Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt - part 4


Dr. Greene: Now you may wonder what this is. And so did I, especially when you see this. Well, these are baths. It's a bath building from the Ptolemaic Period, from about 300 BC, on the basis of coin evidence. These are individual washing places that people could sit in and pour water over their head, with a mosaic in the middle with appropriate decoration. You can see the fish on it.

And a very impressive excavation being carried out by this Egyptian team. And it is a wholly Egyptian team. And I say that because most excavation in Egypt is being carried out by overseas experts with local labor forces. But I was very encouraged to see this Egyptian team carrying out this work to the highest standard, and finding fantastic things such as this occupation level.

There is a mud brick floor, underneath where all these pots have been found. And the piece of cardboard won't be a piece of litter, it will be where somebody has just finished kneeling while troweling around these pieces of ceramic, which are in position.

But that wasn't the only thing to have recently been discovered. Because as well as the Ptolemaic baths, there is a Roman era bath that has turned up as well. And I've done excavations in the Roman bath in Bath.

So I was particularly interested to see this, and for example there's the plunge bath in the foreground. They were heated rooms, and you wonder why on earth you need heated rooms in Egypt. But the Roman bathhouse design, you find the same all over the empire. In the winter, in January you might need them.

But in addition to that, this other very nice discovery, as the excavation was being extended a block of red granite, and once turned over this is what it was. It's a false door from a tomb. It's a tomb of a high official.

And Colin Hope has and I'm very grateful to him for translating it, and saying this is the tomb of a high official called User, in our language. And this would have been in one of the tombs on the other side of the river in the West Bank. And presumably brought as a building stone and then not used.

And the false doors were on the tombs as a place for the spirits to be able to enter and reenter. And there's a detailed lid with the official and his wife. And a table loaded with offerings in front of them.

Well, a place like the Karnak Temples is full of pieces of stone, and every stone, you can see, has some significance. And there is still enormous amount of information to be gleaned from studying these carefully kept stones.

But I was taken into see recent conservation of some of the wall paintings in the precinct of Kohnsu. Kohnsu, the son of Amun and Mut. And it's an extensive area; this temple complex is enormous, absolutely enormous. And you can see the quality of both the conservation and the original work here.

The two, I should point out these, for those of you not familiar. These are cartouche. These give the name of the pharaoh, the birth name and the coronation name. And you'll see throughout the Tutankhamun exhibition, and the form of them are explained in the exhibition.

Well, this is relatively low ground, but conservation work here is taking place at a great height. The American Research Center is involved here, and they've been training their Egyptian colleagues. And I was taken to their conservation labs, which were excellent, and a great job being done. So I was very impressed with what was taking place there.

And you've already met the archeologist on the right, and then the director of the Karnak site is on the left there.

Behind them are a row of sphinxes which lead into the Karnak Temple complex. Ram's heads which represent the god Amun. And between the legs at the front you can just make out some little statues. And they are figures of Ramses II, who did lots of building work here.

But up the road is the Temple of Luxor. And this is also devoted to the Theban Triad, founded in the 18th dynasty by Amenhotep III, and added to very much by Ramses II in the 19th.

But this will show you just what has happened in terms of excavation. Because there was a village, in essence, occupying this site. All of which has been cleared away, apart from the mosque. And the mosque, which is 13th century, I'm pleased to say, has been preserved.

But you'll see at the height of it all of the area below it was covered in Nile silt, as were everything you could see, apart from the upper parts of these structures.

That's the pylon, as it's called, the entrance at the beginning of the temple built by Ramses II, and with his obelisk outside. And we'll see that again in a moment.

But another row of sphinxes leads out from the temple and down to Luxor. And there is an enormous excavation taking place. I've walked down the entire length to follow it and the bits and pieces that have already been done to open up the whole of this amazing 2.7 kilometer long avenue of the sphinxes.

And that's involved moving buildings, including, in the distance there, there's a mosque and there's two churches. And the newspaper, when I was there, said the agreement may have been reached with the three congregations to build them new ones and to demolish these ones. These are 19 century mosque and churches. And that will allow the whole thing to be opened up.

But a lot of townscape work taking place in Luxor, including removal of some very nasty sort of mid 20th concrete buildings. One of which I saw crashing to the ground as I went past.

But the Luxor Temple, one of the best times to go is in the evening. It's open, it's lit, and you can see glorious sunsets. The spectacular obelisk, the statues of Ramses II. That's his cartouche here; he has the two cartouche for him.

But I focus particularly on this pair, because this is Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenpaaten. And there they are in the temple at more than life size, and they are presented in the form of the gods Amun and Mut.

Why? Well, because Tutankhamun did a lot of work in the temple and he particularly restored and added to a wonderful colonnade, which is surround by a most amazing set of carvings of the Opet Festival. This festival where the shrines were taken between the temples.

And here Howard Carter crops up again, because in 1916 Howard Carter was commissioned to draw all of these carvings. Carter went to Egypt at age 17. He was the son of an artist. He had tremendous artistic abilities himself.

So he didn't go to university, he had not studied Egyptology. He went there as an artist, started drawing, and eventually took part in excavations with the great archeologist Flinders Petrie, and of course eventually discovered Tutankhamun's tomb. But it's a fascinating story of quite a complex individual.

These are some, these are trussed cattle. These are all donations, gifts being given to the gods as represented in the Opet Festival.

And back to Karnak just for a moment to say that there's a sound and light show there. There are probably some people here who have done that. It's a very well produced way of exploring this extraordinary temple complex.

But I'm now going to take you across the Nile to the West Bank, which is from the living side of the Nile to the area of the dead. But I'm not going to show you any photographs taken in tombs, because that is not possible.

We're looking into the Valley Of The Kings here. The way it's managed, under normal circumstances, some thousands of people visit. And you are told, first at this gate where you then get on to a little electric train to go up to the next gate, no photographs, no cameras.

I was entertained to a cup of tea by the site director. And while I was there, first one and then another tourist were brought in who were told, "Put down your mobile phone or camera and delete the photographs you've taken." They were looking very shame faced.

And there's a good reason for it, because the flash photography damages the pigments in the tombs. And also they're small. They're small spaces. If everybody stopped to take a photograph, it would be impossible.

And the Valley Of The Kings is beneath this pyramid shaped mountain. And of course it marked, in the 18th and 19th dynasties, a very different way of burying the dead from the pyramids we saw before.

And it was all about being worried about tombs being robbed. Putting them here, they were much safer, or so it was thought. Because of course Tutankhamun's is the only one to have the vast majority of the objects within the tomb found intact. Although, of course, it was itself robbed on at least two occasions soon after the burial. But this is the landscape in which these tombs are cut.

I wasn't able to take photographs, but I did go into the tomb of Tutankhamun. And having read Howard Carter's autobiography over the Christmas period, it was really very moving to go down the steps along the passage and into the first room, alongside which was the annex and then the burial chamber, and alongside that the treasury.

And just think back to these huge stacks of objects in the photographs at the time, which had shown in the exhibition. And then of course on the walls, the wonderful paintings, and in this very constrained space.

But at the foot of the valley is Howard Carter's house, which has been restored. And there is his bed and his office. So this is a museum about Howard Carter. It's very good. It's only recently been opened, and so it's good to see that.

As you go round, you look up into the hills and you see these holes into the hillside. And these are all tombs. Not of kings in this case, but almost certainly of nobles and officials.

But around the corner, on the other side of the hill, is this amazing mortuary temple of Hatshepsut.

And she, and I say she, was ruler from 1473 to 1458 BC. It's her mortuary temple, as I say, it was designed by another architect, Senemut, and it is an extraordinary piece of design with the most amazing carvings on the walls.

And again I come back to Howard Carter, because this is another of the tasks that Carter undertook, to draw for the Egypt Exploration Fund each of these wonderful carvings.

And this is part of the temple devoted to Hathor, the god who appears in the form of a cow. You see the cow there licking the hand of the pharaoh, with the crown on its head. And Hathor also appears in this form, with a woman's face but with cow's ears. So this is a very special cow.

With hieroglyphs, of which the two on the right are ones which I recognize. The tent like one means given, and the ankh symbol to the right of that is life, or to live. And these are two symbols you see everywhere. And you'll see them in the exhibition as well.

There are absolutely wonderful carvings and paintings in this tomb, including this group of soldiers marching along for an expedition that was organized by the queen to the land of Punt, which is present day Somalia. It was a peaceful expedition, and they brought back myrrh trees. And the trees are shown being loaded into the boats.

And this is not terribly easy to make out, but if you look very closely you can see the rigging of a boat here. You can see some oarsmen down at the bottom, painted red. So this is a pictoral account of this fantastic expedition to Punt, and the meeting with the rulers there, and how the people lived in Punt and so on.

And then there are these wonderful paintings as well, painted carvings. And take note of the things that you'll see many, many representations of kings wearing, such as the collar. And you'll see one of those in the exhibition. The pectoral, this jewel, or sort of jeweled pendant hanging over the front there, and then the headdress with the uraeus. Again, you'll see that in the exhibition. The cobra, often with the vulture along side it.

And then we have part of the temple is devoted to Anubis, god of mummification and help in the afterlife. And then these, these are where the politics of the ancient Egypt come vividly to life in that there the image of Hatshepsut has been removed, has been chiseled away by her successor, Thutmose III.

But it appears to be some time after he became sole king that these were removed. And there is plenty of argument amongst Egyptologists about the significance of this. But it is in inescapable that she has been erased from most of the areas of this particular temple. Only the protective vulture is above her there. And alongside there's a whole series of gifts, which are going towards Anubis.

And on the temple façade itself, this has been reconstructed from the fragments which were found, this is Hatshepsut as Osiris, and these were all smashed. Some of these have been reconstructed.

But there is also a piece of garden archeology. I mentioned the myrrh trees, well, actually the positions of plants have been found. And what you see, the demarcation here is exactly that, it's a garden.

So this very dry landscape would have been supplied by water, gardens would have flourished. It would have been a most extraordinary sight. And it too had an avenue of sphinxes leading down to the Nile, immediately opposite the temple of Karnak. And alongside there are noble's tombs.

But I want to finish here. This is the Cairo museum, which I visited also, of course. And it was here that, outside, you've seen this on the television time and again, it's on Tahrir Square, and the demonstrations took place.

And you'll know that it was broken into on the first night of the demonstrations. And looters made off with about 70 objects, including some from the Tutankhamun collection. Including, there was I stood in front of a case with two absolutely beautiful objects, they were both reed boats with a figure of Tutankhamun standing on them with a spear, spearing fish. One of these was broken. The boat was left, the figure went.

And I am delighted to say four days ago, in a bag on a metro station in Cairo, that upper part, Tutankhamun, was found. So far of the 70 objects that were stolen about 35 have turned up in various ways. And the looters who were captured have now been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

So it's an ongoing story. The story of Egpyt goes on, the story of archeology goes on. New discoveries all the time are changing political landscape and a very interesting time to have visited Egypt and for us to be mounting this exhibition.

Thank you very much.


Warren: I think we have time for some questions. Yes?

Audience Member: You mentioned Carter was pretty careful in removing things from the tomb, but I've noticed in the exhibition that there was a wooden head of a cow and the ears were damaged. And I wondered how that happened, because when you look at the black and white pictures when it was actually in the tomb the ears were intact. And I was really very surprised. Do you know anything about how that damage occurred? How much damage actually occurred in getting things out of the tomb?

Dr. Greene: Yes. And it surprises me too, because I think everybody's heard about the discovery of the tomb in November, 1922. Drama, it hits the headlines all over the world. There's a very unfortunate tie up with the Times, which puts off all the other newspapers. Who then are quite aggressive in the way they treat Carter and the team working there. That's 1922, but it took 10 years to empty the tomb. 10 years for Carter and his team to remove the well, it's over 5,000 were in the tomb. And it was done with immense care. And there are plenty of photographs that were taken by Harry Burton, who was the photographer from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, who took the most wonderful photographs. All of which are available online, if you go to the Griffith Institute, Oxford, their website, all of his images are there. And you can explore them for yourself. It's fantastic to do it.

But coming back to your question, each object was taken and then one of the nearby tombs was set up as a sort of conservation lab. And so objects were packed very carefully. Each one was numbered. And you'll see in some of the pictures, all the numbers on each of the objects.

In fact if you visit the tomb of Tutankhamun now in it is a sarcophagus in the innermost of the sequence of mummy cases. And there on the top is the number 240, the number that Carter gave to the sarcophagus.

So it was done with immense care. The objects were then taken up to Cairo, where they've been in the museum every since.

So I'm working my way round to saying I don't know. I don't know how they were damaged. I've very impressed with what Carter did, and his team. Many other archeologists would have just carted them out one after another.

The fact that he had worked with Flinders Petrie, who was the most methodical of archeologists and Egyptologists, gave him the right sort of approach, which led to the survival of, in a wonderful condition, of most of the objects.

I don't know, but I will ask other people when I have a chance to.

Another question, over here.

Audience Member: The boat that was extracted from the pit and reassembled, you said there were three other vessels still there?

Dr. Greene: No. I said there are three other pits. Two of those pits are empty. There is another one which has at least parts of a boat in it, but which has not been excavated. But it's quite amazing that anything should survive. Of course the dry atmosphere is great for preserving organic material. But the thing which allowed that particular boat to be preserved was the fact that those blocks were over top, which were well sealed. Because you do get rainstorms. And those rainstorms can obviously penetrate structures and do an awful lot of damage.

In fact, around the Sphinx there's been a real problem with raising water tables. And drilling has recently taken place to put pumps in to reduce the water table. So water is a big enemy of all of these materials.

But, yes, so that one boat has been found in that one pit. But fascinating to see those other pits as well.

Audience Member: The three boats, you mentioned was given three different boats for the travel after the death. And I just couldn't catch the three different reasons for the boat.

Dr. Greene: Right, there were in fact two boats, two types of boats. There are 35 boats found in Tutankhamun's tomb, of which we have two in the exhibition here. One of which is a boat of a very similar design to the one from the pit. The other one represents a reed boat made out of bundles of reeds. And the two types of boat in ancient Egypt were for two purposes. One was for use on the Nile or on the Red Sea, as that expedition to Punt showed. The other was for the marshes. The marshes of course stand at the delta. And kings are often shown hunting in them marshes for wild fowl.

After death those two boats had a different significance. Well, they have the same significance in a way. The Nile boat was a boat which takes the sun across the sky, and the reed boat is for the spirit of the dead person to navigate through the marshes. Because they have to do that. And this is all in the book of the dead, the instructions of how to reach the afterlife involves these very dangerous and threatening marshes. And so that's what that boat is for. In the middle there.

Audience Member: Thank you. Dr. Greene, you said that you were very impressed with Carter's excavations. There seemed to have been some evidence that some objects were removed possibly before he officially opened the tomb, or possibly shortly afterwards. And some objects seemed to have turned up in odd places, like the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Do you give any of that any credence?

Dr. Greene: To comment on that I need to explain how excavation took place in Egypt at the time. Which was essentially that you had to apply for a license to excavate from the antiquities officer. And if you were given the license it spelled out the conditions. And I've read through the license that Lord Carnarvon was given with Carter. And the usual practice is at the end of the excavation, its called partage: do divide up the object into two. So the excavator, and the excavator's agency or in this case his patron, Lord Carnarvon has half. And the other half goes to the Cairo Museum.

And it's a perfectly respectful procedure. And it meant that the finance was available to carry out excavations that otherwise wouldn't have been available. And the objects go to two good homes.

But in the case of Tutankhamun it's different, because one of the clauses in the agreement says if an intact tomb is found all the objects, all of them, have to go the Cairo Museum.

Now after his death a few objects were found in Carter's flat, or house in London. And it does appear that he did take some objects with him. And very quietly agreement was made between the British government and the Egyptian government to return them. And they went back in a diplomatic bag.

The Metropolitan Museum has material related to Tutankhamun, but it is not from the tomb. It's from another discovery that the excavator who had the license before Carnarvon and Carter. He carried out an excavation and found some pots with some floral wreaths and things like that, which had been preserved. Which then went on this partage basis, half of them went back to the Metropolitan Museum.

And later on it was discovered that the name Tutankhamun was associated with these objects. And it was one of the clues for Carter to keep digging in that area.

And those objects have recently been displayed in a new exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum. And they appear to be material used during the funeral process, but never put in the tomb. And not intended to be put in the tomb.

So that is the material that the Metropolitan Museum has, but it doesn't have any material from the tomb itself.

Audience Member: Dr. Greene, in the excavation of the avenue from the Temple of Luxor, what are archeologists hoping to find there? Are they hoping to find more of the avenue of sphinxes, or paving, or what do they hope?

Dr. Greene: Both of those. Indeed not just hoping, they are finding the bases. So each one has a rectangular base, and then the carved sphinx is on top of that. Now in many of the cases what they're finding is fragments, not the whole sphinx. In other cases they're finding the complete body, the complete sculpture. So I suspect what they'll do is incorporate the fragments, in each case, into a modern reproduction of it. But following the good conservation practice of making clear what is original and what is not.

Down the middle is a paved area. And links of that have been turning up. And the idea is that people will once again be able to walk between the two temples. Probably more advisable in the winter than the summer.

Between each of the bases they're finding a circle of mud bricks. And these seem to be the surrounds for trees. You know how you see trees in the streets here set into the pavement. Well this is exactly the same. So one can imagine this very nice situation of having the walkway down the middle, the sphinxes on either side with alternating trees to give shade over the walkway.

So really an amazing piece of planning and decoration for the city.

Warren: I said in my introduction that the Valley of the Kings, I found to be the hottest place on earth. So I can't tell you how impressed I was to see the photograph of Patrick there wearing a coat and a jumper. [laughter]

Warren: Which I suspect suggests I went at the wrong time of year, and that January's a much better time for you to think about going if you're planning to go there. But it's pretty chilly in the morning. But seriously to see all of this again through the eyes of an archeologist has been a special treat, and especially when accompanied by these very vivid slides. So, Patrick, thank you very much for this evening. And we wish you all the best for this exhibition, which I'm sure is going to prove to be an Australian record in its attendance. And thank you for all you've done to bring it here for all of us.


About this Video

Part 4 of 6 of Dr Greene's lecture 'An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt'
Length: 10:51