Egypt’s animal mummies on display at US museum

Updated 31 March 2014
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Egypt’s animal mummies on display at US museum

SANTA ANA, California: Dogs and cats are often beloved family members in current culture, but animals held such a prominent place in ancient Egyptian society that tens of millions were mummified, some going into the pharaohs’ tombs to rest eternally in the company of their kings.
Others had their own special cemeteries, where they were buried in coffins as elaborately carved as those of royal family members.
Dozens of the best surviving specimens have taken up residence at Orange County’s Bowers Museum as the centerpiece of the exhibition “Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt.”
There’s a dog so well detailed that even its floppy ears are prominent. An ancient cat has been laid to rest with its little paws drawn across its body, creating an image eerily reminiscent of a human’s funeral pose.
“It just shows how closely Egyptians thought of animals on some basic level as being very similar to human beings,” said Edward Bleiberg, the exhibition’s curator. “The Egyptians believed that animals had souls.”
But soulful or not, most people — other than a king or queen — couldn’t afford to keep a dog or cat around just for companionship in ancient times, Bleiberg said.
Thus, the hunting dog seen waiting patiently under a chair during a dinner table scene etched onto an ancient tablet in the exhibition would likely have been shown the door if it hadn’t contributed to making that meal possible.
“There’s a letter included with one of the animal mummies that suggests there’s this man who is having a terrible problem at work,” Bleiberg noted. “He has this rivalry with a co-worker, he’s certain that the co-worker is badmouthing him to the boss and making him look bad and he requests that Thoth make him stop.”
Another letter sent with an animal mummy included a plea to heal a sick relative.
In all, the exhibition contains more than 100 items, including drawings and sculptures, as well as the mummified remains of dogs, cats, birds, snakes and crocodiles. Many are wrapped in intricately patterned linens, and some have been placed in sarcophaguses carved to resemble how the animal looked in life.
To give museum visitors a better look at what’s underneath the wrappings, the mummies have been CT scanned and the scans used to create three-dimensional images.
Preparing animal mummies was detailed and expensive work. So much so that Bleiberg says an expert at the craft earned twice as much as a farmer.
Animal mummifying was such big business that Ptolemaic III, who ruled Egypt more than 2,000 years ago, passed several decrees regulating the industry.
One ordered that anyone who paid for an animal mummy really got one. How successful it was is open to debate: A CT scan of one exhibition mummy revealed nothing inside but rocks. Another showed bird feathers but no bird.


Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

Updated 22 May 2019
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Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

MUSCAT: Omanis on Wednesday hailed writer Jokha Alharthi’s “historical achievement” and praised her for bringing “honor” to their Gulf nation after she became the first Arab author to win the Man Booker International prize.
“It is a huge historic achievement for the author, for Oman and for Arabic culture in general,” said Saif Al-Rahbi, an Omani poet, essayist and writer.
“It shows that Omani literature is moving along,” he told AFP.
Alharthi, 40, received the prestigious prize during a ceremony Tuesday in London for her novel “Celestial Bodies” which depicts life in her small Gulf nation.
The 50,000-pound (57,000 euro, $64,000) Man Booker International prize celebrates translated fiction from around the world and is divided equally between the author and the translator.
The judges said Celestial Bodies was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”
It tells the story of three sisters who witness the slow pace of development in Omani society during the 20th century.
“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Alharthi told AFP after the ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.
“Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book — freedom and love,” she said.
The jury praised an “elegantly structured and taut” novel which “tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.”
The director general of Oman’s culture ministry, Said bin Sultan Al-Bussaidi, agreed.
The novel, he said, shows that Alharthi’s work “reflects maturity and has reached an international level.”
“It is an honor for each and every Omani man and woman... (and the prize) will help spread Omani literature across the world,” he added.
Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.
She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
In an interview with the BBC at the weekend, Alharthi said she had wanted for a “very long time to write a book about life in Oman (but) couldn’t when she was actually in Oman.”
“But when I went to Edinburgh, the first year was difficult for me, homesickness, cold, so I felt that I need to go back to warmth and feel something from home,” she said.
“Actually writing saved me.”
Her prize-winning novel — which the Guardian newspaper said offers “glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west” — came out in 2010.
Alharthi said on Tuesday that the novel touches on the history of the slave trade in Oman, an absolute monarchy where Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled since 1970, has been pushing for reform.
For one expert of Arabic and Middle Eastern literature, it could be a game changer for novels emerging from the region.
“It has the potential to orient publishing away from the Arabic novel as answering the question ‘what can we learn about them?’ and toward the Arabic novel as a work of art,” said Marcia Lynx Qualey, editor of ArabLit Quarterly.
“The surge in translation of Arabic-language novels is already in progress, but I think this re-orients publishers somewhat,” she told AFP.
Qualey said there “is definitely a growing interest in works by Gulf authors.”
“In Kuwait, Oman, Saudi, and elsewhere there are authors writing on issues of class, domestic violence, slavery, racism, patriarchy, power, and other issues that are of global interest,” she added.
Celestial Bodies was translated by US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.
Jury chair Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history.”