Ancient Egyptian Crafts

Goldsmith, joiners, jewelers and engravers, 18th Dynasty

Ancient Egyptian hair styles

It has often been maintained that the ancient Egyptians, like their modern descendants, shaved their heads most carefully, and wore artificial hair only.

Tuna El-Gebel

Greco-Egyptian painting in house 21 featuring adorning figures of the Mistress of the West, Atum and two further deities face into the opening.

Ceilings Patterns 12th to 22nd Dynasties

In ancient Egyptian homes, it was customary to cover wooden ceilings with colored fabrics. These patterns were imitated in tombs.

Ancient Egyptian Computing

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus is our most important source of information about Egyptian math.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Painting Called the “Mona Lisa” of Ancient Egypt is Likely Fake

The story of the painting known as the “Meidum Geese” dates to 1871, when a man named Luigi Vassalli supposedly discovered it in a tomb near the Meidum Pyramid, built by the pharaoh Snefru around 4,500 years ago. Some scholars have compared the painting to Leonardo DaVinci’s masterpiece “La Giaconda” (better known as “Mona Lisa”) for its beauty and level of detail. But an Italian researcher is now questioning the authenticity of “Meidum Geese,” claiming it is most likely a 19th-century fake that may have been painted on top of another, older work.
A section of the "Meidum Geese" wall painting. (Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images)
A section of the "Meidum Geese" wall painting. (Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images)
Italian Egyptologist and museum curator Luigi Vassalli claimed to have discovered the “Meidum Geese” in a tomb belonging to Nefermaat, son of the 4th-dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Snefru, who ruled Egypt from 2610-2590 B.C. More specifically, he claimed to have found it in a chamber dedicated to Nefermaat’s wife, Atet (or Itet). Painted on plaster, “Meidum Geese” depicts three pairs of geese—six in total—with three turned to the left and three turned to the right; it has been celebrated for its symmetry, high quality and level of detail. Some scholars have even gone so far as to call it the ancient equivalent of Leonardo DaVinci’s Renaissance masterpiece, “Mona Lisa”.
Now Francesco Tiradritti, a professor at the Kore University of Enna who serves as director of the Italian archaeological mission to Egypt, has dropped a bombshell: He believes “Meidum Geese” was most likely painted not during the 4th dynasty of ancient Egypt, but in the 19th century—probably by Vassalli himself. Tiradritti spent months studying the painting—both in person and through high-resolution photographs—and says he has finally concluded “there are few doubts on the falsification of the ‘Meidum Geese.’”
In a summary of his finds sent to LiveScience ahead of their publication in the specialty art journals Giornale dell’Arte (in Italian) and The Art Newspaper (in English), Tiradritti wrote that doubting the painting’s authenticity was “a mentally painful process.” First off, he points to the fact that two of the geese depicted in the painting—the bean goose (Anser fabalis) and the red-breasted geese (Branta ruficolis)—breed in tundra-like climates, and would not have been likely to have flown as far south as Egypt. That in itself was not enough to prove the painting’s inauthenticity, Tiradritti concedes, but it raised a red flag.
Once Tiradritti looked closer, he began seeing problems everywhere. Some of the colors in the painting (including beige) are completely missing from the work of other ancient Egyptian artists, while the shades of such common hues as red and orange aren’t at all comparable with those used in other paintings found in Atet’s chapel. The painting’s famous symmetry also posed another problem: Ancient Egyptian artists tended to paint different features (such as people or animals) in the same work in different sizes, in order to emphasize their relative importance. On the other hand, the careful symmetry of “Meidum Geese,” Tiradritti claims, is commonly found among more modern works of art.
Tiradritti examined the cracks in the plaster of the painting as well, and found that they “are not compatible with the supposed ripping of the painting from the wall.” Finally, he saw hints that “Meidum Geese” was painted over another work, including spots where the original cream background shows through the blue-gray background of the later work.
Now, Tiradritti suggests, a more thorough, but still non-invasive scan of the painting should be conducted in order to determine what lies beneath. According to him, the most likely culprit of the forgery was definitely Vassalli, who worked as a curator at a Cairo museum but was an accomplished painter himself, having studied in Milan. Vassalli liked to write about his other discoveries in Egypt, but he made no mention of the “Meidum Geese” in his papers, Tiradritti points out, which according to him “can be taken as a proof ‘ab silentio,’ given the fact that he used to mention his exploits even years after he made them.”
Tiradritti hopes his findings, already causing an uproar among Eyptologists and art historians alike, will inspire other scholars to take a closer look at ancient art, especially those being sold in today’s market, and not accept such works at face value. As a parting shot, he points out another potential clue of Vassalli’s forgery, which he noticed while examining the fragment of another painting the Egyptologist supposedly recovered from the Atet chapel. The fragment depicts a vulture and a basket, signs that in Egypt’s hieroglyphic language represent the letters “A” and “G” respectively—possibly the monogram of Vassalli’s second wife, Gigliati Angiola.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mysterious 'Spellbook' From Ancient Egypt Decoded

A mysterious ancient book written in an Egyptian language called Coptic has puzzled researchers ever since it was first found as part of an extensive papyrus collection at Macquarie University in Australia in 1981.
But now, two Australian scientists say they've finally translated the 1,300-year-old text, and it turns out that the text is a book of spells, Live Science reported.
The mystery remains, however, as to who wrote the book and used the spells.
"Many such Coptic magical texts were copied or used within monastic communities, and the degree of ritual knowledge in the invocations makes clergy or monks logical candidates for their production," Dr. Malcolm Choat, director of the university's Ancient Cultures Research Center and one of the scientists who deciphered the ancient book, told The Huffington Post in an email. "But other ritual practitioners can be imagined, and of course the spells could have been cast on behalf of ordinary people who needed their problems solved."
(Story continues below image.)
spell book ancient egypt
The ancient book housed at Macquarie University.

Choat and his colleague Dr. Iain Gardner, a professor of religion at the University of Sydney, found that the text includes ritual instructions and a list of 27 spells intended to cure various ailments or to bring success in love and business.
"There are also spells for 'Someone who is possessed,' 'Someone who is annoyed at you,' 'That a woman might conceive,' 'When someone has a magic on them,'" Choat said in the email.
The language used in the ancient book suggests that it originally came from Upper Egypt, possibly near Hermopolis, an ancient town located near the Nile River.
The ancient text is now housed in the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ancient Egyptians Enjoyed A Government Health Care Plan

Stanford postdoctoral scholar Anne Austin examines the skeletal remains of ancient Egyptians.
Stanford postdoctoral scholar Anne Austin examines the skeletal remains of ancient Egyptians. (Photo : Stanford )
Archaeologists gained fascinating insight into the medical practices of an ancient Egyptian village.
The residents of a village that is now called Deir el-Medina had access to what has been called "the earliest documented governmental health care plan," Stanford Universityreported. Written records have shown craftsmen who worked on the Egyptian pharaohs' royal tombs across the river from Luxor could take paid sick days and even receive free checkups at a health clinic. These workers were prevalent mainly during the 19th and 20th dynasties.

"[Workers] nonetheless felt pressure to work through illness, perhaps to fulfill tacit obligations to the state to which they owed so much," Austin said. An analysis of skeletons from the region also showed possible failures of the ancient health system. One individual appeared to have continued working while suffering from a blood infection.
The bodies also showed signs of stress from the tough climbing associated with pyramid building, and many of these individuals suffered from arthritis of the knee.
Some skeletons suggest those born with severe disabilities were well cared for and not forced to work because they did not show the same signs of wear and tear.
The findings provide insight into how these ancient people viewed health and disease.
"Egyptians thought about [disease] as a kind of contamination of the body. To get better, instead of balancing yourself, you had to purge yourself of the contaminant, Austin said. "It's very similar to modern germ theory. It shows an awareness of disease as being external."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hollywood likes to pretend that ancient Egypt was full of white people

Source VOX
Hollywood is a sucker for a story about ancient Egypt. Movies like The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, and even The Mummy prove it. Upcoming movies like Exodus and Gods of Egypt all but confirm it. Unfortunately though, those films have something in common aside from being about ancient Egypt — they show that Hollywood, tends to envision ancient Egyptians and ancient Egyptian royalty as white men and women (sometimes with copious amounts of bronzer splashed on).
The latest movie in Hollywood's ongoing love affair with ancient Egypt is Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings. Scott's interpretation consists of Caucasian actors like Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, and Sigourney Weaver playing Moses and Egyptian royalty respectively. Black and non-white actors portray roles like "Egyptian lower class citizen" or "Egyptian thief." And Aaron Paul plays Joshua, an Israelite who becomes Moses's right-hand man.
The cast of Exodus is similar to another upcoming movie about ancient Egypt called Gods of Egypt. In that film, the likes of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones), Gerard Butler, and Geoffrey Rush play Egyptian gods, which sets up a weird dynamic of white actors representing ideals of and being worshipped by non-white people.
While these two films aren't the only movies that have white-washed ancient Egypt, they're maybe the most frustrating. We can chalk up things like Elizabeth Taylor playing a fair-skinned Cleopatra in the film of the same name to the year the movie was made in (1963). There's no rule that says we have to follow the template and tendencies of casting directors 50 years ago. We should know better, yet it still happened and is still happening.

What are ancient Egyptians supposed to look like?

The white-washing of Ancient Egyptians in popular culture has changed the way a lot of people view history. The most popular and circulated images have a way of sticking with you. The possible white-washing of Ancient Egypt and the Egyptian civilization is a heated subject in scholarly circles as well.
The bust of Nerfertiti. (Getty Images)
From Egyptian art, we know that people were depicted with reddish, olive, or yellow skin tones. The Sphinx has been described as having Nubian or sub-Saharan features. And from literature, Greek writers like Herodotus and Aristotle referred to Egyptians as having dark skin.
Genetic testing on ancient Egyptians has been difficult and near impossible. But DNA tests on contemporary Egyptians find that they share genetic similarities to people from the rest of the Middle East and are intermediate between peoples from Southern Europe and sub-saharan Africa. (Many Egyptians today consider themselves ethnically Arab, an identity shared with many other Middle Eastern and North African countries.)
But that isn't exactly conclusive, since you're measuring people who are hundreds of eras apart.
"There is no scientific reason to believe that the primary ancestors of the Egyptian population emerged and evolved outside of northeast Africa," S. O. Y. Keita, a Senior Research Associate at the National Human Genome Center, wrote in National Geographic. Keita added:
.… these studies can be interpreted as suggesting that the Egyptian Nile Valley's indigenous population had a craniofacial pattern that evolved and emerged in northeastern Africa, whose geography in relationship to climate largely explains the variation. Dental affinity studies generally agree with the craniofacial results, though they differ in the details. The body proportions of ancient Egyptians generally are similar to those of tropical (more southern) Africans.
What we also know is that Egypt is one of the first places where people of different skin colors interacted, Nina Jablonski, a professor at Penn State, explained this in her book Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color.
"The visual diversity of population centers increased as contacts became more common between Egypt and Nubia, and then Greater Egypt, Palestine and Libya," she wrote. "In ancient Egypt as a whole, people were not designated by color terms, and slavery was not associated with darker skin," she added, highlighting a flaw in Scott's casting — fair-skinned people were not considered above dark skinned people in ancient Egypt.
Further, Egypt was invaded and conquered by different groups of people, like the Nubians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Macedonian Greeks. Taking DNA from Egyptians during the height of these invasions (e.g. Nubian rule vs. Macedonian Greek rule) could yield different DNA results.
"Any characterization of race of the ancient Egyptians depends on modern cultural definitions, not on scientific study," Stuart Tyson Smith wrote in 2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. "Thus, by modern American standards it is reasonable to characterize the Egyptians as 'black,'" he added, calling to mind the conversations we have regarding President Barack Obama's race.
In short: there is some really interesting stuff about race and genetics in ancient Egypt, particularly how its geography affected that. And it's almost certain that Egyptians were an ethnically mixed people. Ergo, ancient Egyptian royals would probably look more like a non-white, black, or Arab actor or actress than they would Sigourney Weaver or Joel Edgerton. Moses and Joshua, who are supposed to be Middle Eastern biblical Jews (Moses allegedly looks similar to Ramses), probably had different features than Christian Bale and Aaron Paul do.

Why race in Egypt matters a lot

It's really quite simple: ancient Egypt was an amazing civilization. It's a symbol of pride and wonder still today. And there's been a feeling that, when we think of Egypt, we don't often acknowledge its African history. There are extreme examples of this, like far right groups who use controversial blood test findings to assert that King Tut and Egyptian royalty were Nordic, Jo Marchant, a science journalist, wrote in a post on Medium.
This happens in more educated and high-brow debates among historians too. In the 1930s, ethnologist Charles Seligman strongly believed that Hamites, a Caucasian/Middle Eastern race, were really the ones who we should credit for African accomplishments. This was seen as trying to wash away Egypt's black and African roots.
"The African historian who evades the problem of Egypt is neither modest nor objective nor unruffled," Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop is quoted as saying by the BBC.

What Hollywood is getting wrong

On one level the stakes of Egypt and representing its diversity are very high. But Scott's casting and movies like Gods of Egypt also highlight the struggle for non-white actors to land jobs. If Arab, black, or mixed-race actors aren't being used to tell a stories of mixed-race, black, or Arab people, then what kind of jobs are they landing?
"Exodus is reflective of the way Hollywood works," Ana-Christina Ramon, a researcher at UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies told me. Ramon and the team there study diversity (or, more specifically, the lack of) in movies and television. And Hollywood is currently in a system where actors and actresses of color don't get prime billing, save for a few exceptions (Will Smith, Halle Berry, and perhaps Lupita Nyong'o now).
"They [movie studios] want big profits. The way that the business is set up — they think only white, male leads will yield these big profits for them," she said. "A common excuse is that there's something of an applicant pool problem. There are actors out there — we've met them — that are struggling, and they just wanna have that chance."
Ramon doesn't buy the Hollywood excuse that there aren't enough non-white actors. She explains that they are there, but that casting directors are usually looking to place them as tertiary sidekicks or villains (e.g. Avatar: the Last Airbender).
Arab-American actors are usually only sought when a movie is trying to cast terrorists, she told me. This type of stereotypical casting, like the black servants in Scott's exodus, has implications that stretch beyond employment. The effect is actually similar to Diop's ideas — it sends the message that white people are responsible for achievements (like the ancient Egyptian civilization) made by non-white people.
"It's subtly reinforcing the racial hierarchy. White actors usually play the good guys," Ramon said. "And so it perpetuates the image that the whiter you are, the better you are as a person."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ancient Egyptian Soldier's Letter Home Deciphered

A newly deciphered letter home dating back around 1,800 years reveals the pleas of a young Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion who was serving, probably as a volunteer, in a Roman legion in Europe.
In the letter, written mainly in Greek, Polion tells his family that he is desperate to hear from them and that he is going to request leave to make the long journey home to see them.
Addressed to his mother (a bread seller), sister and brother, part of it reads: "I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind," it reads.
"I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you ..." (Part of the letter hasn't survived.)
Polion says he has written six letters to his family without response, suggesting some sort of family tensions.
"While away in Pannonia I sent (letters) to you, but you treat me so as a stranger," he writes. "I shall obtain leave from the consular (commander), and I shall come to you so that you may know that I am your brother …"
Found in an ancient Egyptian town
The letter was found outside a temple in the Egyptian town of Tebtunis more than a century ago by an archaeological expedition led by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. They found numerous papyri in the town and did not have time to translate all of them.
Recently Grant Adamson, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, took up the task of translating the papyrus, using infrared images of it, a technology that makes part of the text more legible. His translation was published recently in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists.
Adamson isn't sure if the soldier's family responded to his pleas, or if Polion got leave to see them (it's unlikely), but it appears this letter did arrive home.
"I tend to think so. The letter was addressed to and mentions Egyptians, and it was found outside the temple of the Roman-period town of Tebtunis in the Fayyum not far from the Nile River," Adamson wrote in an email to Live Science.
Polion, who lived at a time when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, was part of the legio II Adiutrix legion stationed in Pannonia Inferior (around modern-day Hungary)
He may have volunteered for the pay and food legions got. However, that doesn't mean Polion knew that he was going to be posted so far away from home.
"He may have volunteered and left Egypt without knowing where he would be assigned," writes Adamson in the journal article. According to the translation, Polion sent the letter to a military veteran who could forward it to his family.
An ancient soldier, a modern problem
The situation seen in this letter, a young man serving as a volunteer in a military unit far away from home, facing tensions with his family and seeking leave to see them sounds like something that happens in modern-day armed forces.
Although soldiers today have an easier time communicating and traveling back home (Polion would have had to travel for a month or more to reach Tebtunis from his posting in Europe), there are some themes that connect both ancient and modern soldiers, Adamson said.
"I think that some aspects of military service belong to a common experience across ancient and modern civilizations — part of our human experience in general really. Things like worry and homesickness."
The letter is now in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.
Read the news on Life Science