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Mummy in the Louvre
There are only a few hundred Egyptologist in the world. Most of them are art historians or philologists. Only a few are archaeologists. Ian Parker wrote in The New Yorker, the study of ancient “Egypt is a small, backbiting world. Internationally, fewer than seven hundred scholars work full time in the field, in no more than a hundred institutions, people labor for decades waiting for a professor to move aside or die.”

Egyptology is dominated by foreigners, An effort is being made to make Egypt the center of Egyptology by placing restrictions on non-Egyptians such as preventing them from working at more than one site per season and defining the area of the excavation and not allowing work outside that area.

In the tightknit circles of Egyptology, it has been said, the loudest theories typically win the most attention. The writer Jo Marchant said: “Egyptology, as sold to the public, is sometimes not so far from show business,” As far as carrying out excavations, archaeologists often have to deal with a political climate that is always changing and fickle government officials that can withdraw approval for projects in a flash of whimsy.

Egyptology is often more of an exercise of conjecture rather than a science built on solid facts. As the protagonist of Arthur Phillips’ 2004 novel “The Egyptologist writes” says pharaohs, “these once-great men and women now cling to their hard-won immortality by the thinnest of filaments...while, across that chasm of time from them, historians and excavators struggle to build a rickety bridge of educated guesses for those nearly vanished heroes to cross.”. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2014]

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Ancient Egyptian Archaeology

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boomerang in King Tut's tomb
Unraveling the genealogies and pharaohs and their queens is difficult. The historical records are incomplete, tombs have been disturbed (with the mummies of rulers put back in the wrong caskets) and brothers and sisters and even fathers and daughters intermarried.

Scholars often use hairstyles to date mummies and images and objects with human figures on them. Artifacts dated using tree rings include timbers from an Egyptian shipwrecks that revealed a gold scarab with Queen Nefertari's name, cut in 1316 B.C.

By one estimate one day in the field generates three or four days work in the laboratory as reliefs are compared to others; pottery is reconstructed and dated; bones are identified and tested; and research is carried out in libraries, computers and offices. Archaeologists have to deal finding stuff under cities and private agricultural land needed by farmers. Those working in tombs often cough up flecks of mud. This is called "tomb cough.”

Only since the early 1970s has proper archaeology techniques been widely applied in Egypt. Before then pyramids were blasted open with explosives; doors to tombs were knocked opened with battering rams; and coffins were hastily pried to open to get at the potential goodies that lay inside them. Expose to air and humidity after sealed tombs are opened are among the biggest dangers to artwork (See King Tut's Tomb).

Modern alternations of the topography around the Valley of Kings has created channels that directs waters from rainstorms directly into the tombs. One particularly nasty storm in November 1994 generated flash floods, with waters that reached speeds of 30mph, severely damaged several tombs. Fortunately major flash floods occur only once very 300 years or so.



John Seabrook wrote in The New Yorker: “Papyrology is a study that combines aspects of textual scholarship, philology, and archeology. It requires Olympian patience to find letters and words amid such badly damaged material, and immense learning to divine the meaning within. It’s unusual to get three words in a row without lacunae. [Source: John Seabrook, The New Yorker , November 16, 2015 \=/]

“Compounding the difficulty is the fact that scribes wrote Greek without spaces between words. A single line can easily take six months to decipher. Sometimes educated guesses about missing bits are wrong, causing the reader to arrive at different meanings from what was intended. One of the revelations following the Brigham Young MSI studies was how wrong many of the earlier readings of the scrolls were. Some editors were essentially making up their own texts.

““Papyrologists are a special breed,” Anthony Grafton, a professor of Renaissance and Reformation history at Princeton, says. “They work with really badly damaged manuscripts. But they live with the promise of finding something really new—which is very rare in most classical scholarship.” There, marginalia is the only hope.” \=/


Many important discoveries of ancient Egypt in the later part of the 20th century were made by Jean-Phlippe Lauer (1902-2001), a Frenchman considered at one time to be the "dean of Egyptologists". He has spent over 68 years studying the Step pyramid at Saqqara, twice as long as it took to build it. American archaeologist Ken Weeks discovered the Tomb of Ramses Sons. The German archaeologist Uvi Hölscher hired scores of workers during the four days it took him to organize the transportation of a 17-foot-high statue of King Tutankhamun a half a mile.

Toby Wilkinson

Toby Wilkinson, an Egyptologist at the University of Cambridge, and Dr Joyce Tyldesley, a mummy expert at the University of Manchester, appear a lot on televison specials about ancient Egypt. For a while Bob Brier’s name popped up a lot in National Geographic articles on Egypt. Tyldesley is an Author and broadcaster. She teaches Egyptology at Manchester University, and is Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, Liverpool University. She is author of “Tales from Ancient Egypt” (Rutherford Press, 2004) and “Egypt: How a Lost Civilization was Rediscovered” (BBC Publications, 2005), written to accompany the BBC TV series of the same name.

Mark Lehner of the University of Chicago has worked on the restoration of the Sphinx, intensively explored the pyramids and studied the pyramid builders. He even baked bread using the same methods as the pyramid builders. Lehner first came to Egypt as member of the Edgar Cayce Foundation to find a "Hall of Record” under the Giza Plateau. The foundation believes the pyramids were built by the people of Atlantis. He got his Ph.D. at Yale and has been employed by the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Semitic Museum and has worked extensively with the Egyptian Egyptologist Zahi Hawass.

Ian Shaw is Lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Liverpool. He excavates regularly in Egypt, and his research interests include Egyptian urbanisation, ancient technology and the provenancing of ancient materials. From 1986 to 1990 he edited the ancient Egyptian section of the Macmillan Dictionary of Art. From 1990 to 1994, he undertook research into Egyptian quarrying and mining sites as a British Academy Research Fellow at New Hall, Cambridge. From 1994 to 1999 he was Lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. He is the author of Egyptian Warfare and Weapons (Shire Publications, 1992) and Exploring Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2003), co-author of the British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (British Museum Press, 1995), editor of The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2000), and co-editor of Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Blackwell's Dictionary of Archaeology (Basil Blackwell, 1999).

John Ray is the Herbert Thompson Reader in Egyptology in the University of Cambridge. He has held posts in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities in the British Museum and in the University of Birmingham. His publications have concentrated on the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods of Egyptian history and he is a regular reviewer on historical and literary themes for the Times Literary Supplement. His book, Reflections of Osiris, was published by Profile Books in the winter of 2001. |::|

Los-Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute has done first rate work restoring tombs like the one belonging to King Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings and the Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens near Luxor. The museum also designed air-tight cases for the mummies in the Egyptian Museum.

Khamwese, the Famous Priest and First Egyptologist

Khaemwise, a son of Ramses II, pursued a career in the priesthood of Memphis and devoted himself to the study of hieroglyphs and antiquities. He also designed the Serapeum, the catacomb for the sacred Apis bulls in the desert at Saqqara. As a result of his interests and activities, Khaemwise has been described as the first Egyptologist in history.


Dr Joann Fletcher wrote for the BBC: “Although the best known ancient Egyptians are usually pharaohs and queens, one of the most intriguing characters was a prince. The fourth son of King Ramses II by one of his chief wives Isetnofret, Khamwese (c.1285-c.1224 B.C.) was an influential figure in life. For a while he was heir apparent until he predeceased his long-lived father. He also gained a reputation for learning and magic which lasted for more than a thousand years, making him the ideal central character in the story of 'Death in Sakkara'. [Source: Dr Joann Fletcher, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“His name-translated variously as Khamwese, Khaemwese, Khaemwise, Khaemwaset-is written with the three hieroglyph symbols featured at various points in the game: the sunrise symbol is pronounced 'kha', the owl 'em' and the sceptre-like sign was here pronounced 'waysi'. Although his name actually means 'Manifest in Thebes', the religious capital in the south of Egypt, Khamwese seems to have spent most of his life at the ancient capital Memphis in the north. |::|

“Born around 1285 B.C., he was well-educated during his childhood and teenage years and chose a career in the clergy. As a priest of Ptah, the creator god of Memphis, he rose through the ranks, working as a sem-priest (a junior rank of priest) and eventually becoming high priest by around the age of 30. His priestly duties gave him access to the finest temple libraries in Egypt, and as he states himself, he was never happier than when reading the works of earlier times. Yet there was also a practical purpose to such antiquarian research, and by finding out about Egypt's previous 1,800 year history, he could reflect past glories on to the current pharaoh, his father Ramses II. |::|

“Khamwese's knowledge of the past also inspired him to study the monuments all around him at Memphis and its nearby cemetery at Sakkara, a vast necropolis of tombs and temples already over a thousand years old. Dominated by the great Step Pyramid of Djoser (c.2650 B.C.), it even attracted tourists in Khamwese's day, some of whom left appreciative graffiti recording their visit. Yet with many of these ancient buildings in states of varying disrepair or ruin beneath Sakkara's drifting sands, Khamwese began a programme of restoration, 'because he loved to restore the monuments of kings and make firm again what had fallen into ruin'. The finished tombs and temples were then inscribed with the name of the monument's original owner, the name of the current pharaoh, Ramses II, and a brief description of the work carried out, inscriptions which have been described as 'the largest museum labels in history'. |::|

“Khamwese also carried out work at Giza, restoring the Great Pyramid built by Khufu around 2580 B.C., and even undertaking excavations at the site. Unearthing a statue of Khufu's son Kawab, he records, 'It was the High Priest and prince Khamwese who was delighted by this statue of the king's son Kawab which he discovered', placing it in a chapel which seems to have acted as a kind of museum for his discoveries, 'because he loved the noble ones who dwelt in antiquity before him, and the excellence of all they made'. |::|

“Yet Khamwese was not the first to excavate or collect antiquities, and as early as c.1402 B.C., King Thutmose IV had excavated the millennium-old Sphinx from the sands of Giza. The next king, Amenhotep III (1390-1352 B.C.), had collected ancient artefacts and ordered the restoration of ancient sites 'after I had found them fallen into disrepair since days of old'. Even Amenhotep's infamous son Akhenaten seems to have had an eye on the past, with a 1,200 year old alabaster bowl made for Khafra, builder of Giza's second pyramid, found in his tomb at Amarna. Nevertheless, it is Khamwese with his all-round antiquarian interests who is known as 'the first Egyptologist'. As scholar John Ray has observed, 'the past fascinated Khamwese, and as a result, Khamwese fascinates Egyptologists, who see him as one of their own'. |::|

Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass

Egypt’s best-known archaeologist, Zahi Hawass has served as the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) from 2002 until 2011, when the Mubarak regime that supported him was toppled. Pugnacious, irrepressible and coming across like a senior, Semitic Indiana Jones, he was the leader of the effort to bring Egypt’s treasures back to Egypt, promoting Egyptian Egyptologists and making money from Egypt ‘s glorious past (he was involved in the profitable King Tut exhibit in the 2000s). For a while it seemed that whenever a discovery was made or major article, television show or documentary on ancient Egypt came out it it seemed that somehow he was always at the center of it. Among his good friends are Omar Sharif, star of Doctor Zhivago and Funny Girl. Among those that kowtowed to him were were presidents of the History and Discovery channels.[Source: Ian Parker, The New Yorker, November 16, 2009]

Time magazine named Hawass as one the world’s 100 most influential people. In the magazine’s profile, Elizabeth Peters wrote, “He walks briskly toward the television cameras, the prefect image of a modern-day archaeologist...His confident stride is justified” as he “is The Man. He determines who will excavate in Egypt and when and where. Unlike some of his predecessors, he does not keep a low profile, he ranges the world lecturing, making TV appearances and turning out a stream of books and articles...He is passionate about Egypt and its antiquities had doesn’t hesitate to use words like magical, thrilling and marvelous...he isn’t a afraid of controversy—in fact, some might say he courts it. He makes news by demanding the return of objects "stolen" from Egypt by excavators and museums.”

Ian Parker wrote in The New Yorker, “Among the National Geographic Society’s Explorers in residence...Hawass is the only one to have a staff of thirty thousand people.” When U.S. President Barrack Obama visited Egypt in 2009 it was Hawass that gave him a guided a tour. He is Egyptology’s C.E.O.—“or, as he puts it, ‘in charge of everything in Egypt.’ It’s as if Jacques Cousteau, in his heyday, had taken on the task of approving everyone else’s scuba-diving permit....the oddity of this role, at the intersection of archaeology, show business and national politics, make controversy unavoidable.”

Hawass has many critics. Some of them say he runs the antiquities department like a dictator and controls Egypt’s archaeological sites as if they were his fief, stealing the spotlight and taking the credit of archaeologists who have labored for decades in their area of expertise, denying archaeologists he doesn’t like access to sites, and exploiting Egypt’s antiquities for money. Parker, wrote, “he appears to be enlivened and empowered by his battles with enemies, real or imagined: overseas archaeologists, foreign museums, amateur theorists who speculated the pyramids were built by lizards, and other ‘assholes.’...he enjoys making provocative when he says he’s about to find Cleopatra’s body” or will “somehow copyright the shape of the pyramid.”

Zahi Hawass’s Life

Hawass with Barack Obama at the Pyramids in 2009

Hawass was born in 1947 in a village near Damietta, a city in northern Egypt. His father was a farmer who died when Hawass was 13, On his youth he told The New Yorker, “I was a famous soccer player, and people loved me...When I was young, I used to make plays, theater, cultural activities in my village. And I was a leader of the kids, they followed me in Everything...All the ladies loved me and wanted to marry me.” He went to college in Alexandria when he was 16 and studied Greco-Roman archaeology. Although he was said to have been quite a ladies man he married a woman from his village, a gynecologist, and they had two sons.[Source: Ian Parker, The New Yorker, November 16, 2009]

In 1968, Hawass was hired by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities as an inspector, a government official that watched over work done by other archaeologists. He was sent to remote places in the desert and for ths most part didn’t like the work. In 1974 he was given an office with a view of the Pyramids of Giza and was on hand when the Grateful Dead played there. Later, admitting he was a “stupid asshole’ who “didn’t know anything” he took a postgraduate course in Egypt ology at Cairo University and thought about becoming a career tour guide, Instead he won a Fullbright grant and a place in the Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was regarded as a “outstanding” student. He lived in Philadelphia for seven years and returned to Egypt at the age of 40 as “a solid scholar” and today still retains a fondness of American ways.

In 1987, Hawass appointed director of the section of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (formally known as the Egyptian Department of Antiquities and soon to become the SCA) that oversaw the pyramids. As the one in charge of the pyramids he made it his mission to transform it from “ a zoo to an open park” much to the ire of families involved in selling trinkets and camel rides. As an archaeologist he did important work at Giza, uncovering mysteries on how the pyramids were made and finding out much about the people who built the pyramids by excavating a cemetery where they were buried. He also developed his style of showmanship there, often making sure the media was on hand when interesting tombs were opened and using his confrontations with wackos with strange views on the origins of the pyramid to generate interest among tourists in Egypt.

Before Mubarak was ousted as part of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, Hawass worked out of an office in Cairo. He was regarded as a master of multitasking and the layered meetings. Often doing an interview, barking orders to his subordinates and taking phone calls at the same time. A couple doors down from his main office was his English-speaking office run by Janice Kamrin, an American with a Ph.D. For the King Tutankhamun exhibit and made a deal with A.E.G. the sport-arena owner and events organizer, that gave SCA almost total control of the exhibit, with the museums that hosted the exhibits doing little more than providing a floor space and getting a cut of the action.

Ancient Egyptian Excavations and Archaeological Work

Hawass with Laura Bush and Liz Cheney at the Pyramids

Around 70 percent of Egypt’s ancient ruins remain buried in the sands. Important work is being today at Tell el-Amarna, the site of the late 18th Dynasty royal city of Akhetaten; Tell Edfu, which preserves about 3,000 years’ worth of history in a single mound ; the Valley of the Kings and the nearby worker’s village of Deir el-Medina; and the areas in and around the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara,

Most of the work has traditionally been done by Egyptian workers who sometimes hand baskets to each other along human chains and sing while they work. They typically worked from 6:30am to 1:30pm, when it gets too hot. Describing the excavators near the pyramids at work, Virginia Morrel wrote in National Geographic: “A workman named Said Saleh is digging. He fills each bucket with sandy soil. And one by one the workers hoist up their buckets, then walk down the slope to dump the sand on a pile, which two archaeologists run through a sieve. There’s a steady rhythm of digging, hoisting, and dumping.”

Describing a 125 person crew at work in Abydos, Kenneth Garret wrote in National Geographic” “‘Yellah! Yellah! Yellah!’ barks...the Egyptian crew boss, spurring his workers to move it, move it...The mostly teenage boys hauling buckets of sand giggle nervously but pick up the pace while keeping an eye on their ranting foreman...with a cast from a long, intimidating stick-wand he keeps clutched behind his back...As a line of workers use hoe-like tureyas to scrape away the sand, the so-named bucket boys haul away clanking pails of dirt and pour it like water onto of the laps of sifters... Excavators are on the ground with trowels in hand, surveyors are plotting the coordinates of artefacts, a photographer is documenting each new find, and illustrators are pencil drawing an ancient coffin of an infant skeleton. Kneeling on one knee in the center of this swarm” is an archaeologist “brushing sand away to reveal a smooth, ancient mud floor.”

Egyptian Museum

The Egyptians Museum (located at Tahir Square next to the Nile in Cairo) contains the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts and treasures in the world. On view are the treasures taken from King Tut's tomb and many other great ancient Egyptian treasures which were not taken by Britain, France, Germany or looted for private collectors.

mummy of Ramses IV

Also called the Cairo Museum, the Egyptian Museum is located inside a huge pink sandstone building and contains two floors. But as large as the museum is it still doesn’t have room for all the stuff that is packed into it. Items that would be valued pieces in other museums are shoved into dark corners, clustered in tight groups or kept in storage.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo opened on November 15, 1902 with treasures unearthed in the 1800s. It celebrated its centennial in 2002. There are plans to build a new building.

Egyptology and Modern Technology and Science

Ultrasound and seismic generating machines are now being used to locate temples and ruins covered by sand. Scientists are also using theodolites, electric distance measurers and the technique of photogrammetry. Mummies are pumped full of hydrogen to slow decomposition and sealed in climate-controlled glass cases. Virtual reality tours of famous tombs are accessible online.

Mummies are being scanned with CT (computerized tomography) technology to determine their age, sex and cause of death and whatever else can be gleaned from them. With this technique a mummy is X-rayed at different angles to produce a 3-D composite image of the entire body. One advantages of such scans is that the mummies do not have to be unwrapped and details are more pronounced than images taken with X-rays. Using CT scans archaeologists and specialists check for evidence of trauma, vitamin deficiencies and degenerative diseases.

In 2010 a program was launched to do DNA testing and take CT scans of hundreds of mummies to determine their identities and family lineages, Among the first to be checked out was the mummy of Kind Tutankhamun (King Tut). See King Tut.

A device called a fluxgate gradiometer, a type of magnometer, is used to locate buried ruins. It detects slight variations in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by certain type of iron oxides beneath the surface, These oxides are found in Nile mud. The most commonly used building material in ancient Egypt was sun-dried brick made from Nile mud.

The salts and perfumes used in the embalming process make tissues from mummies unsuitable for DNA analysis. Contamination is also a problem. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities does not allow DNA testing of mummies in Egypt unless they say it is okay. Some scientists say the tests are accurate enough for the results to be accepted. Some also perhaps worried about what the results might disclose.. Hawass told Archaeology magazine: “DNA testing is not permitted. From what we understand, it is not always accurate and it cannot always be done with complete success when dealing with mummies. Until we know for sure that its is accurate we will not use it in our research.”

Remote Sensing of Ancient Egyptian Tombs and Chambers

extracting a tooth sample from a mummy for DNA testing

Seismic waves are shot through sand, tomb walls and monuments to find out what may be lurking behind or below them. Magnetometers can detect tombs. Miniature cameras have bee placed in robots that penetrate deep into the unexplored interiors into tombs and pyramids and other places it is to dangerous for humans to tread. Underground radar does not work well when water is present.

Tombs and underground chambers are explored with drilling systems specially designed to inspect the tomb without allowing pollutants and enter to enter. The idea is to create an air lock, insert instruments without allowing air in and the resealing the chamber when the instruments are withdrawn. Sometimes the air inside the chamber is as valuable to scientists as the artefacts as it may have been unmolested since the tomb was sealed thousands of year ago, and provide clues and insighst into that time.

To investigate a sealed chamber: 1) Ground penetrating radar is used to map the chamber and figure out the best place to drill. 2) The area to be drilled—often a limestone block of the chamber—is leveled and sanded and treated with an epoxy resin and fitted with an airlock that allows a heavy to drill to drill through the block without letting air in once the chamber has been penetrated. The hole is drilled a centimeter or so at a time, using a vacuum cleaner to remove stone powder. When penetration is near the drilling is done more carefully. 3) When the drilling is complete a tube is inserted to take air samples and camera probes are lowered in to scope the inside of the chamber. 4) When the investigation is complete the air lock is replaced with a semi-permanent seal. Similar technology is used in submarine rescues and probing inside nuclear reactors.

Looting of Ancient Egypt

Nearly all the tombs of pharaohs and ancient Egyptian noblemen and priest have been looted, many of them soon after they were built. Many are believed to be have been much grander than the tomb of King Tutankhamun and contained much more impressive funerary objects. The grand objects were found in Tutankhamun’s tombs even though it most of its rooms had been looted.

A fragment of 3,000-year-old papyrus in Turin, Italy recounts the trial of a thief who confessed after torture to breaking in to the tombs of Ramses the Great and his children. During the 20th and 21st dynasties, looting was quite common. In some cases the mummies of pharaohs were moved to new locations and looters left behind graffiti that helped archaeologists place when the deeds were done.

The looters pry open sarcophagus, unwrapped mummies and smashed everything in efforts to find hidden treasures. Mummies often had huge holes hacked in the chests and their face that were in all likelihood made by looters in search of treasures.

In the age of the pharaohs, the tombs were guarded by priests and the punishment for looters was being impaled alive, condemned to the "flame of Skehment" or "f**ked" by donkeys. Still some looters took the risk.

Early archaeologists in some cases were little more than grave robbers themselves. Murals were chopped off walls and mummies were unraveled in a search for treasure. One archaeologist burned 3,000-year-old coffins to heat his home. Another tore open 3,000-year-old necklaces at parties to demonstrate how fragile they were.

In the Valley of the Kings someone went into the tomb of Amenophis III and cut out three head from a mural depicting the pharaoh’s life. Sharon Waxman, a former Washington Post and New York Times reporter, wrote in her book “Loot”: “It is shocking. Imagine the Mona Lisa’s face cut out on her canvas with kitchen knife.” The faces are now in the Louvre with the label, “From the tomb of Amenohis III.

Return of Ancient Egyptian Items

Egypt has a Department of Stolen Artifacts. In an effort to get object back that were taken from Egypt mainly by Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries, the organization has threatened museums with lawsuits, nasty Internet web postings and denial of scientific ties if the objects are not returned. Harwass was not shy about applying whatever political pressure he could muster, even going as far as bringing in the U.S. Homeland Security Department—an organization set up to fight terrorism—to investigate. Between 2002 and 2008, Hawass said Egypt had recovered about 5,000 stolen artifacts. [Source: Ian Parker, The New Yorker, November 16, 2009]

Nefertiti's bust

The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is trying to get back such treasures as the Nefertiti bust in Berlin, the Rosetta Stone in London, the Zodiac of Dendarra and the obelisk in the Place de Concorde in Paris and the statues of Hatshepsut in New York.

In October 2009, Hawass announced that the SCA was severing ties with the Louvre over the museum’s refusal to return painted wall fragments of a 3,200-year-old tomb neat Luxor, jeopardizing future excavations by the museum in Egypt. The aggressive tactic worked almost immediately. After the threat was made the Louvre and France’s Culture Ministry agreed to return wall fragments which were sent to Cairo within a couple of weeks of the demand, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak traveling to Paris to oversee their transfer. The fragments in question were said to have been stolen in the 1980s from the tomb of the noble Tetaki.

Hawass took a similar measure against the St. Louis Art Museum over its refusal to return a golden burial mask of of nobleman. The 3,200 mask was found in 1952 by Egyptian archaeologist Mohammed Zakaria Ghoneim at a Saqqar pyramid , who meticulously documented the discovery and placed the mask in a warehouse. Records in 1959 show the mask was still in storage. In 1998 the mask resurfaced at the St. Louis Art Museum which had just acquired it. Hawass argues the mask should be returned because there is no evidence that the mask left Egypt legally. The St. Louis Art Museum has countered that Egypt has no proof that it was stolen. A spokesperson for the museum said that when the museum made the purchase in 1998 it checked with the international Art Loss Register to see if the mask had been stolen, and made sure everything was in order before approving the purchase, and said the purchase was approved with Egyptian Museum.

In December 2009, Hawass demanded the return of the famous 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti from the Museum in Berlin on the basis it was sneaked out of Cairo through fraudulent means. Documents from 1914 presented by Egyptian authorities show that the German excavator of the bust. Ludwig Borchardt, listed it as belonging to a princess while writing in his diary that he knew it belonged to Nefertiti.

In 2010 the Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to return 19 items—including a small bronze dog and a sphinx bracelet-element— taken from King Tutankhamun’s tomb. The items—which are easy to overlook—were returned because Howard Carter, the discoverer of King Tut’s tomb, promised that all the finds from Tutankhamun’s tomb would stay in Egypt. The Met still holds thousands of objects from ancient Egypt.

Return of Ramses I’s Mummy

Ramses I mummy

In October 2003, the mummy of a pharaoh was returned to Egypt by the Michael Carlos Museum at Atlanta’s Emory University. Much fanfare was made about the return of the mummy, which some believe is Ramses I based on the way the arms are crossed high over the chest, as was the custom with royal mummies in Ramses time and the resemblance of the face to faces of Seti I, Ramses II and Ramses VII.

The mummy thought to be Ramses I was sold by dealers in the 19th century and ended up in the Niagra Falls museum where it was displayed next to a two-headed calf and barrels used by daredevils to go over the fall. The mummy was handed over to the museum at Emory after the Niagra museum was closed.

A wooden coffin said to have belonged to Pharaoh Ames, who ruled from 1081 B.C. to 931 B.C., was confiscated by customs officials in Miami in 2008 after its American owner was unable to provide sufficient paperwork to prove ownership. The coffin was bought from a dealer in Spain. The SCA made an official request for its return, presenting papers that it was illegally taken out of Egypt in 1884. In 2010, the coffin was returned by the United States to Egypt. It turned out it didn’t belong to a pharaoh but to a private individual named Imesy and was dated to the 21st Dynasty (1070-945 B.C.). An investigation revealed that the coffin had left Egypt sometime after 1970 and was displayed in Madrid in 2007. [Source: AP]

New Discoveries

In 1972 a 3,300 year old ancient Egyptian outpost was discovered on the Gaza Strip. The Bedouin, who helped archaeologists locate it used a long screw driver like a divining rob to find it. When the archaeologists asked the man to explain how he performed his magic, the man said enigmatically, "Some days it's honey, some days onions." But surprising on a day he predicted beforehand would be honey the site was discovered. [Source: Trude Dothan, National Geographic , December 1982]

In 1991, a hieroglyphic-covered colossus of Ramses the Great, nearly 50 feet long, was discovered in the little-known Sohag area, 500 kilometers south of Cairo.

In April 2004, archaeologists announced the discovery of 50 mummies dating as back as 664 B.C. in deep shafts im Saqqara, 23 kilometers south of Cairo, the main cemetery for Memphis.

In 2006, a big deal was made about the discovery of a new tomb with seven coffins in the Valley of the Kings—the first such find since the discovery of King Tut’s grave in 1922. The tomb, called KV-63 because it was the 63rd tomb found in the Valley of the Kings, was found by a team led by Otto Schaden, a member of a Bohemian brass band affiliated with the University of Memphis.

Based on inscriptions found on some pottery archaeologists speculated they could contained the mummies of King Tut’s mother Queen Kiya. Four of the wooden coffins had been badly eaten away by termites. With great fanfare the last of the coffins was opened and no mummy was inside, but it did contain embalming materials and colors made by dried flowers. It seems that “tomb” was used mainly for storage and may have possibly been an embalming studio.

Intrusion of the Modern World on Ancient Egyptian Sites

The Sphinx, the pyramids and other Egyptian monuments are all being damaged to varying degrees by air pollution and the encroachment of Cairo urban sprawl. Things took a dramatic turn for the worse when archaeologists discovered that the Egyptian government was surreptitiously building an eight-lane super-highway, about a kilometer south of the Sphinx that violated international law.

The monuments of Giza are already hemmed into to the north and east by decrepit Cairo suburbs. The hope was to keep the south free of development so that the pyramids could be seen in the desert without the view being obstructed by a lot of buildings. The highway, scholars believe, will bring about a lot of unwanted development in the south that already includes highrise buildings, housing projects, two garbage dumps and a military factory "belching filthy black smoke." "The road," one archaeologist told the New York Times, "will encourage people to build shopping centers and gas stations, as well as other buildings. It will ruin the whole site."

Said Zulfica, an United nations official told the New York Times: "The Pyramids were meant to be mausoleums for the dead, but they will soon become part of an urban landscape if nothing is done to prevent this. The Pyramids will be surrounded like the Acropolis in Athens.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art”by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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