King Tut’s Crown – a Lapidary Jeweller’s Perspective 

Anticipation was a murmur running beneath the mire of the afternoon sun. It was a weighty thing called forth out of cartooning tradition and penned in by stone pillars. It was in the sudden tweaks of necks snapping to, then forward.  It was in the necessarily short, shallow, babble of amassing, Hello, how are yous‘: token salutations that would have to suffice, anything more would lose purchase when the pharaoh appeared. Yet the presentation porch was vacant save two sparsely clad sentinels, bare chested and baring spears. Anticipation simmered as the crowd waited to be awed.

From the shadows the scribe, Ay, looked on the ignorant and willingly beguiled. They flocked to see Osiris, the ever-living, ever-present god, the immutable. They flocked to be uplifted, to be humbled, to be justified in their way of life by his physical incarnation. It was said that the great Pharaoh’s face radiated the golden beams of the desert sun. It was said that it pained the naked eye to gaze upon his countenance for long – just long enough to perceive his lapis-blue locks. Imperious in his stance, he need not speak, his presence was enough. That’s all they wanted. That’s all Khemet needed.

Did it matter that in truth the Pharaoh was only a feeble, nine year old boy who sought his mother when the night terrors set in? Ay would shelter the truth for and from them. He had his tools. He would give the people what they needed to see. He ensured order. He ensured maat. They didn’t need to see a debilitated, child Osiris as they didn’t need to see a female Osiris just a few generations ago, nor the 2 year old infant before her. No, Osiris was an empirical constant, like maat. Anything other was chaos.

No. Let the mask work its magic once again, while the child played indoors.

king tut

Death Mask

After two lack-lustre attempts at recreating the nemes crown I decided that it was not made out of linen. Forget what egyptologists, historians, even archaeologists, or anyone who has made Ancient Egypt the focus of their lifetime’s research are saying. Listen to the housewife: it was made out of gold. Tut wore a golden crown, not a linen one! Whoever heard of a king ruling with the weight of cloth on his shoulders? Unheard of! And besides, I failed at making it, twice. (It’s all about me ;D). Continuing along this vein. . .

Tutankhamen wore a gold crown. He inherited it from his predecessors. He passed it onto his successor. That’s what happens with monarchs and the chief symbols of their power and majesty. Except . . . it was found on his mummy. So chances are that his predecessors’ and successors’ crowns could have been found with their mummies had their burials remained intact. And then there is that snake and vulture sticking out of it. Tut seems to have been the only pharaoh to have been depicted with this wadjet-nehkbet combination sticking out of his head. No, this crown was definitely made for Tut but was it made during his lifetime or specifically for his afterlife?

Egyptologist, Nicholas Reeves, wrote a paper, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered focusing on the burial bust. He found that it was probably made reusing other monarch’s jewels. He believes that the face is Nefertiti’s (Tutankhamen’s possible step mother or aunt (1)). If this is the case the mask had to be made before the crown. By looking at the way that the crown and mask were made we can determine which part was made first or whether they were made at the same time. Due to the preferred habits of jeweller-metalsmiths and the immutable facts of science – the melting point of gold, the burning point of lapis, the shock resistance of faienc e- a close look at its joins and surface can reveal much.

Sterling Silver jewellery inlaid with semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, carnelian and turquoise from my workshop (1996).

As a former lapidary jeweller I would like to take a guess at what the burial bust could tell us. I’m using Nicholas Reeves article as a reference for what I can’t infer from just looking at photos of it. I have never seen the bust itself.

Reeves tells us that there were at least 8 components of the burial bust (the combined face, nemes crown and necklace.) It was assembled using a number of enduring techniques: cold hammering from sheet metal, riveting, casting, soldering and pressure setting. He singles out, “a series of rivets at the base of the throat together with visible lines of solder around the edges of the face and neck,” and ” a line of thickening around the brow band,” to “indicate that the face had been fashioned not as one with the front of the headpiece but as a wholly separate unit.” His 8 distinct parts of the bust are:

  1. the front panel (of the nemes Crown)
  2. the back panel
  3. the uraeus and vulture
  4. the face
  5. an ear
  6. the other ear
  7. the beard
  8. and the collar panel (necklace)(2).

He continues, “In its fully assembled state, the mask’s metal surfaces had been smoothed, inlaid, chased, treated, and provided with the finishing burnish which, externally at least, conceals so convincingly today details of the construction process.” Reeves doesn’t specify which part was subjected to which technique but I’d like to take an educated guess.

1). and 2). The Front and Back Panels of the Nemes Crown

The general shape of these panels would have been hammered from sheet and fitted  and resized as the metal was pushed and hammered into shape; first one panel and then the other, before they were soldered together. Channels for the inlaid blue faience (glass/enamel) would have been traced, scorped out, hammered, heated and quenched, re-scorped, re-hammered and re-quenched to imbue the otherwise malleable metal with strength. Additionally, the use of this technique would result in a pure gold veneer rising to the surface of the metal allowing the faience to bond evenly with the metal. Once the viscose fluid faience was applied to the channels it would quite likely have been fired in a kiln. A blow-pipe (predecessor of the blow-torch) may have been used to set the faience but I’m preferring a kiln due to the large area to be set and the possible risk of damaging lines of faience already set as the jeweller progressed.

Of the lappets represented by the front panel, Reeves has this to say:

“A second group of very different injuries is visible to both the front and the outer edge of the mask’s right lappet: two crudely punched holes made in antiquity to receive a wire to hold the royal flail firmly in position.”

From the death of Akhenaten to the death of Tutenkhamen not a lot of time passed. The same workshop could have catered for all four successive burials. If the Nemes Crown of the bust served a separate purpose during the life of the Pharaoh and then was reused for his burial it may explain the crude damage to the lappet. The nemes crown would have been designed to have a flawless appearance while the living pharaoh wore it but when it was reemployed in the burial bust it was punctured to accommodate the needs of the flail. Doing this to the finished bust for the burial would indicate a badly designed burial piece  – couldn’t the workshop get it right after preparing three other royal funerals in fairly quick succession? Or wasn’t the piece originally intended for the burial bust but the necessity of perhaps a rushed ceremony resulted in clumsy measures and used wares?

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Canopic coffinette showing Tutankhamen holding ceremoniously the royal crook and flail. The nemes crown appears to be inlaid with lapis and the flail with faience in this much smaller funerary prop.

3). The Uraeus and Vulture

These animals would have been cast in gold and fired in a kiln, with channels for their ornamentation already part of their design. The wet faience would be applied and then they would be re-fired. The stones would be cut, polished and inlaid with glue. Possibly the second last step of assembling the mask, they would be riveted onto the front panel/forehead.

4). The Face

The face is stylised. The symmetry of the face belies that it’s not a true death mask. It’s a sculpture. It has no particular defining features, it could be anyone’s face really – Nefernefruaten? Smenkhare? Nefertiti? Tutankhamun? Could it have been cast directly from a statue via a mould, thus the official portrait of the pharaoh stayed constant and of Tut? Maybe not.

Reeves reports that the face is 3mm at the edges and 15mm elsewhere (3). This indicates that the mask was worked from a gold sheet, originally about 3mm thick. The features where the hammering and tracing were concentrated became thinner as the sheet was pushed and moulded under the pressure of a forming tool (today we use steel punches and a mallet.) The face, beginning as a gold sheet, would indicate that it was made to fit into the combined front and back panel, not the other way around. For ease of construction this would be done before the faience was set into the front and back panel and before the eyebrows were stone set on the mask. Logically the metal only face would be soldered to the gold-only nemes crown at this point – afterwards it would be almost impossible.

This is where the hard facts of science come in to play. The mask could not be soldered to an already finished gold, faience and stone set bust without damaging the faience and burning the stones (lapis, obsidian and white quartz). The heat required to gold solder a 3mm sheet of gold to another of comparable thickness would crack the faience and burn the lapis (inlaid in the eyebrows). To solder a gold mask to a completely finished gold and faience nemes crown would mean having to remove (destroy) the faience and stones, scorp clear the channels they were set in, clear them of any foreign impurities and then reapply fresh faience and refire the entire bust. This would expose it to the risk – very high – of running the solder joins and the mask dislodging or fully detaching. The stones would then have to be reset into the eyes and eyebrows.

Pectoral Necklace - if it ever needed soldering repair, today lead solder would possibly be used.

Pectoral Necklace – if it ever needs soldering repair today lead solder would possibly be used, perhaps with a heat sink. e.g., if one of the lotus flowers were to break off and needed to be reattached

Today, lead solder is used to make repairs to costume jewellery and some finished jewellery set with ornamental stones. Lead solder melts at a much lower temperature than gold solder but doesn’t provide as secure a bond. We know from an inventory of goods brought back from the Levant during the reign of the 12th Dynasty king, Nebkaure Amenenhat II, (4) that lead was used by the Egyptians for something. In context of the rest of the items mentioned on the list: silver; bronze; copper (for alloying metals, making solders); emery (for polishing stones and metals); sand (for grinding stones); it seems highly likely that the importation of the white lead was for metalsmithing. Was it lead solder?

If the mask was going to be attached to an already finished and set gold nemes crown, lead solder may have been used. Reeves makes no mention of lead in the appearance nor the construction/composition of the bust.

Another possiblity is the use of heat sinks in collaboration with gold soldering to join the face to the crown. Dominic Perry of the Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast) tells us in his introduction to the podcast, Episode 39: The Wealth of Asia, that among the peoples that Egypt traded with were those of the Aegean Sea. It may follow that they obtained ochre (e.g., that mined since pre-historic times in the North Aegean on Thasos) which they could apply to their metalsmithing as a heat sink. By painting the surface of the metal with an ochre paste a jeweller can reduce its heat conductivity. Could the ancient egyptians have used a combination of gold soldering and heat draining to solder the golden face to an already finished and set nemes crown? Could the nemes crown of the burial bust be the nemes crown the young Pharaoh wore in life? Alternatively, could this technique have allowed the face of Nefertiti to be soldered onto the crown for a hasty burial?

The problem facing the jeweller when employing heat sinks is the risk of reticulation (wrinkling up and dulling down of the surface of the metal). Reeves tells us that the mask is burnished. This is where the surface of the metal is rubbed over until it is smooth and shiny by a hard, smooth metal tool. However, the undulations of the face preclude as perfect a finish as it appears to possess, if reticulation occurred, even with emery smoothing and burnishing techniques. Soldering a complete crown to a complete mask is getting harder with each supposition!

And there is the issue of two differing alloys. Reeves reports that the face has a bluish-silver appeareance in comparison to the crown which has a richer golden hue. This has been achieved by employing different alloys – mixes of gold. Could the face have been fashioned out of the highly reflective electrum? Electrum is a naturally occuring alloy of gold and silver. Like all alloys it would have its own working properties – ductility, malleability, tensile strength and melting point –  that differ from a high carat gold alloy – very likely it would be harder. Most jewellers, although capable of working with all manner of metals and their alloys, tend to have a preference for one to streamline their processes. This indicates that the face was either made by a different jeweller from the crown, or in a different workshop, or at a different time. So how were they joined?

The technique that I would have expected them to use if they were to attach the smooth and shiny, stone-set, possibly electrum, face-mask to the golden, faience-set crown would be one that employed rivetting perhaps, but more-so, setting the mask in place from inside the bust. Reeves presents an image of the inside of the bust in his paper. (5) The join appears to have an abundance of metal supposedly depicting a very clumsy soldered line. Soldering lines are generally precise and chiefly contained in their join. This line is ostentatious and wasteful in its overabundance. More akin to a welding join – something achieved today with the pressurised liquid gas flame of an oxy-acetylene blow torch. Highly anachronistic! Could this clumsiness actually be evidence that it has been set from behind? This technique would require a greater amount of metal than soldering. The setting edge would have been rocked, pushed and burnished down to secure the face. Possible?


Photo credit: cfaobam via Foter.com / CC BY

 

A further issue is the hole in the right lappet (see image above). If the lappet was punctured at the burial then the handler/jeweller was running the risk that the tension set face could dislodge and the faience around it cracking. A soldered face, of course was secure.

It would seem that this could be easily sorted out. The same techniques that were applied to determine the differing carats of gold used in the bust could be used to determine whether the join behind the face is a setting lip where it would be the same carat as the face or whether it is solder, whereby the carat of the solder would be markedly less than either the face or the panel it was soldered onto.

At this point I must say that on reading Reeves article I was surprised to see mention of differing carats of gold and soldering technique. I thought their ability to use these jeweller’s tools advanced for their civilization. I expected riveting, pressure setting and the use of threaded screws. Could the alloys of gold be an indication of not the production of differing carats of gold but different sources of gold – as gold forms in natural combinations (alloys).

 5). and 6). The Ears

Reeves notices that the ears have been attached separately, riveted on. This is expected if they have been cast. The holes in the ears are a greater curiosity. Reeves proposes that holes for earrings on a now adult’s burial mask indicate that they have been taken from the funerary equipment of a female, probably Nefernefruaten (whom he equates with Nefertiti). Men didn’t wear earrings but boys and women did.

The discs that were found having fallen out are tattle-tale tellers. Surely they indicate that the ears weren’t made for this burial bust?Reeves asks why carve ears with holes that aren’t meant to be there? Why plug holes with earrings that don’t fit? If the discs were meant to plug the earring holes for eternity, why weren’t sprues soldered onto the back of them so that they could remain where they had been placed. Was the burial that hurried an affair? Why? War?

7). The Beard

My guess is that the beard was finely cast with the gold channels carved into the wax model. Once the gold had been fired the faience was poured into the channels and it was refired. The casting would have to be light as the beard itself was pressure set into place – probably the last procedure in the construction.

That the faience in the beard has faded but that of the crown itself retains its faux-lapis appearance is another indicator that this is a second hand rose. Does the faience of the beard contain a different type of pigment to the crown? Did the beard come out of a separate workshop than that of the front and back panels making up the crown?

Egyptian necklace of faded faience?

8). The Collar Panel / Necklace

I assume that the collar panel was fabricated out of gold sheet. What looks like enamel/faience on the shoulders of the collar would mean that it would have been applied in a kiln or with the aid of a blow-pipe before the carnelian, lapis and turquoise were cut, polished and set into it’s breast panels. It appears to have been fully stone set and to be a stiff representation of a beaded necklace similar to the one above. This collar panel I believe was made at the time of the burial to fit into the front panel of the Nemes crown. Rivets at the base of the throat would indicate that either the collar or the lappets or both were already set when they were combined.

Conclusion

So what is it? Was the Nemes Crown made of cloth or gold? Was the mask originally Nefertiti’s? Could Tutankhamen have worn the crown in life? Was it really just made for his burial?

This sometime prop-maker and once-upon-a-time jeweller has come to this conclusion: the mask and crown were made at roughly the same time, perhaps using more than one workshop; the collar panel was made for the burial;  and the mask-crown was made to represent the boy-king and was worn in life. Egyptians, masters of propaganda, surely knew how to awe, humble, amaze, mesmerize and befuddle their people. A mask and crown combination on a stand-in king may have served to propagate the illusion of the king as god and reaffirm the mythology of the golden skinned, silver-boned and lapis-locked pharaoh.

If you asked another jeweller you may get another conclusion. If you asked a milliner to have a go at making the nemes crown from cloth they may come up with a plausible way of getting the crown to sit square, not fall back and have its lappets stand perpendicular to its head. My problem of balancing the weight of the back and the front of the crown is solved with a golden nemes crown and face-mask combination. I’m neither an egyptologist, nor a milliner and no longer a jeweller, so I will always have room for doubts about this conclusion. For the moment, it has placated my curiosity. Thanks for taking the journey with me

This is the final of a series of posts on the beautiful nemes crown of Tutankhamun. To read them all, they have been published on my blog in the following order:

Tutankhamen: Damnatio Memoriae

  1. Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown
  2. 2.Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture
  3. Making the Nemes Crown: Cloth or Gold!
  4. Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont..)
  5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… lappets

Gold Rods Low on Lappets, Lapis Locks and Lapidary Allusions… King Khafre

A Second Attempt at the Nemes Crown

Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Ctowns

P.S., Addenda, and then there is …

If I were to have a third attempt at the Nemes Crown, it would definitely be a combination of metal and cloth and there would be a metallic form. Yes I’ve tried designing it but am not happy enough with the outcome, on paper at least, to publish it I will endeavoiur to post the step by step images for the first two attempts on my pinterest page – www.pinterest.com/craftytheatre – over the coming months. The first attempt is already posted on my facebook page.

Footnotes

(1) Dr Eric Wells is convincing when he posits that Tutankhamen may have been the son of a younger brother of Ahkenaten and not his son. See the podcast, Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt.

(2) Reeves, Nicholas, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered, Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar: The Art and Culture of Ancient Egypt: Studies in honor of Dorothea Arnold, Vol. 19, 2015, p. 516.

(3) ibid. p.512. I have converted the measurements to millimeters as they are the preferred units used by jewellers in Australia at least – and the ones that I relate easiest to when thinking of jewellery manufacturing.

(4) Dominic Perry, Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast), Episode 39:The Wealth of Asia or Epsisode 39:The Wealth and Splendour of Nebkaure Amenemhat II

(5) ibid. p.525.

Photo Credits

King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

Canopic Coffinette

Photo Credits – Canopic Coffinette –  Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tutankhamun’s Death Bust

Photo credit: cfaobam via Foter.com / CC BY

Pectoral Necklace

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Egyptian beaded Necklace perhaps of faience beads

Photo credit: Kodak Agfa via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Interview: Dominic Perry, History of Egypt podcast 

Temple of Rameses II
Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 90M Views via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

I feel thoroughly spoilt. Dominic Perry of the History of Egypt podcast has allowed me to interview him. Dominic took on the herculean task of presenting the history of Ancient Egypt, reign by reign beginning with the Old Kingdom. I love his podcast. Wonderous but never onerous he delves into religion, mythology, politics, daily life, literature. . .  Literature! I particularly enjoy his readings of translations of ancient texts (Hatshepsut – very dramatic). He includes archaeological updates from the field and gives his take on it all. And then there are accompanying visuals on his website! For my recent series of posts where I have attempted to recreate a cloth Nemes crown, I have leant heavily on his podcasts to get a handle on who the ancient Egyptians were and how they would approach things. Here he answers my questions on Egypt, digs, rituals, theatre, Oedipus and Akhenaten. Enjoy.

 

  1. What first fascinated you about Ancient Egypt?

I got into it as a child, and at first I have to admit it was mostly the gold and the treasure. Over time I became more and more fascinated by the idea of the pharaohs – what they represented, how they lived, what they wore etc. Then finally I became absorbed in finding the little details of their lives – particularly the economic aspect; how people lived and organised themselves, what they had to do to make sure their community functioned properly. It’s been an evolving series of interests!

  1. Do you ever get nervous going on Egyptian digs?

Sure! I’m not a natural traveller – I like home and my creature comforts. But it’s important to overcome that internal desire, in order to do something special. It’s a rare opportunity to get paid to dig up a long-dead civilization, so I just sort of “suck it up” and get stuck in to the work. In terms of safety there’s never been a problem – Egypt and Sudan are a lot safer and friendlier than people realise.

  1. What has been the most surprising thing that you’ve seen come out of the ground?

When I was excavating a Roman-era wall that had been built over an old Egyptian temple we unexpectedly found a pharaonic-era statue that had been used as part of the masonry. This whole torso of an ancient pharaoh suddenly showed up among the bricks. That was definitely a surreal moment.

  1. The Festival of Drunkenness seems like a showy event. Do you think that ancient Egyptian rituals ever crossed over the boundary of ritual into theatre?

Yes. Egyptian festivals and rituals seem to have had pseudo-theatrical “re-enactments” of legendary events. Osiris’ death became a big one; the battle between Horus and Seth; the rampage of Hathor and her slaughter of mankind. These were important stories in the heritage of the ancients, and they were constantly reviving and renewing them to keep the memory alive. I often think of Japanese Noh-theatre as an analogy – legendary figures and supernatural beings interacting with the human world, and making a grand show of it. The Egyptians may have done something similar, but in a more religiously formal context. Over time that probably developed into something we would recognise as a theatre-esque “performance piece.”

  1. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was a King of Thebes (Greece) who killed his father and married his mother. Do you think that this story may have had Egyptian origins?

Anything is possible, especially when Greek writers like Herodotos were fascinated by Egyptian history and culture

Of course you’re thinking of the pharaohs’ habit of marrying sisters or cousins. That certainly happened, but we’re still not certain of the role these sister-wives played – were they symbolic unions (platonic marriages)? Or did they consummate them? Our moral sensitivity would have us lean to the platonic end; but there must have been some incest going on occasionally. It’s a big question, and it can have a big impact on how you view their morality.

  1. It was accepted for Egyptian kings to marry their daughters. Was there ever a case where the succession passed down via an Egyptian Sister/Daughter of the king marrying her son? Do you think that would that be considered taboo?

Not taboo, but it would be unnecessary. The legitimacy of the line appears to have been carried by the females (though there is debate on that). If a King died without heir, but his sister or daughter had a son, that son would be a perfectly acceptable heir. Queen Khenty-kaus I (about 2450 BCE) was the sister of King Menkaure, and when he died without heir she seems to have put her son Shepseskaf on the throne, ruling as a regent on his behalf.

  1. With your current podcasts set in the New Kingdom, I am eagerly awaiting your take on Akhenaten. Was he a perspicacious, pious profit or more of a profiteering, propagandising politician?

Tough question! He was certainly a megalomaniac, but he doesn’t seem to have been a particularly adept politician – he alienated a great many of his subjects, and built an unsustainable legacy that was expunged after his death. As for his faith…I think he was a true believer in his religion – the kicker is determining exactly what his religion represented? Was Akhenaten worshipping a separate, all-powerful god, or was he worshipping a deified form of his father (the incredibly vain and grandiose Amunhotep III)? A lot hinges on how you interpret the god Aten, and what he represents.

If I can give a (spoiler!) glimpse at my take on Akhenaten I would describe him as a visionary, but a visionary unable to compromise enough to make his dream a reality. I think his religious beliefs became more extreme the more he felt he was being challenged. Akhenaten was not necessarily fit to be a king; he was either unprepared or unsuited to the role, which required a lot more compromise than we might expect. He was a remarkable man, but not always for the right reasons.

Thanks for having me!

Find the History of Egypt Podcast on iTunes, your favourite podcast platform, and at http://egyptianhistorypodcast.com/

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Status

Aliens , Ghosts and Vanushings is a wonderful book by the talented and fun-loving tweens author, Stella Tarakson. She looks at creepy, spooky, reality-pushed stories that have passed into Australian folklore. She presents these stories that are so beloved you just want them to be true in a manner that suggests they are and then gives the other-hand, scientific-historic explanation as well. It’s up to the reader to decide what they will accept.


There’s the Westall High School UFO sighting where 200 witnesses saw a UFO land and take off in a field near the school; the apparent discovery of a massive vein of gold outside Alice Springs in Lassester’s Reef and the location’s subsequent loss; bunyips and drop bears and many, many more curiosities.

The UFO story I find most convincing was caught on radar in 1954 and remains unexplained -the Sea Fury Incident. The disappearance of Harold Holt and Azaria Chamberlain are in there too.


My favourite story by far is the Princess Theatre ghost. She tells the nice side of the story. The story that won’t frighten away theatre-goers from attending the theatre nor actors and crew from working there. It’s a little scarier than that I found out when I was a prop girl on the Phantom of the Opera many years ago.

Stella Tarakson will be doing a book signing at the Berkelouw in Cronulla Mall this Saturday at 1 pm. A great time to pick up a copy, meet the author and get your copy signed.

Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns

After 2 disappointing attempts at making the Nemes crown out of fabric, I had to review my methods and question whether I was able to pull it off. Was there another way? To determine this I had to go over the problems I faced. I could list them:

 

  • The colours – gold and blue – how were they achieved supposedly before gold thread and applique were used in making fabrics and clothing?

I had to look at the way flax is processed into linen. The peasant  girl was rumoured to have spun flax into gold. Why flax, Rumpelstiltskin? Treated with care, flax can be golden and must be dyed/bleached white once woven into fabric. What if the purest strands of flax were selected and only they were spun into strips of gold?

Could the blue stripes have been painted on like the linen designs in the following video on linen production? Would the blue ink/dye used bleed into the gold sections? We know that the ancient Egyptians used blue ink on their papyrus scrolls, could they have made the fabric of the crown out of alternating strips of linen and papyrus? Both linen and papyrus are made from organic, reeds were they compatible enough to be sewn together into a single cloth?

Video on the processes used to turn flax into linen. This shows the more hands on process used by the Irish in the 1940s.

  • How was the stiffness of the lappets achieved?

To keep the lappets stiff metal rods could have been sewn onto them. But this would add a drag towards the back of the head because of the weight and position of the rods. Doubling the thickness of the fabric made the crown cumbersome and backside heavy. An extra layer of fabric wouldn’t necessarily give the effect of stiff and flush-flat lappets as can be seen in my second attempt where I didn’t employ the rods. If the gold rods were used then the lappets wouldn’t have needed golden linen to make up the gold stripes.

To get around the problem of the crown creeping back under its weight I wanted to fit it in place with a tight metal tiara over the fabric and around the forehead. This would squash the lappets down but change the look – the flaying would begin from around the ears. It was out of the question.

  • Could they have made the crown in two separate pieces – a skull-cap/ helmet/ milliner’s form – beneath that was then fitted with the lappets and ponytail?

Would this have kept the back of the crown lightweight enough not to drag the whole crown back? Perhaps not? But what if the skull-cap were made of metal and the linen and rod or doubled-over linen Nemes crown were fitted over it and secured in place – by rivets along the tiara’s front? A solid uraeus and vulture could be then riveted or screwed into place through the fabric into the metal cap achieving the look of the floating totems above the tiara? Possible. Themetal form would replace my plastic collander.

  • Could the milliner’s form have been made of metal that sat beneath the crown?

Would this solve the creeping back problem? Would attaching the beard from the tiara to the chin add enough weight combined with the weight of the uraeus to steady the whole crown and sit it properly on the head? How would they have attached the chin from the tiara without the relevant cords being seen? Was the glint of the gold so strong that the cords were camouflaged in the light?

I can’t help thinking that the easiest – least fiddly way of achieving the look would have been to make it out of gold.

Coming up  – my lapidary jeweller’s perspective on the making of the golden Nemes Crown and how the way it was made may shed light on whose mask Tutankhamen wore and whether the crown he was buried with was made for his burial.

king tut

Death Mask

Photo Credit, King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

 

 

Recovering Palimpsests

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I’m thrilled! The future is here! The speculation of yesterday is the modus operandi of today!

Early on in my blogging life I pondered the loss of Menander’s comedies. How could the works of possibly the most influential comic writer in antiquity have all disappeared? They had for a thousand years or so. Then they were rediscovered on an Egyptian palimpsest early in the 20th Century. I mused whether a technique would ever be developed whereby ancient Christian texts could be examined for early writings hidden within without damaging the visible texts. What was the dilemma? Why Christian texts in particular? It has a lot to do with the censoring/destruction of pagan culture by the Byzantines when they embraced Christianity in the 4th Century AD. With papyrus being such a commodity, I speculated that it would be washed and reused.

Well, they’ve done it! A scientific technique has been employed. Archaeology (1) reports on archaeologists using modern technology to read ancient texts overwritten in the 8th Century AD at St Catherine’s monastery on Mt Sinai. Those Byzantine monks didn’t wash out the texts but scraped them off. Now there is a machine that can read what was there before. Ancient overwritten texts can now be recovered and transcribed for our edification.Who knows how many hitherto forgotten texts will reemerge. It’s very exiting.
Perhaps Menander’s work, his comic brilliance will reemerge in its original brilliance sooner than expected!!!!!

‪(1)  http://www.archaeology.org/issues/207-1603/features/4155-egypt-monastery-palimpsests‬

Coming up soon – Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns, I begin to wind up my series of posts on making the Nemes Crown of the Pharaohs.

A Second Attempt at the Nemes Crown

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Something just didn’t look right with my first attempt at making the Nemes Crown of Ancient Egypt. I knew I didn’t quite get it right but I didn’t know why. I looked again at several Nemes Crowns from different angles. The idea of the Nemes Crown being the shape of the Great House, the Pyramid, the Pharoah, faltered and I realised that I missed a very important feature of the crown and mask – the ears. They are exposed.  The crown has been designed to sit behind them, framing them – kind of like the hood of a cobra.

Bite me

Cobra

Was the Nemes crown supposed to be a stylized hood, a personified uraeus/cobra transforming the person of the king? Kings liked to refer to their majesty and person as a uraeus e.g., Hatshepsut on the Speos Artimedos temple. What part of their religion had I missed that personified the God-Pharoah-King as a cobra? A uraeus? or perhaps the cobra goddess Wadjet? The kings and pharaohs had many names/titles and one of them was dedicated to the Goddesses Wadjet (the cobra) and Nekhbet (the vulture). Tutankhamen seems to have been saluting both of them by wearing ornaments of both on his Nemes Crown. But would he also try to depict himself as some form of Cobra/Uraeus with his headdress being the snake’s hood? There is a wonderful Middle Egyptian text that depicts a prince as a huge snake with the trappings of a king – gold skin, lapis hair, bones of gold – The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor.

Having already made a Nemes crown with my interpretation of Wadjet and Nekhbet, this time around I settled for a plain and simple uraeus. I gave up on the idea of finding gold and blue striped fabric and settled for white and gold instead. This time the lappets sat behind the ears. I lined the fabric and chose a diaphanous white and gold fabric for the visible parts of the crown.

The doubled over fabric made the lappets heavier, stiffer and reduced the flapping around. A choice of a heavier fabric still doubled over would have been more effective again but would have increased the weight to the back of the crown. The balance would be lost and it would slip back again. Perhaps this thin fabric over the lightish cotton fabric would create stiffness enough?

Trying to keep the weight to the back down to a minimum I didn’t use the numb-chuck form to create the ponytail this attempt but plaited the fabric and wrapped it in cords. Regardless, the crown was pulling  back even more than last time. Strapping on the beard this time didn’t give it the necessary forward pressure to anchor it. I had to use a second length of hat elastic to balance out the weight from back to front and to keep it on.


Again something wasn’t sitting well with me. Too much exposed hair. The crown had to descend lower to his ears. And the shape was wrong. The front top of it was too squarish, it needed to follow the shape of the forehead and pate more.

I knew what I did wrongly but couldn’t think of a different way. I  relied too much on my own interpretation of 2D images of the crown – these flattened and made squarish what I saw. I went with an upright front again chosing corrugated cardboard to steady the uraeus and keep it in place. I wanted to be assured that my stripes were as striking and precisely placed as they are in the originals. The cardboard backing gave me this but couldn’t seamlessly, smoothly follow the pate as well. To appear more accurate I should have wired the uraeus directly onto the structural form (the plastic colander). Had I done that I fear that I would have lost the precision of the stripes when I had to cover the form.

What I needed to achieve the striking appearance of the stripes and a smoothly moulded forehead was a material with both tensile strength and malleability – like metal or papier-mâché.

It needed more weight to the front. Longer lappets perhaps that sat lower onto his chest with heavier rods? A weightier uraeus? A solid beard with a more substantial attachment to the form? A tighter fitting form? These could all help a little but I couldn’t help feeling that I was using sticky-tape solutions to a greater problem that would best be served by different structural materials. This former jeweller couldn’t get the idea out of her head that metal – gold – would be the easiest if the most economically impractical solution. Was there a better way?

Next time: Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns, conjecturing a more malleable, organic solution.

Photo Credit

Cobra  – Photo credit: aftab. via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Gold Rods Low on Lappets, Lapis Locks and Lapidary Allusions . . . King Khafre!

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King Khafre – Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty c.2570BC

Who said nothing ever changed in Ancient Egypt? The Nemes Crown did, or so a comparison of these two images suggest.

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Death Mask- New Kingdom 18th Dynasty c.1345BCE

I love King Khafre’s Nemes Crown, it seems to answer my question of bald pate or milliners form? It is very different to Tutankhamun’s. Tutankhamun’s crown looks like it should be made in gold, Khafre’s courts linen. Why? Well it appears that the milliner’s form is exposed to view, above his pate, scaffolding the linen. Then low down,exposed metal rods of likely gold weigh down and set the linen lappets in stiff perpendicular lines against his face.

“Appears” to support my idea of using a form to give the iconic shape to the crown. I would so love this to be the case. The problem is that I haven’t seen the statue in real life nor have I read an art historian’s appraisal of it. Are the four vertical lines ascending from the crown over Khafre’s head the exposed form holding the linen on or are they the remains of a uraeus that hasn’t stood the test of time? The missing portions of his left leg and arm have added a deflating overtone to my hypothesis – quite possibly the uraeus has broken off. But if so, did it really break off so cleanly, with no swirls of its serpentine stance?

If you humour me my hypothesis I’d like to suggest that perhaps this early version of the Nemes Crown was made of linen dyed the blue of lapis. It was then hooked onto a metal form that descended over his forehead. The linen would represent his hair in a very stylised manner. The king would then live up to traditional propaganda that he had hair of lapis lazuli. 

Where would the Ancient Egyptians have gotten dye that colour? Pulverised lapis lazuli perhaps? Could the sanded down grains be pulverised and mixed with a medium that would adhere to linen? Could they? Just a suggestion – an uneducated guess.

If those early Nemes crowns were of linen then perhaps the king didn’t have a bald head but wore his crown over his long locks as in this earlier statue of King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty. His pointy lappets cover his hair. In the Old Kingdom there was an office in the royal household for the Royal Hairdresser. Has my impression that Egyptain pharaohs were bald descended on me via the bald Yul Brynner playing Rameses? If later kings of Egypt had hair it doesn’t seem to have been depicted in their extant art. 

Djoser’s Nemes crown is interesting in that it doesn’t sport a uraeus but does have a striped pattern over his forehead. Feint horizontal lines can be discerned moving across the lower lappets. Both Djoser and Khafre’s crowns appear bereft of the uraeus. Did they not wear them with this crown in the Old Kingdom? Could they not attach such heavy ornaments to the linen body of the crown?

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab, 3rd Dynasty, c.2575 BCE

I believe that the Nemes Crown kept evolving – almost as slowly as evolution. By the time of the New Kingdom, not only were the Nemes Crowns gold but the monarch wore a gold mask to have skin of gold as the folklore of the time led the people to believe.

Next up – my second attempt at making the Nemes Crown and why I believe the king wore a gold metal crown and face mask

Photo Credit: King Khafre

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Photo Credit: King Tutenkhamun’s Death Mask

Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Photo credit: King Djoser

Photo credit: HannahPethen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Archive Book Review • ONE NIGHT STANDS – British Theatre, 1971-91 via— Rogues & Vagabonds

There are two great pleasures to be had from reading Michael Billington’s first collection of theatre criticism, One Night Stands 1971-1991. The first, assuming you are old enough to have been going to plays in the Seventies, is to be reminded of some wonderful, occasionally mind-blowing, evenings in the theatre. Written in the wind as […]

via Archive Book Review • ONE NIGHT STANDS pub. Nick Hern Books • Michael Billington • 2008 — Rogues & Vagabonds

5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… Lappets

A question of gravity, currency, and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

Once the cloth covering of the nemes crown and its ponytail was complete I encountered my next obstacle. Under the added weight of fabric, cords and the hollow numchuck form, the crown kept falling back. It wouldn’t sit straight or actually stay on. I had to balance the weight of the front of the crown with that of the back.

The uraeus and vulture on the forehead alone didn’t solve the problem.I decided to attach the beard to the front of the form with hat elastic. This was the trick.

I wondered whether the ancient Egyptians had the same problem? Did Pseusennes I (1047-1001 BCE, 21st Dynasty) have the same problem?

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Death Mask of Pseusennes I

Are those pencil-line side burns sported by Pseusennes, stylized beard straps meant to balance the weight of the crown?

Now that my crown was sitting squarely in place it should have looked right, but it didn’t. There was something about the lappets – the long flappy bits that hang by the side of the pharaoh’s face. Flappy, they shouldn’t have been. Stiff, triangular – pyramidal, in histoy they appear to rigidly frame the face before reaching down over the shoulders from the chin. There is no movement – no flow of diaphanous fabric (okay, I realise this is Ancient Egypt, not Ancient Greece, but was everything as stiff as their statues would indicate?)

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The lappets of my crown didn’t unerringly frame my son’s face. They didn’t necessarily sit obediently, implacably on his shoulders – they twisted and curled. They needed the disciplinary action of a hard rod. Several actually. I set to work adding rods through the shoulder section of the lappet. I did the lower portion only, wanting to make sure the weight of the crown stayed forward and believing this was the minimum required to solve my dilemma. Time poor, I added a coin to help weigh them down –  something that is done in costuming now and again.

Coins are so convenient, smooth and readily available to use as clothing weights. Would the Ancient Egyptians have used their currency as such a cheat? We are told they didn’t have coins – it was a barter economy. Dominic Perry of the Ancient Egypt History Podcast has suggested that linen may have been used instead of coins. Now I couldn’t cheat with linen but what about a few heavy beads? Beads have been used for bartering in Africa for centuries. Could the Ancient Egyptians also have used them as money? Would Ancient Egyptian seamstresses weighed down their clothing with beads?

Now that I had weighed down my flapping lappets, they towed the line. Did the Ancient Egyptian crown makers need rods for their lappets? Is that why the nemes crown was stripped?

Something started niggling at me. Gold rods low on lappets, lapis locks and lapidary allusions . . . King Khafre! my next post.

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Photo Credits

Pseusennes I

Death Mask of Pseusennes I, the Silver Pharoah (1047-1001 BCE 21st Dynasty)

Photo credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/ddenisen/7364438180/

D.Denisen CC BY-SA

 

King Khafre Statue

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

4. Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont…)

Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?

Did the Ancient Egyptians shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form  required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?

Translucent

Lid from canopic vase of Tutankhamun

Photo credit: dnak via Foter.com / CC BY

 Because I was not going to use a golden tiara to anchor the crown on my child’s head, it suited me to conclude it had a definite form, like a modern-day milliner would use and that it was dressed in fabric. A three-quarter view of the crown, like the one above, seemed to confirm this. Assuming a golden tiara fit around his forehead, metal or papyrus supports holding the fabric up and stretching it around the back of his ears may have been soldered or riveted in place. The fabric would form around his bald pate then fall behind his head.

Problem 1 The snake and vulture protrude out from above the tiara, where the cloth is supposed to drape over the head. Fabric alone would not support the weight of these jewelled creatures. Something hard and durable had to support them – like gold.

Problem 2 – The  tiara doesn’t seem to disappear behind the ears but seems to form the side burns, cupping the head. As a consequence the tiara doesn’t appear to be holding the crown in place. The crown appears to be cupping the head, like a helmet.

Is this visible across other representations of the crown?

Photo Credits – Canopic Coffinette –  Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Shabti – Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Death mask – https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA

It seems so.

What would the Ancient Egyptians have used to make the royal helmet? Annealed gold? Papyrus reeds? Papyrus reeds could help create the stripes as a form of texture but they don’t go far in explaining away what colour the gold lines of the death mask are meant to represent and could have posed a problem in lining up with the dyed blue stripes of the cloth. However heartily they were manipulated, it’s questionable whether papyrus reeds could hold the weight of the uraeus and vulture. But gold as an alternative couldn’t have been comfortable or practicable for everyday wear.

Regardless, gold or papyrus, neither was an option for me. Nonetheless, I knew exactly what I was going to use.

A perforated plastic colander previously purposed for producing ricotta cheese!

I was able to sew the fabric on, attach the uraeus and vulture – mine are plastic and rubber –  and then solve a problem of gravity and balance by attaching the beard to it.

Answer: Bald pate or milliner’s form? Definitely a form – in my mind anyway.

 

Next: A question of gravity, currency and gay flappers or majestic lappets?