March 17, 2012

Collect Information about Ancient Egypt Facts

A good starting place to collect data on ancient Egypt is the Egypt Museum in Cairo, generally recognized as one of the greatest storehouses of relics in the world. But even here the effects of the rising humidity are beginning to manifest themselves, so museum officials have started to measure and check the humidity of the building’s interior. A visit to the Mummies Section in the southwest corner of the first floor is a fascinating, although rather eerie, experience. Mummies which were buried thousands of years ago, their skins a dark walnut brown, are displayed here. Although they have survived many ages, in recent decades bacteria, insects and fungi have begun to attack them. Consequently, the humidity in the room where they are kept is now being strictly controlled and hygrometers have been placed at several places on the walls.

Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Probably the most important mummy, that of Ramses II, has suffered the most damage. Consequently, in 1976 Ramses was flown to Paris to be restored by experts there.

In the northwest corner of the same floor is a glass display case containing scarabs that date back to the age of the Pharaohs, but now the mildew seems to be attacking them too. The scarab is a seal patterned after the shape of the dung beetle. The most ancient of Egyptian peoples thought the dung beetle laid its eggs in the little balls of dung it collected. They viewed this as representative of the life cycle and the durability of the human soul. They would place these seals or amulets made out of beetles in later eras, they were carved of stone instead in the eyes, ears and nose of the dead at the time of burial to ward off evil.

Today modem scarabs, which are often made of semiprecious stones and are usually a cloudy beige or fresh green in color, are fashioned into rings and pendants to be sold in the bazaars. Besides having traditionally served as amulets for the dead, and now as jewels for women, they have also appeared in at least one book. In the mystery thriller The Scarab Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine, a scarab thrown beside the dead body was the clue to who committed the murder.

It is very strange to find mildew in Egypt because the dry climate is not conducive to the reproduction of bacteria. Therefore contagious diseases do not flourish and epidemics are surprisingly rare. The main illness that plagues foreigners is the tummy upset we all seem to have during the first week of our stay, but this is due to the difference in the drinking water. Apparently Egyptians traveling abroad have a similar experience as they too are affected by drinking water they are not used to.

This is not to say that Egypt is completely free of epidemics. In fact, during my stay in Cairo, I heard that there had been a massive outbreak of cholera. I was then living in a rented apartment, and my maid urged me to get myself inoculated. From time to time a white van, which looked like an ambulance, would drive through the streets, spraying the air with a disinfectant which floated out like billows of white smoke. According to an aquaintance, who is a doctor with the World Health Organization in Cairo, it seemed that some 500 people had caught cholera, but the government had not announced it. Since the newspapers carried no mention of this, I assumed they did not consider it newsworthy. Eventually someone asked about it at one of our regular press conferences at the Ministry of Information. The government spokesman casually answered the question, commenting that the story of an epidemic was “probably a rumor that had been spread as part of Israel’s psychological warfare.” One American journalist standing next to me shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something about “these Egyptians living in a fantasy world. ...”

As it turned out, the Egyptians were not unknowingly living in a fantasy world. At that time, it was government policy not to disclose any information on any matter that was inconvenient or likely to be a source of shame or embarrassment to the country. Any item of news not officially announced by the authorities was banned from publication.

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