Bruce Sterling on the US election: the net is great at tearing down, terrible at building

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Bruce Sterling's characteristically acerbic remarks on the US election gets to a really important point: internet-based movements have been amazing at tearing down corrupt establishment system, but have failed (so far) to create the kinds of stable governance structures that build up something better from the ruins. Read the rest

Great works of 16th-20th century art painted with ground-up mummies

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The lovely brown hues in Eugene Delacroix's 1830 painting above, titled "Liberty Leading the People," were actually pigments made from ground-up mummies from Egypt. From National Geographic:

The use of mummy as a pigment most likely stemmed from an even more unusual use—as medicine. From the early medieval period, Europeans were ingesting and applying preparations of mummy to cure everything from epilepsy to stomach ailments. It's unclear whether Egyptian mummies were prized for the mistaken belief that they contained bitumen (the Arabic word for the sticky organic substance, which was also believed to have medicinal value, is mumiya), or whether Europeans believed that the preserved remains contained otherworldly powers.

What is clear to researchers is that early artist pigments were derived from medicines at the time, and were commonly sold alongside them in European apothecaries. And just as mummy was waning in popularity as a medical treatment, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt at the end of the 18th century unleashed a new wave of Egyptomania across the Continent.

Tourists brought entire mummies home to display in their living rooms, and mummy unwrapping parties became popular. Despite prohibitions against their removal, boatloads of mummies—both human and animal—were brought over from Egypt to serve as fuel for steam engines and fertilizer for crops, and as art supplies.

By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the supply of quality mummies for pigment appears to have dried up. A 1904 ad in the Daily Mail requests one "at a suitable price," adding: "Surely a 2,000-year-old mummy of an Egyptian monarch may be used for adorning a noble fresco in Westminster Hall…without giving offence to the ghost of the departed gentlemen or his descendants."

"Was This Masterpiece Painted With Ground Mummy? Read the rest

Infrared cameras reveal tattoo-covered mummy priestess

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Archaeologist Cédric Gobeil discusses how he used modern imaging technology to find dozens of animals tattooed on the mummy of an Egyptian woman, probably a priestess of Hathor. She also had a hieroglyphic neck tattoo that is pretty creepy-looking 3,300 years later. Read the rest

King Tut's dagger was forged from meteorite

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New analysis of the dagger buried with King Tut confirms that the weapon was made from an iron meteorite. They used X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to study the dagger, found on Tut's mummified body by Howard Carter in 1925. Daniela Comelli of Milan Polytechnic's department of physics and her colleagues have even identified the most likely meteorite used to forge the dagger.

"We took into consideration all meteorites found within an area of 2,000 km in radius centered in the Red Sea, and we ended up with 20 iron meteorites," Comelli told Space.com. "Only one, named Kharga, turned out to have nickel and cobalt contents which are possibly consistent with the composition of the blade."

From Space.com:

The study shows the ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects, possibly perceiving those chunks of iron falling from the sky as a divine message.

The most ancient Egyptian iron artifacts, nine small beads excavated from a cemetery along the west bank of the Nile tomb in Gerzeh and dated about 3200 BC, are also made from meteoritic iron hammered into thin sheets.

"It would be very interesting to analyze more pre-Iron Age artifacts, such as other iron objects found in King Tut's tomb. We could gain precious insights into metal working technologies in ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean," Comelli said.

"King Tut's Blade Made of Meteorite" Read the rest

Egypt blocked Facebook's Internet service over surveillance demands

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Egypt blocked Facebook's Free Basics Internet service late last year after Facebook refused the Egyptian government's demands to build in the ability to spy on users. Reuters reported the story late Thursday, citing two people familiar with the matter.

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How a street artist pulled off a 50-building mural in Cairo's garbage-collector district

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eL Seed, a Tunisian-French artist, painted a mural whose Arabic calligraphy reads "Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first," spanning 50 buildings across Manshiyat Naser, a neighborhood where the city's largely Coptic Christian garbage collectors live. Read the rest

Could secret chambers discovered in King Tut's tomb unlock Nefertiti's mysteries?

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Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El Damati announced today that there are almost certainly two hidden chambers in King Tutankhamun's tomb. A recent radar scan that indicates the existence of the secret rooms also "revealed metallic and organic material," according to CNN.

El Damati doesn't think that the body of Queen Nefertiti lies in those chambers, more likely other female royalty, but British archaeologist Nicolas Reeves, who has been surveying the site for hidden chambers, thinks it's a distinct possibility.

From CNN:

Experts plan to do additional scanning at the end of the month to determine the size of the chambers and the thickness of the wall, but there will be no digging unless authorities are sure the chambers exist, the minister added.

"We must find a way to protect the tomb of Tutankhamun," El Damati told CNN in October. "Does that mean we will dig from above, below or from the side? We don't know..."

But if it is Nefertiti's final resting place, experts say the finding would be monumental.

"When we find Nefertiti, I think it will be more important than the discovery of King Tutankhamun himself," said El Damati.

Read the rest

Dig this fantastic Arabic language Coke commercial

I much prefer this 1950s Egyptian television commercial for Coca-Cola to the brand's much better known 1971 jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)." Interestingly, in the early 20th century, there was apparently debate in Egypt over "whether Muslims were permitted to drink Coca-Cola and Pepsi cola." According to a source cited by Wikipedia, the eventual fatwa was in favor of the sodas:

"...The rule in Islamic law of forbidding or allowing foods and beverages is based on the presumption that such things are permitted unless it can be shown that they are forbidden on the basis of the Qur'an." The Muslim jurists stated that, unless the Qu'ran specifically prohibits the consumption of a particular product, it is permissible to consume.

(via Weird Universe)

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King Tut had chronic medical problems, but his beard falling off wasn't one of them

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King Tut died young during times of trouble for Egypt, making his death a mystery spanning thousands of years. Though some earlier scans hinted at the possibility of foul play, a recent "digital autopsy" confirmed the teenage Pharaoh was a walking bag of medical problems.

…it would have been impossible for the king to have died while riding a chariot, as has been previously thought.

"We concluded it would not be possible for him, especially with his partially clubbed foot, as he was unable to stand unaided."

Scientists believe genetics and inherited diseases played a role in Tut's bad health because of inbreeding. A genetic analysis of his family's mummies suggests that his parents were siblings.

But the final insult came last year when eight museum workers botched a cleaning of the King's legendary mask: his beard fell off and they stuck it back on with a big ol' glob of gorilla glue. Then they tried to scratch off the glue, damaging the artifact itself.

The workers now face discliplinary charges.

“In an attempt to cover up the damage they inflicted, they used sharp instruments such as scalpels and metal tools to remove traces of the glue on the mask, causing damage and scratches that remain,” the statement said. The accused officials have been suspended from their jobs and now face possible dismissal and heavy fines, but they will not go to prison.

The scratches to the mask will not be visible to most visitors, according to Monica Hanna, an archaeologist and a member of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, an initiative to protect the nation’s cultural heritage.

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US officials totally cool with classified surveillance leaks, long as it fits their story

Russian Military investigators stand near  debris of a Russian airliner at its crash site in north Egypt, Nov. 1, 2015. REUTERS

In the past few days there have been a flurry of stories about the Russian plane that crashed in the Sinai peninsula, which investigators reportedly think may have been caused by a bomb. Notably, anonymous US officials have been leaking to journalists that they believe ISIS is involved, and it’s a perfect illustration of the US government’s rank hypocrisy when it comes to the Edward Snowden disclosures.

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In 1958 Egyptian audience laughs over proposal for women to wear head scarfs

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In 1958 Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second president of Egypt, gave a speech in which he mocked the Muslim Brotherhood for proposing that women be required to cover their heads in public. The audience hooted with laughter at the absurdity of such an idea. [via] Read the rest

Egypt sentences 3 Al Jazeera reporters to 3 years in prison

Baher Mohamed, a journalist with Al Jazeera English, in the court room on Saturday in Cairo. Credit Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
They are sentenced to three years in prison, on charges widely believed to be politically motivated and otherwise baseless.

Astronaut Terry Virts's photo of the Great Pyramids

Tweet by Astronaut Terry Virts, who returned to Earth a few days after 200 days on the International Space Station: "It took me until my last day in space to get a good picture of these!" Read the rest

Baking bread from an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph recipe

Miguel writes, "I tried to replicate an ancient Egyptian bread, starting with the right kind of wheat, the grinding and the baking... I also made a modernized version inspired by Egypt." Read the rest

Egyptian teen science whiz defects to US after science fair

Photo: Christopher Reeve for madamasr.com.

A teenager from Egypt accused of illegally protesting the Egyptian government defected to the US after participating in an international high school science fair held in Los Angeles.

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Autobiographical comic about a belly dancer in Egypt

Luna of Cairo is an excellent comic written by a woman who works as a belly dancer on a riverboat in Cairo. She gets frequently harassed by men (once a couple of young men sprayed tear gas at her and her friend," just for fun"). Crime is rampant, too ("daily fights, kidnappings, muggings, rapes, murders, and rising sectarian violence). Yet she stays because she loves to belly dance. It's illustrated by Leela Corman.

In 2008, Luna left New York City on a Fulbright scholarship to write a book about dance in Egypt. She holds a master's in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University and a B.A. in journalism and political science. She is fluent in Egyptian Arabic, Spanish and English.
Luna of Cairo (Thanks, Jeff!) Read the rest

Investigators: Egyptian statue not cursed

A 3,800 year-old stone figure with a creepy propensity to move around slowly has disappointed investigators at Manchester Museum. It was merely vibrations causing the convex-based relic to spin, not an entertaining curse. [BBC] Read the rest

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