Top Ten Ancient Egyptian Discoveries of 2014
Throughout the year, we reported on more than fifty incredible archaeological discoveries in Egypt, challenging the long-held view that there is nothing of significance left to dig up in the desert sands. On the contrary, this year’s findings have shown that there is plenty left to discover and each finding has shed new light on the great civilization of ancient Egypt. Here we feature ten of the most exciting discoveries to be made in Egypt in 2014.
The Minister of Antiquities in Egypt announced the discovery of an ancient Egyptian temple near Cairo, from the time of Pharaoh Thutmose III. The ancient temple was found beneath a house, submerged under groundwater, by a group of looters who used diving equipment to explore the nine-meter deep ruins. Seven tablets, two blocks covered in hieroglyphics, several column bases and a huge statue of a seated person made of pink granite were unearthed. The temple, which was found 40km south of the Great Pyramids of Giza, in the town of Badrashin, dates from the time of Pharaoh Thutmose/Thutmosis III, one of Egypt’s most prominent warrior kings. Thutmose III was the sixth Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.
“We will start an excavation project in the area to find more,” said antiquities minister Mahmoud al-Damaty, who expressed hope that the inscriptions on the temple walls could unlock new information about the kingdom and reign of Thutmose III.
An ancient Egyptian codex written in Coptic and dating back 1,300 years was deciphered for the first time, revealing that the 20-page book made of parchment contains a series of spells and invocations, including spells to counter evil possession. The codex reflects a fusion of religions, as some invocations call upon Jesus, while others refer to divine figures from the Sethian religion, considered heretical in the 7th century AD when the text was created.
The dialect used in the ancient text may suggest an origin in Upper Egypt, perhaps around the ancient city of Hermopolis. "It is a complete 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner," write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors in Australia at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in their book, "A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power" (Brepols, 2014). The Egyptian codex, which researchers are calling the “Handbook of Ritual Power”, includes a series of invocations with drawings, followed by twenty-seven spells, including prescriptions to cure possession by evil spirits, spells to bring success in love and business, and magical formulas to treat ailments such as a ‘black jaundice’, a potentially fatal infection that is still around today.
Archaeologists carrying out excavations at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, the capital city built by Pharaoh Akhenaten in c. 1330 BC, found a number of human remains containing well-preserved elaborate hairstyles, including hair extensions and dyed hair. One of the most interesting sets of human remains belonged to a woman who wore a complex coiffure with more than 70 hair extensions fastened in different layers. The hair may have been styled after death, but it is also likely that they are the same or similar to styles used in everyday life.
Researchers also found a number of other interesting hair styles. Some had brown hair that had been formed into rings or coils around their ears, many had braids, and one other skull with extensions had hair of different colours, suggesting the hair used to create the extensions came from multiple people. In a number of cases, fat was used to help form the hairstyles and keep it in place. One woman was also found to have an orange-red colour on her graying hair, that is believed to have come from the henna plant.
Archaeologists made a rare and unexpected discovery during a natural gas pipeline salvage excavation in Jezereel Valley, Israel, when they came across a 3,300-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus complete with human remains and numerous grave goods. It is the first time in around fifty years that an anthropoidal (person-shaped) coffin has been found in present-day Israel. The Bronze Age clay coffin contained an anthropoidal lid with a naturalistic impression of a man’s face, with stylized hair in an Egyptian style, ears and, like sarcophagi of Egyptian pharaohs, hands crossed over the chest in the manner of the deceased. The clay coffin was surrounded by pottery, storage vessels, and animal bones. Inside the sarcophagus was an adult skeleton, pottery, a bronze dagger, a bronze bowl, hammered pieces of bronze and, most significantly, a rare Egyptian scarab seal of Pharaoh Seti I encased in gold and affixed to a ring. The seal features the winged Uraeus (cobra), protector of the pharaoh’s name and person.
Pharaoh Seti I ruled Egypt from around 1290 to 1279 BC and is considered by many Egyptologists to be one of the most powerful kings of the 19th Dynasty. In the first year of his reign, Seti I put down a revolt in the Bet Shean Valley, which is located not far from where the coffin was found. After conquering the region, the pharaoh established Egyptian rule in Canaan and instated Canaanite vassals to rule the territory on the pharaoh’s behalf. The IAA is currently considering sampling the DNA from inside the coffin to see if the deceased was originally a Canaanite, or an Egyptian buried in Canaan.
Archaeologists announced a puzzling mystery surrounding the discovery of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy whose skull contains imprints left by the brain. The cranium shows the blood vessels that surround the brain within a membrane known as the meninges and scientists are now trying to piece together the exact process that could have caused such fragile structures to become imprinted into the hard bone of the skull.
The skull comes from the mummified remains of a man, found along with more than 50 others, which had been preserved in bitumen (a viscous oil) mixed with linen. They were found in the Kom al-Ahmar/Sharuna necropolis in the southern area of Hierakonpolis in Egypt, which dates back to between the Late Period and the Ptolemaic Period of ancient Egypt (550 – 150 BC).
Among the fifty, only this one mummy (identified as mummy W19) contained the imprints of blood vessels inside the skull, which scientists have described as reflecting “exquisite anatomical details”. Researchers explained that during the mummification process, the brain was removed, and the inside of the skull was cleaned and filled with preservative substances. The brain tissue does not remain intact after these procedures, so something unique must have occurred in this case. They found that the blood vessels in the membrane surrounding the brain became cast into the layer of the preservative substances, and this then became imprinted into the skull bone. "The conditions in this case must have been quite extraordinary," the researchers said. "We can speculate that something special happened in individual W19”.
Archaeologists uncovered a massive tomb on the West Bank of the Nile containing more than 50 royal Egyptians, including four princes, eight previously unknown princesses, and a number of infants. The 3,300-year-old tomb was discovered when researchers investigated a depression in the ground and came across a 5 metre long shaft, a corridor, and four rooms, which had been trashed and plundered in antiquity. The team of archaeologists from the University of Basel in Switzerland, who have been excavating in the region since 2009, found textiles, mummy bandages, linen cloths, bones and other scattered funerary artifacts in the tomb. Valuable relics were most likely looted from the tomb centuries ago. The adult mummies were found in a poor condition and appear to have been torn apart by grave robbers, but the royal infants were well preserved.
During Egypt's New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC), royals were buried at the Valley of the Kings, a site along the Nile, opposite modern-day Luxor. King Tutankhamun's tomb is among the best preserved burials to have been discovered at the Valley of the Kings, and new tombs are still being discovered and studied at the site today.
In November 2013, scientists announced that they had finally solved the mystery of King Tutankhamun’s death after 3,300 years. The boy king, they claimed, died after being struck by a speeding chariot. However, a new ‘virtual autopsy’ of the world-famous pharaoh revealed that serious genetic physical impairments would have made riding a chariot impossible. The results instead suggest that Tutankhamun, the 11 th Pharaoh of the 18 th Dynasty, succumbed to genetic impairments that were caused by the fact that his parents were brother and sister.
DNA tests carried out in 2010 confirmed that Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten and Akhenaten's sister and wife. Marriage within family was not uncommon in ancient Egypt and was practiced among royalty as a means of perpetuating the royal lineage. However, what they were unaware of the time was the severe consequences of family inbreeding. The fact that Tutankhamun’s parents had been brother and sister, resulted in numerous genetic conditions that the boy king suffered, including a cleft palate, a club foot, feminine hips, and a severe overbite. Such impairments suggest that the boy king could never have ridden in a chariot. The virtual autopsy revealed that only the fracture in his knee occurred before he died, while fractures in his skull and other parts of his body occurred after the boy king was already dead – leading scientists to believe he may have succumbed to an inherited illness.
In January, 2014, archaeologists in Egypt discovered the burial place and the remains of a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3600 years ago. The skeleton of King Seneb kay (also written Senebkey) were uncovered at South Abydos in Sohag province, about 500 kilometres south of Cairo, by a University of Pennsylvania expedition working with the government.
Never before heard of in ancient Egyptian history, King Seneb kay's name was found inscribed in hieroglyphics written inside a royal cartouche - an oval with a horizontal line at one end signalling a royal name. King Saneb kay was found in a wooden sarcophagus inside a badly damaged stone tomb with no roof. He was originally mummified but his body was destroyed by ancient tomb robbers and only his skeleton remained. No funerary goods were found in the tomb, which confirms it had been looted in ancient times.
"This was the first time in history to discover the king," said Ali Asfar, Head of Antiquities for the Egyptian government.
Archaeologists in Egypt found an extremely rare tomb containing a preserved mummy and numerous artifacts, which date back to a period which predates the First Pharaonic Dynasty. The Pre-dynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3,100 BC) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy beginning with the rule of King Narmer. The 5,600-year-old tomb was discovered at the ancient site of Nekhen, Hierakonpolis, once a vibrant and bustling city that stretched over 3km along the Nile River. Archaeologists found the mummy of the tomb's owner, who appeared to have died in his late teenage years, as well as a hoard of artifacts, including an ivory statue of a bearded man, ten ivory combs as well as tools, blades and arrow heads, making it one of the richest predynastic burials ever uncovered.
The grave goods suggest the man was an elite member of society and held an important position, though interestingly, evidence suggests his grave had been desecrated soon after burial, indicating that he may also have held a few enemies. Also supporting the view that this was an elite burial was the discovery of twenty additional burials surrounding the man’s tomb, believed to have been human sacrifices made upon his death. They also found a plethora of exotic animals buried around him, including a leopard, an ostrich, a hartebeest, six baboons, nine goats, and ten dogs with leather leashes.
The presence of social divisions, including elite tombs with rich artifacts versus burials of ordinary citizens, as well as grave goods that suggest a belief in the afterlife, demonstrates the foreshadowings of the mighty civilization that followed and shows that the roots of ancient Egyptian civilization stretched back many centuries.
A study published in the journal PLOS ONE revealed the discovery of burial wrappings soaked in embalming agents at a Neolithic grave in Upper Egypt, which shows that ancient Egyptians were experimenting with or practising mummification at least 1,500 years earlier than previously suggested. The burial shrouds had been sitting in England's Bolton Museum for nearly a century after being dug up from the Badari and Mostagedda prehistoric burial grounds in the Nile Valley, which are dated to between 4,500 BC and 3,100 BC.
The linens were originally wrapped around a number of well-preserved corpses, but scientists at the time had assumed that the hot, dry desert sand had naturally mummified the corpses. While environmental conditions may have played a part, the new research, which involved a detailed analysis of fifty mummy wrappings, showed that the ancient Egyptians were producing mixtures from animal fats, tree resins, plant extracts, sugar, and natural petroleum, which contained powerful antibacterial elements and had embalming properties. The researchers also found chemical signatures of heating, suggesting these substances had been processed in antiquity.