitors with all the information they need about the history of Karnak and what lays within its enclosure walls. A memorabilia gallery commemorates the early French archaeologists who worked at Karnak, including Auguste Mariette, Gaston Maspero and Georges Legrain, and tells their stories through photographs taken during excavation and restoration as well as copies of their publications and correspondence.
In the heart of Fatimid Cairo, all the monuments that line Al-Muizz Street have been restored. The whole street will become a pedestrian zone. Thirty-four monuments on Al-Muizz Street and 67 in neighbouring alleyways have now been restored. The treatment of road surfaces and street furniture enhances the experience of visitors to Al-Muizz Street, which lies between Bab Al-Fotouh and Bab Zuweila and was the main thoroughfare of the Fatimid city. The road has been lowered to its original level and a high-tech drainage system for rain water has been installed, while nearby houses have been spruced up and painted in colours that are sympathetic with the street's historic buildings.
This is the first phase of a major plan aimed at reviving mediaeval Cairo which began with refurbishing 62 Islamic monuments, including Cairo's old walls and gates. Also restored were the Abul-Abbas and Shaikhoun Mosques and two Islamic buildings in Al-Khalifa close to the Ibn Tulun Mosque. In Sayeda Zeinab, the historic mosque and khanqah (hostel for itinerant Sufis) of Prince Shaykhu and the sabil-kuttab (water fountain and Quranic school) of Prince Abdullah Kathuda, which reflect the brilliance of the mediaeval Mameluke period when Islamic architecture flourished in Cairo, have been restored and opened to the public.
At the Giza necropolis the first phase of a site management plan that will serve the twin goals of establishing a suitable visitor reception centre and preserving the plateau from the inherent dangers of mass tourism has been completed. The site is protected by an 18.5m enclosure wall equipped with 200 mobile and fixed CCTV cameras which will keep the inside areas and the surrounding streets under round-the-clock surveillance. The cameras will videotape any movement in or out of the plateau. A movement alarm system is also installed there, consisting of electronic sensors using infra-red rays that will trigger an alarm if anyone tries illicitly to enter the site or perpetrate any illicit excavation.
The entrance opposite the Mena House Hotel, which after the completion of the project's three phases will be for VIPs and private visits only, is controlled by electronic security gates. Electronic ticket machines will count the number of visitors moving in and out, and will accurately control the number of visitors at all times. It is accompanied by an early warning system and a burglar alarm. According to Hosni, since the device was installed the ticket income has increased from LE500,000 to LE800,000 per day.
More facilities have been provided on the site such as high- standard toilets, a large parking area and a small bookshop selling archaeological and historical books as well as replicas.
Under the second and third phases, all the paved roads around the monuments will be removed and replaced with paths in the style of those seen in ancient Egypt in an attempt to restore some of the area's original features. A special path for tourists will be built. All the administrative buildings and storehouses within the archaeological site will be removed, and a new lighting system will be installed at strategic places around the plateau while a conservation laboratory will be established for the preservation of artefacts. Another parking area will be created outside the plateau at the entrance on the Giza- Fayoum road, just behind the second pyramid of Khafre, which will be reserved for tourists and group visits. Access to the site will be limited to pedestrians.
RETURNED ANTIQUITIES: This year a number of illegally smuggled artefacts have been recovered from the UK, the US and Switzerland.
The greywacke head of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III was returned to Egypt after two decades of being shunted back and forth between Switzerland, the UK and the US, while 79 pre-dynastic artefacts, including plain stone reliefs, ceramic and alabaster pots, and jewellery made of shells, stolen from a Maadi museum are back from the US and the lost eye of Pharaoh Amenhotep III's limestone statue, found on Luxor's west bank in 1970, was back in Egypt following 36 globetrotting years.
EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES ON DISPLAY: Several exhibitions have been held at home and abroad. At the Egyptian Museum, one exhibition was on the history of the museum itself since its construction in the early 1990s, and another showed Egypt's foreign relations in ancient times.
The Arab World Institute in Paris held an exhibition on "Bonaparte and Egypt... Fire and Light" to highlight a very important episode in Franco-Egyptian relations. The exhibition suggested a new view of the rapport between France and Egypt in the 19th century, especially in the era that followed Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt between 1798 and 1801.
In Monaco, the "Queens of Egypt" exhibition was opened by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak and Monaco's head of state Prince Albert II. It draws on the latest discoveries to bring some exceptional and fascinating ancient Egyptian women out of the shadows. This display of 250 artefacts carefully selected from 40 museums around the world, revealed the many facets of some of the mothers, wives and daughters who played a prominent rule in political life.
In Madrid, King Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia opened the "Egypt's Sunken Treasures" exhibition at the Antiguo Matadero de Legazpi. The 489 objects had been selected from several Alexandrian sites, with 30 on loan from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Museum, 39 from the Alexandrian National Museum, and 372 drawn from the SCA storehouse of the General Underwater Monuments Department.
THE 2009 AGENDA: The SCA's agenda includes the opening of a number of restored ancient Egyptian, Islamic and Coptic monuments and museums, among them those at Rosetta, Suez and Helwan; the Royal Jewellery Museum in Alexandria; the Royal Carriage and the Islamic museums; the Qualawun, Al-Set Meska and Al-Layth mosques; and several sabil-kuttabs (water fountains and Quranic schools) and houses. Those still under development include the Tel Basta area in Zagazig governorate; the Kom Al-Shokafa tombs and the Sawari Column (Pompey's Pillar) in Alexandria; and Abu Rawash, Saqqara and Abu Sir, Edfu and Komombo.