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From the Trenches Volume 59 Number 3, May/June 2006

Exceptional discoveries seem to be the rule of the day in Egypt. Archaeologists are still assessing seven apparently 18th Dynasty coffins and 28 jars found in a chamber in the Valley of the Kings. Five of the coffins and 10 of the jars reportedly hold mummification materials, such as linen and natron (the natural salt used to dry bodies). Pending study of the remaining coffins and jars, it is too early to say if the chamber was used solely for mummification or also served as a cache to which burials from other tombs were moved for safe keeping.

Egyptians also hid objects for safekeeping near the Red Sea, where dismantled ships were stored in six man-made caves. Archaeologists found ropes and timbers, some numbered to aid in reassembly for future journeys and others complete with marine incrustations from past voyages. The 4,000-year-old site, located along the Wadi Gawasis, was probably a launching port to the fabled Punt, a source of ebony, ivory, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

A sun temple discovered beneath an outdoor marketplace in Cairo could be one of the largest structures built by Ramesses II. Archaeologists have found two partial statues (above), a pillar inscription, a kiln for amulet manufacture, and wheat storage rooms. On one of the statue fragments, Ramesses II wears a leopard-skin robe, attire usually reserved for priests. Cairo wasn't the only spot in Egypt with spectacular accidental finds this season. An Egyptian-German team discovered 23 life-size, black-granite statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet while performing restoration work on the temple of Amenhotep III in Luxor. The goddess of war and retribution was already known to be a favorite of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities has also been active in the U.S., demanding the St. Louis Art Museum return the mummy mask of a 19th Dynasty noblewoman, Ka-Nefer-Nefer, that it says disappeared from the storage area at Saqqara sometime after 1959. The museum bought the mask in 1998 from an antiquities dealer.

The St. Louis museum is not the only American institution facing scrutiny. Italian authorities, having struck a deal with the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the repatriation of 21 artifacts, are now pressuring Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and the Princeton University Art Museum for the return of dozens of objects thought to have been illegally excavated and smuggled from the country. Meanwhile, Peru is preparing to sue Yale University in the U.S. courts for the return of Inca artifacts that Hiram Bingham brought to the Yale Peabody Museum from excavations at Machu Picchu in the early 1900s. The Peruvian government says that the objects traveled to the United States with the understanding they were on temporary loan. Yale disputes this.

* For more news, see "World Roundup."

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© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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