Just go look at the photos

Massive Head Of Pharaoh Unearthed In Egypt : NPR

Damn, I wish I had seen this article before I posted the Reuters one. It has Amenhotep face-planted, which is far, far more hilarious.

I will give mad props to whoever comes up with the most inappropriate, yet hilarious description of that position.

Amenhotp III statue head surfaces in Luxor

King Tut's grandfather's statue head surfaces in Luxor
| Reuters

Pretty cool. Sourouzian keeps finding all kinds of cool stuff in what used to be the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. This time it's the head of a colossal statue that they probably found the body of a while back.  For scale, the head is about as tall as a person.
If you look at the photo, you can get an idea of the amazing quality of the sculpting. The sort of rectangular notch was probably to hold on a separate decorative element. He's wearing the white (bowling pin) crown of Upper Egypt (the south), which is usually associated with the vulture goddess, so the uraeus is probably to represent Renenutet spitting at his enemies.
His cheekbones are highly modeled and he has a faint smile and the corners of his mouth drilled. Really beautiful work, especially in granite (probably from Aswan). His nose is intact too, which is really nice, because statues have a habit of falling face first and smashing off their noses.
Amenhotep seemed to be sort of obsessed with youth - it seems that the later in his reign you get, the younger he appears to be in depictions. In actuality, he was probably a rotten-toothed, fat bastard near the end of his life. It's possible he even went so far as to ask some vile Asiatics for help - his father-in-law (AIII had a lot of wives, including a daughter of the king of Mitanni), and Tushratta of Mitanni was kind enough to send a statue of Ishtar said to have healing powers. (However, reexamination of the Amarna Letters suggests that the statue came to bless the marriage of the princess of Mitanni and Amenhotep III and not to heal his fat ass...)
It's sort of amazing to see these huge things coming out of what was a flat, boring looking field the last time I was in Luxor (which was 2004). You have the two colossal statues of Amenhotep III (one of which is the Colossi of Memnon that used to sing at sunrise until some stupid Roman messed it up) and then...a field. No sign at all of the immense mortuary temple at all. It was actually sort of weird to see those statues just sitting there.
Apparently, judging by the recent finds, there's some pretty awesome stuff under the field, though.


Egyptology Snark: In which I talk about talking about ancient Egypt

Before we get started talking about the Predynastic period in Egypt, I think I need to cover a bit of background first. The biggest thing to keep in mind when looking at the Predynastic or any other prehistoric culture is that this is before writing. Duh, you say, we knew that, gahhh. Well, yes, duh, but it's important to bear in mind because it means that a hell of a lot more is inferred. Excavation and artifacts and knowing their precise context is much more important. Being able to translate hieroglyphs, maybe not so much. From the American perspective of the place of prehistory and archaeology and Egyptology in academia, the Predynastic frequently is more the purview of people trained as anthropological archaeologists rather than Egyptologists. Not always the case, and obviously anyone working on Predynastic stuff better have a familiarity with all of Egyptian history, but it definitely makes for a different flavor or interpretation and writing. The anthropological perspective also tends to lend itself more to the application and discussion of archaeological theory than later periods (Egyptologists are frequently criticized for their “lack of theory” which is an essay for a different time and probably a different audience because once I start down that road, madness lies ahead and I'm perfectly willing to blame at least some of the damaged spots visible on my brain MRI on reading waaaaaaay too much theory as both an undergrad and grad student).

Because the Predynastic is in large part prehistoric, it often gets short shrift in popular histories, which is kind of sad. I understand it though. It's difficult to write a history of people when you don't know names or language or have a more concrete historical framework and have gaps and things that don't make sense and not a hell of a lot of representational art to draw on for additional information. It's really cool, though. The pottery is beautiful, some of the most beautiful in Egyptian history. (Seriously, Egyptian pottery from most periods is ugly as hell – crumbly, coarse, rough utilitarian stuff.) The chipped stone stuff – tools like arrowheads, spear points and knife blades made from flint or chert – nice glass-like rocks that flake off into beautiful, sharp pieces when you hit them with another rock – is amazing both technically and aesthetically. And you can see the very beginnings of traditions that would last for thousands of years of Egyptian culture. Sometimes I think it might be fun to teach the Predynastic after surveys of later Egyptian history and play the “so, what does this remind you of?” game. Plus, most of what we know of the Predynastic comes from graves and I love cemeteries. Not sure why I do, I just do. Yes, settlements are important and I wish there were more extant to be excavated in Egypt, but I like cemeteries better. In part, I think, because they are what we do have a ton of and there's a lot of information to be gained from careful examination of them. You can squeeze a hell of a lot of data out of cemetery – age/sex profiles, pathology, broader demographic data, cultural practices, diet, industry (based on grave goods), gender and age differences and distinctions, points of contact with outside cultures in the form of trade or other relationships. You can look at robbery patterns and figure out when people were robbing the tombs, what they were taking (based on what seems to be a typical set of objects from unrobbed tombs), etc., etc.

Ahem. Enough about cemeteries. Before we go further, I should probably set the stage a little better. So, we're talking about Egypt. (Yes, thank you, totally missed that bit...) Nicely enough, the boundaries of modern Egypt are more or less the same as ancient Egypt. There were occasional expansions to the south into Nubia (modern Sudan) and northeast (Sinai, Israel/Palestine, etc.), but Egypt was usually everything from the Delta up at the Mediterranean south to the first cataract of the Nile (modern Aswan). While that is a huge tract of land, most of it is desert. The majority of settlement and other activity was and is concentrated on the river banks right up against the Nile through most of the valley and in whatever higher ground there is in the swampy bits of the Delta. The long term settlement and use of cultivable land makes archaeology a bit challenging. People are still living on and working a lot of the settlement and farming areas and turfing them out just to see if there's cool old stuff under them is typically discouraged. The Nile itself has also changed course over time, taking with it stuff that was at one point on the river bank. That's another reason why cemetery remains are so much more common – they tend to be in the desert near, but not in, the cultivation. And, being in the desert, they also take advantage of hot, dry conditions that are so lovely for preservation. Also, a lot of tombs include stone elements or are entirely constructed of stone, which tends to last longer than unbaked mudbrick, which was the preferred building material for houses from everyone from the lowliest peasant to the king himself.

Much is often made about “Egypt was never isolated because of natural borders, blah, blah, deserts, blah, little outside influence, blah...” Well, sort of. It is a bit challenging to march an army across the little strip of land up by the Sinai (and thus fairly easy to defend that bit of land), naval landings were challenging until at the development of better boats (and even Napoleon had problems), and moving north from Sudan would have been challenging given how rugged the landscape is, how little there is in the way of natural resources their to maintain a supply line, plus the problem of the cataracts. And then there's desert on the west and east. So, invasion was, yes, a challenge. That doesn't mean there wasn't contact though and people moving through, some of them staying, from all over the place. From very early there is evidence of trade with Nubia to the south and West Asia to the north and east. In later periods there is evidence of people who have names that aren't of Egyptian linguistic origin, plus depictions of them as not typically “Egyptian” living in Egypt, often with apparently Egyptian spouses and children given Egyptian names. (Names are a complicated thing for determining ethnicity. Think about most Americans, for example, and look up their given names – how many of us are actually of the ethnic origin our given names come from? And then think about African Americans descended from former slaves, many of whom just took their former master's surnames. Or immigrants whose names were either changed by immigration authorities or “normalized” or “Anglicized” to make them easier to pronounce or make it easier to “fit in.” But if you have names, plus other evidence, like artistic depictions or a text that says “yeah, I was a Nubian mercenary, but Egypt seemed cool, so I stuck around...” it can be done.)
So there were clearly people coming north from Nubia in addition to trade goods like gold, incense (from even further south in Africa), ivory, etc., and people coming west and south from West Asia, particularly what is now southern Israel, in addition to wine and olive oil. This is part of what makes discussing Egyptian race or ethnicity so challenging – how do you define race? Do you use modern terms? If you do, isn't that anachronistic? And what modern terms or definitions do you use? Egyptians thought they were “Egyptian” and idealized their depictions to typically show men as red-brown and women and older people as yellow-ish. Did they all look like that? Probably not. They probably weren't universally muscular and vigorous and not balding or slim and graceful with no love-handles or cellulite either. And I'm pretty sure that despite depictions of Osiris with a green face or Ahmose-Nefertari with a blue face no one was actually green or blue. It's a complicated issue and fraught with problems and is something I'm not really going to get into much more because, frankly I find it distracting from talking about the Egyptians themselves, which is what I'm supposed to be doing here.

So, with most of the background set, (hopefully), next time I will actually get to the Predynastic.

ETA:  In re:  the map - burial on the west bank of the Nile was preferred, but every burials and cemeteries appear on the east bank, too.

ETA2:  Again in re:  the map - the actual outlines of the colored areas don't mean anything.  It's just my hands were shaky today and this wouldn't have been posted until next week if I'd waited until the lines were all nice and clean.  :P  


Ravelympics Progress

Well, I've gotten to the part of my sweater where the sleeves start, so yay.  I watched Night of the Generals last night and knit the whole way through it.  That whole sci-fi marathon idea never really happened.  I seriously doubt I'll finish in time, but I have a huge hunk of the sweater done, so that's awesome.

I am also too lazy to take a picture, so just imagine the last pictures I posted only longer and with little sleevy things out to the sides.

Tired and achy today and I may turn in early in hopes of resetting my sleep schedule for a few days on daytime vs. vampire.


Awesome Project Mercury Photo

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/NASA
I found this on the Wiki page about Project Mercury when I was making sure I hadn't mixed up the Redstone and Atlas rockets.  Every time I see this image I think it's either heavily Photoshopped, a painting, or a sci-fi book cover.  It's a pretty awesome monument.  I'm glad they didn't leave Deke out, even though he didn't fly a Mercury mission.

Crochet Mercury Redstone and Atlas

Ms Premise-Conclusion has done it again! I featured her earlier crocheted rocketry a while back.  Now there is more early NASA awesomeness - this time the Redstone and Atlas rockets used for the Mercury launches - the first manned launches in the US. The Redstones managed to heave the Mercury capsules into sub-orbital flights (Shepard and Grissom) and the Atlas managed orbital flights for all the remaining men of the 7 chosen as astronauts except for Slayton who was grounded for health reasons.
The also sent up chimps. Supposedly because they could be trained to perform some tasks in the capsule and thus give an idea about action and function during spaceflight, but I rather like the theory that it was just because someone at NASA hated chimps.


More Re: Tut and Egyptological articles

So, I gather from commentary on some of the other Egyptology blogs I keep an eye on plus the Discovery Channel feed that there is already controversy regarding the results of the DNA testing.  I'm having a series of brain foggy days (if I haven't beaten new people over the head with it already, I have health issues that occasionally affect my cognition) so take this with a grain of salt:

As far as I can tell a lot of the controversy isn't so much about the contents of the JAMA article so much as what has been said publicly, primarily by Zahi Hawass, about what the results mean.  Sigh.  For anyone who knows/knows of ZH, this isn't all that surprising.
I suspect a lot of the controversy has been further fueled by media reports which are themselves in many cases based not on the actual JAMA article, but on press releases and other interviews.

I haven't seen a whole lot of the secondary stuff primarily because a) my TV isn't hooked up for broadcast/cable and I'm usually disinclined to watch them on my computer; b) I tend not to watch or read interviews with officials because they frequently just irritate me and while that can be entertaining, well...

Anyway, what I gather is that there are issues regarding the id of KV55 dude as Akhenaten.  Partially because of some chronological quibbles regarding length of reigns and the projected age of the skeletal remains, partially because being son of Amenhotep III and Tiye plus father of Tutankhamun doesn't necessarily automatically = Akhenaten so far as some people are concerned.  Part of this stems from the method of chromosomal analysis, part of it from the possibility that the mummy of Amenhotep III is incorrectly identified, partly on the basis of what I will call here the Smenkhare issue (who was he, what was he, etc. etc.)
For example, one person has suggested an alternative pedigree in which the mummy of Amenhotep III is actually Akhenaten and KV55 is Smenkhare.

At the moment, I am willing to trust the JAMA article as it goes and I am not inclined to think that it's totally incorrect.  I am also totally willing to be proved wrong.  Playing with ancient DNA is fraught with complications and issues and is a new thing for everyone.  The history and familial relationships of the Amarna period are all kinds of confusing and complicated.  The history/news as entertainment environment surrounding this whole issue doesn't help matters at all as we have people giving interviews saying some things, an article that says something else entirely or is at least not as concretely sure about things, plus personalities and pet theories and so on involved that make things even more whacked out.
I'm not prepared to get into that here for the moment.

I reported the results from the JAMA article as I understood them and tried to put them into historical context and tried to avoid too much theorizing based on them.

If you want some of the more fun and informed theorizing and other commentary, here are some links to blogs with some goodies (and links to yet more goodies):

Egyptology News
News from the Valley of the Kings

I don't have the energy at the moment to evaluate all the issues (srsly, makes me slightly dizzy; pedigree charts are annoying enough, but add in a heaping helping of incest and I'm just like "dude, they were all fucking each other and then they died, the end!"), but if anyone has particular questions and wants to ask me, feel free.

In other news, I'm hoping to try doing a regular article once a week or so, beginning with the Predynastic.  I toyed with the idea of setting up a separate blog to do it, but I'm too damn lazy for that.  So, I'm leaving it here.  The subtitle of the blog is "A Selection of Craftiness and Randomness" after all.  So, it'll be like a treasure hunt or a dig or something - sift through the blathering and "holy shit, I'm broken, where is my warranty!" and dog stories and amigurumi photos for the Egyptology.  Bwahahaha.


Originally uploaded by simplypeaceable
This sweet little bluebird caught my eye today. Isn't it nifty? Even more awesome - it's simplypeaceable's first time designing her own amigurumi pattern. Very cool!



There must be some way I could incorporate this into my cane, right?


Thanks, peoples!

My page visits seem to have jumped quite a lot in the past day or so, which is very nice to see.  Hi!
I'm reasonably certain a lot of that is thanks to Samurai Knitter who also blogs about knitting and science (her favorite flavor is botany) and history and other fun stuff in a lovely, snarky manner.  Also, she has a cat named Sekhmet and a daughter likely to become a mad scientist in the near future, so really, staying on her good side before they (the cat and daughter) take over the world is probably a good idea.

One of my Egyptological buddies (in fact we started grad school together lo these many years ago) gave me the transliteration for "Suck it, old man" -  snqy s i iAw.  Glad to see all those years of hard work paid off.  I genuinely appreciate him saving me the effort of trying to figure it out myself.  I firmly maintain that the weird MRI spots on my brain are located directly over the Egyptian language storage centers.  :P

I'm contemplating trying to do some treatments of Egyptian history in the same way as the Tut stuff on a semi-regular basis.  I had a lot of fun writing these past posts without having to worry about appropriate tone and footnotes and crap.  So, we'll see where that goes.  Requests are welcome.  As it is, I may well just start up with the Predynastic and work forward.

Commentary on the recent Tutankhamun research Part 4: Everything I Couldn't Fit in the Other Sections

If you've stuck with it this long, congratulations and thank you!

One of the awesome things about mummies is that you get not only skeletons, which themselves can provide a truly amazing wealth of information about society in general and individuals in particular, you also get at least partial preservation of some soft tissues.  This gets you even more information.

Nearly everyone in both the 11 Tutankamun potential-relatives group and the less or non-related control group show signs of scoliosis or even kyphoscoliosis (abnormal curvature both side to side as in scoliosis and also front to back).  Everyone has at least some minor dental issues. Yuya and Thuya both had malaria, but lived into their 50s or 60s.  Amenhotep III had a club-foot, as did the two women from KV21 and Tut.  Tut and Akhenaten had cleft palates.  And Akhenaten seemed to have some bone issues.  Several individuals had what is being called “incisional hernia.”  Unfortunately there is no further information about this so whether this means hernias related to prior abdominal surgery (which seems to be the most common definition of “incisional hernia”) or something else is unclear.  Dammit.

There idea of some sort of epidemic striking near the end of Akhenaten's reign has been put forth for years. Something sucked big-time in Hattusa and seems to have made its way west to Egypt.   It's been postulated to have caused the seemingly sudden end of the reign and the disappearance of key figures like Nefertiti and Akhenaten himself, and possibly his mother Tiye.  The genetic analysis, though, only showed evidence of malaria.
That doesn't, of course, rule out the epidemic, it just means that what the disease in question was is still open to debate and speculation.

KV35YL – the “Younger Lady” - aka Tut's Momma
The “younger lady” had her face freakin' smashed in, people.  I think most of us assumed that was post-mortem damage, maybe occurring in the course of a tomb robbery, partial tomb collapse, or when she was moved from her original resting spot into the KV35 cache.  Instead, it appears that the cause of death was having her face smashed in.  Damn.  I can't find any more details indicating whether this was from falling, from being hit and if so, with what, etc.  Also, we don't have the greatest idea of timeline here – did she die before or after Tutankhamun became king or died?  Her precise identity is still unclear.  She is probably not Nefertiti or Kiya but may be one of the daughters of Amenhotep III that he didn't marry, such as Nebetiah or Beketaten as mentioned in the JAMA article.  Not being particularly interested in the Amarna period, I know their names and that's about it.  We totally needed another
mystery woman.
Warning:  Black and white photo of the mummy of the Younger Lady after the jump.  If you're squeamish, you might want to close your eyes.  I honestly can't judge as I like digging up skeletons.

Commentary on the recent Tutankhamun research Part 3: Tutankhamun

Before progressing with my wall o' text, I thought I'd mention that the following books have been very handy for jogging my memory and providing other tidbits of information.  They are both lavishly illustrated, too, which is nice:
"The Complete Tutankhamun" by Nicholas Reeves

"The Complete Valley of the Kings" by Richard Wilkinson and Nicholas Reeves

Regarding Tutankhamun's parentage a variety of suggestions have been put forth:  Amenhotep III and Tiye?  Amenhotep III and minor wife or other woman?  Akhenaten and Nefertiti?  Akhenaten and Kiya?  Akhenaten and someone else?  Smenkhare?  Most have thought Akhenaten and someone other than Nefertiti, probably the lesser wife, Kiya, were the likely candidates.   Others, arguing for an extended period during which Amenhotep III and Akhenaten reigned together as co-regents suggested Amenhotep III as Tut's father based primarily on iconographic evidence.  There isn't a lot of other evidence for the co-regency though and I've always thought it unnecessarily complicated an already ridiculously complicated history.  We now have the parentage issue resolved to be Akhenaten and an unknown woman who probably neither Nefertiti nor Kiya.  Based on the analysis, the parents of Tutankhamun were full siblings (feel free to sing Dueling Banjos or make whatever references to West Virginia in particular or the South in general here).  Neither Nefertiti nor Kiya are attested as daughters of Amenhotep III so they are probably not Tutankhamun's mother.  Amenhotep III married a few of his daughters (not going there!) which presumably precludes them from having been married again later on, so the daughters that are left are Nebetiah or Beketen.

I'm sure everyone remembers a few years ago the mini Tut show on tour and the National Geographic sponsored facial reconstruction that looked like Barbara Streisand and the sort of associated, oooh, Tut was murdered press.  Especially the headlines that said “Tut was murdered” over articles that said “actually, we're not sure, he busted his leg and stuff.  We're going to interview this random retired police detective and see if he thinks a teenager separated from him by several thousand miles and a few thousand years was murdered.  Because that's science, kids!”
Previous research suggested a fall and cranial damage which was later found to be caused during the process of mummification rather than during life.  An unhealed leg break suggested another possible cause of death.  There has also been speculation regarding various genetic diseases or defects affecting Akhenaten and/or Tutankhamun.

While there is evidence of various genetic problems leading to skeletal abnormalities, these are not themselves sufficient to have caused death.  They did cause a degree of disability and help to explain the large number of canes found in Tutankhamun's tomb.  It's worth noting here that Tutankhamun remains the largest, best known intact royal burial found in Egypt.  (There are the 22nd Dynasty royal burials from Tanis, but that's a separate story...) Because it's our only example, it's very difficult to establish what was “typical” for a New Kingdom royal burial in the Valley of the Kings and what wasn't.  So, when over 130 walking sticks were found, it was noted as interesting, but not much more was made of it. In particular, Howard Carter speculated that Tut may have been something of a collector of walking sticks, and it was noticed that several of them show clear signs of use, but so far as I know, no one suggested that they might actually have been necessary mobility aids for the young king.  For all we knew, maybe there were always a bunch of walking sticks included.

He definitely needed mobility aids, though – his left foot was seriously messed up – joint abnormalities, evidence of bone necrosis, in general, the poor kid was probably in discomfort a lot of the time and needed his collection of canes.  There was also a “pharmaceutical kit” in the tomb, consisting of Zizyphus spina-christi L. Willd, Coriandrum sativum L., Cocculus hirsutus Diels, Juniperus oxycedrus L., as well as raisins and dates, all of which were used internally and/or externally to treat pain, fever, fatigue, and various other symptoms you'd expect from a severe foot deformation and malaria.  And the authors of the JAMA paper note that there are a few scenes of Tutankhamen showing him seated during activity that is usually shown with the king standing, which could be a nod to his disability.

They've also found evidence of malaria infection in Tut and several of the other mummies examined.  This is pretty interesting, especially given the distribution of ages in the study. Some fairly old adults (Yuya and Thuya) show evidence of malaria infection.  While it could mean that they weren't infected until late in life, I find that very unlikely.  More likely, as the JAMA article notes, is that most people had a degree of resistance to malaria, as is seen in areas where malaria is endemic today.  Very interesting.
Overall, the question of how Tut died is still open as there is no single injury, infection, or genetic problem that alone would have caused death.  Multiple factors and combinations of infection, the genetic skeletal problems, the broken leg, etc., could well have killed him though.  Also, someone smashed his mom's face in (more on that later).  Who knows when the hell that happened, though.

Also, because I am incredibly immature, a direct quote from the article:
“The penis of Tutankhamun, which is no longer attached to the body, is well developed.”  
As noted before with Akhenaten, no word on moobs.


Commentary on the recent Tutankhamun research Part 2: Akhenaten

KV55 mummy  (newly confirmed)

Did he have some a genetic disorder affecting his appearance?
One of the biggest areas of speculation regarding Akhenaten, the broader Amarna period, and the artwork of the period is whether the frankly weird-looking depictions of Akhenaten represented how he actually looked or whether they were a deliberate attempt to combine male and female traits in the person of Akhenaten as the living priest of Aten.
Amarna period art is frequently described as “realistic” or “naturalistic” which has added fuel to the fire of “ZOMG, he must have looked all kinds of weird,” because everything else looks so “real” compared to Egyptian art from other periods. Thus, Egyptologists, random medical doctors, and a variety of other people have suggested all kinds of potential causes for the long, narrow face, broad fleshy hips and thighs, man-boobs, etc. Things like Marfan's, Froelich's, Klinefelter, and a few others, some of which would have rendered him sterile, which made explaining the existence of at least 6 daughters somewhat complicated. The latest genetic and CT analysis indicated that the mummy identified as Akhenaten did not have any of these syndromes, nor did Tutankhamun.
In actuality, I would argue that Amarna style art isn't significantly more “realistic” compared to more traditional ancient Egyptian art. Different things were depicted in different ways, like the intimate scenes of family life with Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their six daughters and there is a more fluid, less rigid feel to many of the depictions. But it's important to note that during the period almost EVERYONE is shown with a weird elongated head, long neck, spindly arms, and super long fingers. Why? Because artistic conventions tended to trickle down from the top in all periods of strong central control, including during the Amarna period. In short, royal depictions were imitated. So, while the king has a weird-ass head and crazy spindly arms, so does everyone else. One of the best places to see this is in the tomb of Ramose at Thebes (TT55). Ramose was a vizier for Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father. He began work on his tomb well before his death, as all good, wealthy Egyptians did. A large portion of his tomb is very typical mid to late 18th Dynasty style work done during the reign of Amenhotep III. People are shaped normally. The freakin' Aten disk isn't everywhere. Then there's a break (see the West Wall, north side), where a very different style appears from the very early part of Akhenaten's reign, while he was still Amenhotep IV. The back of the head on everyone is suddenly elongated. Their arms are all spindly. Mouths are carved a bit differently. Hips are a bit wider. Now, did everyone suddenly change the shape of their skulls or is this an artistic convention? Listeners of Coast to Coast AM may well disagree, but I'm going with artistic convention. And the recent study backs me up – in addition to the genetic analysis, they did CT scans and calculated cephalic indexes. Neither Akhenaten nor Tutankhamen, (nor anyone else but Yuya – Tut's great-grandfather) have an index indicating an elongated cranium.
The JAMA article does note that the remains Tutankhamun and Akhenaten are not really in a condition to tell if they had moobs, though, so if you want to run with that, I guess you can. I'd wear a sports bra, though.

Akhenaten's Burial
In 1907, Edward Ayerton, the archaeologist working for the wealthy American collector, Theodore M. Davis found KV55. The tomb had been disturbed in antiquity. In the entrance corridor was one leaf of a door for a shrine made for Tiye, Akhenaten's mother. More pieces of the shrine were found along the corridor as they continued clearance. The shrine had been commissioned by Akhenaten, but his names had been removed prior to the inclusion of the shrine in the tomb. Inside the tomb was a wooden anthropoid (human shaped) coffin with a crook and flail (things the king carries) and a bronze uraeus. Most of the gilded face had been ripped off below the eyes and all the cartouches had been erased. A set of canopic jars (used to hold internal organs) was also found. These had originally been prepared for Kiya, one of Akhenaten's minor wives, but were later adapted for use by someone else. Also in the tomb were a few other funerary items, including magic bricks inscribed for Akhenaten. The mummy itself (skeletonized by that point, but still wrapped) had gold bands bearing the name of Akhenaten. In addition, there were seal impressions found on the floor suggesting that the burials of both Tiye and Akhenaten had been moved from tombs at Akhetaten by Tutankhamun after the abandoment of the new city.
Davies decided that he had found the tomb of Queen Tiye and published it as such. I could suggest polite reasons why he decided that, but instead I'll just say he was an arrogant jerk and leave it at that. Others weren't so certain. There was debate as to the age and sex of the mummy (more accurately “skeleton”). The bones were sent up to Cairo for analysis by Grafton Elliot Smith, who examined and published early medical analyses of many of the royal mummies in the early 20th Century. Rather than identifying them as an older woman (as one would expect for Tiye) Smith initially thought they belonged to a young man.  In fact, there's a letter from Smith in Cairo back to Luxor where he's all "Dude, are you sure you sent the right mummy?  I thought it was going to be a chick?  This skeleton is a total sausage fest." He later revised this as a “young” man wouldn't fit the historical record for Akhenaten and pushed the age into roughly middle age. Other, more recent studies, have suggested the man was “young,” further complicating things, because Akhenaten reigned too long to be "young" when he died. And then there's what we know of Akhenaten and the Amarna Period itself.

Above:  Akhenaten grins knowingly at everyone who will be confused about his identity for the next century

One of the things that Akhenaten is known for is picking up and moving the capital and most of the people needed for administration to a brand new city in the middle of the desert. A favorite professor has long suggested that this was because Akhenaten was batshit crazy and the new city of Akhetaten served as one nice big insane asylum for his crazy ass while other people did their best to keep the country running. While that professor has drunk long and deep of Haterade where Akhenaten is concerned, it's not the worst idea ever and I find it entertaining to think about even though we'll probably never know for sure. I guess maybe I should add that to the time-travel to-do list.
Anyway, one of the things Akhenaten did with his new city was post boundary stelae – a bunch of big carved rocks with his bloviating on them. Sort of like the huge-ass signs all over Illinois announcing who the mayor, the governor, etc., are. On these, he talks about founding his city and how he will never leave, even if his best-beloved wife, Nefertiti asks him to. And there's some gushing about the Aten.  Ooooh, shiny, shiny sun disk thou art so wonderful!  If I stare at you long enough I see pretty pictures in my brain.  What else is new?
In addition, he started construction of tombs in the nearby hills for himself, his family, and his courtiers. Pretty typical – Egyptian kings tended to be buried close to their principle residence and courtiers were often buried near the king or in an elite cemetery near major administrative centers. There are some beautiful elite tombs from Saqqara from this time period, including the one Horemheb was building before he became king. Saqqara being located near ancient Memphis which was one of the principle administrative centers in Egypt.  So, since Akhenaten was so emo for the Aten and his perfect new city, a lot of people had trouble believing that the skeleton found in KV55, in other words, in Thebes was actually Akhenaten.
Add to that the steady, deliberate erasure of everything to do with Akhenaten, his crazy-ass Aten worship, his new constructions, and anything to do with him and people had an even harder time believing the dude in KV55 was Akhenaten as it was speculated that his mummy might well have been destroyed.
Contradicting that was the significance generally given to preservation of the body for the afterlife. Usually preservation of the name is important as well, but as Akhenaten's name was being steadily erased, maybe preserving his body was that much more important.  I'm still crazy impressed that the skeleton in KV55 is him.
To be honest, I was never really sure though I had serious doubts that the KV55 remains were Akhenaten. I had also somehow missed the information about the other inscriptional material in the tomb, including the mummy bands, though, so if I had paid more attention to that in the past, I think I would have been more likely to accept the KV55 skeleton as Akhenaten.
In any event, the DNA results indicate that it is in fact Akhenaten. I sort of hope Davies is stomping around in the afterlife all kinds of butthurt about being wrong.  Possibly being mocked in ancient Egyptian by Tiye and Akhenaten themselves.   Any of my Egyptological friends want to pitch in with how to say "suck it, old man" in ancient Egyptian?

More on Tutankhamun himself and other things later today or tomorrow.

Commentary on the recent Tutankhamun research Part 1

Apparently information was leaked early.  I was down with a cold and therefore not up to saying much but "wow, really?" the past few days.
I've since got my hands on the Journal of the American Medical Association articles.  I'm kind of pissed that the meat of the info is in a restricted access journal, but that's a bitch-fest for a different time.
There is a ton of info to be gleaned from the information presented.  Some long-standing questions answered and now some new ones brought to light.
I think I'm going to post this in pieces and even then, it's going to be long.

First of all, they looked at a set of 11 royal mummies all thought to date roughly to the Amarna Period - late 18th Dynasty to determine possible familial relations among them.  Of these 11, only 4 were definitively identified (as in their names and titles) prior to the study.  A further 6 mummies from the early 18th Dynasty were examined as a control group.  Most of the interest and information is related to the study set of 11, but there were a few bits of interesting information gleaned from the re-examination of the control group.

Remains examined with known identities prior to recent analysis:
Tutankhamun – KV62
Amenhotep III – KV35
Yuya – KV46, father of Tiye, chief royal wife of Amenhotep III
Thuya – KV46, mother of Tiye

Remains examined with only speculated identities prior to analysis (new identifications in bold):
KV55 – male, age 35-45, speculated to be Smenkhare or Akhenaten.  Akhenaten
KV35YL – (YL = younger lady), speculated to be Nefertiti, Kiya, or some other royal lady.  Tutankhamun's mother and full sister to Akhenaten (specific identity still unknown, possibly Nebetiah or Beketaten, NOT Nefertiti or Kiya as neither of them are attested as daughters of Amenhotep III )
KV35EL – (EL = elder lady), speculated to be Nefertiti or Tiye.  Tiye
KV62 – 2 female stillborn fetuses buried with Tutankahmun, speculated to be his daughters or some type of “ritual offering” to ensure rebirth or eternal youth.  Daughters of Tutankhamun
KV21A - 18th Dynasty royal woman.  Possibly the mother of Tut's daughters, but data insufficient for definite identification as their mother and/or as Ahkhesenamun
KV21B – 18th Dynasty royal woman (?)

Some other notes:

Aside from Tutankhamun and Yuya and Thuya (who were buried together), none of these individuals was found in their original tomb.  The numbers given (KV##) stand for King's Valley plus the tomb number, which are more or less in order based on the order in which they were found/excavated.  Tutankhamun, for example, was buried in KV62.  Sixty-two was the highest KV number until the very recent discovery of KV63, the late 18th Dynasty burial cache thingie.  Because Tut was also found in KV62, we could call his mummy by that same designation, but most people don't bother, especially since we know who he is.
The others, however, were almost certainly not in their original tombs.  Robberies were a major issue in the Valley of the Kings, especially during times of unrest and loss of central administrative control as happened at the end of the New Kingdom and at various other periods.  From time to time, the officials in charge of the necropolis would gather up the mummies from disturbed tombs and whatever easily portable funerary equipment came to hand and move them all to what they hoped was a safer spot.  Those they could identify they did, usually with a quickly written note.  There are two significant caches.  
One is the Deir el-Bahri cache (DB320) located near but not in the Valley of the Kings.  It held quite a diverse group – several 17th Dynasty Theban kings and queens, a few Ramessid kings (19th - 20th Dynasties) and a group from the Third Intermediate Period and people of various high ranks from the Second Intermediate Period, New Kingdom, and Third Intermediate Period.  The cache was originally found by some local men in the Abd el-Rassul family in around 1881 and they began slowly selling items from the cache.  Of course, people started to notice the appearance of some very nice pieces on the antiquities market and an investigation, including some brutal tactics by the local officials led to the Abd el-Rassuls.  The actually held out under severe interrogation, but one  of the brothers decided they'd do better to fess up, get what money they could, and quit having to worry about it, so they went to the authorities and the Antiquities Service was called in.
The second cache is KV35, originally the tomb of Amenhotep II, was found by Victor Loret in 1898.  It contained a few 18th Dynasty royals, including Amenhotep II and III and a few Ramessids of the 19th and 20th Dynasties.  Three of the mummies recently studied were found here – Amenhotep III and the two ladies called the “Elder Lady” and the “Younger Lady.”

Later today or tomorrow I'll get more into the meat of discussion about the recent findings.  


Internet sabbatical

Just a quick note.
I'm feeling dreadful the past few days and so have decided to take an internet break today (yes, I just woke up and got out of bed, that's what delayed sleep phase disorder plus chronic pain does to you).  I hear the Tutankhamun DNA results were leaked earlier today and while I find the preliminary data fascinating, I'm also not really in any condition to say much about other than "wow, cool.  Wait, what?"
So, planning on curling up with a book and fighting off headache and sore throat with rousing fantasy fiction.
Hopefully I can get my hands on a copy of the JAMA article when it's actually published later this week.  I am most interested to see the results as presented there rather than 2nd and 3rd hand through the press.

On another note, so far as I know, I was totally right about Tut not being a chick.  :P


Ravelympics Progress 2/12 and 2/13

Last night I knit a gauge swatch, cast-on, and did the first 3 rows of the cardigan I'm hoping to knit for the Ravelympics.

I was super excited to see the handy little place-marker and counter Lion Brand now has on their pattern pages - very cool.
Today, I did a few more rows of garter stitch while watching The Meaning of Life. I was going to do a sci-fi/fantasy marathon, but we had this awesome stout and cheddar rarebit for dinner and I thought we needed something more quintessentially British. And I'm saving Doctor Who for my less divided attention, so Monty Python it was.

The blurry photos from my web-cam are after this evening's work. I like working with super bulky yarn - it works up quickly, the needles are big and so less likely to cramp my hands, and it feels all squisy-soft.
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Neuro News

I finally received in the mail today approval for a visit to the movement disorder specialist at Rush.  Yay!  I called to make the appointment and was told they needed a consultation request from my doctor.  Booo!

Fortunately, today was my follow-up with my neurologist.  So there is news:
There is a new spot on my brain.  Today was the first day I actually got to see the blasted report and images (the douchetastic duo weren't exactly good about that) without having to crane awkwardly or get pushy .  This new one is on the left toward the front.  Just a little dark spot.  There's a similar one on the right that's been there a while.  Could be from migraines, could be something else.
Cervical spine shows a bit of wear and tear, but nothing terribly out of the ordinary.
With this in mind, we may do a repeat spinal tap in a couple of months to check for signs of MS again.  I am absolutely thrilled by this prospect.
Actually, my current neurologist has a soul and basic human compassion and has already assured me she will give me meds as needed and be sure they use a very small diameter needle this time so hopefully we won't have a repeat of the 12-day long spinal headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, crying jags and nightmares.  You know, after I was told a spinal tap was "nothing.  You'll be back up and around the next day, no problem.  Just take some Tylenol and it will be fine."  And then, when we called and told them about spinal headache, etc., etc., "oh, well, just come by the clinic on Monday and we'll try to fit you in."  Because being upright and waiting in a waiting room is such a fun prospect when being prone is pretty much the only way to keep from puking from the spinal headache.  I was totally going to just toddle on over to the medical center.  No need to send me to the ER for a blood patch or meds for the excruciating pain or anything.  (Yeah, still ever so slightly bitter about that.  Jerks.)
In the meantime, she is going to get in touch with the guy at Rush and see what he has to say, try to get me in to see him and we'll all decide whether to do the spinal tap or not.

Also, I'm about ready to mutiny the next time they want me to do the heel-toe balance walk.  It sucks, I can't do it, I weave all over and almost fall and very nearly strain muscles trying to keep from falling.  Kind of tired of it.


Today's experimentation

I've been playing with polymer clay some more for an already late birthday gift. Awesome.
Anyway, this lovely blurry photograph with the glare from my desk lamp shows some of the pieces prior to baking. I'll try for better photos post baking.
I really love the marbleing you can pull off with the clay. A whole lot. I need to get better at piercing round beads though. My clever plan to use bamboo skewers is not working as well as I'd like - I don't want holes that big/beads big enough to have holes that big in them.
Must re-plot.
I do have to say, though, I am loving my new clay blade. The shape cutters I have are cool, but the blade is super extra awesome.
Once this project is done I have some archaeologically themed stuff in mind.
Oh, and Ravelympics starting Friday night. Tee hee.

In other news, I think Oreo frightened someone away today. I was in the back of the apartment and am fairly certain I heard someone open our screen door. Usually this is the mail arriving. This time it wasn't. Oreo barked most ferociously and for much longer than usual with the mail person. And it wasn't the mail because it arrived several hours later. Much praise for my ferocious protector.
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I had another MRI today.  I think this is my 4th time.  Head and cervical spine with and without contrast this time.
In the past, I've been all braggy-pants about getting through them quickly because I hold still fairly well.  Clearly, I have jinxed myself because today I was twitchy as hell.  We had to repeat several passes because my neck kept jerking.  This was INCREDIBLY annoying.  I'm used to compensating for my involuntary movements.  I have a variety of strategies to do so including:
  • Swearing
  • Tensing the muscles in question, which works for a brief period but often results in more movement when I finally relax or sometimes sort of shifts the movement elsewhere.  This works best with my hands for short periods of time for fine work and sometimes with my trunk when I'm having major issues through my trunk and pelvis.  Key term here is "short periods."
  • Swearing some more.
  • Relaxing.
  • Holding my breath, which is okay for things like blood draws on super-twitchy days, but isn't exactly a useful strategy for more than about a minute.
  • Moving with the movement.  Obviously not good for holding still, but does sometime help with discomfort.
  • Swearing yet more.
  • Distracting myself.  I'm not entirely sure whether this actually reduces the movements or if I just stop paying attention to them.  I tried this in the MRI and I'm not sure it helped.
Anyway, my neck and shoulders still ache like hell from lying on my back with no head/neck support for 2 hours along with alternately tensing and relaxing trying to keep still.  Grrr.  I'll ask next time I have one ordered if it's worth getting the sedative/anti-anxiety med they offer to claustrophobics to see if that will cut the muscle twitches/tremor.

I had noticed an increase in tremors lately in my head and neck - sort of nodding or shaking, but very slight but hadn't realized quite how pronounced it could be until I had to try to hold still.  My legs and lower back were going too, but that wasn't as noticeable or as big a deal.  

I had them put the IV in while I was lying down today.  This time the nurse just came into the MRI suite to do it and was very nice about it.  As she noted, she'd much rather walk down the hallway to put it in than have me pass out in her chair in the prep room.  I didn't feel anything with the contrast injection this time, which is a first - I usually feel either a warm flush or a cool rush.  

Still waiting to hear back from the insurance company about seeing the fancy-pants guy at Rush.  (I should maybe stop calling him "the fancy-pants guy" but whatever.)  Giving them until early next week before I start nagging.


Hand-made Pots

I was racking my brain for a blog post today and remembered that 3 years ago I was happily exploring the town of Kareima, Sudan just before we set off for our dig sites further north in the 4th cataract.

A few of us went off for a walk near the house we were staying in and literally stumbled upon this pottery production area. I was super excited.

You can see the pots all formed and at the leather-hard stage prior to firing, including the nice little holes in the ground to hold them as they dry.

There's a also a shot of one of the firing pits with wasters and random sherds in it.

There was no one around the whole time we poked around, which was disappointing.

These are all the same type of pot, called a zir. They're made of Nile silt, usually with lots of coarse temper, especially organic stuff like straw, animal dung, palm straw, etc. After firing they're fairly coarse. They're used for water storage - there are stands all over the place for these pots and a cup nearby to sip out of - the answer to water fountains when plumbing isn't that common. The coarse nature of the pottery helps keep the water cool.

In a lot of ways, this mode of production has been the same for thousands of years, which is pretty cool.

The very last photo is from the zir stand/alcove in the house we stayed in.  The zir there was virtually identical to the ones we saw off in the palm groves by the Nile.  Very nifty.

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Things I do not expect to hear from the Tut DNA press conference on the 17th

Hawass To Announce King Tut DNA Results : Discovery News

1.  The names of any of the other researchers involved.
2.  Tut's actually a chick.
3.  Tut's not entirely human.
4.  Discussion of how that $5 million for the DNA lab could have been used for preservation and rescue/salvage work

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Crochet Saturn V

Crochet Saturn V
Originally uploaded by Ms Premise-Conclusion
I am having serious nerd-gasm here. I've talked before about my love of the early US space program. In my idea notebook there is a page devoted to ideas for amigurumi and other crocheted items and space stuff is on it. I don't know if I would be quite ambitious enough to do the Saturn V or patient enough to try to keep in in scale, but Ms. Premise-Conclusion did both!!!
I am in awe. Sooooo nifty cool.
Even better - there's a pattern for sale in her Etsy shop! Get your nerdy butts over there, people!

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas...

So, the Luxor casino, hotel, etc. in Las Vegas decided to abandon their Egyptian theme, or at least the "museum" part of it a few years ago.  I don't pretend to understand why.  I managed to visit the place once before the decision and there was much hilarity.
I did not, however, pay the admission fee to see their "museum/reproduction of the tomb of Tutankhamun" because a) I'm cheap and b) I figured the odds of being thrown out for being snarky were fairly high.
Apparently, the contents of the Tut tomb imitation are now in the possession of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.
I'm not sure how I feel about this.  In some ways, it's awesome to make these types of objects more accessible to the general public.  But they aren't authentic.  I'm not sure how carefully the original objects were reproduced.  I'm not sure how well curated the exhibit itself was at the Luxor is is now.  While providing access to objects is important, providing accurate information is at least as, if not more, important.  As it is, I figure we'll go have a peek next time we visit my family in Vegas.  I do find it curious that while the various stories stress the "care" with which the objects were recreated, I can find no reference to consultation with an Egyptologist for the exhibit.

Some news articles about the new exhibit:
Las Vegas Sun
Las Vegas Review Journal