Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

A Feminine Perspective of Ancient Egypt

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
Smithsonian traveler enjoys one of many special experiences in Egypt.

A Smithsonian traveler enjoys one of many special experiences in Egypt.

There are many rites of passage for women that only women can truly understand.  Throughout history, and around the world, the female experience has often been misrepresented and misunderstood. That’s one of the many reasons we have our Egyptian Odyssey for Women Only.

What’s notable about Ancient Egypt was that women received equal standing in land ownership and had legal rights. There were several female pharaohs or acting regents including the most well-known—Queen Hatshepsut—as well as the lesser known Nimaethap and Sobeknefru. These women were sometimes wives, mothers, or sisters of male pharaohs who could not fully rule – sometimes due to their young age, but also for other reasons.

Being a woman in Ancient Egypt often involved the identity and role of mother in the family and community. Life expectancy was only 40 years, so most women married and started families in their teens. With the dangers pregnancy and childbirth, as well as diseases and infections, there were many risks for women and their young children. With little medical knowledge, mothers would keep statues of Bastet—the cat goddess of fertility—and wear amulets with the Eye of Horus, who warded off evil spirits, close by in the hopes that their families would be safe.

The average family would have five or six children, who nursed until age three. Wealthy families might hire wet nurses for these purposes, but most mothers carried their babies in slings while going about their normal chores and responsibilities. When these children grew up, it was expected they would care for their mothers to show their devotion and appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices the mothers made for children.

Do you think there is a big difference between being a woman today and being one in Ancient Egypt?

Explore the realm of womanhood, both modern and ancient, as you explore archaeological sites, speak with women living in modern Egypt, and take in the beauty of the fertile Nile River on our Egyptian Odyssey for Women Only.

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!

Splendors of Morocco – The Fabric of Life

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Strolling through a souk, it’s hard not to notice the intricately woven textiles of Morocco. The Smithsonian found these textiles to be so fascinating, they created an exhibit at the National Museum of African Art called The Fabric of Moroccan Life.

The traditional world of Moroccan textiles was predominantly filled with wealthy women, who learned to sew, embroider, and design as young girls. The women adorned themselves with exotic fabric and jewelry both to show their economic status and create their own style. What makes these particular textiles so unique is that Moroccan style borrows from various other cultures -  the dominant influences are Islamic and Berber, but elements of Jewish, African, and Mediterranean styles are also incorporated.

Once married, women would continue to embroider and might have joined harems where they learned and shared their technical skills and ideas with other women. Because these textiles brought critical income to their communities, women also enjoyed a certain amount of creative freedom.

If you were shopping at a Moroccan souk, what would you buy? Jewelry, blankets, artwork, clothing?

Shop at a medieval maze of souks on our Splendors of Morocco tour.