30 March 2009

Cleopatra: The Queen of Pop's Last Moments (Updated)

This 6 ft [2 metre]-long oil painting of Cleopatra's Last Moments by the 'little known' French artist D. Pauvert (left) will be sold along with an array of treasures from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch -- such as his antiques, arcade games and stage memorabilia -- at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills, California, on 21 - 25 April of this year.

The King of Pop: a Once in a Lifetime Auction Featuring The Personal Property of Michael Jackson.

Ranging from Jackson's iconic white-jewelled glove to the grandiose entry gates to the Neverland (named after Peter Pan's idyllic land where "you never grow up, never grow up, not me!"), Michael Jackson's belongings and inspirational junk are up for sale in an auction boasting more than 2,000 items described by the the auction house's website as "museum quality" .

You can view the Cleopatra painting as large as life -- and twice as ugly, as we used to say when we were not grown up -- in the page-flipping on-line catalogue of 'Antiques, Paintings and Fine Decorative Art' (page 111). Other highlights are currently on view at the Museum of Style Icons in Co Kildare, Ireland. Even if you can't get to Kildare or Beverly Hills in April (whyever not?), you can participate on-line. Just want to watch? Auction Network will broadcast the Michael Jackson auction live and stream the video through the internet.

Personally, I prefer watching Peter Pan.

Julien's Auctions has sold items from celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Marilyn Monroe, and even former President Bill Clinton [the mind boggles: I will not think about a blue dress].

But they did sell, and undoubtedly with great success, Elizabeth Taylor's headdress (left)-- the one she wore when she portrayed the Egyptian queen in the Academy Award winning film Cleopatra!

The headdress was constructed of a fitted nylon cap, having a gold woven netted base, affixed synthetic white flowers, gold leaves and bunches small gold beads.*

I confess I don't know its hammer price. The estimate was $ 2,000-3,000.

Pauvert's Cleopatra carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.

For once, I'm at a loss for words.

Whose Painting Is It Anyway?

There is an identical painting by Jean André Rixens (1846-1924) in the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France. It is entitled Mort de Cleopatre and dated 1874. Except for the artist, and the fact that it is hanging (as we speak) in a foreign museum, it is a twin in size, shape, colour, and image to the one up for grabs in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Now, how can that be?

This could well be your "Once In A Lifetime" chance to buy a museum-shop copy done by D. Pauvert in 1892.

Whatever will Liz Taylor say?

Updated 15 April 2009: Michael Jackson Auction Halted!

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times broke the bad news under the headline 'All the Rage'.

The auction of treasures collected from Michael Jackson's Neverland estate has been halted, according to representatives of the pop star and Julien's Auctions, the Beverly Hills house responsible for the sale. The Prez of Julien's said, "we reached a resolution and we're very happy about. It allows Michael to retain ownership of his possessions. He contracted us to conduct the auction and had a change of mind for whatever reason. And we honor and respect that. We're very happy with the outcome.“

So that's all right, then. Except maybe for the grammar.

Were you hoping to have that once in a lifetime's chance to own Cleopatra's Last Moments by D. Pauvert? Don't fret. Sooner or later, I'm sure you can find another copy on the market. Or, worst come to worst, you could visit Toulouse, France, and see the original.

Thanks to RogueClassicism for alerting me to Cleopatra on auction (and to a comment by Gi regarding Rixens).

According to the
auction catalog (vol. 3 p. 109), Pauvert's painting is “believed to be Lot 96 in Sotheby’s New York Sale of 19th century European Paintings and Sculpture held on May 23, 1996″.

* The headdress was designed by Irene Sharaff (who won an Academy Award for the film for Best Costume Design). A label inside reads: "Made To Order/Rex/Beverly Hills/California." It was sold by The Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Collection.


Upper left: From Reuters Pictures via Daylife Publishers

Middle and lower right: from
Julien's Auctions

22 March 2009

Hatshepsut smells as sweet (with lethal update)

Breaking News: Analysis Results 19 August 2011, update below post

Staying with Pharaoh Hatshepsut one more time, it was reported just last week that the contents of one of Hatshepsut's perfume flasks (below) were examined by scientists working at Bonn University's Egyptian Museum. Screening this flask with a computer tomograph brought to light the desiccated residues of a fluid, which will soon be subjected to further analyses.

Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils and aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents that give off a pleasant smell. When put on a person, the body heat causes the solvent to disperse quickly, leaving the fragrance to evaporate gradually over several hours.

In ancient times, sweet-smelling flowers and rich blends of fragrant spices were steeped in oil (not alcohol) -- which took up the fragrance and was then decanted into jars. A small clay stopper kept the scent from evaporating. Perfumed oils were used as creams and ointments for anointing the head and body. In Egypt's hot dry climate they would have been a blessing to the skin and scalp, while creating a fragrant atmosphere for the living and the dead.

Flowers and floral decorations were an integral part of Egyptian life, and in death they formed gorgeous painted garlands and real bouquets (scroll down to see some funerary bouquets in the previous post). Flowers and plants were included in tombs not only for their intrinsic beauty but also for symbolic reasons. Perfumes, too, would have been prized as much for the esoteric value of the ingredients as for their rarity and cost.

The Egyptians had a ready supply of oils to use as a base for the aromatics: safflower oil, linseed oil, ben oil (Moringa peregrina), balanos oil (Balanites aegyptiaca), olive oil, almond oil, and possibly sesame oil. A tomb wall painting from the 26th Dynasty shows the preparation of perfume from the flowers of white Madonna lilies (Lilium candidum), which must have grown in special gardens in Egypt, since their homeland is in the moister eastern-Mediterranean hills.

Many other flowers and plants used in the perfume industry have been identified in texts, such as henna, slivers of coniferous timber, fragrant bark, resins, and sweet-smelling desert grasses and herbs. Vast quantities of flowers must have been required for the perfume recipes, both for medicinal and aromatic purposes.

The Perfect Perfume

It is a delicate art to create the perfect perfume for a pharaoh.

There are three basic components or notes:

Top notes are scents that can be detected immediately when the perfume is applied; they form that critical first impression. Citrus and ginger are common modern top notes.

Heart notes (middle notes) describe the scent that emerges after the top notes dissipate, usually 2 minutes to one 1 hour after putting it on. They form the main body of a perfume. Lavender and rose are often used as middle notes.

Base notes -- such as musk and plant resins -- also appear after the top notes have disappeared, serving as fixatives to hold and boost the strength of the lighter top and heart notes.

Fit for a Pharaoh

The skill of the ancient craftsmen who made these lovely perfume bottles was probably matched by the art of the perfumers who blended their contents. But, until now, we could do little more than speculate which perfumes were stowed away in these jars.

The flask in Bonn bears an inscription with the name of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut and was probably once in her possession. "So, " says Michael Höveler-Müller, curator of Bonn University's Egyptian Museum, "we considered it might be rewarding to have it screened in the University Clinic's Radiology Department. As far as I know this has never been done before."

The results are crystal clear: The X-rays (left) show a substantial liquid residue in the sealed perfume flask.

This world premier will be followed by another. "Our pharmacologists are now going to analyse this sediment," Höveler-Müller explains. If they are successful, the scientists are hoping to reconstruct the perfume so that, 3,500 years after the death of the pharaoh, the scent could be revitalised.

"In any case, the research will touch new grounds and will maybe enable us to put our noses back into a time more than 3,500 years [ago]."

They are hoping to find spectacular ingredients: "We think it probable that one constituent was incense – the scent of the gods," Höveler-Müller declares.

The Fly in the Ointment

A small narrow-necked flask such as the one with Hatshepsut's name (12 cm [4.7"] tall), he explains, "allows a very economical dosing of the valuable content."

That doesn't sound right.

Look at young Tutankamun splashing out the stuff onto the waiting hand of his queen Ankhesenamun, as shown on the gilded side of his Nekhbet shrine.

Are we to think that Pharaoh Hatshepsut would be any stingier with fragrant oil, even if it did contain incense? Why send those ships to Punt, for goodness sake, if not to hit the high notes -- a superabundance of precious scents for herself, her courtiers and their wives?

Or, simply, That which we call a pharaoh By any other name would smell as sweet.

(Apologies to the author)

My thanks to Gerti Bierenbroodspot who rang me this morning with news of this story.

I have made fragrant use of F. Nigel Hepper, Pharaoh's Flowers (Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew) 1990. You can find the German press release translated into English on the National Geographic News website and at Science Daily 18 March 2009. Information on modern perfumes from Science Daily 1 April 2006.


Upper left: the perfume flask, University of Bonn, press release 15/03/09.

Middle, centre: detail of 26th Dynasty Lintel from the Delta showing
women gathering lily flowers; other scenes show the women extracting their juice by squeezing them in a strip of cloth twisted between two sticks, then presenting it to the owner of the tomb: Louvre E 11377.

Lower Left: X-rays results, University of Bonn press release 15/03.09.

Below, centre: photograph of the Nekhbet shrine from Nikki Wieleba 2006.


Update 19 August 2011

Deadly medication? Scientists shed light on the dark secret of Queen Hatshepsut's flacon

After two years of research it is now clear that the flacon did not hold a perfume; instead, it was a kind of skin care lotion or even medication for a monarch suffering from eczema. In addition, the pharmacologists found a strongly carcinogenic substance. Was Hatshepsut killed by her medicine?

Dr. Helmut Wiedenfeld from the Pharmacy Institute in Bonn analyzed the substances for their ingredients. And it became obvious very quickly that what they had found was not dried-up perfume. The mix contained large amounts of greasy palm oil and nutmeg apple oil, and components with large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids that provide relief for people with skin diseases.

A third group of ingredients contained a lot of hydrocarbons derived from creosote and asphalt. "To this day, creams containing creosote are used to treat chronic skin diseases. Due to the potentially carcinogenic effects of some of its ingredients, creosote has meanwhile been banned from cosmetics completely, and medications containing creosote are now prescription-only."

During antiquity, pitches and resins were used commonly as medicines. Pliny (3.25) mentions a variety of tar-like substances being used as medicine, including cedria. Cedria was the pitch and resin of the cedar tree, being equivalent to the oil of tar and pyrolingeous acid which are used in the first stage of distilling creosote. He recommends cedria to treat ulcers both on the skin and in the lungs. He further speaks of cedria being used as the embalming agent for preparing mummies. (adapted from Wikipedia, Creosote=Medical)

What the pharmacologists detected in Hatshepsut's little bottle was in particular benzo(a)pyrene, a hazardous aromatic hydrocarbon consisting of several carbon rings. "Benzo(a)pyrene is one of the most dangerous carcinogenic substances we know," explained Dr. Wiedenfeld. For example, the risk of contracting lung cancer from cigarette smoke results essentially from this substance.

Dr. Wiedenfeld said. "If you imagine that the Queen had a chronic skin disease and that she found short-term improvement from the salve, she may have exposed herself to a great risk over the years."  

And wouldn't that explain better than economical dosing of perfume the small, narrow neck of the flask? Rather as we would write, "Danger, handle with care".

End of story and, quite possibly, the end of Hatshepsut.

(my thanks to Dorothy King's PhDiva blog for first notice of this news)

15 March 2009

Hatshepsut and the Tomb Beneath the Tomb

Back in 2002, a Spanish-Egyptian archaeological team working in Thebes reopened the tomb of Djehuty, overseer of the treasury -- and holder of a slew of other major titles -- during the extraordinary years when Queen Hatshepsut became pharaoh and ruled Egypt as its king.

Now they have discovered an Unknown Tomb beneath that tomb, and it is filled with surprises.

But, first, who is Djehuty ... and what do we know of him?

The Known Tomb

In the open courtyard before the tomb entrance -- in the public area where Djehuty's descendants were expected to make offerings to their ancestor -- paintings on the walls showed the deceased nobleman waiting patiently behind an offering table, while a parade of servants come to him bearing ointments and linen cloths. Most unusually for a public place, there were also two long cryptographic texts -- hieroglyphic texts that have a very strange appearance. The absence of familiar word groups and the presence of many signs not found in the canon show that these texts are cryptographic, or secret, writings. It looks as if Djehuty were showing off his knowledge and skill as a scribe.

Or challenging future visitors to crack the code.

Next, we see the figure of Djehuty himself on one of the door jambs of the entrance, as he comes out of the tomb and praises the rising sun.

His titles are carved on the walls and funerary cones (like the one on the left) are stamped by a post-mortum seal which quoted his most exalted ranks:

Overseer of [the] Treasury, and Overseer of All Works, Djehuty, justified

Inside the tomb, the archaeologists were amazed to discover piles of different kinds of objects within its corridors — apparently haphazard collections of goods from different dynasties -- as if Djehuty was trying to build for himself his own virtual treasury.

But there was nothing fortuitous about the paintings in his tomb. The walls are beautifully decorated, with scenes showing the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Abydos, hunting in the desert and in the marshes, and funerary rituals.

Making Music

One of the most interesting pictures shows a harpist (left) and two women with rattles (sistrums) playing music and singing for Djehuty. The harpist shortens a string with one hand, and plucks with the other. The bent string is clearly shown.

The lyrics of their song are engraved above the figures! Some scholars believe that songs were performed in the tomb, while others think they were intended for life beyond the tomb. Very likely, the songs were also sung at a funerary banquet to buoy the spirits of the living. And the words would have gone something like this:

How firm you are in your seat of eternity,
Your monument of everlastingness!
It is filled with offerings of food,
It contains every good thing.

The harpist is depicted with a round fat belly and haunches -- the beginning of the realistic style typical of the period. I love the way his foot pokes out to show that he is sitting cross-legged.

Building for His Majesty Hatshepsut

Djehuty was eager to recount his life story to the gods. In a long autobiography (the 'Northampton Stela'), he tells how he supervised the building of the great mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari on behalf of Hatshepsut:
I have been the director who had given instructions. I directed the workmen so that they had worked in accordance with the order at "Djeser djeseru, the House of Million of Years" [= Deir el-Bahari]. Its great doors had been made of copper; figures and ornaments were made of gold. The king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maat-ka-Ra [Hatshepsut], has made this as a monument for his father, Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands. May he [Hatshepsut] live forever like Ra!
Among many other achievements, he mentions two obelisks that he had ordered carved and transported to the temple of Amun (Karnak). In his own words:
I have been the highest commander, who had given the orders. I have led the craftsmen during their work on both large obelisks, which were 108 ells (approx. 57 m; 160') in length and which were covered completely with gold. They have given light to all Egypt.
The Double Houses of Gold and Silver

In order to spend all that gold, he had to collect it first (they did not have deficit financing in pharaonic times). That, of course, was the main function of the treasury, which the Egyptians called 'the double houses of gold and silver'. Its fiscal reach extended way beyond precious metals, however, to include virtually everything that came into the government's possession. So Djehuty also raked in revenues as 'Overseer of the Wine Place', and 'Overseer of Hooves, Horns, Feathers, and Scales' (animal products), and of vegetal stuff as 'Overseer of All Growing Things' -- except grain: another department entirely.

Like any modern chancellor, he taxed the south and he taxed the north, as he tells us:
I counted up ivory, ebony, and the many fruits of this foreign land [Nubia] as the tax of each year. I put my seal on the best of the products belonging to the inhabitants of the northern regions -- Asiatic gold, silver, copper, as well as every sweet-smelling [flower]. I reckoned up what the mayors gave, and I received all their dues. His Majesty [Hatshepsut] repeated the favouring (of me) when he caused that I be sealer of the double treasury, which is filled with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and every noble gemstone.

Sweet-smelling flowers

In 2007, while cleaning the debris in the tomb's open courtyard, the Spanish archaeologists found a 70 cm-(28") deep pit containing 45 clay vases and 45 dried flower bouquets. The bouquets were made up mainly of persea branches (Mimusops schimperi), but there were also branches of olive tree (Olea europaea), and what looks like papyrus (Cyperus) and a species of willow (Salicaceae).

"These are probably the remains of Djehuty's funerary [bouquets] that were later thrown inside the tomb," Spanish mission director José Galán said. In a kind of meta-fiction, a scene carved on the walls in his burial chamber shows participants at the funeral bringing in bouquets and vases of flowers -- only to discard them in reality, perhaps just before the tomb doors slammed shut.

Incense and Monkeys

As 'Controller of all the revenues coming from all foreign lands' Djehuty was also responsible for registering the many marvels brought from Punt (modern Somalia) to Thebes in Hatshepsut's Year 9 -- and detailing the exotic Puntian gifts that Pharaoh Hatshepsut donated, in turn, to the Temple of Amun -- as shown on his tomb walls (above, right).

"He was such an important official," Galán said, "that he is even represented carrying out such activities on one of the walls of the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari." There, he is seen recording the products carried to Thebes by Egyptian ships, including thirty-one living incense trees, cattle, resin of myrrh, skins of cheetahs, chests of gold, panthers, baboons, vervet monkeys and a giraffe, all brought safely back from the land of Punt.

Hatshepsut says: He who shall do her homage shall live, he who shall speak evil in blasphemy of her Majesty shall die.

Judging from the size and expensive decorations of Djehuty's tomb -- and from the diversity of his secular and priestly titles (all of which brought benefices and emoluments) -- Hatshepsut was very generous to those who supported her. And, as 'Chief Steward of the Palace' (another of his titles), there is no doubt where his loyalty lay:
He [Hatshepsut] put me in charge of the business of the Palace, knowing that I was scrupulous in all that had to be done. My mouth kept silent (to others) on the affairs of his Palace.
But, in the end, he and his family paid dearly for their loyalty.

His name and face -- and the faces of all his relatives depicted in the grave -- were purposely erased everywhere in his tomb. Since the names of both Hatshepsut and her stepson, Thutmosis III, are written on the walls of his tomb, Djehuty must have outlived Hatshepsut and survived into the reign of Thutmosis III. Nonetheless, he undoubtedly fell victim to the purge of Hatshepsut's name and deeds when Thutmosis III ordered all signs of her (and of her favourites) to be obliterated.* And so, he was erased for all eternity, and Hatshepsut's cartouches, too, are hacked out and her memory wilfully destroyed.

Also missing, but surely not because of a damnatio memoriae, is any mention or picture of Djehuty's wife or children; this omission is a provocation and we'll return to it in a moment. But first, the new finds.

The Unknown Tomb

At the very end of the 2008 season, excavators came across a 3 metre- (9.8') deep shaft descending from the floor of Djehuty's burial chamber. Early this year, they slithered down it ... and discovered an unknown second burial chamber at the bottom of the shaft.

This lower chamber was not only unknown to Egyptologists, but it must have been equally unknown to the thugs that Thutmosis III sent to deface Djehuty's tomb. In the upper chamber, they burnt the dead man's coffin and mummy and smashed his canopic jars, as well as erasing his name. Here, on the contrary, his name -- and the names of his father (Ibuty) and mother (Dediu) -- remain intact.

May they live!

Just this week, the archaeologists discovered five golden earrings and two gold rings (above, left) in the new burial chamber. These had most probably belonged to Djehuty or one of his relatives. Top officials began to wear earrings in the mid-18th Dynasty, so it's possible that Djehuty helped to set the trend for wearing this kind of male bauble.

An Unknown Unknown

The lower chamber is beautifully decorated on two walls with texts from the Book of the Dead. An image of the goddess Nut (left) adorns the ceiling.

Nut gives birth to the Sun-god daily. He sails over her body (clad in a sky-blue robe) until he reaches her mouth at sunset. He then passed into her mouth and through her body and is reborn from her womb the next morning. The entrance of the sun into the body of Nut is equated with sexual union, as Nut is regarded as thus impregnated by the god. This sexual metaphor is essential to re-conception and re-birth in the afterlife.

Nut was thus a mother-like protector to those who journeyed through the land of the dead:
O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.
Djehuty is only the fifth high official known to have decorated his burial chamber with funerary texts during the very long combined reigns of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III (54 years!). This identifies him as one of the most creative scribes of Hatshepsut's time and also places him among Hatshepsut's very top and most trusted officials.

And therein lies the rub.

Where is Djehuty's wife?

It is more or less a rule in Egyptian funerary customs to include references in a tomb not only to the owner, but also to members of the family, some of whom would also be buried there. There are some exceptions, and they do vary with time, but, generally, a husband needs his wife in the tomb in order to regenerate himself in the afterlife: the husband metaphorically impregnates her with himself so that he can be reborn.

Given her importance to his rebirth, it is surprising that the wife should ever be omitted -- as in Djehouty's tomb (and in a few other cases).**

So, it is all the more striking that during Hatshepsut's reign, a large percentage of the men who worked under her did not have their wives' images in their tombs. Those tombs explicitly dated to her reign and emphasizing her favour, omit the name of the tomb owner's wife without exception.

Why is this? Nothing in Djehuty's tomb explains his missing wife. [If he had snuck her image into the hidden lower chamber -- away from Hatshepsut's prying eyes -- I could have imagined any number of torrid explanations; but he didn't].

No explanation seems to fit. Surely, he was not unmarried. Every adult official is married (and some of Hatshepsut's courtiers who excluded their wives from their tombs do mention them on other monuments). Was Hatshepsut jealous of Djehouty's wife and forbade him to represent her? It's hard to credit such a command, knowing it would scupper his chances to be revived in the afterlife. Perhaps the unusual nature of Hatshepsut's rule turned him off the female sex entirely -- but, if he kicked his wife out of the tomb in a fit of misogyny, he would have aborted his own hopes for eternal life, too.

Hatshepsut does appear to have formed a close, almost symbiotic relationship with her male nobles, so that she became as important to them as they were to her. Still, who would have dared to think that she would fulfill the sexual roles necessary for rebirth? However metaphorical, that would be blasphemy.

I have only one thought on the subject.

For an archaeologist, it is always a good idea to get down to the earliest possible level. So, who was the first New Kingdom official who is known not to have pictured or named his wife in his tomb? To my surprise, it turns out to be Hery, 'Overseer of the Granary of the King's Wife and King's Mother, Ahhotep' (TT 12).

This is why it is surprising: Queen Ahhotep was the wife of the founder of the 18th Dynasty (and possibly a direct ancestor of Hatshepsut, through her mother Ahmose). For many years, Ahhotep was de facto governor of Egypt, acting as regent for her young son Ahmose (the family was very keen on the moon-god, Iah, represented by the Ah element in their names!), who came to the throne while still a young boy. She was later honoured by her son for pacifying Upper Egypt and expelling rebels. She is called "One who cares for Egypt; she has looked after her soldiers." Ahhotep clearly commanded the respect of both troops and nobles and rallied them to preserve the fledgling dynastic line.

Hatshepsut may well have looked back via her own family -- through the genealogical links to her mother, Ahmose -- to the regency and practices of her great predecessor Ahhotep.

Why is this important? Because Hery's tomb (TT 12, on the right) is just next door to Djehuty's (TT 11, on the left). They touch, and, in fact, connect through the hall of a third tomb (TT 399, in red). In this area, tombs are hewn so close to each other that they ended up being interconnected, horizontally and in some cases even vertically. That the two neighbouring tombs are the earliest to have 'the Absent Wife' syndrome is either the most amazing coincidence, or it is highly significant -- even if we can no longer connect the dots.

But they are undoubtedly conceptually connected. Tough on the wives ... but it must have something to do with their husbands having served Queen-regents, or, better, queen-rulers.

Perhaps it is simply a matter of overwhelming respect.

Otherwise, I'm stumped. What about you, readers?

* The date of the persecution, which may have taken place as much as 20 years after Thutmosis III's accession, is considered in Hatshepsut Cheek by Jowl with Judy Chicago and How 'God's Wife Hatshepsut' became the 'The Good Goddess Maatkare'

** Less than 7% of early-mid 18th Dynasty male tombs fail to show or mention a wife. Almost all of these exceptional tombs were owned by men who [ had served royal women -- whether Hatshepsut, another queen, or a God's Wife of Amun, a role with independent economic and religious power at this time [A.M. Roth, 'The Absent Spouse: Patterns and Taboos in Egyptian Tomb Decoration', JARCE 36 (1999) 37-53; esp. 43-44]. My warm thanks to Chuck Jones of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, for providing me with a timely copy of this article.

My thanks, too, to Aayko Eyma at Egyptologists' Electronic Forum for the first reports on the new discoveries in Djehuty's tomb.

I've also made use of José Galán, 'The Tombs of Djehuty and Hery (TT 11-12) at Dra-Abu el_Naga', in ( J.-C. Goyon & Chr. Cardan, eds.), Proceedings of the 9th International Congress of Egyptologists, 777-787; Betsy Bryan, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ch. 9, 212-242; D. O'Connor & E. Cline, Amenophis III, 187-188.

View the Spanish team's 2009 photographic excavation diary (from 12 January to 22 February -- undoubtedly to be updated continuously) on their website Proyecto Djehuty.


Top right: Workman examining the ceiling in the lower chamber; from the website of Zahi Hawass

Top left: Djehuty's funerary cone via Maat-ka-ra.de (object in Petrie Museum, London U37678)

Middle left: Harpist in Djehuty's upper tomb via Al-Ahram Weekly

Upper middle left: Djehuty supervising distribution of gifts'; from Proyecto Djehuty 2007

Lower middle left: Bouquets via Al-Ahram Weekly

Lower left: Gold jewellery and the goddess Nut from the website of Zahi Hawass.

Lowest left: Hatshepsut as pharaoh, colossal head from Deir el-Bahari excavated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

04 March 2009

In the Suite of the God's Wife of Amun (MultipleUpdates )

This amazing uppity woman is quite dead.
And mummified. And therein lies a tale.

But, before we talk about her mummy, let's first go back to roughly the time she was born -- perhaps 30 years before her lamentably early death (and she died somewhere around the year 800 BCE). That was a tough time to have entered the world, as she did, in the city of Thebes in Egypt.

For, give or take a few years, around 840-835, the crown prince of Egypt -- whose name was Osorkon -- consulted the ram-headed god Herishaf (right) on a potentially catastrophic matter of state.

All Egypt was then under the rule of Libyan kings (the 22nd dynasty, ca. 943-716) -- foreign interlopers, although they were quite Egyptianized by now. These kings descended from the military elite of tribes that had settled in the Nile Delta at the end of the New Kingdom. As the state grew weaker, the Egyptian army recruited ever more Libyan mercenaries until they made up the bulk of the army.

It must have seemed a good idea at the time.

Now, their royal residence was at Tanis in the very north-east of the Nile Delta. From this northern fastness, it is hardly surprising that they had repeated difficulty keeping the whole country under their political control. And especially the southern districts around Thebes, always a potential centre of rebellion, kept testing the limits of royal authority. The great Theban temple of Amun had been transformed into the capital of a state often as strong as that ruled by the presumptive pharaohs in the north. The south had become a kind of theocracy ruled by Amun's high priests who could draw on a prodigious income from the cult, temple, and broad estates of the great god. At times, the high priests had even adopted the trappings of royalty, wearing the pharaoh's double crown and placing their names in royal cartouches.

To prevent that happening again, a son of the Tanite royal family now regularly filled this post.

The Storm Breaks

That's why, around ca. 835 BCE, Prince Osorkon, eldest son of the Tanite pharaoh (the aptly-named Takeloth II) was appointed High Priest [the 1st prophet] of Amun. Or, rather, as he put it, the god chose him:
whom Amun appointed according to his own desire, to the [high priest of] Amun in Thebes.
Although still in his 20s, Osorkon was already Governor of the South and commander of the army. He had earned his spurs beating down enemies in the interior of the land, which had fallen into turmoil in his time. He was young, energetic, perhaps precocious, and probably just a wee bit impatient to get his hands on the temporal riches of Amun. Badly handled, such appointments outside of the Theban nobility could be viewed as infringements of local prerogatives and were often contested. This was such a moment. In naming Osorkon, the pharaoh had brusquely passed over the claims of a previous High Priest's family -- whose eligible grandson didn't even get the job of 2nd prophet. The possessive and independent Thebans promptly rebelled.

We know what happened next because Osorkon carved a long text on a gateway at (what was then) the very front of the temple of Amun.

In Year 11 of his father's reign

Before leaving his headquarters in Middle Egypt, Osorkon checked in with the ram-god, who gave him an oracle:
When Thebes rose [in rebellion] against the protector of the land and the gods who were in it, the great god heard the appeal made to him. The beneficient ram, [Herishaf] came to him in his [sleep?*] as he had wished, so he might suppress wrong-doing. Thus he came forth at the head of his army....

Prince Osorkon sailed south for Thebes, intending to remind both priests and people that the Libyan dynasty still ruled all of Egypt. Sensibly he tried diplomacy first, giving handsome gifts to Amun -- and perhaps lucrative backhanders to discontented Thebans:
his hands bearing a million of things, and offerings consisting of all good things ... good and pure, pleasant and sweet, supplied with ten thousands and thousands without end as a daily offering in excess of what existed before.
This worked a treat (backed up, as it was, by the powerful army he had brought with him). As we are told, all the prophets, priests, and people of Thebes came crawling, bearing flowers, and denouncing the rebels for having wrecked the sacred rites and plundered the temple. Justice was swift. The bound prisoners were brought before Osorkon tied up (in a picturesque phrase) like bundles of pinioned goats, and all of them (except, it seems, the grandson who survived to fight another day) were burned with fire in the place of his crime [at] Thebes. This was a doubly cruel punishment: after a horrible death, the destruction of their bodies also meant that they would not live on in the afterlife. Having crushed the opposition, Osorkon made new appointments to priestly posts, issued decrees dealing with temple administration and, of course, revenues, and sailed back to his headquarters in Middle Egypt.

It was about now that our uppity lady Meresamun ("She Loves Amun") was born, presumably into a loyalist family.

Her early years cannot have been fun. There were just four years of peace.

In Year 15 of his father's reign

Suddenly, "even though the sky did not swallow the moon" (so, without even a lunar eclipse to warn of the oncoming disaster), the whole of Egypt erupted into civil war. The kingdom was shaken to its foundations.
a great convulsion broke out in this land ... the children of rebellion stirred up strife in both South and North. [For his part, Osorkon] did not weary of fighting in their midst ... years passed by, when one could not repel the depredations of one's fellow.
The conflict dragged on for nearly a decade -- into the 24th year of Takeloth II. The Prince admitted to his followers, "I am worn and afflicted." Repression having so obviously failed, it was finally time to try conciliation. Once again loaded with rich gifts for Amun, Osorkon sailed with a vast fleet to the south. After a tumultuous welcome, he made great offerings to Amun and, again, peace seemed assured.

In Year 26 of his father's reign

It was the briefest truce. Within a year, Thebes and the southern provinces again rose in rebellion against the detested northern dynasty -- and, this time, all was lost for Osorkon.
"The grandees within this land [rebelled and] he was there quite alone, such that there was not one friend [with him]
So, the Theban lords finally triumphed. Osorkon lost the high priesthood and probably the rule of the south as well. Rubbing natron into his wounds, the grandson of the former high priest -- he who had been passed over in Year 11 -- replaced Osorkon as 1st prophet. The prince's misfortunes were not yet at an end. At this inconvenient moment, his father died. With Osorkon far away from Tanis, personal enemies at court schemed to deprive him of the succession: the old pharaoh was quickly buried and the prince's much younger brother Shoshenq III came to the throne instead.

Singer in the Interior of the Temple of Amun

... so we'll leave the poor prince in his misery, shut out of Amun's temple,** and turn to Meresamun, who proclaims her proud title as Singer in the Interior of the Temple on her coffin (left) -- and who may have lived through some or all of these dramatic events.

Women who held the same title are known to have been the sisters or daughters of kings, governors, mayors, and high priests. "In the Interior" meant they had a level of purity that allowed them to enter the most sacred part of the god's complex. They were musician-priestesses chosen from the highest levels of Theban society to sing and make music for Amun. The percussive rhythm of their ritual rattles (sistrums) and beaded necklaces (menats) was meant to calm the god and make him more amenable to protecting and helping mankind.

See her, her hand shaking the rattles to give pleasure to the god, her father Amun. How lovely she moves, her hair bound with ribbon, songstress with perfect features....Pleasure there is in her lip's motions.... her heart is all kindness, her words gentle to those upon earth. One lives just to hear her voice.

Three times a day, a priest ceremonially opened the doors of Amun's inner sanctuary, purified the divine statue, offered it food and drink, and then adorned it with clothing, jewellery and perfumes. While this was going on, grand ladies like Meresamun would make music and sing to the god with a sweet voice.

Meresamun's fragile coffin was never opened and the body never unwrapped because generations of curators at the Oriental Institute of Chicago (where it has been since 1920) couldn't bring themselves to destroy its beautiful decorations. The coffin shows Meresamun wearing the vulture headdress that was worn by priestesses as well as other women of high rank. On the close up image (right), you see the vulture wings sweeping down on either side of her face. Her chest is covered with rows of lavish floral collars: just as flowers bloom, she too would revive in the afterlife. The coffin itself was an expensive one, befitting her rank. This, the inner coffin, was brightly painted with symbols of health and rebirth, and hieroglyphs that are shorthand wishes for life, eternity, and dominion.

Meresamun has a rather pretty face, somewhat idealized of course, so it doesn't tell us much about how she looked in life.

No matter, it's how she looks in death that counts now.

A One-Woman Show

For Meresamun is having her own one-woman show at the Oriental Institute. And in that show her face has been revealed to the world for the first time thanks to an X-ray with a light ten billion times brighter than the sun.

Meresamun is the first ever mummy to be studied with the new Philips Healthcare iCT ("Intelligent CT") 256-channel scanner. This scanner is allowing experts to examine a wrapped mummy in a sealed coffin as never before. Known as Joint Engineering, Environmental and Processing beamline or Jeep, the cutting edge technology uses intense radiation known as synchrotron light to see through solid objects. Watch the story of her being 'virtually unwrapped' on this video.

These scans reveal exceptionally clear and detailed images of the mummy, still wrapped in linen bandages. You can see her remaining organs and even the stone- or pottery-amulets placed over her eyes. Her eyeballs are shrunken but intact.

University of Chicago radiologist Dr Michael Vannier commented: "The pictures of the mummy are breathtaking, we could see subtle things - wear patterns on the teeth, a clear view of the embalming incision, precise indications of her age - that were not apparent before."

She was tall by ancient standards -- approximately 168 cm (5'5") -- and was in her late 20s or early 30s when she died. Her features were regular with wide-spaced eyes (as on her mummy portrait) but she had an overbite (corrected by the painter for the afterlife). Her body showed no signs of childbearing. Although her teeth were badly worn down -- probably due to wind-blown sand in the flour and bread -- she still had them all, including her wisdom teeth, and there is no evidence of tooth decay. In short, she appeared to be a fit and healthy young lady. Dr Vannier concludes: "Meresamun was, until the time of her death at about thirty, a very healthy woman. The lack of arrest lines on her bones indicates good nutrition through her lifetime and her well mineralized bones suggest that she lived an active lifestyle."

A Virtual Treat

"In a virtual way, people will be able to meet this remarkable woman and, through her eyes, learn what it was like to live in Egypt 2,800 years ago," said Dr Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute and the curator of the exhibition. "It’s—it’s like magic; it is so extraordinary to be able to — it’s like X-Ray eyes, you know, just looking beyond."

Watch, as this magic happens.

The Burning Questions

I can hardly contain my curiosity: how did she die? She has been treated with the kind of forensic attentiveness usually reserved for a crime scene investigation. Yet we still don't know the cause of death. Her mummy, however, clearly shows some severe fractures, particularly around the thoracic inlet, with no signs of healing. As Dr Vannier says, "it takes a good deal of force to fracture the spine, collarbone, and upper ribs." Foul play? Imagination runs riot. Did she suffer a violent death in these turbulent times? Or were these fractures caused, perhaps, by a bad tumble (did she fall, or was she pushed?)? Less luridly, they could be post-mortem injuries (possibly from the embalming process). Despite now having studied her with the intensity of a police procedural detective novel, the good doctor wisely brought in an open verdict.

It's maddening not to know how this healthy young woman came to such a premature end.

In any case, she did not die in childbirth (easily the most common cause of death for females of her age). The scan shows that she almost certainly never bore children. Which leads to my second burning question: was Meresamun a virgin? This is not trivial nor meant to be flippant. It's never been decided if priestesses of her rank were understood as married to the god, and thus must have remained earthly virgins.

Let's skip over the next rank -- 'Overseer of the Singers in the Interior of the Temple' -- and go right to the very top of the hierarchy to look at a woman who might have been (partially) contemporary with Meresamun, and who ruled over all the priestesses of the temple. She is Karomama (left) , God's Wife of Amun, the very highest of high-priestesses. She was Amun's earthly spouse and definitely a life-long virgin. Her life was devoted entirely to the god. She held the status of a queen, and is portrayed in this exquisite bronze and gold statue dressed in a robe encircled by vulture wings. A tall crown once fitted into the round headdress adorned with a uraeus. She ruled as a sovereign in her own right and wore the royal insignia; her names were enclosed in cartouches. She was honoured during major festivals, when an effigy was displayed on the model bark alongside a statue of Amun.

Her titles were of the loftiest: 'the God's Wife, Lady of the Two Lands ... Daughter of Re, Lady of Epiphanies,' and also 'Adoratrix of Amun, of pure hands.'

Who was Karomama? She may (or may not) have been a half-sister of Takeloth II. In the Libyan period, every holder of this office was a king's daughter:
I have given to [Amun] my daughter to be a god's wife and have endowed her better than those who were before her. Surely he will be gratified with her worship and protect the land who gave her to him.
Although she held this office before Takeloth II came to the throne, she continued to officiate during his reign -- the two are shown together in a Theban chapel. We have no idea how long she lived. Nor do we know who was her immediate successor.

All we can say is that she was luckier than the luckless Prince Osorkon, to whom she was certainly related by blood.

The exhibition The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt is on view at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum through December 6, 2009.

Update 26 March 2009: The University of Chicago Magazine has the most amazing interactive feature now on-line, Meresamun: A Life in Layers. You can go into the coffin -- layer by layer -- from Decoration to Contour, to Flesh and Skeleton. Click on each layer's pop-up labels to see and hear more. Don't miss Egyptologist Emily Teeter telling you about how the music of the sistrum transformed the snarling lion goddess into a sweet pussy-cat (click on Decoration, Sistrum). And check out what she thinks about Meresamun's celibacy (Skeleton, Childbirth).

Many thanks to Joy Olivia Miller for sending me news of this new peek into the singer's wondrous coffin.

Update 20 April 2009: The I-Miss-My-Music Meresamun Song Contest!

Mummy Meresamun has a Facebook page . We already have five friends in common (that makes six of us with time to waste). Now, for something new: once she accepts you as a friend, you can enter her song contest. The mummy -- who seems to like bad puns -- writes:

I was a singer in the Temple of Amun. I sang some beautiful songs in honor of Amun and Hathor, and I loved playing my sistrum and menat in the temple. But after 2,800 years, I really need some new tunes. Can you help?

Set an old tune to lyrics or create an original song that I might appreciate. I love all types-folk, pop, "wrap", any style.

There are two competitions- Video submission or lyrics only.

The contest closes on May 7, 2009 at 11:59pm (Central Time, I guess, it being Chicago). Meresamun will decide on Friday, May 15, 2009 which song is most creative and send the winning composer their prize. More information at I Miss My Music!

I am grateful to the blog Egyptology News for first alerting me to this exhibition and the remarkable CT scans.

* The 4th century BCE Stela of Somtutefnakht suggests that the ram-god's advice was given as a sleep oracle: "Thereafter I saw you [Heryshaf] in my sleep. Your Majesty saying to me: Hurry to [your native city]. I protect you." Translated text in Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, 41-44.

** It's entirely possible (though disputed) that Prince Osorkon made a complete comeback. He recovered his position at Thebes in Year 39 of Shoshenq III, and finally may have became pharaoh as Osorkon III (ca. 777-749 BCE). If so, he lived to a very ripe old age. I'd like to believe he deserved it.

I'm much indebted to
Karol Myśliwiec, The Twilight of Ancient Egypt for a partial translation of 'The Chronicle of Osorkon, 51-54; and to K. A Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100- 650 BC), the standard work on this period.

We're very lucky to have a more living picture of another wealthy young woman from 22nd Dynasty Thebes, a lady by the name of Djed-Khonsu-wes-Ankh ("[the god] Khonsu says she will live"). Possibly, she was a priestess -- at least, her father had priestly titles. On this painted wooden stela, she is pouring an offering of cool water for a god seated behind a table piled high with fruits and flowers. She is dressed to the nines for the occasion. She wears a voluminous pleated gown of the finest transparent linen. Her dress is edged with green and white fringe that echoes the colours of her wide beaded collar.

She's just a little chubby, as was the fashion at this time.

Catalog # 11 (p. 43) in OIMP 29. The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt. Edited by Emily Teeter and Janet H. Johnson. 2009. The Oriental Institute generously allows its catalogues to be downloaded free of charge as well as sold in a paper edition.

Other Illustrations:

Top centre: CT Scan of Meresamun, (Oriental Institute Museum) Suite101.com

right: Heryshaf (also known as Harsaphes, Arsaphes, Herishef, etc.) Louvre 032008 15 (via Wikipedia Commons)

upper left: Reliefs on the walls of the Temple of Amun showing the founder of the Libyan Dynasty, Shoshenq I (via Wikipedia Commons)

middle left: Catalog # 1 (p. 21),Photo by Anna Ressman; as above

right: Catalog # 1 (p. 21) Photo by Anna Ressman; as above

lower left: Statue of Karomama, the Divine Adoratrice of Amun', Louvre N 500 , lost-wax bronze casting, inlays of various copper alloys, gold, and silver.

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