The history of ancient Egypt begins around 3100 BC when Egypt became a unified Egyptian state. It survived as an independent state until about 343 BC, but archaeological evidence indicates that a developed Egyptian society existed for a much longer period.
Egyptian history is broken into several different periods according to the dynasty of the ruling pharaoh. The dating of events in Egyptian history is still a subject of research. The conservative dates are not supported by any reliable absolute date for a span of about three millennia. The following is the list according to conventional Egyptian chronology.
Predynastic Period (Prior to 3100 BC)
Protodynastic Period (Approximately 3100 - 3000 BC)
Early Dynastic Period (1st 2nd Dynasties)
Old Kingdom (3rd 6th Dynasties)
First Intermediate Period (7th 11th Dynasties)
Middle Kingdom (12th 13th Dynasties)
Second Intermediate Period (14th 17th Dynasties)
New Kingdom (18th 20th Dynasties)
Third Intermediate Period (21st 25th Dynasties) (also known as the Libyan Period)
Late Period (26th 31st Dynasties)
Along the Nile, in the 10th millennium BC, a grain-grinding culture using the earliest type of sickle blades had become replaced by another culture of hunters, fishers and gathering peoples using stone tools. Climate changes and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, eventually forming the Sahara (c. 2500 BC). Early tribes naturally migrated to the Nile river where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society. Evidence of pastoralism and cultivation of cereals in the East Sahara dates to the 7th millennium BC.
Ongoing excavation in Egypt continually reshapes scholars' views about the origins of Egyptian civilization. In the late 20th century archaeologists discovered evidence of human habitation before 8000 BC in an area in the southwestern corner of Egypt, near the border with Sudan. Nomadic peoples may have been attracted to this southern area of Egypt because of the hospitable climate and environment.
Now exceptionally dry, that area once had grassy plains and temporary lakes that resulted from seasonal rains. The people who settled there must have realized the benefits of a more sedentary life. Scientific analysis of the remains of their culture indicates that by 6000 BC they were herding cattle and constructing large buildings.
The descendants of these people may well have begun Egyptian civilization in the Nile Valley. A recent genetic study linked the maternal lineage of a traditional population from Upper Egypt to Eastern Africa. A separate study further narrows the genetic lineage to Northeast Africa; reveals also that modern day Egyptians "reflect a mixture of European, Middle Eastern, and African").
The Nile river, around which much of the population of the country clusters, has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since nomadic hunter-gatherers began living along the Nile during the Pleistocene. Traces of these early peoples appear in the form of artifacts and rock carvings along the terraces of the Nile and in the oases. By about 6000 BC, organized agriculture and large building construction had appeared in the Nile Valley.
Between 5500 and 3100 BC, during Egypt's Predynastic Period, small settlements flourished along the Nile.
By the late Predynastic Period, just before the first Egyptian dynasty, Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper and Lower Egypt. The dividing line was drawn roughly in the area of modern Cairo.
The Nile river (iteruin Ancient Egyptian) flows northward through the center of Egypt from a southerly point to the Mediterranean. The geologically lower delta region to the north, where the Nile river branches out into several mouths providing a wide, rich area of agricultural land, was known as Lower Egypt.
Whereas the geologically higher land upriver to the south, where the river valley is narrow and the fertile land on either side may only be a couple of miles in width, was known as Upper Egypt.
The two kingdoms were unified by Narmer in c. 3100 BC, and a series of dynasties ruled Egypt for the next three millenia. The last native dynasty, known as the Thirtieth Dynasty, fell to the Persians in 343 BC.
In ancient Egypt, the narrow strip of fertile land which runs alongside the Nile was called Kemet ("the black land", in Ancient Egyptian Kmt), a reference to the rich, black silt that is deposited there every year by the Nile floodwaters. The ancient Egyptians used this land for growing crops. It was the only land in ancient Egypt that could be farmed.
In contrast, the barren desert that bordered the fertile land to the east and west was called Deshret ("the red land", in Ancient Egyptian Dsrt), c.f. Herodotus: "Egypt is a land of black soil.... We know that Libya is a redder earth" (Histories, 2:12).
These deserts separated ancient Egypt from neighbouring civilisations and provided a natural defence against invading armies. They also provided a source of precious metals and semi-precious stones. The vowels within the consonants K-M-T and D-S-R-T are not known with certainty. Coptic, however, provides some indication.
Many theories have been proposed regarding the origins of early Egyptians, a subject still imbued with controversy today. Controversy over race of Ancient Egyptians has more information about this subject.
Egyptian society was a merging of North and Northeast African as well as Southwest Asian peoples. Modern genetics reveals that the Egyptian population today is characterized by paternal lineages common to North Africans primarily, and to some Near Eastern peoples. Studies based on the maternal lineages closely links modern Egyptians with people from modern Ethiopia. The ancient Egyptians themselves traced their origin to a land they called Punt, or "Ta Nteru" ("Land of the Gods"), which most Egyptologists locate in the area encompassing the Ethiopian Highlands.
A recent bioanthropological study on the dental morphology of ancient Egyptians confirms dental traits most characteristic of North African and to a lesser extent Southwest Asian populations. The study also establishes biological continuity from the predynastic to the post-pharaonic periods.
Among the samples included is skeletal material from the Hawara tombs of Fayum, which was found to most closely resemble the Badarian series of the predynastic. A study based on stature and body proportions suggests that Nilotic or tropical body characteristics were also present in some later groups as the Egyptian empire expanded southward.
Champollion the Younger, who deciphered the Rosetta Stone, claimed in Expressions et Termes Particuliers that kmt referred to a 'negroid' population. Modern day professional Egyptologists, anthropologists, and linguists, however, overwhelmingly agree that the term referred to the dark soil of the Nile Valley rather than the people, which contrasted with dSrt or the "red land" of the Sahara desert.
In c. 450 BC, Herodotus wrote, "the Colchians are Egyptians... on the fact that they are swarthy (melanchrôs) and wooly-haired (oulothrix)" (Histories Book 2:104). Melanchros was also used by Homer to describe the sunburnt complexion of Odysseus (Od. 16.176).
Although analyzing the hair of ancient Egyptian mummies from the Late Middle Kingdom has revealed evidence of a stable diet, mummies from circa 3200 BC show signs of severe anemia and hemolitic disorders.
Egyptian culture was remarkably stable and changed little over a period of nearly 3000 years. This includes religion, customs, art expression, architecture and social structure. The history of ancient Egypt proper starts with Egypt as a unified state, which occurred sometime around 3100 BC. Narmer, who unified Upper and Lower Egypt, was the first pharaoh; though archaeological evidence indicates that a developed Egyptian society existed for a much longer period.
Early Dynastic Period
The origins of the unified Egyptian state are unclear, and there are no contemporary sources, and later sources are unclear and contradictory. Around 3100 BC a king unified the whole of the Nile Valley between the Delta and the First Cataract at Aswan, with the center of power in Memphis. Traditionally (according to Manetho), this king was known as Menes. This king may be identified as one the individuals known to historians as Narmer or Hor-Aha, or another person entirely.
The unified state seems to have arrived at the same time as the development of writing, the start of large scale construction and the venturing out from the Nile Valley to trade (or perhaps campaign) in Nubia and Syria/Palestine.
Egyptologists consider the Old Kingdom as beginning with the Third Dynasty, and around the time of the Fourth Dynasty, the art of embalming began.
Embalaming,Mummification and preservation
A cautionary note about embalming, mummification and preservation: To embalm and to mummify essentially mean the same thing. To embalm (from Latin in balsamum, meaning to "put into balsam," a mixture of aromatic resins) and the process of mummification are very similar in that corpses were anointed with ointments, oils, and resins. The word mummy comes from a misinterpretation of the process. Poorly embalmed bodies (from the Late Period) are often black and very brittle. It was believed these had been preserved by dipping them in bitumen, the Arabic word for bitumen being mumiya.
There are many modern techniques for preserving a body, however, these were not available to the ancient Egyptians (freezing, pickling etc). The only method they were aware of was drying the body out in the hot sand. This left the body looking most un-lifelike, and not a very suitable home for the Ka. It also wasn't a very reverent way to treat your Pharaoh. The answer came from the Nile.
The Nile floods every year. Without it Egypt would be no more than a desert with a river going through it. The flooding brought with it essential silt which made the land fertile. When the waters subsided, it left pools of water behind which dried out in the sun. Once the water had evaporated it left behind a white crystaline substance called natron.
The most notable thing about this substance is that it is highly hygroscopic: it will draw and absorb moisture. During the Old Kingdom, Queen Hetepheres' internal organs were removed and placed in a solution of natron (about 3%).
When the box was opened it contained just sludge, which was apparently all that remained of the Queen. Early attempts at mummification were total failures. This was recognized by the embalmers, so they took to preserving the shape of the body. They did this by wrapping the body in resin soaked bandages.
They became so good at this that one example from the Fifth Dynasty of a court musician called Waty still holds details of warts, calluses, wrinkles and facial details.
The embalming process took 70 days. A few centuries later came a new technique for mummification. First, the embalmers would wash the inside and outside of the body and fill it with special wine and spice mixtures. They would then take out all the internal organs, removing the brain with a hook through the nose, and stuff the body with a natron salt solution.
The heart was left inside the body because the Egyptians believed it was where the person's Ka resided. When this was done they would put all the organs pulled from the body in canopic jars to be buried with the body.
They would then leave the body to dry for about 40 days, then wash it out again with wine and spice mixtures. The body would be wrapped in wet bandages and dried. This procedure ensured that the body would not swell, but rather retain its normal shape and size. The embalmers would then put scented oils, perfumes and jewelry on the body, put it in a coffin, and bury it.
Upper and Lower Egypt
A word about Upper and Lower Egypt. Lower Egypt is to the north and is that part where the Nile Delta flows into the Mediterranean Sea and Upper Egypt is to the South from the Libyan Desert down to just past Abu Simbel. The reason for this apparent upside-down naming is that Egypt is the 'Gift of the Nile' and as such everything is measured in relation to it. The Nile enters Egypt at the top, winding its way down until exiting via the fertile delta into the Mediterranean Sea in Lower Egypt.
It was in this era that formerly independent ancient Egyptian states became known as nomes, ruled solely by the pharaoh. Subsequently the former rulers were forced to assume the role of governors or otherwise work in tax collection. Ancient Egyptians in this era emphatically believed that their pharaoh could assure the annual flooding of the Nile for their crops. They also perceived themselves as a specially selected people, "as the only true human beings on earth". There is some evidence that around 2675 BC, Egypt started to import timber from Lebanon.
Several Egyptian pyramids were built and some abandoned before they were finished. Around 2575 BC, Pharaoh Khufu (aka. Cheops) made his mark on the landscape. For him, the greatest and most famous pyramid of all was constructed, the Great Pyramid of Giza. When looking at the pyramid group on the Giza plateau, it does not seem to be the largest. This is because the tallest looking one was built on higher ground, but is 10 metres smaller.
One notable example is the Bent Pyramid - about halfway up it appears that the builders feared they would not be able to maintain the angle they were already building and decided to change it to a less steep angle. This resulted in an odd looking pyramid, whose top sloped in suddenly. The Pharaoh Khufu was also responsible for sending expeditions into Nubia for slaves and anything else of value. It is unlikely that these people would have been used for the building of the monuments, at least not at first, as there would not have been enough of them. One popular and convincing theory is that the peasant farmers of Egypt built all of the temples and monuments during the floods. This is an attractive theory for many reasons.
When the Nile flooded, the people of Egypt would have had nowhere to live. The Nile floods up to the edge of the desert and would have covered all of the farming and living areas. If there was work to be had building monuments during the flooding season, then the peasant farmers would have had the chance to feed and house their family. This would also account for how the country had become, and stayed, so stable for several hundred years. Pyramid building continued for some time, in fact there are 80 known pyramid sites; although not all of them are still standing.
First Intermediate Period
This era includes the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties and into the First Intermediate Period. The Old Kingdom became weakened by famine and weak leadership. One theory holds that a sudden, unanticipated, catastrophic reduction in the Nile floods over two or three decades, caused by a global climatic cooling, reduced the amount of rainfall in Egypt, Ethiopia, and East Africa, contributing to the great famine and subsequent downfall of the Old Kingdom.
The last pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty was Pepi II, who was believed to have reigned for 94 years, longer than any monarch in history. He was 6 when he ascended the throne and 100 years old when he died. The latter years of his reign were marked by inefficiency because of Pepi's advanced age. When he died the Old Kingdom collapsed. A dark time, marked by unrest, followed. The Union of the Two Kingdoms fell apart and regional leaders had to cope with the famine.Around 2160 BC, a new line of pharaohs tried to reunite Lower Egypt from their capital in Herakleopolis Magna. In the meantime, however, a rival line based in Thebes was reuniting Upper Egypt, and a clash between the two rival dynasties was inevitable.
The pharaohs from Herakleopolis descended from a pharaoh named Akhtoy and the first four pharaohs from Thebes were named Inyotef or Antef.
Around 2055 BC, Mentuhotep II from Thebes ended this period of unrest and united the country again. He installed a new administration and started a royal scale building programme. There is also good evidence for military campaigns against foreign countries.
Amenemhat I moved the capital to North Egypt (Lower Egypt). His son, Senusret I, co-reigned with him until Amenemhat was assassinated. Senusret I was able to take control immediately without the country degenerating into unrest again. Senusret I continued to wage war on Nubia.
In 1878 BC, the Pharaoh Senusret III became king. He continued the military campaigns in Nubia and was the first to try to extend Egypt's power into Syria. Later, Amenemhat III came to power. He is regarded as being the greatest monarch of the Middle Kingdom and did much to benefit Egypt. He ruled for 45 years. During the Middle Kingdom, the next phase in tomb design was the rock-cut tomb. The best examples of these can be seen in the Valley of the Kings. They still had grand temples built in more visible areas. Much of the greater activities done by the Twelfth Dynasty kings took place outside the valley of the Nile. As before, there were many expeditions into Nubia, Syria, and the Eastern Desert, searching for valuable minerals and timber. Also, trade was established with Minoan Crete.
The Thirteenth Dynasty is often considered part of the Middle Kingdom, although the period seems to be a time of confusion and of migration into Egypt by a mysterious people known as the Hyksos, who took advantage of the political instabilities of the Nile Delta to take control of it and later extend their powers south. They brought with them the horse-drawn war chariot. It didn't take the Egyptians long to realize the power of the war chariot and use it themselves. This breakdown of central control marks the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period.
Second Intermediate Period
The Eighteenth Dynasty marks the beginning of the New Kingdom. Various pharaohs extended the control of Egypt further than ever before, retaking control of Nubia and extending power northwards into the Upper Euphrates, the lands of the Hittites, and Mitanni.
The Eighteenth Dynasty
This was a time of great wealth and power for Egypt. By the time of Amenophis III (1417 BC 1379 BC), Egypt had become so wealthy that he did nothing to further extend its powers and instead rested upon his throne gilded with Nubian gold.
He was succeeded by his son Amenophis IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten. He moved the capital to a new city he built and called it Akhetaten. Here with his new wife Nefertiti, he concentrated on building his new religion and ignored the world outside of Egypt. This allowed various underground factions to build that were not happy with his new world. The new religion was something that had never happened before in Egypt.
Previously, new gods came along and were absorbed into the culture, but no god was allowed to push out any old ones. Akhenaten, however, formed a monotheistic religion around Aten, the sun disc. Worship of all other gods was banned, and this move is what caused the majority of the internal unrest. The relationship between Akhenaten's introduction of monotheism, and the biblical character of Moses, who is located in Egypt at a similar (although not necessarily simultaneous) period, is both unclear and controversial.
A new culture of art was introduced during this time that was more naturalistic and a complete turnabout from the stylized frieze that had ruled Egyptian art for the last 1700 years. Concerning art and Akhenaten, an area of interest to many Egyptologists is the peculiarity of Akhenaten's physical features. Many pharaohs are portrayed in a stylized manner however, Akhenaten is shown in paintings and carvings with unusually feminine features, specifically wide hips and elongated, delicate facial features.
Some theories assume that the depiction is accurate and not stylized, suggesting that Akhenaten suffered from birth defects which were common among the royal families.Towards the end of his 17-year reign, Akhenaten took a co-regent, Smenkhkare, who is sometimes considered to be his brother. Their co-reign lasted only 2 years.
When Akhenaten died, worship of the old gods was revived. In truth, their worship had never ended, but had instead gone underground. Smenkhkare died after a few months of sole reign, and in his place was crowned a young boy. He was not ready for the pressure of ruling this great country, and the advisors that surrounded him made the decisions for him.
His given name was Tutankhaton, but with the resurgence of Amun, he was re-named Tutankhamun. One of the most influential advisors was General Horemheb. Tutankhamun died while he was still a teenager and was succeeded by Ay, who probably married Tutankhamun's widow to strengthen his claim to the throne. It is possible that Horemheb made Ay a monarch to act as a transitional king until he was ready to take over.
In any case, when Ay died, Horemheb became ruler, and a new period of positive rule began. He set about securing internal stability and re-establishing the prestige that the country had before the reign of Akhenaten.
The Nineteenth Dynasty was founded by Ramesses I. He only reigned for a short time and was followed by Seti I (or Sethos I). Sethos I carried on the good work of Horemheb in restoring power, control, and respect to Egypt. He also was responsible for creating the fantastic temple at Abydos. Seti I and his son Ramesses II are the only two pharaohs known to have been circumcised, although quite why they had this performed is somewhat of a mystery. Ramesses II carried on his father's work and created many more splendid temples. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem about him called Ozymandias.
The time frame for the reign of Ramesses II is often believed to have coincided with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. There are no records in Egyptian history of any of the events described in the Bible, nor any archaeological evidence. Indeed, even though there are records so detailed as to describe the escape of a pair of minor convicts from Egyptian territory, there is no such record for hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves. Linguistic studies have drawn certain potential origins for elements of biblical history, although they do conflict substantially with the biblical accounts - for example, records about the Sea Peoples may indicate that various Israelite tribes attacked Egypt during a certain period, although they also indicate that these tribes were allied with the Philistines rather than against them.
Ramesses II was succeeded by his son Merneptah and then by Seti II. Ramesses III was a pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty who, after a couple of battles, was followed by a number of short-lived reigns by pharaohs all called Ramesses.
New Kingdom Mummies
In the New Kingdom, coffins changed shape from the Middle Kingdom rectangle to the familiar mummy-shape with a head and rounded shoulders. At first these were decorated with carved or painted feathers, but later were painted with a representation of the deceased. They were also put together like Russian Matryoshka dolls in that a large outer coffin would contain a smaller one, which contained one that was almost moulded to the body. Each one was more elaborately decorated than the one larger than it.
It is from this time that most mummies have survived. The soft tissues like the brain and internal organs were removed. The cavities were washed and then packed with natron, and the body buried in a pile of natron. The intestines, lungs, liver and stomach were preserved separately and stored in Canopic jars protected by the Four sons of Horus. Such was the perceived power of these jars that even when the Twenty-First Dynasty started to return the organs to the body after preservation instead of using the jars, the jars continued to be included in the tombs.
Third Intermediate Period
After the death of Ramesses XI, the High Priest of Amun at Thebes Piankh, assumed control of Upper Egypt, ruling from Thebes, with the northern limit of his control ending at Al-Hibah. (The High Priest Herihor had died before Ramesses XI, but also was an all-but-independent ruler in the latter days of the king's reign.)
The country was once again split into two parts with the priesthood of Amun controlling Upper and Middle Egypt, and the kings, such as Smendes I, controlling the Delta from Tanis as the Twenty-First Dynasty. Their reign seems to be without any other distinction, and they were replaced without any apparent struggle by the Libyan kings of the Twenty-Second Dynasty.
Egypt has long had ties with Libya, and the first king of the new dynasty, Shoshenq I, was a Meshwesh Libyan, who served as the commander of the armies under the last ruler of the Twenty-First Dynasty, Psusennes II. He unified the country, putting control of the Amun clergy under his own son as the High Priest of Amun, a post that was previously a hereditary appointment. The scant and patchy nature of the written records from this period suggest that it was unsettled.
There appear to have been many subversive groups, which eventually led to the creation of the Twenty-Third Dynasty, which ran concurrent with the latter part of the Twenty-Second Dynasty. After the withdrawal of Egypt from Nubia at the end of the New Kingdom, a native dynasty took control of Nubia.
Under king Piye, the Nubian founder of Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, the Nubians pushed north in an effort to crush his Libyan opponents ruling in the Delta. He managed to attain power as far as Memphis. His opponent Tefnakhte ultimately submitted to him, but he was allowed to remain in power in Lower Egypt and founded the short-lived Twenty-Fourth Dynasty at Sais.
Memphis and the Delta region became the target of many attacks from the Assyrians, until Psammetichus managed to reunite Middle and Lower Egypt under his rule forming the Twenty-sixth dynasty-Seventh Dynasty.
The Thirtieth Dynasty was established in 380 BC and lasted until 343 BC. This was the last native house to rule Egypt. The brief restoration of Persian rule is sometimes known as the Thirty-First Dynasty.
There are several open problems concerning ancient Egyptian history. Conclusions on the origins of the Hyksos and their first leaders are disputed. It is unclear if the "Nubian Dark Age" really occurred in the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.
There is question if the First Intermediate Period of Egypt really was a Dark Age. It is unknown why there were Minoan paintings in Avaris. The exact relationship between the Minoan civilization and the Egyptian civilization is debated. The Battle of Kadesh is ambiguous and who was its victor is open to debate.
There are several events concerning ancient Egyptian history that are questioned. The exact nature of the reign of Pharaoh Smendes I's is unknown. It is unknown if Egypt was split during his governance. The facts are obscure as to whether Ramesses II defended Egypt against the Sea People because they were invading, or if they were people fleeing to Egypt in the middle of a war. Data is either not available or not known as to if Ramesses III or Amenemhat I were assassinated.
The exact causes concerning the disappearance of Nefertiti are unknown. It is debated if Necho II really sent out an expedition that sailed from the Red Sea around Africa back to the mouth of the Nile. The Tulli Papyrus is a controversial topic and it is debated if it comes from the reign of Thutmosis III.
The events that Herodotus records of Egypt are suspicious to some scholars, and there is question on what he actually witnessed in Egypt. Exactly who Herodotus exchanged ideas with and had conversations with is debated.
It is uncertain who Sonchis was, an Egyptian priest of Thebes, and why Plato wrote about Atlantis as described by this priest. It is questioned if Solon met Sonchis. It is unclear why Solon visited Egypt (if he really did).
The History of Egyptology
Napoleon I and Vivant Denon paved the way in the discovery of Egypt in archeology. On July 2, 1798 Napoleon stepped onto Egyptian soil after leaving France. He was on his way to seize British lands in India but came upon resistence from British Naval forces.
After spending nineteen days in the desert of Egypt, Napoleon and his men, came across the Nile and the city of Cairo. On the horizon in silhouettes were shadowy figures that were later to be known as the Pyramids of Giza. These symbols were of a lost society, formed and prospering before the birth of Islam . Napoleon's response was of ecstatic proportions, "Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you!"
The discovery of Egypt awoke a political and scientific interest. While Napoleon was busy running Egypt, Denon, an artist, was busy and enthralled with capturing the essence and archeological importance of Egypt through the use of his paper and crayons. He was giving the world a visual record of Egypt while scholars and scientists were examining and cataloging all that they could find. During his findings a key to the Egyptian myteries was discovered. This piece was a black basalt stele known as the Rosetta Stoneconsisting of three bands of writing.
In September of 1801 the French were forced to turn over the collection of Pharaonic antiquities to England aftrer they captured Alexandria. The pieces were then transported and housed in the British Museum by order of George III. Despite loses of the original findings; France had its resources. As pieces were unveiled a copy was produced thus allowing French scholars to continue their studies. The first to make use of these findings was Denon who published, "Voyage dans la Haute et la Basse Egypte". Between the years of 1809 and 1813 the works of Jomard were published. These works, "Description de l'Egypte," were a unique step in archaeological history.
Although Caroline, Napoleon's sister, was excavating Pompeii there was still a problem. The scholars were learning rudiments of archaeology and were trying to decode the hieroglyphics. Even though they had theDescriptionfilled with drawings, descriptions and copies, they could not
decipher their meaning successfully. It was found to be "scientifically unsolvable" by De Sacy. It wasn't until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by a French soldier under Napoleon that gave some hope of unlocking the mystery of the writings. The only problem was that there was no one to decode the stone at the time. It wasn't until the findings of the Rosetta Stone were published in an Egyptian newspaper that a boy found and twenty years later deciphered.
This man of unknown genius was Jean-Francois Champollion. He was especially interested in foreign languages and studied Arabic and Coptic, among others. In 1808, on August 30, he sent his findings to his brother. The findings contained evidence that he was able to find the correct value of individual characters on one line. Later in 1822 he published "Letter to M. Dacier in regard to Alphabet of the Phonetic Hieroglyphs," in which he proved his ability to unlock the mysteries of the Rosetta Stone.
Although excavation success was never apart of his resume', Champollion did lead an expedition through Egypt from July 1828 to December 1829. During this time he proved his hypothesis to be true.He also corrected past errors of classifying architecture in the ruins of Memphis and errors in the dating of artifacts. Despite his genius in unlocking the Rosetta Stone, he would not receive true recognition until 1896; Sir Peter le Page Renouf gave an address to the Royal Society of London on Champollion's theories. It was this act that caused them to pay homage to Champollion sixty-five years after his death and opened the long process of excavating Egypt.
The formal introduction of Egyptological thought starts with Mariette, a French archaeologist, who discovered the tomb of the Apis Bull. Mariette arrived in Egypt in 1854 in order to translate hieroglyphic texts, but on a hunch began the search for the temple of Serapis. Mariette’s hunch that the temple lay within the saqqara of Memphis, proved to be correct. After finding the tomb of the Apis Bull, Mariette was appointed as Conservator of Monuments in Egypt in 1858, and became the director of the Antiquities Service. The aim of the Service of Antiquities was to create a museum in Cairo where Egyptian monuments and treasures could be exhibited, this was achieved with the founding of the Boulaq Museum.
Maspero, was to continue Mariette’s work. Maspero was Director General of the Antiquities Service from 1881 until 1914. Maspero founded the French Mission, a permanent establishment which was to be a base for the publication of papers and monuments, and for the education of students of Egyptology. The Antiquities Service allocated excavation permits and gave many Egyptology students firsthand knowledge of ancient Egypt. Previously, the education had been limited to exhibits in foreign museums. In addition, the early Antiquities Service allowed archaeologists to keep a percentage of their findings. It has not been until recent times that the Antiquities Service itself, no longer operated under a foreign administration, has stopped the practice of giving archaeologists a percentage of their finds. This ended the ancient days of grave robbing which the study of Egypt was founded upon.
The nineteenth century brought with it many explorations of ancient Egypt. These explorations included the pyramids of Giza, as well as the other minor pyramids, such as the pyramid of Meidum, the Saqqara pyramid, and the Mastabas. A new door of scholarship had dawned upon the egyptological scheme. With it came a multitude of translated texts, as well as many amazing discoveries of the pyramids and its kingdoms. Many of these discoveries have yielded a broad range of knowledge from a variety of scholars. Margaret Murray , William Flinders Petrie, and others all aided in the establishment of Egyptology as a science, applying scientific techniques to the study of Egypt. Such techniques stemmed from scientific interest in the subject rather than an interest in grave robbing and collecting artifacts.
Flinders Petrie spent from 1880 - 1883 studying and excavating theGreat Pyramid of Giza . Because of his care and meticulous field methods, Petrie became known as one of the great innovators of the scientific methods in archaeological excavation. In 1884, Petrie discovered fragments of the collassal statue ofRamses I1during his excavations of the Temple of Tanis.
The twentieth century brough another flourish of interest in Egyptology. In October of 1891 at the age of 17, Howard Carter set sail for Alexandria, Egypt, which was his first journey outside of Britain. His first project was at Bani Hassan, the gravesite of the Sovereign Princes of Middle Egypt during 2000 B.C. Carter’s task was to record and copy the scenes from the walls of the tomb. At this early age, Howard Carter was a diligent worker with much enthusiasm. He would work the day through and then sleep with the bats in the tomb.
Later, he was privileged to work forFlinders Petrie , a strong field director and one of the most credible archaeologists of his time. Petrie believed Carter would never become a good excavator, but Carter proved him wrong when he unearthed several important finds at the site of el Amarna, the Capital of Egypt during the sovereignty of Akhenaten. Under Petrie’s demanding tutorage, Carter became an archaeologist, while keeping up with his artistic skills. He sketched many of the unusual artifacts found at el Amarna.
Carter was later appointed Principle Artist to the Egyptian Exploration Fund for the excavations of Deir el Babri, the burial place of Queen Hatshepsut. At the age of 25, Carter was offered the job of Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt by the Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Gaston Maspero, in 1899. Carter’s responsibilities included supervising and controlling archaeology along the Nile Valley.
Carter’s employment at the Egyptian Antiquities Service came to an end in an unfortunate incident between the Egyptian site guards and a number of drunken French tourists. The incident gave Carter a black mark and caused him to be posted to the Nile Delta town of Tanta, a place with very little archaeological involvement. This forced Carter to resign from the Antiquities Service in 1905. Carter sustained a hard existence after resigning from the Antiquities Service. He had to make a living by working as a commercial watercolorist or sometimes a guide for tourists. This lifestyle continued until around 1908 when Carter was introduced to the Fifth Lord Carnarvon by Gaston Maspero. The partnership proceeded happily, as each partner’s personality seemed to compliment the others.
Carter became the Supervisor of the Excavations funded by Carnarvon in Thebes and by 1914 Carnarvon owned one of the most valuable collections of Egyptian artifacts held in private hands. However, Howard Carter had still more ambitious aspirations. He had his eye on finding the tomb of a fairly unknown pharaoh at the time, King Tutankhamun, after various clues to its existence had been found, Carter tore up the Valley of the Kings looking for Tutankhamun’s burial place, but season after season produced little more than a few artifacts. Carnarvon was becoming dissatisfied with the lack of return from his investment and, in 1922, he gave Carter one more season of funding to find the tomb.
Howasrd Carter's work on King Tutankhamun's tomb began on November 1, 1922. It took only three days before the top of a staircase was unearthed. Almost three weeks later the staircase was entirely excavated and the full side of the plaster block was visible. By November 26, the first plaster block was removed, the chip filling the corridor was emptied, and the second plaster was ready to be taken apart. At about 4 P.M. that day, Carter broke through the second plaster block and made one of the discoveries of the century, the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
The tomb’s artifacts took a decade to catalogue. During this time, Lord Carvarvon died in Cairo of pneumonia. After the media got wind of the treasures of King Tutankhamun and the death of Lord Carnarvon, the hype about a mummy’s curse set the media on fire. Much to Carter’s displeasure, letters poured in from spiritualist from around the world, selling advice and warnings from "beyond the grave."
Finally, the artifacts were sent to the Cairo Museum and the corpse of the young king was studied and laid back to rest. After his work was done with King Tutankhamun, Carter no longer worked in the field. He retired from the archaeology business. He took up the pursuit of collecting Egyptian antiquities and, indeed, became a very successful collector. Often, toward the end of his life, he could be found at the Winter Palace Hotel at Luxor, sitting by himself in willful isolation. He returned to England and in 1939, at the age of 65, Howard Carter died.
Kent Weekshas an ongoing project that has produced a wealth of archaeological information and helped to generate interest in the general field of Egyptology among the public. One of the largest finds of the project has been the rediscovery of Valley of the Kings number five (KV5). KV5 revealed the tombs of the sons ofRameses II .(4) The discovery of KV5 has helped Weeks and his team uncover mummies,jewelry, and other artifacts that have helped advance Egyptology into the twenty first century. Weeks wrote a book entitledThe Lost Tomb, published in 1998, that details many of the findings of KV5.
Within the present time, Egyptology has utilized manynew technologies and techniques in excavations. There has also been many new discussions and theories concerning Ancient Egypt. These discussions, have been on topics such as: the age and construction of the Sphinx, the interpretation of papyrus, the lay out of the pyramids of Giza (their relation to astronomical phenomena), the lineage and ancient histories of Egypt, the role of women in ancient Egypt, the study of Egyptian religion, and in a wider sense have emphasized the culture of ancient Egypt. In addition, Egyptology is no longer predominated by foreign interests as it was by the French, and English in the beginning of the disciplin.As the modern age has progressed, Egypt has taken back much of it’s own history.In doing so Egypt has established itself as the center for the serious study of Ancient Egypt and Egyptology.