The "secret chamber" in King Tut's tomb does not exist

Several years ago, Egypt's Antiquities Ministry said they were "90% sure" that new scans of King Tutankhamun's tomb revealed a hidden chamber. Following that, University of Arizona archaeologist Nicholas Reeves published a headline-making research paper suggesting that the secret room may be the burial chamber of Queen Nefertiti. Well, turns out that there's no there there. From the BBC News:

Italian specialists from the University of Turin used new penetrating radar scans to reach their conclusion, saying they were confident in the results.

"It is maybe a little bit disappointing that there is nothing behind the walls of Tutankhamun's tomb, but I think on the other hand that this is good science," said Dr Francesco Porcelli, head of the research team..

Egypt's Antiquities Minister, Khaled al-Anani, said the authorities in the country accepted the results.

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Amazon orders Signal to stop using AWS to defeat censorship

Repressive autocracies like Egypt, Oman, and the UAE ban Signal and other encrypted messaging apps, using national firewalls to try to block their traffic; Signal evades these blocks by using "domain fronting," in which the service's cloud provider shows up as the origin of its traffic, forcing countries to block Google or Amazon to get at a single service hiding behind them. Read the rest

King Tut exhibition starts its final world tour in Los Angeles (March 2018)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of discovering the tomb of King Tut, many of the Boy King's artifacts and other ancient Egyptian items will be touring the United States in the new year.

Lonely Planet writes:

The largest ever international exhibition of ancient Egyptian artefacts from the tomb of its most famous pharaoh will open early next year in Los Angeles. King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh will visit ten different cities as it tours the world starting off on the West Coast of America on 24 March.

More than 150 items from Tutankhamun’s tomb will be on display at the California Science Center. The exhibition will be an absolute treat for Egyptologists – both amateur and professional – as never before have so many ancient items associated with King Tut been on display together outside Egypt. Many of the items would have been used by the Boy King himself including golden jewellery, elaborate carvings, sculptures, and ritual antiquities.

Forty per cent of the objects will be leaving home for both the first and last time before returning for permanent display in the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is currently under construction.

You can first see the exhibit in Los Angeles before it heads to Europe and then to its new permanent home at The Grand Egyptian Museum (which is located near the Pyramids of Giza). Be sure to pre-register for the L.A. exhibit now.

Of course you can't talk about a King Tut without being reminded of Steve Martin's bit on Saturday Night Live in 1978. Read the rest

Real crop circles seen from space

This NASA photo taken from the International Space Station shows crop circles in southwest Egypt's Sahara Desert. The crops thrive in the middle of the desert thanks to either secret alien technology or the amazing underground Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System that covers two million square kilometers. From the NASA Earth Observatory:

The crop circles are a result of center-pivot irrigation, an efficient method for water conservation in agriculture. Groundwater from the Nubian aquifer is drawn up from wells in the center of the circles, and it is sprayed or dripped out of long, rotating pipes that pivot around the center.

Most of the crops pictured here are likely potatoes (darker green circles), wheat (lighter brown circles), or medicinal and aromatic plants such as chamomile. The light, tan-colored crop circles likely have undergone controlled burning to remove excess plant matter and essentially clean up the land for the next crop.

"Crop Circles in Sharq El Owainat" (NASA via the Daily Grail) Read the rest

Manipulate a 3D model of the Rosetta Stone

The British Museum has released this nifty 3D scan of the Rosetta Stone, which includes a nice autoplaying audio summary of its significance. Read the rest

Egypt's "Jon Stewart" made fun of the corrupt government and was forced to flee

Earlier this week we went to see a Los Angeles screening of Tickling Giants followed by a Q&A with Bassem Youssef, the subject of the film. The evening was presented by Ziya Tong's Black Sheep.

Bassem Youssef, often called the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” was a prominent heart surgeon who became the creator and host of the Egyptian late-night comedy TV show Al-Bernameg (“The Show”), which began as an immensely popular YouTube channel. The live network show revolved around Bassem’s use of satire and sarcastic humor towards the corrupt and oppressive Egyptian government. As the only program on Egyptian television concerned with free speech and the voice of the people, “The Show” quickly rose in popularity and attracted 30 million viewers per show, significantly more than the 2 million who tuned in nightly to The Daily Show. Even though Bassem and the team behind the show were constantly living in fear that their jokes would put them in danger, they bravely continued to produce a show that criticized authority and the country’s politics. The satirical program ran from 2011-2014, until Egypt’s oppressive military regime made it impossible for the show to continue.

Tickling Giants is a documentary based on Bassem Youssef, “The Show”, and their role in Egyptian culture. The film provides a detailed view of how Youssef “finds creative, non-violent ways to protect free speech and fight a president who abuses his power.

During the Q&A with Youssef following the documentary, Youssef shared experiences and advice not given in the documentary. Read the rest

Advanced de-faking: using public sources to trace the true age of a suspected propaganda video

Henk van Ess teaches workshops in online investigative techniques; he worked with colleagues and a team of students from Axel Springer Academie to analyze a viral news video that purported to show a discarded missile launcher that had been discovered near Cairo's international airport in 2011, but only published last month. Read the rest

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

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

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

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

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

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. Read the rest

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

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?

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.

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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

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

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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