The pyramids of Egypt– Giza Plateau
The pyramids of Egypt– Giza Plateau
Nearly 300 leather fragments from an ancient Egyptian chariot, believed to date back to the New Kingdom, have been recently uncovered from the depths of the Egyptian Museum by a team of renowned archaeologists. Studying the technology and resources utilized in the building of such chariots, the team aims to reconstruct an ancient Egyptian royal chariot in 2014, using the same technology as that used by the ancient Egyptians.
Although horse-drawn chariots are often illustrated in ancient Egyptian artwork, archaeological evidence that goes beyond wooden frames is scarce. Due to their organic nature, leather fragments seldom survive. “The pieces were in a much better shape than we originally anticipated, and we were able to achieve a sense of how the leather unfolds,” said Ikram. “The fine condition that the leather was in suggests that it may have been preserved in a tomb. Leather finds from urban contexts such as Amarna, although still relatively good compared to those from many sites elsewhere in the world, usually show signs of disintegration, are brittle and, overall, in far worse condition.”
In constructing an exact replica of the chariot, Ikram and the team aim to gain an understanding of the construction technology and the leather used in its fabrication, as well as to test hypotheses about the uses of the different pieces of leather, which may prove to be a challenging endeavor. “Some leather pieces are folded over in a crumpled state, and the reconstruction of certain portions while trying to maintain accuracy in reproducing the technologies used might be more difficult than we anticipate,” said Ikram.
Back in 2008, Ikram commenced work with Andre Veldmeijer, head of the Egyptology section at the Netherlands Flemish Institute in Cairo, on the Ancient Egypt Leatherwork Project, when they came across a 1950s publication by Robert Jacobus Forbes titled Studies in Ancient Technology. The manuscript spoke of a black and white photograph of ancient trappings and horse harnesses, evidently intact and said to exist at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Intrigued by Forbes’s findings, Ikram and Veldmeijer sought the help of museum curators to locate a cache of leather trays pertaining to an Egyptian chariot, including parts of the bow-case.
Ikram and Veldmeijer sought to document, examine and conduct analytical studies of the technology and resources utilized. They categorized the leather into two main groups based on color and sturdiness: red and green fine leather, and beige and green robust leather. Some of the uncovered leather pieces were highly decorated with leather appliqué work, while others were plainer. The leather fragments have been numbered and described, and include nave hoops, neck straps, gauntlets and parts of the bow-case. The remnants evidently comprised all parts of the chariot. “Everything we saw about the chariot leather was new,” affirmed Ikram. “It presented a revelation on how the chariot was put together, the technologies and materials used. Our examinations also disclosed how drawstrings served as the means of securing leather components over the skeleton of the chariot.”
By closely examining the findings, Ikram hopes to be able to better situate them within the backdrop of Egyptian chariotry. The Egyptian Museum Chariot Project findings fit in with a larger multidisciplinary and holistic research venture on leatherwork in ancient Egypt, which also includes the study of other fragmentary chariot pieces, such as those originating from the tombs of Thutmose IV (Carter and Newberry, 1904), Amenhotep II (Daressy, 1902) and Amenhotep III (Littauer and Crouwel, 1985, 1968 and 1987), as well as the leather finds from the Amarna period (Veldmeijer, 2010). This larger project is directed by Veldmeijer and Ikram.
“Chariots changed the way people looked at terrains and the way they interacted with them,” said Ikram. “Before the chariot, transportation means in ancient Egypt were limited to boats, donkeys and walking. It introduced the notion of roadways for faster wheel conveyance, revolutionizing the way Egyptians moved through the landscape and pioneering means of transportation and warfare.”
Aside from peaceable pursuits, the chariot was closely linked to the military, providing a moving platform from which the archer could shoot at the enemy. Hunting is also repeatedly depicted as a favorite sport of Egyptian royalty and nobility, and both are frequently represented pursuing desert games while riding in their chariots. Chariot processional scenes are believed to be popular from the 18th Dynasty onward, where the triumphant pharaoh is often shown to be returning alone from the battlefield.
From ancient eras to contemporary times, Ikram believes that chariots denoted one of the earliest personal transport concepts known to mankind. “The chariot is the precursor to the car,” she said. “The ancient Egyptians used it in the same way in which early motorized vehicles were used by us.”
Cairo is a haven for cultural tours for children. If you want to arrange a trip for your children in Cairo, forget about parks, cinemas, circuses and seaside resorts and go for a tour in Medieval Cairo. It is much more fun, especially, if it is accompanied by a photo contest.
All photos here are taken by the children, except for two, I took them myself
It was 8am when we all gathered, both kids and their long-suffering mothers, at the Wonderland Mall in Nasr City. Our purpose? To take the rented tour bus to a series of destinations planned for the day. We were all on time. The bus driver turns out to be punctual, too, and by 8.30 we are off — to the mosques of Al-Refaai and Sultan Hassan near the Salaheddin Citadel, the Gayer Anderson Museum annexed to Ibn Tulun Mosque, and the Abdine Palace in, well, Abdine.
The children are excited about the programme; they’ve started to ask questions about the places we are going to. Assuming the role of tour guide, I’m doing my best to give the simplest possible answers. This is not my first experience of the situation, after all. It’s largely due to the success of last year’s trip to the Citadel, the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids of Giza that we’re doing it again. And it’s not just about entertainment. This group of mothers share the belief that such a trip is as important for their children as school curricula — and less trying.
It all started when my son, Adham, turned eight; in the course of a casual conversation it dawned on me how little he knows of Egyptian history: in the winter he does his school work; in the summer he plays by the sea. Ah well, I thought, remembering my own history with dread. Forget the last 17 years of my life, during which I’ve been a professional travel writer. The first time I set foot in the Egyptian Museum I was, erm, 21 years old. Nor did I even see Khan Al-Khalili until my first year as a travel writer: the foreigner who accompanied me, then, knew so much more than I did it was terribly embarrassing. Never! I cried inwardly, looking into Adham’s eyes. And so I started an Egypt-wide plan covering Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic and modern. Initial exploratory experiments revealed that, individually or in small numbers, children have the tendency to get bored. The answer? Take the whole class, preferably with parents, and visit more than one place and period at a time.
The mothers of Adham’s classmates proved universally enthusiastic — and helpful. A task list was quickly drawn up and divided among us: planning the route, renting the bus and preparing an info sheet was my responsibility. Sherine compiled material about the architecture; Noha took on the formidable task of coordination, not only of times and venues but costs.
The itinerary was tailored to the children, with the idea of maximum absorption as our guiding principle: at the Citadel, for example, the Mohamed Ali Mosque would serve as an introduction to Islamic architecture while offering stimulating surroundings and plenty of space, while at the Egyptian Museum we headed straight for the King Tut’s glittering mask. Following the Pyramids, Andrea’s overlooking the nearby Marioutiya Canal matched the mood with its authentic — and very tasty — Egyptian cuisine.
Lessons learned included making the next trip shorter — and, on the present occasion, I chose sites closer together. I concentrated on Islamic monuments and royal history: aside from the excitement of Al-Refaai’s interior, we visited the tombs of the Egyptian royal family and the shah of Iran. Then we moved on to the mosque in the Madrassa Mosque of Sultan Hassan — one of the biggest domes in the world. And only 15- minute drive brought us to Beit Al-Kiritliya: Gayer Anderson Museum, perhaps the truest model of a middle-class Cairene family home in Mameluke times, later acquired by the British officer-collector whose name it now bears. At the Abdine Palace we saw not only royal possessions but gifts given to President Hosni Mubarak by heads of state. The tour came to an end at the famous Felfela’s, not far from Abdine. Here too the food was rich, varied and in the spirit of that day.
This time we managed to make the trip even more interactive by organising a photo contest, choosing the best three from the whole day. Those who didn’t have a camera used their mothers’ mobile phones; and it was clickety- click all along. Most, in fact, took excellent photos. It was next to impossible to choose three, so we decided to enlarge and display them at their School. Alongside the photos were the kids’ impressions.
Recent radiological findings by an international team of experts may potentially dispel the long held-belief that cancer is a man-made, modern-day disease. With the diagnosis of the first real case of prostate cancer in a mummy, researchers say the causes of cancer may be more genetic than was originally thought.
The study, published in the International Journal of Paleopathology and conducted in Lisbon’s National Archaeology Museum, initially examined three mummies through the use of X-rays and advanced computerized tomography scans. Those of M1, a male Ptolemaic Egyptian mummy, were particularly of interest as they revealed several dense bone lesions located mainly on the spine, pelvis and proximal limbs, leading to the diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer.
For long, researchers have identified poor lifestyle choices and carcinogens as the main culprits behind this insidious disease. However, M1’s case suggests that investigators may have undermined the role of genetics in developing cancer. “We’re starting to see that the causes of cancer seem to be less environmental, more genetic,” said Salima Ikram, member of the research team and chair of the Egyptology department at AUC. “Living conditions in ancient times were very different. There were no pollutants or modified foods, which leads us to believe that the disease is not necessarily only linked to industrial factors.”
Ikram added, “Cancer is such a hot topic these days. Experts are constantly trying to probe in hopes of answering one question: When and how did the ailment really evolve?”
M1’s case is the oldest proven case of cancer in ancient Egypt and the second oldest in the world. In 2007, a study published by Schultz et al. in the International Journal of Cancer reported paleopathological evidence of prostate cancer in a Scythian king in Russia. Experts said that the clinical characteristics of this king, who was in his fifth decade of age, bore resemblance to those exhibited by modern-day patients. Similar to M1, cancerous lesions were also identified through microscopic observation.
Earlier archaeological findings suggest that ancient Egyptians were not oblivious to the existence of malignant tumors. Early reports of carcinoma were documented in 1500 B.C., when the Edwin Smith Papyrus detailed an initial case of breast cancer in a female. The manuscript spoke of unsuccessful attempts to surgically excise eight tumors through cauterization.
The human body replenishes itself through the production of new cells that replace old ones. This is accomplished through cell division – a process by which the body duplicates genetic material. Aberrations in this process lead to cell mutations, which may cause cancer if they occur in a critical part of the gene and persist over time. As a consequence, cancer is more frequently observed in older people.
“We’re likely seeing more cancer-led deaths today simply because people are living longer,” explained Ikram. “Life expectancy in ancient Egyptian societies ranged from 30 to 40 years, meaning that those afflicted with the disease were probably dying from reasons other than its progression.”
But why are these findings only recently reported when antiquities have been accessible to investigators for many years? The answer is simple: the advent of technology. M1’s cancer was found with the aid of highly sophisticated multi-detector computerized tomography scanners, which make the detection of the smallest tumors quickly possible.
The use of these advanced diagnostic tools is not only helpful in uncovering paleopathological evidence, but can provide a wealth of information on attributes such as age of death, lifestyle and even body composition.
In Carl Sagan’s own words, the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. “The discovery is an interesting note in the history of the disease and that of ancient Egypt,” said Ikram. “Findings such as these bring us one step closer to finding the cause of cancer, and, ultimately, the cure to a disease that has besieged mankind for so long.”
In the first full excavation of the dog catacombs at Saqqara, Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo (AUC), along with an international team of researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, has estimated that approximately 8 million animal mummies are present at the burial site and is working to establish whether different breeds are represented there. “We are recording the animal bones and the mummification techniques used to prepare the animals,” said Ikram. “In doing so, we hope to identify the dog breeds present at the site. Thus far, our bone measurements indicate that there are different breeds that were mummified there.” The mummified animals at Saqqara are not limited to canines. “There are cat and mongoose remains in the deposit,” explained Ikram. “We are trying to understand how this fits religiously with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated.”
For Ikram, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in the field of mummification with a specialization in archaeozoology, the study of animal mummies offers deep insights into ancient Egyptian culture. “Animal mummies are really manifestations of daily life –– pets, food, death, religion and technology. They cover everything the Egyptians were concerned with,” said Ikram, adding that when Egyptology was becoming established as an academic discipline in the 19th century, archaeologists pushed past hundreds of thousands of animal mummies in their haste to uncover the human ones and, more significantly, their grave goods.
Salima Ikram on site at Saqqara
The dog catacombs research at Saqqara, funded by National Geographic, is one of several archaeological field projects in which Ikram is involved. She directed the Animal Mummy Project at the Egyptian Museum, resurrecting a neglected exhibition that first caught her attention when she visited the museum as a child. In addition, in Project Djehuty, directed by Jose Galan and which focuses on the excavation and restoration of tombs T11 and T12 in the Dra’ Abu el-Naga necropolis in Thebes, Ikram sees great potential for her work with animal mummies, combined with the efforts of other specialists, to yield revelations about ancient Egyptian life. “This project is the first time that an area like this has been examined so holistically,” she said. “While I study the animal mummies, there are others in the group studying the texts written on the walls by the same people who embalmed them. By studying everything from textiles to text to animal remains, we can elucidate quite a bit about what these people thought, their religion and the economic effects of mummifying hundreds of thousands of animals.”
Discoveries have shown that there are four main reasons ancient Egyptians mummified animals. “They were mummified as sacred creatures that were representative of the gods, as beloved pets, as gifts to the gods and as food for the afterlife,” said Ikram, explaining that these varying motives reveal much about the behavioral patterns of the ancient Egyptians. She added, “Using DNA testing of mummified ibis remains found in geographically different locations, we hope to establish isolated breeding groups. An abundance of recessive genes showing, for example, would indicate interbreeding of animals in captivity. This also signifies something of an economy of breeding animals for mummification.”
For Egyptologists, mummies reflect everything, from the sacred to the suspicious. “Animal mummies were a very visceral and organic way for people to communicate with the gods,” Ikram said. “At the same time, they were also a business, and many of the mummies I’ve studied are ancient false mummies -– a fragment of an animal wrapped as if it were a whole one, or an interior containing nothing but mud. Maybe the Egyptians thought that the intention was sufficient for divine communication.”
Whether it is dogs in Saqqara or ibises in Thebes, Ikram sees familiar human motives at the heart of animal mummification. “You look at these animals, and suddenly you say, Oh, King so-and-so had a pet. I have a pet. And instead of being at a distance of 5,000-plus years, the ancient Egyptians become people,” she said.