Friday, May 28, 2010

Egypt: Heads of State ... Stately Heads?

While in Egypt we managed to visit some very important people -- or at least see their heads.

One, being this fellow . . .

King Tut!*

And another being this guy . . .

the Sphinx!

King Tutankhamen:

Loads of sarcophagi*
We spent our last afternoon in Egypt touring the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Since the museum boasts an overwhelming 120,000 items, including mummies and a huge display on King Tut, we decided to get some help and take a tour from a real Egyptologist. Our guide was a little man with a big knowledge of all things pharaonic. (He was also pretty keen to educate us on King Tut's sexual life. Awkward.)

Unlike most tombs, when British archeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb 1923, he found it mostly intact. As a result, the museum now looks after a staggering number of the pharaoh's personal possessions. (The collection practically takes up a whole floor!) We saw golden chariots, headdresses, weapons, jewelry, and trumpets. (I really liked his bow and arrow. Wayne--I wish I could have taken a picture for you!) There were sheets of papyrus on display; a record of the official matters of his kingdom. We saw the actual rod he held in his hand when acting as judge, ruler, and diety. In addition to all of these public artifacts, there was also a collection of much more private items including things like his sandals, his bed, his toilet seat, and his condom. Our guide even took us to a case and specifically pointed out his lady friends' maxi pads. (We're still not quite sure why he would have needed these in the afterlife . . . ?)

Riding in style*

Here's a more accurate version of the 'head' we actually saw. Its is believed to resemble his real face. He looks pretty young to me--but I guess it makes sense; he was only 19 when he died. The funeral mask was big enough to cover his mummified head and chest.

Nothing but the best for the king . . . this thing is 25 pounds of pure gold!*
Even though we know more about him than almost any other pharaoh, his life and death are still surrounded in a lot of mystery. For more info on King Tut, make the leap and head to "King Tut Revealed" on the National Geographic website. Fascinating!

The Sphinx:
In addition to seeing one of the most popular kings of the ancient world, we also saw the most famous face in all of Egypt . . . that of the Sphinx!

A sphinx is a mythological creature first depicted in Egypt with the head of a woman and the body of a lioness. Since then, forms of the sphinx have shown up around the globe from Greece to South East Asia, to Europe. Along the way she kind of became a he, depending on the situation. He/She also represented a range of beliefs and served an array of purposes for the various cultures. The first sphinx ever found in Egypt supposedly portrays Queen Hetepheres II. She was one of the longest-lived members of the royal family of the fourth dynasty.

The body of a lion
The largest and most famous sphinx in the world is the one in Giza. Most experts believe the head is that of King Khafra while the body represents Sekhmet, the lioness. She was considered a powerful sun deity.

Its job was to serve as the guardian of the tomb and to make its presence known to all who dared approached the pyramids. Based on the huge volume of crowds, I'd say it still needs to be vigilant.

If you look through the rocks, you can see the Sphinx posing along the way to Khafra's pyramid.
Well, vigilant, but not too vigilant . . . What I mean is that I sure hope it didn't notice how we kinda snuck onto the grounds. We're not completely sure, but we don't think our tour guide technically paid for our admission. I haven't displayed any symptoms of coming down with a curse quite yet, so I'd wager that seeing the sphinx up close was worth the risk!

Just another typical day with the ancient and famous,

*Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum, so I nabbed all of mine from google images. (Possibly another form of looting?!)

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