Sunday, November 1, 2020
headline news across the world in 2019: the discovery in the Saqqara necropolis, just outside Cairo, of scores of mummified animals, including a lion cub, and an untouched tomb from the 25th century BC.
But what makes this an exceptional documentary is the focus on the entirely Egyptian archaeological team, doing their bit in a quiet way to decolonise Egyptology and to demonstrate the emotional connection between the locals and the ancient civilisation they are unearthing.
In truth, excavating the pharaonic monuments has always been a multinational affair, with dig teams from all over the world pitching in.
But the dominant images of British chaps in pith helmets or the Indiana Jones-style maverick are hard to dispel; this film’s aim, apart from simple wonderment at what the excavators find, is to assert Egyptian ownership of the country’s heritage and history.
And it does it really rather well, if you filter out the somewhat superfluous race-against-time narrative that has been added over the top.
Much more effective are the meditative interviews the film-makers conduct across the whole team, from the excavation director to the anthropologist working on skeletal reassembly to the digger’s foreman.
Another tiny gripe: the interviewees are introduced only by their first names, a slightly patronising move which means it takes some disentangling to find out that they are in fact world experts in their fields.
The film’s richly coloured photography, precisely defined sense of topography and nicely conceived illustrations combine seamlessly to make clear what could be a confusing welter of information from two parallel digs.
The finds are extraordinary, and the commentaries on them by the participants are equally wonderful. This is fascinating stuff, smoothly put together, and carrying genuine human interest.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
|Egyptian Egyptologist Aliaa Ismail|
From Madrid to Seti I, Aliaa Ismail’s journey takes an in- teresting path between heritage and technology. When the 26-year-old chose to major in Egyptology, she never imagined that she would one day be the onsite manager of one of Egypt’s most important archaeological projects.
Ismail double majored in architectural engineering andEgyptology at the American University in Cairo (AUC). “At AUC, I really got to enjoy Egyptology as it really was something unique and very specific to my heritage. It’s always good to be involved in your heritage,” she says.
Under the supervision of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiqui- ties, the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative utilizes digital technology to preserve cultural heritage.
Ismail’s role as director of the training center for Luxor’s 3D scanning and documentation is to lead a team of scientists working on cre- ating exact facsimiles of tombs, including Seti I’s tomb, that are, or will soon be, closed to the public for conservation.
She explains that “3D scanning is basically a method for understanding the surface that you are dealing with. When you look at something, what you see is not what you get.For example, a flat wall is not flat, it has details, it has scratches, very minor things that you cannot see but only feel,” explains Ismail. “What we try to do is get this data that you can only feel into a form where you can actually see it. Understanding objects in this way allows you to conserve them and to docu- ment them better because it gives you a permanent record as they exist right now.”
Located in a small lateral valley in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, the tomb of Seti I was discovered in October 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, and quickly made international headlines with exhibits held in London in 1821, and later in Paris. The tomb, which is the largest in the Valley of the Kings, remained closed to tourists for some four decades before be- ing officially reopened in 2016.
In collaboration with the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation in Spain and the University of Ba- sel in Switzerland, the Mapping Project focuses on sustain- ability and knowledge transfer, and depends both on devel- oped technologies and human skills. It began in March 2016 with the recording of the vast Nineteenth Dynasty tomb of Seti I, and will include the development of a new training center for digital technology in conservation at Stoppelaëre´s House, also known as Hassan Fathy’s house.
“The Factum Foundation would like to have an Egyptian team of up to 10 people onsite in Luxor. What we’ve started doing is training them two at a time, and the ones we have now are brilliant and very recep- tive to understanding new technology,” says Ismail, explaining the eventual results will help enable conservators, scholars and historians to see various layers of each artifact and understand the complex history that comes with it, just by its texture and color.
Although Ismail now gets along well with the team, she says it was a real challenge at first. “I’m leading a team of men and that’s hard in a place like Luxor where women are perceived to [have a lower status] than men,” says Ismail. “I had to establish myself in a manner enabling them to perceive me [positively], and not be threatened by me as a woman, as a boss.”
Friday, May 26, 2017
The renowned American Egyptologist and lover of Egypt professor William Kelly Simpson passed away recently at the age of 89. Simpson was a great friend and lover of Egypt. He spent his whole life and distinguished career in the service of Egypt and its monuments, especially those of ancient times.
Simpson was a professor of Egyptology emeritus at Yale University in the US. He was born in New York City and received his BA in 1947, MA in 1948, and PhD in 1954 from Yale University. He was one of the most important public figures at Yale University later in his career.
He first worked in the Egyptian Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Then he obtained a Fulbright fellowship to Egypt and a research fellowship at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. In 1958, he was promoted to professor of Egyptology and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Yale University. He also served for around 20 years as curator of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
While in Boston, he increased the museum’s collections tremendously, reinstalled the galleries, and launched excavations and documentation at several sites in Egypt, principally the Giza Pyramids area and in Sudan. He also taught at several US universities, including as the Harvard University Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilisations and the University of Pennsylvania. He also lectured at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, the Collège de France in Paris, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. In terms of fieldwork, Simpson was the director of the well-known Pennsylvania-Yale Expedition to Egypt. He also participated in the UNESCO campaign to rescue the Nubia monuments in Egypt and the Sudan in the 1960s. He was the co-director of very important excavations at Abydos in Upper Egypt and epigraphic missions in the Giza Pyramids area.
He was the author of many books and articles on Egyptian art, archaeology and literature. He co-authored a book on the history of the Ancient Near East and also co-authored, with other scholars, one of the best-known anthologies of ancient Egyptian literature. He was elected to three terms as president of the International Association of Egyptologists and served as president and later chairman of the Board of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, as vice-chairman of the Board of the American University in Cairo, and as trustee of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Research Centre in Egypt.
In 1965, Simpson was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for the humanities in Near Eastern Studies. He received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Research Centre in Cairo on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1998. He also received the Award for Distinguished Service from the American University in Cairo and the Medal of Honour for Distinguished Service to Egyptology and Egypt from Farouk Hosni, Egypt’s minister of culture at the time, and the Organising Committee of the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists in Cairo in 2000.
In 2001, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the American University in Cairo. In 2003, he was awarded the Augustus Graham Medal by the Brooklyn Museum in the US for services to Egyptology and the museum. He was elected to membership of the American Oriental Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the German and Austrian Archaeological Institutes.
I met professor Simpson several times at the Giza Pyramids area and during the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists in Cairo in 2000. He served the monuments of Egypt, especially the Giza Pyramids and the archaeological remains in Nubia, with unstinting passion, and he also helped many Egyptians to study Egyptology in the US. He was an unfailingly modest and helpful person, as well as an authority on ancient art, archaeology and literature. He served as a major channel between Egypt and the US to the benefit of the two nations and the archaeological and cultural ties between the two countries.
Later this year, Yale University will commemorate the memory of this distinguished person and scholar, and Egypt should do the same for the country’s great friend, professor William Kelly Simpson. Professor Simpson will be very greatly missed, but his multifaceted legacy at all levels between Egypt and the US and among many Egyptians and Americans will last forever.
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