Every few months, the Nile Scribes bring you summaries of the latest news and discoveries in Egyptology, both from the field and the lab. We’ll introduce you to the newest archaeological finds, or recently undusted manuscripts being rediscovered in museum collections, plus other new theories stirring in the Egyptological Zeitgeist. From a relief of Hatshepsut identified after decades of hiding in storage, to thousands of fragments belonging to a Late Period king, the last two months have produced some phenomenal finds that we highlight in this week’s post.
The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities publishes a very helpful round-up of recent discoveries, events, and projects in Egypt in an accessible PDF format. The latest issue was published in March 2018 (English or Arabic).
World’s earliest figural tattoos discovered on 5,000-year-old mummies (March 1 – British Museum)
Nile Scribes: Researchers at the British Museum in London made an exciting discovery on two of the Egyptian mummies in their collection. One of the mummies, known as ‘Gebelein Man A’ was on display at the museum for over a hundred years, before his tattoos were discovered. These ancient tattoos push back our understanding of when tattooing practices began in Egypt to the Predynastic Period.
“Dating to between 3351 to 3017 BC, tattoos of animals and motifs have been discovered on two naturally mummified bodies from Egypt. Using infrared technology, figural tattoos of a wild bull and a sheep were identified on the upper arm of a male mummy, while linear and S-shaped motifs have been identified on the upper arm and shoulder of a female mummy; these are the oldest tattoos ever found on a female individual.”
Rare female pharaoh artwork found at Swansea University (March 23 – BBC)
NS: Scholars at times make fortuitous discoveries in the archives or storage areas of a museum (in Toronto, we remember Gordo the Barosaurus, who was hidden for over four decades). In this case, an Egyptologist working with the Egypt Centre at Swansea University in Wales came across a photograph of a relief in storage that warranted a closer look:
“An Egyptian artwork that had languished in storage for over forty years has been identified as an extremely rare depiction of one of Egypt’s few female pharaohs. The relief sculpture was discovered at Swansea University’s Egypt Centre during a routine student handling session. It depicts Hatshepsut, one of just five women known to have ruled the empire. It came to the city in 1971 as part of Sir Henry Wellcome’s collection. The discovery was made by Egyptology lecturer Dr. Ken Griffin on International Women’s Day.”
Remains of Graeco-Roman temple discovered near Egypt’s Siwa Oasis (April 4 – Ahram)
NS: In the process of removing debris from the al-Salam site just east of the Siwa Oasis, an Egyptian mission discovered architectural fragments including lintels, statue fragments, as well as parts of a temple’s foundation. The temple is thought to date to Graeco-Roman times.
“An Egyptian archaeological mission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities has uncovered the remains of a Graeco-Roman temple while carrying our excavation work at the Al-Salam archaeological site, about 50km east of the Siwa Oasis. Aymen Ashmawi, the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, said that the mission uncovered the front part of the temple as well as parts of its foundations, its main entrance and one-metre thick stones from its outer wall. The outer wall leads to a front courtyard with entrances to chambers.”
Fragments of massive Psamtek I’s Matariya colossus uncovered (April 11 – Egypt Today)
NS: In an amazing addition to last year’s discovery, an Egyptian-German team working in downtown Cairo at Matariya discovered more than 4,000 fragments belonging to a statue of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty ruler, Psamtek I. These additional fragments allow scholars to visually recreate the colossal statue as it originally appeared.
“The Egyptian-German-Mission at Matariya/Heliopolis, uncovered a collection of 4,500 fragments from King Psamtek I colossus discovered last year and now at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. Dr. Aiman Ashmawy (Head of the ancient Egyptian Antiquities) and head of the mission from the Egyptian side, said that at Souq el-Khamis area in Matariya, the mission succeeded to uncover a collection of 4,500 fragments of the quartzite colossus of king Psamtek I. The He explains that these fragments along with those found last season have reached a total number of 6,400 fragments which allow the visualization of the original form of the colossus before its destruction in antiquity.”
Large Cache of Texts May Offer Insight Into One of Africa’s Oldest Written Languages (April 13 – Smithsonian)
NS: Archaeologists working at the Sudanese site of Sedeinga near the Third Cataract have uncovered a large collection of texts written in Meroitic, an ancient Sudanese language that remains largely undeciphered. Amongst these objects was also the first-known depiction of the Egyptian deity, Ma’at, depicted in a Nubian style.
“Another find of note, a funerary stele, describes a high-ranking woman by the name of Lady Maliwarase and details her connections with royalty. Similarly, a lintel uncovered during the excavation explores the lineage of another woman of high rank, Adatalabe, who counts a royal prince among her blood line. These kinds of inscriptions are sure to help historians continue to piece together the story of Meroe. For instance, as Francigny tells Choi, the aforementioned finds reveal that in Meroe kingdom matrilineality—the women’s lineage—was important enough to record.”
Rare Osirian temple and marble head of Marcus Aurelius unearthed in Luxor and Aswan (April 22 – Ahram)
NS: This article announces exciting finds made by two separate Egyptian missions working at Luxor and Kom Ombo. Near the Tenth Pylon at Karnak Temple, a shrine dedicated to Osiris-Ptah-Neb and dating to the Late Period was discovered. Among the finds at the shrine’s site was a stela depicting two of Amun’s zoomorphic symbols, a goose and a ram. South of Luxor at Kom Ombo, another mission came across a statue head belonging to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:
“Egyptian archaeological missions in Upper Egypt have made two rare discoveries, unearthing a marble head of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Aswan and an unusually positioned Osirian temple in Luxor. The Luxor discovery was made at the southern side of Karnak Temples’ tenth pylon, with archaeologists revealing architectural elements of a Late Period shrine dedicated for god Osiris-Ptah-Neb. The well-preserved find consists of an entrance, foundation remains, columns, inner walls and ruins of a third hall located at the eastern side. Paving stones from the shrine floor were also uncovered, along with other extension structures built during a later period.”
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