Is this Mummy the Wife of Akhenaten?
After subjecting an ancient Egyptian mummy to digital x-ray scanning and forensic analysis, University of York Egyptologist Joann Fletcher has tentatively identified the remains as those of Queen Nefertiti, wife of the “heretic pharaoh” Akhenaten (1352–1336 B.C.).
Nefertiti’s sinuous beauty is captured in a famous limestone bust (below) excavated in 1912 at Tell el-Amarna, the site of the ancient capital of Akhenaten (Amenophis IV). Despite post-mortem blows to the mummy’s face, she seems to resemble the sculpted Nefertiti—with a swan-like neck, aquiline nose and high cheekbones.
For Fletcher, however, the evidence is more than skin deep. She decided to examine the mummy—one of three found in the tomb of Amenophis II (1427–1400 B.C.), Akhenaten’s great-grandfather, in the Valley of the Kings—when she recognized a Nubian-style wig lying near the mummies. These wigs were only worn by royal women during the reign of Akhenaten. Closer examination of the “Nefertiti” mummy revealed that her skull had been shaved and her forehead still retained the clear impression of the brow band worn by royalty.
“Think of the famous tight-fitting tall blue crown worn by Nefertiti [as seen in the limestone bust], something that would have required a shaved head to fit properly,” Fletcher told the Discovery Channel. “The mummy also has a double-pierced ear—a rare fashion statement in ancient Egypt—which can also be seen on busts of the queen and one of her daughters.”
The violent treatment of the deceased’s body may be the best evidence that the mummy is indeed Nefertiti. Following the deaths of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, their radical monotheistic cult, in which the sun-disk Aten was worshiped as the universal self-created creator, was overthrown by the traditional priesthood, and the names and likenesses of the king and queen were erased from reliefs, statues and monuments. Not only does the mummy show evidence of blows to the skull, but her arm was ripped off and her chest was smashed in—presumably in attempt to eradicate all remains of the sun cult.
Oetzi Update #732
Even though he’s been dead for 5,000 years, the man found frozen in the Italian Alps in 1991 still has sex appeal. Alex Susanna, director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where the man’s body is now on display, has received numerous requests from women who want to bear Oetzi’s child.
The letter-writers apparently believe that samples from Oetzi can be used to produce either cloned or sperm cells. Susanna has turned down all requests.
When Helmut and Erika Simon first came upon Oetzi’s corpse emerging from glacial ice, they assumed he was an unlucky fellow hiker. Later, scientists noted that Oetzi was clad in a deerskin tunic and wore boots stitched with animal tendons; he also carried a bow, arrows and a copper ax. Radiocarbon dating revealed that he lived about 5,000 years ago. Oetzi probably died as a result of an arrow wound in his shoulder, which suggests that he was the victim of foul play.
Visiting the Eternal City
Armchair archaeologists, listen up! UCLA’s Cultural Virtual Reality (CVR) Lab allows you to visit fourth-century A.D. Rome from the comfort of a theater seat. Since January, a computer technician using modeling software in a control booth has led viewers sitting in front of a curved screen through the bustling streets of the Roman Forum.
Participants feel as if they are swooping, flying and strolling in and out of 22 of the Forum’s temples, courts and basilicas (above) in a three-dimensional, archaeologically accurate landscape.
Restoring the Forum to digital clarity after 1,600 years has been no easy task. Architects, classicists and computer specialists working on the project have gathered data from archaeological reports, ancient artwork, historical photographs and images on coins. Information on ancient lighting, ventilation and acoustics has been factored into the computer model, enabling scholars and students to study the effects of weather, crowds and noise on various buildings. A study of lighting conditions in the Senate building (below), for instance, has revealed that its interior would have been rather gloomy.
This trip to ancient Rome is open to the public free of charge. Viewing is by appointment only, and the lab provides an experienced tour guide at the helm.
It may take many years, or even decades, but the team hopes to create a digital model of ancient Rome in its entirety, a project dubbed “Rome Reborn.” As Bernard Frischer, director of the CVR Lab points out, “It would be more accurate to think of Rome Reborn as an ongoing scholarly journal than as a one-time scholarly book.”
The first vending machines, invented around 200 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, dispensed “holy water” used by worshipers to wash their hands and faces before entering temples. A coin inserted into a slot on the top of the machine would fall on a lever, pulling open a valve (rather like a toilet flusher) and releasing water through a spout. This gadget was described by Heron, a first-century A.D. Alexandrian who was a resourceful inventor himself.
Antiquities Authority: They’re Fakes.
Or Are They?
A committee of textual scholars and geology specialists appointed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has declared the inscriptions on two seemingly spectacular objects to be forgeries.
The committee’s conclusion, however, directly contradicts earlier findings by other scientists. This contradiction and the failure of the committee to release a scientific report at the time of the announcement have left some people convinced that the last word has not yet been said.
Under scrutiny were the so-called James Ossuary, a first-century A.D. bone box inscribed with the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” (shown above), and the Jehoash Tablet, an 11-inch-high stone slab (below) on which the ninth-century B.C. Judahite king Jehoash supposedly recorded repairs he had made on the Temple in Jerusalem.
The bone box and tablet had previously been examined by members of the Geological Survey of Israel, who found patina—a thin encrustation that forms on objects over a long period of time—on the surfaces and inside the incised letters of both objects. In addition, the bone box inscription was deemed authentic by the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, which displayed the box last fall.
Adding to the complexity of the case was the involvement of Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan. Golan owns the bone box and had possession of the tablet when it was seized by the IAA for study (Golan says he does not own the tablet but was acting as an intermediary for the owner).
If authentic, the objects would be among the most important Bible-related items yet known. The inscription on the bone box—if the “Jesus” referred to is indeed Jesus of Nazareth—would be the earliest reference to the biblical Jesus in the historical record. The tablet, said to have been found near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, would be the earliest reference to Judaism’s holiest site and the only object definitely connected to the Temple built by King Solomon.
Although IAA director Shuka Dorfman branded both inscriptions as frauds, he noted that the bone box was indeed an authentic first-century A.D. ossuary. “The committee concluded without a doubt that the two inscriptions are forgeries,” Dorfman said, at a Jerusalem press conference on June 18.
However, two geologists on the committee found that the name “Jesus” on the box might be authentic—a point almost completely overlooked in news reports on the IAA’s findings. The two were Yuval Goren, of Tel Aviv University, and Avner Ayalon, of the Geological Survey of Israel. Goren examined the inscriptions of the Jehoash Tablet and the James Ossuary and found that in both cases the incised letters cut through the ancient patina—except in parts of the word “Jesus,” indicating that the word was ancient.
Ayalon also found that the patina inside the letters of both inscriptions did not match the patina elsewhere on the objects. The geologists concluded that forgers were responsible for both inscriptions and that they had tried to cover their tracks by placing an ersatz patina inside the letters to make them appear ancient. It is not clear whether the committee considered the possibility that this “ersatz patina” could have been placed inside the letters by some other means—such as the inscription’s having been scrubbed with a cleanser.
The bone box came to light last year when the internationally known Sorbonne paleographer (expert in ancient scripts) André Lemaire saw it in Golan’s collection and recognized its potential significance. The box received worldwide attention last October when Archaeology Odyssey editor Hershel Shanks announced its existence at a Washington, D.C., press conference. Lemaire described the box and its inscription in the November/December 2002 issue of Archaeology Odyssey’s sister publication, Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Jehoash Tablet was made public earlier this year after scientists at the Geological Survey of Israel declared it genuine, based on the presence of patina inside the letters. But questions about the tablet were raised almost immediately. Linguists noted that some of the letter forms and spellings did not date to the time of King Jehoash (c. 835–801 B.C.).
Confirming those suspicions, the IAA committee declared that the Jehoash Tablet was inscribed in modern times. Committee member Avigdor Hurowitz, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, found the tablet’s text “very charming” but the work of someone who thinks in modern, not ancient, Hebrew. Most telling was the tablet’s use of a phrase that means “to make repairs” in modern Hebrew but meant the opposite—“to cause damage”—in ancient Hebrew.
Among those who remain skeptical of the IAA committee’s findings is Archaeology Odyssey editor Shanks (see this magazine’s Web site: www.archaeologyodyssey.org). Shanks notes that earlier tests supported the authenticity of the bone box. “Unless a new test is performed under exemplary conditions,” he writes, “the world will forever be plagued by doubt and uncertainty.”
The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art
Princeton University Art Museum
October 11, 2003 through January 18, 2004
Fantastic satyrs, centaurs, sphinxes and other composite creatures played a central role in Greek myth and art. This exhibit features ceramic vases, reliefs, bronze statues and jewelry culled from the Princeton University Art Museum as well as other collections in the U.S., France and Spain, all depicting human-animal images from the Late Geometric to the Early Classical Period.
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
August 23, 2003 through December 14, 2003
American, Canadian and European collections have contributed 130 objects to this exhibit documenting children’s lives in ancient Greece. Painted vases, sculptures, grave monuments and ancient toys—as well as a partial recreation of an ancient Greek house—show the Greeks studying, playing and growing up.
Frederick Schultz to the Pokey
Antiquities Dealer’s Appeal Denied
On June 25, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction of New York antiquities dealer Frederick Schultz for conspiracy to receive stolen property consisting of Egyptian antiquities. Schultz was sentenced to a prison term of two years and nine months.
In cooperation with confederates, Schultz had imported into the United States antique Egyptian sculptures that had been coated with plastic so that they would look like cheap souvenirs. Upon reaching their destination, the plastic coating was removed. The Shultz gang also created a provenance for the items, the “Thomas Alcock Collection,” an entirely fictional creation said to have been assembled in the 1920s. The conspirators even restored the pieces with 1920s restoration techniques.
Schultz’s major defense was that the property was not “stolen” under the American law because it had not been taken from a museum or private owner, but rather had been illicitly excavated. The government claimed it was nevertheless stolen—from the Egyptian government under Egypt’s strict so-called patrimony law. The court agreed.
Under Egypt’s patrimony law all antiquities discovered after 1983, even antiquities found on private property, belong to the Egyptian government. Whether such antiquities should be regarded as stolen by an American court was the principal question. In 1977, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had applied a Mexican patrimony law in a similar situation. For a quarter century the correctness of that decision, known as the McClain case, has been fiercely debated by lawyers.
In the Schultz case, the court agreed with the McClain decision. The Schultz court stated, “We see no reason that property stolen from a foreign sovereign should be treated any differently from property stolen from a foreign museum or private home.”
Schultz could seek review of the decision in the Supreme Court, but it is unlikely that that court, whose jurisdiction is discretionary, would agree to hear the case since two appellate courts have now reached the same decision.
It’s (not) Alive!
In late 2002 a mummy at Boston’s Museum of Science took a trip to the hospital. The 2,500-year-old mummy of a man in his late 20s, which arrived in the U.S. some 80 years ago, was transported to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to undergo CAT-scan analysis.
The doctors immediately noticed that the mummy had a severely contorted spine, and they feared that they had a murder mystery on their hands. The CAT scan revealed, however, that the damage to the spine was inflicted after the patient’s death, probably during the mummification process. The analysis also revealed that the mummy’s bones were those of a man unaccustomed to hard labor—perhaps a scribe, priest or merchant.
Save the Eye-Doctor’s Mosaics!
A Haunting Mix of Christian and Pagan Images
Unless a worldwide fundraising effort launched last spring is successful, one of Europe’s most significant assemblages of Roman mosaics may soon be reburied and removed from public view.
The fourth-century A.D. villa housing the mosaics was uncovered in 1880 in a farmer’s field at Brading on the Isle of Wight, just off the coast of southern England. For more than a century, the villa and its mosaics have been shielded from the elements by a rusty metal roof whose days are now numbered.
A 1994 flood further endangered the mosaics, which include a satiric depiction (above) of Caesar Gallus (gallus is Latin for “cock”), ruler of the eastern Roman empire from 251 to 253 A.D., as well as classical mythological scenes and (probably) Christian imagery. In 2001, the World Monuments Fund included the Brading Roman villa in its list of the world’s 100 most-endangered sites.
David Tomalin, an archaeologist and a trustee of the non-profit organization that oversees the site, told Archaeology Odyssey that the villa’s owner was “a cultured man, wedded to contradiction and double entendre.” One mosaic, for example, depicts Orpheus charming the beasts of the forest; this scene may well represent a Christianization of classical pagan imagery, for a mosaic scene in a different Roman-British villa shows a similar Orpheus-like figure as Christ the Good Shepherd.
“If the occupant of the villa was a Christian, he was certainly accomplished enough to obscure his ideas amongst a bewildering array of images,” Tomalin said.
In re-examining the finds from the 19th-century excavation of the villa, Tomalin noticed an eye surgeon’s bronze specillum (above), possibly used for removing cataracts—suggesting that the house’s owner was a physician who specialized in eye problems. The villa’s nymphaeum, or walled pond, may have functioned as a curative pool or spring.
“There is both an elegance and an eloquence in Brading’s artifacts,” Tomalin said.
(For information on the Brading Roman villa and the fundraising efforts, see www.bradingromanvilla.org.uk.)