Where we attempt to fill you in on everything they forgot to teach you at school

The Case of the Stolen Tut Treasures

We all know that pyramid supremo Zahi Hawass tends to talk through his hat at times, and at other times doesn't always tell the full story. But the following incongruity may have broader implications. Vincent from the excellent Talking Pyramids website has noted a change in the story about how some of the stolen King Tut artifacts (during the Egyptian uprising earlier this year) were recovered by a government employee.

Here's Al Ahram's original version of the recovery of 4 missing Tut artifacts:

Salah Abdel Salam, a public relation personal at the MSAA, came upon these objects during his daily trip to work on the Metro. He related that he accidently found an unidentified black bag placed on a chair in the Shubra Metro station. Doubtful that the bag was concealing an explosive, Salah opened it and found the Tutankhamun statue gazing up at him. He took the bag and handed it over to the MSAA.

Hawass did not immediately echo this story on his website, but four days later posted about it on his own blog - except MSAA employee Salah Abdel Salam has suddenly turned into simply "a person" who turned up directly on Zahi's steps out of the blue with the bag, rather than handing it over to the MSAA.

But now, in this recent Scientific American interview, this is apparently how it happened:

Hawass: And we've brought back most of King Tut's objects that had been stolen.

Interviewer: And where were they? Where did you find them?

Hawass: Those were taken by the looters who entered the Cairo Museum on the night of January 28. Tut's Death MaskWe tracked them, and had people to ask and people to give us information. We got the objects of King Tut because there was someone working for the antiquities department who came to me and said that there were looters who wanted to return these objects back to me. And the next day he brought a bag with four objects.

Interviewer: And these looters approached the department official anonymously.

Hawass: It's a long story. He was sitting in a café, and heard them talking, and they said they need to return these objects to Zahi Hawass because they trust him.

Hawass appears to be talking about the same event - a government official coming into possession of four Tut items, in a bag, through sheer luck. If so, why the disparities (most especially, "abandoned bag at a train station" vs "overheard conversation in a cafe")? Added to reports like this one and this one, and you start to wonder about the real story here.

Whatever the truth of the matter, you have to giggle at the line "they need to return these objects to Zahi Hawass because they trust him". Nice touch Z!

(n.b. The stolen items did not include the Tutankhamen's death mask - I just had the image at hand to illustrate the story).

Related posts:

Pyramid Graffiti in the Gantenbrink Shaft?

New Scientist is reporting that a robot exploring the enigmatic 'air shafts' emanating from the Queen's Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza has found 'graffiti' on the back side of the 'Gantenbrink Door' (so-named after their discovery by German robotics engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink way back in 1993). Images taken by the new robot also revealed that the metal 'handles' originally sighted by Gantenbrink don't do anything special, but instead are simply looped off on the reverse of the door:

[A] robot designed by engineer Rob Richardson from the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues, and named Djedi after the magician that Khufu consulted when he planned his tomb, has crawled up the tunnel carrying a bendy "micro snake" camera that can see around corners.

Images sent back by the camera have revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint and lines in the stone that could be marks left by stone masons when the chamber was being carved (Annales Du Service des Antiquités De L'Égypte, vol 84, ISBN: 978-977-704-184-3). "If these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built," says Richardson.

"Red-painted numbers and graffiti are very common around Giza," says Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Harvard University and director of the Giza Archives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "They are often masons' or work-gangs' marks, denoting numbers, dates or even the names of the gangs."

As the camera can see around corners, the back of the stone door has been observed for the first time, scotching the more fanciful theories about the metal pins, says camera-designer Shaun Whitehead of the exploration company Scoutek, based in Melton Mowbray, UK. "Our new pictures from behind the pins show that they end in small, beautifully made loops, indicating that they were more likely ornamental rather than electrical connections."

The Daily Mail has posted an image taken by the robot, which I've reproduced below:

Graffiti on the reverse of the Gantenbrink Door

For his part, Zahi Hawass has continued to mention the possibility of a hidden chamber in the pyramid, based on the myth of Djedi (whose name the exploration team have rather provocatively appropriated - see my earlier story "Return of the Djedi" for a little history):

The King's Chamber may have been a dummy room, since the most important thing in the mind of the ancient Egyptians was to hide the burial chamber. We have a story that the magician Djedi met Khufu, who was searching for the god Thoth so he could find the secret of hiding his pyramid. Based on that maybe there is something hidden in the pyramid.

It will be interesting to see if any further discoveries are made. But while we keep a close eye on the story, never forget that much more credit needs to go to Rudolf Gantenbrink than Zahi Hawass for this exploration. See The Upuaut Project for a detailed history of his exploration, and schematics of the pyramids based on his work. Also, for anyone looking to understand this two-decade-long story a little better, see some of the links below.

Thanks Sjaoar for the heads-up.

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The Music of the Cubes

Slate has just published an extensive feature on everyone's favourite home of the head/body of Jesus/Mary Magdalene, Rosslyn Chapel. Once an obscure site referenced only by fans of 'hidden history', the small Scottish religious landmark shot to international fame in 2003 when it was included as an important location in Dan Brown's mega-seller, The Da Vinci Code. After the amount of ink spilled on the topic in the wake of the Da Vinci media frenzy, you you might think there would be nothing left to write on the topic. However, this new article targets one particular, 'recent' mystery related to Rosslyn: the 213 cubes with strange designs on them that can be found throughout the chapel:

The Rosslyn Chapel's 213 stone cubes were carved when Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus were schoolboys. Construction on the chapel began in 1456, about 50 years before the printing press arrived in Scotland. Rosslyn Cubes on PillarThe Stewart kings ruled the country at the time, and most historians credit James IV—who took the throne in 1488—for ushering in an era of scholarship and scientific inquiry. By that time, the chapel's founder, William St. Clair, had died, and construction on what was meant to be a much larger structure had come to a halt.

Given the era in which Rosslyn Chapel was built, then, it would be surprising to learn that someone encoded scientifically inspired symbols on the walls. But that's exactly what Tommy and Stuart Mitchell came to believe. The chapel's stone cubes, they were convinced, looked like Chladni patterns, the images that form when musical frequencies vibrate along a two-dimensional surface. Now, they just had to confront the inconvenient fact that Ernst Chladni was not born until 1756.

...as far as Tommy and Stuart were concerned, they could test their hypothesis without tracking down Chladni's Scottish predecessor. If they could match each of the 12 distinct symbols repeated across the cubes to a Chladni pattern—assigning each symbol to a musical pitch—they would have a 213-note sequence. The proof would be in the melody: If it sounded like something other than an incomprehensible jumble of sound, the Mitchells would have compelling evidence that the chapel's designer had transcribed a song in Rosslyn's stone walls.

The feature is in five parts, each with multiple pages. You'll also find plenty of debate (and skepticism) in the comments below the article.

Göbekli Geographic

Go back some five thousand years to the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, then go back another five thousand years. Add on two thousand more years and you're getting close to the construction date of the enigmatic, ultra-ancient megalithic 'temple' at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. Naturally, I find any stories on this particular site of extreme interest, so I was very happy to see that it's featured as the cover story of the latest issue of National Geographic (June 2011).

Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife. "I, my colleagues, we all thought, What? How?" Schmidt said. Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. The accomplishment was astonishing, but it was hard to understand how it had been done or what it meant. "In 10 or 15 years," Schmidt predicts, "Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason."

The article is accompanied by some wonderful photos by Vincent J. Musi, which include a 10,000-year-old sculpture of a human and the strange 'portals' that can be found at the site. Click on the image below to view the gallery.

Göbekli TepePhoto by Vincent J. Musi

For more information, you might also like to check out Filip Coppens' Darklore article about Göbekli Tepe, which is available as a free download from the Sample Articles page of the Darklore website (along with a bunch of others). Also see the links below, which review updates from previous years (and the first has video as well).

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The Hawass Contradictions

Try and keep up...

First Zahi was good buddies with ousted Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarek, even calling for Susan Mubarek to get a Nobel Prize, and now suddenly this week he says he hardly knew them. Apparently now he's "not from the old regime", and the revolution was definitely "a good thing", although apparently that opinion depends on which language he's speaking at the time.

Not to mention, back when the revolution was underway, the Big H reassured everyone that Egypt's treasures were safe. Except apparently Zahi now says around 1000 relics disappeared during the uprising. But at least some of the stolen treasures were returned when one of the burglars apparently got a conscience and left a bag of artefacts at a Metro station, where an anonymous person found it and "accidentally" looked in the bag, and then took it directly to Zahi. Which just goes to show that those allegations that it was an inside job were obviously false, and so all you noise-makers should just shut-up now...

Then Dr Hawass brought out his own menswear clothing range, but was attacked for using Egyptian heritage for props in promoting his personal label. He responded that no genuine artefacts were directly used in the photo shoot, and that all the profits from the clothing line were being given to a children's cancer hospital anyhow. But then the NYT dug deeper and found that Hawass had contacted the hospital about the arrangement only recently, and that only half the profits would go to charity.

And to top it all off he was sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring a 2010 court order regarding the Cairo Museum gift shop. But then the court overturned that decision the next day.

What more could go wrong, apart from his beloved museum being now seen by many Egyptians as a torture chamber. Things just don't seem quite so easy for Zahi in post-revolution Egypt.

He's Baaa-aaack

I knew it wouldn't last...

Zahi Hawass, who resigned as Egypt’s minister of antiquities less than a month ago under criticism for his close ties to former President Hosni Mubarak, was reappointed to the post on Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an Egyptian news report; Mr. Hawass, reached by phone, confirmed his reappointment.

...Mr. Hawass, who has never been accused of being humble, said on Wednesday that he did not ask to come back, but that there was no one else who could do the job. “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me,” he said.

Full story at the New York Times.

For Whom the Bell Sketches

Check out these super-secret sketches that I found in a bar for the iPhone 5 prototype! Actually, rewind around 140 years, because in reality it's believed to the be the first sketch made by Alexander Graham Bell for his telephone system (little did he know...):

Early sketch of Bell's invention of the telephone

More fascinating images from Bell's sketchbooks available over at The Atlantic.

Slave to the Truth

Most of us grew up on it: the idea that the pyramids of Egypt were built by slaves. In recent years though, the new view has been that the idea of slaves being used is archaic, and the Egyptian pyramids were built by a willing workforce, devoted to their king and his future afterlife. But wait, not so fast...

The main spin doctor for the interpretation of this information is Dr. Zahi Hawass, serving at the time the story hit the press (January 2010) as Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. He has a PhD from Penn, which has one of the best archaeology programs in the world. He is also a political appointee with a flair for PR who has continually demonstrated his interest in boosting Egypt’s image. He worked for the recently ousted Mubarak, an autocratic ruler trying to project a democratic image.

Hawass has an interest in pumping up the view that the ancient Egyptians loved their Pharaohs and were proud to work on their monuments: “And that’s why the pyramid was the national project of Egypt because everyone had to participate in building this pyramid. By food, by workmen, this way the building of the pyramid was something that everyone felt to participate, and really it was love. They are not really pushed to do it. When the king takes the throne, the people have to be ready in participating in building the pyramid. And then when they finish it, they celebrate.”

In the same interview, the main American archaeologist on the excavation project (Dr. Mark Lehner, University of Chicago and Harvard) is more restrained...

Read the full post at First Thoughts.

The Evolution of Telepathy

Last month Dr. Rupert Sheldrake delivered the Perrott-Warrick Lecture at Trinity College, Cambridge, discussing "The Evolution of Telepathy". Here's the abstract of his talk:

Field observations have suggested that wolves and other wild animals may communicate telepathically over many miles, and surveys have shown that about 50% of dog owners and about 30% of cat owners believe that their pets may respond to their thoughts or silent commands. Among humans, apparent telepathy is most commonly reported between members of families and between close friends and colleagues. Experimental investigations of telepathy in animals and people suggest that telepathy may be a natural means of communication between members of animal and human groups. Human telepathy is still evolving in the context of modern technologies, including the internet, emails, SMS messages and telephones. The speaker will show how anyone can explore their own abilities in automated telepathy tests using mobile phones.

And here's the audio and slides:

Anbody out there have personal observations of animal or human telepathy? Or do you think it's all bunkum? Chime in with a comment.

Hawass History?

It's official: Dr Zahi Hawass, the Pharaoh of Egyptian archaeology, has quit. Already there's been plenty of celebrating amongst those who think the Big Z is more of a liability than an asset to the preservation and exploration of Egyptian history, though I personally don't think he's quite 'gone' yet (more on that below). First, here's why he resigned as Minister of Antiquities:

I resigned because of three main things:

1. During the earlier protests, Egyptian youths and the police protected the museums and monuments. Only the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was broken into and, thank God, all the important objects inside it were safe and only a few things were lost or broken. Zahi HawassA report of exactly what is missing is still being compiled, however. Magazines were looted, but after initially appearing to get back to normal, the situation has recently become worse and there are many reports of thefts and illegal excavation.

2. Since the revolution, many people have continued to protest over other things, such as against me over jobs and salaries. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide everything that everyone is asking for. In the Ministry of State for Antiquities, we need money to protect sites and to restore buildings and objects too. We need the money brought in by tourists who visit our sites and museums to fund these things and, at the moment, there are no tourists.

3. Crooks in the Ministry and at the University of Cairo have started to attack me personally. I cannot stand this!

Most importantly, however, is that there are not enough police to protect the sites. I hope that my resignation will put pressure on the government to do something about this and also encourage the international community to do so as well.

The Egyptian antiquities that are on tour at the moment are safe and kept so with contracts. They are completely safe and when the police are back in force, everything here will be protected properly again too.

My reading of this is more a case of Zahi "going on strike", trying to bring attention to the desperate need for a security plan to ensure the safety of Egypt's archaeological treasures - a publicity stunt, if you will (though whether for archaeology's benefit, or Zahi, I can't say). And already Hawass 'loyalists' are calling for his reinstatement in the belief he is the only man capable of protecting the country's heritage.

But perhaps Hawass has good reasons to get out of Dodge. For one, as I mentioned back in January, he had extremely close ties to the Mubarek regime. Furthermore, he is now being severely criticised for downplaying the extent of looting and vandalism while Mubarek was still in power, only coming clean recently (according to respected Egyptologist Jaromir Malek, it's "becoming clear that the amount of looting and damage is bigger than originally thought" - see also this analysis of the Cairo Museum debacle). And now it has emerged that Hawass may be facing a year in prison for some alleged shonky dealings in the tender process for the Cairo Museum gift shop contract.

Sadly, while the Zahi Circus rolls on, attracting worldwide media interest, Egypt's precious antiquities remain under threat during this period of instability. Hopefully decisive action to protect the country's past will be taken soon.

Previously on TDG: