King Tutankhamun died from broken leg and malaria

Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun suffered from a cleft palate and club foot, likely forcing him to walk with a cane, and died from complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria, according to the most extensive study ever of his mummy.

The findings were from two years of DNA testing and CT scans on 16 mummies, including those of Tutankhamun and his family, the team that carried out the study said in an article to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It also established the clearest yet family tree for Tut. The study said his father was most likely Akhenaten, the pharaoh who tried to revolutionize ancient Egyptian religion to worship one god — while his mother was a still unidentified sister of Akhenaten.

Tut, who became pharaoh at the age of 10 in 1333 B.C., ruled for just nine years at a pivotal time in Egypt’s history. While a comparatively minor king, the 1922 discovery of his tomb filled with stunning artifacts, including the famed golden funeral mask, made him known the world over.

Speculation had long swirled over why the boy king died at such a young age. A hole in his skull long fueled speculation he was murdered, until a 2005 CAT scan ruled that out, finding the hole was likely from the mummification process. The scan also uncovered the broken leg.

The newest CAT scans and DNA tests revealed a pharaoh weakened by congenital illnesses finally done in by complications from the broken leg aggravated by severe brain malaria. The team said it isolated DNA of the malaria parasite — the oldest such discovery.

“A sudden leg fracture possibly introduced by a fall might have resulted in a life threatening condition when a malaria infection occurred,” concluded the article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Tutankhamun had multiple disorders… He might be envisioned as a young but frail king who needed canes to walk.”

Like his father, Tutankhamun had a cleft palate. He also had a club foot, like his grandfather, and suffered from Kohler’s disease in which lack of blood flow was slowly destroying the bones of his left foot.

The studies also disproved speculation that Tutankhamun and members of his family suffered from rare disorders that gave them feminine attributes and misshapen bones, including Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can result in elongated limbs.

The theories arose from the artistic style and statues of the period, which showed the royal men with prominent breasts, elongated heads and flared hips.

“It is unlikely that either Tutankhamun or Akhenaten actually displayed a significantly bizarre or feminine physique,” said the article.

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Egypt to Reveal the Results of DNA Testing on King Tut’s Mummy

On Sunday, 31st January, Egypt’s antiquities department made the announcement that they will soon reveal the results of DNA testing conducted on the world’s most famous ancient king, Pharaoh Tutankhamun, which was undertaken to answer lingering mysteries over his lineage. Archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said at a conference that he would announce the results of DNA tests and CAT scans on February 17.

The results of DNA and CAT scans on King Tut’s mummy will be compared to those made of King Amenhotep III, who may have been Tutankamun’s grandfather.

The testing of Tut’s mummy is part of a wider program to check the DNA of hundreds of mummies to determine their family relations and identities. It is hoped that the program will help to determine Tut’s family lineage, something which has long been a source of mystery.

The identity of Tutankamun’s parents is not definitively known, though many experts believe that he is the son of Akhenaten, the 18th Dynasty pharaoh who tried to introduce monotheism to Egypt 3,500 years ago. His mother is believed to be one of Akhenaten’s queens, Kiya. Others, however, suggest that Tut was the son of a lesser known pharaoh that followed Akhenaten.

Tut was one of the final kinds of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, ruling during a crucial, tumultuous time when Akhenaten’s monotheism ended and powers were returned to the priests of the country’s multiple deities.

The department has announced ambitious plans to conduct DNA tests on Egyptian mummies, including tests on all royal mummies and the two dozen unidentified ones stored at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is believed that some of the sting could show that some of the royal mummies on display are not who they were thought to be. One of their big goals is to find the mummy of Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s wife legendary for her beauty.

Hawass has long rejected DNA testing be conducted on Egyptian mummies by foreign experts, and just recently allowed such projects to go forth on the condition that they be done only by Egyptians. With funding from the Discovery Channel, a $5 million DNA lab was created at the Egyptian Museum.

In addition, Hawass announced Sunday that a robot would be sent inside the Great Pyramind of Khufu to learn the secrets of its hidden passageways.

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Did Howard Carter steal from The Tomb?

Howard Carter, the British explorer who opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, will forever be associated with the greatest trove of artifacts from ancient Egypt. But was he also a thief?

Dawn was breaking as Howard Carter took up a crowbar to pry open the sealed tomb door in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. With shaking hands, he held a candle to the fissure, now wafting out 3,300-year-old air. What did he see, those behind him wanted to know. The archaeologist could do no more than stammer, “Wonderful things!”

This scene from Thebes in November, 1922, is considered archaeology’s finest hour. Howard Carter, renowned as the “last, greatest treasure seeker of the modern age,” had arrived at his goal.

Carter obtained about 5,000 objects from the four burial chambers, including furniture, jars of perfume, flyswatters, and ostrich feathers — the whole place was a dream of jasper, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. He even discovered a ceremonial staff adorned with beetles’ wings.

The “unexpected treasures,” as Carter described them, suddenly brought to light an Egyptian king previously almost unknown — Tutankhamun, born approximately 1340 B.C., who ascended the throne as a child. A statue shows the boy king with chubby cheeks and a delicate face. Tutankhamun later married his older sister and conceived two children with her, both born prematurely. The fetuses were found in small but magnificent coffins.

The king died at the age of 18. An ardent racer — six of his chariots were also discovered in the tomb — who often went ostrich hunting in the Eastern Desert with his dog, Tutankhamun may have suffered a chariot accident and died of subsequent blood poisoning.

Lotus Flowers and Nightshade Berries

Interest in the young Egyptian monarch remains high today. An exhibit of replicas currently on show in Hamburg has drawn 150,000 visitors to date. Nothing even nearly comparable has ever been recovered from these earliest periods of human culture. With 27 gloves, 427 arrows, 12 stools, 69 chests, and 34 throwing sticks, the sheer volume of objects is breathtaking.

When Carter first opened the cavern, it still smelled of embalming oil. Lotus flowers and nightshade berries still rested on the coffins.

The grandeur of the find rubbed off on its discoverer. Carter was awarded an honorary doctorate and US President Calvin Coolidge invited him to tea. Horst Beinlich, Egyptologist at Würzburg University, calls him a “thoroughly honest man full of idealism.”

It appears, however, that this isn’t quite true. Documents show that the hero of the tombs cheated on many counts, manipulating photographs, forging documentation on the discovery and deceiving the Egyptian Antiquities Service.

The discoveries in that tomb set in motion a power struggle that has been only partially uncovered. Carter wanted to send as much of the treasure as possible to England and the United States. This plan quickly met with resistance. Egypt had been a British protectorate since 1914, but the administration of antiques lay in the hands of a particularly intractable Frenchman.

In the end, Carter’s entire scheme went awry and the pharaoh’s golden treasures remained in Cairo, marking the end of an era of ruthless appropriation of cultural assets. Carter and his team went away empty-handed.

Pocketing This and That

Or at least, that was the official word. Secretly, however, the Carter team helped themselves, despite lacking authorization. Objects in several museums have now been revealed to belong to Tutankhamun’s treasures.

The most recent example is a small ushabti, or servant for the dead, made of white faience and standing in the Louvre. On a recent visit to the Paris museum, Egyptologist Christian Loeben couldn’t believe his eyes. “Tutankhamun’s throne name is written on the figure,” he explains. “It can only have come from his tomb.”

Forbidden treasures in the form of two golden hawk’s heads were also found in Kansas City. Examination revealed them to be part of a collar that had lain directly on the mummy’s skin, which was coated with 20 liters (5 gallons) of embalming oil. The jewelry broke when it was pulled away, and Carter collected the pieces to give as a present to his dentist.

Objects of Tutankhamun’s have also wound up in Germany. A museum director in the state of Saxony, who wishes to remain anonymous, confessed to SPIEGEL that he is in possession of several blue faience beads. “Carter pocketed them as the tomb chambers were being cleaned and later gave them to his secretary,” he says. The museum director came across these dubious items through an auction house.

‘Unstamped Things’

Such handling of foreign property only serves to strengthen a suspicion Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, raised in the 1970s. Based on internal file notes, he documented cases in which Carter and his partner, the English Earl of Carnarvon, allowed their fingers to wander. They gave a clasp that showed the pharaoh on a war chariot as a present to Egyptian King Fouad I, for example. American oil baron Edward Harkness received a gold ring.

Carnarvon himself was looking for a fresh supply of such treasures. He wanted “unstamped things,” he wrote from Highclere Castle to Thebes on December 22, 1922, meaning pieces without a cartouche containing a name, so that they would be difficult to identify.

Carter was only caught in the act once. He’d slipped a painted bust of the young pharaoh into a side chamber, without a registration number. Inspectors discovered the bust, a “masterpiece of antique sculpture” in Hoving’s words, in a wine crate. The archaeologist talked his way out of the situation, and the scandal was never made public.

Most of the time, Carter’s subterfuge worked. A series of mostly small objects disappeared. Who stole what when — and where the pieces ended up — remains one of Egyptology’s greatest mysteries.

Ancient Tomb Robbers?

What’s known for sure is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone contains around 20 objects presumed to have originated from KV 62, Tutankhamun’s tomb. These include a small dog made of ivory, a gazelle, rings, a splendid painter’s palette, and even two silver coffin nails.

The Brooklyn Museum has in its possession, among other things, a statue of a girl, an ointment spoon, and a blue glass vase. A cat carved from black hematite turned up in Cleveland. The owners release very little information on the disputed objects.

“Nobody likes to talk about these unpleasant things,” explains Loeben, the Egyptologist. In England, Carter is known as a brilliant counterpart to Heinrich Schliemann, the German archeologist who excavated ancient Troy. That Carter earned his money through antique dealing, though, is normally hushed up.

The most recent allegations go further. Carter is said to have fudged archaeological facts, leading generations of researchers astray. The focal point of the criticism is Carter’s theory that the tomb had been looted multiple times in antiquity.

Thieves broke into the sanctuary “immediately following the burial rituals,” Carter wrote. Backed up by corrupt necropolis officials, they ransacked all the tomb’s chambers, he claimed, and other bandits later came and stole cosmetic oils.

The archaeologist gave signs of a break-in as proof, saying he had to force his way through a series of doors that had been broken open and then re-sealed by necropolis guards, all in ancient times.

Robbers With a Thing for Small Jewelry

Carter described the robbers’ destruction in vivid detail. Chests had been rifled through and stoppers pulled from alabaster vases and thrown to the ground, he said. The robbers had torn ornamentation made of precious metals from the furniture and chariots, as well as stealing a 30-centimeter (12-inch) solid gold statue.

That scenario represents the prevailing opinion today. In his standard work “The Complete Tutankhamun,” British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves accepts the figure that 60 percent of the tomb’s small ornaments and jewelry were lost. But is it true? No independent witnesses were present when Carter first entered the tomb.

It’s also clear that he lied on at least a few points. Alfred Lucas, one of Carter’s employees, revealed that his boss secretly broke open the door to the burial chamber himself, afterward relocking it with deceptive authenticity using an antique seal, to hide his transgression. That report appeared in 1947, but only in a little-read scientific journal in Cairo. Hardly anyone took notice.

‘The Break-In Was Faked’

Hoving’s revelations in the 1970s similarly attracted little interest. Many saw him as fouling the nest.

But suspicions continue to grow, especially among German Egyptologists, who doubt that the looting of the tomb in antique times really played out the way Carter described. “Much of the story is exaggerated,” Loeben believes. His colleague Rolf Krauss goes further and says, “The break-in was faked.”

Feeding these suspicions are articles 9 and 10 of the excavation license, which allowed goods from a tomb to be contractually divided up only if it had been previously robbed. If a pharaoh’s tomb was found intact, all its contents would go to Egypt.

“Under these conditions, it’s clear the discoverers must have tried construe the state of their find in their favor,” is Krauss’ analysis. This casts a dubious light on the man considered a leader in his field.

The Ambitious Young Carter

The son of an artist known for his portraits of animals, Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, when Victorian-era colonialism was at its height. The young man developed a knack for finding hidden burial chambers. Before hitting it big with Tutankhamun’s tomb, Carter had already found three other royal tombs — all of them empty. He liked being connected to the powerful, working intermittently for American millionaire and amateur archaeologist Theodore Davis.

The young Carter was somewhat awkward in his personal interactions. After coming to blows with some French tourists, he lost his job as inspector for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Carter was stubborn and hot-tempered, Hoving says, adding, “Few people could be around him for an extended period without being driven up the wall.” But his knack for finding tombs is undisputed. Starting in 1907, Carter began his obsessive pursuit of the child pharaoh whose corpse had never been found, hunting every possible clue.

Eventually he defined a triangle in the Valley of the Kings. The untouched sanctuary would be found there, he believed, somewhere under the mounds of detritus.

Carter quickly found a sponsor for the plan, although dozens had failed before him in the same pursuit. Lord Carnarvon was in poor health after a serious car accident, but the nobleman dandy, who had once circumnavigated the globe, had a mania for eerie shrines to the dead and embalmed mummies.

The Path to Tutankhamun

During the Tutankhamun project, Carnarvon’s teeth fell out one after another, and he died of an inflamed mosquito bite five months later — the beginnings of the myth of the “curse of the pharaoh.”

Carter didn’t have an easy time either. Oppressed by the heat and buffeted by dusty winds, he urged on a team of local laborers. One unsuccessful season followed another. After four years, the group was only a few centimeters from the discovery site. Suddenly, though, the boss withdrew his workers and continued the dig elsewhere.

There is a strong case for the theory that Carter had tracked down the entrance to the tomb at this point, but kept silent for tactical reasons, keeping a trump card up his sleeve. It can be said, at the very least, that when Carnarvon wanted to cut off funds in the summer of 1922, things moved surprisingly fast. Carter returned to Britain and begged for financial backing for one last campaign.

‘A Magnificent Tomb With Seals Intact’

Hardly had he arrived back in Thebes, or so runs the legend, when an assistant dashed into the excavation tent and reported a sensational find — a buried set of stairs leading down to a sealed door. Was there intrigue behind this announcement? A half brother of Lord Carnarvon thought so. He claimed Carter had crept secretly into the underground chambers three months before.

The official story is that Carter, by his own account, felt “almost overwhelmed” by the urge to break open the irksome door, but resisted, and buried the stairs once again. The next day, November 6, 1922, he cabled Lord Carnarvon, “At last have made wonderful discovery in the Valley. A magnificent tomb with seals intact. Recovered same for your arrival. Congratulations.”

Then he waited more than two weeks, ostensibly without taking any action, for his chain-smoking sponsor to arrive. Carnarvon traveled to Luxor by ship, railroad, and steamboat on the Nile. Together with his daughter Evelyn, then 21, he alighted at the glamorous Winter Palace Hotel and rushed, having barely slept, to the Valley of the Kings. Not until then did the men open the sealed door, whose mortar showed clues of a previous break-in.

Behind it lay a corridor filled with rubble.

By afternoon on November 26, the workers had removed the debris and exposed a further walled-in doorway. Carter managed to clear a peephole in the blockade, and caught a glimpse of the “wonderful things” in the antechamber.

Again and again, authors have attested to this “solemn moment,” in which the archaeologist looked in on that “eternal place,” dazzled, spellbound, awed — yet managing to keep his head. Then, according to the excavation leader, he stopped, in order to notify the Egyptian inspector general as duty required.

Carter’s words: “We had seen enough. We plugged the hole again.”

Lord Carnarvon’s Alternate Story

All that is a lie. What really took place can be gathered from a report — to this day never published, but studied in detail by Hoving — that Lord Carnarvon wrote shortly before his death. Instead of waiting dutifully as regulations required, the party forced its way through the narrow opening right away.

Using tallow candles and a weak electrical lamp, the interlopers first entered the antechamber. Golden beds and beautifully carved chairs were piled up in the narrow room, as well as gaming tables and precious vases. Oval basins held food for the dead pharaoh.

Animal figures shone from the posts of gilded litters, monstrous in the weak cone of light from the lamp. The explorers moved chests, trampled brittle woven baskets, and pocketed perfume jars, opening chests in the side chamber as well.

But the most important question remained: Where was the mummy? At last the intruders discovered another bricked-in entranceway, framed by two life-sized black sentinels. Although being found out would have cost them their license, the group broke blocks of stone away from the door. And everyone pushed their way through.

Now they stood inside the room with the four gilded wooden shrines, each inside the next, with four coffins nested inside. In the innermost of these lay the mummy, with a beaded skullcap on its shaved head. Carter rattled the outermost door and the hinges sprang open, creaking. It wasn’t until yet another seal obstructed his progress that he paused, with a shiver.

A Holy Mess

The conspirators left the underground tomb chambers hours later. Overwhelmed and blissful, they rode home by donkey in the wan moonlight, agreeing to keep silent about their activities. Only Lady Evelyn hinted at the events of that night in a letter, thanking Carter for taking her into that “most holy place.”

The negative scientific consequences of those nighttime misdoings are still felt to this day. No one knows how the tomb really looked in its untouched state. Carter always attributed this to the barbarism of ancient thieves — but the chaos in the tomb could just as well have been caused by Carter himself.

In any case, he exaggerated the damages, asserting for example that seals were already broken off the jugs of wine. But where, in that case, are the remains of those seals? Carter also claimed that objects had been stolen out of the chests. “But that can’t be substantiated using the content labels attached to the chests,” Loeben says.

Loeben also considers the claim that previous thieves had broken off golden figures from the wagons absurd: “That kind of ornamentation didn’t even exist.”

Thus the suspicion remains that the tomb’s discoverer systematically lied and misled. He wanted to present Tutankhamun’s tomb as already defiled, hoping in this way to obtain permission to remove half of the finds from the country, in accordance with the license agreement.

That the British explorer left empty-handed after all had to do with Carnarvon’s untimely death in April 1923. With Carnarvon went the excavation license, and the cards were reshuffled. Even the US State Department intervened — on Carter’s side — in the political and legal tug-of-war that ensued.

In the end, Egypt won. Carnarvon’s heirs received £36,000 (about $137,000 at the time) in compensation for costs incurred by the excavation.

‘The Very Footprints…’

It can hardly be denied any longer that antique dealer Howard Carter grabbed Tutankhamun’s valuables and helped himself to artifacts from the 3,300-year-old tomb. The details of the swindle, however, have only come to light in bits and pieces.

Carter’s theory of grave robbery in ancient times has also lost most of its clout. It has become increasingly clear that his arguments are often based on exaggerations — or are simply nonsense.

The British archaeologist claimed, for example, to have discovered “the very footprints of the last intruder” on a white bow case.

Krauss, the German Egyptologist, examined the photographic evidence from the 1920s. “A footprint is indeed visible in the photograph,” he explains, “However, it was made not by Egyptian sandals, but by modern shoes with heels.”

His suspicion? “They could be Howard Carter’s own prints.”

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Neues Museum finally opens in Berlin!

270209BEX701For seven decades Berlin’s Neues Museum was a derelict, bomb-scarred shell — but finally it is back, boasting a star-studded cast including the 3,400-year-old bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti. German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially opens the restored museum on Friday.

It’s a day that took decades to arrive. One of the jewels of Berlin’s Museum Island complex will reopen its doors. The Neues Museum reopens on Friday, meaning that the entire ensemble of Berlin’s neoclassical galleries will be open for the first time since World War II.

“It is a special day … 70 years after it 151009BER816was closed, this building can be handed over to the public again,” Hermann Parzinger, the head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin’s museums, told journalists ahead of the opening of the galleries, which will hold the city’s Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Pre- and Early History. “It is, in a way, the end of the postwar era for the Museum Island.”

The star of the show will be the limestone-and-stucco bust of Nefertiti, which has been in Germany since 1913. Reflecting her status in the world of art history, the beautiful object will reside alone in a dome-ceilinged room which overlooks the length of the museum.

The museum has been closed since the beginning of the war in 1939, when its artifacts were taken into storage. Situated in the former East Germany, it was left in its war-torn state due to lack of funds. Nefertiti and thousands of other items have now been returned to their former home for the first time.

Alongside the historic artifacts, the space also houses a stretch of barbed wire from the Berlin Wall, a timely addition given next month’s 20-year anniversary of the fall of the east-west divide.

image-24226-galleryV9-chlhAnd the neoclassical architecture, recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site, has been lent a modernist touch by British architect David Chipperfield. His painstaking €233-million ($347 million) revamp has sparked controversy by leaving some of the historic decay untouched. White modern stairways sweep past old bricks pocked by bullets in World War II, original columns still have fire damage and neo-classical mosaics and pseudo-Egyptian murals still seem to flake away on ceilings and walls.

The high-profile opening has also reignited an ongoing row about the museum’s centerpiece, with Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass telling a number of German newspapers that Nefertiti belongs to his country. Speaking to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, Hawass said an official investigation had been launched into how Nefertiti came to Germany. “If she left Egypt illegally, which I am convinced she did, then I will officially demand it back from Germany,” he told the daily.151009BER818

At the press conference ahead of the opening, Parzinger said any relevant documents would be given to the Egyptian authorities. He stressed he was “confident” Nefertiti’s place in Berlin was secure.

This weekend Nefertiti’s steely gaze will be the major draw for Berliners who are expected to flock to the public opening. The Neues Museum will be free for visitors on Saturday and Sunday. Organizers are braced for a mass turnout, providing hot drinks for the thousands expected to stand in line, despite the forecast of rain.

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Culture wars – An Anti-Semite for UNESCO?

Farouk Hosni

Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni is a leading candidate to take over UNESCO in the fall. An alliance of intellectuals and Jewish groups from France, Germany and Israel are up in arms over the possibility due to remarks made by him perceived to be anti-Israeli.

It’ll soon be time for a new boss at UNESCO, the world’s pre-eminent cultural preservation organization. But German cultural and Jewish groups are worried about the candidate currently favored to win the top spot: Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni.

In a statement released on Monday, the German Culture Council — an umbrella organization of cultural organizations in Germany — expressed concern over Hosni’s candidacy due to his history of anti-Semitic statements.

“Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake,” said Olaf Zimmermann, head of the Culture Council. UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

Hosni, an artist by trade, has been Egypt’s Culture Minister since 1987. He is known for being a liberal voice in Egyptian politics, opposing the veil for Egyptian women for example. But he has also made anti-Israeli statements in the past. Last year, he said he would “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in an interview on German radio that due to his “clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements” Hosni should be “disqualified” for the position.

With the decision coming up in October, Hosni’s candidacy has become a hot issue in France, Germany and Israel. Last Friday, three Jewish intellectuals — including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel — wrote an open letter questioning Hosni’s suitability for the position. “We must, without delay, appeal to everyone’s conscience to keep UNESCO from falling into the hands of a man who, when he hears the word ‘culture,’ responds with a book burning,” the letter read.

According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, the issue got more complicated after news leaked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to support Hosni’s candidacy in a secret deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

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UNESCO celebrates salvage at Aswan

abu-simbel_-near-aswan_-egyptUNESCO is commemorating the mammoth combined effort by archaeologists, engineers and researchers from across the globe which led to the salvaging of extraordinary temples and Pharaonic monuments which would otherwise have disappeared under the waters of Lake Nasser with the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Fifty years on from the earnest appeal sent out from Egypt and Sudan for an international salvage campaign for the Nubian monuments, UNESCO will be celebrating this important anniversary with the conference: ‘Lower Nubia: Revisiting memories of the past, envisaging perspectives for the future’ to be held on March 21-24.

With the construction of the great dam – approved by the Egyptian government in 1958 to allow the country’s economy to be modernised, and built between 1960 and 1964 – 360 kilometres of territory in Egypt and 140 in Sudan were to be irretrievably transformed into a great inland sea. Which is why the Cairo and Khartoum governments resolved to sign an official request for an appeal to UNESCO. So it was that in 1960 the organisation turned to its member states and what was later to be called the greatest archaeological salvage operation of all time got underway.

Over 70 separate archaeological missions from 25 countries explored each of the Nubian regions that were due to be flooded, both in Egypt and in Sudan. ”Hundreds of sites were inventoried and thousands of objects were identified and conserved”, recalls Professor Giuseppe Fanfoni, director of the Italo-Egyptian Centre for Restoration and Archaeology in Cairo. He took part in two missions sponsored by the Egyptology Institute of Rome’s La Sapienza university, under the direction of Professor Donadoni: those in the Egyptian village of Tamit and in Sundan’s Sonqi centre. ‘

temple-of-philae

‘We worked extremely quickly in Tamit. We only managed to complete survey and a technical drawing of the village”, the archaeologist notes, saying of how he remembers: ”the animals that, like us, sought shelter at the highest parts of the village, while our mission awaited the boat that allowed us to escape to safety before the flood waters closed in and everything was submerged”. It was a giant undertaking, which permitted the savings of innumerable finds and monuments, Fanfoni remarks, ”but many others were lost. An inestimable blow to the history of humankind”.

14 temples and monuments scattered along this stretch of the Nile valley were dismantled stone by stone and completely reconstructed beyond the reach of the waters. Without doubt, the most famous of these operations were those leading to the salvaging of the two temples of Abu Simbel and those of Philae. Five temples – including that of Ellesya, which is today reconstructed in Turin’s Museum of Egypt – were donated to the countries that collaborated in the rescue work.

During the conference at Aswan, which has been organised by Egypt’s and Sudan’s ministries of culture, scholars who took part in the salvage campaign will be presented with an award by UNESCO. Some hitherto unpublished documents relating to the period of salvage work will go on display, and a new campaign for the preservation of the Nubian heritage will be launched.

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