Saturday, April 29, 2017

An Early Pesesh-kef?

     A Pesesh-kef is an implement used during the ancient Egyptian funerary ritual known as the Opening of the Mouth. Small kits containing a Pesesh-kef and some vases used in purification rituals are known from the Old Kingdom (as early as the Fourth Dynasty).

     In the Pre-Dynastic Period, a fair number of objects that are similar to the Pesesh-kef have been found in burials. Some egyptologists call these objects "fish-tailed knives" rather than Pesesh-kefs. The exact use of this object is unclear. It does have a very fine and sharp cutting surface in the "Y" portion of the "knife".

     But what was it used to cut and is having a Y-shaped cutting edge really useful? The answer to these questions is unclear, but Ann Macy Roth has proposed an interesting theory. She says the fish-tailed knife / pesesh-kef was used to cut the umbilical cord after a child was born.

     This object was found in a Naqada 1 grave at Ma'mariya and is now in the Brooklyn Museum.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Pre-Dynastic Jewelry

Fig. 1 - Naqada II Necklace
     Jewelry has been used by humans since time immemorial to enhance their appearance and, in many cases, to function as amulets that magically protect the wearer. The necklaces shown here came from Pre-Dynastic burials and may have been used for either or both purposes.

     The necklace in figure 1 comes from the Naqada II Period.  The large beads at the bottom look like cowrie shells and remind me of the golden cowrie shells found on one of the girdles of Princess Sit Hathor Yunet (dating to the reign of Senwosret II in Dynasty 12).

Fig. 2 - Naqada II Necklaces
     Figure 2 shows two more necklaces, but these date to the Naqada III Period. Figure 3 is a close up of the necklace in the upper left corner of figure 2.

Fig. 3 - Close up of a necklace in fig. 2
     These objects are made of a mixture of semi-precious stones and faience, which is ground quartz, a glaze and a binder mixed together. Faience was made by the Egyptians for thousands of years as an imitation of Lapis Lazuli stone. In fact, faience became so common that when an Egyptian text referred to the actual lapis stone, the text would usually call it "real Lapis Lazuli".

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pre-Dynastic Knives

     A number of stone knives have been found in Pre-Dynastic excavations and one of the best examples is in the Brooklyn Museum. The blade is flint, polished on one side and delicately flaked on the other to give a sharp cutting edge. The handle is made of elephant ivory and has extremely small carvings of many animals (including elephants, giraffes, lions and sheep as well as some animals that have not yet been identified to everyone's satisfaction) on it. The upraised portion of the handle is a "thumb-rest" (according to the museum's label) for a right-handed user.

     The knife dates to the Naqada III period (about 3100 B. C.) and is from Abu Zaidan, where it was found by de Morgan during the 1907 - 1908 excavation season. A similar knife, found at Abydos seems to be from a slightly earlier period (Naqada II, 3400 - 3300 B. C.).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pre-Dynastic Egypt

Fig. 1 - Typical Pre-Dynastic Pottery, Brooklyn Museum
     Back when I was an archaeology student the Pre-Dynastic Period was divided into three parts by Egyptologists. The earliest was the Badarian Period, followed by the Amratian and finally by the Gerzean. I always remembered the order of the periods as they we "in the BAG". In some older books, you can still find these terms used.

     Then scholars decided that there were not really three separate cultures in Pre-Dynastic Egypt, but rather there was only one with three sub-periods, Naqada I, Naqada II and Naqada III. The pottery of each period is quite distinctive and can easily be recognized, even by a confirmed non-pottery person such as myself.

Fig. 2 - Pottery from Naqada I (left) and Naqada II (right)
Fig. 3 - Naqada III pot with painted boat decoration
     Figure 1 shows an example of pottery from each of the three periods. The pot in the middle, with the black top is from the Naqada I period (formerly the Badarian), while the bowl to the right is from Naqada II (once called the Amratian) and the pot to the left is from Naqada III (Gerzean). Figure 2 shows a close up of the pottery from the first two periods, while figure 3 shows a close-up of the pot from the Naqada III period.

     In figure 3 the pot is decorated with a painted boat with oars and two small "buildings" on the deck of the boat. This is a very typical type of decoration for the pottery of this era and serves to remind how the Nile formed the primary travel route in Egypt even in the earliest of times.

     Or is this right? According to the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, the Badarian Period is now, once again, called  the Badarian. Naqada I is what used to be called the Amratian, Naqada II is what used to be called the Gerzean, while Naqada III may have seen a Pre-Dynastic unification of Egypt (the evidence for this is that local Lower Egyptian pottery is replaced by Upper Egyptian Naqada pottery in Naqada III).

     Incidentally, I corrected a paragraph above to read "Badarian" not "Bavarian" (spell check strikes again!)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Brooklyn "Bird Woman"

     I went to the Brooklyn Museum last weekend. It was the first time I had been there in many years. The collection has been completely re-installed, is brightly lit and has a very modern look to it. Many of the objects in the collection are justifiably famous. One of those objects is the famous Brooklyn "Bird-Lady".

     This object dates from the Naqada II period, about 3,500 to 3,400 B. C. and is made of terra-cotta. What exactly is it supposed to represent is unclear. Perhaps it is a fertility figure? The reason it is often called a "bird-lady" is that its face resembles a bird with a large beak.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Confusion over "New" Pyramid Find

     We reported a couple of days ago that the remains of a new pyramid have been found at Dashur, North of the Bent Pyramid of King Snefru. Now it is being reported that the find is actually South of the Bent Pyramid.

     Now the question is arising that this "new" pyramid may actually be a re-discovery of a Thirteenth Dynasty pyramid that was originally found in the 1950s. In any event it is an interesting find and I do have some links to share:

     Ahram Online (in English)

     Ahram Online (in Arabic)

     A paper discussing the 1950s find

Over the next few weeks I am sure the confusion will get sorted out. When it does I will let you know.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A New Pyramid Found in Egypt

     A new pyramid has been found in Egypt, or to be more exact, the remains of a pyramid have been found. It seems to date to the thirteenth Dynasty and was found at Dashur near the Bent Pyramid.

     The find has brought out the usual suspects. One "newspaper" has revived the "curse of the Pharaohs" story, while a couple of other publications claim that the pyramid might have been Egypt's first attempt at a smooth sided pyramid! Given that it was built hundreds of year after the Giza Pyramids this story is a bit of a laugh. Possibly the author has gotten things garbled a little. The bent pyramid might have been the first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid, but the "reporters" are saying the nearby Dynasty Thirteen pyramid was the first try at a true pyramid.

     In any event, this is an interesting find and hopefully it will provide some useful information about the poorly understood Thirteenth Dynasty.