Egyptian Jewelry: What To Get Your Mummy For Christmas And Why

By Corey Green, HMNS Discovery Guide

 

In Ancient Egypt, jewelry pieces had meaning beyond the vanity of beautification. Jewelry patterns, materials, and all the way down to the very colors carried their own connotations of meaning and symbolism to the people who wore it. Most designs used beads or colored minerals inlaid in various metals. Those beads could be carved into designs evoking images of gods, or protective symbols, animals, or plants. Inlays could portray whole ceremonies performed by the wearer or by gods protecting the wearer. It could be as simple or elaborate as one could afford. There were six pigments to choose from in Egypt: blue, green, yellow, red, black, and white. Every one of them evokes images of life, death, regrowth, rebirth, purity, longevity, etc.

This broad collar from the New Kingdom, around 1370 B.C., is made from faience, a type of fused glass, and intricately beaded into the pattern created in the image.

ancient-egyptian-jewelry1(from http://realhistoryww.com/world_history/ancient/Misc/Egypt/Jewelryb.htm)

Something like this would be a fairly affordable piece for an average person in that era. The opaque glass is made from grinding pigments, mixing with sand, and firing it as they would with ceramics. Blue would symbolize the life-giving water of the Nile or the sky (home of the gods); yellow is longevity, incorruptibility; green for new growth and new life as if in spring time; white is purity; and red is victory, life-force.

By comparison, here is King Tut’s neck plate, called a “pectoral:”

ancient-egyptian-jewelry2

(from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5196362.stm)

This is made from gold, with inlays of carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and super-heated fused sand created by a meteorite hitting desert sand.

It’s good to be the pharaoh.

In a world full of uncertainties, diseases could arise without explanation or cures, environmental conditions whose vagrancies could devastate a population, not to mention wars, taxes, religious factors that dictated daily life. These symbols, be it colors, or images evoking protection from the gods, gave an emotional stability in their meaning and at least a peace of mind that one was doing all they could to insure a measure of success and order out of seeming chaos.

Additionally, these jewelry pieces would entirely dictate status. The ancient Egyptians were all about knowing their place in the world. Their society was very strictly stratified, and jewelry was one very outward example of displaying that status. Wealthy citizens, nobility and royalty especially, used materials that were very difficult and/or expensive to attain. These could include, minerals imported from across the known world: lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, malachite, obsidian, basalt, etc. in addition to metals from across the known world: gold, silver, bronze, etc.

Lower classes tended to use found objects, such as shells and rocks—perhaps found in their environment—or inventing materials they can craft, such as clay or glass (faience). When used, the metals used by the lower classes were usually no more expensive than copper, or more rarely a very thin gold foil.

Lastly, the Egyptians used this jewelry because it was beautiful. Some things about human nature have not changed, and we always want to look beautiful and feel fancy. Clothing in ancient Egypt was fairly unremarkable except by its presence. The fact that one had it, and had the servants to clean, iron, or weave it in the first place was the height of fashion and status. Therefore, the way that they “dressed up” clothing, so to speak, was to decorate it–not with dyes, but with jewelry.

These pieces, as expensive as one could buy or handmade regardless, could be given as gifts, just like we do today. Husbands often bought jewelry for their wives during holiday seasons. Royalty might give jewelry as rewards for service or loyalty to the crown. This type was often given to men for military prowess:

 

ancient-egyptian-jewlery3
(from http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/jewellerycollar.html)

Even then, jewelry was not just for women.

Perhaps we modern folks have more options in terms of color choices and materials for our jewelry, yet we still share a love, as our ancestors did, of looking good with what we’ve got. As this holiday season approaches, we’re really taking a part in history by giving or receiving jewelry.

At least, that’s what I tell myself as I walk through our gift shop and ogle the pretties.

Lecture: Update in Egyptology

On October 26, 2016 Dr. Mostafa Waziri and Salah El Masekh will present a lecture in our Wortham Gian Screen Theater. Titled Update in Egyptology the lecture will discuss some of the most exciting discoveries being made right now in Egypt. The lecture will discuss several discoveries at the ancient temple complex of Karnak, and will also touch on a controversial topic in Egyptology: the search for Queen Nerfertiti’s lost mummy.

Do you recall the Temples of Karnak and Luxor? Even though most of us have never been there, we can instantly conjure an image of great pillars and sphinx-lined avenues baking in the hot sun, as the cool Nile washes past not far away. It is a classic image of Egypt, embedded in all our minds after countless re-watchings of adventure films and one documentary after another about the site appearing on the History, Discovery, National Geographic Channels, and PBS as well, or course. 

Well it looks like the collective memories of the world regarding that famous site may no longer be complete, as Egyptian archaeologists have recently unearthed several new features around the complex that may help us understand how these important ceremonial centers functioned in Ancient Egypt. 

It turns out that the spectacular ” Avenue of the Sphinxes” is much longer than everyone thought. Hundreds of nearly identical statues have been discovered along what was once an ancient roadway connecting the temples of Karnak and Luxor. 

avenue-of-sphinx

A new temple has been unearthed in the vicinity of the Temple Complex at Karnak. The newly discovered structure was devoted to Amon Re, like many of the other temples at the site were.  Amon was kind of like the “Patron God” of the ancient city of Thebes, where the complex is located. Amon Re is the combination of the gods Amon and Re, basically a  “super god”. As Thebes was an important spiritual and political center for much of Egyptian history,  Pharohs would build Temples on the site as a symbol of devotion to the powerful God, and also as a show of power and wealth. They would usually try to one-up their predecessors and sometimes even destroyed the constructions of former kings in order to build their “improved” version on the site.

The title given to Amon Re in the recently unearthed temple is ” The One Who Hears The Petitions (Prayers)”. As Amun was a very important diety in Ancient Egypt for a very long time, many Pharohs championed his Temple and his name. But to each Pharoh Amon represented something slightly different. The character and title of the god changed sometimes to suit the character of the different kings who worshiped him. The newly discovered Temple may add to our knowledge of the rich history and mythology surrounding one of ancient Egypt’s most holy sites. New research on the structure, as well as a statue of Remeses II discovered within it, will be presented in the lecture.

egypt-statue

Another interesting discovery that will be discussed is the Roman baths dating to the second century BC that were unearthed in front of the Karnak temple complex in 2006. The baths are a fascinating example of the fusion of Greco-Roman and Egyptian style in architecture and culture that began with Alexander the Great’s Conquest of Egypt in 332 BC and continued for the better part of the next nine hundred years. Mosaic images of dolphins, a very exotic sight in sweltering Upper Egypt, mingle with Tilapia, a native Egyptian fish, and floral designs based on plants introduced from the East before the days of Alexander.

roman-bath

roman-bath2

The site features two circles of “hip-bathtubs” whose lazy-boy-esque appearance have attracted the lens of many a photographer, but beyond that the site is teaching archaeologists a lot about the evolution of Hellenistic baths in Ancient Egypt. It’s unique system of heating water includes features unlike any found in other parts of Egypt, or the Greek world. In the words of the renowned Egyptian archaeologist Salah El Mesekh, who manages the site, “these baths teach us more about how the Romans spent their free time- their social time”.  The lecture will also discuss a Roman Era winery recently unearthed.

Tomb Tut head

Last, but definitely not least, the lecture will address the flurry of debate surrounding the theory that Queen Nefertiti’s lost mummy may be hidden  behind one of the walls within King Tut’s tomb. Our Curator of Egyptology, Dr. Tom Hardwicke recently wrote a blog featuring his take on the issue. Dr. Waziri and El Masekh will discuss the evidence behind this theory and the feasibility of excavating to determine if there is indeed something there.

Be sure to check out Update in Egyptology A lecture on new discoveries in Egypt this Wednesday, October 26, 2016 starting at 6:30pm!

 

Last Chance to See Ramesses II and Horemheb! Australian Artifacts Move Home Next Week

by Tom Hardwick and Dirk van Tuerenhout

When the Houston Museum of Natural Science planned our Hall of Ancient Egypt, filling its 11,000 square feet with artifacts was not an easy job. Our own collection of Egyptian material is rather small, and that made looking for long-term loans from other museums a logical — and necessary — choice. We reached out to museums across the world to borrow material to display in Houston.

It was sometimes a bit of a long shot since while asking for a short-term loan (typically three to six months) is standard, asking for a long term loan of several years is a different undertaking altogether.

egypt3

Ramesses II

We are extremely grateful that so many museums agreed to lend us some of their wonderful Egyptian objects. As the day of the opening approached, artifacts from museums in North America and Europe started to arrive in Houston. Some came from as far away as Australia. Yes, Australia!

In 2013, two star pieces — a giant granodiorite head of king Ramesses II (between 1280 to 1210 BC) and a bust of a non-royal man from a little earlier — traveled from the Nicholson Museum in Sidney halfway across the world to Houston. Affiliated with the University of Sidney, the Nicholson Museum is Australia’s oldest university museum and home to the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere.

A well known pharaonic face at the end of the columned corridor beckons the visitor

A well known pharaonic face at the end of the columned corridor beckons the visitor.

Ramesses II’s bust, representing one of Egypt best known pharaohs, took up a strategic location in our exhibit. Positioned at the end of a long line of sight, this royal image drew visitors deeper into the exhibit. It symbolized the double role played by Egyptian kings: that of worldly leader as well as representative of Egyptian gods on Earth. Ramesses was not just the king who worshipped the gods; he was also a god himself. For the many people who were denied access to the interiors of temples, colossal statues like the one our head came from (he must have been a good 20 feet when complete) were the only images of the king or the gods they could interact with. No surprise that some colossi were also worshipped as gods in their own right.

The bust of a private man, whom many believe to be Horemheb, the general who took the throne after Tutankhamun’s death, was tucked away in our display of burial in the New Kingdom, where visitors could have a more intimate encounter with him.

egypt4

Bust believed to be Horemheb.

All good things come to an end, however, and the Nicholson’s objects will be leaving us next week to go home. Following established museum procedures, a courier from the Nicholson will come to supervise their removal from their cases, will check their condition, and will see them safely crated up for their long journey home.

We’ll be sorry to see them go, but there’s one bonus — for me, at least. During the de-installation, I will get to look at them out of their cases, and in different lights. For Horemheb, this will just be pure pleasure: it’s one of the finest pieces of carving from the period.

For Ramesses, however, I have a mission. Arielle Kozloff, former Curator of Ancient Art at Cleveland, told me that she thought Ramesses’s face might have been re-worked, either before or after his reign. Ramesses was a prolific builder, and often economized by recycling statues of earlier kings. Sometimes Ramesses just put his cartouches (the king’s name, written in an oval ring) over the previous king’s; sometimes he went to the trouble of re-carving the previous owner’s face to harmonise with his own. In cases like these, sweeping a torch over the surface, and (gently) running your hands over the surface, can make you aware of different textures, possibly indicating different tools and different phases of working, that normally escape your notice. I’m not convinced that this is one of Ramesses’s retreads, but this is the perfect opportunity to test Arielle’s theory.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, curators abhor empty cases: I’ll introduce you later to the objects that have replaced Ramesses and Horemheb. Before they go, though, you have the rest of this week to admire them at HMNS.

Is Nefertiti still buried in Tutankhamun’s tomb? Archaeologists examine a new theory

Tutankhamun has been in the news again, following online publication of Nicholas Reeves’s article that suggests that Tut’s tomb may still be keeping a very big secret: the burial of the king who ruled before him, hidden behind the painted walls of Tut’s burial chamber. To cap it all, this mysterious predecessor, Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, was probably Tut’s mother-in-law Nefertiti, who changed sex and ruled as king after the death of her husband (and Tut’s father) Akhenaten, in about 1330 BC. No wonder Tut’s life was turned into a miniseries earlier this summer…

Burial chamber

Burial Chamber. North wall of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun, Valley of the Kings.

Nicholas Reeves knows more about Tutankhamun and his family than almost anyone, so his theory has been widely discussed. His book The Complete Tutankhamun, is an unsurpassed guide to the tomb, and Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet takes a wide-ranging look at the the changes in religion and society that Akhenaten tried to impose as king.

Dr. Reeves’s theory builds on his extensive study of the Valley of the Kings and Tutankhamun’s Egypt, but at its heart are two simple practical observations. Looking at the high-resolution scans of Tut’s burial chamber made by Factum Arte, he noticed vertical and horizontal disturbances in the surface of the north and west walls of the burial chamber. Second, the paintings on the long, northern wall look different from those on the other walls and have been carried out using a different technique.

Dr. Reeves’s suggestion is essentially that the disturbances correspond to the doorways of two chambers that had been sealed off and painted over to conceal them before Tut’s burial. The chamber behind the west wall may have been intended for more of Tut’s belongings, while the chamber behind the north wall could contain the burial of Tut’s predecessor, Smenkhkare/Nefertiti, for whom the tomb was originally made. The paintings on the north wall were executed just after Nefertiti’s burial in order to conceal her mummy and tomb equipment from robbers, a common practice in royal tombs.

When Tut died, nine years after Nefertiti, his own tomb was nowhere near finished. In order to bury him quickly, his burial party used the rooms in front of Nefertiti’s sealed burial chamber. This room then became Tut’s burial chamber, and the three still unpainted walls were painted with scenes of Tut’s funeral and afterlife. The already painted north wall received a few tweaks to transform it from a depiction of Nefertiti’s funeral to Tut’s.

There’s a simple and uncontroversial way to test whether there’s anything behind Dr. Reeves’s theory: ground penetrating radar. Firing this at the walls in question should show what, if anything, is behind them. It sounds as though the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities has given permission. Watch this space!

But first, we should watch the walls. I know little about how one evaluates wall surfaces, so can’t say whether the horizontal and vertical disturbances really are consistent with a couple of sealed doorways. However, I’ve worked on artistic styles – the way representations change over time and circumstance – and I am not convinced by Dr. Reeves’s theory that the north wall of the burial chamber was painted for Nefertiti, nine years before Tut’s burial and the rest of the paintings.

The north wall has three groups of figures. From left to right you can see Osiris, god of the dead, embraced by Tut and his ka (spirit); the sky goddess Nut offering water to Tut; and Aye, Tut’s successor king, wearing a leopard-skin outfit as he performs the opening of the mouth ritual on Tut’s wrapped mummy.

Dr. Reeves argues that images of Nefertiti were painted where we now see Tut, and Tut was painted where we now see his successor Aye. When Tut died, the names were changed to change the identities and the background painted yellow to make the north wall look like the other walls. The figures themselves were not touched, so Tut actually looks like Nefertiti and Aye actually looks like Tut. All clear?

The trouble is that the Tuts don’t look like Nefertitis to me, and Aye doesn’t look much like Tut. Instead, Tut looks like Tut and Aye looks like Aye, as we have always assumed. What is going on?

Tomb Tut head

Tut or Nefertiti? Detail from the north wall of the burial chamber of Tutanhamun.

Dr Reeves says that the ‘oromental groove’ – the fold at the corner of Tut’s/Nefertiti’s mouth – is “a defining feature” of Nefertiti’s representations. I disagree. You see them on plenty of representations of other people – male and female – at this time. Here you can see one of Tut’s sisters (and Nefertiti’s daughters) eating a duck and showing off her oromental groove.

Princess eating duck

Artist’s sketch of an Amarna princess, Cairo Museum. Courtesy www.welt.de.

It’s harder to tell in 3D sculpture, where you’re carving a subtle groove rather than drawing a single line, but this statue of Tut himself in the Oriental Institute Chicago, seems to have a little groove at the corner of his mouth.

Habu Tut

Colossal statue of Tutankhamun from Medinet Habu © The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

And this statue of a god with Tut’s features also has a noticeable fold.

Karnak Tut

Statue of Amun with the features of Tutankhamun, Temple of Karnak.

If Tut looks like Tut, and not Nefertiti, then does the painting of King Aye, Tut’s successor, really look like it started out as Tut? He certainly doesn’t look like the Tuts/Nefertitis next to him on the wall.

Tomb Aye head

Aye or Tut? Detail from the north wall of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun.

For me, again, the answer is no.  While most representations of people in Egypt are relatively generic – expressing, in part, closeness and obedience to the king – representations of Aye have a number of fairly individual traits. One is a longish, straightish nose which sticks out sharply from a slightly receding forehad. You can see that on the profile of “Aye” in Tut’s tomb as well as this example.

MFA Aye

Nile deity with Aye’s face, from a statue of Aye as a king. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This slightly earlier image of Aye, from the tomb he made for himself before he was king, also shows a similar nose, and a pouch under his round chin.

Ay

Aye holding his official insignia. Worcester Art Museum.

Dr. Reeves describes “Aye’s” slight double chin as “a feature not present in any image currently recognizable as “Aye” and indicating that the original king painted must have been a chubby young Tutankhamun. Again, I would disagree with this. Just compare Aye’s chin above to the representation in Tut’s tomb. They are pretty similar.

The final object that I think speaks against this hypothesis is a plaster cast of a face taken from a statue of an old man with a heavily wrinkled forehead.

Aye Berlin

Head of an elderly man from Tell el Amarna. Egyptian Museum, Berlin.

This was discovered in the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose at Akhenaten’s capital, alongside the well known Bust of Nefertiti. The head has no inscription but has often been identified as Aye. I’d agree with this – just compare the noses – but either way, look at his magnificent double chin. At this period, then, double chins aren’t necessarily a sign of youth, but also of age. So this is no young Tut burying Nefertiti, but as the inscriptions themselves say, old Aye burying Tut.

You can see that I’m skeptical of Dr. Reeves’s interpretation of the wall paintings. Does this mean that there’s nothing behind the wall(s)? Not necessarily. The wall paintings form only one part of his hypothesis, and I don’t know enough about structural mechanics and architecture to be able to decode or comment on the surface features he has identified as plastered-up doorways. So I’ll be very interested to see what the results of the ground-penetrating radar examination reveal, and I’ll be delighted if my skepticism is shown to be mistaken. Using radar is only the start of what could be a long process, though. Any anomalies revealed may be something very different from chambers full of gorgeous gold. For example, the floor of the Valley of the Kings is shot through with cracks and fissures which show up on radar as anomalies; the soil of the valley has been churned over by two hundred years of excavators, and is also full of modern holes. There are plenty of unfinished niches in other tombs, and perhaps Tut’s architects just neatly plastered over two in the burial chamber. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of Tut and Nefertiti (sorry, but no Aye) in the Hall of Ancient Egypt at HMNS. In addition to our head of a god with the features of Tut, and our replica of the Bust of Nefertiti, come and look at this amulet.

Chidd Amulet

Amulet of a crouching royal. Trustees of the Denys E. Bower Bequest, Chiddingstone Castle.

It is tiny, about the size of a little fingernail, but the faience paste has been molded in some detail. You can make out a crouching figure clad in the long pleated kilt of the elite of the time of Akhenaten. The figure has one hand lifted to its mouth, sucking its index finger in the gesture used to identify children in Egypt. On its head is a skull-hugging cap with streamers hanging down the back, and a protective uraeus snake at the front. This is a royal person of the Amarna period reborn as a child, just as the sun rises again every day. The cap crown worn by the figure is worn by only one person: Nefertiti. Even if Nefertiti may not be awaiting rebirth in her hidden burial chamber, you can see her reborn every day in the Hall of Ancient Egypt.