Friday, August 31, 2012

Religion in the Lives of the Ancient Egyptians

by Emily Teeter & Douglas J. Brewer

Because the role of religion in Euro-American culture differs so greatly from that in ancient Egypt, it is difficult to fully appreciate its significance in everyday Egyptian life. In Egypt, religion and life were so interwoven that it would have been impossible to be agnostic. Astronomy, medicine, geography, agriculture, art, and civil law--virtually every aspect of Egyptian culture and civilization--were manifestations of religious beliefs.

Most aspects of Egyptian religion can be traced to the people's observation of the environment. Fundamental was the love of sunlight, the solar cycle and the comfort brought by the regular rhythms of nature, and the agricultural cycle surrounding the rise and fall of the Nile. Egyptian theology attempted, above all else, to explain these cosmic phenomena, incomprehensible to humans, by means of a series of understandable metaphors based upon natural cycles and understandable experiences. Hence, the movement of the sun across the sky was represented by images of the sun in his celestial boat crossing the vault of heaven or of the sun flying over the sky in the form of a scarab beetle. Similarly, the concept of death was transformed from the cessation of life into a mirror image of life wherein the deceased had the same material requirements and desires.

Origins and nature of the gods

It is almost impossible to enumerate the gods of the Egyptians, for individual deities could temporarily merge with each other to form syncretistic gods (Amun-Re, Re-Harakhty, Ptah-Sokar, etc.) who combined elements of the individual gods. A single god might also splinter into a multiplicity of forms (Amun-em-Opet, Amun-Ka-Mutef, Amun of Ipet-swt), each of whom had an independent cult and role. Unlike the gods of the Graeco-Roman world, most Egyptian gods had no definite attributes. For example, Amun, one of the most prominent deities of the New Kingdom and Late Period, is vaguely referred to in secondary literature as the "state god" because his powers were so widespread and encompassing as to be indefinable.
To a great extent, gods were patterned after humans--they were born, some died (and were reborn), and they fought amongst themselves. Yet as much as the gods' behavior resembled human behavior, they were immortal and always superior to humans.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Germany to celebrate centennial of Nefertiti bust discovery

On 6 December, Germany will celebrate 100-year anniversary of discovery of iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti, wife of monotheistic pharaoh Akhnaten

Nevine El-Aref , Monday 27 Aug 2012

Berlin is to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of the magnificent bust of Queen Nefertiti – wife of monotheistic pharaoh, Akhnaten – with an exhibition of objects discovered at the Amarna archaeological site in Upper Egypt where the bust was originally found.

Entitled 'In the Light of Amarna,' the exhibition will open on 6 December, the day on which the bust was unearthed one hundred years ago by a German archaeological team led by Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt. Artefacts on display will include 600 objects used in the everyday lives of ancient Egyptians.

Eight years ago, a dispute erupted between Germany and Egypt over ownership of the iconic bust, when then-antiquities minister Zahi Hawass – claiming that Borchardt had illegally obtained the bust in 1912 – asked Germany to return it to Egypt. According to Egyptian antiquities laws in the early 20th century, the spoils of any new archaeological discovery should be split between Egypt and the foreign mission concerned; any 'unique' artefacts, however, should be left in Egypt's possession.  

The German government, for its part, has continued to reject these claims, insisting that Germany is the bust's rightful owner.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ancient Poem Praises Murderous Roman Emperor Nero

by Owen Jarus

A just-deciphered ancient Greek poem discovered in Egypt, deifies Poppaea Sabina, the wife of the infamous Roman emperor Nero, showing her ascending to the stars.

Based on the lettering styles and other factors, scholars think the poem was written nearly 200 years after Nero died (about 1,800 years ago), leaving them puzzled as to why someone so far away from Rome, would bother composing or copying it at such a late date.

In the poem, Poppaea ascends to heaven and  becomes a goddess. The ancient goddess Aphrodite says to Poppaea, "my child, stop crying and hurry up: with all their heart Zeus' stars welcome you and establish you on the moon..."

Nero was one of the most infamous rulers who ever lived. Ancient writers say that he killed his own mother, Agrippina, and his first wife Octavia. He is also said to have killed Poppaea herself with a kick to her stomach while she was pregnant. If that wasn't enough, the well-known line — "Nero fiddles while Rome burns" — is an apocryphal phrase related to a great fire that ravaged Rome for six days during his reign. 

Poppaea herself is also depicted in a less-than-positive light by ancient writers. When Octavia was killed, Poppaea was said to have been presented with her head. Some sources also speculate that she was the power behind the throne that encouraged Nero to murder his mother.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Were ancient Egyptians the first feminists?

by Cristen Conger

The Greek­ historian Herodo­tus trav­eled extensively throughout the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, documenting their histories and cultures. When he arrived in Egypt in the fifth century B.C., he witnessed some unusual social dynamics. Whereas the Greek women in his homeland were expected to perform household duties and oversee domestic affairs only, Egyptian society permitted far more freedom for females. Women traded agricultural goods in the marketplace while the men wove at home, Herodotus marveled.
Thanks to smoky-eyed Cleopatra, the notion of liberated, powerful women in ancient Egypt isn't that hard to accept. Even the delicate features of Nefertiti's bust exude an air of authority and confidence. In addition to Herodotus' observations, some Egyptologists have also heralded gender equality in ancient Egyptian culture. Accounts of women receiving the same pay for labor as men, details of legal rights for women and the representation of powerful female deities seem to point to a vaguely feminist culture that valued males and females uniformly. What's more, by the time of Herodotus' visit to Egypt, five women had sat on the throne (Cleopatra shared it with Mark Antony in the 1st century B.C.):
  • Nitokret: 2148 - 2144 B.C.
  • Sobeknefru: 1787 - 1783 B.C.
  • Hatshepsut: 1473 - 1458 B.C.
  • Nefertiti: 1336 B.C.
The stories of these women's ascent to power also highlight certain limitations enforced on women in ancient Egypt. More than the others, Hatshepsut abandoned her femininity to fulfill her desire for power. The daughter of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, became queen after marrying her half-brother, Tuthmosis II. When her husband died following a brief reign, Hatshepsut became the regent of her young nephew Tuthmosis III. Realizing that she had to strike while the metaphorical iron was hot, Hatshepsut adopted male garb and declared herself the new pharaoh. She wore a man's kilt and false beard and took on a new name, Maatkare. In return, Hatshepsut left behind a legacy of success during her 20-year rule. She oversaw the construction of the Deir al-Bahri temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world. The female pharaoh also led important trade expeditions into modern-day Somalia, never before accomplished by a woman.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Organization of the Pyramid Texts

The ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts form the oldest sizable body of religious texts in the world. Discovered in the late nineteenth century, they had been inscribed on the interior stone walls of the pyramid tombs of third-millennium kings and queens. From their content it is clear that they were concerned with the afterlife state of the tomb owner, but the historical meaning of their emergence has been poorly understood. This book weds traditional philological approaches to linguistic anthropology in order to associate them with two spheres of human action: mortuary cult and personal preparation for the afterlife. Monumentalized as hieroglyphs in the tomb, their function was now one step removed from the human events that had motivated their original production.

Author: Harold M. Hays
Publisher: Brill (2012)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Climate and drought lessons from ancient Egypt

Ancient pollen and charcoal preserved in deeply buried sediments in Egypt's Nile Delta document the region's ancient droughts and fires, including a huge drought 4,200 years ago associated with the demise of Egypt's Old Kingdom, the era known as the pyramid-building time.

"Humans have a long history of having to deal with climate change," said Christopher Bernhardt, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Along with other research, this study geologically reveals that the evolution of societies is sometimes tied to climate variability at all scales – whether decadal or millennial." 

Bernhardt conducted this research as part of his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, along with Benjamin Horton, an associate professor in Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science. Jean-Daniel Stanley at the Smithsonian Institution also participated in the study, published in July's edition of Geology. 

"Even the mighty builders of the ancient pyramids more than 4,000 years ago fell victim when they were unable to respond to a changing climate," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "This study illustrates that water availability was the climate-change Achilles Heel then for Egypt, as it may well be now, for a planet topping seven billion thirsty people." 

The researchers used pollen and charcoal preserved in a Nile Delta sediment core dating from 7,000 years ago to the present to help resolve the physical mechanisms underlying critical events in ancient Egyptian history. 

They wanted to see if changes in pollen assemblages would reflect ancient Egyptian and Middle East droughts recorded in archaeological and historical records. The researchers also examined the presence and amount of charcoal because fire frequency often increases during times of drought, and fires are recorded as charcoal in the geological record. The scientists suspected that the proportion of wetland pollen would decline during times of drought and the amount of charcoal would increase.

And their suspicions were right. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How the Rosetta Stone Works

by Candace Keener

Ancient Egypt conjures up ima­ges of bearded ­pharaohs, mighty pyramids and gold-laden tombs. Centuries ago, before archaeology became a legitimate field of science, explorers raided Egyptian ruins, seizing priceless artifacts. Collectors knew that t­hese items were valuable, but they had no way of understanding just how much they were worth. Because the civilization's historical records and monuments were inscribed with hieroglyphics, a language no one -- Egyptian or foreigner -- could read, the secrets of Egypt's past were hopelessly lost. That is, until the Rosetta Stone was discovered.

The Rosetta Stone is a fragment of a stela, a free-standing stone inscribed with Egyptian governmental or religious records. It's made of black basalt and weighs about three-quarters of a ton (0.680 metric tons). The stone is 118 cm (46.5 in.) high, 77 cm. (30 in.) wide and 30 cm. (12 in.) deep -- roughly the size of a medium-screen LCD television or a heavy coffee table [source BBC]. But what's inscribed on the Rosetta Stone is far more significant than its composition. It features three columns of inscriptions, each relaying the same message but in three different languages: Greek, hieroglyphics and Demotic. Scholars used the Greek and Demotic inscriptions to make sense of the hieroglyphic alphabet. By using the Rosetta Stone as a translation device, scholars revealed more than 1,400 years of ancient Egyptian secrets [source: Cleveland MOA].
The discovery and translation of the Rosetta Stone are as fascinating as the translations that resulted from the stone. Controversial from the start, it was unearthed as a result of warfare and Europe's quest for world domination. Its translation continued to cause strife between nations, and even today, scholars debate who should be credited with the triumph of solving the hieroglyphic code. Even the stone's current location is a matter of debate. This artifact has long held a powerful grip over history and politics.
Since 1802, the Rosetta Stone has occupied a space in London's British Museum. While most visitors acknowledge the stone as an important piece of history, others are drawn to it like a religious relic. The stone is now enclosed in a case, but in the past, visitors could touch it and trace the mysterious hieroglyphics with their fingers.
In this article, we'll learn how the world came to regard this piece of stone as a harbinger of Egypt's secrets. We'll also discuss its history and the circumstances surrounding its discovery, as well as the long and difficult task of deciphering the Rosetta Stone's inscriptions. Last, we'll examine the field of Egyptology and how it evolved from the Rosetta Stone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fending off snakes and scorpions, Dominican architect seeks Cleopatra’s tomb

Santo Domingo.- The biggest tomb of mummies, one of Cleopatra’s masks and the temple of Isis are a few of the finds by Dominican Republic’s most famous architect, while fending off venomous snakes and scorpions, for which she’s “the only woman who dares enter the labyrinths.”
Kathleen Martinez made the revelations Thursday, and noted that her excavation crews, all members of Bedouin tribes, fear one labyrinth in particular, located at the site of the temple Taposiris Magna “They told me that anyone who goes in there vanishes forever, one snake there is particularly deadly.”
But more than snakebites and scorpion stings, Martinez said the seemingly endless tunnels guard an even deadlier secret. “We even found unexploded bombs, that’s why they fear it, people who went in there were killed by the blasts.”
“The men have to be shown that there’s no danger, so I go down any shaft first,” the arquitect said, interviewed by Huchi Lora on Channel 11.
To neutralize the bombs and hover the remains of soldiers Martinez affirms are the aftermath of the 2nd World War Battle of El Alamein in that zone, she contacted military authorities. “We’ve contacted the Army, we found remains of Italian and new Zealand soldiers. We’ve turned over more than 60 bombs, some soldiers were burned alive within the tunnels. There’s so much story in those tombs, from the pharaohs to the 2nd World War.”
Among the most harrowing experiences, Martinez says, was a bomb that “we tried to lift out with a winch, but it fell off the bucket and nearly detonated with a few of us still in the tunnel.”
New York exhibit
Martinez also announced the exhibit of her findings at the Metropolitan Art Museum, where Dominicans who live in New York can view them
The architect who has spent more than five years excavating to find the tomb of Anthony and Cleopatra, affirms that among the artifacts she has found are “what we believe is the true face of Cleopatra.”
The added that Egypt’s new government informed her last week that her license to continue the excavations has been renewed.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lost Egyptian Pyramids Found?

Two possible pyramid complexes might have been found in Egypt, according to a Google Earth satellite imagery survey.
Located about 90 miles apart, the sites contain unusual grouping of mounds with intriguing features and orientations, said satellite archaeology researcher Angela Micol of Maiden, N.C.
One site in Upper Egypt, just 12 miles from the city of Abu Sidhum along the Nile, features four mounds each with a larger, triangular-shaped plateau.

The two larger mounds at this site are approximately 250 feet in width, with two smaller mounds approximately 100 feet in width.
The site complex is arranged in a very clear formation with the large mound extending a width of approximately 620 feet -- almost three times the size of the Great Pyramid.
"Upon closer examination of the formation, this mound appears to have a very flat top and a curiously symmetrical triangular shape that has been heavily eroded with time," Micol wrote in her website Google Earth Anomalies.
Intriguingly, when zooming in on the top of the triangular formation, two circular, 20-foot-wide features appear almost in the very center of the triangle.
Some 90 miles north near the Fayoum oasis, the second possible pyramid complex contains a four-sided, truncated mound that is approximately 150 feet wide.
"It has a distinct square center which is very unusual for a mound of this size and it almost seems pyramidal when seen from above," Micol wrote.
Located just 1.5 miles south east of the ancient town of Dimai, the site also contains three smaller mounds in a very clear formation, "similar to the diagonal alignment of the Giza Plateau pyramids," Micol stated in a press release.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Severed Hands Discovered in Ancient Egypt Palace

A team of archaeologists excavating a palace in the ancient city of Avaris, in Egypt,  has made a gruesome discovery.

The archaeologists have unearthed the skeletons of 16 human hands buried in four pits. Two of the pits, located in front of what is believed to be a throne room, hold one hand each. Two other pits, constructed at a slightly later time in an outer space of the palace, contain the 14 remaining hands.
They are all right hands; there are no lefts.
"Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large," Manfred Bietak, project and field director of the excavations, told LiveScience.
The finds, made in the Nile Delta northeast of Cairo, date back about 3,600 years to a time when the Hyksos, a people believed to be originally from northern Canaan, controlled part of Egypt and made their capital at Avaris  a location known today as Tell el-Daba. At the time the hands were buried, the palace was being used by one of the Hyksos rulers, King Khayan.

The right hand
The hands appear to be the first physical evidence of a practice attested to in ancient Egyptian writing and art, in which a soldier would present the cut-off right hand of an enemy in exchange for gold, Bietak explains in the most recent edition of the periodical Egyptian Archaeology.
"Our evidence is the earliest evidence and the only physical evidence at all," Bietak said. "Each pit represents a ceremony."
Cutting off the right hand, specifically, not only would have made counting victims easier, it would have served the symbolic purpose of taking away an enemy's strength. "You deprive him of his power eternally," Bietak explained.

It's not known whose hands they were; they could have been Egyptians or people the Hyksos were fighting in the Levant.

"Gold of valor"
Cutting off the right hand of an enemy was a practice undertaken by both the Hyksos and the Egyptians. 
One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part: 
"Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald." For his efforts, the writer was given "the gold of valor" (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905). Later, in a campaign against the Nubians, to the south, Ahmose took three hands and was given "gold in double measure," the inscription suggests.
Scientists are not certain who started this gruesome tradition. No records of the practice have been found in the Hyksos' likely homeland of northern Canaan, Bietak said, so could have been an Egyptian tradition they picked up, or vice versa, or it could have originated from somewhere else. 
Bietak pointed out that, while this find is the earliest evidence of this practice, the grisly treatment of prisoners in ancient Egypt was nothing new. The Narmer Palette, an object dating to the time of the unification of ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago, shows decapitated prisoners and a pharaoh about to smash the head of a kneeling man. 
The archaeological expedition at Tell el-Daba is a joint project of the Austrian Archaeological Institute’s Cairo branch and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sails set for eternity

The oldest funerary boat ever found was discovered early this week at the Abu Rawash archaeological site, Nevine El-Aref reports.

Situated eight kilometres northwest of the Giza plateau, Abu Rawash contains vestiges of archaeological remains that date back to various historical periods ranging from the prehistoric to the Coptic eras.

Abu Rawash displays exclusive funerary structures relating not only to the different ancient Egyptian periods but also their places of worship until quite late in time.

There at the prehistoric necropolis dating from the archaic period and located at the northern area of Mastaba number six (a flat-roofed burial structure), Egyptologists from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO) have uncovered 11 wooden panels of a funerary boat used by ancient Egyptians to transport the soul of their departed king to the afterlife right through eternity. It is the earliest such boat ever found.
"The boat is in a very well-preserved condition and is almost intact, thanks to the preservation power of the dry desert environment," Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said. He added that each panel was six metres tall and 1.50 metres in width.

Ibrahim continued that early studies of the panels revealed that the boat belonged to King Den of the First Dynasty, who was not buried in Abu Rawash but whose tomb was found at the royal necropolis of the Early Dynastic kings in the Upper Egyptian town of Abydos.

Because of his young age, King Den shared the throne with his mother, Meritneith. It was said that Den was the best archaeologically attested ruler of his period. He brought prosperity to the land, and many innovations were attributed to his reign. He was the first to use granite in construction and decoration, and the floor to his tomb is made of red and black granite.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Osiris, God of Mortality

Osiris is the God of mortality and of the mortal being as mortal, hence in the ultimate stages of the development of Egyptian theology, any deceased individual is identified with Osiris, as is reflected by the use of ‘Osiris N.’ to refer to the deceased in the collections of afterlife literature known as the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead, where the conventional ‘N.’ of the translators represents the insertion of the name of the person on whose behalf the copy of the text was produced. This identification bridges gender, males and females alike being referred to as ‘Osiris’ in this context, albeit occasionally Hathor replaced Osiris as the vehicle of divine identification for the female deceased; and the Osirian identification apparently bridged species as well, since as animals who received funerary rites, such as the Apis bull, could be ‘Osirianized’ as well. Osiris is depicted anthropomorphically, virtually always mummiform, holding the crook and flail, symbols of royalty, and the atef crown, which resembles the ‘white crown’ of Upper Egypt but with two plumes on either side. The skin color of Osiris is generally green, symbolizing vegetative life and renewal. No single convincing interpretation of the name ‘Osiris’ has come forward (for the various hypotheses, see J. G. Griffiths, “Osiris,” in Helck and Otto), but the Os- component is written with the same sign – a throne, with the meaning ‘seat’ or ‘place’ – as the Is- component in the name Isis, while the -ir component is written with an eye, as the verb ‘to make’, hence the wordplay of PT utterance 684: “the King will take his place as Osiris,” or “make his seat like Osiris.” A connection to the word wsr, ‘mighty’, has also been suggested. The most characteristic epithet of Osiris is wn-nfr, or ‘Onnophris’, meaning ‘Enduring in well-being/the good’.