61. Deconstructing the Pyramids in Nummulitic Limestone – Light Verse Magazines Vol. II

Edition of 30 copies
2”x 3” x ½” closed
2”x 38” open
2 7/8” x 3 ¾” x 2” box

This piece is based on fossils, preserved in limestone, which happened to be used to construct the Egyptian pyramids at Giza. What some consider to be the most monumental graves in the world are essentially created with billions of dead sea organisms called nummulites, from the Cenozoic Era, which began 65 million years ago This irony inspired the work, and the rhyming poem inside it.

The nummulites are coin-shaped, suggested by their etymology of nummus, coin in Latin. They resemble labyrinthine spirals, or, when chopped in limestone blocks, almond shaped eyes with a pupil. In the context of  the pyramids, they evoke the prominent eye amulet attributed to various deities over time, but always offering protective powers. Only one of the paper eye-shaped nummulites may be the removed from the box. It is wrapped with bookbinding gauze to identify it, but also as a reminder of mummy wrappings, which were often inscribed with text, such as passages from The Book of the Dead.

The poem unfolds from right to left, in the direction which Egyptian text was often read. The font of this handwritten text was created solely for this work. It is based on demotic letterforms observed in the Egyptian Collection of Bologna’s Museo Archeologico. Ancient Egyptians developed three kinds of text: hieroglyphs; hieratic, the writing of the priestly class;  and demotic, often used for bureaucratic, mundane writing. Where the demotic resembled letters from the Roman alphabet, in script or printing, the demotic letters were adapted. As the poem has no J, Q, X or Z, this font doesn’t either.

The rhyming text highlights the irony of the materials used for the monumental graves, versus the twist in fate that the fossils survive in locus while the mummies, often plundered immediately, did not, despite the pomp conferred them in the burial rituals. It also gives a nod to the likely poorly paid workers who created the tombs, and were even buried beside them when they perished on the job, as recent archeological finds suggest.

Hand-written text rendered in archival ink on acid-free paper, rolled and folded, with a strip of bookbinding netting glued over the title page.


I would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of hydrogeologists Pauline Mollema and Marco Antonellini for their advice and reference materials. Thank you to Emilia Figliomeni, who insisted on visiting London’s Museum of Natural History, where we discovered this curiosity by chance. The following interns from the Brown in Bologna Program worked on this project: Linnea Blaurock, Susanna Sprague,


For Doffy Preston, who fosters interest in fossils, nature and art


Deconstructing the Pyramids in Nummulitic Limestone

The pyramids, monuments to deaths of kings,
Embody the death of innumerable beings,
Including the nummulites:
Coin-like fossil shells in white.

Egyptian kings were once deposed
In gravely funereal rooms.
The mummies’ final place of repose?
Nummulitic limestone tombs.

Pyramids, riddled with secret shafts
To shield the mummies’ fate,
Echo the nummulites’ chambered shell
In calcium carbonate.

Who was present in the cenozoic era
To mourn these foraminifera,
With no one around at death to minister,
Coil in linen and perfume with conifer,
The former spiraled foraminifer?

If nummulites a funeral lacked,
The mummies seldom remained intact.
Thus of afterlife deprived,
Never at grand canals arrived.
Did the plunderers gloat
When kings missed the solar boat?

The fossils remained in their limestone bed,
The fate of the kings, uncertain instead.
My sympathies lie with construction men

That numbered among the dead.

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