The South Asasif Conservation Project team has just opened its eleventh season in the South Asasif tombs of Karakhamun (TT223), Karabasken (TT391), and Irtieru (TT390). We will be working until September and are looking forward to a productive season. Watch this page for weekly updates from team members, along with images and video clips of the work.
The site of the South Asasif is open for the 2019 season! Congratulations to our team members, sponsors and friends. We are going to have an incredible season! We are very grateful to the Ministry of Antiquities for supporting the work of the Project.
- Our first two weeks were fantastic! We are so happy to be back at the sit and reunite with the MoA conservation team led by Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali. We are lucky to work with these incredible professionals: Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Ali Hassan Ibrahim, Taib Hassan Ibrahim, Mohamed El Azeb Hakem, Hassan Dimerdash, Said Ali Hassan, Mohamed Badawy, Mohamed Shebib, Taib Said Mohamed and Reis Mohamed Ali. Our inspector Ahmed ElTayeb Mahmoud is an experienced archaeologist and an old friend of the Project. We are happy to work again with our colleagues from the Qurna inspectorate: Fathy Yassin, General Director of Antiquities of the West Bank of Luxor; Ramadan Ahmed Ali, General Director of the Foreign Missions Department, Ezz Elnoby, Director of the Middle Area, Ahmed Bogdady, Chief inspector of the Middle area, Abdel Nasser Ahmed Abd El Azim, General Director of Museums and Restoration in Upper Egypt, Bedawy Said Abdel Rahim, General Director of the Luxor Restoration Department and conservation inspector Samah Mohamed Abd El Rady.
- One of the goals of the season is the conservation and reconstruction of the collapsed pillars in the First Pillared Hall in the tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223). The pillars were found collapsed and buried under the fragments of the ceiling and large blocks of bedrock. Remains of only about 1m in height were found in situ. The conservators started consolidation and reinforcement of the lower parts of the pillars. Tens of thousands of fragments of inscriptions and vignettes found during the clearing of the tomb will be incorporated into reconstructions built of new limestone. The pillars were decorated with the texts of the Ritual of the Hours. The Hours of the Day were placed on the four pillars on the north side and the Hours of the Night on the four pillars on the south side of the hall, three hours on each pillar. They are arranged from east to west on the north side and from west to east on the south side following the solar cycle. The reconstruction of these texts is of utmost importance as they exhibit the earliest example of Stundenritual texts included into the decoration of an elite tomb and displayed on the pillars. The fourth side of each pillar was inscribed with one or two chapters of the Book of the Dead. The texts were reconstructed by Erhart Graefe ( Hours of the Day), Kenneth Griffin (Hours of the Night and BD), Miguel Molinero Polo and Raquel Agras (BD 85, 92). Identification of the fragments and digital reconstruction of the decoration is still a work in progress. (see bibliography)
Conservators Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Ali Hassan Ibrahim, Mohamed El Azeb Hakem, Hassan Dimerdash are at work consolidating the pillars and joining fragments of inscriptions in sand boxes.
- The so-called “stone tower” is erected in the court of Karakhamun higher than ever. It will serve to deliver blocks of new limestone to the First Pillared hall.
- Our leading archaeologist Marion Brew continues clearing the superstructures of the tombs of Karakhamun (TT 223) and Karabasken (TT 391). They will be recorded by the architect of the Project Dieter Eigner.
- Our assistant director, artist and photographer Katherine Blakeney is always ready to climb every mountain to record the architectural features of the tombs.
- New discoveries keep our excavation workmen, archaeologist Marion Brew and head of the registration department John Billman happy and busy.
- One of the best discoveries so far is a small fragment with the upper part of a G17 sign. The beautiful owl is carved in raised relief with precision and numerous details indicating feathers of different lengths and textures. Our conservator Mohamed Shebib with his photographic memory immediately remembered another fragment with the lower part of the bird found in 2015. The fragment is part of the decoration of the doorframe leading to the pillared hall in the tomb of Karabasken. What a great way to start the season!
Graefe, Erhart “Report on the work on the fragments of the “Stundenritual” (Ritual of the Hours of the Day) in TT 223″. In Thebes in the First Millennium BC. , edited by Elena Pischikova, Julia Budka, Kenneth Griffin, 295-306. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014.
Graefe, Erhart. “Second report on work on the fragments of the Stundenritual (ritual of the hours of the day) in TT 223”. In Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis: New Discoveries and Research 2012-14, edited by Elena Pischikova, 91-95. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2017, 91-95.
Griffin, Kenneth. “Toward a Better Understanding of the Ritual of the Hours of the Night (Stundenritual)” In Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis: New Discoveries and Research 2012-14, edited by Elena Pischikova, 97-134. Cairo, New York: AUC Press, 2017.
Griffin, Kenneth. “A Preliminary Report on the Hours of the Night in the Tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223) “. In Thebes in the First Millennium BC: Art and Archaeology of the Kushite Period and Beyond, edited by Elena Pischikova, Julia Budka , Kenneth Griffin, 59-70. London: Golden House Publications, 2018.
Molinero Polo, Miguel. “The Textual Program of Karakhamun’s First Pillared Hall.” In Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis: Thebes, Karakhamun (TT 223), and Karabasken (TT 391) in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, edited by Elena Pischikova, 131-172. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2014.
- Our excavation team made a heroic effort to finish clearing the superstructure of the tomb of Karabasken by the end of the extended 2018 season. The work was conducted under the supervision of Marion Brew and Reis Mohamed Ali. They were assisted by Katherine Bateman, Marcus Wallas and a team of our wonderful workmen.
The ancient bricks of the superstructure were temporarily covered with cotton fabric and new stamped mud bricks made by the Project. More permanent protection and reconstruction of the superstructure will be executed next season after it is recorded by the architect of the Project, Dieter Eigner.
We are grateful to the ASA Restoration Project and personally to Anthony Browder and Darren McKnight for the extension of the season and to TVAES for its support of the mud brick protection project.
- A few last moment joins were identified by Ken Griffin and added to the walls of the Second Pillared Hall. A small fragment with the outlines of lips and a nose joined with the figure of the goddess Maat leading Karakhamun to the realm of Osiris on the thickness of the entrance to the Second Pillared hall. Mohamed Shebib and Ken Griffin are celebrating the resurrection of the divine face.
Anthony Browder and Darren McKnight are triumphantly installing the back shoulder of Karakhamun’s brother Nesamenopet.
- Our amazing conservation team finished reconstruction of the monumental entrance to the First Pillared hall in the tomb of Karakhamun and started re-constructing the vaulted ceiling of the Tornische. The work was performed by an MoA conservation team: Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Ali Hassan Ibrahim, Mohamed Shebib, Taib Hassan, Abdelrahman Ahmed Ali, Taib Said, Mohamed El Azeb Hakem, Hassan Dimerdash, Tarek Mohamed Yusef, Mohamed Bedawy, Ahmed Kammel, Said Ali Hassan, Hussein Ahmed Hussein with the help and support of the Qurna inspectorate, directed by Fathy Yaseen Abd El Karim.
- Salima Ikram examined the contents of the canopic jars of Lady Amenirdis found earlier in the season and delivered the results to Marion Brew and Elena Pischikova, who look transfixed by Dr. Ikram’s magical performance.
- Afaf Wahba studied three mummified bodies found in the side room (IA) in the open court of the tomb of Karabasken. She was assisted by Hayley Goddard and Marcus Wallas. Observations made by the osteologists were recorded on camera by Katherine Blakeney.
- Karakhamun is closed until the 2019 season. The Second Pillared hall is covered with a roof and the pillars of the First Pillared hall are enclosed in wooden “boxes”.
- The South Asasif Conservation Project team has just finished its twelfth, and one of its most successful seasons. Congratulations and many thanks to our team members, sponsors, colleagues and friends. We are looking forward to continuing the work next year!
We would like to thank our Egyptian colleagues for their help and support during the 2018 season. Special thanks go to H.E. Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Moustafa Waziri, General Secretary of SCA, Dr. Mohamed Ismail, Former Director of the Foreign Missions Department, Dr. Nashwa Gaber, Director of the Foreign Missions Department, Mr. Mohamed Abd El Badia, General Director of the Center of Upper Egyptian Antiquities, Dr. Mohamed Abd El Aziz, General Director of Antiquities for Upper Egypt; Mohamed Yahia, General Director of Antiquities of the Luxor area. Mr. Fathy Yassin, General Director of Antiquities of the West Bank of Luxor; Mr. Baha, Director of Qurna Antiquities, Mr. Ramadan Ahmed Ali, General Director of the Foreign Missions Department (mission member), Mr. Ezz Elnoby, Director of the Middle Area (mission member), Mr. Ahmed Ezz, General Director of MoA storage, Ahmed Hassan, Director of MoA storage, Abd El Gawad, inspector of the MoA storage, Mr. Ahmed Bogdady, head inspector of the Middle area, Abdel Nasser Ahmed Abd El Azim, General Director of Museums and Restoration in Upper Egypt, Bedawy Said Abdel Rahim, General Director of the Luxor Restoration Department, Mr. Ahmed Ali Hussein Ali, Director of the Conservation Department of Qurna, General Director of Conservation Department of Upper Egypt, Abu El Hassan Ahmed, general engineer of Qurna Antiquities, Inspectors Hussein Ahmed Hussein, Mohamed Khalifa Mohamed, Mahmoud Yussuf Khalifa, Ahmed Kammel, Safaa Mohamed Abd El Motey, and Conservation Inspectors Mohamed Ali, Ali Taib Mohamed, Nawal Mohamed Fawzy, and Tarek Mohamed Yusef and security guards of the Qurna area. We are very grateful to Dr. Sanna Ahmed Ali, General Director of the Museums of Upper Egypt and Samia Abdel Aziz, Asma Nubi Ragabia Atia Ala for their help in installing canopic jars in the Luxor Museum.
- The main August event was the delivery and installation of the canopic jars of the Lady of the House Amenirdis in the Luxor Museum. We found these beautiful jars in the tomb of Karabasken (TT 391) in May 2018 (for more details see the previous blog post). The Qurna inspectorate, the Ministry’s museum sector and the direction of the Luxor Museum were extremely helpful in making this exhibition possible. The canopic jars are the first objects found by our archeological team to be put on display in the Luxor Museum. We are very grateful for this opportunity and are hoping to have a chance to show more in the future.
2. Marion Brew, Katherine Bateman, Katy Ball and Vibeke Berens are finishing excavation of the superstructure of the tomb of Karabasken. The extension of the season, made possible thanks to the ASA Restoration Project, gave our excavators enough time to unearth the remains of Karabasken’s monumental pylon. The impressive structure will be recorded by Dieter Eigner at the beginning of next season.
3. The offering scenes on the east wall and pilasters of the First pillared hall were bought back to life by our great team of Egyptian conservators. This area of the tomb suffered from fire, floods and later occupation. The top of the wall collapsed and the pilasters had less than a meter remaining in situ. The decoration was reduced to hundreds of small fragments scattered over the open court and first pillared hall. The architectural elements were re-built out of new limestone fixed on metal frames, and ancient fragments were inserted into pockets carved in the new limestone. Joins found between the original fragments or the fragments and the bedrock helped to reconstruct three registers of offering bearers on the pilaster, two large-scale offering scenes on the east wall and a procession of offering bearers on the south wall of the Tornishe.
- Ken Griffin, Mohamed Shebib, Taib Hassan, Said Ali Hassan and Markus Wallas are finishing the installation of the text of the Ritual of the Twelfth Hour of the Day and BD 92. The texts and vignettes were reconstructed by Erhart Graefe, Ken Griffin and Raquel Agras Flores. 45 fragments of the text of BD 92 were installed on the north face of the pilaster. 16 fragments of the vignette will follow soon. 28 fragments of the text and 28 fragments of the vignette of the Twelfth Hour on the west face are already on the pillar. The vignette of the Twelfth Hour contains one the most sophisticated images of Karakhamun in the whole tomb. The precision of carving, modeling and treatment of the details can be compared only with the “main” large scale figure of Karakhamun at the offering table on the north section of the east wall.
- Anthony Browder, Darren McKnight and Atlantis Browder assessed the damages to the granite sarcophagus of Karabasken in preparation for its reconstruction next season.
- John Billman is reviewing the finds of the season with pride and satisfaction.
- Karakhamun is getting a new roof! The wooden roof we are installing this year will provide great temporary protection for the tomb’s decoration for the period of reconstruction. Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali and Ken Griffin are demonstrating a window built into the roof.
More very soon!
We congratulate the team of the South Asasif Conservation Project on finding the canopic jars of the Lady of the House Amenirdis in the tomb of Karabasken (TT 391).
The discovery was recently announced by Dr. Mostafa Waziri. General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
It was an unforgettable day for (from left to right) Ali Hassan Ibrahim, Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Hussein Ahmed Hussein, Marion Brew, Katerina Ball and John Billman.
The set of canopic jars was found on the 7th of May, 2018 in an intrusive burial compartment in the pillared hall of the tomb of Karabasken by the archaeologists Marion Brew, Katerina Ball, Hassan Mohamed Ali and Reis Mohamed Ali. The room, accessed via a staircase carved between the 4th and 5th pillars of the southern side of the hall, was discovered in 2016.
The shaft in the south-east corner of the room and burial chambers were cleared in April-May 2018. The 3m deep shaft leads to two burial chambers oriented to the east and west of the shaft. Both chambers were roughly carved and undecorated.
The canopic jars were found in the eastern chamber in a nearly cubic cutting in the floor and photographed by Katherine Blakeney.
The happy moment of discovery was shared by Mohamed Shebib, inspector Hussein Ahmed Hussein, Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali, Katherine Blakeney and Reis Mohamed Ali.
The jars and lids, made of Egyptian alabaster, needed emergency conservation performed by a team of MoA conservators including Ali Hassan Ibrahim, Mohamed Shebib, Ali Taib Mohamed, Taib Said Mohamed, and Mohamed El Azeb Hakem. Mohamed Shebib is performing injections.
Canopic jars after conservation:
The Jars were measured and registered by John Billman.
Many of the mission members gave their hears to Duamutef with his mischievous smile and elongated eyes.
His erect jackal ears, connected by an area of negative space are elegantly indicated by two parallel incised lines. The jar was found in two pieces. The smoothness of the edges suggests this was the original construction and the pieces were joined in antiquity.
The canopic jars will be published in the 3rd volume of the AUC series Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis.
Two exquisitely carved faces found their way back on the north-east pilaster in the First Pillared hall this week. They belong to offering bearers from the top register on the western side of the pilaster. Three registers with three offering bearers (Two male and one female) in each comprised the original decoration of the pilaster, found broken into numerous small fragments.
Abderazk Mohamed Ali, Ali Hassan Ibrahim and Katherine Blakeney are transferring the reconstruction drawing of the newly constructed top register of the north-east pilaster. Reconstructions of both eastern pilasters in the First Pillared hall will be finished by the end of June under the supervision of our inspector Mahmud Youssef El Edassy.
The lintel of the Tornische doorframe is almost finished. The next level is a beautifully colored cavetto cornice. A lunette with wadjet eyes carved in bold raised relief will top the entrance structure.
Erhart Graefe is working on the reconstruction of the vignette for the text of the Ritual of the Eighth Hour of the Day. This colorful, beautifully carved vignette will face the central aisle of the First Pillared hall in the tomb of Karakhamun when placed on the third pillar of the north side of the hall.
We welcome Louise Bertini who visited the site on the 20th of June and started working on the animal bones found in the tomb of Karabasken at the beginning of the season.
Mohamed Shebib is very happy about finding this tiny fragment of carving that he identified as the top of the folded cloth clenched in the fist of Karakhamun on the south wall of the Second Pillared hall.
Katherine Piper is back at work on the painted ceiling from the Second Pillared Hall. We hope to reconstruct most of it in a sand box by the end of the season.
Katherine Blakeney is flying high photographing the mud brick superstructure of the tomb of Karabasken.
Mohamed Abu Hakem is getting ready for his first space voyage. We wish him luck but are going to miss him at the site.
Our wonderful excavation team of Lesley O’Conner, Reis Mohamed Ali, Cheryl Hanson, Mustafa Said Jad, Saeed Abdul Rahim, Ahmed Hassan Mawat, Ramadan Mohamed Abdullah and Saeed Hassan Ahmed continue working on the growing superstructure of the tomb of Karabasken despite the heat of the previous week.
More next week!
Every week in the South Asasif necropolis brings new discoveries and achievements.
One of the most notable discoveries of the week was made by our leading conservator, Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali. He brought back to the team’s attention a small fragment of sunk relief with a well-modeled surface, a thin raised line in the middle and a plain polished surface on the other side of the line.
Many mission members participated in the discussion of this strange fragment without reaching a quorum on “deciphering” the image. Katherine Blakeney saw the modeled area as a knee but Elena Pischikova never shared her view because of the raised line above the proposed knee. It would suggest a kilt with a rim on its hem and that would be unique for the tomb of Karakhamun. This time Abdelrazk didn’t want to hear any arguments. Following his instinct he went directly to the scene of an offering bearer leading a crane on the north-east pilaster of the First Pillared Hall and inserted the fragment into the gap above the back of the crane.
It fit perfectly, adding a new feature to one of the most lavishly carved scenes in the tomb. And yes, this particular offering bearer has one of the best-modeled knees in the whole tomb and a rimmed hem on his kilt. This beautiful bird is on the cover of the Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis vol.2 published by AUC in 2017.
Abdelrazk suggested informing AUC of the new addition to the scene and updating the cover. Sounds like a great idea!
Reconstruction of the Tornische, the vaulted entrance area to the underground part of Karakhamun’s tomb is going remarkably well although we face problems in the most unexpected areas. For example, Hassan Dimerdash , the conservator responsible for the reconstruction of the torus, reed bundle elements, and the rectangular ledges that flank the entrance doorframe realized that the dimensions of the elements on the left and right side of the door are different. To place all the fragments of three-stem reed bundle elements Hassan has to check the size of the stems, depth of carving, shape of the stems, etc. (with help from Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali).
The right side is shaping up well. On the photograph below Hassan is placing an identified rope element.
The north section of the east wall is constructed all the way up to the ceiling. It is ready to receive the fragments of the offering list and conservator Ali Hassan Ibrahim is waiting for the first stones.
Erhart Graefe arrived at the site to continue working on the texts of the Rituals of the Hours of the Day. Although photographed on his first day of work, Erhart looks extremely well organized and concentrated on the task at hand. A good start to what will surely be a productive season.
We are happy to welcome AUC student Hayley Goddard. She has just taken her osteology exam at the site. The grueling test was conducted by the prominent expert Afaf Wahba. We are happy to report that Afaf will be joining our team later in the season.
Members of our BD 17 team Annie Haward and Francesca Jones will be leaving the site next week. A lot of progress has been made in sorting the fragments by columns and finding new joins.
Karabasken’s superstructure keeps growing under the watchful eyes of Marion Brew and Lesley O’Connor. With Lesley’s arrival we got our own Indiana Jones at the site (not the hat).
The work of the South Asasif team continues in all the areas of the necropolis with incredible results.
We had a wonderful breakfast with our workmen to celebrate the start of Ramadan.
The excavation team of Reis Mohamed Ali, Marion Brew, inspector Mohamed Khalifa Ahmed and Katy Bell are still following the remains of the northern wall of the superstructure of the tomb of Karabasken. The traces were almost lost on higher ground but recently resurfaced at a lower level of the terrain, with as many as three courses of the original bricks preserved in situ.
John Billman, the head of the object registration and catalogization project enjoys the recent finds in his “office” in the tomb of Irtieru.
Reconstruction of the Tornische area in the tomb of Karakahamun is also in full swing. Today was a big day of the arrival of the lintel carved by our stone cutters. A large group of builders, stone cutters and conservators watched its progress down into the court of the tomb and celebrated its arrival. The participants of this event on the photo are Ahmed Bedawy, Mohamed Gamal, Abd El Hady Abd, Hamdi Abdel Fatah, Ali Hassan Radwan, Ahmed Mustafa Maraa, Mohamed Ahmed Attia, Hassan Mustafa Ali, Hassan Dimerdash, Mohamed El Azeb Hakem, Ali Taib Mohamed, Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali.
Members of the team BD 17 Francesca Jones and Annie Howard continue sorting the fragments of the text by column finding new joins in the process. In previous years they amassed a corpus of 135 fragments whose position can be identified in the 112 columns of the text. They explain the significance of the new join on the photograph above in their own words:
“Great excitement was felt earlier in the week, when we found a new piece with half each of a horned viper (I9) and a basket (V31) and a reed (M17) depicted, and were able to locate it to column 75. Not only that, but we already had another piece from the same column with half a horned viper and basket and a reed. A join! The photo shows us with this join, the first of two this week!
We would like to thank all the team for their help in locating possible fragments, and for helping to move the sometimes very heavy stones to where they can be worked on.”
– Francesca and Annie
More soon! Continue following our blog!
Our first month in South Asasif was full of hard work and excitement. Everybody is happy to be back at the site and contribute to the success of the season.
The work began with the recording of the superstructure of the tomb of Karakhamun and clearing of the superstructure of the tomb of Karabasken. Dieter Eigner, the architect of the team, was instrumental in both projects. He interpreted the intricacies of Karakhamun’s superstructure (on the photograph with Elena Pischikova)
and assisted the excavation team of Marion Brew, Sharon Davidson and Hassan Mohamed Ali in surveying the area of Karabasken’s superstructure.
The excavation team led by Marion Brew (on the photograph with Katy Bell) has already reached remarkable results by finding the remains of the wall above the entrance to the underground part of the tomb and a section of the enclosure wall to the north of the open court.
Photography of Karakhamun’s superstructure proved to be a real adventure for Katherine Blakeney and Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali. To find a high enough angle they had to build their personal “Eiffel tower” to the west of the tomb.
The conservation team is working on the reconstruction of the Tornische area (entrance to the underground part of the tomb) in the tomb of Karakhamun based on the architectural features still in situ and the reconstruction drawing by Dieter Eigner.
Despite being one of the most destroyed features of the tomb this originally richly decorated area still contains some of the most sophisticated relief carving in Karakhamun. Most of the images were reduced to numerous small pieces and their reconstruction requires a lot of time, patience and skill. This series of photographs shows the work of done by Said Ali Hassan, Katherine Blakeney and Abdelrazk Mohamed Ali on the reconstruction of the figure of one of the offering bearers originally from the south wall of the niche. The process began with the reconstruction of the figure in a sandbox, and continued with transferring the outlines of the figure to the surface of a new limestone block, carving the figure in sunk relief and then using the depression to embed the original fragments, carved in raised relief. The photo shows one of the eight figures originally forming the procession.
These are only a few activities of the South Asasif Project in 2018. We will be covering different aspects of our work this summer in future blog posts.
Happy Halloween to our mission members, sponsors and friends! The South Asasif conservation Project is preparing for 2018 and looking forward to a great season. Meanwhile, we’re in the mood to have some fun and celebrate with our own Katherine Blakeney, who is preparing to launch her new blog, Stardigger’s Treasure Trove.
Check out the teaser post “Mummy Love: Cleopatra as Cinema’s First Mummy” below:
Halloween is my favorite day of the year and I spend most of October preparing to celebrate this glorious day of darkness, monstrousness and decay. Hoping to scare my friends into the holiday mood I planned to make this post as bloodcurdling as I possibly could. And what better way to scare an archaeology lover than with a thoroughly terrifying mummy?
So far so good. Now, to choose the right one. The phantom of Boris Karloff comes to mind at once, but I suspect he is all too familiar to you already. To scare you properly I resolved to delve into uncharted waters, into my favorite era in cinema history – silent film. Considering that the earliest known film featuring the character of an Ancient Egyptian mummy was made in 1899, I had a lot of resin-stained bandages to wade through in search of my silent horror monster.
To my great regret, all I brought back from my journey into the afterlife was a flock of mummified damsels in distress. I apologize, but it is my lamentable obligation to present you with a parade of fair Victorian maidens clad in fashionably draped bandages. I can only assume that with all the glamorous dinners in Egyptian tombs and mummy unwrapping parties held at the turn of the 20th century, mummy bandages were seen as rather alluring.
That first cinematic mummy of 1899 graced a humorous trick film called Cleopatra’s Tomb, directed by French illusionist and special effects pioneer Georges Méliès. It centers around a seductive female mummy reanimated by a prying archeologist who loses no time in falling for the “monster” he has unleashed. Perhaps a horror story in the making, but there’s no sign the film had a sequel. From this early cinematic experiment until the mid-1920s, around twenty films were made with titles containing the keyword “mummy.” I’m rather partial to Romance of the Mummy, Mummy Love and The Eyes of the Mummy. The Live Mummy and The Missing Mummy aren’t bad either. The above number includes the United States, United Kingdom and France alone, roughly translating to 2-3 mummy-themed films a year (all referring to a preserved ancient body rather than a maternal parent). Many of these films are unfortunately lost and we have no way of knowing how many more were burned in studio backlots to make way for newer and more fashionable films. Incidentally, burnt celluloid was once widely used by conservators of Egyptian art as a solidifying protective varnish. I suppose we know what really happened to all those unwanted mummy movies. How’s that for a horror story?
But what about lumbering revenants slinking out of sarcophagi in the night, muttering ancient curses under their breaths as their embalmed fingers crush the tracheas of solid modern citizens? Ask Boris Karloff.
The familiar image of the vindictive monster-mummy as seen in the popular The Mummy franchise (1999-2008), didn’t come into its own until Karloff’s Imhotep in the 1932 horror classic The Mummy. Most of the mummies of the Silent Era, as seen in films such as 1911’s The Mummy or the 1918 German film Die Augen der Mumie Ma (Eyes of the Mummy Ma), are not vengeful killers, but rather exotic ingénues in search of rescue at the hands of a strong and silent archaeologist. These films have little or no connection to the horror genre as we know it today, traversing the spectrum from comedy to romance. A lighthearted approach to a macabre subject and a reflection of contemporaneous perceptions of archaeological finds and archaeologists themselves.
Even an ominously titled film like 1903’s The Monster (another Méliès short), is really a farcical love story about an Egyptian prince who resorts to dark magic to resurrect his mummified lover. (I encourage you to consider the results by clicking the link included at the end of this post before you attempt this at home.)
Overall, the resurrected mummy of the early 1900s and 1910s brings to mind Théophile Gautier’s 1840 short story, “The Mummy’s Foot” rather than the costume rack at your local pharmacy. Gautier’s mummy, who comes to collect her stolen foot from a Parisian antiques collector, is not a psychopathic priest but a beautiful princess. She uses charm and bargaining skills rather than violence to achieve her aim, bartering her mummified foot for a statuette. The story is humorous, but it also presents the mummy as mysterious, desirable and ultimately benevolent. Thanhouser Company Films’ The Mummy (1911) also centers around a mummified Egyptian princess stranded in the midst of modern society. Revived by an electric current, she instantly forms romantic designs on a young Egyptologist – greatly vexing his fiancee. There are no ancient curses here, and the story ends not with a battle but with a wedding as the amorous princess finds a widowed professor to marry – a fortunate solution for all involved.
Eyes of the Mummy Ma (Lubitsch, 1918) injects additional drama into the ubiquitous tale of the undead singleton. This entry features a villainous Egyptian hypnotist (Emil Jannings) forcing a living maiden (Pola Negri) to impersonate the eponymous mummy. In a not-so-shocking twist she is rescued by a heroic European painter who brings her home with him to be his muse. The film celebrates her exotic allure while at the same time hinting that she’s far better off in the care of civilized Europeans. It’s all very well being a rescued mummy, as long as you don’t get your bandages caught in the teapot while entertaining guests.
This post hasn’t gone at all the way I envisioned. Instead of making you scream and run, my ferocious cinematic mummies pine for your love and attention, painting lovely watercolors as they wait for the right archaeologist to come along. Perhaps this is a terrifying prospect after all?
If you’d like to adopt a mummy this holiday season you can take your pick by exploring the links I’ve collected below, leading to preserved and restored silent films where possible or to stills from those that became conservation materials.
“The Mummy’s Foot” (1840) by Théophile Gautier
The Discovery of the Burial Chamber and Sarcophagus of the Mayor of Thebes and Forth Priest of Amun, Karabasken (TT 391) (25th Dynasty)
The monumental red granite sarcophagus of Karabasken discovered by the team is a unique example of a Kushite sarcophagus in an elite tomb.
The descent to the burial chamber was found in the center of the cult room, which features six niches on the north and south walls and remains of the false door on the west wall. Excavation work in this area has revealed an angled descent, 900cm long and 225cm wide, leading to a burial chamber (574cm x 354cm x 406cm). The burial chamber was filled with flood deposit up to the ceiling. Clearing of the burial chamber uncovered a monumental red granite sarcophagus occupying almost the whole space of the room.
The dimensions of the sarcophagus are as follows: Height 241cm ( base 163cm, lid 77cm), Length 306cm, Width 130cm, Thickness of the base 18cm. The base of the sarcophagus is a rectangular box with a rounded head end. The lid is vaulted with a convex upper surface and an almost flat lower surface. It is decorated with a single horizontal band 27cm in width. No inscriptions were found on the exterior surface of the sarcophagus.
The base and the lid show deliberate damage in the head area and on the left side close to the foot end. This is evidence of two attempts to break into the sarcophagus. The interior of the sarcophagus was flooded after the first attempt.
Photos by Katherine Blakeney
The architectural features of the descent and the burial chamber were evidently designed to lower down and house a large sarcophagus contemporary to the original tomb. The royal features in the burial apartment and sarcophagus of Karabasken are a manifestation of the Kushite revival of past traditions and assimilation of royal and temple features in the elite tombs of this period.
Photo by Katherine Blakeney