Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA —Melinda Hartwig, associate professor of Egyptian art and archaeology, will co-host a new Science Channel two-part special on at 9 p.m. on Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, taking viewers inside the architectural marvels of two ancient civilizations.
Hartwig and Steve Burrows, the structural engineer who oversaw the building of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, co-host “Engineering the Impossible: Rome and Egypt.”
Hartwig is a renowned expert in the art of ancient Egypt. She is the editor of the forthcoming book, “A Companion to Ancient Egyptian Art,” and has also served as visiting faculty at American University in Cairo.
|Inside the Tomb of Menna, Hartwig's team use state-of-the-art archaeometric techniques to analyze the pigments used to decorate the tomb.|
The program takes a wide variety of experts including a forensic archaeologist and a civil engineer to explore the architectural wonders — from the Theban tombs and the pyramids of Egypt, to the Pantheon and Coliseum of Rome — looking at the structures to investigate them forensically, using a variety of perspectives.
The importance of this history cannot be underestimated, Hartwig said. After all, the Egyptians pioneered stonework, and the Romans invented concrete with volcanic ash.
“The amount of effort that went into building the structures in Egypt is just mind boggling today, and for the Romans, their architecture was all about the display of power,” she said. “These are the roots of our architectural tradition and our heritage.”
During the filming of the specials, Hartwig and the other presenters got an up -lose look, including one memorable tomb in the King’s Valley in Egypt. Going into tomb KV20, belonging to the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, she and the crew went on perhaps the most arduous visit she has ever done.
The pathway inside went nearly straight down for 700 feet, with few stairs, and the tomb hadn’t been excavated since the early 20th century.
“We slipped and slid our way down in the total dark holding on to jagged bits of the limestone wall wearing masks because the bat guano and dust were so bad,” she said. “It was definitely Indiana Jones kind of stuff.”
In Rome, Hartwig and the crew went through ancient catacombs searching for pozzolana, a type of volcanic ash used by the ancient Romans to create type of hard cement that would be used to construct great domes and other structures that have survived for more than 1,000 years. In all, filming the show was an invaluable experience, she said.
“It was a privilege and an amazing experience to work on this program because it brought me into contact with really wonderful minds, and allowed me to grow as a scholar, and I brought that back into the classroom,” she said.
Hartwig has also been working on a long-term project on the millennia-old elaborate paintings decorating the Tomb of Menna, or TT 69, in Egypt’s Theban Necropolis funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). With a team of archaeologists and scientists, they’ve taken a look at the very nature of the pigments and plasters used to decorate the tomb – materials that help to tell the tomb’s story.
Those who decorated the tomb used arsenic sulfide-based pigments mixed with ochres that brought vibrancy to the paintings. The tomb belonged to an upper middle class tax collector, and yet these pigments were typically relegated for royalty, and were revealed by non-invasive spectroscopic analysis.
Spetroscopy was also used with visual analysis to see how artists worked along the wall to create these painstaking paintings.
“It became clear that, yes, there was an aspect of mass production, but by and large, there was a sense that each artist had their own 'signature,' even though Egyptian artists were anonymous, that was revealed through different pigment mixtures,” Hartwig said. “You could tell how they started on one end, and perhaps changed the idea, and then painted over it with a bit of plaster and began again.”
The project also included work to document and preserve the tomb as it is one of the most visited tombs in the Theban Necropolis of the nobles. The work of Hartwig’s team is expected to be published in late 2011 or early 2012.
Published Nov. 29, 2010