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. This summer has seen a wealth of new discoveries and research, with much excitement generated by the discovery of an intact, black sarcophagus in Alexandria. Another intriguing find was the identification of the world’s oldest cheese from the tomb of an Egyptian official at Saqqara.
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 2018 (English or Arabic).
Osiris statue discovered in First Ancient Egyptian Pyramid (July 1 – Luxor Times)
Nile Scribes: While conservators worked to restore the famous Third Dynasty step pyramid at Saqqara, they uncovered a bronze figurine of the god Osiris that had been placed there as a votive offering in a gap between large stone blocks during the Late Period.
“The archaeological team working on restoring and maintaining the Djoser Pyramid in the Saqqara necropolis have uncovered a bronze statue of the god Osiris, during work on the western façade of the pyramid, according to a Facebook post by the Ministry on Antiquities on Sunday. Mostafa al-Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the statue was found inside a small hole between huge stone blocks located in the front area of the pyramid. It was uncovered while removing waste.”
Cache of Pottery Vessels Found in Alexandria (July 4 – Archaeology News Network)
NS: It is quite astonishing what can be rediscovered during simple restoration work. That is what researchers felt, when they conducted conservation work in the inner garden of Alexandria’s Graeco-Roman Museum. They (re)discovered a cache of over 100 pottery vessels which was most likely hidden there during World War II to be kept safe.
“The Ministry of Antiquities found a cache containing hundreds of pottery vessels, dating back to the Graeco-Roman, Coptic and the Islamic eras, during restoration works carried out in the inner garden of the Graeco-Roman museum in Alexandria known as the “Patio”. Dr. Mostafa Waziri, General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that after finding the cachette, a committee from the Alexandria Antiquities headed to the museum to archaeologically inspect the cache.”
Ptolemaic-Era Black Granite Sarcophagus Discovered in Alexandria (July 5 – Smithsonian)
NS: This discovery caused much international interest as the sarcophagus was found intact. The sarcophagus presented an initial problem of further investigation to its enormous size and weight, but was eventually opened and, aside from much sewage water, contained the skeletal remains of three individuals – two men and one woman. DNA tests might be able to determine more about the relationships between these three persons (if there are any). You may have read also about a petition to bottle the sarcophagus’ water, though analyses have shown this to be nothing more than sewage water.
“The ancient sarcophagus was found by local authorities during standard archaeological excavations conducted before the construction of a new building on Al-Karmili Street. It was found approximately 16 feet below ground. A rough alabaster bust of a man, likely a depiction of the body in the coffin, was also discovered in the tomb, which is believed to date from the era of the Ptolemies, the Greek royal family dynasty that ruled for roughly three centuries from 305 to 30 B.C.E.”
Archaeological chambers uncovered in Alexandria (July 12 – Ahram Online)
NS: Excavations at the site of Marya near Alexandria revealed remains from Roman and Byzantine times including chambers, column remains, and coins.
“A number of Roman and Byzantine chambers have been uncovered during rescue excavations carried out in Mitt Abu Al-Kom at Marya site in Alexandria. Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explained that one of the discovered chambers has walls composed of huge stone blocks at right angles with burry remains of Roman structures, while the second chamber has marble columns smoothly carved in Doric order Roman style, in addition to a large number of coins. The rest of the chambers have Byzantine walls, which contain blocks of stone of irregular and unequal sizes with spaces filled with weak Byzantine mortar, much of which deteriorated.”
Archeologists in Egypt discover mummification workshop (July 14 – CTV News)
NS: Working in an area near the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, researchers have unearthed a communal burial shaft and the remnants of a mummification workshop from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. Some of the related finds include canopic jars, vessels and measuring cups, and a stunning gilded mask.
“Among the artifacts found were fragments of mummy cartonnages, canopic cylindrical jars and marl clay and faience cups. Many will be displayed in the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum, the first phase of which is expected to be inaugurated later this year. Archeologists also found a gilded silver mask on the face of a mummy in a badly-damaged wooden coffin. The mask, the first to be discovered since 1939, belongs to a priest.”
Oldest-ever ancient Egyptian workshop discovered in Aswan (July 25 – Ahram Online)
NS: In Upper Egypt, archaeologists have discovered the oldest known ceramics workshop in Egypt, dating to the end of the Old Kingdom. Features of the workshop included a potter’s wheel made of limestone as well as tools and circular holes for mixing clay.
“The discovery is an important and rare one,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Ahram Online, adding that this is the oldest workshop ever found in the country. Waziri explains that the discovery gives insight into the daily lives of ancient Egyptians as well as the development of pottery and industry throughout Egypt’s different dynastic periods.”
Burial chambers of two Middle Kingdom officials discovered in Egypt’s Minya (July 31 – Ahram Online)
NS: The site of Beni Hasan is renown for the high-status burials of officials that were active there during the Middle Kingdom. An Egypto-Australian team working at the site has just announced the (re)discovery of two tombs containing lovely relief scenes.
“The discovery was made while the team was carrying out cleaning work inside a tomb at the Beni Hassan necropolis in Minya governorate. No mummies or sarcophagi were found in the burial chambers. Ashmawi told Ahram Online that no funerary collection was found inside the main burial chamber, explaining that the collection “was probably removed by British Egyptologist Percy E. Newberry, who worked in Beni Hassan necropolis between 1893 and 1900.”
Mummy Yields Earliest Known Egyptian Embalming Recipe (August 15 – National Geographic)
NS: An Egyptian mummy that was brought to Turin’s Museo Egizio in the early 1990s, since nicknamed ‘Fred’, has undergone some recent tests that revealed an earlier embalming ‘recipe’ than had previously been known. Scholars have assumed that all of Egypt’s prehistoric mummies were made through the natural preservation of the ancient desert, but recent analysis of the Turin mummy revealed that a paste of plant oils, resins, and gums had been applied to his skin to help the mummification process.
“The study also suggests that early embalming practices were much more widely spread than once thought. The wrappings analyzed in the earlier study hail from a part of Egypt that’s over a hundred miles north of where the Turin mummy was likely preserved. So how did ancient Egyptians figure out the recipe so long ago? “Some of these ingredients may well have had a symbolic significance initially,” Buckley speculates. “But then they noticed that they had a preservative benefit.” The team is now studying sites of early experimentation with embalming ingredients, says Buckley, hinting at a future publication.”
Construction Workers Discover a Buried Sphinx in Egypt (August 16 – Hyperallergic)
NS: The announcement of this discovery has been a bit misleading in its coverage – a photo of the Great Sphinx of Giza was often used as the reference photo, hinting that another monumental sphinx had been found. Discovered along the processional way between Karnak and Luxor Temples, the sphinx was found amidst construction work aimed at increasing access for tourists. The sphinx itself dates to ca. 380 BC and was found overturned.
“Egyptian archaeologists have announced the discovery of a new sphinx in Luxor, 670 kilometers south of Cairo. While excavating the Great Processional Way – also known as Al-Kabbash Road, which connects the famous Luxor and Karnak temples – construction workers found the new sphinx upside-down and besotted with a dusty mixture of mud and sand. It is a human-lion hybrid, indicating a temporal or thematic difference from the nearby procession of ram-headed sphinxes.”
Archaeological mission studies 2 ancient pieces discovered in Kom Ombo (August 16 – Egypt Today)
NS: In the process of removing groundwater from the temple at Kom Ombo, two stelae were discovered which date to Ptolemaic times. In one, king Ptolemy XII (father of Cleopatra VII) is shown in the common “smiting the enemy” motif.
“The two pieces, made of sandstone, belong to King Ptolemy XII; one of them is dome-shaped and topped with a sun disk bearing the image of Ptolemy XII and his wife the fifth Cleopatra with their daughters. The piece contains 29 lines of hieroglyphic writing. He pointed out that the other piece has the image of Ptolemy XII holding in one hand a whip and the other a prisoner before the triad Kom Ombo. The piece also has two texts; 29 lines of hieroglyphic writing and 33 lines of Demotic.”
World’s oldest cheese confirmed in Egyptian tomb (August 17 – ABC News Australia)
NS: Cheese connoisseurs, rejoice! Archaeologists working at Saqqara have uncovered some jars with puzzling contents from a recently rediscovered tomb approximately 3,500 years old. After subjecting the jar’s white substance to a range of analyses, researchers identified it to be a very well-aged cheese.
“The cheese was found in the tomb of Ptahmes, a 13th-century BC mayor of Memphis, Egypt, and according to a new study in the journal Analytical Chemistry it is probably the most ancient solid cheese ever discovered. ‘The sample was wrapped with a canvas into a broken jar,’ said lead author Enrico Greco, from Italy’s University of Catania. ‘The archaeologists suspected it was a kind of food left for the owner of the tomb and they decided to ask for chemical analyses.’ The team used unconventional scientific techniques to identify it as the remains of a solid cheese made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk.”
Archaeological inspection unearths a partial Ptolemaic necropolis in Alexandria (August 27 – Ahram Online)
NS: A series of rock-cut tombs dating to the Ptolemaic Period were discovered in an initial inspection in Alexandria’s Western Cemetery. The burials contained a number of vessels made from clay and glass, although the overall condition of the tombs are very poor due to continuous vibrations from a nearby railway. The tombs were situated around an open courtyard which might have been intended for visitors bringing offerings to their deceased.
“Aymen Ashmawi, the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, said that the mission also unearthed a collection of lamps decorated with animal scenes and a cistern for funerary rituals, along with a number of clay and glass pots. A collection of skeletons and human bones were also uncovered. “Early studies show that this necropolis had been used across several historical periods and that it was dedicated to impoverished citizens,” Ashmawi explains. He added that some of the tombs featured coloured and decorated layers of plaster, while other parts were coloured less.”