Monday, December 21, 2009

Egypt Preparing to Ask for Nefertiti Bust (Again)

Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's antiquities service has been given copies of the documents related to the discovery of the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti by the museum in Berlin that currently has the bust. Dr. Hawass claimed on his blog today that, "These materials confirm Egypt’s contention that Borchardt did act unethically, with intent to deceive: the limestone head of the queen is listed on the protocol as a painted plaster bust of a princess".

As some readers will remember, I posted a while back that KMT Magazine had published an article indicating that there may have been deception involved in Berlin retaining the famous bust of King Akhenaten's wife, and that Egypt was likely to ask, again, for the return of this famous work of art.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Law Code of Ur-Nammu (Part 2)

In many ways the law code of Ur-Nammu was much less "heavy handed" than the later code of Hammurabi. For instance, compare this law from each code and note the different punishments:

Hammurabi (Law 127):
If a man has pointed a finger at a priestess or another man's wife but does not prove her guilty, they shall beat that man in front of the judges. In addition they may half-shave his hair (shaving a man's hair is a public humiliation).

Ur-Nammu (Law 14):
If a man accuses the wife of a young man of promiscuity but the river ordeal clears her, the man who accused her shall weigh and deliver 20 shekels of silver.

Note the differing punishments for a false accusation. In Hammurabi's code physical punishment was meted out, while in Ur-Nammu's code the penalty was an (admittedly stiff) fine.

Again note the difference in punishments in the next two laws. In Hammurabi's code the punishment is physical, while the law code of Ur-Nammu calls for a fine.

Hamurabi (Law 197):
If he has broken another man's bone, they shall break one of his bones.

Ur-Nammu (Law 19):
If a man shatters the ... bone of another man with a club, he shall weigh and deliver 40 shekels of silver.

One last example:

Hammurabi (Law 200):
If a man has knocked out the tooth of a man who is his colleague, they shall knock out his tooth.

Ur-Nammu (Law 22):
If [a man knocks out another man's] tooth with [..., he shall] weigh and deliver [X shekels of silver].

It should be noted however, that Law 201 of Hammurabi's Code does call for a fine if a man knocks out the tooth of a social inferior.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Law Code of Ur-Nammu

I mentioned in my last post that the law code of Ur-Nammu was somewhat different than the (later) law code of Hammurabi. The primary difference is in the punishments prescribed for similar offences in the two law codes. Over the next couple of posts I will try to highlight these differences by comparing laws from the two codes.

This is not to say that different punishments are always prescribed for the same crime. For instance, law one of the Ur-Nammu code reads, "If a man commits a homicide, they shall kill that man", while Law 153 of Hammurabi's code says, "If a woman has let her husband be killed because of another man, they shall stick that woman on a stake."

Law 1 of Hammurabi's code also states that if a man makes a false accusation of homicide, the accuser shall be executed.

So homicide was punishable by death in both codes, with Hammurabi's code also stipulating that false accusations of homicide were punishable by the death penalty.

Another example of similarly harsh punishments in both law codes would include law number six of Ur-Nammu's code and Hammurabi's law number 130, both of which call for the death penalty for a man who de-flowers the virgin bride of another man.

In the next post we shall look at some crimes where the punishment is very different in the two law codes.

Richardson, M. E. J., "Hammurabi's Laws", Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Roth, Martha, "Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor", Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1997.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Ur-Nammu was a ruler of the city of Ur and the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur (somewhere around 2097 – 2080 B.C.). Ur-Nammu, who reigned for about sixteen years, claimed the titles “the mighty man, King or Ur, King of Sumer and Akkad” and expanded his control from Ur to a large part of Mesopotamia.

The earliest known law code in world history dates either to the reign of Ur-Nammu or his son Shulgi. We know the contents of this code from three texts. The Nippur tablet preserves the prologue and laws 4 – 20. The Ur tablets, preserve laws 7 – 37 while the “Sippar” tablet (which may actually be from Nippur) contains the end of the prologue and the first ten laws . The law code is somewhat different from the famous law code of the Babylonian King, Hammurapi and I will do several posts soon to highlight some of the differences.

The stela pictured here was originally about five feet cross and ten feet high. It shows the god Nanna seated on a throne and holding a measuring rod and line. The god is wearing a multi layered wool garment and sitting in front of a potted (?) tree.

Many inscriptions from Ur-Nammu’s reign have survived. A large number of these texts describe the building of the walls of the city and a ziggurat which survives to this day. This ziggurat is one of the best known buildings to have survived from the ancient near east. On the north-east side of the ziggurat there are three stairways which meet at the top of the first level. The central stairway then continues up to the second level. It is uncertain if there was a third level. No remains have survived of the temple that, it is assumed, existed at the top of the ziggurat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ramesses II Temple at Abydos

The Egyptological Seminar of New York's November meeting took place last night and featured two speakers. Drs. Sameh Iskander and Ogden Goelet spoke about their work at the temple of Ramesses II at Abydos. Their work is a joint project between New York University and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and has been underway since 2007.

The temple has been measured and digitally photographed. The photos will eventually be posted on the Internet. A number of interesting discoveries have been made:

1) There is a very rare representation of Anubis in human form on one of the walls.

2) One object found was carved with both a representation of Bes and a Coptic Cross.

3) One of the chapels has chapter 148 of the Book of the Dead and the "Litany of Re" carved on its walls. These texts are rarely found in temples, being generally reserved for tombs.

Dr. Goelet presented evidence that indicates the temple took about six years to build. When he was asked how long it took to measure and photograph the temple, Dr. Goelet delightfully replied, "It takes longer to survey an Egyptian temple than it took to build the damn things!".

The next meting of the Egyptological Seminar will take place on Friday, January 22, 2010 at 6:30 in the Art Study Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Martina Ullmann will discuss the temples of Ramesses II between the first and second cataracts of the Nile. The public is welcome to attend.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Assurnasirpal II

Assurnasirpal II was the son of the Assyrian King Tukulti-Ninurta II and the father of Shalmaneser III. He is best known for his military campaigns and his building projects at his capital city of Numrud, where he built a palace and lined its walls with reliefs carved in alabaster.
Many of the palace reliefs are now in the British Museum, while others are in Munich, and Japan. These reliefs portrayed the King as a great warrior and hunter. In one scene Assyrian soldiers are using a siege tower to attack a city and in another, Assurnasirpal’s enemies are shown swimming across a river in an attempt to escape the Assyrian monarch’s army. In one of the hunting scenes some Assyrian soldiers(?) drive a lion toward the chariot of the King, who has already shot four arrows into the lion’s body.

Assurnasirpal’s reliefs often had an inscription (referred to as the “standard inscription”) on them, which traces the kings lineage back three generations, describes his military campaigns and details the boundaries of his empire. It also tells us some fascinating details about the building of the King's.

Assurnasirpal II also built a monumental gateway at Nimrud. The winged bulls, which flanked the gateway, are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The head of one of these winged bulls is shown head on and in profile in the accompanying photos. Note the horned headdress and long earrings, as well as the feathers from the wings, which are carved in painstaking detail. In the face on view, notice the hair (shown as a wavy line on the bull’s forehead) right below the crown.

There is also a well known statue of Assurnasirpal in the British Museum . The statue shows the King standing rather stiffly with a scepter in one of his hands and a “cult object” in the other. His hair is elaborately curled, like the hair on the winged bull shown in the accompanying photographs.

Assurnasirpal’s military campaigns brought back a huge amount of “tribute” to the Assyrian capital. For example, the small district of Bit-Zamani yielded the following tribute:

40 chariots
460 horses
2 talents of silver
2 talents of gold
100 talents of lead
100 talents of copper
300 talents of iron
1,000 copper vessels and 2,000 copper pans
Bowls and cauldrons of copper
1,000 wool garments
2,000 head of cattle
5,000 sheep
The ruler’s sister
The daughters of the local noblemen, along with their dowries
15,000 subjects brought back to Assyria (Roux, p. 286)

Assurnasirpal frequently used terror tactics in his campaign. His inscriptions describe how he flayed his enemies alive, had them buried alive inside a wall or had them impaled on poles as a warning to others.
Photos copyright 2009 by John Freed. You can use these photos if you give credit to this website.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gudea and Son

Gudea was an Ensi, or ruler, of Lagash during the Neo-Sumerian Period (circa 2150 - 2100 B. C.).

Gudea is known to have built, or re-built, at least fifteen temples in Lagash. Two large clay cylinders have been found, which describe the work associated with re-building the temple of Ningirsu. Gudea claims to have brought craftsman from many distant lands and used the highest quality materials in his attempt to please Ningirsu. These texts also detail the elaborate religious rituals conducted before, during and after the re-building of Ningirsu's temple.

Numerous statues of Gudea have survived. Three of them (all currently in the Metropolitan Museum) are shown here.

All of these statues show Gudea with his hands clasped in front of him in a sign of piety. These statues were no doubt placed in the temples of Lagash as a reminder to the gods and goddesses of Gudea's great love for them. The seated statue shown here, bears an inscription listing the temples that Gudea built or restored during his lifetime.

Two of the statues shown here portray Gudea wearing a wool cap, while the third shows the Ensi with a bald head. These statues were carved from diorite, which is a very hard, and difficult to work with, stone.

A very different statue of Ur-Ningirsu, the son of Gudea is also shown here. While Gudea is portrayed as clean shaven, his shown is shown with a long beard. He too is shown with his hands clasped in front of him. This statue is carved from chlorite and was most likely originally set up in one of the many temples in Lagash.

(All photos copyright John Freed. Feel free to use them, but please give credit to this site).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Met Returns a Naos Fragment to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum has purchased a fragment of a "Naos" from a collector and returned it to Egypt as a stolen antiquity. The fragment is from a shrine ("Naos") dedicated to the Dynasty 12 Pharaoh Amenemhat I, which is currently in the temple of Ptah at Karnak.

Zahi Hawas thanked the Met and mentioned that he has now recovered over 5,000 stolen artifacts since 2002, when he became head of the Egyptian Atiquities Service.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The New Issue of Archaeology Magazine

There are a number of interesting items in the latest issue of Archaeology Magazine.

1) A short blurb mentions the discovery of cuneiform tablets at Tell Tayinat, a Neo-Hittite site that was sacked by Tiglath-Pileser III in 738 B. C. Some links related to the excavations of Tell Tayinat are:

2) An experiment has been done which attempts to replicate the rib injury found on a Neanderthal skeleton found in Shanidar Cave (in Iraq). The findings indicate that "modern humans" may have injured the Neanderthal with a long range projectile.

3) A temple of the storm god is being excavated in Aleppo. This temple has levels covering the Hittite Empire and the Neo-Hittites and is accompanied by some good photos. One interesting orthostat that is pictured shows a "fish-man" carrying a pine cone and a bucket (symbols of purification) like those found in Assyrian reliefs.

4) Salvage archaeology is being done in the Sudan to save some sites that will be flooded by a dam being built on the Nile north of Khartoum. The site described in this report is now under water.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Neo-Hittites

Late Assyrian texts referred to the peoples in what is now northern Syria as “Hittites”, which has led to these peoples being referred to by archaeologists as the Neo-Hittites, even though there seems to have been little relationship between the earlier Hittite empire and the Neo-Hittites[1].

The Neo-Hittites lived in the area surrounding Carchemish in the ninth to seventh centuries B. C. Their art was influenced by contemporary Assyrian art, which is hardly surprising since the Assyrian Kings conducted military campaigns in this area. From the reign of Tiglathpileser III onwards, the artist of northern Syria not only used Assyrian motifs, but they executed those motifs in an Assyrian manner[2].

Neo-Hittite cities were generally circular in plan and protected by two walls, one around the whole city and a second one protecting the citadel. The “palace” had a portico with wooden columns in front of its entrance[3]. Orthostats, which are carved stone blocks used as the base of a wall, are commonly found in museums. One of these objects, originally from Tell Halaf but now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is shown here. It shows two human headed bulls standing under a winged sun disc and in front of a seated man who holds what looks like a flower up to his nose. The rather crude workmanship is typical of Neo-Hittite art. Another orthostat from Tell Halaf shows the two human headed bulls actually supporting the winged sun disc[4]. An excellent drawing of the citadel at Zinjirli in Frankfort’s book (p. 335) shows how these orthostats were used in constructing the walls of the fortress.

Another commonly found architectural element in Neo-Hittite building is the “guardian statue” which commonly flanked doorways in the “palaces” of the period. This type of sculpture is common in Assyrian buildings and also occurs at Bogazkoy (in what is now Turkey) when it was the capital of the “real” Hittite empire many years earlier. An interesting example of this type of sculpture is the so-called “scorpion man”. The body of the sculpture is a feathered scorpion with wings. The scorpion has a human head which has elaborately curled hair both on its scalp and on its beard[5].

The history of the Neo-Hittites is mostly one of trying to keep the Assyrians at bay. By 894 the ruler of Tell Halaf, Guzana, paid tribute to Adadnirari II of Assyria. During the regency in Assyria of Semiramis, Guzana made an attempt to shake off the Assyrian yoke, but failed. Tell Halaf was burned by the Assyrian army and became the seat of an Assyrian governor. Other Neo-Hittite cities continued the struggle, but all eventually were incorporated into the Assyrian empire.

[1] Bryce, Trevor. The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 385.

[2] Frankfort, Henri. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, New York: Penguin Books, 1970, p. 281.

[3] Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq, New York: Penguin Books, 3rd Ed., 1992, pp. 272 – 3.

[4] Frankfort, p. 345 (photo).

[5] Frankfort, p. 342 (photo)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Look Inside a Mummy's Wrappings

Isabel Stuenkel, an Assistant Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gave an excellent talk last night at the Egyptological Seminar of New York. The Met had one of the mummies they have in their collection run through a CAT scan machine several years ago. They asked the speaker, who is researching Egyptian amulets, to look at the literally thousands of pictures from the CAT scan to see if she could learn anything about the amulets contained in the mummy's wrappings.

The mummy of Nesmin dates to the Ptolemaic period and is in such a good state of preservation that it has never been unwrapped. Nesmin died at about the age of 40 to 45 and was a priest of the god Min.

The primary difficulty in learning anything about the amulets contained in the mummy's wrappings is that the CAT scan works by photographing a "slice" of the body about three millimeters thick. To get any idea at all about what amulet is being looked at, Ms. Stuenkel had to look at dozens of pictures showing the amulet from its lower end up to its top. Ms. Stuenkel showed several examples of this process to illustrate how difficult this is to do and to help the audience judge the accuracy of her conclusions.

Overall, the mummy seems to have contained 29 amulets. Most of the amulets were part of two necklaces on the Nesmin's chest, with one of the necklaces being a row of "Djed" pillers strung together. Two other amulets, probably representing "standing deities" were tied to Nesmin's wrist, on amulet on each wrist. The exact deity represented by the amulet could not be determined from the photos.

The talk was a fascinating look at how modern technology can be used to gather evidence without damaging a rare and valuable archaeological find.

For those of you who live in the New York City area, the next meeting of the Egyptological Seminar is on November 13. Full details can be obtained at if you would like to attend. Membership in the Seminar includes a copy of the group's excellent 'Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar" (BES).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Egyptian Animal Mummies

The latest issue of National Geographic has an article on Egyptian Animal mummies. As is usual with the magazine, there are a lot of good photos and the article is otherwise short. The article does have some interesting content however.

The article mentions some work done by Dr. Salima Ikram on mummification. She has attempted to mummify a number of rabbits and used different methods of mummification with each. Here are the results:

1) Cover the dead rabbit in natron without removing the internal organs – this was a complete failure.
2) Remove the rabbit’s organs, stuff it with natron and cover the exterior in natron – this worked.
3) Another rabbit was stuffed with natron contained in linen bags – this resulted in much less of a “mess” (the Natron gets soggy and “disgusting” if it is put inside the corpse without the linen bag), which probably explains why linen bags filled with natron sometimes turn up embalming caches.
4) A fourth rabbit was mummified after having a turpentine and cedar oil enema to destroy its internal organs. This method of mummification was described by Herodotus and scholars have long been skeptical of the Greek historian’s description of the process. However, Herodotus may have been right, as the enema destroyed all of the internal organs except the heart (which needed to be left in the body per Egyptian religious beliefs).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Louvre Blinks

Egypt's Antiquities Service refused to renew the Louvre's excavation permit due to the Louvre's possession of wall paintings stolen several years ago from a tomb at Dra Abu el Naga. Egypt requested the return of these paintings, but authorities in Paris were, apparently not very responsive.

After the suspension of the Louvre's excavation permit, the authorities in Paris decided to return the paintings to Egypt within the next week. Needless to say, this is the right thing to do. These paintings were hacked out of a wall in a tomb and the Louvre clearly purchased stolen objects. It is unfortunate that the Louvre got scammed by a thief, but the paintings belong in Egypt.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Marrying a Concubine in Babylonia

Most marriages in Babylonia were monogamous, but occasionally a man could marry a second wife. This might happen if no children were born by the first wife.

This second wife would be a concubine, not a "full" wife however. In the text translated below, it seems that the father has sold his daughter as a concubine. This might have been done to allow the father to repay a debt, although that is not explained in the text:

"Bunene-abi and Belessunu bought Shamash-Nuri, the daughter if Ibi-Shahan from Ibi-Shahan her father. To Bunene-abi she is a wife, to Belessunu she is a slave. If Shamash-Nuri says to her mistress 'You are not my mistress', she shall be sold for silver'. They weighed out X (amount of) silver for her price. Her affair is finished and his (the girl's father) heart is satisfied. In the future one man shall not contest against the other man. They swore by the life of Shamash, Marduk and Hammurapi..."

(Translated by myself, from a transcription in Huehnergard, John. "A Grammar of Akkadian", p. 232).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Broken Marriage Agreements

Hammurabi's law code deals with engagements that do not lead to marriage. Law #159 covers the posibility of a man changing his mind and not marrying his intended bride:

"If, after having brought a wedding gift to the house of his father-in-law and having given him the bride-price, a man hankers after another woman and has said to his father-in-law, 'I will not marry your daughter', the father shall take away whatever he had given him for the daughter."

The father of the bride to be might be the person who changes his mind. Law #160 covers that possibility:

"If a man has brought a gift to his bride's father's house, and after he has given the bride-price the father of the girl has said, 'I shall not give you my girl,' he shall double the quantity of any gift he has brought to make recompense."

It is also possible that a neighborhood gossip could cause the wedding to not come off, and law #161 deals with that problem:

"If a man has brought a gift to his bride's father's house, and after he has given the bride-price one of his neighbors gossips about him and the father of the bride says to the bridegroom, 'You shall not take my girl,' he shall double the quantity of any gift he has brought to make recompense. In no way shall the neighbor take that wife."

(Translated by M. E. J Richardson in his book, "Hammurabi's Laws", Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), p. 91.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Interesting Old Babylonian Marriage Contract

There is one marriage contract that is a bit unusual in that the groom apparently marries two women simultaneously. One of the women is the “junior” wife as can be seen from the translation:

“Warad-Shamash takes Taram-Sagil and Iltani, daughter of Sin-Abishu as wife and husband. If Taram-Sagil and Iltani say to Warad-Shamash ‘You are not my husband’, they shall be thrown down[1] from a tower; and if Warad-Shamash says to Tamam-Sagil and Iltani, his wives, ‘You are not my wife’, he shall forfeit the house.

Iltani shall wash the feet of Taram-Sagil. She shall carry her chair to the temple of her god. Iltani will hate whoever hates Taram-Sagil…..”

(Translated by myself from a transcription in: Huehnergard, John. "A Grammar of Akkadian", Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000; pp. 216 - 217).

[1] The word is “innaddunishshinati” which is the “D” stem of nadum (“to throw down”) combined with the third person plural accusative pronoun “shinati”)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Marriage in Babylonia (Part 2)

A marriage contract sometimes listed the dowry and bride price. For instance:

"Two garments she is wearing,
a headdress she is wearing,
one bed,
three chairs,
one basin of 4 liters filled with oil,
one round basket of four sheahs filled (with) food,
all this Atanah-illi, her father, the son of Silli-Shamash gives to his daughter Sihar-tilluk, the egitum (egitum seems to be a title of some sort) for the house of Zimer-Shamash (the father of the groom) for Warad-Ulmashshitum his son. Five shekels of silver is her bride price.....".

The text goes on to say that if the bride ever says "You are not my husband" to the groom, she will be sold. If the groom ever repudiates his new wife he will be required to pay 2/3 mina of silver.

Then the bride and groom swore the customary oath by Marduk, Shamash and the King in front of witnesses.

(Translated by myself from a transcript in: Huehnergard, John "A Grammar of Akkadian", p. 403).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Marriage in Babylonia

Marriage between a man and a woman was arranged by the respective fathers, often while the couple were still children. Marriage was usually monogamous, although under certain circumstances a man could take a second wife or concubine.

The bride's father sent a dowry to the new home of his daughter, while the groom's father paid a "bride's price". The dowry was often in the form of furniture and clothes rather than silver or gold. The bride price was typically paid in silver. Both the bride price and the dowry were sometimes paid in installments until the couple had their first child, at which point both families were required to make payment in full. After the marriage a feast was often held to celebrate the event.

Legal documents were drawn up to make the marriage "legal". One ancient text says, "If a man marries the daughter of another man without the consent of her father and mother, and moreover does not conclude the wedding feast and contract for her father and mother, even if she lives in his house for a full year, she is not a wife!" (see: Nemet-Nejat, Karen R., "Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia", Westport: The Greenwood Press, 1998, p. 133). A fairly typical wedding contract follows:

"Rimum, son of Shamhatum, takes Bashtum, daughter of Usibitum, in marriage (literally as husband and wife). If Bashtum says to Rimum her husband, 'You are not my husband', Bashtum shall be thrown into the river. If Rimum says to Bashtum, his wife, 'You are not my wife', he shall pay (a certain amount of) silver. They shall swear by the name of (the god) Shamash and (the King) Shamsu-iluna". A list of witnesses then followed (translated by myself from a transcription published in: Huehneraged, John "A Grammar of Akkadian", Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000, p. 166)

Notice the much more severe penalty the bride would pay for renouncing her husband. This is typical in Akkadian marriage contracts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mysteries of the Ancient World

Smithsonian Magazine has just published a special edition magazine entitled "Mysteries of the Ancient World". The magazine consists of thirteen articles dealing with different aspects of ancient history. The articles are written for a lay audience and are not meant for experts in the field.

There are several articles on Ancient Egypt, including one on Hatshepsut, another on the underwater archaeology being done at Alexandria and another discussing the recent CAT scan done on King Tutankhamen's mummy in an attempt to determine the probable cause of his death.

The most interesting article in the magazine (to me anyway) is one describing the ongoing excavation of the funerary temple of the Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III. When I was last there, the only portion of the temple that was visible were the huge "Colossi of Memnon" statues that originally stood at the front entrance of the temple. The article describes the finds that have been made there, including the discovery of numerous statues of the goddess Sekhemkhet (as if there were not already enough of these statues in museum collections around the world!). The article also has a well done computer reconstruction of what the temple probably looked like in ancient times.

The magazine also includes articles on Petra (in modern Jordan), Machu Picchu (Peru), Easter Island, The Parthenon (Athens), the vikings and the Anasazi (southwest United States).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Tomb in the Valley of the Kings?

Zahi Hawass has posted the results of some recent excavation work in the Valley of the Kings which includes what MAY be a new tomb. There is an interesting video on this topic on Dr. Hawass' website at this link.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prince Khaemwaset, the World’s First Archaeologist

Prince Khaemwaset was a son of the Egyptian King Ramesses II and Queen Isetneferet[1]. He acquired a reputation as a scholar that lasted until Greco-Roman times, when he was made the hero of a cycle of stories[2].

Ramesses II took Khaemwaset on a military campaign in Nubia early in his reign[3]. The Prince later became the High Priest of Ptah and was crown prince at the time of his death.

As High Priest of Ptah, Khaemwaset was responsible for the burial of the sacred Apis bulls in the Serapeum at Saqqara[4]. At Saqqara, the Prince restored a number of Old Kingdom monuments, including the Pyramid of Unas[5].

Mariette, the famous French archaeologist, found a chamber in the Serapeum that held two huge coffins, four canopic jars and a tall wooden statue of the god Osiris. It also contained two wooden shrines with scenes of Ramesses Ii and Khaemwaset making offerings to an Apis bull (the Serapeum is the burial place of the Apis bulls). Two large ushabtis of Khaemwaset were found in a niche in the South wall[6]. Some archeologists believe that the burial of Khaemwaset has been found in the Serapeum, but most archaeologists no longer accept this idea.

Khaemwaset’s work in restoring the monuments of the Old Kingdom have led to some referring to him as the world’s first archaeologist.

[1] Shaw, Ian. Ed., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[2] Dodson, Aiden and Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, London: Thames and Hudson, 2004, p. 171.

[3] Shaw, p. 302

[4] Shaw, p. 302

[5] Dodson, Aiden and Salima Ikram, The Tomb in Ancient Egypt, London: Thames and Hudson, 2008, p. 56.

[6] Reeve, Nicholas, Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries, London: Thames and Hudson, 2000, p. 43

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nabonidus, Babylonian King and Archaeologist

Nabonidus (556 – 539 B. C.) was the last of the Neo-Babylonian Kings. He was the son of a nobleman named Nabu-balatsu-iqbi and a votress of the god Sin from the city of Harran[1]. His predecessor, Labashi-Marduk, was overthrown by a group of conspirators who placed Nabonidus on the throne in his place[2].

Nabonidus spent a large portion of his reign restoring temples and collecting antiquities found during the course of this restoration work. Bertman has called him “the world’s first archaeologist”[3] (although the Egyptian Prince Khaemwaset would probably be a better claimant to that title). Near a wall built at Ur by Nebuchadnezzar, one of Nabonidus’ Neo-Babylonian predecessors, Leonard Woolley found a headless diorite statue from a much earlier period in history. Woolley speculates that this may be one of the antiquities collected at Ur by Nabonidus[4] in the home of his daughter, who was a priestess there.

Woolley also found hidden in the brickwork of Ur’s ziggurat some clay cylinders with inscriptions from the reign of Nabonidus. The inscriptions stated that Nabonidus had completed the Ziggurat, which had been started centuries earlier by Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi[5]. There is also a record of Nabonidus finding the foundation deposit of Naram-Sin while restoring the ziggurat[6]. Another text relates how Nabonidus, while restoring a shrine, found the foundation deposit of Nebuchadnezzar (604 - 562 B. C.)[7].

Nabonidus had the misfortune to rule at the same time as Cyrus II of Persia. Nabonidus allied himself with Cyrus against the Medes and soon found his ally was every bit as dangerous as the Medes. For some reason Nabonidus spent most, if not all of the years three through eleven of his reign outside of Babylon, possibly as far away as what is now Saudi Arabia[8]. During this time Cyrus gathered his strength and Nabonidus soon saw Babylon incorporated into the Persian Empire.

[1] Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq, New York: Penguin Books, 1992, p. 381

[2] Roux, p. 381

[3] Bertman, Stephen. Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, New York: Facts on File, 2003, p. 47

[4] Woolley, Leonard, and E. R. S. Moorey. Ur of the Chaldees, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, revised 2nd
edition, 1982, p. 123

[5] Woolley, p. 142

[6] Woolley, p. 228

[7] Woolley, p. 223

[8] Roux, p. 385

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ibn Battuta, World Traveller

Ibn Battuta is one of the greatest travellers of all time. Born in 1304 and a near contemporary of Marco Polo's, he would eventually visit North and West Africa, Mecca, Southern and Eastern Europe, Constantinople, India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China. Some scholars have questioned if he really visited all these places (just as some scholars question whether or not Herodotus actually travelled as much as he claimed to have). Ibn Battuta dictated the story of his travels, a manuscript of which has survived to today and is usually referred to as "Rihla" (Voyage).

He visited the Ruins of Nineveh and described its walls and gates. He also saw the Giza Pyramids and the Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria. He described the Pharos lighthouse as:

"...a very high square building, and its door is above the level of the earth. Opposite the door, and of the same height, is a building from which there is a plank bridge to the door; if this is removed there is no means of entrance. Inside the door is a place for the lighthouse-keeper, and within the lighthouse there are many chambers. The breadth of the passage inside is nine spans and that of the wall ten spans; each of the four sides of the lighthouse is 140 spans in breadth. It is situated on a high mound and lies three miles from the city on a long tongue of land which juts out into the sea from close by the city wall, so that the lighthouse cannot be reached by land except from the city. On my return to the West in the year 750 [1349] I visited the lighthouse again, and found that it had fallen into so ruinous a condition that it was not possible to enter it or climb up to the door." (

Ibn Battuta is almost completely forgotten today, even in the Islamic world. This is unfortunate, as his life was a full and fascinating one.

A large portion of his book are available in English translation at:

A full biography of Ibn Battuta is: Dunn, Ross. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta", University of California Press, 1986.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gertrude Bell, Shaper of Nations and Archaeologist

I thought it might be interesting to do a series of biographical sketches of people who have contributed to Near Eastern Archaeology. Anyone can find their way to a biography of Flinders Petrie or Howard Carter, so I thought that mentioning some lesser known, but still very important archaeologists might be in order.

Gertrude Bell (7/14/1868 - 7/12/1926) was a British writer, traveller, political analyst and archaeologist. She is today best remembered for her role is creating the Hashemite Dynasty in Jordan and for drawing the borders of modern Iraq, but it is her work as an archaeologist that concerns us here.

She was educated at Oxford University and travelled to Persia (modern Iran) to se her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, who was the British Minister in Tehran. She wrote the book "Persian Pictures" about her experiences on this trip.

Miss Bell became fascinated with the Middle East and would visit the Hittite city of Carchemish, Palmyra, Jerusalem, Cairo and Babylon. She advised archaeologists working at Carchemish, one of whom was T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). She also founded the Baghdad Archaeological Museum (which opened in June of 1926) and was given the title "Honorary Director of Antiquities". Some of her archaeological work was published in the "Reveue Archaologique". Her archaeological work with Sir William Ramsey was published by her in the book "A Thusand and One Churches".

Gertrude Bell was also a mountain climber (in the Rockies and the Alps) and visited Shanghai, Tokyo, India and Seoul among many other places in her full and fascinating life.

Wallach, Janet. "Desert Queen: the Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell", Random House, 1999.
Howell, Georgina. "Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert", Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Visit to Memphis (Part 2)

There are a few other interesting things to see at Memphis. For instance, there is a calcite sphinx of Queen Hatshepsut (Dynasty 18). The photo to the left will give you some idea of the size of the sphinx. The statue was found laying on it's side, and the damage caused by water is clearly visible on the left side of this photo.

Another interesting object is what looks like part of a pillar. The sunk relief carvings are clearly 18th Dynasty. The king's name is badly defaced, but MIGHT be Men-Kheper-Ra (Tuthmose III).

The largest object still to be seen, is a huge statue of (who else?) Ramesses II. The statue has been enclosed in a building to protect it from the elements. The photos clearly show the size of the statue, which is broken off at the knees. The statue shows Ramesses wearing a Nemes headdress surmounted by a double crown (?) that has also been broken off. A large dagger is also represented at the King's waist.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Visit to Memphis

The ruins of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis do not compare to the Giza Pyramids or the Valley of the Kings as a tourist destination, but most tours of Egypt visit Memphis for a half day and there are some interesting things to see.

For instance, there is a Dynasty 26 embalming site that was probably once a part of a major temple. It is thought that the Apis bulls were mummified here before being buried at Sakkara. The attached photos show a general view of the embalming area (Photo 1), a view of a large embalming table (photo 2) that had a drain on one end to let any fluids from the embalming process flow off the table (photo 3).

There is also a row of small embalming tables (?) nearby which are decorated with a carved image of a lion headed "couch" similar to the one found in the Antechamber of the tomb of Tutankhamen (photos 4 and 5).

Dynasty 26 is not the best known dynasty in Egyptian history. It was founded somewhere around 650 B. C., by an official who served under the Assyrian Kings after their invasion of Egypt, an invasion which pushed the Nubian Kings out of Egypt. Psamtik I started out with a powerbase in the Delta, from which he expanded his empire until he had re-united the country. The dynasty ended with the Persian invasion of Egypt by Cambyses.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Using Scarabs to Build Chronologies

As I have mentioned several times in the past, I am not a big fan of using scarab styles and decorations to reconstruct the history of Egypt's Second Intermediate Period. My concerns are based on:

1) Style and decoration are very subjective criteria to use
2) It has been done several times in the past and none of the scholars involved agree with each other (Stock and Ward among others). This is probably caused by #1.

The reason I raise this issue is that another scholar has tried to construct a sequence of Kings for the the Second Intermediate Period based in large part on scarabs. Dr. K. Ryholt has proposed that Mayibre Sheshi be put into the Fourteenth Dynasty (rather than the Fifteenth as most scholars place him) and bases this, in part on the style and decoration of Sheshi's scarabs.

Dr. Ryholt's arguments are plausible and cannot be easily refuted, but as long as they are based on scarab seriation, I am going to be a little sceptical. Hopefully more evidence will be found in the future to decide this one way or the other. In the meantime, interested readers should check the sources listed below to follow the arguments being made.

Ryholt, K. The Political Situation in Egypt During the Second Intermediate Period, Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1997.

Stock, H. Studien zur Geschichte und Archaeologie der 13 bis 17 Dynastie Aegyptens, unter besonderer Beruecksichtigung der Skarabaen dieser Zwischenzeit (AF 12, Gluckstadt 1942).

Tufnell, Olga. Studies on Scarab Seals II, Warminster, 1984.

Ward, W. Studies on Scarab Seals, I, Warmister: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1978.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Mummy "Unwrapped"

A mummy is being unwrapped via computer imaging in the lab of the Stanford University Medical School. There will also be a special museum exhibit dedicated to this project

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Political Situation in Egypt (a Review)

"The Political Situation in Egypt During the Second Intermediate Period" is a major study of the Second Intermediate Period and has become one of the most frequently cited works on the period in print.

Dr. K. Ryholt has put together a masterpiece of scholarly research. He has sorted through mounds of unclear and contradictory evidence to produce a comprehensive survey of one of the most obscure periods of Ancient Egyptian history. Many of his conclusions differ from those of previous scholars, but given the material archaeologists have to work with, this should come as no surprise.

Perhaps the most important new view Dr.Ryholt has of the period is his reconstruction of the Turin Canon, which is based in part on re-arranging some of the Papyrus' fragments based on the lining up of fibers within those fragments . He has concluded that the list of Pharaohs that many scholars (myself included) considered to be the Seventeenth Dynasty, are actually the Sixteenth Dynasty and that the Pharaohs of the Seventeenth Dynasty are not on the Turin Canon. This has led Dr. Ryholt to reconstruct the order of Kings in Dynasty 17 in a very different way than I have in this blog (see here for the first of a number of posts on this topic).

Another interesting conclusion made in this book is that Mayibre Sheshi, who is usually considered to be one of the six Hyksos Pharaohs of the Fifteenth Dynasty is actually a Pharaoh of the Fourteenth Dynasty. This claim is based on scarab sequencing. I have argued that using scarabs to reconstruct history is difficult, bordering on impossible and have not changed my viewpoint any. Hopefully more evidence will be found to prove or disprove this idea.

Dr. Ryholt has also included a full catalog of attestations of the kings of this period on various monuments. The bibliography is also quite good.

This work is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Second Intermediate Period.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Snefru Built How Many Pyramids?

In the latest post Dr. Zahi Hawass made on his blog he says "King Sneferu of the Fourth Dynasty built three monumental pyramids during his lifetime, and a fourth smaller step pyramid at Seila in the Faiyum."

I have never heard anyone else attribute the pyramid Seila to Snefru. I have seen it attributed to Huni, but not Snefru. Something feels wrong here. How could one Pharaoh build four pyramids?

I have found a few links that seem worth looking at. Ths are not "scholarly" sites, but they are definately worth a look:

1) Tour Egypt
2) A short biopgraphy of Huni
3) Some photos of Seila

Monday, August 10, 2009

Herod's Tomb Found?

Archaeologist Ehud Netzer believes that he has found the tomb of Herod at Herodium (7 miles south of Jerusalem). Herod was a notorius King of the Judea who was born around 73 B. C., who was believed to be responsible for the murder of many people, including members of his own family.

This month's issue of Smithsonian Magazine has a cover article on the discovery of the tomb. There is also an article on the internet here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 6)

To this point the majority of the evidence we have looked at is of Ramesside, rather than Second Intermediate Period, date. Thus the identification of Avaris as either Tanis or Kantir / Tell ed-Dab’a rests on the tenuous theory that the two sites were one and the same in ancient times. Proof of a Second Intermediate Period occupation of Kantir would thus be required to help solidify Kantir’s claim to be the site of Avaris.

A second Intermediate Period occupation of the area has recently been found at Tell ed-Dab’a by a team of archaeologists led by Manfred Bietak. These excavations have revealed a Canaanite city within the borders of Egypt; Bietak has divided the site into twelve occupation levels, the earliest of which dates to the end of the Middle Kingdom. The culture of that level (Level H) is a mixture of Egyptian and Canaanite, as is evidenced by the houses being Egyptian in style but with the burials being a mixture of Egyptian and Levantine styles[1]. It should be pointed out that the burials were found within the living area of the city, something which is completely non-Egyptian[2]. Level F is purely Canaanite, with tombs often including donkey burials, and has been dated to the Second Intermediate Period by Bietak[3]. In level E there are temples built along Levantine lines which include altars with remnants of burnt offerings, while the burials show no Egyptian influence and are often located under the door of a house[4]. In the latter part of Level D there are signs of the return of Egyptian influence; this is probably to be dated to the very end of the Second Intermediate Period[5]. The burials of this period are often quite lavish, with those of Level D3 (the earliest part of this level) showing Levantine influence. These burials often include beautiful gold diadems like the so-called “stag-crown” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art[6].

If Tell ed-Dab’a is indeed Avaris / Pi-Ramesse, then one would expect a hiatus in its occupation from the end of Dynasty Seventeen until the beginning of the Ramesside Period, and that is precisely what Bietak has found[7]. Stratum B seems to date from the reign of Horemheb and contains a temple of Seth[8], an important point in view of the fact that both Avaris and Pi-Ramesse should contain such a temple. If this is the actual site of Pi-Ramesse, one would not be surprised to see the occupation of this site end with the beginning of Dynasty 21, when Tanis was built and this is precisely what happened[9].

[1] Manfred Bietak, Avaris and Pi-Ramesse, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 238.

[2] Bietak, p. 238.

[3] Bietak, p. 238.

[4] Bietak, pp. 247 – 61.

[5] Bietak, p. 237.

[6] Bietak, p. 263.

[7] Bietak, p. 273.

[8] Bietak, p. 270.

[9] Bietak, p. 237.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 5)

What archaeological evidence is there to support the theory that Kantir / Tell ed-Dab’a was the location of Pi-ramesse / Avaris? Excavations at Kantir have revealed a wealth of material from the Ramesside Period, which proves the existence of a large occupation site in the area. Hundreds of glazed tiles (as well as the molds used to make them) have been found. These glazed tiles once formed a part of a palace of Ramesses II[1]. There is also a well with the name of Ramesses II at Kantir, as well as scarabs of Khian, Tell el-Yahudieh pottery and a stela of a Hyksos princess named Tany[2]. The area around Kantir has yielded two statues of Sobekneferu and one of Aamu-Sahor-Nedjheritef (both of Dynasty Thirteen) as well as pyramidions of two Thirteenth Dynasty Pharaohs[3]. It is possible that the statues and pyramidions may not be in situ, but the well and smaller objects (such as the scarabs, tiles and molds) must be in situ as these small objects are not the kind of things that later builders would cart away to another site and the well of course could not have been moved for fairly obvious reasons. Further, there are foundation deposits from the reign of Ramesses II at Kantir (again, the kind of things which must be in situ)[4]. To further strengthen the case it can be added that a temple of Seth is known to have existed at Kantir[5].

Thus emerges a scenario where two separate sites both contain sufficient archaeological evidence (let us temporarily ignore the literary evidence) to lay claim to being Pi-ramesse / Avaris. If a strong case could be made for the evidence in one of these two sites having been brought to that site long after both the Second Intermediate Period and the Ramesside Period had ended, it would surely strengthen the case of the rival site. Save-Soderbergh[6], van Seeters[7], and Habachi[8] are surely correct in claiming that the Hyksos and Ramesside objects at Tanis are not in situ, and were brought to the site no earlier than Dynasty 21 (it should be pointed out that even Gardiner, who supported the designation of Tanis as the site of Pi-Ramesse, was willing to admit that many of the Ramesside objects at Tanis were not in situ[9]). The evidence to support this is readily available. Most telling of all is the fact that there are no pre-Dynasty XXI occupation levels at Tanis. Nor are there any small objects (like pottery, scarabs and private stelae) dating earlier than Dynasty XXI and there are no foundation deposits dating any earlier than the Twenty-first Dynasty[10].

Is it possible that the material which was found in the vicinity of Kantir and which dates to the Second Intermediate Period or the Ramesside Period could have been brought from elsewhere? Much of the material in question can be proven to be in its original location at Kantir. As mentioned above, people do not move wells from one city to another, and it is highly unlikely that small objects such as the glazed tiles and the molds used to make them would be so transported. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Kantir was occupied later than Ramesside times[11], which would make it unlikely tat Ramesside monuments were moved there by later Kings. In solving this question one must ignore the large, showy objects used by Montet to make his case for Tanis (as these are precisely the most likely objects to be moved to a new site by later pharaohs), and instead concentrate on the small, clearly in situ, objects used by Habachi, van Seeters and others to prove the presence of the Ramesside kings at Kantir.

[1] William Hayes, Glazed Titles from a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantir, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1937), p. 5 and passim.

[2] Van Seeters, pp. 134 – 5.

[3] Van Seeters, p. 133.

[4] Hayes, pp. 5 – 7.

[5] Hayes, p. 7.

[6] T. Save-Soderbergh, “The Hyksos Rule in Egypt,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 37 (1951): p. 64.

[7] Van Seeters, pp. 130 – 1.

[8] Habachi, L. Second Stela of Kamose. Gluckstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin, 1972, p. 61.

[9] Gardiner, Alan. “Tanis and Pi’ramesse: a Retraction”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 19, 1933, , p. 124.

[10] Van Seeters, p. 131 and Habachi, p. 61.

[11] Van Seeters, p. 136.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 4)

There is another piece of evidence against the designation of Tanis as Pi-ramesse. An ancient list of Delta cities published by Golenscheff counts Tanis and Pi-ramesse as separate cities, a fact which Gardiner could not explain[1]. Montet argued that this list is confused, and that its listing of Tanis and Pi-ramesse as separate cities is not to be trusted[2]. It seems best, however, to take the Golenscheff list literally and state that Tanis and Pi-ramesse are listed as separate cities because they were separate cities.

If the evidence for Tanis being Pi-ramesse is inconclusive at best, what is the evidence for Kantir? Ancient sources (Papyrus Anatasi III) describe Pi-ramesse as a beautiful area filled with figs, pomegranates, apples and olives and, most importantly , it claims that Pi-ramesse has a harbor[3]. The Kamose Stela describes Kamose’s sacking the “hundreds of ships”[4] of the Hyksos at Avaris, and this strongly suggests a harbor. The area around Kantir is today one of the agriculturally richest in Egypt while the area around Tanis is a barren wasteland of salt flats incapable of supporting the lush vegetation described in ancient texts. The area of Tanis seems to have been, during the Ramesside period, and area of lagoons reached with great difficulty and incapable of having a large harbor, while Tell ed-Dab’a has a harbor along its North side[5].

Another textual reference to Pi-ramesse is that of Abbess Aetheria (who traveled in the area in AD. 533 – 540), who claims that there were only four Roman miles between Faqus (the location of which we know for certain today) and Pi-ramesse. The city of Faqus is only four Roman miles from Tell ed-Dab’a[6]. Furthermore, on the wall of the temple of Ptah is a list of Lower Egyptian districts upon which Tanis and Avaris are mentioned as separate places[7]. This now gives us a text listing Pi-ramesse and Tanis as separate places and a text listing Avaris and Tanis as separate places. This second text casts further doubt upon Montet’s assertion that the Golenscheff list is confused, as both lists must be “confused “ if one of them is.

[1] Ray Weill, “The Problem of the Site of Avaris,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935): p. 18.

[2] Weill, p. 17.

[3] Van Seeters, John, The Hyksos (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), pp. , pp. 137 – 9.

[4] Habachi, Labib, Second Stela of Kamose (Gluckstadt: Varlag J. J. Augustin, 1972), , p. 49.

[5] Van Seeters, pp. 139 – 41.

[6] Van Seeters, pp. 148 9.

[7] Weill, p. 21.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 3)

There is one other piece of evidence in favor of Tanis being the site of Pi-Ramesse / Avaris, and that is Gardiner’s assertion that there are more monuments from the Ramesside Period at Tanis than at any other city in Egypt other than Thebes, but that if Tanis is not Pi-Ramesse then there are no Ramesside literary references to Tanis known[1]. This is a major point and any attempt to prove that Tanis was not Pi-Ramesse must explain this seeming paradox.

This collection of evidence in favor of Tanis being Avaris / Pi-Ramesses is not without its flaws. Montet’s emendation of Manetho to make the text read Sethroite instead of Saite is possible[2], but it must be pointed out that no emendation is necessary if Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba is the site of Avaris. Emending a text to fit a theory is not a good practice, especially when leaving the test unchanged yields sensible results.

In regard to Montet’s assertion that the burials beneath the temple walls prove Levantine influence there are two points to be considered. These burials do show Levantine influence, but Montet has not proved that these burials date to the Hyksos Period. That they were under a wall proves that they were contemporary with or earlier than that wall, but without other evidence no assertion as to their exact date can be made. As will be seen when the evidence at Tell-ed-Dab’a is examined, there is far more evidence for Levantine influence there than at Tanis and that this material can be precisely dated to the Second Intermediate Period.

The monuments at Tanis bearing inscriptions from the Second Intermediate Period are rare and probably not in situ[3]. Montet’s usage of two statues bearing inscriptions referring to Seth, Lord of Avaris to prove that Tanis was Avaris is highly questionable. First of all, there is a statue at Tell el-Moqdam which also refers to Seth, Lord of Avaris, while at Bubastis there are many blocks mentioning Seth[4]. Also, there are many objects bearing the names of Hyksos pharaohs Khian and Apopis at Bubastis[5]. Thus it seems clear that the mere presence of an object bearing either the name of a Hyksos pharaoh or of the god Seth does not prove that the site where the object was found is Avaris.

Montet is certainly correct when he states that the Four Hundred Year Stela must have been erected in a major cut center of Seth, but it must be stressed that there is no evidence that the cult center was at Tanis rather than somewhere else. It must be remembered that Egyptian pharaohs often took the monuments of other kings and moved them to other sites as a way of “filling” a newly built city faster than could be done if they depended entirely on the production of their own artisans. This practice would potentially be even more common in the Delta (where there is a complete lack of local building stone) than it was in Upper Egypt, where such transportation of objects is quite common in spite of the widespread availability of excellent building stone. One example of this which can be cited is the re-use at Hermopolis of stone blocks originally erected at Tell el-Amarna[6].

[1] Ray Weill, “The Problem of the Site of Avaris,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935): , p.18.

[2] Weill, p. 13.

[3] Habachi, Labib, Second Stela of Kamose (Gluckstadt: J. J. Augustin, 1972),, p. 61.

[4] Habachi, p. 60.

[5] Habachi, p. 60.

[6] Cooney, John, Amarna Reliefs from Hermopolis in American Collections (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1964), p. 2.

The 400 Year Stela

The Four Hundred Year Stela (mentioned in my last post) is such an interesting find that it calls for extended discussion. This object is a large slab of stone erected by Ramesses II to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the reign of the god “Seth, Great of Power, the Ombite”[1]. Originally this stela had been interpreted as referring to a Hyksos Pharaoh named Seth[2], but in interpreting the name as that of a god Kurt Sethe is clearly correct. Sethe also concluded that this anniversary did not occur during the reign of Ramesses II but rather somewhat earlier, during the reign of Horemhab[3]. If we count backwards four hundred years from the reign of Horemhab, we arrive at a point somewhere during the Second Intermediate Period.

This would place the founding of Avaris at about the time we would expect, provided that it could be proven that this stela referred to the foundation of Avaris. However, this stela does not mention Avaris at all (nor does it mention Tanis). Junker argues that the Hyksos built Avaris on an existing site[4] but points out that Manetho’s report contradicts itself by claiming first that the Hyksos founded Avaris and by then later claiming that they built their capital at a previously existing site[5]. Thus the Four Hundred Year Stela cannot be used to clear up Manetho’s contradiction as to whether or not the Hyksos founded Avaris. Nevertheless, Montet claimed that such an impressive and important stela must have been erected in the main cult center of Seth[6].

Some of this has been completely accepted by scholars over the course of time. Everyone, myself included, accepts that this stela was erected in a major cult center of Seth. But some scholars (and I am one of them) do not accept that the 400 Year Stela has anything at all to do with the founation of Avaris. For an interesting, if speculative, re-appraisal of the 400 Year Stela see: Hans Goedicke, "The 400 Year Stela Reconsidered", Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar, Vol. 3, (1981).

Also, even though this stela was found at Tanis, that does not mean that Ramesess II originally had the stela erected there. I will have more to say about objects being moved to Tanis from other sites in future posts.
[1] Kurt Sethe, “Der Denkstein mit dem Datum des Jahres 400 der Ara von Tanis,” Zeitscrift Fur Aegyptische Sprache 65 (1930): p. 85.

[2] Sethe, p. 86.

[3] Sethe, p. 86.

[4] Junker, Junker, H. “Phnfr”, Zeitscrift fur Aegyptische Sprache, vol. 75, 1939, p. 80.

[5] Junker, p. 80.

[6] Weill, Weill, R. “The Problem of the Site of Avaris”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 21,
1935, p. 13.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 2)

The location of the Hyksos capital of Avaris has long been discussed by Egyptologists. The sites suggested include Heliopolis (Weill)[1], Tell-el-Yahudieh (Petrie)[2], Pelusium (Gardiner)[3], Tanis (Montet)[4], and Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba (Habachi[5], van Seeters[6], Hayes[7], and Bietak[8]). To complicate the matter further is the theory that the later capital of Pi-Ramesse was built during the Nineteenth Dynasty upon the abandoned site of Avaris; thus any discussion of the location of Avaris must include a discussion of the location of Pi-Ramesse.

It must be stated from the start that the equating of Pi-Ramesse and Avaris is based on very slim evidence. Both cities had Seth as their primary deity, and ancient literary sources claim that both cities were located upon the Pelusaic branch of the Nile River[9]. This is enough to suggest the equation of the cities and most Egyptologists accept this theory, but it must be stressed that the theory is by no means proven as of yet.

Most of the above listed sites have been abandoned as suggested locations for the city of Avaris. The evidence at Tell-el-Yahudieh is not enough to compare with other proposed locations, Weill has retracted his suggestion of Heliopolis[10], and Gardiner has retracted his proposal of Pelusium in favor of Tanis[11]. This leaves only Tanis and Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba as proposed locations for Avaris. The following discussion will take the form of listing the evidence in favor of Tanis (both pro and con) and then making a case for Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba.

Tanis was identified as the location of Avaris as early as the middle of the nineteenth century when de Rouge recorded a mention of Seth, Lord of Avaris on Tanite monuments. De Rouge claimed that the designation Seth, Lord of Avaris was frequent on monuments found at Tanis[12]. Weill points out that this is an exaggeration as there are presently only two monuments known from Tanis with a mention of Seth, Lord of Avaris on them[13].

In 1930 Montet identified Tanis as Pi-Ramesse / Avaris[14] and this identification was supported by Junker[15]. Montet’s evidence was summarized by Weill[16]and will be discussed here at length.

First Montet took a passage from the writings of Manetho, which claimed that Pi-Ramesse was located in the Saite Nome, emended Manetho’s text to read “Sethroite” Nome, and then, quoting Strabo and Herodatus, claimed that the Sethroite Nome was the same as the Tanite Nome[17].

Secondly, Montet points out an example of Levantine influence at Tanis by showing that the main temple is surrounded by a wall and that below this wall were found two skeletons (one inside a large pottery jar). Montet called these skeletons a “foundation sacrifice” and points out (quite correctly) that the Egyptians did not have this custom even though it is well attested in Canaan[18].

Montet’s third point is that inscriptions from both the Hyksos Period and the Ramesside Period occur at Tanis[19], while his fourth is the presence of the Four Hundred Year Stela at Tanis[20].

[1] Ray Weill, “The Problem of the Site of Avaris,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935): p 10.

[2] Weill, sources cited therein, p. 10.

[3] Weill, sources cited therein, p. 11.

[4] Weill, sources cited therein, p. 11.

[5] Habachi, Labib, Second Stela of Kamose (Gluckstadt: J. J. Augustin, 1972), pp. 60 – 3.

[6] Van Seeters, John, The Hyksos (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), pp. 127 – 150.

[7] Hayes, William, Glazed Tiles from a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantir (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1937), p. 5.

[8] Bietak, Manfred, Tell el-Dab’a II (Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1975), pp 128 – 9.

[9] Habachi, Stela, p. 60.

[10] Weill, p. 10.

[11] Alan Gardiner, “Tanis and Pi-Ra’messe: a Retraction,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 19 (1933): pp: 122- 8.

[12] Weill, p. 10.

[13] Weill, p. 10.

[14] Weill, p. 12.

[15] Herman Junker, “Phrnfr,” Zeitscrift Fur Aegyptische Sprache 75 (1939): p. 82.

[16] Weill, pp. 10- 25.

[17] Weill, p. 12.

[18] Weill, p. 12.

[19] Weill, p. 13.

[20] Weill, p. 13.