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A weekly round up of the Ancient Egypt News stories that made the headlines

Ancient Egypt News 01 – 07 November 2021

Welcome to the latest Ancient Egypt stories that made the headlines over the first week of November.


The Supreme Council of Antiquities has confirmed that a statue of  Thutmose II will be restored 1,500 years after it had been destroyed. Thutmose II ruled between 1493 BC and 1479 BC, and is perhaps more famously known for his wife, Hatshepsut, one of the few female pharaohs to have ever ruled Ancient Egypt.


The statue was found in the eighth pylon of Karnak Temple, an iconic tourist destination in Luxor which has undergone a major restoration effort alongside the Luxor Temple and El Kebbash Road.


Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly inspected the excavation site of the Rams Road, and the latest archaeological discoveries there, following the celebrations of the World Cities Day in Luxor.


During the PM’s tour of the excavations site, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa Waziri referred to the area where new ram heads were found, the last of which was a statue’s head that was discovered that very morning, and five other heads, in addition to the statues themselves, which were found near a church.


“The statues and another complete statue will be assembled and restored in full,” Waziri said, stressing that these heads are part of the project to revive the Rams Road, which is expected to open soon.


The Secretary-General added that these heads belong to King Nectanebo I of the Thirtieth Dynasty, who built the Great Processions Path starting from the Temple of Mut to the Luxor Temple, with a total length of about 2,200 m.  The statues take the form of a “Sphinx” with a human head bearing the features of the King.


Waziri explained to the PM that the continuation of excavations in the southern region of the Karnak temples resulted in the exhumation of statues and ram heads belonging to King Amenhotep III, which includes the head of rams, with eyes and horns.


He indicated that the excavation work under the church is ongoing, as a number of pots were discovered, adding that this site is very rich according to the archaeological evidence.


The 4th of November, the anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, was going to be the date for the opening of the Avenue of Sphinxes, but that has been delayed until later.


A procession of hundreds of performers in period costumes will set out from the Luxor Temple and head down the avenue to Karnak Temple – Egypt’s second most-visited heritage site after the Giza Pyramids.


The avenue, along with the two temples it connects, is set to open as an open-air museum after years of excavations and restorations.


The famed 2.7-kilometer avenue that connects the temples is about 3,000 years old. Karnak is believed to have been built as a tribute to Amun-Ra.


The ceremony will acknowledge the ancient Egyptian Opet Festival, which was predominantly celebrated in Thebes as Luxor was known in the ancient world and especially during the New Kingdom. The festival involved priests, civilians, and noblemen making a processional walk from Karnak to Luxor Temple along the avenue during the second month of the Nile flooding season. The ritual was a tribute to the ancient Egyptian god Amun-Ra, who was the principal deity of the ancient city of Thebes.


Unlike the sphinx at the Giza plateau, which has a human head, many of Karnak’s sphinxes have ram heads and lion bodies and are intended as guardians to the ancient temples. But at the other end of the avenue, closer to Luxor Temple, there are also several human-headed sphinxes lining the road.


Most of the surviving sphinxes date to the time of King Nectanebo, who reigned reigned during the 30th Dynasty. Over the centuries, many of the ancient Egyptian relics were damaged or buried. Local people even built homes on sections of the avenue.


Structures that had to be taken down to make way for the excavations included a 115-year-old church and a 350-year-old mosque. During its heyday, the avenue was believed to have been lined with 1,350 sphinxes but only 650 have been unearthed, with many of the others believed to have been taken and repurposed during the Roman period and during the Middle Ages.


Asked to name the greatest inventions of the ancient Egyptians, many people might point to their architecture, with ancient Egypt’s stone-built monuments, the oldest in the world on a comparable scale, producing awe in visitors to Egypt in antiquity as they still do today.


They might point to ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphic writing system, a source of wonder in antiquity and of puzzlement over subsequent millennia until finally deciphered at the beginning of the 19th century. Or they might cite its art and religion, apparently untouched by influences from outside Egypt and immediately recognisable as important expressions of ancient Egyptian civilisation.


How many, though, would choose the pith of the stems of the papyrus plant when cut into strips and stuck together as a writing material as an invention of comparable importance? Perhaps the answer is only a very few, but if so then the vast majority of people are mistaken, at least according to a new exhibition. This makes a compelling case for considering the development of a writing material from papyrus as arguably ancient Egypt’s greatest invention.


The exhibition, which opened at the Collège de France in Paris last month and ran the end of October, reminds visitors of some of the reasons why papyrus when used as a writing material was so important both in ancient Egypt and beyond.


The oldest papyrus documents that have come down to us date back to the ancient Egyptian Old Kingdom (c 2575-2150 BCE), with the exhibition pointing in particular to one, discovered only in 2013 at Wadi Al-Jarf on the Red Sea, that records the delivery of stone for use in the building of the Pyramids. However, it seems that during both the Old and New Kingdoms (c 1539-1075 BCE) reading and writing were relatively restricted skills, being largely monopolised by specialised scribes. Writing had not yet spread to the wider population, and written texts, as well as the ability to read them, were still invested with a certain mystique.


All this began to change with the advent of Greek (Ptolemaic) rule in Egypt after the conquest by Alexander the Great. According to the exhibition, while papyrus was an ancient Egyptian invention, it was the country’s later Greek rulers who were responsible for turning it into something like a mass medium.


According to exhibition curator Jean-Luc Fournet, himself a professor at the Collège de France, while some 2,000 papyrus documents are known from Egypt from the period between the Old Kingdom and the arrival of Alexander the Great, this number increases to some 55,000 for the subsequent Ptolemaic period that have been published by scholars. Even this number represents only some 10 to 20 per cent of the total number that have been discovered.


One main reason why all this is so important, the exhibition said is that without papyrus probably all, or almost all, of the written heritage of antiquity would have been lost, including that of ancient Greece and Rome.


Without papyrus, we would not now be able to read the works of the ancient Greek philosophers or the Latin poets, since their works would originally have circulated on papyrus scrolls.


Such reflections are likely to make visitors to the exhibition view the papyrus plant and the writing material made out of it with new respect, even if to modern eyes the writing surface can appear rough and irregular in quality. As if anticipating such reservations, the exhibition displays a range of original documents on papyrus, most of them taken from French collections, notably the Institut de Papyrologie of the neighbouring Paris university the Sorbonne, showing the way the material was used in antiquity and even as late as the early Middle Ages in Europe.


A nice final touch is that the exhibition included some planters full of genuine papyrus. The plant itself, plentiful in Egypt in antiquity but then largely dying out, has since been re-introduced from Sudan where it continues to flourish. Some visitors to the exhibition may find themselves realising that they have never actually seen papyrus plants in the flesh despite their familiarity with their pith as a writing material.


The Paris exhibition helpfully gives them the opportunity to do so.


Follow the world's top teams of archaeologists, working across Egypt, as they work to unearth the world's richest seam of ancient treasure and race to unlock the secrets of this ancient civilisation. A brand new season of Lost Treasures of Egypt, has started on National Geographic UK.


The Egyptian-German archaeological mission, working in the area of ​​​​El-Matareya revealed many basalt blocks that represent parts of the western and northern facades of the temple of King Nectanebo I (380-363 BC), in addition to an extension of the temple from the northern side.


The discovery came while the mission was carrying out archaeological excavations at the Great Temple of Heliopolis in El-Matariya area.


Ayman Ashmawy, Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explained that the inscriptions on the stones mention the years 13 and 14 of the reign of King Nectanebo (366/365 BC), in addition to the dimensions and materials used in this temple.


“There are also several blocks whose inscription has not been completed, indicating that it seems that no decoration work was done for the temple after the death of King (363 BC),” Ashmawy added.


On the other hand, Head of the mission and the German team, Dietrich Rau said that other architectural elements testify to the building projects of King Ramses II (1279-1213), King Merneptah (1213-1201 BC) and King Apris (589-570 BC).


“The Ramesses-era style also appeared on a fragment of jasper stone, dating from the early 19th Dynasty (circa 1300 BC), as well as a fragment of a statue of Seti II (1204-1198), which has been added to the evidence that the style is from the late 19th Dynasty in Heliopolis,” Rau added.


The axis of the temple towards the west was also studied, where sporadic evidence indicates the presence of buildings from the Middle Kingdom, the twenty-second dynasty (Osorkon I, 925-890 BC) and a shrine for the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut from the era of King Psamtik II (595-589 BC).


Parts of a statue of Ramses II were also uncovered, as well as part of a baboon statue, a pedestal, parts of a quartzite obelisk for Osorkon I, and parts of worship facilities such as an offering table for Tuthmosis III, 1479-1425 BC.


The excavations also provided additional evidence from the Thirtieth Dynasty and the Ptolemaic period. Rau pointed out that the models of sculpting as well as limestone moulds for inscriptions and ushabti statues all put the pieces of the puzzle together, before all evidence of the temple activity disappeared during the Roman era.


And that’s it for this week.    

This weekly round-up is sourced from public sites on the internet and do not necessarily reflect the views of GnT Tours. Please feel free to contact us regarding these and any other stories posted here.