Sunday, September 30, 2012

Andrew Robinson, Cracking the Egyptian Code: the Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion - A Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Reviewed by William H. Peck, University of Michigan-Dearborn

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This book has two principal themes. One is a biography of Jean-François Champollion; the other details the steps to the modern decipherment of ancient Egyptian. Champollion’s life as an ardent student of ancient Egypt encouraged by his older brother and returning members of Bonaparte’s expedition was eventually rewarded with an assistant professorship of history at the university in Grenoble in 1809. His publication of L’Égypte sous le Pharaons in 1814 was produced long before he could successfully read the language. His summery of his dramatic breakthrough in the decipherment came in 1822 in his Lettre à M. Dacier which was followed by a more detailed exposition two years later. Champollion was able to put his knowledge to practical use in the joint Franco- Tuscan expedition of 1828-30 where scholars were able to identify the royal names on monuments with some security. Champollion’s short life of only 41 years was a continuous adventure both intellectual and political befitting the complexity of his eventual accomplishments. A linguistic prodigy, he had begun a study of Coptic in his teens, a language that would prove crucial to his work on ancient Egyptian.

In chapter one Robinson briefly surveys the history of attempts to decipher Egyptian. The most general misconception about the language was that each sign in hieroglyphic script represented a thought or an idea. That it was partly alphabetical, partly ideographic, and partly representative of signs of classification had not to that time occurred to any western investigator immersed in languages that were essentially alphabetical. It was the slow realization by several people during the first quarter of the nineteenth century of the varied uses of the signs that the author has explained with care and detailed examination. The first assumption, that the cartouches, elongated ovals, might contain the names of royalty spelled phonetically, proved to be correct but it was still a far reach to distinguish the varied ways the signs were employed and combined. Robinson has provided an explanation of the tentative steps taken by of Champollion, as well as the others involved, that explains that deciphering the language was not accomplished in a single moment of inspiration but over a period of years by trial and error.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ancient Nile Delta City in Egypt Reveals its Secrets

Archaeologists uncover an ancient monumental Ptolemaic capital in Egypt where commerce once flowed over 2,000 years ago

A team of archaeologists and students are excavating a site in the Nile Delta region of Egypt where, set within desert desolation, ruins still bespeak an important port city that flourished by the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. Near the present-day city of El-Mansoura, a clearly human-made rise with visible ruins mark the spot of Tel Timai, what remains of the city of Thmuis, an ancient port city and capital of the Ptolemies. 

Here, a team of archaeologists and students directed by Professor Robert J. Littman of the University of Hawaii, with co-directors Dr. Jay Silverstein, also of the University of Hawaii, and Dr. Mohamed Kenawi of the Alexandria Center for Hellenistic Studies, are unearthing architectural features and artifacts in several different focus areas: a northern "salvage" sector; an area identified as the East Forum of the city acropolis; and, beginning in December, 2012, a possible Ptolemaic temple.
"Little excavation has been done in Tell El-Timai," reports Littman, "but material of significance has been discovered that indicates the potential of the site.  It is one of the few places in the Delta region where papyri have been found.  At the end of the 19th century Edouard Naville discovered what he labeled as a library in a Roman house.  Unfortunately, he did not indicate where on the Tell this was located.  The papyri were burned, worse than those from Pompeii, according to Naville.  He attempted unsuccessfully to preserve and transport the papyri.  Unfortunately, only a few have survived, which are administrative records. A number of marble statues and small bronzes, and magnificent Hellenistic and Roman mosaic floors, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, attest to the wealth and importance of the city."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Unwrapping the secrets of mummies

There's one really good indicator of the most popular items on display in “Mummies of the World”: Smeared glass.

The case holding the howler monkey? Covered in nose and finger prints. Ditto the Detmold Child, a mummified infant who pre-dates King Tut by a good 3,000 years.

That's what Heather Gill-Frerking, the touring exhibition's scientific research curator, has noticed stop after stop.
San Antonians will get to make their own observations beginning this weekend. “Mummies of the World” opens Saturday at the Witte Museum.

“I think we learn a lot about our humanity through our treatment of our dead,” said Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte. “That's part of what is important about this exhibition.”

The mummies and other objects — including parchment from the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and a variety of burial items — come from Egypt, South America, Europe and Asia.

The Witte is the second-to-last stop on the exhibition's U.S. tour, and its only stop in Texas. It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the items in it, said Marc Corwin, president of American Exhibitions, which pulled the show together.

Monday, September 24, 2012

'Cult Fiction' Traced to Ancient Egypt Priest

by Owen Jarus

A recently deciphered Egyptian papyrus from around 1,900 years ago tells a fictional story that includes drinking, singing, feasting and ritual sex, all in the name of the goddess Mut. 
Researchers believe that a priest wrote the blush-worthy tale, as a way to discuss controversial ritual sex acts with other priests.

"Our text may represent a new and hitherto unrecognized Egyptian literary genre:  'cult' fiction, the purpose of which was to allow controversial or contentious matters pertaining to the divine cult to be scrutinized in this way," wrote professors Richard Jasnow and Mark Smith, who published their translation and analysis of the papyrus in the most recent edition of the journal Enchoria.

Jasnow, from Johns Hopkins University, and Smith, from Oxford, write that evidence of ritual sex is  rare in ancient Egypt and the act probably would have been controversial. "There is surprisingly little unequivocal Egyptian evidence for the performance of the sex act as such in ritual contexts," Jasnow and Smith wrote. They added that the Egyptians were known to discuss other controversial matters using fictional stories.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Woman Who Would Be King

Ancient civilization rarely suffered a woman to rule. Historians can find almost no evidence of successful, long-term female leadership from antiquity—not from the Mediterranean nor the Near East, not from Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, nor the New World. In the ancient world, a woman only came to power when crisis descended on her land—a civil war that set brother against husband against cousin, leaving a vacuum of power—or when a dynasty was at its end and all the men in a royal family were dead. Boudicca led her Britons against the aggressions of Rome around 60, but only after that relentless imperial force had all but swallowed up her fiercest kinsmen. A few decades later, Cleopatra used her great wealth and sexuality to tie herself to not one but two of Rome’s greatest generals, just as Egypt was on the brink of provincial servitude to the empire’s insatiable imperial machine. It wasn’t until the development of the modern nation-state that women took on long-lasting mantles of power. After the fall of Rome, the Continent was held in a balance by a delicate web of bloodlines. In an ethnically and linguistically divided Europe when no man could be found to continue a ruling house, finding a female family member was generally preferred to handing the kingdom over to a foreigner.
In all antiquity, history records only one woman who successfully calculated a systematic rise to power during a time of peace: Hatshepsut, meaning “the Foremost of Noble Women,” an Egyptian king of the Eighteenth Dynasty who ruled during the fifteenth century BC and negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority. It is not precise to call Hatshepsut a queen, despite the English understanding of the word; once she took the throne, Hatshepsut could only be called a king. In the ancient Egyptian language, the word queen only existed in relation to a man, as the “king’s woman.” Once crowned, Hatshepsut served no man; her husband had been dead some seven years by the time she ascended the throne.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Apis tombs at Saqqara Necropolis back on Egypt's tourist map

The salvage operation of the Apis tombs known as the Serapeum is finally completed

by Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 20 Sep 2012

Dozens of journalists, photographers and top officials as well as archaeologists and restorers gathered today at the Saqqara necropolis, almost 25 kilometres far of Giza plateau, to witness the official inauguration of the Serapeum. After almost three decades of debate among engineers, archaeologists and restorers, the well-known Apis tombs at Saqqara necropolis known as the Serapeam have finally been restored. The tombs of Ptahhotep and Mereruka, two Old Kingdom noblemen, were also inaugurated after restoration.

The Serapeum is one of the main tourist attractions in Saqqara, discovered by archaeologist August Mariette in three stages in 1851-1854, during his business trip to Egypt to document and list Coptic manuscripts in monasteries. While waiting for permission from the Patriarch of the Coptic Church, Minister of State for Antiquities (MSA) Mohamed Ibrahim recounted to reporters, Mariette went on an exploratory trip to discover Egypt’s monuments and archaeological sites. During his trip, he found several engravings bearing the name of Osiris Apis and, asked about that name, archaeologists told him that it was the god of Saqqara. Mariette then went to Saqqara, where he discovered the Apis bull tombs and called them the Serapeum, a name used by French historian Strabon referring to Serapis. From 1851 and 1854 Mariette managed to discover the two parts of the Serapeum: the vaults including the tombs of Apis bulls from the 18th to the 26th dynasties (still under restoration); and the great Serapeum which has now been restored, consisting of a long corridor lined with 24 Apis bull vaulted tombs with granite sarcophagi.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jesus's Wife? Scholar Announces Existence of a New Early Christian Gospel from Egypt

ScienceDaily (Sep. 18, 2012) — Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.

King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the Congress's meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican's Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to, "Jesus said to them, my wife." The words, written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.
"Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim," King said. "This new gospel doesn't prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus's death before they began appealing to Jesus's marital status to support their positions."
Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York, believes the fragment to be authentic based on examination of the papyrus and the handwriting, and Ariel Shisha-Halevy, a Coptic expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, considers it likely to be authentic on the basis of language and grammar, King said. Final judgment on the fragment, King said, depends on further examination by colleagues and further testing, especially of the chemical composition of the ink.
One side of the fragment contains eight incomplete lines of handwriting, while the other side is badly damaged and the ink so faded that only three words and a few individual letters are still visible, even with infrared photography and computer photo enhancement. Despite its tiny size and poor condition, King said, the fragment provides tantalizing glimpses into issues about family, discipleship, and marriage that concerned ancient Christians.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dictionary Completed on Language Used Everyday in Ancient Egypt

Completion of 37-year project benefits global scholars of ancient Middle East
Newswise — A dictionary of thousands of words chronicling the everyday lives of people in ancient Egypt — including what taxes they paid, what they expected in a marriage and how much work they had to do for the government — has been completed by scholars at the University of Chicago.
The ancient language is Demotic Egyptian, a name given by the Greeks to denote it was the tongue of the demos, or common people. It was written as a flowing script and was used in Egypt from about 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., when the land was occupied and usually dominated by foreigners, including Persians, Greeks and Romans.
The language lives on today in words such as adobe, which came from the Egyptian word for brick. The word moved through Demotic, onto Arabic and eventually to Spain during the time of Islamic domination there, explained Janet Johnson, editor of the Chicago Demotic Dictionary.
Ebony, the dark wood that was traded down the Nile from Nubia (present-day Sudan), also comes from Demotic roots. The name Susan is indirectly related to the Demotic word for water lily.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Three monuments set to re-open in Egypt's Saqqara Necropolis

Following more than six years of restoration work, the tombs of two noblemen – along with Saqqara's famous Apis cemetery – will soon be open to the general public

by Nevine El-Aref , Sunday 16 Sep 2012

Final restoration work is now in full swing at Egypt's famous Saqqara Necropolis, home of King Djoser's iconic Step Pyramid and a collection of Old Kingdom mastabas and tombs.

Soon, tombs of Sixth Dynasty Chief of Justice Mereuka and Fifth Dynasty Vizier Ptahhotep, along with the Apis tombs of the Serapeum, will be open to the public.

After more than six years of restoration, during which underground water was pumped out of the three tombs, cracked walls and ceilings have been repaired. Wall paintings and engravings have also been cleaned and restored.

A visitors' centre that relates the history of the Saqqara Necropolis and the monuments it houses through documentaries and photos is now in the final stages of construction. A new road has also been prepared to facilitate tourists visiting the necropolis' precincts.

"Opening these tombs at the Saqqara Necropolis represents a great success, as it will attract more tourists to one of Egypt's most important ancient sites," Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram online.

Ibrahim explained that, since 1986, the Serapeam – long considered one of Saqqara's main tourist attractions – has been closed to the public. For almost 30 years, tourists have not been able to wander through its splendid rock-hewn galleries, flanked by tomb chambers containing the enormous sarcophagi that once held the remains of the sacred Apis bulls.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Abydos: Life and Death at the Dawn of Egyptian Civilization

by John Galvin

Evidence shows that human sacrifice helped populate the royal city of the dead.

King Aha, "The Fighter," was not killed while unifying the Nile's two warring kingdoms, nor while building the capital of Memphis. No, one legend has it that the first ruler of a united Egypt was killed in a hunting accident after a reign of 62 years, unceremoniously trampled to death by a rampaging hippopotamus. News of his demise brought a separate, special terror to his staff. For many, the honor of serving the king in life would lead to the more dubious distinction of serving the king in death.
On the day of Aha's burial a solemn procession made its way through the sacred precincts of Abydos, royal necropolis of Egypt's first kings. Led by priests in flowing white gowns, the funeral retinue included the royal family, vizier, treasurer, administrators, trade and tax officers, and Aha's successor, Djer. Just beyond the town's gates the procession stopped at a monumental structure with imposing brick walls surrounding an open plaza. Inside the walls the priests waded through a cloud of incense to a small chapel, where they performed cryptic rites to seal Aha's immortality.
Outside, situated around the enclosure's walls, were six open graves. In a final act of devotion, or coercion, six people were poisoned and buried along with wine and food to take into the afterlife. One was a child of just four or five, perhaps the king's beloved son or daughter, who was expensively furnished with ivory bracelets and tiny lapis beads.
The procession then walked westward into the setting sun, crossing sand dunes and moving up a dry riverbed to a remote cemetery at the base of a high desert plateau. Here Aha's three-chambered tomb was stockpiled with provisions for a lavish life in eternity. There were large cuts of ox meat, freshly killed waterbirds, loaves of bread, cheese, dried figs, jars of beer, and dozens of wine vessels, each bearing Aha's official seal. Beside his tomb more than 30 graves were laid out in three neat rows. As the ceremony climaxed, several lions were slain and placed in a separate burial pit. As Aha's body was lowered into a brick-lined burial chamber, a select group of loyal courtiers and servants also took poison and joined their king in the next world.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Step Pyramid of Djoser: Egypt's First Pyramid

by Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

Constructed at Saqqara about 4,700 years ago, the Step Pyramid of Djoser was the first pyramid the Egyptians built.
Djoser, sometimes spelled Zoser (though he was actually called Netjerykhet), was a king of Egypt’s third dynasty. The planning of the pyramid has been attributed to Imhotep, a vizier who would later be deified for his accomplishments.

It started off as a mastaba tomb — a flat-roofed structure with sloping sides — and, through a series of expansions, evolved into a 197-foot-high (60 meters) pyramid, with six layers, one built on top of the other. The pyramid was constructed using 11.6 million cubic feet (330,400 cubic meters) of stone and clay. The tunnels beneath the pyramid form a labyrinth about 3.5 miles (5.5 kilometers) long.

The complex

The pyramid is at the center of a complex 37 acres (15 hectares) in size. This complex is surrounded by a recessed limestone wall that contains 13 fake doorways as well as the real colonnade entrance on the southeast side.

A temple lies on the north side of the pyramid along with a statue of the king. The statue is surrounded by a small stone structure known as a “serdab,” his eyes peeking out through a hole. To the south of the pyramid lies a great court, with an altar and stones identified as boundary markers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Excavations in Jaffa Confirm Presence of Egyptian Settlement On the Ancient City Site

ScienceDaily (Sep. 10, 2012) — The Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology division of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) this year again conducted excavations on the ancient hill of Jaffa in Israel. The recent excavations have not only shed new light on the destruction of elements of the fortification, but also unearthed evidence pointing towards the presence of an Egyptian population on the site. 

Historically, Jaffa, now part of the city of Tel Aviv, is the oldest port documented in world history. Ever since the 2nd millennium B.C., Jaffa has been home to intense trading activity. The remains of a gateway belonging to an Egyptian fortification dating to the dynasty of Ramses II (1279-1213 B.C.) had already been discovered during excavations led by the former municipal archaeologist Y. Kaplan in the 1950s. However, the findings from Kaplan's digs have never been extensively published. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project, whose partners include the universities in Mainz and Los Angeles as well as the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Old Jaffa Development Company, not only aims to publish the findings of these older excavations, but also conduct new digs at sites around the city.

The goal of this year's excavations was to clarify the history of settlement during the 2nd millennium B.C. by investigating the phases of the fort's destruction and the nature of the Egyptian presence. The German site director Dr. Martin Peilstöcker of JGU explains that it has now become clear that the gate itself was destroyed and rebuilt at least four times. Moreover, it also appears that there is more than just the mud brick architecture and household pottery that reflect Egyptian tradition. In fact, a rare scarab amulet has been found that bears the cartouche of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-1353 B.C.), thus also attesting to the presence of an Egyptian community in the city. Some of the discoveries made during the excavations are to be put on display in a special exhibition at the Bible Experience Museum Frankfurt in 2013.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Year in review

Exactly one year ago I started this blog with my very first post about my favorite subject Ancient Egypt. Since then I have posted 155 blogposts about Ancient Egypt filled with news and articles, and my enthusiasm about this subject has only grown. The more I learn about the Ancient Egyptians, the more I realize that there is so much more to learn. Egyptology is a virus, when infected, there is no cure. And it is a virus I like! And I am sure you like it too. A couple of months ago I have added pages to my site, to bring you even more facts and interesting news about Ancient Egypt. There is a page with a list of the Kings of Egypt with links to Wikipedia. So now you can find information about almost every king with just one simple click. I have added pages with links to the Egyptian deities and pages with the newest books,  agenda items, a gallery, videos and a map of Egypt. So if you haven't checked it out yet, just go ahead!

Thank you all for coming to my site and I hope you will keep coming back for more! And if you have tips or something to say, just leave a comment! It will be highly appreciated!

Now I want to share with you the links of five of the most popular blogpost this past year:

They are worth to be read!

Thanks for your time!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Long Tradition of Debt Cancellation in Mesopotamia and Egypt from 3000 to 1000 BC

by Eric Toussaint

Hammurabi, king of Babylon, and debt cancellation

The Hammurabi Code is in the Louvre Museum, in Paris. The term “code” is inappropriate, because what Hammurabi left us is a set of rules and judgements on relations between public authorities and citizens. Hammurabi began his 42-year reign as “king” of Babylon (located in present-day Iraq), in 1792 BC. What most history books fail to mention is that, like other governors of the City-State of Mesopotamia, Hammurabi proclaimed the official cancellation of citizens’ debts owed to the government, high-ranking officials, and dignitaries. The so-called Hammurabi Code is thought to date back to 1762 BC. Its epilogue proclaims that “the powerful may not oppress the weak; the law must protect widows and orphans (…) in order to bring justice to the oppressed”. The many ancient documents deciphered from cuneiform script have enabled historians to establish beyond any doubt that four general cancellations took place during Hammurabi’s reign, in 1792, 1780, 1771, and 1762 BC.

In Hammurabi’s time, economic, political, and social life were organised around the Temple and the Palace. Those two closely enmeshed institutions, with their numerous artisans, workers, and, of course, scribes, constituted the apparatus of the State, not so very different from today’s governments. The Temple and the Palace provided their employees with board and lodge: they thus received food rations sufficient for two full meals a day. The peasantry was provided with land (which they rented), tools, draught animals, livestock, and water for irrigation, so that they could grow food for the workers and dignitaries. Thus, the peasants produced barley (their staple grain), oil, fruit, and vegetables, a portion of which, when harvested, they had to pay to the State as rent. As well as the land they cultivated for the Palace and the Temple, the peasants owned their own land, home, livestock, and tools. When the harvest was poor, they accumulated debts. They also incurred debt through loans granted privately by high-ranking officials and dignitaries eager to get rich and to seize the peasants’ property in case of default. If peasants were unable to pay off their debts, they could also find themselves reduced to the condition of serfs or slaves; indebtedness could also lead to members of their family being made slaves. In order to ensure social peace and stability, and especially to prevent peasants’ living conditions from deteriorating, the authorities periodically cancelled all debt |1| and restored peasants’ rights.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tutankhamun's death and the birth of monotheism

05 September 2012 by Jessica Hamzelou

TUTANKHAMUN'S mysterious death as a teenager may finally have been explained. And the condition that cut short his life may also have triggered the earliest monotheistic religion, suggests a new review of his family history.
Since his lavishly furnished, nearly intact tomb was discovered in 1922, the cause of Tutankhamun's death has been at the centre of intense debate. There have been theories of murder, leprosy, tuberculosis, malaria, sickle-cell anaemia, a snake bite - even the suggestion that the young king died after a fall from his chariot.
But all of these theories have missed one vital point, says Hutan Ashrafian, a surgeon with an interest in medical history at Imperial College London. Tutankhamun died young with a feminised physique, and so did his immediate predecessors.
Paintings and sculptures show that Smenkhkare, an enigmatic pharaoh who may have been Tutankhamun's uncle or older brother, and Akhenaten, thought to have been the boy king's father, both had feminised figures, with unusually large breasts and wide hips. Two pharaohs that came before Akhenaten - Amenhotep III and Tuthmosis IV - seem to have had similar physiques. All of these kings died young and mysteriously, says Ashrafian. "There are so many theories, but they've focused on each pharaoh individually."
Ashrafian found that each pharaoh died at a slightly younger age than his predecessor, which suggests an inherited disorder, he says. Historical accounts associated with the individuals hint at what that disorder may have been.
"It's significant that two [of the five related pharaohs] had stories of religious visions associated with them," says Ashrafian. People with a form of epilepsy in which seizures begin in the brain's temporal lobe are known to experience hallucinations and religious visions, particularly after exposure to sunlight. It's likely that the family of pharaohs had a heritable form of temporal lobe epilepsy, he says.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New stone inscription shows list of offerings to ancient gods

A section of a New Kingdom stele listing offerings made to ancient Egyptian gods was discovered today by chance at Matariya in northern Cairo

by Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 4 Sep 2012

During construction work carried out by the Ministry of Endowments at the Al-Khamis market area, which is next to the archaeological site of Matariya in northern Cairo, workers stumbled upon a part of an ancient Egyptian stele.

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim explained that the newly-discovered stone artefact is the right section of a New Kingdom stele, on which is displayed a complete, illustrated list of various offerings to ancient Egyptian deities. A collection of geese, vegetables, fruits, bread, and cattle is depicted.

Lotus flowers are also shown, as well as religious worship poetry in hieroglyphic form.

Although the cartouche of the owner or the reign when it was engraved has not yet been identified on the stele, Ibrahim said that it would reveal more of the history of this mysterious area, which includes monuments from the early pharaonic to the Ptolemaic era.

Mohamed El-Beyali, head of the ancient Egyptian department at the Ministry of State for Antiquities, said that initial studies on the stele show that it can be dated to the late 18th or the beginning of the 19th dynasty.

He added that Matariya is a very important archaeological site, as it was a centre for the worship of the sun god Aten and it was the capital city of north Egypt. The site includes an obelisk of Senousert I, a collection of ancient Egyptian and Ptolemaic tombs, and the remains of one of the oldest universities ever. A collection of columns from the time of Ramses II has also been found.

All construction work has now been put on hold in order to excavate the area, to reveal more of its heritage.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Isis: Sister, Wife and Mother

A Goddess of enormous popularity within Egypt, Isis is also alone among the Gods of Egypt in having achieved widespread international popularity in antiquity, her worship extending to the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire and even beyond. The name Isis comes from an Egyptian word meaning ‘throne’, and she is characteristically depicted as a woman bearing the sign of a throne on her head. In later times, however, it is very common for her to bear the solar disk with cow’s horns and uraeus cobra, a crown classically belonging to Hathor, but which becomes as characteristic of Isis as the crown which is peculiar to her. (Strictly speaking, Hathor’s crown associates Isis with the wider defense of the cosmic order (Re), beyond her strict focus on the defense of the mortal (Osiris).) Also typical of Isis, although not restricted to her, is the vulture headdress which belongs strictly speaking to Nekhbet, but which is appropriate to any Goddess strongly linked to Upper Egypt. Her own avian identification, however, is with the black kite or kestrel, in which form she may be depicted. She is also frequently depicted in human form but for a pair of outstretched wings extending along the line of her arms. Isis is associated as well with the scorpion; a group of seven of them, who are even individually named, escort her and Horus in a spell to treat a scorpion’s sting (no. 90 in Borghouts). Among the most popular amulets in Egypt was the tyet, which is associated with Isis. The amulet, sometimes known as the ‘Isis knot’, has the form of a vaguely human-shaped knot and is colored red or carved from a red stone to embody the power of her menstrual blood, as we read in BD spell 156, which charges the amulet with the words, “Thou hast thy blood, Isis; thou hast thy power, Isis; thou hast thy magic, Isis.” In Graeco-Roman statuary, Isiac priestesses are depicted with a knot of this shape in their robes.