Every few months, the Nile Scribes will bring you summaries of the latest ideas 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 theories stirring in the Egyptological Zeitgeist.
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 July 2017 (version: English or Arabic).
Tomb Drawing Shows Mongoose on a Leash, Puzzling Archaeologists (May 9 – Live Science)
Nile Scribes: Highlighting the results of recent conservation work in the Beni Hasan tombs in Middle Egypt, the author takes a closer look at some of the animals depicted within the tombs:
“The tombs are located at the Beni Hassan cemetery and were excavated and detailed in a publication over a century ago by archaeologist Percy Newberry and his colleagues, wrote Linda Evans, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Australia, in an article published recently in the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. Now, Evans and other archaeologists at Macquarie University’s Australian Centre for Egyptology are re-surveying the tombs using modern-day technology. Recently, an Egyptian antiquities ministry team also conserved and cleaned the tombs. The conservation and recording has “revealed many scenes not found in Newberry’s reports,” wrote Evans.”
- Link to original article published by L. Evans in JARCE 52 (2016).
Did children build the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna? (June 6 – the Guardian)
NS: Amarna has seen intense archaeological excavations over the last 40 years and usually the large temples and royal palaces garner the most attention. Mary Shepperson, who worked at the site between 2006 and 2016, presents some intriguing results of excavations in the Northern cemetery at the site:
“In 2015 we began excavating another non-elite cemetery in a wadi behind a further set of courtiers’ tombs at the northern end of the city, and here the tale takes a stranger turn. As we started to get the first skeletons out of the ground it was immediately clear that the burials were even simpler than at the South Tombs Cemetery, with almost no grave goods provided for the dead and only rough matting used to wrap the bodies. As the season progressed, an even weirder trend started to become clear to the excavators. Almost all the skeletons we exhumed were immature; children, teenagers and young adults, but we weren’t really finding any infants or older adults. Our three excavation areas were far apart, spaced across the length of the cemetery, but comparing notes all three areas were giving the same result. This certainly was unusual and not a little bit creepy.”
- The Amarna Project: The North Tombs Cemetery 2015
- “Tell el-Amarna, 2014-15” field report by Barry Kemp in JEA 101 (2015) for more detail on the Northern cemetery project
Yale archaeologists discover earliest monumental Egyptian hieroglyphs (June 20 – Yale News)
NS: Investigating the importance of Prehistoric Rock Art has been one of the key strengths of research done at Yale University. Recently, their team announced some new findings:
“A joint Yale and Royal Museums of Art and History (Brussels) expedition to explore the the ancient Egyptian city of Elkab has uncovered some previously unknown rock inscriptions, which include the earliest monumental hieroglyphs dating back around 5,200 years. These new inscriptions were not previously recorded by any expedition and are of great significance in the history of the ancient Egyptian writing systems, according to Egyptologist John Coleman Darnell, professor in Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale, who co-directs the Elkab Desert Survey Project.”
DNA discovery reveals genetic history of ancient Egyptians (June 23 – CNN.com)
NS: Researchers from the Max Planck Institute at Jena as well as the University of Tübingen in Germany reported their findings in analysing the genome of deceased ancient Egyptians from Abusir el-Meleq and found that these individuals showed similarities to groups from the ancient eastern Mediterranean (incl. Anatolia and Mesopotamia). While the scope of their investigation shows strong limitations, their study:
“took 166 bone samples from 151 mummies, dating from approximately 1400 B.C. to A.D. 400, extracting DNA from 90 individuals and mapping the full genome in three cases. […] Modern Egyptians were found to “inherit 8% more ancestry from African ancestors” than the mummies studied. The paper cites increased mobility along the Nile, increased long-distance commerce and the era of the trans-Saharan slave trade as potential reasons why.”
- The Observer: “DNA Testing on Mummies Reveals Surprise Ancestry for Ancient Egyptians”
- Link to the original paper published in Nature 8 (2017) – doi: 10.1038/ncomms15694.
Fragments of Thutmose I Temple Discovered in Storage (July 3 – Archaeology.org)
NS: Some of us here in Toronto are acutely aware of boxes filled with dinosaur bones that were hidden away in storage in a well-known local museum. In Egypt, numerous blocks have recently been ‘rediscovered’ belonging to a temple from the reign of Thutmose I. These blocks were hidden away in a tomb on the Theban West Bank, where they were kept in storage.
“Thousands of stone blocks being kept in storage near Luxor turn out to be remains of the temple of the 18th-Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose I (r. ca. 1504-1492 B.C.), according to a report from Science & Scholarship in Poland. Egyptologist Jadwiga Iwaszczuk of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences first identified some of the fragments, which were housed in a tomb that is used as a storage facility by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The fragments were excavated in the 1970s, and at the time were thought to belong to a temple built during the reign of Hatshepsut, who was Thutmose I’s daughter. In fact, that temple was discovered in recent years in the Ramesseum, the memorial temple of Ramesses II. Iwaszczuk identified the fragments as belonging to the temple of Thutmose I because the temple’s name appeared on some of them.”
- Science & Scholarship in Poland: “Polish Egyptologist identified fragments of a lost Egyptian temple… in a storage”
Sixth century medical papyrus uncovered (July 12 – Ahram Online)
NS: A ceremony was recently held with notable figures (incl. Greek politicians, Coptic priests) to announce the rediscovery of a manuscript from the sixth century AD. The manuscript contained excerpts from a medical text of the well-known Greek physician Hippocrates.
“Mohammed Abdel-Latif, assistant minister of antiquities for archaeological sites, explained that the discovered manuscript is one of those known as “Palmesit” manuscripts, dating to the 6th century AD. The manuscript is written on leather and bears parts of a medical recipe of the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates. The manuscript has also three other medical recipes written by an anonymous scribe, one of which contains drawings of medicinal herbs of the Greek recipe. The second layer of writing found on the manuscript is a text of the Bible known as the “Sinaitic manuscript,” which spread during the Middle Ages. Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archeology documentation at the ministry, told Ahram Online that “Palmesit manuscripts” are a very well-known type of manuscript written on leather and formed of two layers. The first one, he explained, was previously erased in order to be re-written on the leather again. “This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time,” Al-Nimr pointed out.”
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Let us know in the comments which latest discovery has been your favourite!