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?

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