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From the Trenches Volume 59 Number 4, July/August 2006

It hasn't gotten as much press as the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, but the Egyptian Grand Mufti's religious edict, or fatwa, forbidding statues in Egyptian homes has people talking. Not only are members of Egypt's small but growing community of sculptors alarmed, but scholars have voiced fears that Sheikh Ali Gomaa's fatwa could put the country's ancient heritage at risk. They point out that the fatwa could encourage fanatics to attack ancient pharaonic sites. In an interview with a group of American journalists the Mufti seemed to backpedal, telling them that "When people open a museum and put statues in them, I respect that. But why would you not respect me if I were to think in another way?"

The fatwa hasn't slowed down Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. He continues to press the St. Louis Museum of Art to return the mask of Ka Nefer Nefer. The 3,000-year-old mummy mask was excavated in 1952 at Saqqara, but disappeared from storage sometime after 1959. Good thing the museum has a money-back guarantee in it's $500,000 contract with the dealer if they are forced to return the mask to Egypt.

Newly announced radiocarbon dating of the eruption of Thera confirms ice core and tree ring dates that have the Bronze Age in Greece beginning earlier than traditionally thought. The new dates are more evidence that scholars need to rethink the timing of links between Aegean and Near East cultures. Such links are apparent at a Mycenaean site that scholars are calling Ajax's palace on the Greek island of Salamis, where inscriptions have been found bearing the name Ramesses II. The Iliad has Ajax, the cousin of Achilles, sending 12 ships from Salamis to Troy. One of the great icons of Homer's epic, Ajax committed suicide when the armor of Achilles was awarded to Odysseus. Such stories may be the subject of a 2,500-year-old stone coffin found in Cyprus. Archaeologists say the warriors on chariots depicted on the coffin are intended to represent heroes from the Iliad.

Speaking of icons, it seems the most recent examination of King Tut has resolved one of the questions that has been burning on the minds of Tut aficionados for years, namely: where is his penis? It was present when he was discovered in 1922, but a 1968 X-ray study of Tut's mummy failed to turn it up, leading to speculation it was stolen. Never fear, says Zahi Hawass, Tut's member is no longer MIA. It was found lying loose in the sand the body was resting on, detached from Tut, but still intact.

* For more news, see "World Roundup."

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© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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