Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ancient Egypt in the news

ANCIENT EGYPT has been getting some attention lately.

Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images

By Frances Cronin BBC News

Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.

Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids.

The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak.

Keep 'em coming. Cross-file under "technology watch."

UPDATE: "space archaeologists?"

UPDATE (29 May): Zahi Hawass corrects the BBC story.

Second, a BMCR review:
Bojana Mojsov, Alexandria Lost: From the Advent of Christianity to the Arab Conquest. London: Duckworth, 2010. Pp. 155. ISBN 9780715638651. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Christopher Haas, Villanova University (

Nearly two decades ago, Peter Fraser observed that classical Alexandria, like Antioch and other cities of the Middle East, did not ultimately die of “a slow cancer, but two massive heart attacks following upon a chronic illness.”1 He identified these coronary catastrophes as the Sassanian capture of the city in 619 and `Amr ibn al-As’s conquest in September of 641. This is the principal theme of Bojana Mojsov’s Alexandria Lost. Mojsov, an Egyptologist with long experience in the field of Pharaonic religion, exhibits from the first page a passion for the city known by the ancients as “most glorious Alexandria.” She sets out to discover “What happened to ancient Alexandria and to the Great Library? Alexander’s city was the shining star of the Mediterranean Sea, the museum the pride of the classical world, the library the greatest collection of antiquity. How could they disappear so thoroughly, without a trace?” (6).

Mojsov's answer is that the Alexandrian cultural heritage was destroyed deliberately by the forces of religious intolerance, and inadvertently by armies contending for possession of the city. Mojsov cites the murder of Hypatia in 415 as the precipitating event that “sparked the drawn-out but violent destruction of the entire legacy of the classical city” (19). She later identifies the episcopate of Cyril as having “all but annihilated its long intellectual tradition,” and goes so far as to assert that after Cyril, “academic life became extinct” (53). Though the city limped along intellectually until the Arab conquest with the meager remnants of the Great Library distributed into private hands, she concludes that after the second and more violent Arab conquest of the city in 646, “the power of ignorance driven by faith ushered in 1,000 years of silence” (116)

The reviewer is skeptical about these conclusions.

Some past posts on the Library of Alexandria are here, here, here, and here.

Third, still on the theme of ancient Alexandria, a review of Agora in
Movie Review: Agora

By Francesca Rudkin
7:00 AM Thursday May 26, 2011

Alexandria in the 4th century is the setting for Oscar-winning director Alejandro Amenabar's latest drama. A sweeping historical story taking in the science, politics, philosophy and religion of the time, Agora tells the story of Hypatia (Weisz), a feminist, Ancient Egyptian-style.

It's as ambitious as it sounds and is a fascinating introduction to Alexandria during this turbulent period. Throw in a melodramatic love triangle involving our heroine, her slave Davus (Minghella) and Orestes (Issac), the Prefect of Alexandria, and a generous two hours to give us Alexandria 101, and Agora has all the elements for compelling drama. Yet it fails to excite.

She gives it 3/5 stars. I have not yet seen Agora, but I want to, because of Rachel Weisz my professional interest in ancient religion in modern popular culture.