Saturday, March 28, 2015

The World's Longest Reigning King?

Figure 1 - Calcite Vase with the Names and Titles of Pepi II
     For many years egyptologists have believed that Neferkare Pepi II, who came to the throne at somewhere around the age of five or six, was the longest reigning king in the history of the world. The Turin Canon ascribes a reign of 90 years to this Pharaoh, but the highest regional date known from a contemporary artifact is year 64.

     Some scholars have questioned the idea that Pepi reigned for anything approaching 94 years, but even if the correct length of his reign is 64 years, that would put him neck-to-neck with Ramesses II as the longest reigning king in Egypt's long history.

     A delightful incident from Pepi's reign was his letter to a nobleman named Harkuf. This official had led an trading expedition  and was on its way back to the court with a large supply of goods to enrich his rulers court, but Pepi (who was still a child at this time) was far more interested in the "dancing pygmy" that Harkuf was bringing back to Egypt to entertain the King. A letter to Harkuf from the Pharaoh cautioned the nobleman to make sure that no harm came to the pygmy as the King desired to see him "more than anything".

     With the death of Pepi, the Old Kingdom collapses (after a long period of decline) and Egypt falls into a long period of chaos known as the First Intermediate Period.

Photo Copyright (c) 2015 by John Freed

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review of James Allen's "Middle Egyptian Literature"

     This book contains eight middle Egyptian texts presented in hieroglyphs, transliteration and translation. This work is perfect for the student who wants to take the knowledge of Ancient Egyptian that they have acquired from Dr. Allen's grammar and apply it to translating some full-length texts.

     The selected texts are:

  •      The Shipwrecked Sailor
  •      The Tale of Sinuhe
  •      The Loyalist Instruction (reign of Amenemhat III)
  •      Instructions of Kagemei's Father and Ptahhotep
  •      The Eloquent Peasant
  •      The Debate Between a Man and his Soul
  •      The Herdsman's Tale
  •      Hymns to Senwosret III

The translations also contain very helpful notes by Dr. Allen that reference grammar points in this book to the specific paragraph in the author's Middle Egyptian Grammar where they are explained.

I highly recommend this work to anyone who has learned ancient Egyptian and wants take the "next step" toward mastery of the language.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Egyptian Magic Wands

     There are numerous example of the curved Egyptian "magic wands" in the museum collections of the world. I have always wondered what these things actually were and why they were called magic wands Today I found out.

     I am reading a number of articles on the "Book of the Two Ways", which has been found on a number of Middle Kingdom coffins. The articles mention some of the monsters and demons that appear in the Book of the Two Ways (often bearing knives) and mentions that some of these monsters also appear on the magic wands often placed in the tombs of this period. The author mentions that the points of these wands are often worn down "as if they had been used to draw 'enclosing circles of protection' on the floors around someone or something". Perhaps they were used to protect young children while they slept?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Glass Making in the Ancient Middle East

     In the Metropolitan Museum there are a number of examples of glass work from ancient Egypt. I have occasionally wondered how the ancients actually made glass. Did they know glass blowing techniques like those in use today for handmade glass?

     I just found the answer in a book I am reading. The book is entitled From Egypt to Babylon and was written by Paul Collins. The technique he describes is a rather simple one. To make a glass vessel, the ancients would use quartz sand mixed with soda or potash and lime. The mixture would be heated to a very high temperature in a crucible. The glass could be colored by adding mineral oxides.

     Once the mixture had been melted, it was drawn into long trails and then coiled around an earthenware core. Once the glass cooled, the core was (very carefully) scraped out. The vessel was then polished.

     Simple, once you know how to do it!

Friday, March 6, 2015

ISIS Bulldozes Nimrud

Figure 1 - Nimrud Ivory - now in the Metropolitan Museum
     ISIS has apparently bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud. It is not yet clear how much damage has been done.

     Nimrud was once the capital of Assyria (founded by Shalmaeser I) and a number of Assyrian royal tombs were found there in 1989. The city is the site of palaces of several Assyrian kings, including Ashurnasirpal II.

Figure 2 - Nimrud Ivory - now in the Metropolitan Museum
    The city is also where the famous Nimrud ivories were found. These ivories often have imitations of Egyptian art. In figure 1 you can see one of these ivories with  a human headed sphinx with a solar disk and uraeus on its head. In figure 2,  a woman holds an Egyptian lily in her right hand and has a winged solar disk above her head with a uraeus on each side of the sun disk.

Copyright (c) 2015 by John Freed

Monday, March 2, 2015

Iraqi National Museum Re-Opens

     The Iraqi National Museum has re-opened to the public. The museum has been closed since 2003 due to the war. The museum was also broken into by looters several years ago, with about 4,000 of the stolen antiquities having been recovered (according to today's edition of the Wall Street Journal).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The World's Oldest City

     CatalHoyuk, located on the Konya plain in what is now Turkey, has been called the world's oldest city. It was first inhabited about 9,000 years ago by people who lived by herding sheep & goats and by hunting and farming. Some in the city were also likely involved in trading with other regions in the area where they were able to obtain obsidian.

     The city itself was built of mud brick and was first excavated by James Mellaart from 1961 to 1965. Millard found buildings where families clearly lived that often had burials in pits under the house (a common practice in various parts of the Middle East in ancient times), with one building having 67 burials under it. Other buildings were thought by Mellaart to be "shrines" (although some archaeologists now question this interpretation). These buildings contained platforms and pedestals which had animal horns mounted on them. These "shrines" also had paintings depicting animals, humans and the world's first known landscape. A number of "fertility" figures (clay statues of rather large women) have been found in these so-called shrines as well

     Numerous artifacts have been discovered at CatalHoyuk, including obsidian mirrors, pottery, basketry and flint daggers.

     Several websites contain information and photos of the site including the following:

           1) CatalHoyuk
           2) UNESCO World Heritage Sites