Archaeology and Heritage

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Steven Snape

This paper discusses the rock-cut Middle Kingdom necropolis at Deir Rifeh, the location of the 'Tomb of the Two Brothers'. The first part of the paper reviews the history of archaeological activity at Deir Rifeh with a view to reconciling the differing published accounts of work carried out at the site (including published plans/maps of the area) in the late 19th and early 20th century, before Deir Rifeh became inaccessible to scholars. The second part of the paper is a preliminary report of the joint expedition from the universities of Liverpool and Assiut, whose first aim is to map this important and hitherto neglected necropolis.

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Philip J. Turner

In 1967 the great Sethian scholar, Herman te Velde, presented a paper at the XXVII International Congress of Orientalists in Ann Arbor, Michigan U.S.A. The paper was entitled “The Egyptian God Seth as a Trickster,” and in it te Velde examined Seth’s attributes that might be considered in naming him as a trickster and concluded that Seth had five elements in common with tricksters of other cultures, namely that he was disorderly and uncivilised, he was a murderer, a homosexual and a slayer-of-the-monster. This paper will examine a further attribute of Seth’s character, as what in modern terms we would call a ‘con-man’. Evidence for this will be presented by considering his role in the death of Osiris and the way that this was achieved and his use of ‘trickery’ during his subsequent ‘Contendings’ with Horus, as described in Chester Beatty Papyrus I and by Plutarch. Other examples of his confidence tricks include those described in Papyrus Jumilhac. Finally, an attempt will be made to explain why the more extreme traits seen in Seth’s character, including his confidence trickery, appear to have maintained an appeal throughout Pharaonic history.

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Mark Collier

Spells against scorpion stings from Deir el-Medina form part of the distinctive body of material to survive from the community of workmen who constructed the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens during the New Kingdom. After looking at the evidence for the incidence of scorpion stings amongst the workmen, this paper focuses on the conception displayed in scorpion-sting spells of the spread of the injected toxin from the sting through the human body and how it could be resisted, including a brief force-dynamic account of the venom as an agonist which needs to be combatted within the site of the body of the victim.

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Snake busters

Experiments in fracture patterns of ritual figurines

Kasia Szpakowska and Richard Johnston

Clay figurines of rearing cobras have been found in Late Bronze Age settlements in ancient Egypt and the Levant. Their fabric, manufacture, style, breakage patterns, and context provide clues to their original use as votives, divine avatars, components of spells, or apotropaic devices to ward away demons. A series of experiental and experimental events were held to explore if they could add value to our understanding of the figurines. This paper focuses on two of these: a workshop on making figurines and fracture experiments performed on replica figurines. Because most of the figurines have been found fragmented, it could be suggested that this was the result of ritual as opposed to accidental breakage. However, no experiments have ever been carried out on figurines such as these to establish whether the cause of the breakage can be ascertained with any degree of certainty. This project aimed to replicate different destruction methods to reveal any recognisable fracture patterns. A professional potter produced the replicas by hand while controlled tests were performed by engineers and equipment within the Materials Research Centre at Swansea University. Modern technology such as high speed cameras were used to record the process and laser scanners were employed to see if in the future, the tests could be reproduced without the need for physical breakage.

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Slices of mummy

A thin perspective

John Denton

Histology, one of the first truly scientific techniques to be utilised for the examination of ancient tissues has been available since the beginning of the 20th century. Essentially, the tissue is processed, thin slices are acquired, and then following a staining procedure the section is examined using transmitted light microscopy so that the microscopic and cellular architecture can be seen in both normal and diseased tissues. It is essential that tissues due to be examined by sophisticated and often expensive modern techniques are identified correctly, otherwise rare tissue samples are wasted or the results of the techniques are invalid due to an incorrect tissue being used. Most of the samples examined are in an advanced state of putrefaction and are therefore unsuitable for any meaningful analysis. Occasionally, exceptionally well preserved specimens are found, which allows high quality disease identification, such an example being that of a case of childhood haemorrhagic smallpox, which in my experience is a unique finding. Skeletal tissues are often preserved even though all soft tissues are destroyed through putrefaction. One such case allowed insight into the history of an individual’s medical history over a number of years, indicating at least two pregnancies with possible restriction in the diet of the woman. The final indication was the death of the woman during or very shortly after delivery of her child.

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Judith E. Adams

Imaging has played a significant role in the non-destructive scientific study of both human and animal Egyptian mummified remains since soon after Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays in 1895. Initially radiographs were used which had the advantages of being widely available and relatively inexpensive but the limitation of being a 2D image with overlap of structures. Since the introduction of computed tomography (CT) in the mid-1970s and the subsequent technical developments of spiral, multi-detector capabilities (MDCT) which now provide rapidly acquired (20-30 seconds), thin (0.6mm) transverse axial images with improved spatial resolution which are able to be manipulated to provide 3D volumetric images and quantitative (densities from attenuation values [Hounsfield units HU], size etc.) measurements, this is now the most widely applied imaging method. As mummified tissue is desiccated the imaging techniques which depend on hydrated tissue (ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging) are not applicable. In human mummies methods of mummification can be determined (wrappings, amulets, state of body), as can age, height and gender of skeletal remains, methods of ex-cerebration, support of the body (rods) and presence of disease. Animals were mummified for various reasons (worshipped as cult animals, as offerings to the gods [votive], as pets or as food [victual]), the most common being as votive offerings. Imaging can confirm an animal skeleton is or is not (pseudo-mummy) present in the mummy bundle and from the skeletal characteristics can confirm the type of animal. Technical aspects of applying imaging to the scientific study of such artefacts are described.

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Denys A. Stocks

The first of three sections in this paper evaluates the test cutting of a selection of hard and soft stones, and of woods, by scientifically hardness tested replica ancient Egyptian copper and bronze chisels, each containing measured, varying amounts of copper, tin and other metals. The experimental results allow comparison with selected ancient copper and bronze chisels in museum collections. Published composition analyses, scientifically established for these ancient chisels, permit reasonable hardness estimates to be made for them, suggesting their capability for cutting certain stone and wood types in ancient times. The second and third sections assess how physical laws of friction, force and gravity, together with three replica ancient surface testing tools, affected the experimental fitting and moving of prepared test limestone blocks. Evaluations of these experiments reveal substantial support for ancient use of these three surface testing tools at the Great Pyramid of Giza for fitting limestone blocks together, in addition to indicating the ancient awareness and advantages of moving blocks on both lubricated and dry surfaces in assembling the Great Pyramid.

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Science in Egyptology

The scientific study of Egyptian mummies, initial phase, 1973–79

Alan Curry

A pioneering team of academics, medical consultants and scientists was brought together by Rosalie David in 1973 to scientifically investigate Egyptian artefacts and mummies in the Manchester Museum collection. In addition, an inadequately documented mummy in poor condition (Mummy 1770) was selected to be unwrapped and investigated internally. Several new scientific techniques were to be utilised in these studies including computer tomography (CAT scanning), electron microscopy (TEM, SEM and analytical EM) and radiocarbon dating. In addition, established techniques were also used, such as histological examination of mummified tissues to look for evidence of disease, conventional X-ray examination, dental studies, fingerprinting, entomological and parasitological studies, analysis of the textiles used to wrap mummies and reconstruction of skulls and faces. The recreated facial features of Mummy 1770 was one of the highlights of the project and this was undoubtedly due to the skills of team-member Richard Neave. As little was known about the exact process of mummification, some experimental mummification processes were tried on dead laboratory rats and mice. This initial phase of the Manchester Mummy project lasted from 1973 until 1979 and overall it was a great success giving many new insights into ancient Egyptian life, diseases and customs. The results of the various investigations were published in scientific papers, several books and a number of films (including one for the BBC Chronicle series). Sadly, it is unlikely that all aspects of this project could be repeated today, particularly using NHS facilities.

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Schistosomiasis, ancient and modern

The application of scientific techniques to diagnose the disease

Patricia Rutherford

As a consequence of the schistosomiasis tissue bank being established, initially at the Manchester Museum (as described in Parasitology Today, Contis and David 1996), a need for robust, cost effective, reproducible diagnostic tools that could be applied to ancient tissues was recognised. The diagnosis of schistosomiasis in modern patients is usually carried out by microscopically observing ova in faeces, urine or rectal mucosa. Unfortunately, mummified samples do not lend themselves to such tests and this paper will therefore discuss the successful use of immunocytochemistry to overcome the problems encountered whilst working with ancient samples. Immunocytochemistry has proven to be relatively cost affective, preludes other more completed tests and can be adapted to the investigation of other diseases simply by raising the appropriate antiserum towards the disease of interest. Other molecular techniques that have been explored to reinforce positive results, namely, the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) and DNA analysis will also be considered in this paper. The limitations imposed by the lack of appropriate tissue samples that harbour the infecting schistosomes and ova are considered, together with how overcoming such limitations produces answers relating to issues such as how to approach tissue collection, its preparation and what tests are practical with the aim of minimising unnecessary destruction of finite tissue samples. The paper will also consider how the scientific analysis of physical remains is a much-needed tool as it can clarify speculative hypotheses and provide supportive data that when combined with literary and artistic accounts provide a more complete and complementary picture of ancient culture.

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The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara

Narrative of a ritual landscape

Paul T. Nicholson

This paper attempts to give a narrative overview of how North Saqqara might have looked and functioned at the time the Sacred Animal Cults were at their height. It will attempt to look at the monuments within their landscape and consider where the sacred animals, buried in great numbers, came from, how they were processed and by whom. The paper reviews what an observer might have seen at North Saqqara during the Late Period/Ptolemaic periods from the Late Period (747-332 BC) into Ptolemaic times (332-30 BC). Today the landscape of North Saqqara is a sandy plateau, dominated by the Step Pyramid, and pock-marked by numerous tomb shafts from many different periods. Amongst and around these are the remains of other structures – tombs, temples, processional ways and the like. It is clear to the archaeologist, but not to the casual visitor, that North Saqqara was once a very different place to the quiet and desolate plateau it now is. The term ‘narrative archaeology’ is used in a variety of ways, all share in common the desire to arrange facts about a place or period into meaningful statements which help to explain the events or place which they describe. This sometimes serves to provide an accessible view of their subject and provide a valuable ‘snapshot’ of their thinking at a given moment in time. Rosalie David has a distinguished record in making her subject accessible and it is hoped that this paper will be of interest to her.