Saturday, January 31, 2009

Egypt's Seventeenth Dynasty

My final two college papers dealt with the Egypt's Second Intermediate Period. I reread them recently and was pleased to see that they have held up rather well in the intervening years. Recent egyptological work has not invalidated any of the conclusions in them.

One of the sections of the papers I was very pleased with was my reconstruction of the order of the Kings in the Seventeenth Dynasty. It seems to fit all of the available evidence. I thought that getting it out to a wider audience might be worthwhile, so I will begin serializing this information in my next post.

Feel free to comment at if you like. Any feedback would be welcome.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Some News Out of Egypt

According to the latest issue of “Ancient Egypt” magazine, three (!) new tombs have been found in the Valley of the Kings, all of them located near the tomb of Merenptah.

Egypt is also considering the creation of an underwater museum to allow visitors to see the parts of Alexandria that have sunk into the sea over the centuries since Cleopatra, Caesar, Mark Antony and Augustus made history there. Check out a new book called “Egypt’s Sunken Treasures” to find out more about what underwater archaeologists are finding there.

It has also been announced that a scientific study of the fetuses found in the tomb of Tutankhamen will be conducted. DNA samples will be taken in the hopes that they can be used to help identify some of the anonymous mummies that have been found in the royal mummy caches.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some Scholarly Nonsense

A small ivory figurine in the Egyptian collection of the British Museum has had some speculative things written about it over the years. The object in question shows a sphinx mauling a human and has been referred to as a “Hyksos King mauling an Egyptian” in innumerable publications.

The excavation report leaves no doubt that this piece does date to the Second Intermediate Period, but there is no justification in calling it a Hyksos King. This idea was started shortly after the piece’s discovery, when Dr. Hall decided that the piece had Semitic facial features. It is unreasonable to claim that a piece this small (59 mm. in length and only 24 mm. in height) has clear ethnic features. Even if the piece did, to say that those features prove that a Hyksos King is being represented assumes that the Hyksos were Semitic, a point which is by no means settled.

The piece is also hard to date specifically. Dr. Garstang (the excavator) proves that it must be later than Dynasty Twelve and prior to Dynasty Eighteen, but admits that he can be no more precise than that.

What is unfortunate about this sort of scholarly nonsense is that it gets carried forward into new work, simply because more recent scholars sometimes do not think critically about what they are reading. Could we please put this whole "Hyksos" king nonsense to rest, as least as far as this particular piece of art is concerned?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Learning Akkadian Signs

I am finding the biggest barrier to learning Akkadian is (surprise!) the script. I have pounded the grammar into my head and was able to translate all 282 of Hammurabi’s “laws” from a transliteration published by Dr. Richardson. Feeling ready for the next challenge, I started translating the Annals of Senacherib as published in Akkadische Lesestüke.

Oh boy! Doing the actual transliteration myself is a real problem. The fact that some signs have multiple possible “values” makes it really difficult to take the characters and make words out of them. The fact that I haven’t pounded all of the sign’s values into my head (can you say “lazy”?), compounded by the fact that the vocabulary in Senacherib’s Annals is very different from that in Hammurabi’s law code, is making it really hard to “take the next step” in learning Akkadian.

So it is time to do the hard work of pounding the signs into my head.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Akkadische Lesestüke (a Review)

Akkadische Lesestüke, by Theo Bauer, is one of the standard books students of Akkadian will use and is an absolutely indispensable tool.

The work is in three volumes. Volume One contains a number of actual texts in cuneiform including (among others):
1) Hammurabi’s Law Code (all 282 laws)
2) Gilgamesh
1) Descent of Ishtar
2) Hymn to Shamash
3) Omens
4) Royal inscriptions of Assurnasirpal, Sargon II, Senacherib, Essarhaddon and Assurbanipal

Volume Two is an extremely useful sign list of Assyrian characters (Old Babylonian characters will not be found here). The sign list gives the character, its phonetic value, its Logographic value (translated into German) and some examples of the sign’s usage.

Volume Three is an Akkadian / German dictionary of the words which appear in the texts in Volume One. This volume also includes a list of personal and place names found in the texts.

I am currently using this book (among others) to translate all of Hammurabi's law code from cunieform into English (I have previously translated the entire law code from a transliteration). I have found the sign list to be easy to use and logically arranged. The glossary is helpful (I read German) and the copy of the text I am working from comes from volume one of this book.

This classic work is available at Eisenbrauns ( for only $28. For those who read German this is a great deal on an invaluable reference tool. Those who do not read German should consider buying it anyway as the texts alone are worth having at that price (please note, I am NOT affiliated with Eisenbrauns in any way, but I have bought books from them on a couple of occasions and have been quite happy with their service).

My Trip to Boston (Part 2)

The Egyptian collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is world class. Some of the greatest works of art from Ancient Egypt can be found there. The most famous of these are probably the statues found by the MFA in the Funerary temple of Menkara (Dynasty Four). The copies of the funerary equipment of Hetepheres (the mother of Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid in the Fourth Dynasty) were made after George Reisner found her tomb while doing excavations for the MFA are wonderful to see (go to Cairo to see the originals). The MFA also has one of the best collections in the world of Dynasty Four “reserve heads”. These odd objects puzzle me a bit every time I see them.

Some of the collection is not on exhibit right now (some re-installation work seems to be going on). The Middle Kingdom painted coffins of Djehuty-Nakht and the Early Dynastic art are among the pieces that are not currently on display.

While the Near Eastern art collection of the MFA is arguably not worth a special trip to see them, the Egyptian collection most certainly is. It is one of the finest collections of Egyptian art in the world. If you are in Boston, do not miss it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Trip to Boston

I just got back from a business trip to Boston. While I was there I made a quick visit to the Museum of Fine Arts to see their collections again. It has been a few years since I did so and I wanted to say hello to a few “old friends”.

The MFA has one of the world’s best collections of Egyptian antiquities, but I want to talk about their small and less well known collection of Near Eastern art today. The collection has been installed in a new gallery since I last saw it. The old display was dark and located in an out-of-the-way corner of the museum, but the new display is brightly lit and quite modern looking, and is much more visible to the average visitor.

The collection includes some good carvings from Persepolis, Urartian Bronzes and some very nice Early Bronze Age Funerary Jewelry with Egyptian motifs that was found in Turkey. There are also some Assyrian carvings from Nineveh (reign of Sennacherib) and diorite head of Gudea (ca. 2200 – 2100 B.C.). A nice Neolithic stone vessel in the shape of a hare is (I believe) the oldest object in the MFA. Over all, this is an interesting, if small collection. It is probably not worth a separate trip to Boston to see it, but it is well worth while seeing if you happen to be visiting the museum anyway.

I also realize that the main thrust of this blog is Near Eastern Art, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful collection of Chinese ceramics that the MFA has. There are quite a number of exquisite painted cups (mostly Ching Dynasty) which must be seen to be believed. The painting on these cups is highly detailed and quite beautiful.