Antiquity Politics and the Kamose Find
by Jimmy Dunn writing as John Warren
by Jimmy Dunn writing as John Warren
Egypt's rich heritage of antiquities has often played a major role in the country's political dealings, particularly with the west This is one reason British, French and American museums are filled with Egyptian artifacts. It was not all plundered as such. Many antiquities were given as presents to foreign dignitaries.
In fact, a few late Egyptian kings worked very diligently to provide visiting dignitaries with exceptional "finds". When Prince Napoleon, cousin of Napoleon III of France decided to visit Egypt around sometime after 1857, Said Pasha who then ruled Egypt "wanted every step of the visiting price to sprout antiquities". This was not left to chance. Auguste Mariette, one of the best known early explorers of Egypt, but sometime of dubious fame in light of some of his methods, was ordered to precede the prince's visit and dig for antiquities. He was then to rebury his finds along the path of the prince's intended itinerary.
Mariette set his men to work at several locations including Giza, Saqqara, Abydos, Elephantine and Thebes. At Thebes, in an area known as Dra Abu'l-Naga, a very simple burial was found that, while yielding a few interesting artifacts, seemed otherwise of little interest. Only later would the find's importance be discovered
From what appeared to be a poorly mummified body, a bronze and gold dagger, two lion amulets and a cartouche-shaped box inscribed with the name of a king were discovered. These would be added to the other discoveries made by Mariette's men to "salt" the prince's path, but unfortunately, at the last minute Prince Napoleon was required to cancel his trip.
Nevertheless, Mariette, who certainly is not renowned among modern Egyptologists, was a shrewd man. He provided Said Pasha with a sampling of the artifacts, including those small items found at Dra Abu'l-Naga, so that they might be sent to the prince. This would assure Mariette the support of the French prince and Said Pasha in his quest to be placed in control of all Egypt's antiquities, which he later was.
Today the items from Dra Abu'l-Naga can be found at the Louvre museum, but the stuccoed and painted sycamore coffin from the burial remained in Egypt. In fact, it was placed in storage and forgotten about for the next fifty years.
By then, the Egyptian Museum's curator was George Daressy, and he managed for the first time to correctly interpret the name on the coffin as "King Kamose". Kamose was in fact a most important Egyptian king, credited with having ejected the Hyksos from Egypt. The Hyksos were foreign rulers during the 15th dynasty and Kamose who caused their expulsion returned Egypt to Egyptian rule.
This was ironic because Mariette was much interested in this period of Egypt's history. But to give the man some credit, the coffin was of exceedingly poor quality and the name was written simply without inclusion in a cartouche, as king's names usually were. Doubtless, this was not the king's original burial.
Mariette was placed in charge of Egyptian antiquities by Said Pasha on June 1st, 1958. Regrettably, his excavations were often carried out with no supervision at all, and there was not a system in place to assure any quality in his work. Tragically, even the records that he did keep were destroyed when his house at Bulaq was flooded in 1878. His goals seemed to be adding items to the national museum at a dizzying pace, which he accomplished at the cost of considerable knowledge. Even the "salting" technique intended for the French prince was repeated in 1868-69 for the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, who was to "discover" a group of 30 coffins in the tomb of Amenkha at Thebes.
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