Most visitors of Central Park do not realize that they have a piece of Ancient History in the midst. In the 19th century, Egypt made a gift of Cleopatra’s Needle, one of three identical obelisks, to the Cities of New York, Paris, and London. The obelisks themselves are not related to the famed Queen, but rather were inscribed during the reign of Thutmose III.
Recently, Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Council of Antiquities (and a controversial figure in his own right) condemned the city of New York for ill-keeping of the artifact – arguing that the heavy pollution and acid rain of the city has eroded the inscriptions and even suggesting that Egypt should confiscate the monument. New York has responded by pointing out the instability of Egypt and recent lootings of its museums and monuments as well as denying the accusation that New York City’s pollution is having any negative effect on the monument.
Any student of ancient civilization recognizes the importance that alcohol has played on the development of our cultural past. When we all started living together densely (a.k.a. – civilization), food and water became immediate, problematic needs as pollution (generally in the form of human waste) destroyed our resources. Water was generally a dangerous drink (as any traveller to Mexico has discovered) and alcohol was a safe alternative – the fermentation process often killed or prevented the growth of dangerous bacteria and parasites. In fact, in ancient Egypt, a common breakfast was a hunk of bread and a bucket of beer.
One man has made his name on the study of alcohol in the ancient world, specifically the role it played in our own cultural and social evolution – Patrick McGovern. “Dr. Pat” is the world’s foremost expert on ancient booze, but his expertise expands beyond the rate of hops or blended barleys. As an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, he has travelled the world, poured over manuscripts, and excavated the remnants of ancient distilleries, breweries, and wineries in his quest to further understand humanity’s relationship with intoxicating beverages.
Today, Scientific American highlighted the archaeological work of Steven Sidebotham, Ph.D.’s at Berenike, Egypt. Sidebotham, a History Professor at the University of Delaware, has spent more than two decades uncovering the site of Berenike – a place that has experience thousands of years of habitation from the early nomadic peoples of Northern African, the Egyptian Empire, the Roman occupation, and up to the modern day.
“This is an amazing, huge site with excellent preservation” because of the desert climate, Sidebotham said. “We’ve probably covered about 2 percent of the surface, so there are still several lifetimes’ worth of work to be done. We’ll never be finished with it.”
The projected has yielded information on the daily lives of ancient peoples from around the Mediterranean. As a port town, it saw traders from the Near East, Italy, Greece, and all over Northern Africa. The project is the culmination of Dr. Sidebotham’s life work. Read more about the project in the University of Delaware article or check out the dig’s website.
Here is also a brief video and interview about the site:
Some dark, mysterious spots found on the art and remains in King Tut’s tomb indicate that the Boy King was buried hastily. The spots, which were evident in 1922 when the tomb was uncovered, are still one of the mysterious aspects of the burial. Microbiologists at the Getty Conservation Institute have yet to match the melanins in the spots to any living organism.
Dark Spots on Art Inside the Tomb
Egyptologists believe that the young Pharaoh died suddenly which lead to a hasty burial. The dark spots seem to indicate that the painted plaster on the walls was not dry when the tomb was sealed, allowing microbes to grow on the moist regions fed with the accompanying incense and food provided for the Boy King to accompany his journey to the afterlife.
Examinations of Egyptian mummies show that they were exposed to heavy air pollution while still alive. The study, conducted on mummies of various ages and across a spectrum of social classes, demonstrates that Egyptians were exposed to heavy air pollution.
Interestingly, the levels of air pollution in ancient Egypt were not much lower than the are in the modern world. Exposure to such particulates would have increased rates of lung disease – infection, pneumonia, cancer, and so forth.
Archaeologists are planning to continue their studies on ancient air pollution and focus especially on the sources. You can read more about this study on MSNBC.
Archaeologists have recently uncovered a statue of Amenhotep III, the father of King Tut. The statue was uncovered as Amenhotep’s funerary monument in Luxor and is remarkable well preserved, especially for its large size.
In addition to the head of Pharoah Amenhotep, several other statues and artifacts have been recovered. You can read about the excavations and sicoveries in this MNSBC Article and at Discovery News.