Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Middle Kingdom House Models

Fig. 1 - Home Model from Tomb of Meketre
     The wooden models found in the Middle Kingdom tomb of Meketre are justifiably famous, and I have discussed some of them in previous posts. One of the models from this tomb is of a nobleman's house.

Fig. 2 - Close up of the Courtyard of Meketre's Model
     This particular model shows the courtyard of Meketre's home. In the foreground is a pool surrounded by trees while at the rear of the model are several pillars holding up the ceiling of the houses interior.

     But not all home models are made of wood. Two more shown here are made of pottery. The first of these (figure 3) is now in the British Museum and has food offerings shown in the courtyard and may have functioned as an offering table with the opening of the front of the courtyard wall may have allowed the run off of liquid offerings. It shows a home with one (or two?) stories with a window high up on the ground floor to allow air to get in and smoke from a fire to get out. The roof was also used as a part of the living quarters.
Fig. 3 - Pottery Model of a House
Fig. 4 - Pottery Home Model in Manchester

     The second of these pottery models (found at el-Rifa (and now in the Manchester Museum) shows a home that clearly has two stories with a pair of pillars holding up a porch above the first story and three  more pillars holding up the roof of the second floor. This model shows an empty chair on the second floor and a bed under the porch on the first floor. There is what looks like a staircase to the second floor on the left side of the house.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Some Magazines Need a Fact Checker

     One of the magazines I mentioned in an earlier post was "The All About History Book of Ancient Egypt". So far I am 71 pages into it and I have found a number of somewhat wrong statements, photo captions mistakes, etc. The goofs include:

  • On page 60 a side bar has the heading "Amun vs. Aten". The accompanying photo is of the god Min. The accompanying text makes several references to "the Church of Amen". I have never heard of an Egyptian temple being called a church before....
  • On page 64 there is a family tree of the early Eighteenth Dynasty royal family. Accompanying it is a photo of a mummy with the caption "The mummy of Tuthmose III was discovered in the Dier el-Bahri Cache in 1881". The mummy shown in the photo is not that of Tuthmose III. It is actually the mummy of Ahmose
  • The front cover has one of my pet peeves. At the bottom it says "Iconic Pharaohs, Pyramids, Hieroglyphics". The word hieroglyphics does not exist. The correct word is hieroglyphs.
  • There is one goof I can sort of forgive them for. On page 68 (and in several other places) the first king of the Eighteenth Dynasty is referred to as Ahmose I. Recently it has become known that he is actually Ahmose II. Senakhtenre of the Seventeenth Dynasty has traditionally been said to have a Nomen of "Tao". However, in 2012 an inscription was found giving his Nomen as "Ahmose". So the first king of Dynasty Eighteen is like a well known musician, "Ahmose II, the King formerly known as Ahmose I"
  • On page 71, the last Hyksos Pharaoh (Khamudi) is referred to as a "semitic" king. This may be true, but it also may not be true. The exact ethnicity of the Hyksos is a subject of great disagreement. Some scholars think they were Semitic, while others claim they may have been at least partially Hurrian

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Quirk of Egyptian Art

Fig. 1 - Osiris, from a Relief of Nectanebo II
     Have you ever looked carefully at an Egyptian relief to see how the human body is shown? I mean, have you ever looked really close? Take a look at figure 1, (from the reign of Nectanebo II) which shows Osiris in human (unmummified) form. Notice that his head is shown in profile. His shoulders are shown "face on" to the viewer even though his arm are shown sort of in profile. His abdomen and hips are shown in profile as are his legs. No human could actually stand this way. What seems to be going on is the Egyptian need to show the human body as fully as possible, regardless of artistic perspective.

Fig. 2 - two of Akhenaten's Daughters Embarace
     One of the attractions of Amarna art is its charming portrayal of the royal family's private life. We even see scenes of the Queen sitting on the Kig's lap while the royal couple play with their children. Artistic conventions were much freer during the Amarna interlude, but even then old conventions did not completely die. Take a look at the relief in figure 2 where two of Akhenaten's daughters are shown. The older daughter on the left is shown with her head in profile, her chest is "straight on" as if she is facing the viewer while her waist and dress are shown in profile. But yet this relief does have the charm that the art of this period is famous for as the two sisters embrace each other.

     One can go all the way back to the Old Kingdom and see carvings with these same contorted portrayals of the human body. Even in a period of three thousand years, Egyptian art did not change all that dramatically. This is truly one of the most interesting examples of artistic conservatism in all of history.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Just a Few Mistakes.....

Fig. 1 - Akhenaten (Metropolitan Museum)
     Yesterday I mentioned the large numbers of magazines that are now available giving short articles with lots of photos on various historical topics. I started reading some of this month's stack and got a few chuckles out of the article about Akhenaten in National Geographic's History magazine.

     On the third page of the article is a photo of a white stone statue of a pharaoh. The caption next to the picture says "Akhenaten's Father, Amenhotep III had also promoted the cult of Aten". The statue however has an inscription that says (in part), "The good god, lord of the two lands, Djeserkara". Djeserkara is Amenhotep I, not Amenhotep III.

     On the next page is a photo of the Luxor Temple with a caption describing how Akhenaten's monuments at Karnak were taken apart and its sandstone bricks were used in other temples. True as far as the statement goes, but I am not aware of any of Akhenaten's monuments being re-used in the Luxor Temple (if I am wrong on this someone please correct me.....).

     The accompanying article tells the story of an Egyptian Queen writing to the King of the Hittites asking that a Hittite prince be sent to Egypt for her to marry and make King of Egypt. This letter is usually ascribed to Ankesenamen (Tutankhamen's widow), but here the claim is made that the letter was written by Nefertiti. This is possible, but very few scholars, if any, make this claim.

     Yet another caption is slightly off in the article. A large photo of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two of their daughters worshiping the Aten has several captions describing important points about the iconography of the relief being shown. Each caption has an arrow going from the caption to the part of the relief being described. One caption mentions the distorted bodies of the royal family "clearly seen here in the depiction of Nefertiti." But the arrow goes from the caption to one of the daughters, not Nefertiti.

     Last but not least is the caption to a photo of Amun and Horemhab. The caption says that Horemhab was named heir to the throne by Tutankhamen but was pushed aside by Aye. This is the first time I have ever seen this claim and I have no idea what the evidence is to back it up. As far as I know there is no record at all of who Tutankhamen designated as his successor and no record that Horemhab was "pushed aside" by Aye.

     National Geographic really might want to consider getting someone to fact check the articles before they publish them. There are a lot of errors in just this one article.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Check the Magazine Rack

     There is something new going on in publishing. "Magazines" are being published at very high prices. These journals tend to be full of color photos and short, but sometimes interesting articles that give a layman just enough information. Some of these magazines cover science, others cover military topics. Increasingly, they cover history, including ancient history.

     I just got back from a trip to Barnes and Noble's bookseller with a large stack of these magazines. There were some usual suspects like KMT , Biblical Archaeology Review, and Minerva which routinely include coverage of the ancient Near East. There were also some of these "special issue" magazines. This month's issue of History Revealed has an articles about "Cleopatra" and "The Pharaohs of Egypt" (there is also an article on how medieval knights went to the bathroom while wearing armor, but that's another story.....). All About History this month is fully devoted to Ancient Egypt with articles on the Pyramids, Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, Amenhotep III and (of course) an article on Tutankhamen (among several other articles).

     National Geographic History has an article on Akhenaten, while the BBC has published a special "Collectors Edition" entitled The Story of the Ancient World. This magazine has two articles on Tutankhamen, the female Queens of Egypt, the Book of the Dead, Alexander the Great and Persia (among articles on Greece, Rome and the Mayans).

     Even at very high prices these magazines must be selling as I am seeing more and more of them each month.