This post is a follow-up to a previous blog, Have Your Anthropology and Eat It Too. It discusses the 2013 anthropology-themed cake made in Eric Hollinger and Lauren Sieg's spare time, that was their potluck contribution for the Department of Anthropology's annual holiday party. What better subject to pick than one of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time? The tomb of King Tutankhamen of Egypt, was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922.
We had a lot of fun with you all during our #anthrocakes guessing game leading up to the big 2013 reveal: King Tut's Tomb! I wanted to follow up to share all of the great pictures we took of the cake (see our Flickr set on the cake here!), give you exclusive behind-the-scenes insights from Eric Hollinger on the making of this year's masterpiece, and of course, an explanation of our cryptic clues! Finally, the cherry on this year's cake had to be the epic faux-newspaper article that announces the discovery of the cake-site, A Sweet Find in Egypt! Can you find all of the candy references? Tweet to @archaeologylab and let us know how many you find! But, let's start from the beginning...
We started our contest to guess this year's cake off with a blog post on all of Eric Hollinger's previous anthropology cake creations (if you haven't seen these yet, you need to!).
But before we get to our clues, read on to hear about how this year's cake was created!
Behind-the-Cake by Eric Hollinger:
Lauren Sieg (who is a Research Specialist in the Repatriation Office) and I did a lot of research to prepare for this year's creation. We reviewed every book and web site we could find about Tut's tomb and the objects it contained. It was sometimes hard to find enough photos of all views of an object or a room. We found copies of Carter's notes and drawings with detailed measurements that allowed us to calculate the scale and dimensions that were necessary for the creation. The floor plan was mapped out on newspaper on a large board.
We spent months making individual objects in the tomb. Some, like some of the boxes, were made by slight carving and minor paint additions. Other pieces were very complex and required pouring chocolate into different forms and then carving, gluing (with chocolate) and painting them (with edible paints). The beds in the antechamber of the tomb took as much as 3 days a piece to make. The Anubis shrine took several days and several colors of chocolate that were carved into a jackal resting on pedestal.
The shrine for the canopic jars in the Treasury was made by pouring melted chocolate into a lid and then resting an object with a very fine and detailed Egyptian design into the liquid until it was solid. Then it was carved into a flat panel that formed a side of the box. The same was done for the three other sides as well as the top and bottoms and all were glued together with melted chocolate. Butterscotch candy canes were added to the corners; cobras, made by shaping fondant and gluing yellow mini m&ms to their heads, were added to the top. The whole piece was then painted with edible gold paint.
The Treasury (left) and Anubis Shrine (right). Photo Credit: Eric Hollinger.
The most important piece was the sarcophagus. To make it, a real tourist item from Egypt, a miniature copy of the sarcophagus, was borrowed from David Hunt, Physical Anthropology Collections Manager. Then Mike Frank, an expert at casting projectile points, made a silica mold of the piece. Then melted chocolate was poured into the finished mold to make a solid replica of the sarcophagus in two pieces. The two pieces were then painted with edible gold, red, blue and black paints, using the tourist copy and photos of the real artifact as models.
The walls of the original tomb were covered with detailed fresco murals which would have been hard to reproduce by hand. To make a edible version of the murals we had to find good color photos of each wall. I befriended a baker at my local Giant grocery store and he allowed me to work with his icing printer. They have a printer that uses edible inks to print onto thin sheets of icing the same size and shape as a typical sheet of paper. Normally the printed image is then peeled off the backing and set onto the top of a frosted cake, which causes it to bond with the moist surface. For the tomb, I made walls by gluing layers of graham crackers together with chocolate and then spread a thin layer of butter cream icing on it to provide a base for the mural icing. The photo of the mural was scanned and then printed onto the icing sheets at the proper scale and then transferred to the prepared "wall".
All of the walls and floors of the tomb were made with graham crackers. The tomb was filled with the furnishings. Then Lauren baked 10 organic cakes which were positioned around the walls to form the ground around the tomb. The cakes were covered with a chocolate butter cream frosting. Then tents for the archaeologist were made with left over icing sheets and ribbon candy strips.
For a bit of humor we also wrote an article, A Sweet Find in Egypt, in the 1920's style about the discovery of the tomb incorporating references to candy brands and other sweets. The cake was eaten or artifacts carried off to be curated by individual staff members but the article will hopefully live on longer.
As with previous creations, we learned a lot about the archaeological site and artifacts from having to understand it well enough to reproduce it in edible form. The process is both creative and educational and each year poses new challenges.
The Twitter Contest & Clues Explained:
Even though this cake is unveiled privately at our department's holiday party, we wanted all of you out there to be able to guess with us on which theme Eric would choose this year (these cakes are kept highly secret until party-day every year! Eric makes them on his own time at home, which is a pretty amazing gift to us all). So, under strict secrecy, Eric revealed this year's theme to me. Thrilled, I thought up some appropriately cryptic brainteasers, and then the clues started flying on Twitter...
This slightly botched quote can be read in full on Howard Carter's tombstone, which resides in Putney Vale Cemetary, London, and reads: "May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness."
Grave of Howard Carter. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Second #anthrocakes clue: Savonarola. Sorry, gotta keep these cryptic! Show us what you can do. Got your guess?— Archaeology Lab NMNH (@ArchaeologyLab) December 18, 2013
We received some good guesses, and provided additional mini clues in our reponses to a couple of the guesses! The second clue, Savonarola, referred to an X-chair, which is also known as a Savonarola, Dantesque, or X-frame chair. X-frame chairs are folding chairs (sometimes only made to look like folding chairs) and have been found all the way back to ancient Greece and Egypt-- and here you thought your lawn chairs were a modern idea! Savonarola was a hint to the cake's theme because of the folding x-chair that was found in King Tutankhamen's tomb (way cooler than a lawn chair, btw-- check it out!). This clue led some astray to medieval Italy, but we provided our first sub-clue, for those closely following the trail:
Our winner in the guessing game, Kathryn Sampek, truly went out of her way to solve even our most obscure clues, by out obscuring us! She found an additional lead in our Savonarola clue that we didn't even intend, and tweeted the following after she guessed, making reference to a little known play called Savonarola: A City's Tragedy, from 1904, in which one of the characters says to Savonarola, "Tut! In the name of justice, I ask it." Way to go, Kathryn!
Another sub-clue came from @meanlouise's guess, for an Apis Bull cake. We tweeted back:
This was a reference to King Tutankhamen's horus name, Kanakht Tutmesut, meaning: the strong bull, pleasing of birth.
This clue was banking on our readership's (hopeful) love of Dr. Seuss, "How many, many feet you meet..." and in need of support referenced the fact that King Tut's feet were found to be in need of support, so much so that he was sent into the afterlife with his orthopedic sandals! I had to make this one really cryptic because a simple google of orthopedic sandals and archaeology gave away the answer!
SNL (Saturday Night Live) was a hint to get you all headed towards our 8th clue, which I gave out when it became clear that SNL by itself wasn't getting any guesses. Keep reading below, and you'll find out what it meant!
The fourth clue was followed by several sub-clues, through our tweets to the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Field Museum, all of which have had large exhibits on King Tut, with the British Museum and the Met having been among the first museums to show The Treasures of Tutankhamun tour back in the 1970's. We also tweeted to the Getty, which has a whole field conservation project on the Tomb of King Tutankhamen going on now, in cooperation with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Fresco a secco is the decorative technique that was used to create the beautiful frescos found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. It was a popular technique in the ancient world, which you can read more about here.
Painted walls made with fresco a secco technique in the burial chamber. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons.
By the time we sent this clue, you all had made many creative guesses:
We've got guesses for Machu Picchu, Dmanisi skull, Palazzo Vecchio, Apis Bull, Chimera of Arezzo, & James Fort #anthrocakes Keep guessing!— Archaeology Lab NMNH (@ArchaeologyLab) December 18, 2013
But then we received the closest guess yet from @dtrap. Unfortunately, it was close, but no cigar. We asked for the specific archaeological site or object. But she was hot on our trail! Good job, Diane.
This one was my favorite clue; a huge tip-off if you read the Wikipedia page, and a personal homage to the first movie I ever saw in theatres, The Land Before Time. Some people talk about Indiana Jones, but that was the movie that started me in a digging direction. I just happened to want to be a paleontologist before I got into archaeology! This clue referred to Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (not ducky). He was an English Egyptologist and the mentor and teacher of one, Howard Carter, as well as to many other budding Egyptologists of the day.
Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. He's not nearly as cute as ducky though. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Twenty-four pounds of Au, better known as gold! This clue was a dead giveaway to any internet search afficianado, but we were almost out of guessing time before the big reveal. Sure enough, this clue struck gold with Kathryn Sampeck, who later confirmed her guess after Clue 8, through this tweet:
King Tutankhamen's funerary mask. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons.
With only 2 hours to go, we started throwing out the big clues. And sure enough, Steve Martin finally got our guessers there:
This clue, of course, was about Steve Martin's classic song, "King Tut", preformed on SNL (See clue #4), with the "Toot Uncommons." Dan gets all of the credit for this great clue, which happened to be a bit before my time :) (who am I kidding though, us archaeologists are nuts over things before our time!).
But we couldn't let on that she'd guessed it right until the big reveal, so we kept throwing out clues!
Board games are one of my favorite things to do in my spare time, and King Tut was no different; he brought at least four board games into the afterlife with him, including a game called senet, as you can learn about in the Field Museum's interactive web tour of the tomb.
The senet game found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Google honored Howard Carter's 138th birthday in 2012, with this amazing doodle:
Google doodle of Howard Carter, May 9, 2012 by Willie Real. Image credit: Google, who provides behind-the-scenes details on the illustration.
This clue was a paraphrase of Howard Carter's words to Lord Carnarvon, when he was asked what he could see upon opening the tomb. "Can you see anything?"- Lord Carnarvon. "Yes, wonderful things."-Howard Carter. Indeed!
The Big Reveal:
As I revealed the 2013 cake on Twitter, I used Howard Carter's own words, describing the first time he saw the golden sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen.
Inside the cake-site:
We got some great comments from many of you:
@RoamngNaturalst Don't be too sad, no one was paid in the making of this cake :) Was a labor of love in Eric Hollinger's free time at home!— Archaeology Lab NMNH (@ArchaeologyLab) December 20, 2013
Thanks also to everyone for sharing these awesome cakes far and wide!
Wow! @ArchaeologyLab those are amazing! Eric is so talented. Leftovers can be sent to 2300...just kidding.— AmerAnthroAssoc (@AmericanAnthro) December 17, 2013
We can't wait until next year. Thanks everyone; please let us know if you have questions.
By: Meghan Mulkerin, Collections Specialist Contractor with Eric Hollinger, Archaeologist.