Saturday, 23 April 2016

Research into Ancient Egyptian Shrews Reveal Species

Interesting article about shrews in Ancient Egypt in the Smithsonian Insider.  Here is a taster:
"Nocturnal, solitary and fiercely territorial the adult Egyptian pigmy shrew—one of the smallest mammals on earth—weighs just 7 grams. French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire first described this tiny-eyed, pointy snouted insect eater in 1826 from 2,000-year-old mummified specimens excavated inside an ancient temple in Thebes, Egypt. He named it Crocidura religiosa, or the sacred shrew.
“Egyptian pilgrims coming to worship a god would buy a mummified shrew from the temple priest and present it as a votive offering,” explains Neal Woodman, shrew expert and U.S. Geological Survey Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “One way of getting your request to the gods was to have a messenger.” A mummified shrew or other animal associated with a particular god served as that messenger.
Today, C. religiosa and other ancient shrew mummies are the emissaries of a different message. Using X-rays to penetrate their linen-wrapped bodies, with “the right angle and a good image of the skull,” Woodman is able to identify what species they are. “I’ve been working with an Egyptian archaeologist who is also interested in animal mummies and animal mummification. I have been identifying shrews from the images that she sends me. It’s been interesting.”
Six species of mummified shrews have been identified, Woodman explains. “Of these, one species is extinct, and another no longer occurs in Egypt.” He is now attempting to create a simple identification key to the various shrew species of Egypt, one that archaeologists who find shrew mummies in temples around Egypt can use."
Image via Smithsonian Inside
Read full article here

Afternoon Tea at the Pyramid

This photograph really evokes a past elegance of travel to Egypt

View from a guest room in the late 1920s at Mena House, Egypt
Image via Mena House Hotel

Thursday, 21 April 2016

At the Mummies Ball

Sheet music for At The Mummies Ball (1921)
Would love to hear this played!

Photo by megaeralorenz on Flickr

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

8 Year Old Discovers Egyptian Amulet

An amulet bearing the partial name of the Pharaoh Thutmose II of the Eighteenth Dynasty was discovered by an 8 year old girl in Jerusalem.

"A Jerusalem girl is being credited with unearthing an ancient Egyptian amulet while participating in an archaeological dig when she was just 8 years old.

City of David officials recently announced the extremely rare discovery made inside Jerusalem’s Emek Tzurim national park, after taking four years to authenticate the estimated 3,200-year-old relic.

The pendant-shaped amulet bears the partial name of Pharaoh Thutmose III of the Eighteenth Dynasty. It also has a hole at the top that would allow it to be strung, officials said in a press release.

Neshama Spielman, who is now 12 years old, said she was participating in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, a volunteer-based dig, when she found the unusual object.

“While I was sifting, I came across a piece of pottery that was different from others I had seen, and I immediately thought that maybe I had found something special,” she said in a statement. “It’s amazing to find something thousands of years old from ancient Egypt all the way here in Jerusalem!”

Read the full story here

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Pyramid and the Devil

Image via Urban75blog

A visit to the graveyard adjoining St. Andrew's Church in Rodney Street, Liverpool will greet you with a big surprise...literally! A fifteen foot tall, granite pyramid towers above the regular shaped graves, dominating the vista and casting a shadow over its neighbouring sleeping residents. The monument marks the resting place of William MacKenzie, a civil engineer and railway contractor, who died in 1851. MacKenzie and his pyramid receive plenty of local attention and the grave is listed as a "must see" tourist destination in several Liverpool guidebooks. 

The story of MacKenzie and his tomb has become an embroidered local legend which over the years has been quoted as a sworn truth. It is said that MacKenzie, a heavy gambler, lost a game with the Devil (in disguise as the mysterious Mr Madison) and forfeited his soul in payment of his debt. The Devil stated that he would claim MacKenzie's soul upon his burial. Another variant of the story is that MacKenzie asked the the Devil's help in order to win a game with high stakes, for which the Devil agreed in return for MacKenzie's soul. 

Image via Alchetron

MacKenzie, in order to cheat the Devil from claiming his prize, left instructions that upon his death he was to be placed sitting upright in a chair at a card table holding a winning hand of cards. By not being buried, MacKenzie hoped that the devil would be unable to subject him to eternal damnation in Hell! The story has been developed over time with an addendum: tales of MacKenzie's ghost are often reported as being seen within the churchyard.

Whilst I am all for a good ghost tale, I am afraid that the story doesn't add up. Firstly, let's take a look at the inscription:

"In the vault beneath lie the remains of William MacKenzie of Newbie Dumfrishire, Esquire who died 29th October 1851 aged 57 years. Also, Mary his wife, who died 19th December 1838 aged 48 years and Sarah, his second wife who died 9th December 1867 aged 60 years. This monument was erected by his Brother Edward as a token of love and affection A.D. 1868. The memory of the just is blessed".

We learn from the above that the pyramid was erected some 17 years after MacKenzie's death, not as a direct result of MacKenzie's will. Secondly, the inscription - on a bronze plaque over the door of the tomb - states that he was interred in a vault beneath the monument, thus laying false claim that he had been buried below ground. A third point to make is that similar tales can be heard in other parts of the UK. For instance, at Saint Thomas à Becket’s churchyard in Brightling, East Sussex, a twenty-five foot pyramid is dedicated to John "Mad Jack" Fuller. Here, Fuller is said to be sat upright at a table upon which is placed a roast chicken and bottle of wine!

Despite the obvious discrepancies, the story continues to draw people to the cemetery to see the pyramid. The area is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Liverpool and the tale of MacKenzie and the Devil continues to add to its thrill. 

Blocks from Queen Hatshepsut's reign discovered on Elephantine Island in Aswan

Image via Ahram Online
Ahram Online reports today that stone blocks from the reign of Hatshepsut have been found on Elephantine Island during excavation work by a German-Egyptian mission.  They are from a barque's way station for the god Khnum:
"Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department Mahmoud Afifi said the new discovery was important because it would give scholars some insight into the religious rituals practiced on the island during Hatshepsut's reign. It could also shed more light on the mysterious queen herself during the early period of her reign and her engagement in the Aswan region.
"This is one of very few buildings discovered from the early period of Queen Hatshepsut," Afifi told Ahram Online, adding that the only other one was discovered in Karnak."
Read the full article here.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Well-dressed Victorian tourists at the Pyramids

I love this photograph of two very well-dressed tourists with the pyramid in the background.  Dated probably to the late nineteenth century.

Image via