On Sunday afternoon Konzelmann Estate Winery offered audience members their choice of a glass of Riesling or Merlot while they listened to Ancient Wonders, Wine and Wildlife, presented by three travel enthusiasts.
Two of the three are Egyptologists and the third is a travel expert and wildlife lover. What brings these three women together is their desire to share their passion for the wonders of Egypt and Africa with others.
“I am addicted to Egypt,” pronounced Laura Ranieri, Egyptologist, writer and founder of Ancient Egypt Alive. “My calling is to bring ancient Egypt alive for the general public.”
Ranieri’s passion for Egypt is as evident as her skill at storytelling. She said this talk commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Pharaoh Ramses I’s mummy leaving Niagara Falls for his long trek home to Egypt. How did an ancient king’s remains end up in Niagara Falls? Well, that will be explained in more detail later in the presentation by the Egyptologist Gayle Gibson.
At this point, Ranieri gave the audience a brief overview of life in ancient Egypt and the exciting developments in Egypt today.
She highlighted a few of her favourite tales, gods and places for the audience. For context, she explained that the Nile River was essential to life in the Nile Valley. This was a land of three seasons: Akhet (The Flooding Season) when the Nile flooded the valley; Peret (The Growing Season) when the flood waters receded, leaving behind fertile soil, and Shemu (The Harvesting Season) when crops were harvested.
One particular crop was grapes for wine. Ranieri explained that beer was more popular for the ordinary people, wine was reserved for the elite. Wine was sacred to the ancient Egyptians. She also described how many of the same techniques for cultivating and harvesting crops in ancient times are still being used in modern times.
As for the current mood of the country, Ranieri said since the travel embargo to Egypt has been lifted, the political climate has changed so that “Egypt is experiencing a renaissance.” People are being invited to “come back to Egypt,” she added.
There are several new archeological discoveries being unearthed and a “torrent of documentaries” are being produced,” said Ranieri. One area where there have been recent discoveries is the ancient burial ground of Sakkara, located 30 km south of Cairo. Over the past year there have been many important discoveries in this area. As most recently as June, 2019, several hundred mummies were found. All of these discoveries are sure to keep archeologists and Egyptologists very busy for decades to come, she said.
The main place for all of these artifacts to be examined for research will be the new Grand Museum of Giza. This 500,000 square foot museum is set to have over 100,000 objects on display including the massive stone statue of Ramses II. Placed the foot of the Great Pyramids, this new museum will also house a 3D cinema, a children’s museum and 10 world-class laboratories in full operation. The museum is set to open its doors to the public in 2020 and will also be a place for the mummy from Niagara Falls to finally rest, Ranieri said.
The next speaker, Anna MacKay, is the organizer of the tours to Egypt and other parts of Africa. She is the owner of the boutique travel adventure company based in Toronto, named Your Journey. She started the company more than 10 years ago to promote experiences tailored to fulfill a traveler’s dream.
While Ranieri and Gibson are mainly interested in seeing the deceased two-legged inhabitants of the Nile Valley, MacKay is more interested in the four-legged live inhabitants from Namibia to Botswana. In her presentation, she showed the audience gorgeous photos of African wildlife and landscapes. Namibia, she explained, was a dry region and the watering holes became a “magical place” to see animals congregate. “It is a photographer’s dream,” she said, sharing photographs of treks to colour-changing sand dunes and 930-year-old petrified trees. She explained that on her adventures, tourists are able to participate in dune rides in Swakopmund, and see seals at the Cape Cross Seal Colony. In Etosha National Park, she had taken photos of elephants taking a sand bath. She saw giraffes, rhinos, zebras, hyenas and even a jackal.
Many of the tours offer different modes of transportation with which to see the animals, by foot, by boat, by trucks and even by helicopter. Botswana, she explained, is one of the most stable countries in Africa. She highlighted one of the most spectacular experiences for her, a helicopter ride that could be taken to witness elephants roaming the plains.
In Zimbabwe, she visited a vulture sanctuary and also had the privilege of seeing monkeys, many varieties of other birds, and the remarkable Victoria Falls, which is often compared to our own Niagara Falls.
It is in Niagara Falls where Gayle Gibson begins her talk, Ramses II – Ramses the Great or merely grandiose? Gibson is an Egyptologist and worked at the Royal Ontario Museum for more than 20 years. She is also a founder of Ancient Egypt Alive. She gained particular fame for her contribution in the identification of a local artifact, a mummy in the Niagara Falls Museum.
Gibson recounted the story of Ramses II and who he was. She began her talk by asking questions about how we know about Ramses II. We have evidence of his buildings and monuments such as the Luxor Temple and The Great Temple of Abu Simbel. He appears on Egyptian currency to this day. He has been portrayed in many movies, most convincingly to Gibson, by Yul Brynner in the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments. We also know he lived into his 90s, and is said to have sired over 100 children.
He also fought a great Battle of Kadesh (Syria) between Egyptians and Hittites and created the first peace treaty known to man, which stuck for more than 100 years,” said Gibson. He created a temple for his first wife Nefertari which she said is an “extraordinarily beautiful tomb.”
Ramses II was part of the succession of Heretic Pharaohs. The story goes way back to King Tutankhamun. She explained King Tut’s father, Akhenaten, was a criminal and left the kingdom in a terrible state of desperation. Tutankhamun was only nine years old when he became king so the real ruler became Tut’s commander, Horemheb. Horemheb worked to restore law and order after Tut’s father destroyed it all. Even though Horemheb married Nefertiti’s sister, they remained childless and Horemheb named Paramessu his successor. Paramessu already had a child named Seti and a grandson so Horemheb had assurance of a lineage. Paramessu changed his name to Ramses I upon his ascent to the throne. Ramses I did not reign for long and was succeeded by his son Seti I. Seti I was then succeeded by his son Ramses II, who went on to be one of the most famous and celebrated pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.
As it turns out, Gibson visited the Niagara Falls Museum in the 1980s and was taken with one particular mummy among the Egyptian artifacts on display. She thought this particular mummy seemed to be of royal descent, based on the position of his arms across his chest, and other distinguishing features. After a colleague visited the museum with Gibson, he too shared her conclusion. Then the research began to identify the mummy. The entire Egyptian collection was bought in a private sale in 1999 by the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia where was the mummy was eventually identified as Ramses I, father of Seti I and grandfather of the Ramses II the Great. King Ramses I was repatriated to the Luxor Museum in 2003, with full official honours.
For more information on Ramses I and his discovery in Niagara Falls watch the NOVA documentary: The Mummy Who Would Be King, which can be found on YouTube.
For more information on Laura Ranieri and Gayle Gibson’s Ancient Egypt Alive: https://www.ancientegyptalive.com/.
For more information on learning more about travelling to Egypt and the rest of Africa check out: https://www.yourjourney.com.