An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt - Part 1



Warren: It's my pleasant task tonight to introduce our speaker, Patrick Greene. Dr. Greene's an archeologist who's visited and studied in many archeological sites around the world. For a decade he directed the excavations at Norton Priory in Cheshire in England. And he is of course the Chief Executive Officer here at Museum Victoria. His topic is "An Archeologist visits Ancient Egypt." Ladies and gentleman, would make welcome, Dr. Patrick Greene.


Dr. Patrick Greene: Well, thank you very much, Warren, for that introduction, and welcome to everybody to this lecture series. As Warren said, this is the second occasion in which we have partnered with the university to present a lecture series in Melbourne and around regional Victoria. And it is a very appropriate relationship. The museum, founded in 1854, soon moved up to the university and spent its first half century or nearly half century up at the university. The first director was a professor of the university and so was the second, and between them they ran the museum for 70 years. So my tenure so far of eight and a half years seems very modest in comparison.

But we have all sorts of relationships with the university, research projects. And this is a great one, because it is relating some of the things that we do in the museum, some of the research which takes place in the university, to audiences who are very eager to hear about ancient Egypt, as they were to hear about ancient Pompeii.

There is a link with the Pompeii exhibition. Those of you who and many of you will have gone to that exhibition may remember there was the "House of the Golden Bracelet," a wonderful, a very large fresco painting with Egyptian themes in it. Because the Romans in the 1st century AD were as fascinated by ancient Egypt as we were. It was part of their empire, of course, after Cleopatra.

Anyway I'm going to start by acknowledging the people of the Kulin nation, just as Warren has, the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered, and move straight into this presentation.

And in doing so, I have chosen this title deliberately because I am an archeologist, but I have to emphasize I'm not an Egyptologist. In fact, I'm sure there are people in this room who will know significantly more about some of the things which I'll be showing you than I do. In which case, when we get to the questions, I'm very happy that anybody can participate in this evening.

But I'm looking at the sights that I visited in January this year through my archeological eyes and I hope that that will be of interest to you.

The first thing to say is that I also was following in the footsteps to a certain extent of Howard Carter, the discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamen. And one of the places that Carter stayed when he was visiting Cairo, which he did from time to time, he was usually in Thebes, was the Mena House Hotel. And I was fortunate enough to stay in the Mena House Hotel in the old wing.

And in opening the curtains this is the view that greeted me. So I looked at this scene with the sense of excitement and wonder that I'm sure Carter did. The hotel was created as a hunting lodge by one of the rulers of Egypt in the 19th century, and then became one of the places for Europeans, especially on the grand tour and Americans on the grand tour to Egypt, to stay in the late 19th century and through into the 20th.

So the first place I went on my visit, which took place, and I got out just a week before the demonstration started. So luckily the timing was good. It was of course the pyramids of Giza.

Closer of the three large pyramids there, those are Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. And they were old when Tutankhamen was on the throne of Egypt, 1200 years older than his period. Khufu, 2589 to 2566; Khafre, 2520 to 2494: and Menkaure, 2490 to 2470. So built within a period of about a 100 years.

So looking back at this one, the first thing I see as an archeologist is the fact that there are the very lowest courses of the stonework surviving, the courses of the casing.

And as you know in the case of the Great Pyramid, the pyramid of Khufu which we're looking at here, all the casing has been removed. Except these lower courses, which were covered by sand. This casing was removed and stripped and taken to Cairo and used in the Middle Ages in building many, many impressive buildings.

But you can see from the precision of these stones and the way they've been cut, that's the first glimpse into the skill of the pyramid builders. Because if you get the angle in the slightest bit wrong, and you're building up from the four sides, it just doesn't work. It has to be absolutely precise.

And these blocks of limestone are quite on the site and near the site, have been levered out of the ground and then shaped, and shaped using a stone hammer, stones, and a copper or a copper alloy chisels, which require an awful lot of re sharpening, because copper is obviously a lot softer than iron.

I was able to enter this pyramid, the pyramid of Khufu. And these are the sort of passages, they're about a meter and a half high. So when you enter the pyramid, and access to this pyramid was very restricted, but I was lucky enough to be allowed access. You literally have to double up and almost run up the slopes on these sort of ductworks which are provided for the purpose.

And I wondered the following day why my thighs were hurting so much. It was this extraordinary experience of running up these and bending over at the same time. But up into then, the very lofty chambers and the burial chamber itself with the coffin or the sarcophagus within it. A most extraordinary experience.

So there are two entrances to the tomb. Where you see the people on the right there, they're going into the modern entrance. Modern being a hole that was opened up in the Middle Ages. And the original entrance is up there with those massive blocks, I think of granite in that case, which frame that passage.

This is the classic view, of course, of the pyramids, and there you see the three of them together. But of course immediately you recognize, well, there are more than three. In fact, there's three to the right of Menkaure's pyramid. And these are pyramids of the Queens.

It is an extraordinary sight. But the other thing that strikes you in this image is there is this huge metropolis of Cairo just behind. And if you look at the color of the air behind, it gives you some idea of the air quality in Cairo. It is a massive city of about 18 20 million people, the whole population of Australia, and it has the pollution to match.

Now that itself is a challenge in terms of obviously people's living conditions, but also the conservation of these and other monuments. Because these are limestone and are capable of being considerably damaged by acid rain and other pollutants, particulate pollutants.

This a sight which will greet anybody when you visit the pyramids. And you can buy pyramids of every single description, as you will see in this image. But I'll make a point about this, that the population of Egypt is about 80 million, it's a huge population. And a very significant proportion of that population rely on tourism.

And average wages are very low, very low. Many, many people subsist on $25 a month, as low as that. And with the current uncertainty in the air, although hopefully leading to a really positive outcome for Egypt, and the tourism is dropped off considerably. So a lot of these people will be suffering very considerably from the absence of people who bring their foreign currency to the country.

About this Video

Part 1 of 6 of Dr Greene's lecture 'An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt'
Length: 11:28