Let’s talk about Tutankhamun

Greetings, O gentlest of readers! It has come to my attention that there’s a bit of Tutankhamun fever going around the world right now, and the only cure…is more Tutankhamun!

If you will recall the recent post about the latest press release/news concerning our favorite ‘boy king’ (He was 18! That’s a legal adult! And he had been king since he was 9.) the new findings from his DNA have allowed a few more of the many knowledge gaps to be filled in…and raised a few more questions. Like WTF was he doing taking epic falls off of moving chariots?! Nah, but really…Tutankhamun and his famous dynasty remain pretty darn mysterious even with the new answers provided by awesome science. Let’s take a look at where we are in our knowledge of the most famous family of the 18th Dynasty, shall we?
What We Know
Tutankhamun, born Tutankhaten, was one of the last pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty and ruled around 1333 BC – 1324 BC. His reign wasn’t a particularly long or eventful one, but it came at a time when Egypt was re-doing its religious and political traditions to return them to the previous Amun-based beliefs after the particularly head-scratching reign of Akhenaten (or Amenhotep IV…). After the death of Akhenaten, who is generally assumed to be Tutakhamun’s father, (DNA analysis publicized in February 2010 confirmed that Tutankhamun was the biological son of Akhenaten* and the mummy known as The Younger Lady who was found in KV35) the young king was placed at the center of a bit of a religious revolution as everyone tried to put things back as they had been and return religious power to the priesthood of Amun. He was essentially used as a puppet king while the priesthood and his various advisers went about putting their kingdom back together and Tutankhamun got to enjoy the perks of being pharaoh (sweet chairs, chariots, jewelry, hunting trips…). Diplomatic ties were repaired, monuments created (or defaced…) and things generally returned to the way they had been before. I have a feeling most Egyptians just scratched their collective heads and carried on with their work while the royalty and religious heads decreed things. Tutankhamun was married to his sister, Ankhesenamen (originally Ankhesenpaaten) when they were both pretty young and they had 2 children, both daughters, who were most likely stillborn. This may have been due to various problems caused by several generations of incestuous royal marriages (Kohler disease!), which were the norm in an effort to keep the royal line “pure”…but really only make it worse. Go genetics! There is evidence supporting the identification of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun as siblings in the form of part of a limestone block depicting Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamen, along with text identifying both Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenpaaten as “children of the king’s body” or, the biological son and daughter of Akhenaten. This is of course open to some interpretation due to the variable nature of translations. In any case, marriage was had, children were attempted and things went south when Tutankhamun suffered a SERIOUS leg injury that turned septic and ultimately contributed to his early death when he apparently contracted malaria shortly before he died. Notice how there was nothing about a ~*mysterious*~ head injury in that last sentence. The most recent medical research done suggests that it was a combination of malaria with his already severely infected (read: gangrenous) leg injury that caused his early death. Our favorite ‘boy king’ was hastily buried (but properly mummified!) in a tomb that was originally being constructed for someone else and his chief adviser, Ay, stepped in as the new pharaoh and even married poor Ankhesenamun in an attempt to legitimize his new role as pharaoh. To say she wasn’t into this new arrangement is a bit of an understatement. A letter was found at the Hittite city of Hattusa dated to the Amarna period reading,

“My husband has died and I have no son. They say about you that you have many sons. You might give me one of your sons to become my husband. I would not wish to take one of my subjects as a husband… I am afraid.”

An envoy was actually send from Hattusa to investigate the situation in Egypt, but the envoy never arrived nor was heard from again. Mmmm…political intrigue. Shortly after Ay’s succession, Ankhesenamun disappears from history. Most speculate she simply died and may be one of two late 18th dynasty queens buried in KV 21 in the Valley of the Kings.

What We Don’t Know
-Where Akhenaten is. He may be in KV55 but…
-Where Ankhesenamun is. The latest research and testing suggests that she may be buried in KV21 with another female mummy, both of whom are dated to the late 18th dynasty and may be connected via DNA to the royal lineage. Results pending, of course.

What We’d Like to Know-*Seriously. Where is Akhenaten?! I mean, he wasn’t exactly super popular but they’ve found EVERYONE ELSE IN HIS FAMILY. So many family members, in fact, that DNA can be traced and connected even without him being there. Thanks to the new DNA test results published last week, tests have confirmed that the body found buried in tomb KV55 was the father of Tutankhamun, and is therefore “most probably” Akhenaten.
-And while we’re on the subject, where’d Nefertiti go?

In conclusion, I am roughly as tall as Tutankhamun. (5’almost6″)


Archaeology in the News! Tutankhamun has something to say

Greetings once again, gentle readers! I’m back with a shiny new article about the latest in all things Tut…ankhamun. There has been a flurry of news about updates on tests being done on his DNA, as well as the DNA of his extended family and ancestors. This here appears to the latest news! …Although I really want to add that a fair portion of this isn’t new news, but re-hashed news placed in a more coherent order. I mean, it’s not exactly a revelation that Tutankhamun was a male. HE was kind of KING for a while and had MALE things going on. Also, the information regarding a severely (septic?) infected injury on his leg is several years old and was presented as revelatory news about the same time the ‘Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs’ exhibit was touring around the world. Also also, the closing statement regarding Akhenaten and his severely weird appearance being nothing more than artistic license shouldn’t be too shocking. People living during the time of Picasso’s Cubist period weren’t *actually* cube-shaped, so we shouldn’t be so quick to think of Egyptians as alien beings or whatever your favorite X-Files theory may be. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, enjoy! 😀

Begley: King Tut’s DNA Reveals a More Manly Pharaoh

Sharon Begley

A study being published this afternoon trumpets an analysis

supposedly revealing how the boy pharaoh, King Tutankhamen, died, but for my money the study’s conclusion about how he looked is more intriguing.

Both results emerge from what the researchers call “molecular Egyptology,” in this case an analysis of DNA extracted from the bones of 11 royal mummies of the New Kingdom. The scientists took two to four DNA samples from each mummy, including Tut, who died at age 19 in about 1324 B.C., the 10th year of his reign. Comparing the genetic fingerprints allowed them to identify one previously unknown mummy as Queen Tiye, mother of the pharaoh Akhenaten and grandmother of Tutankhamen, another as Akhenaten (Tut’s father) himself, and a third as Tutankhamen’s mother, the researchers are reporting in tomorrow’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The DNA analysis also turned up genes specific to Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite, in Tut and three other mummies. The scientists, led by the colorful and controversial Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, infer that Tut suffered from avascular bone necrosis, a condition in which poor blood supply weakens or destroys an area of bone, plus malaria—a fatal combination. Tut’s tomb contained canes and what the scientists call “an afterlife pharmacy,” supporting the idea that he suffered from a condition that hobbled him.

Hawass has made headlines before for his theories of how Tut died, including (in 2006) a thigh fracture that became fatally infected, so the cause-of-death part of this research gives me a sense of déjà vu. (If you want more on this front, however, the Discovery Channel will air King Tut Unwrapped this coming Sunday, Feb. 21, and Monday, Feb. 22. I haven’t seen it, but be forewarned that some of Hawass’s previous TV productions have been more showmanship than scholarship.)

More interesting are the conclusions about the mummies’ appearance in life. Depictions of Tut and other royalty from this period show them as somewhat feminized, or at least androgynous. That led to speculation that the royal family tree was riddled with a hormonal disease that caused gynecomastia (excessive breast development in men), or Marfan syndrome, which causes patients to be tall and thin, with slender, graceful, tapering fingers—like several of the royals. But CT scans showed no signs of either. (Further evidence against a feminizing disorder—and here let me simply quote the paper— is that “the penis of Tutankhamen, which is no longer attached to the body, is well developed.”)

The feminized depictions are therefore likely to be what the researchers call “a royally decreed style most probably related to the religious reforms of Akhenaten. It is unlikely that either Tutankhamen or Akhenaten actually displayed a significantly bizarre or feminine physique.” In other words, the faces and forms so familiar to museumgoers and amateur Egyptologists may be no more than artistic license.


Archaeology in the News! Aqua Traiana

More archaeological news! In case you were wondering whatever happened to the Aqua Traiana…

The long-sought source of the aqueduct that brought clean fresh water to ancient Rome lies beneath a pig pasture and a ruined chapel, according to a pair of British filmmakers who claim to have discovered the headwaters of Aqua Traiana, a 1,900-year-old aqueduct built by the Emperor Trajan in 109 A.D.

One of Rome’s 11 aqueducts, the Aqua Traiana originated around Lake Bracciano, 25 miles from Rome. After collecting water from other springs on its way down to the capital, the channel finally reached Janiculum Hill in Rome, providing clean, drinkable water to the Trastevere district.

“This aqueduct had an enormous importance as it supplied the capital with very pure spring water. Health and hygiene improved, as well as industrial activities. We have been able to find the very source of all this,” documentary-maker Edward O’Neill told Discovery News.

The team made their discovery between Lake Bracciano and the village of Manziana (about 25 miles northwest of Rome), amid thick vegetation and pig pastures.

Edward O’Neill and his father Michael were searching for the Aqua Alsietina, Rome’s lost aqueduct, when local people suggested investigating a long abandoned church known as the Madonna of the Flower.

Exploring the chapel, the documentary makers found a concealed door which led to a subterranean chamber.

Before descending to the underground complex, about 3 meters (9.8 feet) below, the O’Neills recruited Lorenzo Quilici, a leading authority on Roman hydro-engineering from Bologna University, and Allan Ceen, professor of history of architecture at Pennsylvania State University.

Quilici confirmed that the building was Roman, rather than medieval, as had long been believed.

“It’s all Roman. The brickwork and waterproof hydraulic cement lining the tunnels is absolutely characteristic of the Trajanic age,” Quilici said.

Beyond the subterranean chamber, a 125-meter-long (410-foot-long) gallery led to the beginning of the aqueduct. But what struck the researchers were the chamber’s decorations, made with a rare and costly type of paint known as Egyptian blue (calcium copper silicate).

“This was an extraordinary monument, a vaulted, three-chambered semicircular nymphaeum (a monument consecrated to the nymphs in ancient Greece and Rome). At the center there was a small temple dedicated the spring god, while on both sides there were two basins,” Quilici said.

Roofed with quite extraordinary vaults, still decorated with Egyptian blue, the basins filtered the spring water through bricks laid with gaps between them.

“The basins had two functions: they collected the waters for the aqueduct and provided quite beautiful scenery,” Quilici said.

According to the researchers, the richly decorated vaulted ceilings suggest that Trajan (the 13th Roman emperor) almost certainly came there for the aqueduct’s inauguration.

Indeed, the emperor may have been in that area on June 24, 109 A.D., according to historical records.

“By coincidence we first explored the aqueduct on June 24, 2009, exactly 1,900 years later,” O’Neill pointed out.

Trajan commemorated the opening of the aqueduct by minting a Roman coin and building a fountain on Janiculum Hill, right where the waters entered the city.

The coin shows a river god atop flowing waters, reclining in what looks like a grotto or a tunnel.

According to Rabun Taylor, professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, this is a unique finding.

“This is a discovery of almost unprecedented importance in the long history of aqueduct studies,” Taylor, who has published widely on the architecture and hydraulics of the city, said in a statement.

In use until the Renaissance, the aqueduct was rebuilt by Pope Paul V between 1605 and 1615 and renamed Aqua Paola after him.

Taking the water directly from Lake Bracciano, and not from the nearby springs as in Roman times, the papal aqueduct still brings water to Rome, culminating almost on the same spot on Janiculum hill.

“The water however, it is not as fresh and pure as in Trajan’s times. It is actually quite nasty,” O’Neill said.

The nymphaeum suffered an even worst fate. Located inside a pig farm, it is used today as a rubbish dump. Moreover, fig roots are pushing through the valuted ceiling.

“The site is crumbling and could totally disintegrate in 20 years. It desperately needs to be restored,” said O’Neill.

***Discovery News***

Archaeology in the News! Arborglyphs!

Here’s a cool little article about the exciting world of arborglyphs (glyphs which are on arbors…er, trees.)!

On the trunk of a gnarled, centuries-old oak tree, about 90 miles southwest of Phoenix, Ariz., are odd carvings of six-legged, lizard-like beings.

The tree is located at Painted Rock, an archaeological site peppered with hundreds of ancient petroglyphs, images created upon rock surfaces.

Known as the “scorpion tree,” locals had long believed that cowboys were behind the tree carving (the technical term is “arborglyph”). But paleontologist Rex Saint Onge knew it dated to long before then.

His analysis offers a glimpse not only into the cultural history of the Chumash people, the Native American tribe that once inhabited the region; it also provides unique insights into their scientific expertise.

Although Saint Onge is uncertain how old the tree carving is, he believes that nearby Chumash residents may have maintained it until the early 20th century.

The images at Painted Rock were originally written off by past researchers as “the work of wild-eyed, drug-induced shamans.” However, the arborglyph led Saint Onge to connect the symbols within the carving with the stars in the sky.
***Discovery News***

The Archaeology of Beards

Avast, gentle readers! The time has come for the long-awaited proper blog post all about the history of facial hair cultivation. Yes, this will indeed be an epic post and I am happy to say that it is entirely inspired by every single one of my male friends, especially those who take their facial hair cultivation seriously. With that, let the posting begin!

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that folks running around pre-Agricultural Revolution were a bit beardy. I’m not necessarily talking about stereotypical Neanderthal beard mess (which isn’t exactly the most accurate thing in the world…) but the origin of the belief that a man wasn’t a man until he started to grow a beard had to begin somewhere. This seems like a good place to start, yes? Unfortunately, folks in these early times didn’t exactly look upon recording of daily beauty regimens as a top priority. Most time was devoted to things like finding food, basic survival, group dynamics (synergy) and general crafts. While beard maintenance was probably part of a hygiene routine, if it was a more integral part of the manly experience it wasn’t recorded. This is fine because the manly men of later eras took up the call and created some truly spectacular facial hair arrangements.

Mesopotamia (Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia and friends)
The gentlemen of the Mesopotamian empires pioneered some truly awe inspiring beards. They were well-known throughout the ancient world for their grooming (proto-manscaping, if you will…) and are instantly identifiable by their meticulously and artfully curled beards. Earlier on though, most men had a tendency to be shaved and/or bald as it fit with the hot climate much like the Egyptians. However, excavations at cities such at Ur have uncovered burials with evidence of extensive and artful braids with gold and ribbons woven into the final hairdo. The Old Akkadian period saw a rise in popularity of meticulously waved hair and beards for men as an alternative to the clean-shaven look. The typical Assyrian reliefs that most people are familiar with prominently feature men with such full beards and mustaches that are intricately waved and curled at the end. There were also distinctive hairstyles for men of various professions to denote their line of work. Doctors, priests and even slaves had distinct hairstyles that would immediately identify them as a member of their class or profession to the general public.

The men of ancient Egypt are another group who are instantly identifiable by their grooming habits. Because of the extremely hot temperatures that tend to happen in Egypt, it was standard practice for both men and women to have short hair. Wealthier men and royalty would commonly be entirely clean shaven and wear elaborate wigs instead. The Egyptians were very much into hair removal, as both men and women preferred a very clean look. There were all sorts of hair removal creams and devices to help them achieve their beauty ideal. That said, they also had a knack for extreme detail when depicting folks from other parts of the world with different hairdos and *gasp* beards! Their attention to detail is very useful to archaeologists and historians because it helps us identify all the different cultures that the Egyptians interacted with! Later periods in Egyptian history were characterized by the influences of the ruling Libyans, Greeks, Romans and Persians. They brought a particularly beardy way of life with them that was eventually adopted into Egyptian life.

Greek men were another beardy bunch. In Greek culture, as in many other cultures, the sign that a boy had truly become a man was that he was able to grow facial hair. Men took pride in their beards and made it a point to keep them groomed and manicured and this attention to detail was in turn translated into their art. Greek men can be easily identified by their dark beards while younger Greek males will be beardless. There are some exceptions here, as various deities can be adult males but also clean shaven. On the whole though, any proper adult Greek man will have a beard and be pretty proud of this fact.

The Romans! Yes, the Romans also had a fondness for distinctive grooming styles. Roman men were widely known for their preference to be clean shaven well through the Republic and into the Empire. Once Rome started to have some awesome emperors, facial hair trends began to change. Nero (54-68 CE) made it a point to adopt a rather fancy hair style and eventually added sideburns to complete the look. However, it wasn’t until Hadrian (117-138 CE) rolled in from Spain that beards made a full return to Roman culture. Being the first of the ‘Bearded Emperors’, Hadrian’s signature short beard brought relief to the faces of men across the empire and they seem to have quickly followed suit. Even after the time of the ‘Bearded Emperors’, beards and facial hair in general remained popular among men in the Roman empire. (Images: Hadrian [left] and Nero [right])

Roman frontiers (Celtiberia, Gaul and those weird northern places)
Many of the cultures that the Romans encountered had something that the Romans did not: beards. And I’m talking about serious beards here. Beards that were long enough to be braided in several ways and looked rather menacing on the battlefield. Again, this was part of the whole ‘adult men have beards’ cultural element that we have seen throughout the Mediterranean and Near East. The Romans found these beards odd and often wrote about them as a distinguishing feature of whatever group they had run into in their many adventures in border expansion. Some folks were into braiding beards, some not. Some of the more hardcore Gauls and Celtic peoples took things a step further and chose to enhance their hair and beards with lime, which would eventually bleach the hair and create some pretty awesome displays. Some groups weren’t so much into beards, but they made up for it with serious mustaches. Fearsome mustaches that inspired fear on the battlefields of Europe and the UK.

The men of England and the mighty British Empire were also pioneers of facial hair, creating some of the most awesome and ridiculous displays of beard and mustache art that continue to be imitated today. Kings were almost always the trendsetters in the beard world and as times and kings came and went, so did preferences for facial hair. Sometimes there were simply beards, sometimes there were elaborately waxed mustaches and sometimes there were mutton chops big enough to take over Tokyo. In this area, I will simply let the beards speak for themselves.

Modern beards
And then there’s this guy.

And there you have it! A brief look at the archaeology (ok, mostly history) behind beards and other forms of facial hair cultivation and management.

Archaeology in the News! Roman ‘Swiss Army Knife’ on display

Check it out y’all! It’s an awesome Roman thing on display for you to see! If you happen to be near Cambridge and/or the Fitzwilliam Museum, get yourself inside to check out their new exhibit.

Roman “Swiss Army knife” goes on display

The Romans were an inventive bunch. They had running water, flush toilets, and mass media two thousand years ago. They also had their own version of the Swiss Army knife.

digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/arts_culture/Roman_1800_Y_Old_Version_of_Swiss_Army_Knife_Goes_On_Display’; The curious artifact pictured here is part of the newly remodeled displays at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. “Discovering Greece and Rome” reopened today after a £950,000 ($1.5 million) refurbishment that involved eighteen months of careful research, conservation, and construction.

The Roman Swiss Army knife has a knife, spoon, fork, spike, spatula, and small pick. Archaeologists think the spike might have helped in extracting meat from snails, a popular Roman food, and the spatula in poking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles. The pick could have served as a toothpick. This isn’t the only Roman folding knife that’s been found, but they’re usually bronze and this one is silver and has a lot more gadgets. It dates to the third or fourth century A.D.

The museum has thousands of rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts from the Classical world, including a 3,000 year-old cosmetics box, intricately carved sarcophagi, elegant Greek vases, and everyday items from the civilizations that gave us so much of our own culture. Maps and a time line put everything into context.

During the refurbishment, museum staff removed a series of ancient stone inscriptions from one of the gallery’s false walls and discovered a time capsule placed there by the team that did the last remodel back in the 1960s. Inside was a copy of the Cambridge News dated Friday 10 May 1963, a selection of contemporary coins, and the names of the 1960s team carved into the cement. The Fitzwilliam didn’t say if they repeated the time capsule trick. The next team will just have to find out for themselves sometime in the future.

Real post coming soon!! 😀