At the beginning of July Robert Morkot gave a talk to the Essex Egyptology Group (and guests) via Zoom. He'd previously visited us to talk about the 25th Dynasty of Egypt who were from Kush, and this talk followed on from that to tell us about the culture in what is now Sudan after the 25th Dynasty were forced from Egypt in the mid-1st Millennium BCE. Morkot explained that he wanted to give us an overview of a huge span of time (from 700 BCE to 350 CE), and show us lots of photos of Meroitic artifacts. Not much modern work is being done on the culture of Meroë compared to Egypt - many of the people who work on the region come from Egyptology and tend to work on New Kingdom sites in North Sudan.

He began by giving us the geographical context of Kush and Meroë, and talked about their perception in the Classical and Medieval Mediterranean cultures. Those two names are both applied to a region south of Egypt, centring at times on Gebel Barkal, at times Napata, at times at Meroë, as well as other places. The country of Punt, where Egypt sent expeditions, is these days thought to be to the east of this region at around the same latitude as modern Khartoum. Ethiopia (which will come into the story later) is to the south-east. But despite knowing about Meroë the Classical authors who drew maps or described the country (like Ptolemy in his Geography) populated it with fantastical creatures and weird peoples. It is a place on the edge of the world, to them, where anything could be true.

The landscape and environment is different in Nubia then it is in Egypt, and different to the way it was during the time period Morkot was talking about. He showed us a map of the region and essentially divided it into three regions. North of Aswan is the Nile Valley that we're all familiar with. In Lower Nubia (the northernmost part of the region) the landscape is pretty barren, with a lot of desert. Around the point of the big S-shaped bend in the river (that Khartoum sits at the downstream end of) during this period of history the Nile entered the rain belt (in modern times that happens around the location of Khartoum). This means that the environment was a lush savannah, with elephants and giraffes as typical animals.

In his previous talk to the group (see my writeup here) Morkot told us about Gebel Barkal and the 25th Dynasty. From a start ruling in the Gebel Barkal region these kings expand rapidly and conquer Egypt. He showed us a list of their names - the best attested of them is Taharqo who reigned in both Egypt and Kush from 690 to 664 BCE. There's a lot of evidence for this period from the Egyptian records, and from the conflict with the Assyrians that happened during Taharqo's reign. Taharqo's successor Tanwetamani inherited this conflict and forced out of Egypt by the Assyrians and their Egyptian successors - he was finally completely removed from Egypt in 656 BCE and that country is reunited under the Saite Dynasty. Importantly this is not the end of either Tanwetamani or his dynasty - they continue to rule in Kush with some degree of continuity through into the Meroitic Period.

Morkot now moved on to post-25th Dynasty Kush - a time that we call the Napatan Period. We know about these kings from the pyramids they were buried in at Nuri, but there is otherwise not much information about them and their people. There is some other evidence from an Egyptian perspective surrounding conflict between Egypt and the Napatans.

The main pyramid at Nuri is the pyramid of Taharqo. Facing this pyramid are a line of royal kings' tombs, and behind is a crescent of many tombs of queens and other non-king royals - overall it is a huge cemetery. George Reisner excavated here, and he found the burial chamber of Taharqo almost intact - there were shabtis arranged in ranks around the edges of it. Morkot now showed us some objects from other tombs in the cemetery dating to this time period. These included some rather fine metal vessels - including a silver vessel for milk shaped like a breast for the king to suckle on during the coronation ceremony (in the same way that he would be depicted in reliefs suckling on a goddess). Also a small vessel that Morkot said he used to call the royal bath-plug, because that's what it looks like, until people started to believe him!

During the reign of Psamtik II Egypt invaded Kush, in 593 BCE. One of the pieces of evidence for this is a graffito at Abu Simbel, which records the departure of the army on this campaign and says that the two generals were Potasimto and Amasis (who may be the same Amasis who later ruled as Ahmose II). Other documentation says that the army sacked Napata including the residence of the kwr (the Egyptian way of referring to the Qore (or king) of Kush), as well as other places further to the south. This is a key moment in the history of the region as after this destructive campaign the capital was moved from Napata to Meroë (which was a city that had been occupied from at least the 9th or 10th Century BCE).

The evidence from Nuri really just gives us a list of names of kings, who can be placed in roughly the right order but Morkot said that not much can be said about most of them. They did leave some fine objects, however, which are still very Egyptian in style.

One king, Irike-Aman-note (or perhaps Amani-nete-yerike) left a long inscription at Kawa, which was written in Egyptian hieroglyphs but it clearly wasn't written by a native speaker. This inscription tells us about the death of Talakhamani, Irike-Aman-note's predecessor - the relationship between the two is unclear - he died after the rebellion of the Rerehes north of Kawa. There is also a reference to another king called Malowiebamani at this point in the inscription. It also details how Irike-Aman-note was acclaimed by the army and then journey to Gebel Barkal. He receives the cap immediately after year 2 - which I think Morkot said was how the coronation was referred to. After this Irike-Aman-note goes on a progress to places such as Kortjen, Gem-Aten (at Kawa) and Penebes (Kerma) - in each of these places he makes offerings at the temples, participates in festivals and undertakes some campaigns. He then returns to the south of his country where he stays for the rest of his reign. This seems to be a fairly standard procedure for these kings - they go north to bury their predecessor and get crowned, go on progress to assert their authority and then go south again to Meroë.

A later king called Harsiyotef is also known from an inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphs. This is on a stela that was found at Gebel Barkal and is now in the Nubia Museum in Aswan. Unlike Irike-Aman-note's inscription this one is written in good Egyptian, implying the Harsiyotef had an Egyptian scribe to write it - and thus there must've been contact between Egypt and Moroë at this time. His wife and mother are both on this stela, and it's notable that the king's mother plays an important role throughout Napatan and Meroitic culture.

Harsiyotef had a long reign of around 35 years, and this inscription details many of the same sorts of events as Irike-Aman-note's. He goes north to Napata to be crowned, and then further north still to Kawa and Penebes amongst other places. He makes endowments at Gebel Barkal, and campaigns against the desert dwellers. He also celebrates the festivals of Amun in several places, and goes as far north as Abu Simbel and celebrates the festival of Re there.

Stela of King Nastasen and His Mother In Front of Amun

Stela of King Nastaseñ and His Mother In Front of Amun

Morkot said that the last of these long inscriptions belonged to a king called Nastaseñ, whose stela at Gebel Barkal was found in 1853 CE and is now in Berlin. The inscription talks about him making offerings at Gebel Barkal, again accompanied by his mother and wife. There is similar information about going north, being crowned, making offerings and campaigning. One of these campaigns takes place in Year 8 of his reign at Aswan against a local ruler in Lower Nubia called Kambasweden. At one point this was thought to be Cambyses, but that seems to be implausible and doesn't really fit the chronology such as we know it. Nowadays Kambasweden is thought to be someone who is known from Egyptian sources to rebel against the Persians in 340 BCE - although Morkot seemed pretty sceptical about this identification as well.

Nastaseñ was the last king to be buried at Nuri, following him the next kings are buried at Gebel Barkal in classic pointy Meroitic pyramids. This implies that these kings didn't seem themselves in continuity with the previous kings - so Morkot says that perhaps we should see them a new dynasty. Most of the new pyramids have no royal names inside them, which makes them difficult to date and to fit into the chronology - there was also not a lot of material found inside them.

Morkot now moved on to the main point of his talk. Up until now the post-25th Dynasty kings that he'd been talking about were really part of the Napatan Period, and now he's moving on to the Meroitic Period proper. But he stressed this is an arbitrary distinction that we draw in modern times, not necessarily how the people who lived through it would've seen it.

Morkot started this part of his talk with some historical orientation. This period that we call the Meroitic Period starts in 300 BCE and is divided into Early and Later Meroitic. The Early period is roughly contemporaneous with the Ptolemaic Period. Musawwarat es-Sufra is a key site, and the reign of the king Amekhamani is contemporary with Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV. The Later Meroitic is roughly contemporary with Roman Egypt - running from 30 BCE to 350 CE. In this period there are temples at Naqa, and some key rulers are Natakamani and Amanitore who rule in the 1st Century CE.

A lot of evidence for the lineage of kings and queens who ruled during the Early Meroitic Period comes from the South Cemetery at Meroë. Their burials are in what we think of as classic Meroitic pyramids - very pointy compared to the earlier Egyptian pyramids, with east facing chapels. George Reisner excavated at the cemetery in 1920. In this cemetery are the burials of royal women going back to 25th Dynasty times. There are lot of inscriptions for these women - including Queens Peltasen, Arkamaniqo, Amanislo and Amanitekha. And from them descend a new and fairly well documented royal line.

Evidence for this line also comes from what seems a bit of an odd source - the Prudhoe lions (now in the British Museum) were once commissioned by Amenhotep and set up at Soleb. They were then transferred to Gebel Barkal, and later new cartouches of Meroitic kings were carved on them. This includes the king Ankh-nefer-ib-re, the Son of Re Imn-is-ro - whose name, Morkot told us, is immortalised in Verdi's opera Aida as Amonasro the king of Ethiopia! There is also evidence from Napata, Kawa, Tabo and Kerma and later from Amara and Sedeinga - all of which are to the north of Meroë. To the south there is evidence of these kings in Meroë itself, Musawwaret es-Sufra and Naqa.

The city of Meroë is in a resource rich area. It is an iron rich region, and to the south it was surrounded by lush, fertile savannah. There are also a series of large wadis in the area which become rivers in the rainy season. This city was excavated first by Garstang in 1910-1914, but this wasn't published until the 1990s. Since Garstang other people have also excavated there including Peter Shinnie, Rebecca Bradley and Kryzs Grzymski.

Meroë is a walled royal city, with a large temple attached to it. It was probably on an island when it was first built, and temples dating to the 3rd Century BCE were built following the silting up of the Nile channel to the east. There is a temple of Amun at the site, which is rather large and looks a lot like an Egyptian type temple with the typical Nubian modifications, including a coronation chapel to the side of the sanctuary.

The royal city is a very complicated site, with a lot of rebuilding over previous structures - so there are multiple layers. It was clearly in occupation for a long time. Garstang named some of the buildings, like a "bath" and a "sun temple" and these identifications persist but Morkot urged caution because they really show how Garstang was influenced by the Classical authors and named things based on what people like Herodotus said about the city.

Some of the artifacts of the city are now in the Petrie Museum, and Morkot showed us examples of things from Meroë from that museum and elsewhere. There are a great mix of styles in the artifacts - he called it a strange amalgam. Some of them are influenced by classical statues - but instead of being carved in marble they are sandstone with a plaster layer to form the surface. Other objects are Egyptian influenced. Morkot particularly dwelt on a collection of objects from this city where we have both pictorial and physical evidence of a musical instrument - the Auletes. This double flute is seen being played in at lest two scenes - one from the "bath" and one on a jar. And there is an actual surviving instrument as well - so tantalisingly we know a tiny part of the musical culture of Meroë but not enough to have any idea what it might sound like!

As well as the South Cemetery at Meroë there are other cemeteries which are also very big - implying a lot of people living there for a long time. There are some pyramids in the other two cemeteries (West and North) but also a lot of non-pyramid burials. Like the South Cemetery the West Cemetery also goes back to 25th Dynasty times, and includes minor royalty and members of the elite. So Morkot suggested that Meroë may've been a powerful state in the pre-25th Dynasty period and that the 25th Dynasty had emerged from here on their meteoric rise of conquest and empire. Morkot explained that the chronology of the North Cemetery has been worked out from the details of the chapels and the pyramids, plus their position in the cemetery, and there is quite a complex set of variations of forms. Some things are consistent, however - the burial chamber is subterranean with an entrance some way in front of the associated chapel so there's a long passageway to actually reach the chamber. Morkot also showed us some chapel decoration from these pyramids, pointing out in particular scenes of processions of cattle and oxen - showing that this is still a cattle culture.

Meroë was not an isolated place with few connections to the outside world - instead the material culture shows wide connections including with the Mediterranean world. Morkot showed us jars which came from Aswan, from Rhodes or other places around the Mediterranean. Some even have Latin texts of them. So different commodities are being brought in from all around the Mediterranean. And not just the contents of jars - he showed us some rather fine silver vessels and some blue glass imports from the Mediterranean. Also found in Meroë were hanging bronze lamps, and a head of Dionysus in bronze. And a high quality piece of silverware from the Roman Empire which had an image on it that might be of the Emperor Augustus.

Architrave with Two Lion Gods & Amun as a Ram

Architrave with Two Lion Gods & Amun as a Ram

The gods worshipped in Meroë also reflect a merging of Meroitic and outside influences. Unsurprisingly there is a strong influence from Egypt and continuity from the times when the two countries were ruled by one king (whether Nubian or Egyptian in origin). For instance Amun was still a very important god. But other local gods like Apedemak were also important. This god was represented as a lion (or lion headed man) with a solar or lunar crown - Morkot said that he was definitely local because the Egyptians tended to have female lioness goddesses not masculine lion gods.

And there's evidence of people moving between Meroë and the Mediterranean world, some benign and some less so. Herodotus talks about Aithiopian warriors who fight naked, covered part in vermillion and part in chalk. Morkot noted that Aithiopian here is a generic term that Classical and Medieval authors used for sub-Saharan African cultures. That description of warriors isn't entirely accurate (as is so often the case for Herodotus!) but there are Meroitic alabastra vessels (an Egyptian form of stone vessel transferred to pottery) showing men with their faces painted in this sort of style - they are wearing clothes, though.

And less benignly than warriors (or tales of warriors) travelling to other countries, the kings of Kush and Meroë all profited from the slave trade. There is a lot of physical evidence for sub-Saharan Africans in the Mediterranean world, and some of these must've come from (or via) Meroë as part of this trade.

The ruler of Meroë called Amekhamani was contemporary with Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV. There's evidence of a close relationship between Meroë and Egypt at this time in his titulary, in which he starts out as "beloved of Amun" and becomes "beloved of Isis". This reflects a switch in Egyptian titles at this time too. But he's in no way an Egyptianised king - his iconography in statues is still distinctively Meroitic.

Morkot now talked us through some of the buildings that Amekhamani built at the key southern site of Musawwarat es-Sufra. One of these was a lion temple decorated inside and out with inscriptions and detailed reliefs. In the reliefs the king wears Egyptian style regalia, with the addition of Meroitic items. Inside the temple a lot of captives are portrayed, as well as elephants and other animals like lions. Elephants become important in Meroë around this time - they were probably hunted, but there's no evidence that they were trained for battle. There is evidence that some were exported to Egypt.

The site at Musawwarat es-Sufra is very complicated with a number of temples - Morkot said that only the lion temple he had just discussed could be dated with any confidence. Another structure in this region is referred to as the Great Enclosure. It's made of finely carved stone, and there is evidence of Egyptian stonemasons coming to work on this structure - more evidence of active connections between the two cultures. The inside of the enclosure is a very complicated structure which was built in many phases with lots of ramps. These ramps are are sometimes thought to be to take elephants up, but Morkot seemed sceptical about this. There were statues of elephants around the edge of the enclosure, so elephants were important in some fashion. It's not known what the purpose of the enclosure was - one suggestion is an elephant hunting ground, another is a coronation site.

The son of Amekhamani was called Arka and he is probably the successor of Amekhamani who ruled as Arqamani. He left inscriptions at Kalabsha (now re-erected on Elephantine) in good quality Egyptian hieroglyphs - which let us know he was resettling northern Nubia. His reign was contemporaneous with that of Ptolemy V, and he supported an upper Egyptian revolt against Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy V in 207-186 BCE. But the rebellion was suppressed by Ptolemy VI and northern Nubia reverted to Egyptian control.

Morkot said that it's during this period that the Meroitic script was invented for writing the native Meroitic language. It comes in two forms, one of which is hieroglyphic and derived from the Egyptian script (but with fewer signs). The other script is cursive and has only 23 signs. Sadly the texts that survive don't really say much - Morkot said that it's like reading in a graveyard: names, dates and little else.

After a brief comfort break Morkot moved on to discuss the Age of the Kandakes - from the 2nd Century BCE to the 1st Century. Kandake is a title which was held by ruling women in Meroitic culture at this time. There are a number of well documented women who hold the title, as well as one who is titled Kandake Qore (Qore is the kingly title, and in the Q&A Morkot said that he thought this woman must've taken on the Qore role as well as her own Kandake role). There might even be a matrilineal succession in this period, but that's controversial. It is clear, however, that these women are important in a different way to the way royal women had been important before. The relationship between the Kandake and the Qore is unclear and a controversial subject - maybe she was his mother, or his sister, or his sister-wife - but there isn't a lot of direct evidence for any of the possibilities.

During the reign of the Kandake Amanirenas and Qore Teriteqas there was conflict with Rome. As the Romans took over Egypt Amanirenas saw an opportunity to push forward into Egypt. She is recorded as leading the Meroitic army against the Romans - recorded in a rather insulting fashion by the Romans "of rather masculine appearance and blind in one eye". As Morkot pointed out, this is an example of Roman misogyny and it's very relevant that this is all happening at the same time as the defeat of Cleopatra (this is what Amanirenas is taking advantage of). So there's a lot of Roman propaganda produced to separate the Kandake Amanirenas from the Pharaoh Cleopatra in the Roman mind - not another seductive temptress leading Roman men astray, just some barbarian woman leading an army. As part of this conflict a Roman army lead by Petronius attacked Napata - but Morkot said whether or not that happened is disputed.

There were Meroitic victories during this conflict - including near Aswan. John Garstang excavated a temple in Meroë built in roughly the right period, which had a head of a statue of Augustus buried in the floor. Garstang's speculation was that this was brought back from Aswan after the victory and buried where it would be walked over - trampled on, effectively. This is speculation, but Morkot seemed to think it plausible.

Tomb Treasure of the Merotic Queen Amanishaketo

Tomb Treasure of the Merotic Queen Amanishaketo

Amanirenas's successor as Kandake is thought to be a woman called Amanishakheto. Her pyramid is in the north cemetery at Meroë, and we have jewellery that belonged to her that was found in this tomb. It was found by Guiseppi Ferlini (a Italian doctor) in the 1830s - he brought it home and tried to sell it but at first no-one believed it was real, because they couldn't believe that sub-Saharan Africans were capable of such fine work. Eventually he managed to persuade the king of Bavaria and the Egyptian Museum in Berlin of the legitimacy of the objects and they bought half each. When I visited Berlin in 2013 I saw some of this jewellery, which is really elaborate and fine quality - see the photo above.

Robert Morkot's internet connection broke at this point, and so we initially thought the talk would have to end rather abruptly here because of that. But then he managed to re-connect, and after answering a few questions he continued with the rest of the talk.

He firstly finished up showing us the jewellery of Amanishakheto - there are four large gold rings with large bezels that appear to be seals. Some of these revive royal iconography which we recognise from 18th & 19th Dynasty Egypt - the royal birth cycle (which Aidan Dodson also talked about in June, see my write up here). On one seal the Kandake is seated with her legs intertwined with those of Amun - indicating sexual union. And in another of the seals she is shown passing an infant to Amun - an indication of the divine parentage of that child. Morkot said that these seals indicated that one of the roles of the Kandake was as the mother of the next Qore, who would be the divine offspring of Amun. Despite the Egyptian origins of these motifs Amanishakheto still has Meroitic iconography - for instance in the two seals I described she wears a scorpion as her headdress.

Morkot also showed us a stela of Amanishakheto with the goddess Ameseme from Naqa, which had a similar mixing of Egyptian and Meroitic styles. The stela in general has classic Egyptian styling, but the iconography of the goddess is Meroitic - she has a falcon and a crescent moon on her head, and what appears to be scarification on her cheeks.

In this period there's a big emphasis on the Butana Plateau and Naqa. The site has been known for a while, and extensive excavations have been undertaken by a German team in the last couple of decades. It was a huge town with a lot of cemeteries.

Morkot first told us about a lion temple at this site which dates to the 1st Century CE. This is a single room structure, fronted with a pylon entrance with a cobra frieze and sun disc over the doorway in a very Egyptian style. The Qore and Kandake are depicted one on each side of the pylon smiting their enemies - she is as important as him and performing the same actions. Over the head of the Qore is a falcon, and the Kandake wears a sphinx on her head. Both are accompanied by lions who gnaw on the captives. At the back of the temple are the Kandake and Qore on either side of a lion headed god. They are dressed in their regalia, and Morkot pointed out that the Kandake has as much military iconography as the Qore - in particular he pointed out her archer's wrist braces. The people are wearing necklaces made up of hollow spheres, and woven robes with patterns on them.

There are two pieces of iconography on this temple which have lead to speculation about Indian influences on the art and culture. The first of these is on the edge of the pylon outside where there is a motif of a lion-cobra rising from what seems to be a lotus. And on the inside the lion god that the Kandake and Qore flank has three heads and four arms! However Morkot told us that work done in the 1970s has laid that theory to rest. The flower the lion-cobra rises from is now thought to be an acanthus not a lotus, and so shows signs of Roman influence rather than Indian. And the three-headed, four-armed god is now thought to be an artifact of lack of space on the temple wall. Essentially there should have been two images of the god back to back, but they didn't have the space for that and so overlapped them - then added an extra head facing forwards to mask the rather weird looking seam at the top of the figure.

But although there wasn't influence from India Morkot explained that this site does show quite a bit of influence from the Mediterranean world. Meroitic culture was clearly in touch with the wider world, and incorporating ideas that they encountered into their own culture. For instance inside the lion temple are images of Zeus or Jupiter-Amon and Serapis - evidence of influence from Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. Other gods' images have matches in contemporary Philae. And the architecture of the kiosk outside the temple also shows influences from contemporary Egypt. This isn't just a society with a veneer of Egyptian stuff dating back to the 25th Dynasty that they hold onto, there is constantly replenishing set of influences and evidence of contact throughout their history. Morkot said that the time period when this temple was built was also clearly a time of great wealth for the Meroitic state, with lots of trade with Roman Egypt.

In contrast to the lion temple the Amun temple of Natakamani and Amanitore is a multiple room structure - much like the layout of an Egyptian style temple. But in the reliefs their iconography is more Meroitic than Egyptian - for instance they wear Meroitic crowns, which is unusual. Other structures that date to the time of this Qore & Kandake are several large scale palace buildings at Gebel Barkal - while they don't look impressive in terms of what's left now they were once elaborate structures with a raised floor and ramps leading up to it.

Natakamani and Amanitore's successor was Shorkaror who first appears as crown prince with them on reliefs at Amara. He left a large rock inscription at Gebel Qeili. This has an image of the Qore with a god - he is standing on captives and there is a group of falling captives coming past him. At first glance the god in this vignette looks like Helios or like there is Parthian influence on the depiction. However this is not the case, and this is the Meroitic lion god Apedemak (I think the confusion is that the lion's mane is stylised and looks a bit like the rays of a sun).

The iconography of the captives is pretty brutal in this image. Morkot showed us a small bronze figurine that showed a captive bound in the same way as the ones that Shorkaror is standing on, which helped visualise what was going on. The prisoners were bound with their feet tied to their elbows behind their backs. An extremely uncomfortable position! In front of the king is a kneeling captive, and when you look closely you can see that he's leaning back with a spike through his chest.

The brutality of this state was not just in its art - a quiver with arrows has been found (now in the Boston Museum). It has nasty looking arrowheads with indications that they might be a poisoned. Morkot said that this was a heavily militarised state, and a slave state.

Another key site during this period of Meroitic history was Sedeinga (Meroitic name: Atiya). There had been a temple here dedicated to Amenhotep III and Tiye, which by the Meroitic Period had morphed into a temple of Isis. There is a cemetery with mud brick pyramids at the site, and Morkot showed us some of the objects that have been found here. This included some blue glass flute vessels with gilded and polychrome decoration with Greek text on them - indicating, once again, on going contact with the Mediterranean world. The site was an important provincial centre for this northern part of southern Nubia.

At this time the Meroitic state expands again into Lower Nubia. Dakka had been contested during the Ptolemaic Period but the border in Roman times was established at Maharaqqa to the south of that.

Faras was a site which had been inhabited since the 18th Dynasty - there is a temple dating to the time of Tutankhamun here. Then over the top of that is a Meroitic cemetery which has a lot of burials, and a Meroitic and Christian town. There is a huge amount of material that has been found in the cemetery and Morkot showed us some examples of the sorts of objects that have been found here which given insights into individuals who lived and died here. These include decorated vessels - and individual painters can be recognised, by their stylistic quirks. Some genealogies of the deceased can be reconstructed from their funerary stelae, like that of a woman called Lapakhidaye which lists her relationships to important people of the time - naming who she was neice of, and giving her relationship to the Kandake. So clearly the people of this northern region were culturally Meroitic and had strong connections to Meroë.

Another Lower Nubian site that was prominent at this time was Karanog. Morkot showed us quite a few objects that have been found here from this period. This included ba birds that once stood in the pyramid chapels - in concept they go back to the Egyptian idea of this part of the soul of a person, but the proportions and styling are not Egyptian but are uniquely Meroitic. Some of the pottery showed this mixture of influences - a northern style of tall pot decorated with giraffes, a quintessentially southern animal. Other pots had forms that had been common in this area since prehistoric times and would remain in use into the Christian era - whilst others had stylistic links to the Mediterranean. And there are still examples of decoration that reminds us that this was a cattle culture - for instance a bronze bowl with cattle scenes on it including a woman being offered milk. Not everything from here was fine quality - one particularly amusing pot had a dog as part of the decoration which looked rather more like a flipper!

Morkot now turned to the ending and aftermath of the Meroitic Period. The conventional end date is 350 CE - but it's not really an abrupt discontinuity more a case of fragmentation and fading away. There is evidence of an invasion by Noba, and of conquest by Axum (from Ethiopia), and of internal fragmentation. The pyramids in the north cemetery at Meroë do include several from this time - so Morkot had a list of names of rulers, but the history of the period is still pretty fragmentary.

Ethiopia proper now enters the story (as opposed to the classical authors' habit of using Ethiopia to refer to any sub-Saharan African land). Axum develops out of the culture of Ethiopia in the 1st Millennium BCE which had strong contacts with the Yemen. There is evidence that this new power invades the Meroitic state, but they also alter the balance of power in the region in other ways. Once all trade with the Egyptians and then the Roman Empire went through Meroë, but Axum began to trade directly with Egypt via sea routes rather than land routes. And so they bypassed the Meroitic state and deprived it of income. The Axumite king also converted to Christianity around the time that Constantine was ruling the Roman Empire - so they became even better trade partners for the Romans as they were more culturally similar than the Meroitic state was.

And the Meroitic state also collapses into smaller states - evidence from cemetery sites suggests they centre on population centres that had been important since prehistoric times. There is evidence from places like el Hobagi for post-pyramidal Meroë so there is still something left of Meroitic culture but it's losing some of the key features and beginning to become something new.

Later at Ballana and Qustul there are burials in tumulus mounds. Inside the mounds were burial chambers, which hark back to the Kushite practice of bed burials. The deceased ruler was laid on a bed, with his crown on and lots of imported material gods around him. There were also sacrificed animals and retainers buried with each ruler. The burial chambers were built of stone and brick, and re-used bits of earlier Meroitic stonework. Morkot showed us several images of this sort of burial, and some of the artifacts that have been found in them. These include objects with Christian symbols on them - but clearly this was not a Christian culture, instead these had come from raiding Christian churches and were kept for their exotic value. The crowns of these rulers still included iconography that had its original roots in Egypt - like a stylised atef crown on a crescent suspended above a silver circlet.

In the reign of Justinian there were attempts to Christianise Nubia which was now situated between two Christian kingdoms (Egypt and Axum). Three kingdoms form during this period between those two powers. There are several kings named of the southernmost of these kingdoms at Kalabsha, so Morkot said we have some idea of the chronology of this kingdom. He showed us reliefs depicting a king called Silko and pointed out how even now the iconography showed influences from the Mediterranean world as well as the local area. Silko is depicted wearing Roman armour, with other Roman iconography - but this is mixed with iconography that is recognisably Egyptian and Meroitic. Faras, which Morkot had discussed earlier as it had been an important regional centre, was now the capital of the northern Christian kingdom of Nobatia. But even here there were some remnants of Meroitic culture.

So there was no sudden break with the past. Instead the Meroitic state fragmented into smaller pieces which each metamorphosed in their own way into something with connections to the past but nonetheless new.

Despite some technical issues this was a really interesting talk about a time and place that I really knew very little about beforehand. Morkot managed to cover an astonishing amount of material in his talk, and gave us a very thorough overview of the kingdom of Meroë.


I also have another blog, where I write articles about Egyptological subjects that interest me: Tales from the Two Lands.

During this time of COVID-19 in person meetings of the Essex Egyptology Group are, of course, impossible. A couple of meetings were cancelled outright, but technology has come to the rescue and Aidan Dodson was able to give us the talk we had scheduled for June 2020 via Zoom. The subject of his talk was the Pharaoh Sethy I* (who was also the subject of a book Dodson published in 2019, this is in effect the talk of the book), one of Egypt's more important kings but one who is often overshadowed by his son Rameses II.

*I intend to use Dodson's preferred spellings throughout this article, some of which are not quite the same as you might be used to seeing - like Sethy instead of Seti.

Dodson began by giving us some context for the reign of Sethy I, starting with where he fits into the history of Egypt. Sethy I is near the beginning of the 19th Dynasty, in the New Kingdom - this puts his reign pretty much in the middle of the sweep of Pharaonic Egyptian history. He takes the throne at an interesting point in this history - following on from the Amarna period. During the Amarna period everything changed - Dodson described it as being a period where everything was flung up into the air and fell down into a different configuration. The art changes, the capital moves, and the religion moves to something like monotheism. For about a decade this austere religion of Akhenaten holds sway, but then after his death there is a return to normality - probably very rapidly after his death.

With the death of Tutankhamun the royal line of the 18th Dynasty comes to an end, and he's succeeded by 3 army generals. The first of these is Ay, who is shown in Tutankhamun's tomb performing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The fact that this scene is there naming Ay shows how significant it was to Ay that he'd done this ceremony as it made him a legitimate successor to Tutankhamun. Ay is succeeded by Horemheb, another army general. The transition here may've been less smooth as there's evidence for a struggle between Horemheb and another general who was son of Ay.

Horemheb has no son to succeed him and so his successor is the last of these army generals, who has also served as Horemheb's Vizier. This man's name is Paramessu and he was to reign as Rameses I. He had no links at all to the old royal family - both Ay and Horemheb had some sort of link whether by blood or marriage, but Paramessu was completely diconnected. Dodson told us that he wasn't even from any of the old centres of power in Egypt - not from Thebes, nor Memphis, not even from Akhmim where quite a few important non-royal figures had come from. Instead his family came from a more provincial region in the north-east of the Delta which Dodson referred to as "well on the way to being a foreign country". And Dodson suggests that much of what is seen over the first few years of how this new line presented themselves can be explained by them feeling a need to present themselves as legitimate rulers and "proper Egyptians" rather than country bumpkins.

Paramessu's background was in the military, and he was probably contemporary of Horemheb - a speculation given added weight by his death within a couple of years of Horemheb. The scenario here appears to be that Horemheb promoted a close friend or ally as Vizier, and then turned to him as an heir when it's clear that he won't have one himself. And despite his age he was an attractive option as an heir because he would break this cycle of Pharaohs with no obvious heir - he definitely had a living adult son by the end of Horemheb's reign and his grandson may also have been born at this point.

Dodson told us that we know a bit about Paramessu's family background too, partly from a funerary stela now in Chicago plus some other sources. He's the son of a man called Sethy (Egyptologists refer to him as Sethy A) , and he has an uncle called Khaemwaset (B) who is married to a woman called Taemwadjy. The names of both these male relatives are to crop up in Paramessu's descendents. Paramessu's wife is called Sitre, and they have at least one child - Sethy I, who is the subject of this talk.

Reliefs from Chapel of Ramesses I at Abydos

Relief from Chapel of Rameses I at Abydos, now in the Met

Because Paramessu only reigned as Rameses I for a couple of years very little building work survives from his time - and most of the memorials to him are actually commissioned by Sethy I. One building associated with Rameses I was a small chapel at Abydos just outside the much larger Sethy I temple there. The site is now buried, and the blocks that have been salvaged are in poor condition due to salt. Dodson showed us one section of these blocks (which I sadly don't have a photo of) which has a procession of men - which given the context are probably relatives of Rameses I, perhaps even sons. Unfortunately the upper registers of that section of wall are missing and so we don't have any names or titles for these men. In fact the only names that survive from the chapel are those of Rameses I himself.

There are also a handful of other artifacts linked to Rameses I including a stela from Tell Hebua which is now in the Cairo Museum. This gives us another important piece of background for the 19th Dynasty as it shows Rameses I worshipping Seth. Seth is an ambiguous figure in the Egyptian belief system - on the one hand he's the murderer of Osiris, on the other hand he's the protector of those in deserts and is a local patron god in some areas including the north-eastern part of the Delta that Rameses I's family came from. So defining him as "good" or "bad" is difficult, and this sort of ambiguity is common in Egyptian beliefs. His violent nature is even a positive under some circumstances - for instance he's the only god with the power to slay the serpent Apophis who threatens the journey of Re through the night. It's really only in the Greek and Roman periods that he starts to be a definitely "bad" god - as those cultures were more black & white in their thinking about the gods in general. (For more on Seth see my writeup of Ian Taylor's talk to the EEG in December 2019: "Perceptions of Seth".) Even with this ambiguity Seth is still not an appropriate god to represent in a funerary context - this is the domain of Osiris, so his murderer is not welcome. This means that when Sethy I was buried (and in his temple at Abydos) the spelling of his name is changed - instead of having a Seth animal in his cartouche it's replaced with a figure of Osiris or the tjet knot. This caused a bit of confusion to early Egyptologists because it wasn't entirely clear that this was the same person in different contexts!

The short reign of Rameses I is also reflected in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings - it's small and not finished. The sarcophagus is also not finished - the decoration isn't all carved because they didn't have time, instead it's painted on. The decoration that's on the walls is beautifully done, in a similar style to the tomb of Horemheb - almost certainly the same artisans given how soon after it was made. There are also some similarities going forward, but Sethy I's tomb is also a fresh start on "how to decorate a tomb".

Having given us context Dodson now moved on to the main subject of the talk - Sethy I himself. He began with Sethy I's names and titles. Like most Egyptian kings Sethy I had five of these and Dodson discussed four of them in detail. The titulary of a king is chosen at the accession of the king, and so these names can be a kind of manifesto and say something about how the king sees themselves in the broader context of Egyptian history. Before the 18th Dynasty the names are fairly fixed but during the 18th Dynasty it became common to vary the Horus, Nebti and Golden Falcon names depending on the particular temple context where they were written - and Sethy I does this a lot, including adding epithets to his names as he felt appropriate.

Dodson characterised the Horus name of Sethy I ("Strong bull, who appears in Thebes and makes the Two Lands live") as fairly banal - in particular the first part, but the addition of "makes the Two Lands live" to this otherwise standard title may be more interesting. It may reflect how the 19th Dynasty saw themselves as re-founding Egypt in a return to normality after the Amarna Period. The Nebti name ("Repeater of births, who repels the Nine Bows") also emphasises this - "repeater of births" is a literal translation of the Egyptian, it means something like our word "renaissance". This name also harks back to a much earlier king - Amenemhat I who also saw himself as re-founding and renweing Egyptian culture used a similar phrase in his Horus name. Later, long after Sethy I, the other time this phrase is used is by Rameses XI who names a period of his reign using this phrase - after he's reasserted his control over the whole of Egypt events are dated to Year N of the Renaissance rather than Year N of Rameses XI. (For more about Rameses XI's Renaissance see my writeup of Jennifer Palmer's talk to the EEG in December 2014: "Times of Transition: Herihor and the High Priests of Amun at the End of the New Kingdom".) So this is a rarely used phrase in Egyptian royal titularies, and thus makes a strong statement about how Sethy I sees himself.

Sethy I's prenomen (Menmaatre) also links him to the past and in a way to new beginnings. The "maatre" part of the name reflects Nebmaatre, the prenomen of Amenhotep III - the last acknowledged Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty now that the Amarna Period was anathema, and ruler over a Golden Age of Egyptian culture. The Men part of the name is a reflection of Rameses I's prenomen (Menpehtyre) - so Sethy I is linking himself both to the past golden age and the new beginning of the 19th Dynasty, another powerful statement. The last of Sethy I's names that Dodson discussed was his nomen ("Sethy-merenptah") which doesn't make a grand thematic statement, but does consist of two family names that we see coming back again in the 19th Dynasty.

One feature of the new dynasty is that they're very expansive in explaining who is part of the royal family. Before the Amarna Period the royal family were not found on reliefs - other than the king, the queen and the occasional princess. This was particularly true for the king's sons - unless they had other responsibilities relevant to the monument in question, for instance if they held a priestly office in the specific temple a relief was carved in. This begins to change during the Amarna period, when royal daughters show up more often. During the 19th Dynasty it changes completely - there are several examples of princes being shown on temple reliefs even when they don't work at the temple and people like the king's in-laws may be depicted. This lets us flesh out Sethy I's family tree a bit more. His wife was a woman called Tuy - she doesn't actually show up on any monuments dating to Sethy I's time, but she's known from monuments during her son Rameses II's reign as she significantly outlived her husband. Her parents were a couple called Ruia and Raia.

Dodson showed us a picture of a statue with Tuy's name on it - it was originally of Tiye but was usurped for Tuy. In antiquity it was taken to Rome, and it was also damaged towards the base. On the back of the statue was an inscription and an image of Tuy's daughter Henutmire - giving us more genealogical data. Rather amusingly this piece was restored in Early Modern times, when they didn't really know what they were doing. As the restorers couldn't read hieroglyphs they didn't know that this figure on the back was a woman, so when they carved the figure's legs on their repair they attempted to carve a standard Egyptian kilt for a man. They didn't do a particularly good job at it, either, so Henutmire looks a bit like she's wearing a 1960's style miniskirt!

Another wife of Sethy I was a woman called Baketwernel - once again there is no reference to her during Sethy I's reign, instead her name only shows up much later during the time of Rameses XI. There is a papyrus called Mayer A which gives details of some tomb robberies and this is where we find evidence of Baketwernel.

Continuing with Sethy I's children his son Rameses II married the previously mentioned daughter Henutmire. There was another girl (perhaps older than the other two) called Tia C who marries a treasury official called Tjia - probably during Horemheb's reign when she wasn't yet royal. The tomb of these two is in Saqqara, near the tomb built for Horemheb there before he was king.

Before moving on from Sethy I's family Dodson also talked about the divine birth scene for Rameses II. This was found among blocks used at Medinet Habu when the small temple was extended in the Late Period and Roman times. Some of the blocks came from the Ramesseum and the decoration of them is of a divine birth scene like that of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri or Amenhotep III in Luxor. In scenes of this type the king is shown as literally being the child of the god Amun and his (or her) own actual mother. The first of these scenes found by modern Egyptologists was Hatshepsut's and so some scholars argue that this was something she invented to justify her reign as female Pharaoh - and then this is extrapolated to cast doubt on Amenhotep III's own legitimacy or Rameses II's once this scene was found at Medinet Habu. However Dodson said that this is probably not the case - instead he thinks it much more likely that this was a scene that every king might have on his temple walls. All kings were notionally the offspring of Amun and the king's mother - it's just that only some of these scenes have survived.

Whilst there's a lot of information on Sethy I's family to be found on tomb and temple reliefs there's not a lot of information on who the officials were during his reign. This is probably because he had quite a short reign - only about a decade - so many officials might have lived into the reign of Rameses II and been shown on their tombs or statues as officials of the later king. One surviving example of an official comes from a stela that is now in Turin that shows Sethy I worshipping Amenhotep I and Ahmose-nefertari, accompanied by a vizier. The name is sadly missing so it's not clear which individual it was - Dodson said it was likely to be either a man called Nebamun or a man called Paser. In Paser's own tomb he depicts a scene of receiving rewards from Sethy I - even though Paser also served under Rameses II he clearly wanted to commemorate this occasion, and this was carved after Sethy I's death. There are a few other scattered scenes of this type or other evidence that an official of Rameses II might've also served under Sethy I but not many.

One thing that can be traced during Sethy I's reign is the restoration of monuments that had been damaged during Akhenaten's reign in the frenzy of iconoclasm against Amun that characterised the later portion of that reign. The restoration started under Tutankhamun and Horemheb but it became more systematic under Sethy I. So much so that there was a formulaic inscription developed to put on the parts of the monuments he restored to tell people that he'd done this. Unusually in this formula he makes a big deal about leaving the names of the original owners rather than usurp the monuments wholesale - which is what happens much more often (in particular this was the approach of Sethy I's son, Rameses II!). One of the examples Dodson gave us was of the Speos Artemidos at Beni Hasan, which I remember visiting and having that inscription pointed out.

Base for a Votive Model of a Temple Gateway
Base for a Votive Model of a Temple Gateway, now in Brooklyn Museum

There are also some original monuments built or extended during Sethy I's reign. For instance in the 1950s a chapel of Ptah dating to Sethy I's reign was found in Memphis. At Heliopolis there was quite a lot of work done by Sethy I but little remains of it - one piece of evidence is a votive model of a gateway (see the image above) which is now in the Brooklyn Museum. They also have a modern replica of this model, if you want to see what it originally looked like. The temple this is a model for has not been located on the ground, but this is not surprising as the modern suburbs of Cairo cover the site of ancient Heliopolis. One thing that has survived from there is an obelisk which was taken to Rome in Imperial times. There's also a fragment of an obelisk from Heliopolis now in Alexandria that dates to Sethy I's time, as well as an obelisk intended for there that never made it out of the quarry at Aswan.

So in northern Egypt we mostly find fragments of architecture of Sethy I, but Dodson went on to tell us about more substantial monuments further south. The most well known of these is at Abydos, where Sethy I is one of several kings to construct a royal cenotaph - his is by far the most impressive. It's in part a standard New Kingdom temple, with courtyards and a hypostyle hall with sanctuaries behind. But there are differences to the normal layout - for instance instead of 1 or 3 sanctuaries there are 7 in this temple. Plus subsidiary chapels for one of these sanctuaries - the sanctuary of Osiris is extended into a suite of rooms, emphasising his importance in this temple that is in effect in his "home town". Dodson told us that only the core of the temple was completed in Sethy I's time. The first hypostyle hall was completely decorated by him, and the decoration done in his reign is of a much higher quality than the way that Rameses II finished the rest of the temple (a common theme where Sethy I and Rameses II have both overseen the decoration of a temple space). The raised relief of Sethy I's decoration is considered some of the finest work carried out in Egypt.

The overall plan of the temple is also unusual as it has an L-shaped layout. At the back of this temple next to the sanctuaries is another part of the complex that juts off to the side - including a slaughter court (which we heard about from Mohammed Abu el-Yezid in August 2015, see my writeup: "The Slaughter Court in Sety I Temple, Abydos"). Linking these two parts of the complex is a corridor that we now call the "corridor of lists" because on the western wall of it is the great king list. Dodson explained that it's actually an offering list with Rameses II and Sethy I reading a prayer to the ancestors who are placed in chronological order. So when it was found in the 1860s by Mariette it helped Egyptologists figure out the chronology of periods like the Old Kingdom. It's one of several known kings lists from this period (in the Q&A session Dodson told us that they are all clearly working off one master list with minor variations to do with space where the inscription is carved). Dodson thinks that these lists are part of establishing Sethy I and the 19th Dynasty as part of the overall sweep of Egyptian history, positioning them as legitimate heirs to Egyptian kingship despite their lack of blood link to their predecessors.

Out the back of the temple is the Osireon which is unique with no known parallel elsewhere in Egypt and it's very interesting. It was originally buried and possibly covered by a tumulus, although it is now open to the air. In the centre was an emplacement for a dummy sarcophagus and canopic chest. These are effectively on an artificial island surrounded by water. Dodson told us that this is linked with the idea of the primeval mound. It was once thought to be dated to the Old Kingdom but all the archaeological evidence suggests it's work by Sethy I, with perhaps some archaising features to the architecture. In fact Dodson said it wasn't even finished at the time of Sethy I's death, and Rameses II didn't complete it either - it wasn't completed until the reign of Merenptah some 70 years after his grandfather Sethy I died.

Sethy I also built at Karnak, as so many New Kingdom kings did. At the time of Sethy I's accession the temple ended at the second pylon. Dodson explained that during the Middle Kingdom the core of Karnak temple was an island in the Nile (which was something I don't think I'd heard before, it puts the temple into a very different context!). Over time the Nile has been moving westwards from that extreme to much further out. So there never was that much space to expand the temple in that direction, which Dodson said goes some way to explain the architectural choices of builders on this axis of the temple. So Sethy I erected the great hypostyle hall between the second and third pylons - still a monumentally impressive building. As with his temple at Abydos this was only partly finished by Sethy I - the structure seems to've been complete but only the northern part was decorated, and most was completed in a lower quality style by Rameses II. The part that Sethy I decorated is in beautiful raised relief, and there is evidence to show how much attention was being paid to the details of the scenes. For instance Dodson showed us an example where on close inspection Sethy I has traces of 3 buttocks (one final, and 2 ghost) because the scene has been recut twice. In all his scenes with gods in this temple he is shown bowing slightly (unlike other kings who are happy to stand upright before the gods). The angle of the bow has clearly been subject to an evolution of ideas, hence the recutting - this scene seems to've been the prototype that others were then modelled from. Dodson said that this level of care and attention to detail is presumably why it wasn't finished by the time of Sethy I's death.

The external wall of the hypostyle hall is dedicated to Sethy I's military campaigns - this is a less exclusive part of the temple so decoration here is propaganda for a wider group of people. Sethy I appears to've been successful in his military campaigns. The lowest register of the relief details campaigns in the Levant (corroborated by a stela found at Beth Shan) - these were the sort of campaigns that often seem to happen in the early years of a king's reign when local chiefs flex their muscles to see if they can take advantage of the new king, and Sethy I shows that they cannot.

Moving up the wall you can see that this representation of the campaigns follows a formula as the next register has a very similar set of scenes. First there are scenes of fighting, then of taking prisoners back to Egypt, then the presentation of these prisoners to Amun (whose temple these scenes are part of). Timing of campaigns is indicated by position on the wall - earliest in the reign are at the bottom and time goes forward as you go up the wall.

The next set of campaigns are further from Egypt and closer to the Hittites. Dodson explained that the context for these is the Hittite prince incident at the end of the Amarna Period. After Akhenaten's death a queen wrote to the Hittite king asking asking him to send a son to be her husband as she doesn't wish to marry one of her subjects. But when the Hittites do send a prince he gets killed en route - and the Hittites blame the Egyptians, and use it as a reason for military harassment. So by the time Sethy I is on the throne clashes have been going on for decades. This register of the wall shows Sethy I winning a battle at Kadesh (where his son was to later fight a much more well known but less successful battle). Further up there is a campaign in Libya and further up still is another Kadesh campaign which was probably towards the end of Sethy I's reign (but most of this relief is gone now).

Before returning to Luxor for Sethy I's funerary monuments Dodson talked us through the building works and inscriptions surviving from further south in Egypt and in to Nubia. These include a chapel and a well at Kanais for those working in the gold mines there. He also built the first of a series of chapels at Gebel el Silsila where the stone for his monuments was quarried. At Kom Ombo and further south into Nubia stelae have been found showing that he was active there. And at Gebel Barkal he built a hall as part of the temple of Amun.

Returning to Luxor Dodson moved on to what he described as the finest mortuary temple and tomb constructed. The temple is out of the run of temples on the West Bank - it's at Qurna and appears to've been aligned with Karnak, the site of his impressive hypostyle hall. The temple is now quite badly damaged, the pylons are gone and much of the rear of it as well. Once again it was largely decorated by Rameses II after Sethy I's death, with the inner parts Sethy I and the outer Rameses II. Dodson told us that this constant theme of dual decoration of temples had once led Egyptologists to think that there was a co-regency between Sethy I and his son, but this idea no longer holds sway. Instead it's now thought that this is a case of a son finishing off his father's monuments after death. One of the inner parts of the complex is decorated as a mortuary cult space for Rameses I - this may be Sethy I insuring his father has a cult within his own funerary complex because he respects his father that much, or it may be a sign that this temple was begun by Rameses I and then taken over by Sethy I. Sethy I's own cult place is now heavily damaged.

The tomb of Sethy I is KV17 in the Valley of the Kings is one of the most important in the history of the valley. It's also one of the largest, Dodson showed us a diagram of the underground passages - half of it is a conventional tomb and the rest is an extension which he said is without parallel. This extension goes steeply down and ends up in a dead end, it's clearly unfinished. Because it's not finished the function isn't clear - Dodson said he thinks they were digging for the water table to create a burial chamber like the dummy one in the Osireion where the sarcophagus would've been placed on an island in the waters like the primeval mound. But Sethy I died too soon, and so his actual burial chamber was in a more conventional place in the main body of the tomb.

The main body of the tomb is much like that of Horemheb or Amenhotep III in layout. The big innovation is in the decoration. Earlier tombs had decoration in the burial chamber and maybe one or two other chambers but not in the corridors. In Sethy I's tomb the whole thing is decorated throughout, which increases the chances of it being unfinished at the time of the king's death - but remarkably despite all the other unfinished monuments from Sethy I's reign this was actually pretty much complete. There's one chamber that's not quite done, and a few other bits & pieces in other rooms, but otherwise it's finished. Dodson told us that it seems the decision to decorate all the walls was made towards the end, as it looks like they were filling in gaps as the craftsmen worked their way back out. He showed us some pictures of the decoration and pointed out some of the interesting features (including the first astronomical ceiling in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings) but didn't have time to go through everything. I've been to see this tomb - I'd recommend it if you get the chance, despite the water damage in modern times it's spectacular to see!

Sethy I was buried in a great alabaster coffin, which is now in the Sir John Soane Museum (because the British Museum didn't think it was worth the price Belzoni was asking!). Unlike other kings he didn't have a granite sarcophagus - Dodson speculated that such a large stone box would've been impossible to get down to the primeval mound if that was indeed the original burial plan. Instead he probably had a wooden sarcophagus when he was laid to rest in the tomb.

Belzoni rediscovered the tomb in 1817, and recognised it as one of the finest monuments every found. And so he made sure to make copies of all the decoration - some of it he drew himself, some was done by an artist he hired. This was actually the first ever complete copying of an Egyptian tomb's decoration and was to be the last for several more decades. And he made good use of these drawings - he had a scale model made to accompany his finds when he exhibited them in the early 1820s, and also some full scale casts.
Although the tomb had been robbed in antiquity a large number of shabtis belonging to Sethy I were found. They were of various types - although there were a relatively small number of large presentations shabtis. Dodson showed us pictures of some of these, plus some examples of smaller ones. Interestingly no fragments were found of the larger figures of the gods that are seen in other New Kingdom tombs.

Dodson now finished up his talk by telling us about what happened to the mummy through the millennia after his burial - in effect the afterlife of Sethy I. The tomb was robbed at least once by the middle of the 20th Dynasty, in the later "Renaissance" phase of Rameses XI's reign Sethy I's burial was "repeated". By this it's meant that it was restored - the king re-wrapped and perhaps in a new coffin. Later his son Rameses II is moved into the tomb with him, and then they are joined by Rameses I's mummy. All three are then moved from KV17 into the tomb of Queen Inhapi (perhaps at Dra Abu el Naga), and they eventually end up in the Deir el Bahri cache of royal mummies (in TT320 which may've originally been the tomb of Ahmose-Nefertari). There they rested until the 1870s - with Sethy I probably the fourth coffin in the outer corridor of the tomb (counting from outside in). The cache was cleared by archaeologists in 1881, and the mummy of Sethy I was unwrapped in 1886 in front of dignatories. He currently lies in the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square in Cairo, but is presumably to be moved with the rest of the royal mummies once lockdown is over.

This was a fascinating and information dense talk - I had some idea of who Sethy I was before, and have visited some of the monuments associated with him, but I'm much much better informed now! And it was interesting to get more of the context for the 19th Dynasty, as I knew very little about Rameses I.


I also have another blog, where I write articles about Egyptological subjects that interest me: Tales from the Two Lands.

At the beginning of March Paolo Scremin came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about his work photographing the Old Kingdom nobles tombs at Saqqara, with the Oxford Expedition to Egypt (OEE). He began by telling us a bit about the OEE - the founding members of the expedition are himself and Yvonne Harpur. They are supported academically (although not financially) by Linacre College, Oxford where they have both been given academic posts, this support helps them to get access to the tombs to photograph as it puts the weight of an academic institution behind them rather than merely being two independent researchers. Although the two of them are the core of the project they do employ other staff to help them when needed in the field.

There are obviously a lot of research teams and expeditions to Saqqara, each of which has a specific focus (we have heard from Ramadan Hussein (part 1 of his talk, part 2 of his talk) and Vincent Oeters (his talk) at the EEG in the past). The OEE focuses on the Old Kingdom nobles tombs, recording the chapel wall decorations in the mastabas. He had a cardboard model of the inside of one of these chapels made from his photography as an example for us to look at.

There are two reasons for their documentation of these tombs. The first is to produce books that complement the archaeological tomb reports, with analysis and discussion of the decoration - these are the Egypt in Miniature series. Each tomb that they are publishing will be photographed systematically and completely, including high resolution photographs of the interesting small details of scenes. He said that in some cases he might go as small as taking a photograph of a detail that's about 2mm across, although in practice he usually only goes to as small as a 50p piece.

The other reason for documenting the decoration so thoroughly is that the walls are being damaged and so they want to record what is there now before even more vanishes. He showed us several examples of the sorts of damage that is happening. Sadly some of it is damage by people who visit the tombs, some of it just thoughtlessness on the part of the tourists. For instance he showed us two pictures of the hedgehog motif in the tomb of Mereruka where you can see in the more recent one how the stone has turned black due to the number of people who've run their fingers over it. Other damage is more deliberate - chewing gum stuck on reliefs, graffiti scratched over the walls, and even an example where someone has gone in and gouged out the eyes of every single fish on a particular relief! Other damage is environmental - moisture damages the walls (some of it coming from the number of people who enter the tomb), and although it rarely rains when it does there can be an awful lot of water entering the tomb all at once which will damage the stone and any paint present. As well as this bats and birds nest and live in the tombs, and their droppings and feet will damage the reliefs.

Scremin next moved on to tell us about how he does the photography of the tombs. When they started the project in the 1980s it was long before the days of digital photography. The first cameras he used were Pentax cameras, which were completely manual so he didn't need to worry about having enough batteries for what he was planning to photograph. With film cameras you need to put in different film if you want a black & white photograph or a colour one, or if you want prints or slides. Changing film in the field is not a good idea - it takes time, increases the risk of light exposure and lets sand into the camera. So he would take three identical cameras with him to a tomb, each with a different sort of film (black & white, colour, colour slides). Then he would set up one of the cameras and take the shot he wanted, then put the next camera onto the tripod and set all its settings identically and take another shot and then repeat with the next one.

These were not the only cameras he took with him during the days of film photography - he also had another one with a larger negative size (which allows effectively higher resolution photography of an area). This camera had another useful feature - the film went into a detachable portion of the camera so was much easier to swap, he could have one camera body set up and then swap in the three films without needing to completely re-set up the shot. And of course he took more than 3 types of film - different conditions require different film types (different ISO etc). Scremin showed us a slide with a list of all the types of film he'd use, there were 14 of them so I didn't try and note them all down! He had to make sure he brought them all with him because he couldn't be sure he'd be able to buy the exact film he needed in Egypt.

Eventually he switched to digital photography - having held out as long as he could, because his workflow with film was one that produced the quality of images they wanted so he didn't want to make changes. They got a grant to buy a Nikon D2X, and at first he used it alongside his film cameras. Once he had his workflow set up digital was much easier than film - no need for all the different films, each shot could be processed afterwards for the different uses.

Scremin told us that even though there are now very large memory cards available he still uses small cards with 1Gb of storage on them. This is for a couple of reasons - firstly if you lose one or it gets damaged then you haven't lost very many photos. And it meant he didn't need to alter his record system. For every shot he takes he records all the details of what it is, where it is and for film cameras he'd also record all the settings he used on the camera but a modern digital camera stores all of that in the metadata of the image. As part of his workflow when using a film camera he had a standard record sheet size that held all this information for a single film, and when transitioning to digital he found that a 1Gb card held a similar number of photos so he could keep using the same record sheets.

Another thing that digital makes much easier is working out if you've successfully taken the photo you want - on a digital camera you look on the screen on the back of the camera and know immediately. In the days of film he couldn't tell until he'd processed the film. Obviously this would be much easier to do once he'd left Egypt (better facilities, less sand!) but then he wouldn't be able to reshoot if he hadn't quite got the shot. So as a compromise he processed the black & white film in Egypt and then assumed that if those photos had worked then the rest would be OK too. Scremin showed us a photo of how he used to dry the film after processing - at first he used a jury-rigged polythene tube suspended from the ceiling to keep the sand and dust out. Later he got a grant for a heated drying tube which was much quicker.

Scremin said that he always uses a tripod when taking photographs in the tombs, nothing is hand held. Because of the space constraints flexible legs on the tripod are important, plus he needs extra accessories to get into tight spots. As with films he takes many tripods and tripod heads with him. He has tiny little tripods that let him take photos of scenes very close to the ground, as well as very tall tripods. Scremin told us of having got a new tripod that would go up to 4m, and then needing to search around trying to find himself a new ladder as the one he'd been using wasn't tall enough now! As he has to take every chance he can to take photos, because it's never clear that he'll get access again, he often ends up jury-rigging platforms or other things (like tables with planks sticking off them to support a tripod leg!) to get a shot right then rather than wait till he can find proper scaffolding etc. A bit later in the talk he returned to this theme, and told us a bit more about how he makes sure the photographs are properly oriented and the camera is stable. He uses a spirit level when setting up the camera on the tripod - even now when cameras have built in indicators of whether or not they're level he double checks with his spirit level. And he sets the camera to have the mirror go up 30 seconds before the photograph is taken. This means that he presses the button and the mirror goes up, then everything has a chance to settle down and stop vibrating before the photograph is taken.

Lighting is key to getting good detailed photographs of the scenes. The depth of raised relief is 0.5 to 3mm deep, and using raking light will make it stand out well in a photograph. But this brings its own problems - the wall he's photographing will be dark at one side, and any lines that are in line with the light (as opposed to perpendicular) will seem to vanish. At first he used a normal handheld flash unit, but this wasn't really good enough. What he needed was some sort of light source that was tall so that he could evenly light a large portion of a wall - and in what seems to be a theme with Scremin's discussions of equipment he wasn't able to find a commercially made solution, so he built something himself. Nowadays he has more modern lights which give him more options to change how he is lighting an area. And he's looking into battery powered LED lights which will make him less dependent on mains power when he's photographing in tombs. A little later in the talk Scremin showed us a photograph of one of his Egyptian colleagues sorting out a power supply for his lights - by splicing together live wires into an existing line! He said taking this photo he kept trying to get the man to look up and smile, totally forgetting that he was handling live mains electricity so he wanted to keep his concentration on not electrocuting himself!

There are other considerations with lighting as well, for instance to get the raking effect the light needs to be pointed a little away from the wall so the camera needs shielded from this light - again a jury-rigged solution is to use a piece of cardboard. Another problem is that using raking light means that one side of the wall is brighter than the other. He uses a graduated filter to correct for this as much as he can, but there will be some work needed in post production to even out the light. To minimise this work he tries to have a difference of it being a maximum of twice as bright from one side to the other. In the question & answer session Scremin elaborated on this a bit. He used to have to take meter readings from all around the area he was photographing once he'd set his lighting up - and then adjust it slightly and repeat the process until he had both the raking effect he needed and as even light as possible. This is another thing that digital makes a lot easier - with his experience he can look at the back of the camera and see by eye if the brightness difference is within the range he wants.

Sunlight can interfere with his lighting - particularly if the sun is shining from the opposite side to the one he wants to put his light source. Sometimes this doesn't matter as the ambient light is dim enough that his bright light source drowns it out. But other times, particularly when photographing the reliefs outside tombs, he needs to block out the sunlight somehow. Sometimes a piece of cardboard positioned just right is enough, but sometimes he needs to build a tent around his camera out of black cloth. This does mean it can take a lot of time to set up a shot, so he tries to do it as little as possible.

There isn't just one angle of light or set up that works for every photo, either. For instance, not all reliefs in tombs are carved, some are just painted onto the wall so photographing these needs a different technique. If he used raking light then the texture of the wall would distract from the lines of the relief. So when he photographs these he angles the light source away from the wall and reflects it back on to get a softer more diffuse light which is more direct. And even when using raking light he will try several angles to make sure he's picking out the details in the photograph that Yvonne Harpur particularly wants to discuss in the accompanying text. Just moving the light a bit or lighting from the other side can make a big difference to which bits of the carving stand out and which are less obvious.

Colour is another consideration when taking the photographs. Each shot he does he takes one photograph with a colour scale in the picture and then another immediately after with the same settings without the colour scale. This lets him process all the photographs to look identical and then any differences in colour are real representations of a difference in the reliefs themselves. In the question and answer session at the end he said that one of the problems with this having been such a long running project is that he's used so many cameras over the years and each one produces differently colour balanced photographs. Having all his photographs with colour scales in is the only way he can produce a seamless set of photos for a publication.


Entrance to one of the Old Kingdom tombs at Saqqara, my photo.

After our break for coffee and cake Scremin moved on to telling us about the problems he's encountered over the years photographing tombs, and the solutions he's come up with. The environment of the tombs can provide problems. Often the reliefs are dusty or have spiderwebs on them, so they have to get feather dusters and tidy up before they start. He had a couple of humorous examples of spiderwebs which made the people in the reliefs look like they had beards or underarm hair. Obviously if there's any flaky paint they'll call in conservators rather than touching it themselves. Sand is also a problem, and if too much is blowing into a tomb they'll have to stop work before it gets into the camera or if it's blowing across the area he's trying to photograph. But he said sometimes he doesn't really notice until he's cleaning his equipment bags (which needs doing a lot) and sees how much sand is getting into them. The floors can also be sandy and full of rubbish. That's a particular problem if he's photographing the reliefs on the outside of a tomb - the doorways can be pretty grim, he was saying they're not just full of rubbish but have also sometimes been used as toilets.

Wildlife can also pose problems. Fleas and other insects are a big constant problem, but there are other more unusual things he's encountered. For instance once when he was setting up to get some photographs he spotted that there was a snake in a piece of grating under a skylight above him! After a bit of inspection they decided that it was trapped and unable to get out, so he took his photographs with this snake above him. Afterwards they did carefully move a bit on the outside of the skylight so the snake could escape. Birds can also nest in parts of the tomb, and he had a rather less tense story about a bird that had nested in the hole above a tomb doorway. It would come and sit while he was taking photographs waiting till he moved so it could get to its nest. So at first he was stopping every so often to let it do this, but after a while it got used to them and would come and go while he was still there.

The Revolution caused fewer problems that one might expect - Scremin told us that they were photographing in Saqqara not long after, and while people had broken into the tombs mostly they'd just stolen things like fire extinguishers and hadn't damaged the reliefs. He did mention a little later in the talk that the statue in the serdab of the tomb of Ty was stolen at this time - but thankfully that was a replica and the real one is safe in a museum. During the immediate aftermath the doors of the tombs were welded shut to make it harder for the looters to get in - of course this made access for Scremin harder as well, but he said that they had the best co-operation they've ever had when it came to getting the doors opened. The people looking after the tombs had a fresh understanding of how vulnerable they are and so were keen for them to be photographed and documented just in case disaster did strike.

In the 90s and 2000s there were so many tourists that this caused Scremin problems - and also has caused damage to the tomb decoration. Much of the damage is due to the difficulties of large groups of people manoeuvring in the small spaces, and inevitably bags rub up against walls. Scremin showed us some examples where he has taken photos years apart and you can see the blackening of the walls clearly. Tourists also just get in the way, but Scremin said that he is always aware that this might be someone's once in a lifetime chance to see the tombs and so he does his best to accommodate and keep out of the way of tour groups. But given he needs to use scaffolding or ladders and cabling that could be quite difficult - often they had to stop and wait for the tourists to finish their visit. Sometimes he would have permission to close part of the tomb to visitors so that he could get the shots he wanted, but he found that the obvious way of closing off the space with a physical barrier of some kind was counterproductive. In fact the more physical the barrier the more likely people were to push through it to see what was there. On the other hand he found that if he draped a bit of red & white tape across the entrance then it would put people off immediately and they wouldn't come barging in and disrupt his photographs. For the tombs that are particularly big attractions he wouldn't be able to close sections, and so the Tomb of the Birds, for example, took him 8 years to properly photograph because of having to stop and move equipment to let people see the reliefs. And for the Tomb of Mereruka he would take his chance to get some shots in the 20 minutes each morning that he could be there before the tourists - planning his shot out in advance so all he had to do was set up, take it, and clear up.

The physical structure of the tombs also poses its own problems. Scremin said that corners are particularly hard to work with. There are limited places he can put his lights, so it takes more fiddling around with the angles etc to get the effects he wants. You also obviously can't light the whole of the wall from the same angle, which means yet more fiddling with the lights and work in photoshop afterwards so that an entire scene will look the same. Light can also reflect off the wall and bounce back across the scene he's photographing spoiling his raking light effect - that one he solves using black card to absorb rather than reflect the light (attached to modern bits of reconstruction not the original decoration!). As well as light issues corners also cause him problems with camera stability - the tripod legs can't be opened as wide so it's not as stable and vibrations propagate through his set up more easily.

Photographing statues in serdabs is also difficult - by eye we see both the decoration on the wall and the statue through the slit in focus. But in a photograph the depth of field means that you can have one in focus, or the other, but not both. Scremin told us that in the days before digital he did this by double exposing the film. He'd take one photo with light on one bit but not the other (i.e. light on the wall & not the statue), then take the film off and wind the camera forward and put the film back in. This meant the same piece of film was waiting to be exposed again, so at that point he changed the lighting so the other part was lit and took the other half of the screen on top of the existing shot. He didn't actually say what he does in digital, but it's a lot easier to overlay things in photoshop than on film!

Most of this talk had been about the single photographs of sections of scenes or small details, but Scremin finished up by telling us about the larger scale photograhs that he takes in the tombs. These photographs of sections and details need to be contextualised in the eventual publication. They used to do this with epigraphic line drawings - in the past they traced the decoration onto acetates and used those to make the drawings, but they can't do that now. So instead he needs to make overview photographs of the entire tomb to use for this. He does this by taking a lot of overlapping photographs and then stitching them into a single large scale panorama on the computer. As the project operates on a small budget he doesn't have the fancy equipment (like lasers to scan the walls) that other teams have to create these sorts of images and has to do it all by hand/eye himself. The shapes of the tomb can make this difficult - all the photographs need to be taken from the same distance away from the relief so if one wall is irregular he must measure it all up then take care not to move his camera further back than the narrowest point. Each photograph he takes also has a slight but noticeable light gradient due to the raking light (as he discussed earlier in the talk), so that needs to be edited out before he makes his panorama.

Scremin is an engaging speaker and his talk was a really interesting look into how those beautiful photographs that one sees in books are actually produced. The part of the talk on the problems he faces was in some ways quite reassuring - if even the professionals have to spend a lot of time tweaking the precise details of lighting and set up to get a good photograph, then having one's own photos turn out a bit rubbish from time to time isn't unexpected!

At the beginning of December Ian Taylor, one of the members of the Essex Egyptology Group, talked to us about the subject of his PhD: Seth. He began by talking about the modern image of Seth*, before turning to the evidence for how the Ancient Egyptians thought about this god. The common modern perception of Seth is as the dangerous enfant terrible of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon who brought death to the gods by murdering Osiris & came into conflict with Horus by usurping the throne. This comes to us by way of Plutarch, whose "Isis and Osiris" was the only version of the myth known before the translation of hieroglyphs.

*As an aside Taylor mentioned here that while the name of Seth is different in different places and at different times he was going to stick to using "Seth" throughout his presentation.

In Plutarch's text Seth along with his 72 minions murders Osiris by tricking him into a box. The box is then thrown into the river where it floats out into the sea and eventually comes to rest at Byblos. It gets caught in a piece of timber which is subsequently used as building material by the king of Byblos. Isis manages to track down the box & body of Osiris which she brings back to Egypt. She tries to hide it from Seth but isn't successful and he rips it into pieces which he scatters throughout Egypt. Isis gathers up all the parts save one and reconstructs Osiris - replacing the missing penis either with one she makes herself or with one that another god makes for her. She then conceives a son (Horus) by Osiris, posthumously, who grows up to take the throne and avenge his father's death.

Having told us the Plutarch version of this myth Taylor pointed out all the of the ways that it's an example of Greek thought rather than Ancient Egyptian thought - unsurprisingly as it was written in the 2nd Century CE long after Pharaonic Egypt had ended. Most notably in the text the names of the gods have been replaced with their Greek "equivalents". So Seth is called Typhon, who is a monstrous creature. Thoth is referred to as Hermes, and Amun as Zeus. Several Greek tropes are present in the text - for example the use of trickery in the murder, Isis cutting her hair in mourning and Thoth using Seth's sinews to make a lyre. There are also some wholly non-Egyptian parts - like the addition of satyrs, and the whole episode in Byblos which appears to be there to pad out the story. The text presents the gods as demi-gods, and at the end all of them except Seth become true gods. Seth remains a demi-god and a demon.

Plutarch's presentation of Seth has had a great influence on modern perceptions of Seth. Taylor talked us through a whole list of modern media representations of Seth, most of which are of questionable quality (although the cartoon strips and architecture examples were pretty good). Novels included some written by Dennis Wheatley, Robert E. Howard, Roger Zelazny and Andy McDermott. There are a couple of childrens cartoons featuring Seth - Mummies Alive and Tutenstein. The cartoon strips are online so I'll link to a Seth related strip from each - By the Gods and Stick Gods. In film & TV Seth has shown up in a Doctor Who episode (The Pyramids of Mars), The Curse of King Tut's Tomb, Sands of Oblivion, The Gods of Egypt and various versions of The Mummy films. Taylor's last example was a modern relief of Ancient Egyptian gods carved on a Homebase store on Warwick Road, London - now sadly demolished. Most of the gods in this relief were carrying ankhs as you might expect, but Seth had a powerdrill! While writing this article I found a blog post with pictures of it from just before it was demolished, which are worth a look.

So the modern idea of Seth owes almost everything to Plutarch, but fortunately the decipherment of hieroglyphs has lead to a broader and more complete picture of what the Ancient Egyptians thought about Seth. For the bulk of his talk Taylor talked us through the representation of Seth in Ancient Egypt in (mostly) chronological order looking first at the funerary context, at the geographical range, at temples and finally at more personal contexts. Seth is one of the most ancient of the Egyptian gods - the oldest two are Neith and Min, and then the next two are Horus and Seth. Taylor showed us a proto-Seth animal totem that dates to the Naqada II period (c. 3500-3200 BCE). This was found in Grave 721 at Naqada, and was originally identified as a hippo model but viewed from side on it's more clearly a Seth animal. There are also depictions of the Seth animal on the Scorpion Macehead (dating to just before the unification of Egypt). There are two Seth animals which look like they are totems - he speculates that they represent the eastern & western deserts.

Moving forward in time there is also evidence of Seth from the 2nd Dynasty period - during this time he associated with Nubt in Upper Egypt. One of the kings of this dynasty called Peribsen wrote his name in a serekh topped with the Seth animal (rather than the more usual Horus). And then one of his successors (Khasekhemwy) had both Horus and Seth on top of his serekh - and one of his names means "The Two Lords are at Peace". This might indicate some sort of conflict, and be the historical kernel round which the later myth is written.

The first written evidence of Seth comes in the Pyramid Texts. These are a collection of texts written inside the pyramids of several Pharaohs and Queens in the late Old Kingdom period. No two pyramids have the same set of texts, and they show evidence of evolution over the 200 years that they were used from the time of Unas (last king of the 5th Dynasty) onward. There are several categories of texts, and also 3 mythical strands: political union of Egypt, sun and star cults, and the myth of Osiris. Seth is involved in all three of these, and his representation in the texts is not internally consistent. Sometimes he is a positive force and sometimes a negative one (with variation in the balance between the two representations in different pyramids).

The Osiris myth is key part of the Pyramid Texts yet at that point Osiris is a recent god. The first written representation of Osiris is in the funeral text of Niuserre (the sixth king of the 5th Dynasty) and the first image is in the temple of Djedkare (8th king of the 5th Dynasty and the predecessor of Unas). In the Pyramid Texts Osiris is associated with the deceased king, and the texts dealing with him show a shift in the relationship between Horus and Seth. In Predynastic times Seth and Horus are equals who work together. In the Osirian Pyramid Texts Seth and Horus are in conflict. Seth is bad, but he is the necessary villain - he starts the cycle of uninterrupted hereditary kingship: the king is dead, long live the king! Horus, however, is good - he is the rightful heir, and the principle of hereditary kingship. The murder of Osiris is pivotal to the myth, but it's not directly stated in the Pyramid Texts, only inferred. How it is referred to evolves over time: in Unas's pyramid there is no direct reference, in Teti's pyramid Osiris drowns and in Pepi I's pyramid Seth attacks Osiris. The punishment of Seth also evolves over the same time period, with the number and severity of punishments growing as the cult of Osiris grows. The writing of Seth's name also evolves across the period. In the later two pyramids Seth's name is always written phonetically without a determinative, but in Unas's pyramid the Seth animal is sometimes seen in the texts. There are 35 Seth animals across the texts, and no two are the same - which is an oddity that Taylor was to come back to later in his talk. They are sometimes used as a determinative for the name of Seth and sometimes as a determinative for the word for storm.

The other, older relationship between Seth and Horus is also represented in other parts of the Pyramid Texts. In these utterances the two gods are shown as brothers and equals. Another (older) written representation of this sort is found in the tomb of Merysankh III (who lived in the 4th Dynasty) - one of her epithets is "she who perceives Horus and Seth". Essentially the two gods are the two faces of kingship, with Seth representing the warlike part.

Photo by John Patterson, of a (heavily restored) statue of Seth & Horus (not shown) crowning Ramesses III now in the Cairo Museum
Photo by John Patterson, of a (heavily restored) statue of Seth & Horus (not shown) crowning Ramesses III now in the Cairo Museum

The Coffin Texts evolved from the Pyramid Texts, and were written on Middle Kingdom coffins. As with the Pyramid Texts not all sets of Coffin Texts contain every text. About 179 mention Seth, but he doesn't show up in every set of Coffin Texts. There isn't any geographical component to this variation - Seth shows up throughout most of the Nile Valley. His name is written both phonetically and as the Seth animal. Taylor showed us two examples of a writing of Seth's name where the Seth animal had been "killed" with a knife or mutilated - he speculated that this might be the personal preference of the scribe. Perhaps the commissioner of the coffin wanted those texts but the scribe didn't like Seth.

The perception of Seth has changed between the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts and this is shown a change of epithets and of roles. Seth gains the epithets of "the Outcast" and "the Ombite". He has several new roles: defender of Ra, god of the desert, god of foreign lands and god of the northern sky.

Just before our break for coffee & cake Taylor turned his attention briefly to the sites associated with Seth over time. A lot of these are on the entry to the desert, as is appropriate for the god of the desert. In the Ptolemaic Period there are four major cult sites of Seth. These are listed in Edfu and Dendera temples, despite the otherwise growing antipathy to Seth at this time. Three of these sites are in the Nile Valley (N-shene-n-setekh, Unu and Spermeru) and the fourth is "the Oases" which may mean Dakhla Oasis.

After the break Taylor moved on to tell us about temple depictions of Seth. In Old Kingdom temples, unlike Old Kingdom tombs, Seth is readily depicted. He's usually shown as a man with the head of the Seth animal (which Taylor referred to as the bimorphic form of Seth), carrying a was sceptre. Taylor showed us several examples spanning the range from a 3rd Dynasty temple of Djoser to a temple of Pepi II at the end of the 6th Dynasty.

Taylor began his examples of Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period temple depictions of Seth by telling us that they were more interesting than the Old Kingdom ones. He showed us several examples, most of which were door lintels, and there were a couple of common motifs. The first of these was a paired scene with two images of the king back to back. In front of one king was Seth as an animal on a standard, and in front of the other king was Horus as a hawk. They offer the king life and dominion. The other motif (on a door lintel but also on several statues of Senwosret I at Lisht) was Seth and Horus performing the sema-tawy - this is a symbol of the unification of the two lands where two gods tie together the plants of Upper & Lower Egypt. The gods are in their bimorphic forms, and Seth is tying the sedge of Upper Egypt. In summary in this period temple depictions of Seth and Horus are not in conflict (a la Plutarch) but are working in concert as equals.

The first example from the New Kingdom is very like those of the Middle Kingdom - a lintel of Amenhotep I at Thebes with the same animal on a standard motif as those earlier door lintels - and this motif also returns on a door lintel of Merenptah (19th Dynasty successor to Ramesses II) at Memphis. Seth continues to act in concert with Horus in this motif, and in other reliefs showing the two gods purifying or crowning the Pharaoh. Another motif that is present in the New Kingdom iis Seth as one of the eight gods of the Ennead alongside Nephthys, either as humans or mummiform figures. And Taylor also showed us examples of a Pharaoh offering to Seth (or Seth & Nephthys). There is also a unique relief that shows Seth teaching Thutmose III archery, at Karnak temple.

In the 20th Dynasty these sorts of motifs continue to be found. At Medinet Habu there are scenes where Seth is purifying the Pharaoh with Horus and where he is being offered wine or incense. There is also a scene of Seth killing Apep - the earliest known representation of this motif. Moving into the Third Intermediate Period & Late Period there are still representations of Seth in these types of motifs - for instance at Karnak Seth and Horus are shown crowning Herihor. But at the Dahkla Oasis there appears to be a shift some time in the 25th Dynasty. There is a relief there that shows signs of having been re-carved during that period to remove the Seth animal. Taylor stressed that the proscription appears to be against the Seth animal, not Seth himself - the god is still in the relief, it's just the animal that is removed. It's not clear what the reason for this removal is.

In the Graeco-Roman period the representations of Seth change. At Dendera in a relief on the roof Seth is shown being killed. At Philae there is a depiction of a bound Seth held by Thoth and Horus, and being killed. But the attitude to Seth is not straightforwardly a wish to kill him - it's more ambiguous and he is still seen as necessary. For instance at Edfu there are depictions of Seth killing Apep, and at the Dahkla Oasis in the Roman Period there is an example of the motif of a mummiform Seth and Nephthys. The Oases in particular still revered Seth (not surprising as he was god of the desert in which these people lived), and there is a relief at Kharga Oasis which shows some interesting signs of re-carving. It is in a temple built during the reign of Darius, and the decoration is altered in the Ptolemaic Period. As it stands now it is a depiction of a large winged Seth killing Apep. Taylor ran through the evidence that shows this scene was extensively re-carved, and said that he thinks it originally depicted the god Amun-Nakht who was often used as a replacement for Seth in this type of scene. But as Seth was still revered in the Oases they did not approve of this replacement (mandated by the central authority) and so re-carved it to be a much bigger and more impressive Seth.

Taylor now turned to evidence of more personal forms of adoration of Seth. The first of these is personal names that reference Seth - like Seti which means "man of Seth". The numbers of these sorts of names varies over Egyptian history - in the Middle Kingdom there were only 8 recorded, in the New Kingdom we know of 65. This was the peak (although the Middle Kingdom number may be low because there are fewer names we know in total from the period). After this as Seth became less favoured the number of names drops with 4 known from the Third Intermediate Period and only 1 from the Late Period (a person who lived in one of the Oases).

Seth is also depicted on more small scale and domestic objects than those we'd seen so far in the talk. Taylor showed us examples of Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom jewellery (including a pectoral of Senwosret II or Senwosret III with a paired Seth & Horus on it). Amulets of Seth have been found dating to the New Kingdom and Late Period also domestic statuettes and stelae. The last example of this type of item was a bit less domestic but still personal - there is a piece of clothing called a king's jacket which looks like the torso of the king is wrapped in protective wings. Usually these are shown with hawk heads (for Horus) at the front near the armpits of the king. But Taylor showed us two examples of Thutmose III and Ramesses II wearing a king's jacket with Seth animal heads.

As well as personal adoration Taylor showed us examples of personal desecration - acts of disrespect towards Seth. For instance normally a scribe would recharge his pen before writing a god's name to avoid any possibility of the ink running out during the name. But Taylor showed us some examples of where a scribe hadn't bothered when writing Seth's name, and in fact deliberately lets the ink fade out to almost nothing during the name. Other such acts were to "kill" the Seth animal when writing it with a knife drawn cutting it or a mark across it, or "killing" the phonetic writing of Seth's name by adding a knife between the hieroglyphs.

The Seth animal itself is quite curious. Throughout the rest of the talk Taylor had been pointing out how even within a text or relief no two Seth animals were thee same. In general Egyptian art of the flora & fauna of their world is quite specific - it's not just "a hawk" it's a specific species, not just "a vulture" but a particular type, etc. But while there are some commonalities between different representations of the Seth animal there's a lot of variation, and none of them look like a real animal (or even a composite).

Taylor demonstrated these with a diagram of the animal before showing us some more examples from reliefs. The body is canine in form but may be lean, medium or stocky (or even fat!). The neck shows variations in angle and length, and he may or may not be wearing a collar. The muzzle shows a lot of variation in the angle, the brow ridge over the eyes and the nose. Taylor said he'd worked out that there are around 120 possible variations of the whole face. The ears are erect with square cut tops, but they vary widely in length, angle and width - and they may be plain or decorated. The tail is erect, but the angle & length vary, it may be curved or straight and there is a lot of variation in how it joins to the body. The tail end also shows a lot of variation, including a variant that makes it look like an arrow stuck into Seth's bottom! So there's a loose set of rules for what a Seth animal looks like, but these are open to interpretation. Taylor's conclusion is that it is a construct, not a real animal. In the Q&A session afterwards he speculated about the head looking like a bit like a cow skull (such as one might see bleached white in the desert) "reconstructed" with skin but not the musculature of the real animal, and Hannah Pethen pointed out the similarity with how we reconstruct dinosaurs in the modern day.

In the Ptolemaic Period the earlier Seth animal is gone, and instead the animal representation of Seth is a canine creature with an ass's head or just an ass. In either form it may be shown stabbed in order to "kill" it.

Taylor wrapped up his talk with some general conclusions about the position of Seth in Ancient Egyptian thought. Contrary to Plutarch's depiction for most of Pharaonic Egypt he is an accepted part of the pantheon, often acting in concert with Horus as an equal. He can't be "bad" because if so he wouldn't be depicted in motifs such as the sema-tawy. Even in Ptolemaic times he's necessary - to kill Apep but also to murder Osiris as without that murder the myth doesn't work.

And as a postscript Taylor pointed out one other legacy of Seth that came to modern culture without Plutarch's intervention. The imagery of Seth killing Apep morphs during Roman times into a winged (human) Seth killing a worm (Apep), and this is co-opted by the Christian church as imagery for St George (who is, after all, a Middle Eastern saint). So in a sense Seth is St. George: "Cry God for Harry, England and St. Seth!".

This talk was a really interesting look at the god behind the myth and at how some of the things we think we "know" about Ancient Egyptian theology are filtered through a later culture's ideas about how religion should work.


As well as writing up the talks given to the Essex Egyptology Group I also write my own original articles about Ancient Egyptian topics at Tales from the Two Lands.

At the beginning of November Stephanie Boonstra came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about her work on scarab amulets, which were the subject of both her MA and PhD research.

She began by giving us an overview of the importance of these amulets, and the way that they were made. Scarab amulets were the most popular Egyptian amulet from 2000 BCE all the way through to 500 BCE, and they were made of a variety of materials. A typical scarab amulet is clearly modelled on the anatomy of the beetle, although there are also more schematic ones that are more basic. They have a variety of uses: as a seal for administrative purposes, as a funerary item or as an object to commemorate an occasion. An example of this last type are Amenhotep III's lion hunt series of scarabs. The most obvious example of a funerary use is the heart scarabs which have a spell on the base to make the heart lighter than the feather of Ma'at for the Weighing of the Heart judgement after death. However smaller scarab amulets are actually more common in burials than the heart scarabs. Scarab amulets and seals are very portable and are found throughout the Aegean and the Near East as well as Egypt - some exported from Egypt and some made in other countries. Boonstra showed us some examples of scarabs that were made outside Egypt, and said that she would come back to this topic in her first example of a scarab workshop.

So why did the ancient Egyptians make amulets shaped like scarab beetles? This was part of their general tendency to associate deities with the environment (she gave us the example of Sobek & the crocodile). The god associated with the scarab is Khepri, god of the rising sun with aspects of creation and rebirth. It was observation of the scarab beetle life cycle that led the Egyptians to make this association. A male scarab beetle gathers up animal dung as food for its mate and rolls it into a round ball which it pushes around - which the Egyptians saw as being like the sun, so they conceptualised the rising sun as a ball pushed up by a scarab beetle. The female scarab beetle makes an oval ball where she lays her eggs, and then buries this. The Egyptians didn't observe this part of the behaviour, so when the newly adult scarabs emerged above ground they thought they were spontaneously generating from the ground itself. So an appropriate animal to associate with birth and creation - both of the sun and more generally.

These amulets and seals can be very detailed representations of the beetles, and one might think they are figurines except that they always have an inscription on the base. Boonstra showed us an example with the anatomy labelled with the real anatomical terms for each part of the beetle. She said that a given scarab amulet would've been anatomically correct for a particular species. During different periods of scarab production different features were depicted or emphasised. A particularly noteworthy example is a feature called the humeral callosity. This is a real beetle anatomical feature (effectively the scarab's shoulders), and they are represented on amulets as two little triangles on the thorax just adjacent to the line separating the head from the body. They are only shown on scarabs from the 18th Dynasty or later, so this can be used to help date amulets. More generally style can be used to date the many scarabs that are found outside securely dated contexts. One of Boonstra's slides had a table of various design features that have been used to create a typology, and from that a timeline using securely dated scarabs. Before this system royal names had been used to date them - with the assumption that if a king was named then it was the current king. Sadly this seemingly easy dating method isn't terribly accurate - some king's names appear on scarabs known to've been made significantly after the reign of the king. Senwosret I and Thutmose III are examples of kings whose names show up hundreds of years after their reigns.

Scarabs are made of a variety of materials, and in the next part of Boonstra's talk she went through the various materials and the various ways that scarabs were produced. Some scarabs were made of semiprecious stones, and Boonstra showed us examples of four of these. Carnelian is a common material in ancient Egypt found particularly in the Sinai, the Eastern Desert and Nubia. It's often scattered on the desert floor in small pieces. It is red, orange or brown in colour, and was a symbol of blood, power and energy. Another stone often used was the purple stone amethyst - it was particularly popular in the Middle Kingdom period. Scarabs made from this material were uncommon outside Egypt. Amethyst is found in the south-eastern desert at Wadi el Hudi. Her last two examples were both jasper, which is a form of quartz and both sorts are found in the Eastern Desert. Red jasper, called Khenmet in ancient Egyptian, was popular for beads, amulets and scarabs. It's sometimes confused with carnelian, and she later mentioned that some workshops used the two stones interchangeably. Green jasper was used in Egypt from predynastic times but was more popular outside Egypt. Most of the scarabs made with this material were heart scarabs.

All four of these stones were rated on the Mohs hardness scale as 7 (this runs from talc at 1 to diamond at 10, click here for the wikipedia article on the scale). As a result it is hard to make beads and scarabs from these materials. First the object was roughed out using flint tools, and then the fine details added using metal tools. The perforations were made with bow drills - we know how this was done for beads from a scene on the walls of the tomb of Rekhmire, and it must've been a similar process for scarabs. Because they were so hard to produce, scarabs made from these materials were an elite item.

Other more easily worked materials were also used to make scarabs. Boonstra showed us some examples of scarabs made of organic materials, this could include amber, gilded beeswax and more rarely animal bone and wood. Much more common was faience. This material was originally used to mimic turquoise, and the colour symbolises life and fertility. Usually it's used to produce small items less than 30cm long, but she mentioned the example of the was sceptre which is now in the V&A which is 7 foot tall! Faience is made from silica (crushed quartz or pure sand), an alkali (natron or plant ash), lime (burnt limestone) and a colourant (copper for turquoise and cobalt or iron for dark blue). The silica, alkali and lime were mixed together to the consistency of toothpaste and then moulded in clay moulds before being fired which can be done anywhere pottery can be fired. Colour could be added in a variety of ways - mostly commonly via efflorescence (where the colourant was inside the mixture), but also through direct application of a glaze to the surface (where you'd see pooling of the glaze in the final object) or by embedding the object in a powdery mixture of colourant during firing (called cementation). The best evidence for production of faience objects comes from finding workshops and Boonstra gave us some examples from across most of Egyptian history: Abydos for the Old & Middle Kingdom period, Lisht in the Middle Kingdom, Malqata and Amarna in the 18th Dynasty and Memphis for the Roman period.

The most common material to make scarabs out of was steatite, and scarab amulets were also the most common use for this stone. Steatite is also known as talc and as soapstone, and it is found near Gebel el Silsila. As it is when it is found it is very easy to carve as it has a Mohs hardness of 1. Once it's the right shape it is fired and that converts the stone into actual steatite which has a Mohs hardness of 7, just like the semi-precious stones that Boonstra discussed first. It can be glazed before firing with the same glaze that is used for faience objects, and fired in a kiln or even just a hearth. These scarabs are really easy to make, so the skills needed aren't for the process itself but are for creating the shape of the object.

It's relatively hard to find archaeological evidence for the production of semi-precious stone scarabs because it's hard to distinguish them from bead workshops in general. Faience and steatite scarab workshops are easier to distinguish. Evidence can come from moulds and from wasters, unfinished or broken scarabs that have been discarded. (Wasters refers to objects which went wrong during production.)

Having set the scene by telling us about what scarab amulets were and how they were made Boonstra next moved on to a case study of a workshop and the sorts of things it can tell us about broader issues than just scarab amulets themselves. This workshop is in a place called Tell el-'Ajjul which is near the modern city of Gaza. It has been identified with ancient Sharuhen, which was a Cananite stronghold in the Second Intermediate Period and was the last Hyksos stronghold to be destroyed at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty. It's at the north-eastern corner of the Delta, north-east of Avaris (the Hyksos capital) and on the trade routes from Egypt towards Syria and beyond. Because it was destroyed at the start of the New Kingdom it forms a sort of "time capsule" for the Second Intermediate Period. The site was initially excavated by Petrie in the 1930s, and Boonstra noted that his excavation techniques didn't transfer well from Egypt to Palestine. More recent excavations have been undertaken by a Swedish-Palestinian team, but this has had to stop because of the conflict in the region.

There is archaeological evidence of a scarab workshop at Tell el-'Ajjul - the raw material is present, and there are unfired scarabs that have been carved but not transformed into steatite - however the kilns have not been as easily found. More indirect evidence for scarab production at the site is the sheer number of scarabs found - over 1200 from a partially excavated site (200 would be a typical number for a site of this size). Boonstra told us that she has identified some distinctive types of scarabs specific to this site. One type has a distinctive head and a shesha back (which has no lines on the back dividing the wings etc but does have side notches). There are two sub-types of this type - one has a bird & cobra motif on the base, the other has a falcon headed figure facing an erect schematic crocodile. Both are specific to this site and to its trading partners (and generally not found in Egypt proper). Another type has a 'nr' motif on the base - this is a mis-written nonsensical inscription. One theory is that it's a mis-written offering formula but Boonstra said there seems to be too much variation for that to be the case. It seems to've originally been from a single carver who liked the design but didn't understand the hieroglyphs. These scarabs are also found in much larger numbers in Palestine and on the Tell el-'Ajjul traderoutes than they are in Egypt.

Boonstra proposes that scarab production in the 2nd Millennium BCE mimics the social dynamics of the time. The decline of centralised Egyptian government during the Second Intermediate Period correlates with the rise of Levantine city states. And during this period you find a lot of scarabs made in Levantine workshops. When Ahmose I re-unifies Egypt at the beginning of the New Kingdom the number of Levantine scarabs declines again. The trade dynamics change during the Second Intermediate Period as well. Trade between the Near East and Southern Levant increases, while trade with Byblos reduces. Trade between north & south Egypt declines, and there is more direct trade between the Hyksos in the Delta with the Nubians to the south of Egypt (skipping past the remnants of the Egyptian state by trading via the desert routes). And find spots of Cananite produced scarabs mirror this - they are found in the Delta and the Near East, and in Nubia but generally not in Upper Egypt.

The scarab workshop at Tell el-'Ajjul had been the subject of Boonstra's MA research, and for her PhD she took this forward in time by looking at 18th Dynasty scarabs. There wasn't much previous work on these scarabs, and she was particularly interested in the changes from the Second Intermediate Period scarabs. In this part of her talk she took us through a handful of "workshops" from the period, which I've put in quotes because often the actual workshop hasn't been found but it's clear that a particular group of scarabs were made in a particular place by a particular team.

Seals

Scarabs from Hatshepshut's workshops at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The first of the workshops she told us about were Hatshepsut's workshops - most of these scarabs were found in foundation deposits for Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri. There are several deposits and the scarabs were found in deposits G, H and I. About 200 scarabs have been found, nearly all of which are glazed steatite with no examples of faience or semi-precious stones. They were not used in life and were intended for these deposits or for funerary use (and a few have been found in Theban tombs). Almost all the scarabs have been found in the Theban area, which indicates that the workshop is there but it hasn't yet been discovered by archaeologists. Over half the scarabs have Hatshepsut's name on them, others have the names of Thutmose III, Hatshepsut's daughter, and Amun-Ra. The backs of the scarabs have different details to the Second Intermediate Period ones - including the humeral callosities that Boonstra talked about in her introduction. The features are a combination of new innovations and archaising ones that look back to the Middle Kingdom - which mirrors her decision to put her temple where she did (next door to Montuhotep II's mortuary complex), and is part of legitimising herself by linking herself to the founder of the Middle Kingdom.

The next workshop that Boonstra discussed is a carnelian or red jasper workshop from the early 18th Dynasty. The craftsmen used one or the other of these stones but don't seem to've had a preference for either nor does the choice seem to matter. The base of these scarabs has a very simple geometric motif, and the backs are all the same as if carved by the same person. They are found throughout Egypt, the southern Levant, Crete & the rest of the Aegean but are more common in the Faiyum so that is probably where the workshop was.

The el Khokha faience workshop is the name for a group of scarabs almost all found in the tomb of the Chief of Craftsmen Neferkhawes on his wife's body. These have the lunate heads and shesha backs that were seen on the Levantine scarabs from the Second Intermediate Period. There are also Levantine influences on the base motifs including the man and crocodile motif seen on the Tell el 'Ajjul scarabs. however this motif was later found from another workshop in Egypt (Tell el Dubia), and the el Khokha scarabs are most similar to this form.

Beth Shan is a Levantine site which was conquered in the 18th Dynasty - the town was annexed and the Egyptians set up a garrison there. It had a prolific faience workshop which made a lot of the smaller finds at Beth Shan (the bigger and better pieces were imported from Egypt). The inscriptions on the bases of these scarabs are reversed - for instance Amenhotep III's name is written left to right rather than right to left as it would be on an Egyptian article. This suggests they're cheap knock-offs - the maker has created a mould by copying an original example and used this to produce almost look-a-likes of originals.

Boonstra now moved on to some examples of workshops later than the scope of her PhD (which was early 18th Dynasty), to give us a flavour of later developments. Her first example in this section was Amarna. There has been little work on scarab production at the site, but there are indications that scarabs were made there. One of these pieces of evidence is a limestone mould which might be for metal scarabs, and another is that Anna Hodgkinson (who works there) has found a mould for faience scarabs and later a scarab that fits in the mould!

Memphis has an example of a case where the actual site of the workshop has been found. Petrie excavated the shrine built by Merenptah in the temple of Ptah at Memphis in 1909. Under the outer court of this 19th Dynasty shrine is the remains of a scarab workshop with many broken and unfinished steatite scarabs. The date of this workshop isn't clear - although it definitely pre-dates the temple it is underneath.

The final example was a Late Period scarab factory at Naukratis, in the Delta - another example where the actual site of the workshop is known. The faience scarabs that were mass produced here came in several types and were widely exported, including throughout the Aegean. Tying back to some of her introductory remarks about the difficulties of dating scarabs by their inscriptions Boonstra told us that one of the types produced here in the Late Period has the name of Thutmose III on it, who lived around a millennium before these scarabs were produced!

Boonstra finished by summing up what the Second Intermediate Period and early New Kingdom scarabs can tell us about the politics of the eras. For instance in the Second Intermediate Period the distribution of scarabs shows the connection between the Levant and Nubia which didn't involve Egypt. And in the New Kingdom examples scarabs with Hatshepsut's name on disappear after her reign but the style she brought in (which ignored the Second Intermediate Period and looked back to the Middle Kingdom) is retained.

This was a fascinating talk - lots of information both on the practicalities of scarab production (I had no idea that steatite started soft and was then fired to produce the hard stone), and on what these little objects tell us about grand themes of history like politics or trade. I also liked the demonstration that people are the same regardless of time period - cheap knock-off versions of scarabs then, and handbags now!

At the beginning of October Luigi Prada visited us at the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about the work he has been doing at the site of el Kab as part of the Oxford University Expedition there.

Map of el Kab with sites labelled
Map of el Kab with sites labelled

He began with an overview of the site, to give us context for his work. el Kab lies halfway between Luxor and Aswan, about 2 hours south of Luxor. It's one of the oldest cities, and was continuously inhabited from the Paleolithic through to the Roman Period. The ancient Egyptians called the city Nekheb, and its patron deity was the vulture goddess Nekhbet (meaning "the one of Nekheb") - she was also patron goddess of the whole of Upper Egypt. The Greeks called it Eleithyiopolis (which is what Google Maps labels the city, see above) and the Romans used the name Leucothae.

There are three main areas of the site: the settlement (the walled city and its temples), the necropolis and Wadi Hilal (which contains the desert temples and rock inscriptions).

The settlement is not part of the Oxford University concession - it is being worked on by a Belgian team. It is surrounded by great walls which were built in late Dynastic times, probably dating to the time of Nectanebo II. One corner of these walls has been washed away by the Nile as its course has changed over time since the city was abandoned. The temples in the city are not as well preserved as in some other parts of Egypt (for instance Karnak), but they are still visible. Prada showed us some drawings from 1798 which showed that more was visible at that point, but as with a lot of ancient Egyptian monuments more has been lost in the last couple of hundred years than in the preceding 2 millennia. In this case the stones were reused in the building of the railway, and are now under the tracks and presumably lost forever. The site is in need of conservation and the Belgian team simply do not have the funding nor resources to do all of this work nor to document it all, it's a very large site. The change in the course of the Nile means that the water table is higher here than it was in antiquity and the sandstone that the temples were made from is drawing water and salt up out of the soil. This damages the stone and the reliefs carved on it.

Stairs up to 18th Dynasty Tombs at el Kab

Prada now moved on to talking about the necropolis, which is part of the Oxford concession. The area he was talking about is the main part of the necropolis, but there are several other areas of tombs around the mountain. He said that the mountain has so many tombs in it that it's a bit like a block of Gruyère now! Some of the tombs are open to the public and in the 1980s a staircase was built for easier access (see photo above). One of the key tombs at this site is that of Ahmose son of Ibana. His autobiographical tomb inscription tells of his career in the military, rising through the ranks to an important enough post to be able to afford this splendid tomb. This inscription is an important source for the historical detail of the late 17th Dynasty and for the reunification of Egypt that begins the New Kingdom. Another tomb is that of Paheri, a descendent of Ahmose and governor of el Kab. The third tomb that Prada mentioned was that of Reneny, another governor of el Kab during the reign of Amenhotep I at the beginning of the New Kingdom - he was going to come back to it later in the talk so all he mentioned at this point was that it has the earliest known depiction of horse and chariot in a private context.

One of the things the Oxford expedition are doing is mapping the tombs. Originally this was a British Museum expedition, which was then jointly organised with Oxford and finally solely run by Oxford. The purpose of the mission is epigraphy - they are not an archaeological expedition, instead they are primarily there to record and conserve the inscriptions. And part of this documentation is to make a proper map of the necropolis - despite over 200 years of knowledge of and work at the site by various people there isn't a good map. Drawing one is made more complicated by the number of tombs in the mountain - there are so many packed into the space that they run into each other inside because the tomb builders also didn't have a clear idea where already existing tombs were when they began a new one. Prada showed us a picture of one where the shaft from a tomb chapel dropped down into another tomb chapel. He also showed us some of their new map, and drew our attention to a 4th Dynasty mastaba on the top of the cliff. this is an unusual type of structure to find in this context. It clearly continued to be important in the activity at the site long after its owner was buried as material was found in that dates to more recent periods.

Vulture Rock

The Wadi Hilal contains three main sites of interest - the Hemispeos, the Amenhotep III temple (or shrine) and Vulture Rock. The last of these is has clearly had sacred associations from prehistory onward - the (very) large rocky outcrop stands in the middle of the wadi and is completely covered in inscriptions right up to the very top. Prada showed us some examples including a New Kingdom one and a Late Period or Graeco-Roman period one.

The Hemispeos is a temple that is set part into the rock and part a building in front of the rock. The whole of the complex was originally built in the Ramesside Period and then rebuilt in Ptolemaic times. It has a Hamman chapel which dates to the time of Ramesses II - this once looked a lot like Trajan's Kiosk at the temple of Philae, with the addition of a roof. Much of the archaeology at the site has vanished over the last couple of hundred years. Prada showed us one of the earliest photos of Egypt (dating back to 1842-1843) which is of the entrance to the the Hemispeos and shows how much is now gone. The entrance has been restored since with modern pillars and ancient stone at the top, but it hasn't been rebuilt as tall as the original.

In Coptic times the Hemispeos was reused as a hermitage, and so much of the decoration both inside and out was removed by the Copts - but only up to a height of about 2m, almost as if they were counting on no-one ever looking upwards! Prada drew our attention to a couple of parts of the original decoration that do survive. The first of these is that Cleopatra III is represented on both sides of the door which is very unusual - one would expect the king to be shown on at least one side. There's a theological reason for this - the temple is dedicated to female deities (a local version of Hathor and to Nekhbet) so the queen is most appropriate for this all female space. The other part he mentioned was a stela in the external wall showing Ramesses II offering to deities.

Amenhotep III Era Temple at el Kab

The last part of the site that Prada described is the furthest from the Nile - the Amenhotep III temple. He said that when he's working at this structure it's a very long daily commute. The team live on the other side of the river from the site and commute to it daily by felucca. If they didn't go by boat then they'd have to drive 20km to the nearest bridge and 20km back, so the boat is much better! Then they walk from the river to the areas they are working, and the Amenhotep III temple is a long walk (see the map above). He said that sometimes the gaffir gives him a lift on a motorbike, which is a lot quicker but perhaps not quite as safe!

This structure is more properly referred to as a barque shrine rather than a proper temple. The main sanctuary is very small, it would fit into the hall we were having the talk in . There's very little "official" decoration outside. Inside is decorated throughout. There are four Hathor pillars with sistra headdresses. The decoration scheme includes the deities Amun-Re, Nekhbet and Horus of Nekhen - this close connection of Nekhen and Nekheb goes back to predynastic times. At the entrance to the temple both Amenhotep III and Thutmose IV are depicted, so perhaps it was begun by Thutmose IV and then completed by his son Amenhotep III. It may also have been built on the site of an earlier structure. During the Amarna period the Amun names were defaced even in Amenhotep III's name, and subsequently restored by Seti I - and this restoration was recorded in an inscription.

As with the Hemispeos the Amenhotep III temple was refurbished and expanded by the Ptolemaic Pharaohs. Prada showed us some old photos from 1842-1844 which show how substantial the pronaos (the Ptolemaic forecourt) once was. Some of the blocks that were once part of the pronaos are broken up behind the temple, and Prada is trying to document these. The plan is that if they can get good photographs of these blocks then they can do a digital reconstruction of the structure. So next season they're going back with a stone specialist to see if it's possible to move them without damaging anything so that he can photograph the inaccessible parts of the blocks. At the moment he's not sure how fragile the stone is, so isn't touching anything until he's talked to the experts.

After our break for coffee & cake Prada moved on to tell us about the work he is doing at the site. He is studying the graffiti, in particular from the Late Period to the Graeco-Roman Period (c. 7th Century BCE - 2nd Century CE). In modern times graffiti has negative connotations but in Ancient Egypt carving one's name in a sacred space could be an act of piety. Because of the modern viewpoint archaeologists in the 19th and early 20th Century mostly ignored graffiti. Now people like Prada are revisiting sites to look at this sort of secondary evidence which tells us a lot about the history of the site after its initial construction.

Graffiti can be categorised in many ways. Is it figural or textual? What script is it written in? What language? How was it made - scratched? painted? both? At el Kab there are examples of all these types. The textual graffiti are also written in all scripts and languages of Ancient Egypt from Dynastic times through to the Graeco-Roman period.

Prada told us about three main areas of graffiti. The first of these is in the tomb of Reneny, where the graffiti reveals the different way that this tomb was used in later times. Often tombs get re-used for further burials, but in this case it was more interesting than that. The main chamber of the tomb has always been open because that's where Reneny hoped offerings would be brought for his ka. In this chamber that are some pieces of graffiti written in the demotic script dating to around 300 BCE - so roughly 1200 years after Reneny was buried there.

There is a large piece of demotic graffiti written above the charioteer which follows a standard formula often found in graffiti in temples. Prada likened writing this formula on the wall of a temple to lighting a candle in church - it means the person who wrote the graffiti/lit the candle is still present in spirit after they've left in person. The formula starts with "The perfect name of ..." and then the name of the writer. It continues by saying that the writer "endures in the presence of ..." followed by a god's name - this case the writer endures in the presence of "the Great Man". The next part of the formula is the date it was written. Sadly it can't be converted to a date in our calendar because it doesn't include the king's name - the Egyptians didn't use a continuous dating system, instead they dated to Year X of King Y. So if the text just says "Year 10" (for instance) you don't know who's Year 10 this was. At first glance that sounds like an odd thing to miss out, but it's not unusual when Egyptians wrote dates and in context it would've been obvious. Prada said it's a bit like writing "19" for the year nowadays - it's obviously 2019 that we mean, but give it 2000 years and future archaeologists will be not quite sure if it's 1919, 2019 or 2119!

As well as this large piece there is another shorter version of the same formula written by the same man. And using photographic manipulation techniques he has also found another version of this formula dating to the late Dynastic or early Persian Period (c. 6th Century BCE).

The "Great Man" referred to in these graffiti appears to be the tomb owner, Reneny. It appears that the main chamber of his tomb was reinterpreted as a shrine in the Late Period, and he was deified in the local area. Prada pointed at the examples of Imhotep and Amenhotep son of Hapu for other examples of this sort of thing happening. I was also reminded of a talk I went to in 2015 given by Janet Richards who talked about saint cults in the context of Abydos (my write up of that talk). Prada suggested that the presence of only one statue in Reneny's tomb chamber (rather than him being accompanied by family members as other people were in the their tombs) was part of why it was reinterpreted as a shrine. Other evidence of this local deity "the Great Man" comes from names of people in the local area. It's pretty standard in Egyptian culture to give children names that include the name of a god (e.g. AMENhotep). And in a list of names from around the same time as these graffiti there are people whose names include the phrase "the Great Man". He's only ever referred to as "the Great Man" never "Reneny" by these later people - even though Reneny's name is in hieroglyphs in several places in his tomb. Obviously the people leaving the graffiti were literate, but it appears they weren't able to read hieroglyphs.

Ptolemaic Temple at el Kab

The Hemispeos also has quite a lot of graffiti. There are some textual ones but Prada mostly showed us the figural ones. A lot of these were made by people with questionable drawing skills - I don't have a picture of the most amusing one that he showed us (that looked a bit like a mutant ninja turtle!) but see above for some deities sitting on thrones. As well as Egyptian style figures this Ptolemaic era structure also has figural graffiti with Greek style motifs. One of these that shows up on a lot of surfaces is a drawing of a Greek style altar - represented as a square box with a ramp leading up towards it. Prada said that he thinks this motif is so prevalent here because the visitors who carved it conceptualised the temple as a large version of one of these altars. It's difficult to describe this without pictures but essentially the Hemispeos is built half in & half in front of the cliff face and the temple is approached via a ramp, so it's quite like these altar drawings.

Amenhotep III Era Temple at el Kab

The Amenhotep III shrine might be small but it has hundreds of graffiti everywhere. On the outside of the temple these include carvings of baboons, texts and many carvings of feet on the paving slabs. These last are an illiterate version of the texts in Reneny's tomb and are intended to represent the carver as always present at the site, standing in their "footprints".

The inside of the shrine also has a lot of graffiti. Prada pointed out that there is a significant difference between modern (Victorian mostly) graffiti and ancient graffiti. Ancient graffiti never damages the decoration - it uses the blank spaces on the walls. But modern graffiti is often carved right across whatever was already there. The ancient graffiti is votive rather than destructive, and the people who made it were respectful of the temple.

One of the common motifs in the Amenhotep III shrine is the addition of little ibis figures to the decoration. Ibises (and the baboons found on the outside of the temple) are animals associated with the god Thoth and are evidence of how the shrine has been re-purposed over its active life. During Amenhotep III's time the deities to whom it was dedicated were Horus of Nekhen, Nekhbet and Amun-Re. During Graeco-Roman times the primary goddess was a form of Hathor merged with Tefnut. A key myth from this period was that Hathor (the Eye of Re) had an argument with her father Re and so she left to go and sulk in Nubia. This means that the world is out of its proper order, ma'at is broken and so Re wants her to return to Egypt where she belongs. He sends the god of wisdom (Thoth) to persuade her to return, and he is successful in his mission. The annual celebration of her return takes place at the winter solstice, and this whole story is a mythological explanation for the changes in the sun's position in the sky over the year. At the winter solstice the sun is at its lowest at noon, instead of being overhead it's to the south. To the Egyptian mind this means that the sun must be in Nubia, and the return of the Eye of Re from Nubia brings the sun back higher (further north) in the sky. Thoth is a key player in that myth, yet isn't represented anywhere in the original decoration scheme - hence the ibis and baboon additions to the decoration.

His examples from these three sites demonstrated why projects like his are worthwhile, and how they add to our knowledge of the ancient sites. His starting point was to document the graffiti which had been missed out of the older publications (with their focus on the "original" decoration scheme), and not just document it but document it in context. As he'd just demonstrated the graffiti gains a lot of its significance from its context - for instance those little ibis figures wouldn't mean much if divorced from the context of a temple whose dedication had evolved over time and now needed the presence of Thoth in the decoration scheme.

Modern techniques do make this sort of project much more feasible, and Prada finished up the main section of his talk by discussing a couple of the main techniques he uses. The first of these is photogrammetry which allows him to make 3D models of the structures he's studying. It's not a very complicated technique to do, once one has access to the software that does the work. He takes normal digital photos of the area he wants to model, each photo with about 30% overlap with the neighbouring photos until he has full coverage of the area. The software will then stitch these into a 3D model, and other software can be used to do things like correct the camera lens distortion and so on. The model the software generates can then be manipulated to zoom in on details or to zoom out to get the full context for a piece of graffiti. He can also produce drawings from these models for publication.

The other technique is called D-stretch, which is the name of a piece of software that processes a photo to make the red coloured areas show up more clearly. It wasn't originally developed for Egyptological use, but the creator made the software available for anyone to use. It turns out to be very useful for Prada's work as a lot of Egyptian graffiti is written in red ink. He showed us some photos before and after D-stretch processing and details revealed were stunning - some areas looked blank to the naked eye but had a complete piece of graffiti revealed once they were processed.

Prada finished off his talk by telling us about a tomb of a priest from the time of Ptolemy III that they have recently (re)discovered at the necropolis. At the bottom of the cliff of the necropolis there are many Graeco-Roman tombs and in the 19th Century Lepsius had noted that one of them was decorated. And so they went to look for it and found it in 2018!

The tomb has a small main chamber, painted in several registers onto a white background. Later it has had niches cut into the walls (across the decoration) for crocodile mummies. As with his work on graffiti they have made a photogrammetic model of the tomb and used D-stretch to bring out the red details - again the palette is predominantly red so this works well (other colours used are pink, yellow and blue).
Prada talked us through the decoration scheme, much of which was vignettes from the Book of the Dead. On the west wall there are spells 110 and 115 from the Book of the Dead, and also a scene with chariots and horses. This last is an unusual scene and he said it makes him wonder if it is linked to Reneny's tomb decoration (which was being used as a shrine during the the time when this tomb was built). On the east wall there are spells 1 and 143 from the Book of the Dead. On the top register D-stretch processing revealed that there are some demotic inscriptions that aren't visible to the naked eye, which list personal names.

The north wall is the most interesting - it is the wall that is opposite you as you come into the tomb and so the wall that you would see. The bottom register has another vignette from the Book of the Dead, this time spell 72. The top two registers have scenes of boats on the Nile. The top register had a flotilla travelling south and the middle register is the same flotilla going north. The direction the boats are travelling is determined by seeing if they have their sails up or not - a boat travelling south is travelling upstream with the prevailing wind so the sails are up. A boat travelling north is moving with the current but against the wind so has its sails furled and is powered by oars. One possible explanation for the scenes is that they represent the deceased's ritual procession to Abydos - but Abydos is to the north of el Kab and this flotilla is shown as going south first, so the team feel there must be some other explanation. Another piece of evidence that fits in here is that the only non-graffiti texts in the tomb are the cartouches of Ptolemy III and his queen Berenike - these are on the north wall, associated with these boat scenes. So the team's hypothesis is that the scenes are a record of a royal visit to (or via) el Kab, which would've been an important event in the life of this priest and worth recording in his tomb. There are inscriptions at the temple at Edfu which say that Ptolemy III himself was present at the founding, and so perhaps these scenes record Ptolemy III's flotilla travelling past el Kab to Edfu to found the temple there.

This was a really interesting talk, I'm particularly fascinated by graffiti - once you get your eye in you can find so much from so many different eras on Egypt's monuments. So it was really neat to learn about the ways that ancient graffiti has both the same and different motivations to modern graffiti. And to learn what it can tell us about how ancient Egyptians saw their own history and these sites that were ancient to them as well as to us.

At the beginning of September Konstantin Ivanov visited us at the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about scenes showing purification of the Pharaoh in Graeco-Roman period temples. He began by talking about why he was studying these scenes. Firstly because they are telling us something about an important part of Egyptian culture - purity was a requirement before someone could enter the temple, so the Pharaoh must also be purified when he comes to the temple. And secondly he thought this was a good area to investigate because not a lot of work has been done on these scenes. Gardiner published on the subject in 1950 and that's still the most cited text. It's even cited by people discussing Ptolemaic Period temples, despite Gardiner explicitly staying he's not covering that period! As well as that gap there is also new evidence available, so Ivanov did a large scale comprehensive study of purification scenes for his masters thesis.

The decorative element he was discussing is a set of four scenes which are arranged in a sequence. First there is the Royal Exit - the Pharaoh leaving the palace to go to the temple. This is followed by the Purification scene where the gods pour water over the Pharaoh's head. Next comes a Coronation scene where the king is crowned or confirmed by two deities. And lastly the Pharaoh is presented to the patron deity of the temple by gods. Ivanov pointed out that the scenes aren't necessarily a straightforward representation of reality - they must also fit with temple "grammar". By this he means things like which crown a Pharaoh is shown as wearing will depend on which wall of the temple he is on - Red Crown on the north wall, White Crown on the south.

He then gave us a feel for the sheer quantity of evidence he has gathered on the subject - he wasn't going to show us every single example because it would be overwhelming, and he was going to concentrate on the areas of his research that are more complete. As part of this bit of the talk he listed his major sources, and showed us the geographical spread of the temples he's investigated.

Purification scenes first appear as part of temple decoration as early as the time of Hatshepshut (on the Red Shrine), and even this early elements of the later sequence are present. There are quite a lot of examples surviving from the Ramesside period so that is where Ivanov began his explanation of the historical context for the Graeco-Roman sequence. During the Ramesside period the scenes are mostly in the inner courts of temples - and pretty much every temple has these scenes. The Introduction scene tends to be further in or on door lintels. It doesn't seem to matter which register of the wall the scenes are placed on, and the sequence doesn't always have all the scenes nor are they necessarily in the same order each time. There are also variations in the composition. One trend that does carry across all the Ramesside scenes is that the Pharaoh has a wig on (except one example where he has the Blue Crown on). Later, during the 25th Dynasty there is a bit of a shift towards uniformity in composition.

In summary the pre-Ptolemaic Period purification scenes are a bit all over the place, both literally and figuratively. There is variation in placement, there is variation in composition and there is variation in sequence.


Coronation Scene at Philae Temple, Photo by John Patterson

Ivanov now moved on to an overview of Ptolemaic and Roman examples of purification scenes: which can be summed up as "everything is different to before". The scenes are placed in the outer areas of temples, and in corresponding places in different temples. They are often placed in a symmetrical fashion, and are often associated with doorways. Most of them are found on the screen wall of a temple's hypostyle hall, but he thinks this may be an artifact of survival and that if there were more intact pylons then we'd see more of these scenes on pylons. The sequence is confined to the first register on a wall, with a single example that's not. The scenes are always found in sequence with all present and no extra scenes. (Except that the Royal Exit scene also shows up in another context but it's clear that this is two distinct uses of a common motif.)

The composition is also restricted. The actors and props are always the same in each scene and even the position of the actors is the same. The Royal Exit scene shows the most variation, particularly in the number of standards, and it may contain more extra elements than other scenes. In the Purification scene the Pharaoh always wears a skull cap and has simple clothing (unlike in the preceding scene). The gods in this scene are always standing on podiums to pour the water over the Pharaoh. In the Coronation scene the Pharaoh wears the Double Crown. In the Introduction scene there may be some variation in the welcoming committee - for instance in Philae it's Isis not a god (as she's the patron deity of the temple). In other temples the patron deity is often accompanied by a consort deity.

All later Ptolemaic Period and Roman Period temples follow this format. Earlier Ptolemaic temples, such as parts of Philae don't entirely match the convention. Using this Ivanov has been able to narrow down the period when the format was defined to after the Hypostyle Hall at Philae was built and before the temple at Edfu was built. There were also other changes in temple decoration around this time, so possibly the standardisation of Purification sequences was part of a wider change. Decisions about this sort of thing would be taken at a Synod of priests, and Ivanov has narrowed it down to a specific one that took place in 238 BCE.

Despite this uniform format there are still some divergences in different temples. Ivanov divided these into two types, sanctioned variations and true deviations. The first of these are variations that he saw as "confirming the rule" - he gave an example of the number of standards present in the Royal Exit scene. This varies, but in a rule-bound fashion and dependent on where in the temple the scene is placed.

True deviations are forced by circumstance, and Ivanov gave us several examples of different types of these. For instance at Esna there are two sequences in the Hypostyle Hall which have missing scenes. The actors (gods) from the missing scene show up in another scene in each case, which means that the whole sequence is represented even if not present. The two sequences can also be joined up across the hall to form a single continuous sequence. Other examples include a missing scene in the sequence replaced with a doorway that offers a view of the sanctuary that fits the point of the scene. One sequence in Philae has Osiris as the deity the Pharaoh is introduced to (rather than the patron Isis) - but if you follow the line of the sequence it points towards a temple of Osiris and thus he is the appropriate deity to be honoured. In temples dedicated to Thoth the placement of Thoth in any scene always reflects his greater importance in this context rather than slavishly following the conventional arrangement.

After our break for coffee and cake (and a brief recap: Ramesside Period = chaos; Graeco-Roman Period = sudden decisive shift to uniformity) Ivanov moved on to another more subtle way that the sequence can vary between temples. In larger temples with more than one sequence it's possible to discern common subtle differences that are down to style. He went through three examples: Edfu, Kom Ombo and Dendera. In Edfu the stylistic differences accentuate Horus as the patron deity of the temple. For instance in the Introduction scene the gods leading the Pharaoh are normally Montu and Atum but in this case they are both Horus. This means that this final scene in the sequence has several instances of Horus - there is Horus on his throne welcoming the Pharaoh, there are two Horuses leading the Pharaoh in and the Pharaoh himself is an incarnation of Horus.


Coronation Scene at Kom Ombo Temple, Photo by John Patterson

In Kom Ombo there are unusual details in the scenes. For instance the clothing is more complicated - e.g. 5 uraeae on the skirt of the Pharaoh rather than plain as is standard in the Graeco-Roman Period. There are other things like vultures added to the Purification scene or four deities in the Coronation scene. These sorts of details are extremely unusual in the Graeco-Roman Period but show up in older examples, so it looks like the style at Kom Ombo was to incorporate archaic features into the format (or to "keep it Old School" as Ivanov put it!).

At Dendera the differences are also in the details but in a different style to those at Kom Ombo. Here the details are innovations rather than looking back to the past. For instance one of the standards in the Royal Exit scene is a specifically local symbol. In the Purification scene the gesture the pourers are making is different, plus there is an addition of a hand hieroglyph at the mouth of the jar (and he returned to this later in the talk).

Having established that there was a standard Graeco-Roman format and told us about the sorts of variation seen Ivanov now moved out to a more meta-level to talk about how to interpret the sequence as a whole. So far throughout the talk he'd used the standard interpretation - the sequence shows the Pharaoh coming from the palace into the temple and then into the inner sanctuary where the god is. But there is another way to look at it, and in order to explain this he had to go through the common features of the format in more detail. He first reminded us that even though the sequence isn't isolated from the rest of the decoration it does form its own unit. There is never any scene behind the Royal Exit scene, but the Introduction scene can be followed by a variety of different scenes with no common theme to them. The scenes always appear together and in the same order.

The Royal Exit scene always has the palace at the back of the Pharaoh and standards in front of him. At the front of the scene leading the Pharaoh is the priest Imutef, shown at a much smaller scale than the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh is largest in the scene and wears a large crown and fancy clothes, there may also be Osirian imagery. This scene shows the most variation between & within temples.

The Purification scene is next and is the most austere of the sequence. The Pharaoh wears simple clothes and a skull cap. He doesn't seem to be the tallest in the scene as not only is he not wearing a tall crown but also the two gods are standing on podiums. These gods are always Thoth and Horus, and the scene as a whole is reminiscent of the birth of the sun. Pharaoh seems to be partway between moving from Thoth (night associated) to Horus (day associated). So this scene is a birth.

Next is the Coronation scene which is a bit more complex than the Purification scene. Pharaoh is now standing on a level with the deities. The two goddesses are always the goddesses of the Two Lands (Nekhbet for Upper Egypt and Wadjet for Lower Egypt). They sometimes are shown with naked breasts, and the scene is intimate in a mother/son sort of way - the breasts are for breastfeeding rather than with sexual connotations.

The final scene, the Introduction, moves to a higher level of complexity again. The Pharaoh is now both on a level with the deities and is wearing a fancy crown that makes him appear taller still. He is holding the hands of two male deities rather than being within the embrace of two female deities. These old deities (Montu & Atum) are being presented as in a paternal relationship with the Pharaoh. And the Pharaoh is being led to the patron deity in the symbolic West of the scene.

So the alternative reading doesn't start with the Royal Exit scene, instead it begins at the simplest point. The Purification scene is the morning, and the birth of the Pharaoh. He moves from there to the Coronation which is more complicated, and he is a like a child with his wet-nurses. Next he is an adult and being guided by his fathers the gods in the Introduction scene. After he passes to the West he moves to the Royal Exit scene where he is in the afterlife and a deity himself with no need for guidance. Now instead of ending the sequence loops, and the Pharaoh is being led into the Purification scene to be reborn once more. This provides the temple an ever present Pharaoh being eternally reborn. The theme of rejuvenation is not new to the Graeco-Roman temples - for instance in Seti I's temple at Abydos there is a sequence of scenes that show the Pharaoh being progressively rejuvenated. But there is a difference in accent - in Graeco-Roman times the rejuvenation is cyclical, before that it is linear.

Ivanov finished up his talk by giving a couple of examples where knowing how this sequence functions in temple spaces can help give answers to other questions in Egyptology. His first example was about trying to reconstruct plan of the temple of Osiris at Bigeh. This is one of the temples that was not saved from flooding when the Aswan Dam was built so these days it's a bit submerged and also overgrown. The reliefs were published in 1915 so there is some record of what is now inaccessible. In 2015 someone identified part of the published decoration as a Coronation scene. The relief isn't complete, but he has been able to re-identify it as a Purification scene because the feet of the deities are on podiums. All that's left of the temple is two bits of wall with a Royal Exit scene and this Purification scene but by comparing the placement to what he knows about the conventions of the sequence he's been able to propose a plan for the temple walls.

His other example he referred to as "weighing in on linguistics". There is a phrase, per-duat, which is often translated as House of Adoration. It has however been recently proposed that it should instead be House of Morning. I'm not sure I entirely followed Ivanov's explanation but I think the key point was that the hand gestures of the deities pouring water in the Purification scene (which is morning associated) go together with the vase to indicate that the gods are worshipping or adoring the Pharaoh. In the Dendera scenes the hand gestures are different - they are offering instead of adoring - but the little extra hands at the mouths of the vase are doing the adoring gesture. So Ivanov thinks that the Egyptians saw the adoration aspect of this scene as crucial - it needed to be represented even when the hands of the deities were modified. And so he thinks that the phrase per-duat shouldn't been seen as having to be one or other of the two meanings, but instead it means both House of Morning and House of Adoration.

This was a really fascinating talk, and I have added purification sequences to my mental list of "things to look out for in Egyptian temples". I found it particularly interesting how the sequence can be read in two different ways - a linear description of a journey or an eternal cycle of birth and re-birth.

At the beginning of August Lorna Oakes came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about the parallels between Ancient Egyptian literary sources and the Old Testament. In her lecture she covered several sorts of literature including myths, legends, hymns & prayers and prophecy.

Oakes started with myths, and began at the beginning with creation stories. She pointed out that these aren't "just stories", for the Ancient Egyptians (and the writers of the Old Testament) these were serious reflections on their origins. The Egyptians had several creation stories - even as early as the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom there were at least two variants with the god Atum bringing the gods Shu & Tefnut into being by sneezing or by using his semen. The closest variant to the Old Testament creation story is called the Memphite Theology and the text is known from a large granite slab dating to the 25th Dynasty which is now in the British Museum. In both the Old Testament and the Memphite Theology creation is accomplished by words - God in the Old Testament commands things to exist, and they do; Ptah in the Memphite Theology accomplishes all creation by his thoughts and words. Both myths end with the creator surveying their creation and seeing that it is good.

The next myth type Oakes talked about was the flood myth - many cultures have a myth of humankind being wiped out by a flood sent from the gods. But the Ancient Egyptians are different - they wouldn't use a flood metaphor for destruction because in their world view floods bring life and fertility to the land. Instead there is the story of the near destruction of the world by the goddess Sekhmet which fills the same niche. Oakes told us this story - it's set in a time when Re ruled mankind directly, but people start complaining that he's getting too old. So he decides to kill some of the people in order to stop the others complaining, and he orders Sekhmet to do it. But Sekhmet gets carried away and goes beyond what Re wanted her to do. And so he tricks her into drinking a great pool of blood coloured beer - when she wakes up from her drunken stupor she's forgotten what she was doing and forgotten her lust for blood so mankind is spared from total annihilation.

She now moved on to telling us about Old Testament legends that show similarities to Ancient Egyptian stories. There are several aspects of the Joseph cycle of stories in the Bible that have Ancient Egyptian counterparts. For instance the story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife - in this part of Joseph's story he's a slave in the household of an important Egyptian called Potiphar. Potiphar's wife takes a fancy to him & tries to seduce him, but he resists. In revenge for this rejection she makes it look like he tried to seduce her and so he's flung into jail. This parallels part of an Egyptian story called The Tale of the Two Brothers. In this story two brothers live together, the younger one in the household as if his brother & brother's wife were his parents. The two brothers are out working in the fields one day and the younger brother is sent back to the house to get grain. When he gets there his brother's wife tries to seduce him, but he gets angry and rebukes her for such a disgraceful suggestion - after all, she is like a mother to him. And then he gets the grain and goes back to working in the fields, but says nothing to his brother about the incident. The wife is angry in turn at being spurned and decides to take revenge - she does this by making it look like she's been attacked. The older brother comes back to the house first at the end of the day and finds her lying on the floor in distress - she tells him a story about the younger brother trying to seduce her then beating her when she refused. So the older brother is angry in his turn, and goes out to lie in wait for his brother so that he can kill him for this outrage. But the younger brother is warned by the cows, and runs away rather than walk into the trap.

Oakes stressed that the similarities of these stories doesn't necessarily mean that they are copied directly from each other. She brought up the idea that there are only so many plot types in the world, and pointed out that this sort of attempted seduction/rejection/revenge trope is a common plot across many cultures and stories. But the closeness of these two in their details does suggest that the author(s) of the Old Testament Joseph stories had heard or read The Tale of the Two Brothers and then worked ideas into their own legend.

There are more similarities between Joseph's story and Ancient Egyptian thought. Dream interpretation is a common Ancient Egyptian motif which shows up in a key sequence in Joseph's story. While Joseph is in prison two other inmates have dreams and Joseph is able to interpret them. One, a butler, dreams of pressing grapes into a goblet which he takes to Pharaoh who drinks from it - Joseph says this means that he will be restored to favour and let out of jail, and this comes to pass. The other, a baker, dreams of carrying bread to give to Pharaoh but the birds keep eating it from the basket - Joseph says this means that he will be executed, and this too comes to pass. At first this demonstration of knowledge of dreams doesn't help Joseph, but when Pharaoh has disturbing dreams that no-one can interpret the butler remembers Joseph and he is summoned from the jail. Pharaoh has dreamt of 7 fat cows followed by 7 thin cows, and Joseph interprets this as 7 years of plenty and good harvests, followed by 7 years of famine and poor harvests. And so Joseph is released from prison and made Vizier, and his advice means that the country doesn't starve in the time of poor harvests. Oakes pointed out that the imagery in Pharaoh's dream tells us what's important to Pharaoh (and the culture of the time) - cattle, and good harvests.

Joseph's promotion to Vizier has some similarities to another Egyptian story - the Tale of Sinhue. At the end of Sinhue's story he returns to Egypt at Pharaoh's command and so that he can die on Egyptian soil. He's feted at the court, and given a house suitable for a Prince; the women of the court all give him the respect and courtesies due to a Prince. And he's subsequently buried in a fine tomb at the expense of the king. The imagery in this tale is like that of the raising of Joseph to be Vizier.

Returning to dream interpretation Oakes told us that it was a real part of Egyptian culture, not just a feature of their stories. A dream book was found at Deir el Medina which gives lists of things that might happen in a dream, and what interpretation should be placed on that event or object. She gave us several examples but the one that stuck in my head particularly was that dreaming of warm beer means that there will be suffering!

Oakes now moved from Joseph to Moses. His origin story - the finding of the babe in the bullrushes - has obvious resonances with stories from other cultures, but not Ancient Egyptian examples in this case. Instead parallels are found in the story of the birth of Sargon of Adad, and Romulus and Remus. But one part of his story that does show similarities to Ancient Egyptian thought is Moses' flight from Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. This is similar to the crucial moment of the Tale of Sinhue. Sinhue is on campaign with the future Senwosret I when news of the assassination of Amenemhat I is brought. Senwosret is told in secret and immediately returns to the capital. The news is then also passed on to the other princes, but Sinhue overhears one of these conversations and panics - he flees into exile where he spends many years in other countries. Oakes also compared the Burning Bush episode in Moses' story to Sinhue's decision to return home. In both cases the protagonist is summoned by his lord (either divine or semi-divine) to leave the life he's been living and return home to his people to take on a new role.

A third resonance is that the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea is reminiscent (in imagery rather than context!) of a story about Khufu being entertained. This tale is found on the Westcar Papyrus and tells of how Khufu was bored, and asked his court to suggest things he could do for entertainment. It's suggested that he would enjoy going out on a lake in a boat crewed by the most beautiful women of court, and they can go up and down while he watches these women rowing. He thinks this is a good idea, and so off they go for his afternoon's entertainment. While rowing the boat one of the girls loses a pendant and is distraught. Khufu offers to replace it for her, but she wants her own one back. So he calls the Lector Priest and tells him what happened - in a fairly repetitive fashion, Oakes read us some in translation which demonstrated how it used the same words & phrasing both times the loss of the pendant was described. The Lector Priest then used his magic to return the pendant - he folded back the water on one side of the lake to pile up on the other side, at which point the pendant could be seen on the lake bed and it was returned to the girl who'd lost it. The authors of the Moses story clearly liked the imagery as a way of demonstrating great power, because it's reused when God parts the Red Sea for the Isrealites to pass.

Oakes now moved on to the Psalms (credited to David in the Old Testament) which have similarities to hymns and prayers found in an Ancient Egyptian context. The closest parallels are with texts devoted to Aten worship and there are phrases in both hymns to the Aten and Old Testament Psalms that are identical. She talked us through Psalm 104 and its similarities to the Great Hymn to the Aten. There are also similarities between the Psalsm and non-Aten hymns. Insight into the Egyptian conceptions of god(s) come from texts found at Deir el Medina - such as a hymn praising Amun which asks for healing for a man who is ill because of the sins he has committed. Oakes was again keen to stress that these similarities don't come about because of direct copying of texts from one tradition to another, instead it shows how the poets and authors were part of the same common intellectual background.

Prophetic texts are also similar between Ancient Egyptian sources and the Old Testament. An Egyptian example is a text purporting to tell of prophecies made in the 6th Dynasty. These prophecies talk abut foreigners who will in future come into Egypt and cause problems during what is identifiable as the Middle Kingdom. It was actually written during the reign of Amenemhat I and is piece of psuedo-prophecy that's actually kingly propaganda. Oakes compared this with the story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, which is also claiming to be a prophetic text which foretells future problems (for Nebuchadnezzar in this case) but is actually later propaganda.

The last genre of literature that Oakes discussed was Wisdom literature - these Ancient Egyptian texts are usually a father telling his son how to get on in the world. The biblical Book of Proverbs is of a similar genre. Solomon is said to be the author of these (although he probably wasn't) - stories about his wisdom include the famous one about dividing a baby. In this two women both claim the same baby as their child (the other child has died). So Solomon suggests chopping the baby in half and giving them half each as a fair solution - at this point he can identify the real mother because she is the most horrified and offers to give the baby away in order to save its life. Taken as a whole the Proverbs show the same shared intellectual heritage with Ancient Egyptian literature as is the case with the other texts Oakes discussed - there are many similarities in both content and form between the texts from the two cultures. Another indication of the shared heritage comes from a reference in the Book of Ecclesiastes to the Satire of the Trades - this is the piece of Egyptian literature which was often used in training scribes and Oakes positioned it as a sort of send-up of the Wisdom literature tradition. It's the one where several professions are listed with the downsides of each one given in exhaustive detail, except for being a scribe which is nothing but good and so therefore it's a good idea for boys to devote themselves to learning their letters well.

This was an entertaining and informative talk. I'm not sure I've done justice to this talk in my write-up. A lot of the content was Lorna Oakes telling us the stories that she was discussing - either in her own words or by reading us parts of translations from the original Egyptian. My attempts to summarise have probably made it sound much drier than it actually was!

At the beginning of July Antonio J. Morales visited the Essex Egyptology Group to tell us about the work of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project which he is the leader of. The project began in 2014 when he was working for Freie University in Berlin, and when he moved to the University of Alacá (outside Madrid) in 2017 the project continued under their sponsorship. Three-fifths of the €50,000/year needed to fund the project comes from the Spanish government, and the project must fundraise for the rest of it. To help with fundraising the project has several social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) to keep the project visible. Morales told us that he began with this information because he believes it important to be transparent about how the project is funded. He also believes it is important to publish their discoveries as soon as possible. As a result they publish preliminary results in 2 journals each year - one in English and one Spanish. They also make sure any finds are made public so that experts from outside the team can see them and work on them. Morales' team is a multidisciplinary one that consists of around 40 experts across a variety of specialities - 50% are Spanish, the rest are from all over the world. There are also about 200 local Egyptian workers, so it's a huge number of people.

The project started in 2014 when he visited Luxor in August to check out 12 tombs to see what work would be possible. The tombs the project is interested in are the Middle Kingdom tombs at Deir el-Bahri which date to many centuries before Hatshepsut built her famous temple at the site. The early excavations were done by several people including Herbert Winlock and Howard Carter. Herbert Winlock began work on the site in the 1920s as the head of an expedition from the Met Museum in New York. He cleared the area to reveal the huge tomb complexes, but he was mainly interested in Hatshepsut's temple rather than the tombs in the northern hills. His teams worked at the site from the 1920s to the 1940s. Morales said that as part of planning his own team's work at the site he has read Winlock's excavation notes - which are something of an exercise in frustration as well as being useful. Winlock was a very good writer, but he was prone to writing detailed descriptions of the visitors to the site (and what they had for lunch) and then skimping on the actual excavation details. One of the tombs that Winlock discovered contained the bodies of 60 warriors (this is tomb MMA507), but Morales doesn't (yet) have permission to re-excavate it. Despite having been known (and discussed) for decades there's still a lot to learn about this tomb - when Winlock originally found it he thought it was a Coptic burial, but subsequently he changed his mind and decided it was from the time of Montuhotep II (and thus the re-unification of Egypt at the start of the Middle Kingdom). More recently most scholars agree that the bodies date to the early 12th Dynasty (a few decades later).

Deir el-Bahri
Deir el-Bahri, photo by John Patterson

Morales showed us a photo of the site and told us to mentally subtract Hatshepsut's temple. The focal point for Middle Kingdom Egyptians was the mortuary temple of Montuhotep II which is now completely in ruins. In the photo above (taken by John Patterson in 2014) Montuhotep II's temple is to the left of Hatshepsut's temple and isn't really visible. The northern cliffs are to the right of the picture, and the official's tombs that Morales is excavating are both in those cliffs and in cliffs to the south of the site. They've not been re-examined since Herbert Winlock left the site in the 1940s.

Having given us context for the project & the site Morales next moved on to giving us a high level overview of the tombs that his team are excavating and what sorts of questions the project is interested in asking. The Middle Kingdom is the "classical period" from the point of view of later Egyptians but we know surprisingly little about how this period began. The 50-60 years from the start of Montuhotep II's reign to the beginning of the 12th Dynasty is when it happened, but we don't know how. And it's this that drives Morales's interest in the tombs of Montuhotep II and his high officials. He wanted to explore the question from as many perspectives as possible, so he didn't want his team to concentrate on one tomb at a time - the information he'd be able to get with that approach wouldn't answer the broader questions he's interested in. So first he asked for a commission to excavate in the northern cliffs (which he refers to as Sector A) - this includes the tombs of Henenu and Ipi that he discussed in detail later in the talk. He then realised that other nearby areas to the south of Montuhotep II's temple had tombs from the same period as the northern ones but with a different architecture. This area (Sector C) includes the tombs of Dagi and Djari which are also discussed later in the talk. They also provide an illustration of the sorts of information that Morales's broad approach can provide that a focus on a single tomb would not. Dagi had a lot of titles including Vizier and his tomb is very close to Montuhotep II's tomb; Djari is of much lower rank and is buried further away. So the layout of tombs in the cemetery reflects the hierarchy of the society they lived in - a demonstration of how stratified the society was. The last section of Morales's area of excavations he calls Sector B and it lies on the same side as Sector A but closer to the river - and the tombs here are a bit later in time.

The cemetery at Deir el-Bahri was a new foundation by Montuhotep II. When he came to power his family only had control of the area around Thebes, and his predecessors had been buried somewhere else. When he reunified the country Montuhotep II decided to build his tomb & mortuary temple somewhere completely new to symbolise the new era. His successors are also built elsewhere. To the south of Montuhotep II's temple there's the remains of another temple that was never completed, and in fact was barely started. This was once thought to be for Montuhotep II's immediate successors at the end of the 11th Dynasty but Dorothea Arnold argues that it is instead for Amenemhat I who was the first king of the 12th Dynasty. The tomb of Meket-Re, a high official who outlived Montuhotep II and died early in Amenemhat I's reign, is located near this abortive tomb construction.

One of the questions Morales is asking about the site is to do with how chronology and social stratification affect the layout of the cemetery as mentioned in the last couple of paragraphs. This is completely new to his investigation of the site - Herbert Winlock wasn't much interested in that sort of question, he was more interested in pretty things for museums! One of the features that Morales has seen so far is that the tombs of the officials are all east of an imaginary line extending north/south from the enclosure wall round the mortuary complex of Montuhotep II. In effect they are all outside the wall separating king from subject, even where the wall has not actually been built.

In Sector A in the northern hills there are three tombs of interest to Morales's project. These are TT313 (where a man named Henenu is buried), TT314 (Harhotep) and TT315 (Ipi). He is only excavating TT313 and TT315, however. The Polish mission who are working at Hatshepsut's temple worked on TT314 in the 1970s and wanted to keep it for their team to excavate. Morales said they were happy to co-operate in sharing this with the Polish mission and divided up TT314 so that both sides had something to work on. It had been originally excavated by Maspero, and the tomb contents that he found are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. So the Polish mission are continuing the re-excavation of the tomb itself and Morales's team are re-studying and publishing the items in the museum.

Each of the tombs in Sector A has a similar architecture and they are all in a row at the same geological level. They are built in a region of good white limestone, and the higher quality ones had a limestone facade as well. The lower quality ones have painted mudbrick facades. The general effect of the gleaming white tombs must've looked very spectacular. Each tomb also has a huge courtyard cut into the cliff in front of it. The tomb entrances themselves are high up in the cliffs and it's quite a scramble to get to them. The chapels where offerings were made for the deceased are nearer the bottom of the courtyard, thus easier for the priests to get to to perform the appropriate rituals.

Sector B has several tombs - three of which have numbers: TT316, MMA518 and MM519. There are also several more unidentified tombs which were robbed in antiquity but not re-excavated by Winlock. This includes a tomb called E1 which they discovered filled to the roof with debris. The only tombs in Sector C that Morales discussed are the two mentioned above: TT366 (Djari) and TT103 (Dagi).

Before talking about his team's excavations of each tomb in more detail Morales talked again about the chronology of the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. The First Intermediate Period had been a period of chaos, conflict and crisis lasting around 150 years. Montuhotep II reunified the country, after his predecessors had tried and failed. From his base in Thebes he first went to the south and conquered the three regions there - which he then combined with his own region into a single unit. And then he went to the north and conquered it. It's often said that Montuhotep II's conquest of the region of Thinis to the immediate north of Thebes was just to secure his own control over Thebes but Morales says that it's clear that Montuhotep II already had the idea of reconstructing the previous Egyptian state in mind. As soon as he re-unified the country he began moving high officials from Hierakonpolis in the north to work on Theban monuments, including filling posts such as Head of Artisans. He also sent high officials from the south to the north - for instance a Theban man called Intef was sent to be Head of Priests in the north. So this is a sign that Montuhotep regards the country as a cohesive whole with a unified economy etc - not just some piecemeal collection of recently conquered regions. He's choosing the best man for any given job, not thinking of them as northerners vs. southerners or "his people" vs. the "conquered people".

The majority of Morales's talk after our break for coffee was a more detailed discussion of what he & his team have found in each tomb. He began with the tomb of Ipi (TT315) who was Vizier at the beginning of Dynasty 12 (during the reign of Amenemhat I) - amongst many other prestigious titles. This tomb has a very large courtyard with some tunnels and rooms to the side which include subsidiary tombs (click here for a plan of this tomb on the Middle Kingdom Theban Project website). The public areas of Ipi's tomb are the first you come to as you enter the tomb, and further in are the private areas. There is a long corridor that ends in the cultic chamber, then beneath this is a corridor down to the private burial chamber. The burial chamber itself has a false floor and the sarcophagus is under the floor - an attempt to make any robber think the tomb had already been cleared out before he got there.

While re-excavating the outer courtyard they found that the western wall had been built over the tomb next door - indicating that Ipi's tomb was newer than the other one. They also found a lot of small finds such as seal impressions and 500 shabtis. Sadly there's no archaeological context for any of that material as it was stuff that Herbert Winlock had previously found and discarded (as not being pretty or interesting enough for his museum).

One of the side chambers on the courtyard is an embalming cachette - it had been discovered by Winlock, and he had photographed it. But instead of clearing it he'd taken and opened a few jars and left everything else in place. Morales had believed that the chamber had been emptied, so it was a (very good) surprise to find most of the contents still in place - but this meant they'd had no plan in place for how they were going to clear the chamber themselves. They had to work fast before rumours started about exciting finds on the site as these would inevitably mutate into rumours about gold. So they had to improvise a chain of specialists (including Salima Ikram) to process the material. Morales told us a story of walking past Salim Ikram while she was working on the material and she was licking natron bags to get an idea for what specific purposes they had been used!!

The vessels are filled with materials used in the embalming of Ipi. This includes linen wrappings and natron filled bags - during the period mummifiers used bags of natron rather than loose natron on the body to dry it out. It's important to note that this was all material that had been used in Ipi's mummification, not fresh supplies. The jars were all labelled, but they're not sure what the labelling means. One very exciting find in the jars was what is probably the heart of the Vizier Ipi! It's definitely a mummified human heart, and given the context it's probably Ipi's. The organs of the deceased were normally removed during the mummification process to be separately preserved, but normally the heart was put back in as the deceased would need this in order to pass through the Weighing of the Heart judgement. So this heart must've somehow been misplaced and put in the waste jars instead of back into Ipi - it's about the same size and weight as a used natron bag. So poor Ipi went off to his afterlife lacking his heart, but it's good for Morales's team who are hoping to get the heart scanned to see what it can tell us about Ipi.

The Letters of Heqanakht

Another of the subsidiary chambers in front of Ipi's is the tomb of Meseh. This is where the letters of Heqanakht were found by Winlock in the 1920s. These letters were accidentally sealed into the tomb, and the Vizier Ipi is mentioned in these letters. This makes it plausible that the tomb was initially Heqanakht's tomb - he was a dependent of Ipi and that's exactly the sort of person who would be buried in a subsidiary tomb outside the great man's tomb. The tomb must've been later re-used for Meseh.

Although there isn't much left in the tomb (it looks like a lot of material was taken out for re-use in antiquity) the sarcophagus is still there. It doesn't look like Ipi's tomb was quite finished when Ipi was buried in it. The sarcophagus doesn't look like it's quite in the intended space - there's an outline on the floor that it doesn't sit within. But this could also have been due to the geology of the burial chamber. If the intended area turned out to be hard to carve through than they expected then they might've changed the plan for his sarcophagus. The sarcophagus is splitting, and Morales explained that they had to stabilise it before any work could be done around it on the outside. The "fragments" that are splitting off are around 400kg each and so it would be very dangerous to be nearby if one of them slipped.

Moving on from Ipi's tomb Morales next briefly talked about his work on the coffin texts of Harhotep - as he said at the beginning of the talk his team are not getting to re-excavate Harhotep's tomb (TT314) but he is examining and publishing the texts on Harhotep's mortuary temple and coffin. These texts hinge round magically turning the sarcophagus into a boat with the deceased as its captain.

TT313 is the tomb of Henenu, who was Chief Steward in the time of Montuhotep II. His tomb is one of the first to be built in the area, and is close to Montuhotep II's mortuary complex. Like Ipi he has many titles, which include some "exotic" ones such as the rather splendid "Overseer of What Is and Is Not" (which Morales joked reminded him of his mother - in charge of everything, no matter what it is). There is a map of TT313 on the Middle Kingdom Theban Project website - showing that this tomb has a complicated collection of side chambers off the main tomb corridor. There are signs of re-use and modification over the centuries, and these chambers are actually extra burial chambers for later occupants. Inside the main burial chamber they found fragments from two different sarcophagi - perhaps these were for Henenu and his wife? The courtyard outside the tomb is very wide, as with all these tombs, and uniquely it has steps cut as wide as the whole width of the courtyard leading up to the tomb. When freshly cut these would've been white and gleamed in the sun. At the foot of the courtyard where the rituals were held Winlock discovered a stela which is now in the Met Museum - Morales and his team have now found more fragments of this that Winlock overlooked. They also found a papyrus which almost sounded exciting but it turned out to be a fake, and not a particularly good one.

Morales now moved on to briefly discuss Sector B of the site. One of the tombs here is TT316, in which Neferhotep was buried and it dates to the end of Dynasty 12. The other tomb is called E1 and hadn't been excavated before. When they discovered it it was filled to the ceiling with debris which they have cleared. He didn't tell us much about this tomb - they have done plans by hand as well as by 3D scanner. There's a crevasse outside the entrance to the main tomb formed by water. There's also a subsidiary chamber in the courtyard.

In Sector C the two tombs represent quite different social strata. TT366 is the tomb of Djari, who was Supervisor of the Harem in the time of Montuhotep II. His tomb is not as monumental as the other ones that Morales has discussed and it is made of less good quality stone. Both the tombs in this sector have what is known as a "saf facade" which has several square pillars. They know there are paintings on the pillar walls of Djari's tomb because Winlock's team made drawings of them - but they are currently covered with wooden screens for protection. Morales and his team don't yet have permission to remove the covers and re-examine the paintings directly. Based on Winlock's drawings it looks like the art style has some interesting features - some degree of playing with the audience's expectations and some unusual motifs. In the courtyard outside the tomb is the foundations of a funerary garden. It has deteriorated since it was originally found but he has discovered there are two courses of bricks beneath the sand so Morales is hopeful he'll be able to excavate & find out more about it.

Morales finished by telling us about the other tomb they are excavating in Sector C: TT1103. This tomb belonged to a man named Dagi who lived at the end of the 11th Dynasty in the reigns of both Montuhotep II and Montuhotep III. He was much higher status than Djari, he had many titles including Vizier. Whilst the architecture of the tomb is similar to that of Djari's (it also has a saf facade) it is of better quality materials. Again there are still paintings on the saf facade, and fragments in the tomb as well. One of the common motifs is figs & fig trees for the cult of Hathor. Dagi's sarcophagus is now in the Cairo Museum - interestingly the only title on it was the first one that Dagi had, the lowest status one. So he presumably started to prepare for his death early in his career.

This was an absolutely fascinating talk where Morales really demonstrated how re-excavating sites that had previously been "cleared" by early 20th Century archaeologists can still yield more information. Looking at a site with modern questions and modern specialities can show us so much that's been over looked in the past.


At the beginning of June Marcel Marée came to talk to the Essex Egyptology Group about the criteria he uses to authenticate Ancient Egyptian artifacts and detect modern forgeries. A lot of people bring artifacts to the British Museum to be authenticated, including art dealers, and so he's interested in improving and systematising the authentication process. Often experts rely on intuition, but that relies on such a breadth of knowledge that not many people can be sure they are right. Artistic merit is also often used as an indicator of authenticity, but that's a dangerous criterion to rely on as pieces that look like they are good quality are not necessarily old (nor vice versa). In this talk he laid out the criteria he looks at when he's examining an artifact - he said that he looks at several criteria because one is rarely sufficient to determine whether or not the object is a fake. He's keen to operate in a methodological way so that he avoids subjectivity.

The bulk of his talk was going through the criteria he uses (NB: he said there were 7 of them during the talk, and I have only noted down 6 so unfortunately I must've missed one). For each one he showed us several examples to illustrate what he meant, some of which were fakes and some of which were not. The first criterion he discussed was whether or not the maker of the object had followed ancient conventions of representation including the Ancient Egyptian canon of proportions. The Ancient Egyptians used proportion grids when constructing all of their art - both 2D representations and 3D sculptures. A modern maker is unlikely to've gridded the statue out before carving each section, and the trained eye can tell the difference. The grid doesn't just apply to the whole statue, they also gridded out faces separately. Over the course of 3000 plus years of history the templates used varied, but each period would've stuck to a particular set of conventions. So the first question he asks is does the artwork fit any of the known limited range of templates. To illustrate what he meant he showed us two heads of the Pharaoh Amasis (from the 26th Dynasty). The two did not look identical but do share several diagnostic features: they have big chins, there is very little forehead, the eyes are set high on the face. So there's room for variation but each artist is interpreting the same template.

He also showed us a statue of Bes that clearly failed to meet this criterion. For starters the tail was all wrong, it was attached far too far down the back of the god, coming from the rectum rather than the tail bone! Much more importantly the feet were completely wrong. They were set sideways on the legs instead of facing forward as one would expect feet to be. It looks exactly like a 2D representation of Bes, so has clearly been made by somebody modern who didn't understand the differing artistic conventions of Ancient Egyptian art in 2D or in 3D. It's a mistake that would be inconceivable for an Ancient Egyptian. Marée also showed us another Bes artifact with the opposite mistake - a 2D presentation with the feet shown facing forwards: another clear fake.

Prince Khaemwaset

Genuine Ramesside Era Prince on Luxor Temple Walls

Other examples are rather more subtle, like a relief of a Ramesside era Prince. At first glance it looks plausible, but then Marée went through the way in which both face and hair are wrong in many details as compared with an authentic example (from the temple walls at Luxor as above). The eyes are the wrong shape, as are the nose and chin. The hair style is also different, and the skull too big and bulbous at the back of the head. This is not an ancient artist working within the rules of the Ramesside canon, it's a modern forgery by someone who doesn't know the subtleties of what he or she is copying.

Marée's second criterion was whether or not the damage to the piece looked accidental. And if it wasn't accidental does it look like deliberate damage done by Ancient Egyptians - like removal of the nose of a statue or erasure of a name. Several of his examples for this criterion were heads of "statues" that had "broken off" yet had miraculously undamaged faces - it seems implausible that severe enough damage to smash the head from the body would leave the features so intact. The lines of the break in each case were too aesthetically pleasing (and looked like they had been cut with multiple blows rather than one catastrophic event).

One of these examples had also been part of a collection which had contained various dubious artifacts. As well as this head without a statue Sydney Bernard Burney had also owned a torso of a tiny lapis lazuli statue. This object looked like it had been made by the same maker as the head, but they didn't reflect a single template so they must both be modern forgeries (as an ancient Egyptian would be constrained by the rules of his time). The torso also has nonsense hieroglyphs carved on it, and the quality of the piece is far too poor for such a precious & high status material. Along with these pieces Burney had also owned a couple of unusual lapis lazuli items (a bowl and a jackal head), some more heads from statues (now known to be fake, including a purported Middle Kingdom example that the British Museum now owns which Marée has taken off display). And a couple of the notorious crystal skulls that purport to be ancient South American artifacts but were actually made by machine tools in the 19th Century.

The next criterion is to consider if the item is a close copy of a known original - and does the copy reveal that the copyist has no idea what he is copying? Marée's first example was a copy of a seated scribe statue that is now in the Louvre - it is a pretty good copy but has no inscription on the scroll on the scribe's lap despite having the space for it. Another example was of an offering table, in this case the copyist had done a good job on the hieroglyphs including filling in a piece that was missing on the original. But the artifact as a whole is far too thin, offering tables are always big slabs not thin sheets of stone. Another example shows how fakes can sometimes be useful to Egyptologists. This was a stela in the collection of Lady Meux which was published by Wallis Budge - it matches an original in every detail. It was once assumed that there were two stelae but Marée assured us that when you look closely at Lady Meux's stela it's clearly a fake. The usefulness comes from the fact that the copy hasn't deteriorated like the original - so there are details on that copy which can no longer be seen on the original.

Another example was a statue of Tetisheri purporting to be from the 18th Dynasty - the base of it is an exact copy of an original, even down to some of the damage (which had removed part of an inscription). Of course on the copy you can see chisel marks rather than a fracture mark. Looking at the rest of the hieroglyphs you can see why the forger hasn't wanted to risk inventing the missing piece of inscription - there are mistakes that an Ancient Egyptian wouldn't've made, like writing a hetep sign without its loaf of bread. The original now has no torso or head, but the copy does so there is a debate about whether or not this upper part is an invention of the forger or a copy of a now lost piece of the statue. Part of the debate hinges around the hairstyle which is unusual, but Marée said it's not unique so can't be used to definitely say whether or not it's an invention.

Marée's next example was of an entire collection - the Mansoor collection. These pieces all purport to come from the Amarna era but are all copies. Generally not as good quality as the originals and often direct copies of known pieces. (When I was looking it up on wikipedia to check the spelling of Mansoor it was clear the article was written by someone who believes the pieces to be genuine.)

Marée finished the first half of his talk by telling us about a piece that came on the market in 2004 in Brussels at a problematic dealer. It is a small double statue that looks pretty ugly - the male figure of the two is leaning at an odd angle, the ears are big, and it just generally looks a bit rubbish. The inscriptions do make sense, but there are Old Kingdom names on these Middle Kingdom style figures. Perhaps they were named by parents inspired by the Old Kingdom? This would suggest a Memphite provenance, which fits with other details of the inscriptions - the man is named as a priest of Sokar, who is a deity known to be worshipped in the Memphite area. But there just aren't that many Middle Kingdom sculptures that have been found in the Memphite area, and this dealer had another one as well. By chance at a conference Marée saw a talk about the discovery of Middle Kingdom artifacts at Memphis. As part of the talk the speaker showed a photo of a statue in the process of excavation and it looked very like the statue up for sale in Brussels! So after the talk he asked the speaker where she'd last seen the statue she'd excavated. She explained that it had been found near the end of the dig season and had been packaged up in a crate and locked safely way in the Inspectorate. So they arranged for this to be checked and when this crate was opened 2 days later there was a fake in the place of the statue she had found! Marée showed us a picture of this fake, and it was really shockingly poor work - the original which we'd all thought looked a bit rubbish was much better quality than this replica. This demonstrated one of the points Marée had made at the beginning of his talk - just because it looks a bit rubbish, doesn't mean that a piece isn't genuine. In one sense the fake looked nothing like the original, but it did match the written description in the inventory at the Inspectorate - down to things like having black marks on the stone of the base because those were noted, but the black marks weren't in the same places nor the same shape.

Having discovered that this artifact for sale in Brussels was stolen Marée next went to the police to try and get it returned & the perpetrators apprehended. This was a long drawn out process - he had to contact his local police (the Met) and then in theory the report would move through the various levels of bureaucracy and international police forces and end up in the hands of the Brussels police force who could go and seize the statue. Sadly in practice the process was nothing like that simple, and Marée ended up having to ring the Brussels police himself several times and even then nothing happened for 7 weeks. By that stage the statue had "disappeared" from the Brussels dealership - although the second statue was still there to be confiscated and returned. It wasn't any surprise that the first statue had "disappeared", because it had been found dumped in a plastic bag outside a museum in Egypt having been smuggled back into the country. All this indicated that the criminal was someone who had inside knowledge (so knew the first statue had been identified) and that they hoped that if they returned it then the investigation would stop. Unfortunately for him it didn't - he was caught and is now in jail. Unsurprisingly he turned out to be an employee of the Inspectorate the statue had been "securely" stored in.

After our break for coffee and cake Marée returned to his criteria for judging authenticity of artifacts. The next is that fakes generally show a lack of originality, those that do attempt something other than a direct copy show a lack of understanding of the subject matter. His first example illustrating this was a stela with a figure holding a was sceptre - not an unusual motif in general, but entirely inappropriate on this type of stela. The inscriptions also show a lack of understanding - it's an offering formula and starts out looking alright (although there are several mistakes) but once it gets past the initial part that many of us can recognise it descends into gobbledegook. This item was sold in the 1960s, in a sale where everything turned out to be a fake!

Another example he showed us was a seated male figure, purporting to be a statue of a Vizier (a title roughly equivalent to Prime Minister). All other statues of Viziers show them wearing a wrap around cloak, but in this one there is no cloak which left the forger with a problem to solve. Peeking out at the top of the cloak on a Vizier can be seen some strings and Egyptologists assume that these lead to some sort of pectoral or badge of office. But the forger wasn't aware of this so he guessed that the strings would just extend down the body to the kilt - making it look like the Vizier was wearing braces! It had once been in a private Belgian collection that has turned out to almost entirely consists of fakes. The art dealer selling this refused to believe Marée when he said it was a fake, so the artifact is now in the St Louis Museum. And he was not the only one, another item from that Belgian collection was put up for auction by Sothebys who also refused to believe their artifact to be a fake (so someone bought that one for £1.5million).

Marée's next example was a head of Tutankhamun - stylistically and technically impressive, but nonetheless a fake. The crown shows clearly where there are problems, it's based on an image of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun on a throne found in Tutankhamun's tomb but the sculptor hasn't been able to properly parse the elements of the crown. It is quite a complex composite crown, with several elements to it, and about halfway up there are a pair of rams horns which are quite hard to pick out on the throne image unless you really know what you're looking at. The forger has clearly been unable to figure out what these were, so added a rectangular block border like you would find on a tomb wall! And further up the crown it continues to go off the rails - the sun disks look more like donuts and the "ostrich feathers" look nothing like anything to do with ostriches or indeed feathers. So up to the crown the forger knew what he was doing and then his lack of deep knowledge was exposed when he tried to improvise. This item was intended to go up for auction at Christies, but after asking Marée to authenticate it they didn't sell it.

Marée's next two examples both have evidence for deliberate alteration in modern times - so I think this may be the criterion that I failed to note down during the talk. The first of these is a head of a statue that has been acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts reasonably recently for a large sum of money. Marée believes this to be a fake for a variety of reasons (although the museum disagrees and has kept the piece on display). It purports to be a piece of private (i.e. non-royal) sculpture from the 12th Dynasty, and it has Senwosret III's features. But private sculpture of the period is normally smaller than this example, and generally isn't as good a copy of the King's features. Also the wig is all wrong - it has no undulations or striations like a 12th Dynasty example of this type of wig would. Instead it is completely smooth, and looks like a 13th Dynasty wig rather than a 12th Dynasty one. But the face is equally clearly of the 12th Dynasty style. The damage is as with other fakes - not really consistent with this head ever having had a body - but there is a twist here. There is a photo of the piece in an archive in the Brooklyn Museum which was taken 60 years ago, and at that time the piece had more wig and more of the shoulders! The wig looked even less plausible at that point, and Marée thinks it is clear that the piece was recarved to remove this problematic area. And it must've been done by the original forger or someone in the know, because you wouldn't just hack away at a legitimate piece like that.

The other example also purports to date to the reign of Senwosret III - it is a small seated statue of the king. It already raises doubts because it is too small for royal statuary of the period. Looking more closely it also has no inscriptions except for the cartouche on the belt which is unusual. But once there were inscriptions, and these were removed in modern times - so clearly they were problematic. And thus the piece must be a fake as otherwise it wouldn't be "edited" like this.

Marée's next criterion was to think about whether we can determine where a piece was made and what it was made for. His first example was a sculpture head purporting to date to the Old Kingdom. It's said to be "provincial work" - i.e. not made in the court workshops but out in the provinces, which would explain why it is of poorer quality. The problem is that the only known sculpture workshops in the Old Kingdom are in Memphis and are court based, there were no provincial workshops in this period. It also fails on other criteria - the head looks like it was cleanly chiselled off the "body" (which likely never existed) and the head is not the right shape. It is still on display, despite his passing on his opinion to the museum in question.

His next example was a small obsidian Anubis/jackal figure. The primary problem with this piece is that there is no obvious Egyptian context it could be made for. There are no known temples of Anubis where this could've been a cult statue, and anyway it's too small and the wrong material for a cult statue (which would be gold or silver). Jackal figures are often found in tombs on coffins, like the ones on Tutankhamun's coffin, but this figure is far too small for that context. And once again the wrong material - all known tomb sculptures are made of wood. So there's no obvious purpose for this unique item, which means it could well be a fake.

Marée's last criterion was whether there was any suspicious lack of inscriptions. His examples for this point were all stelae fragments. The common theme was that they were "broken" conveniently along lines which meant the inscriptions would've broken off (if they'd ever existed in the first place). One of these stela fragments is now in the British Museum (where it is no longer displayed), it looks like it is from the reign of Senwosret I in style but has no space at all left for the inscriptions one would expect. This along with other features has made him sure it's a fake.

To round out his talk Marée returned to a point he'd made at the beginning - just because something is unusual or of poor quality doesn't necessarily mean it's a fake. To illustrate this he showed us some less than fantastic quality items from well documented excavations. Some of these examples have been discovered at Edfu, dating to the 2nd Intermediate Period or early 18th Dynasty. The photos he showed us were of a stela, block statue & double statue which looked ugly and of poor quality. But nonetheless they had a secure provenance so are legitimate. There are also inscriptions on them which have hieroglyphs that fit the style of the period and the texts make sense. They are poor, but legitimate. Another example is also from Edfu, from the reign of Amenhotep I - a seated scribe statue, which is of poor quality but securely provenanced and matches the known Amenhotep I era canon of art.

He finished up with a handful of examples of items wrongly labelled fakes. One of these was 4 small pieces hacked from a statue base of a statue of Amenhotep III depicting Asiatic prisoners beneath the king's feet. He had identified them as real, and even identified the site they came from, and so they were repatriated to Egypt from the dealer who had intended to sell them. However on arrival in Egypt the authorities there judged them to be fakes and put them in storage. It took him a lot of work to persuade them that these pieces were real and should be returned to the place they had been stolen from rather than remain in Cairo in storage.

Another example was a stela from the reign of Amenemhat II. It had once been exhibited as a forgery, but when he had the chance to examine it he was able to identify it as work done by a particular ancient artist. And his last example was of a statue of Amenemhat III, which is real but has been re-worked at some point in modern times. It has been sanded down to make the nose & face less damaged, which obviously alters the features. Marée contrasted this with the sorts of modern alteration he'd talked about earlier - the first type is more a wholesale removal of parts of a piece, so the sort of thing you'd only do to a fake. But this second type is more subtle and more akin to restoration (tho rather more invasive than real restoration should be!).

In the question and answer session at the end Marée was asked if he destroys fake objects. He said he doesn't, but he's aware some Egyptian authorities do smash them. He thinks fakes should be kept for educational purposes. And also because experts can be wrong, as he had been pointing out in the last part of his talk - further examination might overturn a verdict of forgery. But he does strongly feel that they should be taken off display.

One of the things that kept coming up throughout the talk was that forged items often get sold on the art market. Marée told us that he's involved in setting up a body that will identify authentic & forged items and certify them so that buyers can be more sure that they aren't being ripped off. He was talking about working with the dealers as well as with potential buyers, holding out the carrot to dealers that if they get items certified they'll get more interest from buyers.

This was an absolutely fascinating talk and an insight into the way that an expert examines an artifact for signs of forgery. It's certainly made me look at things more closely as I see photos of objects. And I have great appreciation for the skill and breadth of knowledge necessary for Marcel Marée to authenticate the objects he examines!

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