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).