Ancient Egypt has fascinated people since its rediscovery by Europeans in the early 1800's. Among non-archaeologists, this is evidenced by the many novels on ancient Egypt and the hordes of tourists who visit the country each year. For mystery lovers there are books by Lynda Robinson, Paul Doherty and Lauren Haney. Haney's books are especially interesting in that they are set in Nubia, instead of the more familiar Giza or Thebes. In addition, Elizabeth Peters' highly entertaining tales about Victorian British archaeologists Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson are not to be missed, nor is Karen Essex's excellent historical, Kleopatra.
Another indication of extensive interest in ancient Egypt is the eager attendance at conferences such as the 3rd Annual Egypt Revealed, Reports from the Field: 2001 Excavation Season held recently in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful two day symposium featuring four of the best known archaeologists working in Egypt. The talks were not aimed at professional archaeologists, but rather at an audience of enthusiasts; knowledgeable amateurs who have long been interested in Egypt. This symposium is sponsored by Seven Wonders Travel and given three times each Fall, with two locations in the U. S. (these vary each year) and one in England.
This year's speakers were: Zahi Hawass, Director of the Pyramids, and National Geographic Explorer in Residence Kent Weeks, Director of the Theban Mapping Project Mark Lehner, Director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project David Silverman, Curator of the Egyptian Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum Each speaker gave two talks and then participated in a very interactive panel session, taking questions from the audience.
Zahi Hawass was the big name speaker, having appeared many times on television, on National Geographic and Nova. His Valley of the Golden Mummies has been a coffee table book best-seller and an article about it appeared in the September 2001 National Geographic magazine. Zahi Hawass described his recent work in the valley, two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Cairo. The symposium audience were fortunate to see slides of even more recent finds. He also discussed plans to preserve the Giza Plateau for the future, while still allowing access to the multitudes of tourists.
Kent Weeks spoke in general about the Theban Mapping Project and explained the use of high tech methods to accurately document all the monuments of ancient Thebes (the modern day city of Luxor on the East bank of the Nile and the West bank). These include the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, the Ramesseum, Queen Hatshepsut's tomb on the West bank and Luxor and Karnak temples on the East bank. Even more interesting than this talk was a discussion of Weeks' exciting work in KV-5, the recently discovered tomb of the sons of Ramses II, in which excavations are continuing. Slides were shown of the many chambers of this immense tomb, which is unlike any other in the Valley of the Kings.
Mark Lehner, author of the cover story in the November Discover magazine, discussed his work at Giza excavating a lost city adjacent to the pyramids, where thousands of workers lived forty-five hundred years ago. An especially interesting part of the talk concerned ancient bakeries and how they have re-created ancient Egyptian bread using replicas of the baking containers found at the site, along with an ancient recipe.
David Silverman is involved in the long-running Penn digs at Abydos and Saqqara. He updated the audience on this year's work at Saqqara on several Old Kingdom tombs. He also gave a fascinating lecture on the relationship between art and writing. He showed how the Egyptian hieroglyphs often have redundancies, which give visual clues for observers who may not be literate. All in all the symposium was excellent with exciting new information and good discussion. The attendees gave it rapt attention and did not want the weekend to end.
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