Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Photos of Objects from Ur

     Ur was a city in ancient Sumeria. Archaeologists have found remains there that date back as far as the Ubaid period. This level of the city was covered over by soil that clearly represents a flood and some archaeologists claim that this flood, which buried Ur, was the inspiration for the biblical story of the flood.

     Eventually Ur came under the control of Semitic speaking people call the Akkadians, who were led by their King Sargon the Great. Their language (Akkadian) is the language that was spoken by the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians and which eventually became the diplomatic language of the ancient Near East.

     After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the so called Third Dynasty of Ur came into power under the kings Ur-Nammu and his successor Shulgi. Ur-Nammu was profiled several years ago in this blog (the post included some photos of some art from this king's reign). Ur-Nammu's law code is well known and is often translated by students learning Akkadian (been there, done that!).

     Excavations in the early 1900's were conducted by Leonard Woolley and Max Mallowan. Their finds at Ur led to a great deal of interest from tourists and Mallowan married one of the tourists, a well-known mystery writer named Agatha Christie.

     Woolley's excavations were funded by the British Museum and the Penn Museum in Philadelphia and many of the objects from their excavations found their way to London and Philadelphia. The photos I have included are of objects that I have posted before, but on my recent trip to Philadelphia, I took some new photos of the objects in their brand new display cases (or at least new since I last visited the museum), so I have decided to show these wonderful works of art again.

     The bull's heads, one made of gold with inlaid eyes and the other made of wood covered in gold leaf and having a lapis lazuli beard, were used as decorations on harps. The significance of the "Ram in the Thicket" is unclear to me. The museum has some photos of the ram as it was originally found, virtually completely crushed by the weight of the dirt used to cover the fabulous burial it was included in. It took endless, painstaking work for conservators to restore the piece to its current form.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Philadelphia's Mummy Mobile

     Wherever I go I like to photograph the local Near Eastern Art collections. Philadelphia is no exception as the Penn Museum has very nice collections of Egyptian, Anatolian and Mesopotamian art. I have not been to this museum since photographs were printed on paper, so I was anxious to take some digital pictures of the collection. I will share some photos from excavations at Ur and other places in my next few posts, but for today let's just have some fun.
     The first picture is taken right outside the Penn Museum's entrance. They have not one, but two mummy mobiles (the red car in the background is a mummy mobile as well). What exactly is the function of a mummy mobile? I have no idea, but it does not look to be as cool as the Bat Mobile.
     The second picture was taken inside the parking garage at the Penn Museum. The speed limit is 7 1/2 MPH?? Only in Philadelphia!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Last Royal Pyramid in Egypt

Steve Harvey finished the day at the ARCE pyramid conference with a lecture entitled “The Later History of a Form: Abydos as a Pyramidal Landscape”.  As always Steve’s lecture was loaded with interesting facts:
  • At Sinki (near Abydos) there is a small 4th Dynasty structure that might have originally been a small pyramid built by Snefru (how many pyramids did Snefru build!)
  • Ahmose (Dynasty 18) built the last Egyptian royal pyramid at Abydos. A small temple was found at the base of the pyramid by Arthur Mace; the pyramid was large (50 meters per side)
  • A temple for Ahmose Nefertari was found near Ahmose’s pyramid
  • In 1902 a building for Tetisheri (a pyramid?) was found, as was a possible tomb for Ahmose that was like the tombs built in the Valley of the Kings, rather than a pyramid. Ahmose erected a stela describing his building of a pyramid for his grandmother
  • Some very steep-sided pyramids were found at Abydos by Mariette; were these pyramids the inspiration for the steep-sided pyramids built by the Nubian kings? It is known that pyramids were built at Abydos for relatives of the Nubian kings

All in all it was a great event filled with a lot of interesting material!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Middle Kingdom Pyramids

     Adela Oppenheim also spoke at the ARCE pyramid conference in Philadelphia. Her topic was the Metroplitan Museum’s work at the pyramid of Senwosret III and her lecture was entitled “Looking Back, Moving Forward: The Pyramid Complex of Senwosret III as Dashur”. Dr. Oppenheim mentioned some interesting things:

·               The pyramid of Userkaf (Fifth Dynasty) appears to be the first pyramid with an extensive decorative scheme

·               Amenemhat I started a pyramid at Thebes (I did not know this), but then moves the capital north and built a pyramid at Lisht. The subsidiary burials around his Lisht pyramid do not seem to have ever had superstructures. A two volume set detailing the Met’s findings at Amenemhat’s pyramid was published earlier this year

·               De Morgan did some sloppy excavations of the pyramids of Amenemhat II and III as well as at the pyramid of Senwosret III, excavating all three in less than two seasons (!!!)

·             The enclosure wall at the pyramid of Senwosret III was similar in style to that of the step pyramid of Djoser; the wall was originally plastered and white washed

·              Senwosret III’s burial chamber shows no evidence that it was ever used; was the king buried at Abydos?

·              This pyramid (Senwosret's) had a scene of “starving foreigners" on the walls of its causeway (like the one on the causeway of Unas' pyramid); this scene was for many years thought to be unique to the causeway of Unas’ pyramid. We now know that the causeway of Sahure’s pyramid also had such a scene, so it must now be considered a “stock scene” and not something that reflects an actual event during the reign of Unas

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Pyramids

     The American Research Center in Egypt held a meeting in Philadelphia on June 11. Three speakers discussed their work on different sites that were either pyramids or were Dynasty one or two pre-cursors to the pyramids.

David O’Connor gave a talk entitled “Will we Ever Know? The Mystery of Pyramid Origins”. The talk started with a discussion of the so-called royal tombs of Dynasties One and Two at Sakkara. Were they royal tombs or were they elite tombs? What was the significance of the subterranean mounds that covered some of these tombs? The mounds preserved were built below ground; was another mound built over then above ground?

The “tomb” of Khashekhemui had some stone masonry that may have come from a stone superstructure. 

At Abydos some of the structures from the first two dynasties we “shaved” down to ground level. This seems to have been quite deliberately done shortly after these structures were built. Were they leveled after use for ritual reasons?

No definitive explanation for the origin of pyramids was given but the material covered was fascinating and thought provoking.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Pyramid Texts (Cont.)

     The Pyramid Texts have been broken down into different groups by several scholars, most recently James Allen and Harold M. Hays. The texts are generally written from top to bottom of the wall they are on, but a few spells in a few of the pyramids are written from bottom to top for reasons that are unclear today.

     Dr. Hays, in his book The Organization of the Pyramid Texts (2 volumes, Probleme der Aegyptologie, volume 31, Boston: Brill, 2012) makes the point that, while a number of spells were meant to be read by others for the benefit of  the deceased,  many of the spells were also designed to be spoken by the deceased himself for his own benefit. Some of the utterances even urge the deceased to not share the spell with anyone else.

     Dr. Hays is also of the opinion (correctly I believe) that the writing that makes up the Pyramid Texts was copied onto the walls from another source (likely a papyrus scroll). He also believes (again, I think correctly) that the rituals that were to be performed along with the reciting of these texts were performed outside the pyramid, not inside the crowded and dark burial chamber itself. In other words, the spells are written on the interior walls of the pyramid, but the spells in the tomb were not actually used or recited during the funeral (the copy on a priests papyrus scroll would have been used during the funeral).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Pyramid Texts

     The Pyramid Texts are the oldest large body of religious literature in the world. They first appeared in the pyramid of the Egyptian Pharaoh Unis, who was the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. Other copies of these texts can be found in the tombs of the Sixth Dynasty kings Teti, Pepi I, Merenre, and Pepi II, as well as in the pyramids of the queens Neith, Iput II, Wedjebetni (all wives of Pepi II), and Ankhesenpepi (a wife of Pepi I). A Dynasty Eight pharaoh named Ibi also had a copy of the Pyramid Texts in his tomb. The most recent copy of the Pyramid Texts to be found was in the burial chamber of the Sixth Dynasty Queen Behenu (found in 2010). It is unclear if Behenu was married to Pepi I or Pepi II.

     The Pyramid Texts gave way to the Coffin Texts in the Middle Kingdom and the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom, but some of the Pyramid Text "spells" (as we refer to them today) remained in use up until the Roman Period.

     Sethe was the first to publish a translation of the Pyramid Texts and he numbered the spells found in the pyramid of Unis. As other copies of this religious document were found new utterances (spells) had to be added to Sethe's numbering system. This has led to complications in publishing translations (such as those of Mercer, Piankoff, Faulkner and, most recently James Allen). The complications have gotten so bad that Allen included in his translation a series of cross reference tables that take up more than 40 pages!

Allen, James. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.