Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Video: The Valley of the Kings

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Imagining Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and seeing it up close are two very different experiences. As archaeologists continue to discover new tombs, the area has proven to be a treasure trove of well-preserved tombs buried for centuries. There have been 63 tombs that have been discovered so far, ranging over 500 years of history from the 16th to 11th century BC. The area has been a focus for archaeological excavation for the past 200 years, and is one of the most well-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world as part of the Necropolis at Thebes (today known as Luxor). Most people know it as the home of King Tut’s Tomb.

To get a close up view of what to expect in the Valley of the Kings, check out this video from the Smithsonian Channel’s series Lost Gods of Egypt.

Have you been to the Valley of the Kings? What was your first impression?

Journey to the Valley of the Kings on our Egyptian Odyssey tour, and meet working archaeologists who will update you on their current research!

The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
Egypt Paintings Valley of the Kings

Tomb paintings from the Valley of the Kings

We’ve all heard the story. The “Curse of the Pharaohs” is a strong belief that anyone who should disturb a mummy or a Pharaoh’s tomb will be cursed. This commonly known belief was  intended to preserve the sanctity of these tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, rather than to deter grave robbers. But in the past century, the curse has turned into a grave warning, particularly in the case of King Tut’s tomb. Some people choose to believe the curse is alive and well, while others feel it can be simply explained by simple science.

Archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter’s team was put under the microscope after opening the tomb of King Tutankhamun, as people wondered if the curse had truly affected the people who witnessed the tomb’s opening in 1922. Here are a few of the people and pets connected to “the curse.”

Who: Howard Carter’s pet canary. Cause of Death: Eaten by a cobra. Explanation:  The cobra is symbolic to the Egyptian Monarchy and it is believed that the Royal Cobra was released in Carter’s home as a symbol of how the King strikes his enemies. This began local rumors that the curse had been released.

Who: Lord Carnarvon, sponsor of the King Tut dig. Cause of Death: Blood Poisoning. Explanation: Carnarvon was bitten by a mosquito, and accidentally cut the bite while shaving. It then became infected, and he died of blood poisoning. Some believed the mosquito bite was in the same location as a lesion on King Tut’s cheek, but since Lord Carnarvon was buried with no formal autopsy, no one could confirm this.

Who: Sir Bruce Ingham, Carter’s friend. Material Destruction: House burned down—twice. Explanation: Ingham received paperweight made of mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, “Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.” No one has an explanation for this other than bad luck.

Carter himself did not believe in the curse, and out of the 58 people present when the sarcophagus was opened, only eight died within twelve years. Carter passed away at the age of 64 of lymphoma in 1939 and was not one of the eight. Scientists note that the tomb may have been filled with a deadly fungus that had grown over the centuries and was released when the tomb was opened.  Air samples were taken from inside an unopened sarcophagus through a drilled hole to test the air quality- and high levels of ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide were all found. However, all of these would have a strong scent and people would have been repelled by the odor.

In the end, it is believed that it wasn’t these particular situations that fed the rumor of the curse, but rather the world’s newspapers, who found they sold more papers saying that a terrible curse was unleashed the moment King Tut’s tomb was opened.  

Do you believe in the Pharaoh’s Curse on King Tut’s tomb?

Journey into the Valley of the Kings and see these tombs and their artwork up close on our Egyptian Odyssey tour!

Family Life in Ancient Egypt

Monday, August 16th, 2010
Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

One of the most popular destination for Smithsonian travelers is Egypt. There’s something everyone finds intriguing about this ancient land—whether it’s history, culture, archaeology or artifacts that pique your interest most. So, given the love for this country, we’re celebrating Egypt Week at Smithsonian Journeys this week! Check back each day for more on Egypt. 

We’ll begin with the children of Ancient Egypt. All of us have experienced childhood, but children in ancient Egypt lived much differently than we do now. The ancient Egyptians defined roles sharply for small children, prepubescent kids, and adults with full responsibilities to society. The average life span of an Ancient Egyptian was about 40 years, so childhood ended at puberty and young Egyptians quickly learned their roles in society. By age 14, ancient Egyptians were considered adults and would have been involved in jobs, marriage, and children of their own.

For the typical Egyptian child, pets were a wonderful form of entertainment, including dogs, kittens, ducks, and pigeons. While wealthier children had access to dolls and a variety of other toys, most children learned from what was around them. Children who were not of the upper classes mirrored their parents roles in performing household chores (for girls), or working in the fields (for boys). These children did not attend school as we do today, but they did begin learning their family’s trade, as early as age four.

For royal children, education was taken seriously and included reading, writing and mathematics. Other wealthy boys might have trained to become scribes while attending temple schools or trained to become army officers. Girls, however, did not attend school, but many did learn to read and write.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Learn more about being a kid in ancient and modern Egypt on our Egyptian Family Odyssey!

Tribute to the Sands of Egypt

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The enigmatic Great Sphinx sits on Egypt’s Giza Plateau.

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most. Click here for more on Kate.

Dear Friends,

The tale of the Egyptian Prince Tutmosis III and his encounter with the Sphinx of Giza fascinates me. On a hunting trip in the Valley of the Gazelles some time before his reign, Tutmosis III decided to take a nap to escape the midday sun. He chose the shade below the head (the only visible section) of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

While he slept, the Sphinx spoke to him and told him that, if he dug the Sphinx out of the sand that covered it, he would be assured the throne of Egypt. So Tutmosis III set to work and excavated the Sphinx, the very first restoration of this site, undertaken circa 1400 B.C.E. The story of this dream is recounted on the stelae at the Sphinx’s feet. What captivates me about this tale is the fact that, even in 1400 B.C.E., the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza were already ancient, having existed since 2650 B.C.E., and that the protective layers of desert sand had already buried all but the Sphinx’s head over the preceding 1,200 years.Egypt’s ancient wonders abound, but it is not until you stand within inches of the deeply carved cartouches of Ramses II in Karnak or the stunning turquoise of painted vulture wings on Hatshepsut’s Temple, or the intricate delicacy of King Tutankhamen’s jewelry, that the impossibility overwhelms you.  How can such beauty have survived 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 years?

Vivid colors of a vulture’s plumage on Hatshepsut’s temple

Entering the imposing structure of Ramses III Temple, there is a series of chapels to the left.  Little color remains, and the carvings seem simplified, unremarkable.  It turns out, these chapels date to Alexander the Great’s time—circa 332 B.C.E. Modern, by Egyptian standards! Yet paling in comparison to the elaborate scenes of battle and power depicted on Ramses III’s own temple walls.

Deep in the Temple of Luxor (circa 1400 B.C.E.), past the small area that once served as a chapel for Roman soldiers during the 3rd century C.E., there is a shrine built by Alexander the Great, depicting the Greek king as a pharaoh. Here, you can stand between the outer wall built by Amenhotep III and the inner wall of the Greek shrine. Within a couple of feet of each other, the contrast is sharp: over a 1,000 years pass from the time the Egyptian outer wall was carved to the time the Greeks erect their shrine. Yet, Alexander the Great’s craftsmen lose this contest: their work appears amateurish at best.

Image of Ramses III on his temple

It’s not often that Alexander the Great comes across as lacking accomplishment. Yet ancient Egypt puts many more modern cultures to shame. Even the Romans, who seemed to lack the respect and interest Alexander showed Egyptian culture, appear boorish and uncultured in comparison. The Roman chapel within the Temple of Luxor is made of scavenged temple stones, betrayed by the upside down body parts and images carved on their surfaces.

Reflecting on all the perfection that bears tribute to Egypt’s royal ancestors, I can’t help but wonder what we have lost over time in sophistication, technique, and ambition. And I rejoice in the protective benefits of the sands of Egypt—without them, what treasures would have been lost to humankind!

For information on our educational journeys to Egypt, click here.

An Egyptian Family Odyssey

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

There is something exotic and adventurous about Egypt. Every child knows that in a desert somewhere in the North African desert, there are gigantic pyramids, “cursed” tombs, and an abundance of mummies. Exploring Egypt as a child provides an experience that lasts a lifetime, possibly resulting in your child becoming an archaeologist, historian, or diplomat.

You might not expect your mummy-obsessed child to want to  be a SCUBA diver,  particularly in the desert land of Egypt. But in locations like Alexandria and along the Nile River, archaeologists and environmentalists need to go underwater to do their research.

For environmentalists, there is the concern about rising sea levels, which would affect Egypt’s coastal cities and communities along the Nile river. For archaeologists, Egypt’s many shipwrecks and submerged buildings are of great interest, as they provide a record of Egyptian nautical history, as well as many stone and metal artifacts.  These kinds of materials do not deteriorate easily, and while underwater, objects can be preserved from wind, weather and war.

So even if your child wants to be a certified SCUBA diver, you may find yourself visiting her in Egypt someday.

Have you been to Egypt? What was your favorite highlight?

Take the whole family to Egypt! Our Egyptian Family Odyssey has dates available in 2010 and 2011.