Thursday, December 24, 2009

Changing the Past

It has been the plot of more than one novel or motion picture that someone travels back in time in order to change the course of history. Getting back there is, of course, the trick but Egypt is attempting to circumvent such technicalities by demanding that certain masterpieces of ancient art be returned by the foreign museums which now house them. I am all for the return of stolen art but some of the artifacts have been out of Egypt for a very long time. They were taken because the Egyptian government was too weak or apathetic at the time to prevent their removal. Once, Egypt ruled the East, had an empire. The great warrior pharaohs exploited their conquered lands--gold from the territories to the south, slaves and other valuables from the east. Like every conquering nation, the ancient Egyptians operated on the philosophies of "might makes right" or "if you can't stop us you must serve us".

But the day came when the Egyptians became the conquered and, despite efforts to throw off the yoke of various stronger nations, fell into a lengthy state of decline. Egypt lost her own language and finally no one in the land could read a graphic system that had lasted for thousands of years. The Egyptian language became a liturgical one--like Latin--and even the majority of Egyptian Christians did not really comprehend it. Arabic had taken the place of Egyptian. The people of Egypt lived amid the ruins of their splendid past but did not study or treasure it--unless it really was their idea of treasure, in the form of gold. And so, in more modern times, impoverished Egypt became overrun by European imperialists, some among them having an interest in history and antiquities. The latter were removed or sold by the Egyptians, themselves, and there was nothing to prevent the process. By the time of the British occupation, it was difficult to control even the natives who looted the tombs of the ancients--much less the foreigners. Egypt had become powerless and backward, although it had once been considered the seat of wisdom and every science that existed. The Europeans who served wisdom made a point of studying what there was to be found in Egypt. They figured out how to decode the old writing and started a discipline they called "Egyptology". This was their domain for some decades and the Egyptians did not join it until they were able to form their own government again. For the most part, the Egyptians learned every modern science from other nations--even *in* other lands. At the start of the 20th Century, the universities of Egypt were staffed by foreigners.

Now the situation is different, of course. Egypt is, if not exactly mighty, at least autonomous. It is understandable that the defeated past with foreign masters would like to be forgotten--but the Egyptians seem to want to undo it. They are now pleading "might makes wrong" and demanding the former imperialists return what was taken or even purchased--and in some cases claiming they were removed illegally--having drawn up a list of what they consider masterworks or just works of fame or importance. The Egyptians hold the trump card. They know they can prevent foreign nationals from doing research in Egypt now. But who really wins at this game? Probably, the main loser will be the science of archaeology.

Somehow, art manages to become dispersed one way or another. It is coveted by those who appreciate it and the talent that enabled its creation--or simply the monetary worth that greatness sometimes acquires. It has always been bought, sold, plundered, taken away. Old things, if not destroyed, can eventually end up at the opposite side of the world from their place of creation. Everything cannot revert to its place of origin, no matter how unique or common. Should the Mona Lisa go back to the homeland of its artist? Should every Spanish coin found in every shipwreck be returned to Spain? Any time traveler can tell you that history cannot be altered. And any list of booty drawn up by the scribes of the pharaohs of Egypt can inform that Egypt is not just in the position of an innocent victim. Some of those lists have survived. They were meant to. They were carved in stone--so that people would know the facts forever. To the victor go the spoils. It is not necessarily ethical, but that's how it's always been. When people stop trying to dominate one another, things of beauty have a better chance of remaining where they were made. It happens, also, in the way of international relations, that a former enemy becomes an ally or at least someone who is willing to peacefully co-exist. Dominators lose their dominion and become harmlessly benevolent. To make enemies of them again over a lifeless object makes scant sense--unless it really was obtained by deception. One need not necessarily become a bully just because one can.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How Long Did Horemheb Reign?

The answer seems to be leaning toward the shorter theory. During the recent symposium "The Valley of the Kings Since Howard Carter", Dr. Geoffrey Martin of Cambridge University discussed his team's clearance of KV57, the royal tomb of Horemheb [his commoner one is at Saqqara]. The tomb in the Valley of the Kings was found by Theodore Davis in 1908 but the well chamber and some back rooms had evidently never been fully cleared. Martin's team has now seen some ostraca that indicate the length of Horemheb's reign was around 14 years--and not the 27 that some wished to attribute to him.

However, we will have to wait for publication of those ostraca to find out what they say. I, personally, have written in the past that, given the unfinished status of KV57, the duration of 27 years was not very likely. Even 13 or 14 years seem long enough to have finished that tomb. Even the excavators' debris had not been removed and was still present in KV57 when Davis and crew discovered it. A wall in the burial chamber had not been painted but left in its state of excellent line drawings. [What was the great hurry so that this wall could not be finished?] Horemheb has been accused, now and then, of having appropriated the reigns of some other kings, mainly in order to account for the longer-reign-theory. Now it would appear that the only possibility is that of Ay, whose own duration was short. We know that in Year 8 of Horemheb Maya the Treasurer was inspecting the robbed tomb of Thutmose IV--and I believe that is the earliest date of any activity in the reign of Horemheb, who usurped some of the monuments of a predecessor, Tutankhamun.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Last Days of King Tut--A Scenario

Recently, a CT scan of the mummified remains of young King Tutankhamun showed that a slow, lingering death was possible due to a severe knee-cap injury which might have become infected. At any rate, the pharaoh appears to have died of some kind of trauma and even have gone into a coma leaving no one at Egypt's helm. That this situation was quickly remedied, however, seems to be indicated by a scene in KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun. There Ay, already crowned with the khepresh, performs the "opening of the mouth" ceremony on a depiction of Tut as Osiris. This is an unprecedented portrayal of the successor as king in a royal tomb and, in my opinion, strongly suggests that Ay had become co-regent prior to the demise of Tutankhamun. Because, once sealed, it was not expected--or at leat hoped--that anyone would enter the king's tomb again, it is not likely that Ay had himself portrayed as the new ruler for propaganda purposes. He was merely shown performing the ritual in a capacity in which he had already been serving prior to the death of Tutankhamun and could no longer be depicted as a commoner sans diadem.

Since Tutankhamun ruled for about nine years, it stands to reason that his tomb had already begun to be excavated. However, the small KV62 hardly evidences years of work. That is why scholars of the past, even though they did not see a co-regency of the successor, postulated that Ay took the larger tomb of the young king for himself and had another excavated for Tutankhamun where he could even insert his own image. There is no reason why Tutankhamun, the ruler of the return to the orthodox religion, should not have opted for a burial in the West Valley where the last great pharaoh prior to the Atenist supremacy was interred--namely Amenhotep III. Therefore, WV23, the ultimate royal tomb of Ay, probably had originally been intended for Nebkheperure Tutankhamun. It seems probable, also, that both KV62 and WV23 had been painted by the same outline-artist at about the same time, the poorly executed images are so alike. However, in the case of WV23, this artist seems to have been a bit confused as to how he should decorate this tomb for Ay. It is difficult to know why WV23 ended up a kind of compromise between a royal tomb and that of a commoner, including elements not normally seen in a kingly burial. In the aftermath of his brief reign, Ay's images were simply hacked away by a totally unsentimental someone, leaving only one "ka figure" which was let alone on account of respect for royal ancestors fused into this ka [per Nicholas Reeves].

One item that was usually placed in a pharaoh's tomb time far in advance of his burial was his stone sarcophagus. In fact, that of Tutankhamun might already have stood in WV23--and had to be moved into the make-shift KV62. Was that why the lid of yellow granite had been broken beyond repair in a moving accident and why another lid of red granite, discarded because it had been cracked in half, was repaired with gypsum and pressed into service, painted yellow to match the color of the orginal sarcophagus? One cannot really know for certain, but various irregularities at the end of the reign of the unfortunate Tutankhamun certainly exist, not the least of which is the fact of his widow writing to the king of the Hittites asking for a prince to become her husband and ruler of Egypt beside her. Many have doubted that the widow was Queen Ankhesenamun but it is a plain fact that only the throne name of Tutankhamun fits to the "Nibhurryia" written in cuneiform as the name of the king of Egypt who had recently died. The bottom line is, Tutankhamun having no children, his wife Ankhesenamun, a king's daughter, had a legitimate claim to the throne and, insofar as we know, far better than that of the presumptuous Ay.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Whole Lotta Sickness Goin' On

This Time Traveler is spending a lot of time in the 19th Century these days. Yes, writing another book. With the Swine Flu and the seasonal one breathing down our necks this winter of 2009/2010 and vaccine shortages [I couldn't get mine yesterday--all out] a source of irritation, stop and consider that Americans have been sicker in the past. While we now tend to think that cholera is something that happens in Asia, outbreaks of this disease, caused by Salmonella Typhi, occurred repeatedly in the America of the 1800s. You got cholera, you didn't have much chance as it deprived your body of all fluids within the first 36 hours. And it spread fast! In addition to the nasty cholera, there was typhoid fever [then called "bilious fever"], not as deadly as cholera but also exhibiting some of the same foul symptoms. Then there was Yellow Fever in the swampy southern states, an acute viral infection caused by the bite of mosquitoes called Aedes Aegypti. If you ever saw the classic film, "Jezebel", with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, you got an education in Yellow Fever. The post WW I enfluenza contagion was a horror, often killing whole families. Then there was all that polio following WW II...well, you get the picture and I'll stop. Life on this planet is just plain hostile to the human species and medicine wages a seemingly endless war on microbes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Can Thutmose III Have Been Hatshepsut's Brother?

Perhaps not all would agree, but to me the filiation of Thutmose III seems couched, when it is alluded to, in rather ambiguous--and sometimes very confusing--terms. To my knowledge, no one has ever proposed this--but I am now of the opinion that the vagueness may have been intentional and perhaps even the ancient Egyptians did not know for certain just who was the father of the young man who became the greatest pharaoh who ever sat on Egypt's throne. The fact that the Egyptians used the term “sA” for both “son” and “successor” and “it” for both “father” and “predecessor” may seem lamentable to us on account of the lack of precision, but is it possible that sometimes the ancients found all that an expedient?

For the sake of argument, let us assume there was a young woman who lived on the margin of the royal family, headed by king Thutmose I. She may have been a servant or a harem inmate and her name was Isis. There is no attestation of a queen by that name during the reigns of either Thutmose I or II, but Isis is awarded the queenly title during the rule of her son, Thutmose III--and this may only be a posthumous fiction. At any rate, this Isis may have received the attentions of both the pharaoh, Thutmose I, and his grown son. And why not--if Isis was of no significance? Thutmose I already had several sons by royal ladies and was not without heirs. Nobody imagined that any son of this inconsequential Isis would ever succeed. When the future Thutmose II followed his father as king, he was still a young man of whom it was was surely thought he had plenty of time to sire male children by Hatshepsut, a king's daughter who was his chief queen. But, as it transpired Thutmose II died at around the age of 30 without any offspring by Hatshepsut except a girl, Neferura. So the unimagined became the reality.

However, it was no secret that Isis had conceived, by a royal male, a son who was probably around 13 years old by this time. No matter who exactly his father had been, he was the only remaining male of the Thutmosid dynasty and could not be overlooked in the succession. Hatshepsut would just as soon have disregarded him, having her own ambitions, but, for a time, this was not possible. The crown was placed on the boy's head and he became Thutmose III. Some scholars have concluded that this Menkheperra Thutmose was a mere toddler when this occurred and that he needed a regent, Hatshepsut filling that role. But Thutmose's own account, an inscription at Karnak, belies this supposition. He says that he was an “iwn-mwt=f” priest in the temple when a pharaoh, presumably Thutmose II, came there to make offerings to the god and recognized him. Outside of a funerary context, an “iwn-mwt=f” is thought to be a priest who “conducted”[ sSm] processions of whatever kind, draped with the characteristic leopard or cheetah pelt. In this instance, it was ceremonies having to do with the god, Amun, and the young Thutmose had to be old enough to act the part of a procession leader.

But, as he tells it, this time Thutmose was not leading the procession of the image of the deity but was merely standing in the northern Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. Though he does not say so, it had to have happened [if there is any truth to the story at all] that one of the boy's priestly colleagues was leading this time and pointedly had the statue halt before Thutmose, thereby making it seem as though the god had found Thutmose in the shadows and was singling him out for recognition. At that point the pharaoh decided to let everybody know that the priest/prince was his heir this being “the plan of the gods” and allowed him to stand with him in the spot in the temple called “the station of the king”. Then Thutmose says “I flew to heaven as a divine hawk” [meaning he was incarnated as Horus, the usual name for the royal successor]...Ra himself established me. I was dignified with the diadems that were upon his head.” He is probably referring to his coronation, but it may even be that Thutmose II supposedly set his own circlet upon the boy's head right there in the temple of Karnak. But, reading between the lines, what Thutmose III is really saying is that he was just a priest and nobody expected him to succeed until Amun intervened. Had he been the true crown prince, a recognized only son and heir of Thutmose II, nothing like this narrative would have been necessary.

The whole incident may never have occurred, but the insignificance of Thutmose before he became king is the underlying theme, something unthinkable had all eyes been upon him as next in line to the throne. The other implication is that Thutmose II didn't even want to recognize the young man as his successor until Amun practically forced him to in front of everybody. In reality, the only explanation is that Thutmose II didn't care a thing about the future Thutmose III and that the youth became pharaoh only as a last resort in an effort to avoid having a female ruler. But, of course, that plan became upset in due course.

The first text that seems confusing comes from the tomb of Ineni. Ineni seems to have served Thutmose II and it is the latter he appears to be referring to when he says, “After he had joined among the gods, his son was set up in his place as the King of the Two Lands. While he ruled from the throne of him who begat him, his sister, the god's wife, Hatshepsut took care of the land...” This is rather odd because, were the text to be really clear, it should have said, “After he had joined among the gods, his sister, the god's wife, Hatshepsut, took care of the land while his son was set upon the throne of his father...” As it stands, it is not exactly clear if Hatshepsut was just the sister of the dead ruler [and we know she was] or also the sister of the new king! We could dismiss that entirely if it were not for the cube statue of Inebni, in the British Museum. Inebni was a servant of Hatshepsut after she had assumed the kingly titles. They are on the statue, [her cartouche having been erased] where she is styled “good goddess, mistress of the Two Lands” and then in secondary mention comes “with her brother, the good god, lord of doing things, Menkheperra”. The cartouche of Thutmose III remains unharmed. “sn=s” definitely means “her brother” and could also mean “her husband” in the parlance of the day. But, from indications, it seems to have been Neferura, the daughter of Hatshepsut, who was the first wife of Thutmose III--and not the woman-king, herself. Therefore, on balance, “sn=s” is best construed as “her brother”, written by someone who was certainly of the opinion that Hatshepsut and her younger male counterpart had the same father. If one chalks this up to a scribal mistake, it would certainly be a strange one as the inscription can certainly survive without the “sn=s” element and all that's needed is the word “Hna” meaning “with” or “also”. Of course, in official texts, where Hatshepsut and Thutmose III are shown together, there is no mention of “sn=s”--but then Inebni's statue was not an official one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Egyptians Equated "Israel" with Hebrews

In the Book of Exodus, the Egyptians refer to a foreign group within their land as "Hebrews" while the same call themselves "Children of Israel" [Jacob]. When Moses addresses Pharaoh, he, himself, employs "Hebrews" when speaking about his people.

This can be construed as an indication that even the author[s] of this Biblical text realized that "Hebrew" could be a commonly used Egyptian word. Josephus, the historian, wrote that the Hebrews were first called "Ermuth" but, after the time of Abraham, they became referred to by the more familiar appellation. Tell el Mukayyar can be identified with the Sumerian city of Ur, which in ancient texts was called Uriwa or Urima--hence perhaps Urima can be connected to "Ermuth". I am aware of the Biblical "Eber", [Gen. 10:24] whose name seems to mean "beyond", but I don't think this has anything to do with him. I do find it plausible to connect "Hebrew" " to Hurrian because in that language "apiri" has the meaning of "wanderer". Therefore, the followers of Abraham had been named by a Hurrian people somewhere in northern Mesopotamia.

And, yet, the term "Hebrew" seems more complex. Far removed from the time of Abraham and the fall of Ur, in the earlier part of the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep II [who had inherited an empire] captured "aprw"or "apwiryw" [spelled variously] and at the same time some warriors known as "maryanna", some Indic elite class who, at one period, seemed to be the rulers of the Hurrians in a place called Mitanni. However, by the time of Akhenaten of the same dynasty, the leader of the "aprw" was called "Labayu", evidently a Semitic name. These "aprw" caused a great deal of difficulty for the Egyptian king and his Canaanite vassals--and ultimately seem to have killed all those princes loyal to Egypt.

By then, it seems to me, the notion of who was an "aprw", in its foreign context, seems to have changed. It is perhaps too facile to conclude that, while once many of the Hebrews were Hurrians, after they were enslaved in Egypt, became involved with the descendant of a "wandering Aramean" ("aAmw", actually pronounced "Aramu")--Moses--, came to Canaan, and began to be Semitic speakers, adopting the language of the territory. But it is as good an explanation as any, in my opinion. However, that would have had to have happened in the interim between Amenhotep II [who, from the records, brought back more captives to Egypt than is otherwise known] and Akhenaten. That involves a period of less than a century and, if some attempt at ethnic cleansing was perpetrated in Egypt, little distinction between "Aramean" and whomever else would have occurred. That may have included "an undesirable portion" of the older Egyptian populace, itself, a veritable "mixed multitude". And, yes, there are indications of a Hurrian element in Egypt in this very interim, including many coming to Egypt due to the Mitanni brides of Thutmose IV and his son, Amenhotep III. But, by the era of Akhenaten, relations between these two nations seem to have broken down. And the word "aprw" seems to have become a synonym for "rebel".
There is, however, a 19th Dynasty text that demonstrates that "Israel" and "aprw" was synonymous. That is the "Israel Stela" of King Merneptah, son of Ramesses the Great. There is a section of the text, rife with puns and rhymes, mentioning certain defeated Canaanite towns--even Canaan, itself. And then there is "wn YziriAr fkt bn prtw" or "Israel is laid waste; it's seed is no more". This would have been vocalized as "oun Yisrael foke ban apriou", the last word being a pun on "Hebrews".

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Have You Seen My Green Donkey?

One doesn't have to be a Time Traveler to know how vivid some of the colors that were used by ancient Egyptian artists appeared--because many times they have stayed that way to this very day. In the more recent past [but not too recent] a brown paint was made from powdered mummy, a thing that would have scandalized the heck out of the old Egyptians. Anyway, they, themselves, didn't even have a specific word for that hue. If that seems odd, consider that Arabic doesn't have "brown", either, nor "gray". If one happens to own a gray donkey, one calls it "green".

Everybody knows by now that the Egyptians painted the skin of their men with red ochre and that of the women with yellow. But, sometimes, the people were shown with whitish skin--and their garments were white, usually . How did the artist or his assistant make white paint? Well, he could grind up chalk, if he had access to some. Or...he could cover lead bars with the dregs of old wine and seal them up in a shed filled with animal dung. Blue paint was horribly expensive because lapis lazuli, a stone that had to come all the way from Afghanistan, had to be ground up for it. I don't know any other way for the Egyptians to have been able to get blue. If anyone else can think of another way, I wish you would post that here in a comment. Green could be likewise obtained from malachite, a stone, but possibly also from vegetable dye. I would tend to believe the latter was the most practical as green was commonly used.

I have noticed that, in a few tombs, a real crimson was employed--and this is a color easily distinguishable from red ochre. This shade of red could be made from a worm, "tola'at shani" in Hebrew. One could crush up some tree-dwelling insects and boil them in lye. Addition of sulfur and mercury make vermilicum--or vermillion--and one can see why the producing of paints might not be too good for the health. Anyway, the bright red is rare in Egyptian painting and probably cost the dear earth. Too much trouble and difficult to afford. The ancient Egyptians didn't know purple or couldn't reproduce it. Later on, the island of Tyre became famous for a shade of purple obtained from mollusks. Black was cheap--basically just soot. But the way the Egyptians blended their colors, shaded them, makes one forget they had nothing but the basic hues with which to work. One never tires of looking at some of their best efforts, true masterworks even given the restructions of the Egyptian artistic canon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Could They Still Make Lemonade?

Traveling in the Middle Ages was not that much fun but that didn't stop men like Meshullam ben Menachem of Volterra, who went to the Middle East, including Egypt. His account of his travels is fascinating. Meshullam left "Misr" [a name for Cairo] on the 4th of July, 1481. It is interesting that, in his time, certain Biblical toponyms were thought to be identified. "Bilibis" or Bilbeis was thought to be Goshen. El-Arish was Succoth because, as Meshullam mentions, "for in Arabic arish means hut. This is the place built by our father, Jacob, peace to his memory, and there is only one little house there in ruins and a well of brackish water; and, behold, at night there came upon us a swarm of insects found in the sand of the desert as large as two flies and rather red. They say that these are the lice with which Pharaoh was plagued, and they bit me big bites, but fortunately we had lemons which we brought with us from Misr, because we knew about them, that there is no remedy to their bite except lemon juice, for the juice prevents the wound festering in a man's flesh, and I swear that in all my days I never had so much pain as that night..."

Meshullam further says there was nothing but brackish water until they arrived at a place called "Asika, in Arabic called Azan" but then it's possible he gives us a clue as to who one of the Sea Peoples might have been . This Azan was about "four miles from the sea and the Moslems keep guard there because of the corsairs [pirates] from the sea. They are mostly corsairs of Rhodes who come mostly to levy booty from the travellers there...the corsair robbers were about four hundred men...all those who were in al-Khan fled when they heard about them and left all their property and went to Gaza...From Misr to Gaza is 298 miles..." Meshullam and his caravan made it to Gaza by July 21st--17 days in all. Since the people of ancient Rhodes were connected to a character named Danaeus, perhaps they can have been the "Danuna".

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Science Needs To Be Shared

Anybody out there besides me who is very annoyed by the silence on the part of the Egyptians when it comes to the DNA-testing of the Royal Mummies? They keep announcing they plan to test this one and that, even give a finish date for the project, and we wait, filled with hope for some confirmation of something NEW [finally] in the discipline of Egyptology. But it never comes and I'm afraid we can all count on growing a long, white beard before it does. Did the mummy from KV60 ever fulfill the requirements to be confirmed as Queen Hatshepsut? Enquiring Time Travelers want to know, Dr. Zahi Hawass. Now I hear the DNA search is on for the parents of Tutankhamun. Great, but that's been a question in people's minds since 1922. Isn't it about time we got some info--even if it's only the admission "We were not able to discover the truth." Of course, any inter-disciplinary effort is problematic. The microbiologists don't know the intricacies of the pharaonic genealogies and the Egyptologists don't comprehend the terminology of microbiology--much less how it works. Still, all it would take is for the microbiologist to announce, "Mummy A shares a certain allele with Mummy B" and explain what that is. Some of us can figure out the rest.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It Takes A While To Get Back To This Century

And that's why it's taken me so long to start blogging! Okay, it might be fun. We'll see. Those of you who know me realize that I've mostly been stuck in Ancient Egypt due to mechanical failure but some wizard there recently fixed my dial and I was able to fastforward to the 19th Century AD. From there to the 21st is an easy hop so I'll be traveling back and forth a lot.

Why the 19th? Ever since I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, I've been traveling to the Nile Valley but, suddenly, I cracked open an old history of St. Paul and got into it. Even though I live far away from Minnesota now, I like the fact that it has a colorful past and am trying to turn myself into an expert on it. So that's what my next book will be about. [To see what's in my others, you can do a search on my name at ] I'll be writing about a low character, Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant , notorious purveyor of whiskey, and his complete opposite, Father Lucien Galtier, who named the future city. There is no photo of "Pig's Eye", whose description makes him seem pretty unphotogenic, anyway, but here's Father Galtier, who was. Below him is his log church, the first one in the area where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet. So that's my current project, even though you know I'll be whizzing back to old Egypt a lot. Maybe there'll be time for comments on current events, as well, although they never seem to interest us Time Travelers for too long. We're always pulled backward, one foot in the past and the other on a banana peel or the remains of whatever we eat on the fly.