Sunday, February 17, 2019

Technology once thought adopted by Egyptians may have been innovated by them instead - Archaeology Review

Technology once thought adopted by Egyptians may have been innovated by them instead

Medinet Habu
Drawing of the Medinet Habu bas relief depicting Ramesses III defeat of the Sea Peoples. Public Domain image courtesy of WikiCommons.

Russian archaeologist, Alexander Belov, has concluded that Ancient Egyptians may have actually invented certain sailing technologies on their own rather than adopting them from Mediterranean neighbors as previously thought.

medinet-habu sea peoples boat
Portion of the famous bas-relief at Medinet Habu showing a loose-footed sail with
four brails-the points where the sail is tied to the yard. Note the five furls.
Public domain image from Wikipedia before modification.

Specifically, he believes there is ample evidence of loose-footed sails and a system of brailing present during the Amarna period as represented on a set of fragments to a previously unknown bas relief. This relief shows a portion of a ship's yard with brailing and bunting lines configured to hold up a furled sail.

A yard on a ship is the horizontal arm that is fixed to the mast. The yard is what stretches the sail horizontally. The points where the sail is fixed to the yard are brailings and bunt lines, which pull the bunts, or foot, of the sail up. If these lines are pulled, the sail is raised much like a Venetian blind. A sail that has no boom, or additional horizontal bar at its base, is referred to as a loose-footed sail. With a boom it's a boom-footed sail.

Alexander Belov, a professor at the Centre for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that until recently the oldest known Egyptian depiction of a boat with a sail was with a relief on a talatat from the temple of Aton in Karnak. In the sketch below of this relief, named PC-103, you can see the three crew members on a boat with a sail and a portion of its rigging. The red lines are an interpolation of what may have been on neighboring talatats.

Talatat PC-103 has been dated to about 1352-1336 BCE and shows a loose-footed sail with its foot shaped somewhat like a crescent. The sail in this relief also appears to have a line (about a 50° angle from the mast to the yard on the sail) that represents a brail. If so, then interpolating the rest of the ship gives this loose-footed sail four brails.

Brails were an important invention because it allowed for many configurations of the sail's shape to take better advantage of wind conditions and thus better control of the ship.

What is a talatat?
During the 18th Dynasty rule of Akhenaten, talatat were used in the construction of temples. These where small blocks of 1/2 by 1/2 by 1 cubit (27 cm x 27 cm x 54 cm) and decorated on one side with relief depictions and hieroglyphs. These sandstone blocks are thought to have been more efficient for construction but went out of style after the Amarna period.

For the ship depicted on PC-103, however, it wouldn't be possible to change the shape of the sail with only four brails. According to Belov, it would "just flutter."

Feagans drawing of PC103
Drawing of Amarna Period bas-relief, PC 103, with recreation of the
loose-footed sail. Drawing by Carl Feagans.

The same would probably be true for the ship depicted in another Amarna period talatat. When Akhenaten's reign ended, the temple of Aton in Karnak was destroyed and many of the materials, including the talatat, were used to fill a pylon in the temple of Amon. Over 12,000 blocks were recovered from the 9th pylon of this temple and cataloged. Belov used the database to locate 5 of them, from which he was able to puzzle together a portion of the image of another loose-footed ship with a furled sail.

These five blocks made up a portion of the relief (A0058) and from them he was able to interpolate a rough estimate of the remaining ship, giving some idea of the size and basic configuration. Belov concluded that the ship had no boom (thus loose-footed), did have a rudder stock attached to a tiller, and various lines stretching to the yard under which there were five furls.

At this point, you might be wondering what the difference is between a brail and a buntline. The difference is subtle and key to Belov's conclusion. Both are involved in furling the sail, but, unlike a buntline, a brail is used to change the shape of the sail itself, making it more effective when tacking upwind. A buntline will just be used for furling or dousing the sail.

These two Amarna period (1352-1336 BCE) depictions are important because, together, they show loose-footed sails of Egyptians at least 150 years before they're represented on the relief at Medinet Habu (1184-1153 BCE). And there are several other depictions of early sailing by Egyptians that Belov discusses, each dating to before the sea battle shown by Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.

Kyrenia II
Cypriot stamp of Kyrenia II, a recreation of
a Greek ship with a loose-footed sail very
similar to that shown on the Amarna Period

The loose-footed sails in the PC-103 and A0058 talatat blocks each have too few brails to be used for shaping the sail for efficiency, so this means that the brails were being used strictly as buntlines to furl the sails. Previously, the Medinet Habu relief was considered the earliest depiction of brailed sails, which were shown on the ships of the Sea Peoples.

With Belov's new observations, it seems likely that the Egyptians may have innovated the loose-footed sail and brailing, which began as as buntlines to furl the sail, on their own, rather than adopt it from their Mediterranean neighbors.

You can read Alexander Belov's forthcoming paper, "Loose-footed Sails of the Egyptian New Kingdom Ships," in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (2019), doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12335

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Authorities detain figures accused of smuggling Egyptian artefacts to Italy - Daily News Egypt

Authorities detain figures accused of smuggling Egyptian artefacts to Italy

Brother of former finance minister, former Italian consul accused of smuggling 195 artefacts, 21,660 coins

Following the case of the smuggled artefacts which Egypt retrieved last July, the Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, ordered the detaining of Raouf Botros Ghaly, the brother of the former Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly, for 15 days pending investigations.

The Prosecutor General accused Ghaly, along with another diplomat, of illegally smuggling 195 artefacts, and 21,660 coins, which were not documented at the ministry of antiquities, in a diplomatic bag which was caught at Salerno Costa D'Amalfi Airport in May 2017.

Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced last May that the Egyptian Embassy in Rome was informed by the Italian authorities of the seizure of a large number of artefacts, including 118 Egyptian pieces which belong to different historical eras from the ancient Egyptian civilisation to the Islamic era.

According to the BBC, the former Italian consul in Egypt was the diplomat involved in smuggling the artefacts. Sadek also ordered freezing the assets of the consul and his wife, as evidences prove their involvement in the case.   

The Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ayman Mesharafa, met at the time with the acting Italian ambassador to Egypt, Stefano Catani, and requested the name of the passenger whom the bag was seized with. Yet, the name was never announced to the public.

Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously stated in a press release that the Italian authorities informed Egypt 10 months after the seize, which raised deep concerns from the Egyptian government toward the reasons.

Nonetheless, the situation was reversed when the Egyptian authorities retrieved the antiquities in July, as the ministry of antiquities expressed nothing but its deep gratitude for the help of the Italian authorities in assisting in returning the relics back to their home within a short period of time.

Moustafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told local media outlets at the time that the return of the antiquities in such a "short time period" is due to the support received from the Italian authorities, unlike the usual time spent in similar cases, which usually takes up to five years.

"The return of the artefacts was executed in an unprecedentedly short period after the Italian authorities reported the incident to the Egyptian counterparts," Waziri told Ahram Online.

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Why did an ancient Egyptian king erase all gods but Aten? | Aeon Essays first God

Out of the many gods of ancient Egypt an inspired Pharaoh created a monotheistic faith. What was Atenism and why did it fail?
A small stele, probably used as a home altar, depicts Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti with their three eldest daughters. Aten is represented as a sun-disc with the Sun's rays ending in hands proffering Ankh signs to the royal couple. Amarna period, c1340 BCE. Courtesy the Neues Museum, Berlin

James K Hoffmeier
is professor of Old Testament and ancient near Eastern history and archaeology at Trinity International University in Illinois. His latest book is Genesis: History, Fiction, Or Neither? Three Views on the Bible's Earliest Chapters (2015), co-authored with Gordon Wenham and Kenton L Sparks.

More than 3,000 years ago, ancient Egypt, with its myriad gods and goddesses, saw the founding of two monotheistic religions within a century of each other. One is associated with Moses, the Bible and ancient Israel's faith, which is the foundation of Judaism and Christianity. The other burst on to the scene around 1350 BCE, flourished for a moment, and was then eclipsed when its founder died in 1336 BCE. We call the religion Atenism. Where did it come from? And why didn't the world's first monotheism last?

In the 4th millennium BCE, there were two distinct cultures in Egypt: one in the Delta (north) region, the other in the south. This geographical and political dualism had its counterpart in religion. In the north, the most powerful god in the Egyptian pantheon was Re, the sun god. His cult centre was in a suburb of present-day Cairo, still known by the ancient Greek name Heliopolis, 'City of the Sun', and his principal icon was a pyramid-shaped stone called the benben. The pyramids and obelisks still familiar today owe their shape and symbolic significance to this ancient solar image. By his agency, Re created other gods, over which he was chief, as well as humans. Re's son was Horus the sky-god, represented as a falcon, and the Pharaohs were the incarnation of Horus. So their title was 'Son of Re'.

Meanwhile, in the southern town of Thebes (modern Luxor), the god Amen emerged as the most powerful religious force. As his name suggests in ancient Egyptian, Amen is the 'hidden one' and is often depicted in human form with blue skin, representing the blue sky or atmosphere. Amen's principal cult centre was Karnak Temple in Thebes. Around 2000 BCE, then, there were two dominant deities in Egypt: Re, who reigned in the north, and Amen, who ruled the south.

Northern and southern Egypt were embroiled in civil war between c2150 and 2000 BCE. Rival pharaohs ruled Egypt, resulting in parallel kingships based in Memphis in the north and Thebes in the south. It was left to a 11th-dynasty ruler, the Theban Mentuhotep II to unify the land through war around 2000 BCE. By around 1950 BCE, Amenemhet – meaning 'Amen is foremost' – founded another dynasty, the 12th. He was the first to incorporate Amen into his name. Amen's time had come. In a unifying gesture, Amenemhet moved the capital north, back to the Memphis area where Upper and Lower Egypt meet, with his devotion to Amen intact. He called his new capital Itj-tawy, 'Seizer of the Two-Lands', and likely here he fused together Amen and Re into a single, powerful deity: Amen-Re, who was called 'the king of the gods'. Amen-Re's influence spread through all Egypt, and for 600 years he had no rival atop the pantheon. Karnak mushroomed into the largest temple complex in ancient Egypt as ruler after ruler honoured this god, his consort, Mut, and Khonsu, their son.

The Karnak complex expanded significantly between 1500 and 1350 BCE when the 18th-dynasty monarchs ruled. While Memphis remained the political capital, Thebes was considered the imperial capital. From Karnak, divine oracles directed the kings to conquer neighbouring lands, and they duly obliged. Egypt's empire stretched north and east to beyond even the Euphrates River, and in the south, Nubia, the northern half of Sudan, was colonised. Tribute and booty poured into Egypt during this century and a half, with Karnak Temple and its powerful priesthood the major recipients. There is no greater testimony to the prosperity of this era than the colossal building projects of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 BCE) at Karnak and Luxor Temples, largely in the name of Amen-Re. Egypt and its god Amen-Re had reached the zenith of power. But no one could have foreseen how quickly things would change with the death of Amenhotep III.

The crown-prince Thutmose, eldest son of Amenhotep III, was set to follow his father to the throne. However, the prince died unexpectedly, leaving the succession to his younger brother. This prince, also called Amenhotep, might have been only in his mid-teens when his father died in the 38th year of kingship, around 1353 BCE, when he became Amenhotep IV. His youth is demonstrated in a carved scene in the tomb of a high-ranking official named Kheruef where the new king is shown making offerings to the gods under the watchful auspices of his mother, rather than standing alone or with his queen, the famous Nefertiti. The gods to which he is depicted making offers are Atum and Re-Horakhty (both solar deities). Atum is presented as a human with a kingly crown on his head, while Re-Horakhty is a human with the head of a falcon, a sun-disc upon the raptor's head. It appears that, from the outset, Amenhotep IV had an affinity for traditional sun-gods. He was not yet a monotheist.

Based on an inscription dated to regnal year 1 of Amenhotep IV at the sandstone quarry of Gebel el-Silsileh (south of Luxor), we learn that here the new king began his first building project. It records the hewing out of a large benben stone for 'Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which (or who) is in the Aten in Karnak'. This lengthy name seems to be a theological creed, and is often called the 'didactic name' of Aten. No earlier form of the sun-god employed such a lengthy name. So this is new.

Little is known about this temple as it was destroyed after the king's death, and the blocks reused to build other edifices in the area. Only a handful of decorated and inscribed blocks have survived, and some remain partially visible in the 10th Pylon or gateway at Karnak. One of these blocks, which now graces the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, shows the new deity: 'Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which is in the Aten'. Only the head of the falcon is preserved. A large sun-disc sits on its head, which has a cobra wrapped around the disc with its head flaring up just above the falcon's beak. This initial representation of the sun-god looks just like the solar deity, Re-Horakhty. On the right side of the scene, the king himself is depicted and above him the lower portion of a sun-disc is preserved. It has cobras on both sides, and hanging from their necks is an ankh-sign, the so-called key of life. Three more ankhs are connected to the underside of the Sun.

Something changed, and the king built at least four temples to Aten

Another block believed to be from this same temple preserves only a portion of a larger scene. It too contains the creedal name, but it depicts the image of the god Shu, whose name occurs in the creedal formula, along with his wife, Tefnut. Here, she is called 'the father of the gods', and the first god created by Atum is associated with atmospheric or cosmic light. It is clear from this early temple block that the introduction of this new form of the sun-god did not preclude mentioning primordial deities such as Shu and Tefnut. That means that Amenhotep had no aversion to 'the gods': at this stage, he could not even be called a henotheist, or one who worships one deity without rejecting the existence of others.

But something changed between the king's second and fourth regnal years. During this period, he built at least four temples to Aten in eastern Karnak. These sanctuaries were later dismantled, but thanks to the Egyptian penchant for recycling building material, the temple blocks were reused elsewhere. Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of inscribed blocks from these later edifices have been collected by Egyptologists. Over time, they have become dilapidated, thereby exposing the earlier stone. The sandstone blocks in question were of a different size than those used to construct previous temples (called talatat by Egyptologists). Because of their unique size, they are easily recognisable when reused.

Efforts to piece together this massive jigsaw puzzle (actually four puzzles!) have been a challenge, but some impressive scenes have been reconstructed on paper from drawings and photographs of the decorated blocks. From these scenes, the four original temples were identified. One key Egyptologist leading the effort to assemble the blocks was the historian Donald Redford (then of the University of Toronto), who sought to glean as much information as possible from the scenes about the formative years of Atenism.

In 1925, French Egyptologists working at Karnak Temple were summoned to examine some strange demolished statues that were uncovered outside the eastern wall of the temple complex during the excavation of a drainage canal. After exposing more of the statues, which turned out to represent Akhenaten and temple blocks, the work was abandoned, and the area largely forgotten. Fifty years elapsed before work resumed in 1975. As a graduate student, I had the privilege of working with Redford on these excavations between 1975 and 1977. We re-excavated the now-covered area exposed in 1925, and then moved north where we uncovered the southwest corner. Years later, the northwest corner was found too.

Between the corners, an entrance was cleared where the avenue of statues continued west, perhaps toward one or more of the other Aten temples. The telltale talatat blocks were used throughout. The western wall was 715 feet (220 metres) wide. Ongoing work has uncovered traces of talatat walls and statue fragments below the village farther to the east of our excavation area, showing that it was a square structure. This makes it the single largest temple built at Karnak up till that time. And the name of the temple, critical to understanding the origins of Atenism, is found on talatat blocks: Gemet Pa-Aten, 'The Aten is Found'.

By studying the carved reliefs and texts on the blocks, a number of conclusions could be reached about this new religion. Significantly, it was within the large, open courtyard that a royal jubilee was celebrated, and in fact this might have been the main function of Gemet Pa-Aten. Royal jubilees were normally celebrated on or around the 30th anniversary of the coronation (that's when Amenhotep III did his), and they rejuvenated the kingship. At around age 19-20, Akhenaten surely did not need such a boost!

At coronation, the throne name of the king was revealed. When construction on Gem Pa-Aten began, in the 2nd or 3rd regnal year, the king still used his birth name Amenhotep. But before the project was completed around his 4th or 5th year, without explanation he dropped that name and adopted the name by which he is known in history: Akhenaten. It means 'He who is beneficial to the Aten'. The blocks from early in the project that had 'Amenhotep' written on them were erased and replaced by his new name.

Images of other deities were expunged, and the plural writing for 'gods' scratched off

The iconography of the deity in this temple (and the others at Karnak) was altered to reflect the king's changing theology. The falcon image virtually disappears, only to be replaced by the ubiquitous sun-disc with extended Sun rays, and the extended name 'Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which is in the Aten' is written in a cartouche, a device used to identify royal names. With the jubilee, Akhenaten seems to signal that the Aten was now the ultimate ruler, replacing Amen-Re.

This alteration of the king's name was the first step in a programme to exterminate Egypt's most powerful deity. What followed was a systematic programme of iconoclasm in which images of Amen and writings of his name throughout Egypt were desecrated and removed. Beyond Egypt's north Sinai border, in recent excavations I directed, limestone door lintels inscribed with the name of Amenhotep II (Akhenaten's great-grandfather) were uncovered. Here too, 'Amen' was obliterated from the cartouche, and so was Amen-Re's name. The zealots were careful, however to preserve the writing of Re, which is written with the sun-disc sign (the same hieroglyph used in Aten's name). The temples of his father, Amenhotep III, were not off-limits. 'Amen' is hacked out of the cartouches and images of Amen were erased, even in temples in distant Nubia (Sudan). In some instances, images of other deities were also expunged, and there are cases where the plural writing for 'gods' (netjeru) had been scratched off.

A decision was also reached around the 5th or 6th year to abandon Thebes and establish a new capital in middle Egypt called Akhet-Aten (also known by the modern Arabic name 'Amarna'), meaning 'the Horizon of Aten'. This pristine land had not been sacred to any deity before. No city or temples previously stood there. Only temples to Aten were built there, and the largest was called Gemet Pa-Aten. With the move of the royal family to Akhet-Aten, a third and final form of Aten's name is introduced: 'Living Re, Ruler of the Horizon, Rejoicing in the Horizon in His Name of "Re, the Father, who has come as the Aten"'. Gone are 'Horakhty' and 'Shu', two deities, and only Re the sun-god who manifests his power in or through the visible Aten or sun-disc remains. The king no longer tolerated any divine name or personification of a force of nature that could be construed as another deity.

The exclusivity of Aten and the campaign to exterminate Amen and other deities is proof positive of a movement from polytheism to monotheism. If doubt remains that Akhenaten was a monotheist, consider some elegant and touching lines in The Great Hymn to the Aten, inscribed on the wall of the tomb of the high official named Aye at Amarna:

O sole god beside who there is none …
You create the earth according to your desire, you alone:
People, all large and small animals, all things which are on earth, which walk on legs,
Which rise up and fly with their wings.
The foreign lands of Syria and Nubia, (and) the land of Egypt …
The lord of every land who rises for them, the Aten of daytime, whose awesomeness is great.
(Now concerning) all distant countries, you make their life …
(O you) who gives life to the son in his mother's womb, and calms him by stopping his tears;
Nurse in the womb, who gives breath to enliven all he makes …

The themes of universalism, divine oneness, the exclusivity of Aten and his tender care for all creation drive home the point that 'there is none' beside Aten. This is a monotheistic statement not unlike the Islamic confession 'there is no god but God'. And on the theme of divine oneness, the Jewish Shema comes to mind: 'Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.' The sun-god was a universal deity: wherever one went in the world, the Sun appears.

Atenism was a monotheistic experiment. But what instigated such a radical shift from the polytheistic orthodoxy that had flourished in Egypt for millennia, and what led to the demotion of Amen-Re from his preeminent status, a position he had held for centuries? Here, there is little agreement among Egyptologists. There are those who think that this religious move was designed to wrest power from the Amen priesthood's dominance that challenged the crown itself. Simply put, it was a political move. But this view does not adequately consider Akhenaten's genuine devotion to Aten as reflected in the incredible temples dedicated to him, not to mention the intimacy expressed towards Aten in the hymns.

Others consider Atenism to be simply the climax of an evolution that had been underway for more than a century, in which Re had been moving towards universal status. This interpretation, however, does not take into account the programme of iconoclasm towards Amen and other deities, and the disappearance of traditional images of the sun-god (human form, falcon head, pyramid images, etc). One could advance Aten without eradicating Amen in a polytheistic system.

My theory is that Akhenaten himself very early in his reign (or even just before) experienced a theophany – a dream or some sort of divine manifestation – in which he believed that Aten spoke to him. This encounter launched his movement which took seven to nine years to fully crystallise as exclusive monotheism. Great idea, but based on what evidence? Mention has already been made of the two major Aten Temples called Gemet Pa-Aten constructed at Karnak and Akhet-Aten. A third temple by the same name was built in Nubia. Three temples with the same name is unprecedented, and suggests that its meaning, 'The Aten is Found', was vitally important to the young king's religious programme. Could the name of the three sanctuaries memorialise the dramatic theophany that set off the revolution?

Akhenaten also uses the same language of discovery to explain how he found the land where he would establish the new city, Akhet-Aten. The aforementioned boundary inscription records Akhenaten's words when travelling through the area that would become his new capital:

Look, Aten! The Aten wishes to have [something] made for him as a monument … (namely) Akhet-Aten … It is Aten, my father, [who advised me] concerning it so it could be made for him as Akhet-Aten.

Later in the same inscription, the king again repeats the line: 'It is my father Aten who advised me concerning it.' These texts point to an initial phenomenological event in which the king discovered the new form of the sun-god and then, through a later revelation, Aten disclosed where his Holy See should be built.

With Atenism, the evolution from polytheism to monotheism occurred rapidly, in just a few years

Historians of religion over the past 150 years thought that such a shift to monotheism must have been a gradual development taking place over millennia. Just like every field of learning in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the academic study of religion was shaped by evolutionary philosophy, an extension of Darwinian thought. From this perspective, religion began in the hoary past from animism, where everything – trees, rivers, rocks, etc – was possessed by spirits; followed by totemism; then polytheism; henotheism; culminating finally in monotheism. This linear development took thousands of years, it is claimed, moving from simple to complex forms. Some thinkers maintain that monotheism was achieved in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE for the ancient Jews, a development mirrored among Greek philosophers, in Zoroastrianism and other Asian religions during the same general period. But with Atenism, as the evidence suggests, the evolution from polytheism to monotheism occurred rapidly, in just a few years, contrary to the traditional understanding that monotheism appeared eight centuries later.

Some have toyed with the idea that either Moses influenced Akhenaten or vice versa. Indeed, Sigmund Freud in his book Moses and Monotheism (1939) opined: 'I venture now to draw the following conclusion: if Moses was an Egyptian and if he transmitted to the Jews his own religion, then it was that of Ikhnaton, the Aton religion.' But there is simply no evidence for such a connection. As noted, Akhet-Aten was located in central Egypt, more than 200 miles away from the Land of Goshen in the northeastern delta where the Bible places the Hebrews. Based on an inscription made upon the stones that marked the city's boundaries, Akhenaten vows that he would never leave this sacred zone: 'I shall not pass beyond it.' This means that the kind of contact between Moses and the Pharaoh reported in the book of Exodus could not have occurred given the distance between the two.

The main reason I reject the theory of one religion impacting the other is that each one is based on its own theophany. The Lord God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Sinai and revealed his name, Yahweh, according to Exodus. Akhenaten had his own divine encounter that gave rise to Atenism. Put another way, both religions stand on their own distinctive revelations.

Typically, what is needed for a religion to endure is that a leader or prophet who believes he or she received a divine message has a band of faithful followers to disseminate the tradition, and a set of authoritative writings is preserved for future generations. This is the case of Moses and the Torah (the Law). Similar is the case for Christianity with Jesus, his apostles and the New Testament Scriptures, and likewise Muhammad and the origins of Islam and the Quran, as well as Joseph Smith, the Latter Day Saints and the book of Mormon.

Akhenaten's movement lacked followers who shared his convictions so that, when he died, his family and the priests and officials who had served him jettisoned Atenism and restored Amen-Re atop the pantheon of deities and reopened closed temples. His daughters, whose birth names all included 'Aten', were renamed with Amen instead, and his eventual successor traded in his previous name: Tut-ankh-aten became Tut-ankh-amen. Aten's temples were demolished, the great city Akhetaten was deserted, and the various hymns to Aten that expressed the theology of his religion remained memories on the walls of tombs. Not one of these has been found in later writing to indicate that a scriptural tradition resulted.

If indeed Moses lived in the 13th century BCE as many scholars today believe, then it seems likely that Akhenaten was the first human in recorded history to embrace the exclusive worship of one god. But it is the teaching of one God expressed in the Hebrew Bible that has endured the test of time, and remains the longest lasting monotheistic religion. Atenism was an idea whose time hadn't yet come: a shade of the great monotheisms to be.

12 February, 2019
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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Hiddenness and Darkness in Ancient Egyptian Love Songs - Nile Scribes

Hiddenness and Darkness in Ancient Egyptian Love Songs

Valentine's Day was celebrated on February 14 in many parts of the world this week. In celebration, this week's topic revolves around Egyptian Love Songs. The Nile Scribes welcome back our guest blogger Carla Mesa Guzzo to shed some light on aspects of hiddenness and darkness and their meanings within these love songs.

Guest Scribe: Carla Mesa Guzzo

The ancient Egyptian love songs of the New Kingdom (1,550-1,069 BC) are known from a variety of sources including ostraca and papyri. These are, for the most part, written in Late Egyptian Hieratic and should be understood within a broader trend of recording genres which may have only existed as a part of the Egyptian oral tradition prior to this period. In fact, while often referred to as "poems", it is quite possible that these compositions were meant to be sung aloud.

The love songs employ a rich array of imagery and allusion in order to create a highly sensual atmosphere within each composition. Scholars have observed numerous recurring themes within the corpus as a whole, both in terms of structure and perspective, as well as references to the religious sphere. Among these recurring motifs, references to hiddenness and darkness abound. In some cases, this can be a matter of creating a private setting for a pair of lovers. In other cases, however, these references to hiddenness and darkness can play an important role in building the atmospheric quality of many of these songs.

Papyrus Harris 500 which is housed today in the British            Museum (photo: © Trustees of the British Museum)
Papyrus Harris 500 which is housed today in the British Museum (photo: © Trustees of the British Museum)

Privacy and The Songs of the Orchard

With that in mind, let's turn to one of the more seemingly mundane or practical aspects of these themes, namely privacy. There seems to be a general agreement within the songs that dictates that amorous matters should be carried out in private. While the importance of privacy may seem obvious from a modern North American perspective, this has not always been the case in all cultures, times, or situations. This emphasis on privacy can be seen in many works, including in what Vincent Tobin has labelled "The Songs of the Orchard", due to the prominence of trees and gardens in these compositions (1). The trees here take on a kind of sentience and sometimes act as secret keepers. In one of these songs, the tree says:

H[er] secrets are under me,
The sister (i.e. female beloved) in her excursion.
I am a discreet one, in order not to say that I saw them speak.
(Papyrus Turin 1966)

Garden with pond from the Eighteenth Dynasty tomb of            Nebamun in Thebes (photo: WikiMedia)
Garden with pond from the Eighteenth Dynasty tomb of Nebamun in Thebes (photo: WikiMedia)

While it may be safe to assume that the lovers here are engaged in more than simply speaking, that the tree also ensures discretion about their words is significant. It may indicate that privacy may have been desired for romantic exchanges of all kinds, not just sexual ones. The tree here provides that private space, and seemingly safeguards the lovers' union through its discretion.

Hiddenness and connotations of love

Although simple privacy may be one facet of what makes references to hiddenness and darkness so prominent in these poems, it is not the only one. It has been observed that these compositions achieve meaning primarily through connotation. References to sexual acts are not direct, but alluded to through imagery and wordplay. Atmospheric quality is thus of the utmost importance. These works use privacy and hiddenness as a means of creating a rich, sensual atmosphere that allows for the cultivation of intimacy. And it is in this respect that ideas of hiddenness and darkness become intimately and inextricably linked, often in subtle ways.

The interplay with aspects of hiddenness to create a sense of intimacy and sensuality can be found in one of the poems in Papyrus Chester Beatty I which reads:

Now, you shall bring it to the house of the sister (i.e. female beloved),
So that you may storm against her cave.
Her gate will be raised. Her lady of the house shall prepare it.
You shall provide her with songs and dancing, wine and strong ale, (in) her pavilion.
So that you may intoxicate her senses,
And so that you may complete her in her night.
Now she will say to you "put me in your embrace."
The land will have been made bright and they are as one.
(Papyrus Chester Beatty I)

Feasting scene showing musicians and dancers from the            Eighteenth Dynasty tomb of Nebamun in Thebes (photo:            WikiMedia)
Feasting scene showing musicians and dancers from the Eighteenth Dynasty tomb of Nebamun in Thebes (photo: WikiMedia)

The element of hiddenness here is established by the reference to the beloved woman's"gate". The possibility of this word being used as a euphemism for female genitalia has been explored by Michael V. Fox. It has also suggested that "it" and "cave" here are references to genitalia. Regardless of potential sexual implication, there is no reason why the idea of a gate need be rejected as a literal reference to an architectural element; it could easily work both ways. We can reasonably read this situation as the male lover being invited into his beloved's home where they engage in sexual intercourse. That the woman's (literal) gate is open to her lover draws him in to the private, hidden space of her home, away from the prying eyes. Night in this passage has significance as well. It works in conjunction with this sense of privacy and strengthens it. If the "completion" mentioned here is, as Fox suggests, an allusion to "sexual satisfaction", it is clear that the act of intercourse implied by all these allusions and innuendoes is taking place "in her night", which is to say, in darkness.


If we turn our attention to Papyrus Harris 500, we find a poem that brings the atmospheric quality of darkness fully to the fore:

The voice of the dove is speaking,
It is saying "The land has been made bright, what is your path?"
May you, bird, not scold me.
It was in his bed that I found my brother (i.e. male beloved),
My heart is exceedingly glad.
We said (to each other):
"I will not be far (from you)".
(Papyrus Harris 500)

Bird amid papyrus stalks from a facsimile of a painting            from the North Palace at Amarna (Eighteenth Dynasty - photo:            WikiMedia)
Bird amid papyrus stalks from a facsimile of a painting from the North Palace at Amarna (Eighteenth Dynasty – photo: WikiMedia)

Interestingly, there is no direct mention of "night" or "darkness" in this passage, only to the "land being made bright", which is to say, "dawn". It is clear, however, that the woman in the poem has just spent the night with her lover. Yet it is night and the termination of night rather than the brightening of dawn in and of itself, which lend this passage its rich and sensual atmosphere. Fox notes that the coming of the dawn and the bird's announcement shift the focus of the poem backward and "leads the girl to a recollection of the preceding night and to thoughts of the permanence of her love". This work, it must be said, has no direct reference to hiddenness that I can discern. And yet the intimacy of the passage is so striking. The bird is, in many respects, an intruder on this intimacy. But the bird, and therefore the intrusion, only come with the end of night.


  1. Tobin, V.A. "The Love Songs and the Song of the Harper." The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry. Ed. W.K. Simpson, 307-333. London: Yale University Press, 2003 – page 319.

Further Reading

  • Darnell, John C. "A Midsummer Night's Succubus—The Herdsman's Encounter in P.Berlin 3024. The Pleasures of Fishing and Fowling, The Songs of the Drinking Place, and the Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry." Opening the Tablet Box: Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Benjamin R. Foster. Ed. Sarah C. Melville and Alice L. Slotsky, 99-140. Leiden: Brill, 2010.
  • Fox, Michael V. The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
  • Landgráfová, Renata. "Breaches of Cooperative Rules" Metaphors and Parody in Ancient Egyptian Love Songs." Sex and Gender in Ancient Egypt: 'Don your wig for a joyful hour.' Ed. Carolyn Graves-Brown, 71-82. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2008.
  • Mathieu, Bernard. La poésie amoureuse de l'Egypte ancienne: recherches sur un genre littéraire au Nouvel Empire. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 1996.

Carla G. Mesa Guzzo is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Toronto's Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
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Today in History: Archaeologist opens tomb of King Tut | Roodepoort Record

Today in History: Archaeologist opens tomb of King Tut

King Tut's tomb is every shade of gold. Image: Retrieved from BBC.

On this day in 1923, in Thebes, Egypt, English archaeologist Howard Carter entered the sealed burial chamber of the ancient Egyptian ruler, King Tutankhamen.

Because the ancient Egyptians saw their pharaohs as gods, they carefully preserved their bodies after death, burying them in elaborate tombs containing rich treasures to accompany the rulers into the afterlife. In the 19th century, archaeologists from all over the world flocked to Egypt, where they uncovered a number of these tombs.

When Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, he became convinced there was at least one undiscovered tomb – that of the little known Tutankhamen, or King Tut, who lived around 1400BC and died when he was still a teenager. Backed by a rich Brit, Lord Carnarvon, Carter searched for five years without success. In early 1922, Lord Carnarvon wanted to call off the search, but Carter convinced him to hold on for one more year.

In November 1922, the wait paid off, when Carter's team found steps hidden in the debris near the entrance of another tomb. The steps led to an ancient sealed doorway bearing the name Tutankhamen. When Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb's interior chambers on 26 November, they were thrilled to find it virtually intact, with its treasures untouched after more than 3 000 years.

The men began exploring the four rooms of the tomb, and on 16 February 1923, under the watchful eyes of a number of important officials, Carter opened the door to the last chamber. Inside lay a sarcophagus with three coffins nested inside one another. The last coffin, made of solid gold, contained the mummified body of King Tut.

Among the riches found in the tomb – golden shrines, jewellery, statues, a chariot, weapons, and clothing – the perfectly preserved mummy was the most valuable, as it was the first one ever to be discovered. Despite rumours that a curse would befall anyone who disturbed the tomb, its treasures were carefully catalogued, removed and included in a famous travelling exhibition called the 'Treasures of Tutankhamen'. The exhibition's permanent home is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

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How the Bust of Nefertiti Inspires Artists to Probe Issues of Gender and Race - Artsy

What Depictions of Nefertiti Say about the Way Society Views Gender and Race

Queen Nefertiti
Attributed to Thutmose
Queen Nefertiti, ca. 1350 B.C. (Dynasty XVIII)
Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin
Since its discovery in the early 20th century, the bust of Nefertiti, a work of limestone and stucco crafted by the sculptor Thutmose around 1345 B.C.E., has cemented the ancient Egyptian queen's relevance as a global pop-culture icon. The Nefertiti of the infamous sculpture dons her signature cap crown, an extravagant royal blue headdress with a golden diadem band and elaborate designs, which suggest a power embellished by an elegant aesthetic. Beneath it, her face—symmetrical, poised, and objective in its beauty—is a reminder of the allure that has made the bust of Nefertiti one of the world's most enduring artworks.
A testament to her staying power in popular culture, Nefertiti's likeness continues to be reimagined by contemporary artists around the world. Through their adaptations and homages, these artists' works bridge the gap between antiquity and modernity. Yet the sculpture is also the subject of heated debates; the significance of Nefertiti's gender and questions surrounding her racial identity have forged schisms in her modern cultural appeal. Over the past few decades, German, Egyptian, and American artists, in particular, have pushed matters of race and gender to the forefront of the discourse surrounding Nefertiti, calling on us to consider what it means to co-opt, distort, and reimagine the image of an African queen to whom many feel entitled.
Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the Royal Princesses
Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin
The German Oriental Company uncovered the bust of Nefertiti on an expedition in Amarna in 1912. A sponsor of the excavation lent the sculpture to the Neues Museum in Berlin in 1913, where it has been housed ever since. Germany's claim to the ancient artwork has been contested by Egyptian authorities and activists alike. Within this geopolitical landscape, a number of German artists have explicitly engaged with Nefertiti in their artwork as a means of exploring ideas about identity and ownership.
In an untitled 2012 work by , the first in the "Nofretete" series (2012–18), Nefertiti appears as we've never seen her. Seven busts of the queen sit on individual white podiums, the first of which is cinched by a hot red corset, as if to implicate a restrained body. Every iteration of Genzken's Nefertiti dons a different style of designer glasses, some for reading and others for stunting. Smudging the difference between mannequin and bust, Genzken's incorporation of high-fashion goods complicates Nefertiti's glamour and self-possession, as if to suggest that she is as much a commercial icon as she is a historical one.
In his 2017 bronze work Quantum Nefertiti, German sculptor presents the monarch as unburdened by time or corporeal form. Voss-Andreae's sculpture adheres to Nefertiti's traditional representation as a bust, only to abandon the objectivity prioritized by portraiture. Quantum Nefertiti is composed of evenly spaced sheets of bronze connected to suggest the form of the bust. Yet here, she has no face, only gaps where it should be—perhaps an effort to make space for all our ideas of her.
Berlin-based artists , on the other hand, converted their ideas about Nefertiti into action. For their 2016 work The Other Nefertiti, the artists produced multiple 3D prints of the bust. Performing an act of symbolic repatriation, they donated one of the replicas to the American University in Cairo and additionally shared the 3D printing data online. A starch-white rendering of the original, the pair's polymer resin bust compellingly straddles the line between blank and vacant; The Other Nefertiti is an unmarked canvas ready for her homecoming.
Pushing back against Western claims on Nefertiti, African artists have been making their own arguments for the queen's ethnic and national belonging. In his 2018 solo exhibition "Nefertiti" at the Zamalek Art Gallery in Cairo, Egyptian artist debuted a series of oil paintings that return the ancient monarch to Egypt—and a symbol to her humanity. In his paintings, Nefertiti is pictured with legs, arms, and even wings, offering a rendering of Nefertiti as a divine leader who is both formidable and familiar. These paintings explode with color, and commingle modern and ancient fashions—off-the-shoulder tops, sweetheart dresses, and ankh necklaces—that remake Nefertiti and her hallmark crown for a new world. In his plaster bust I used to be Nefertiti (2014), French-Moroccan artist asserts a kind of intimacy between himself and the sovereign. Casting his own face onto that of Nefertiti, Lahlou collapses artist and muse in order to consider the queen's image as a nostalgic symbol of femininity.
In America, artists of African descent have enlisted Nefertiti to examine their racial identity and heritage. Bronx-born artist 's 1993 project Grey Area (Brown version) offers five iterations of Nefertiti's bust in a spectrum of skin tones. By delivering variations of Nefertiti that appeal to our modern color-coding of blackness, brownness, and whiteness, Wilson asks that we determine what is at stake in dispelling or confirming Nefertiti's racial identity.
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In Jamaican-American artist and critic 's Cibachrome photography collection "Miscegenated Family Album" (1980/1994), sculpture reliefs of Nefertiti and her daughters are juxtaposed with photographs of O'Grady's own sister and nieces. Here, Nefertiti serves as mother, daughter, sister, and self. By drawing on the diasporic and the matrilineal, O'Grady imbues Nefertiti with black feminist significance.
In her 2018 work Composition of Doorknocker Earrings with Pharaoh Heads and Nefertiti Recesses, the Detroit-born, New York–based artist brings Nefertiti into the fold of African-American material culture. The plaster slab features imprints of an archetypal Egyptian Pharaoh and fossil-like impressions of the Nefertiti bust alongside "doorknocker" earrings—a staple of African-American urban fashion. By tethering together hallmarks of contemporary and ancient aesthetics in plaster, Brown elevates this popular modern accessory by asserting its proximity to ancient Egypt, showing once more that Nefertiti is among the most powerful symbols of the African diaspora.
In his numerous works featuring Nefertiti, Ethiopian-American artist argues for Nefertiti's utility as a historical reference point for black cultural dominion and extravagance. In Nefertiti (Black Power) (2018), the profile of the Egyptian queen is lit up with neon lights. As a medium that doubles as an advertising tool, neon lights are often used to intrigue consumers. This neon Nefertiti denies the viewer eye contact, drawing us in while keeping us at a distance. In Nefertiti—Miles Davis (2017), Erizku continues to connect Nefertiti with black culture, this time by transporting her to the 1970s, disguised as a disco ball.
For all the lore that surrounds Nefertiti's image, very little is known about the life of the "beautiful one," as she is called. In fact, Nefertiti largely disappeared from the historical record by the 12th year of her husband Akhenaten's reign, when she was around 30 years old. Yet as an ancient muse, her cultural potency is only enhanced by this mystique. Without it, she would not be fit for the artistic and political projection that remains foundational to her posthumous reception. By inciting our engagement with the politics of race, gender, and colonial entitlement, Nefertiti has effectively surpassed the royal reach that once marked her dynasty. In exchange for this influence, she must remain a figurehead, her 21st-century fame marked by the disembodied power of a bust.
Jordan McDonald
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