Aswan Tombs Video

Here’s an interesting video that I stumbled across in YouTube today. This YouTuber just posted it 1 day ago and its his first video. For those unable to actually get up and go to Egypt, videos like this help put the experience into a perspective that you won’t find on The Discovery Channel or BBC (not that productions on these media outlets aren’t worth watching!).

Here’s hoping ancientresource‘s channel continues to populate with more videos.

Funerary Practices of Middle Class Egypt – 4.5 Centuries Ago

The burial chamber of an Egyptian official who lived up to about 4,500 years ago was unsealed recently, revealing some valuable insights into the funerary practices of the middle class. Pharaonic funerary practices are well-known, though there are still doubtless many things we don’t know, but the practices of non-ruling classes is far less known.

This particular tomb was located last year in Abusir near Cairo, where a 5th and 6th dynasty cemetery resides. The occupant was named Neferinpu and while he wasn’t in the elite-class, he also wasn’t poor by any means. Described by the archaeologists who discovered him as a “politician,” Neferinpu’s tomb was located behind a mud brick wall in a previously known burial chamber about 33 feet below ground and “packed with offerings and personal effects.”

Miroslav Barta, an archaeologist from Czech Republic who led the excavation remarked that intact burials of upper-middle class officials such as this one are rare and the information provided is a wealth that transcends that of gold and silver, which wasn’t found.

Inside the 6.5-foot by 13-foot space, the team found dozens of ceremonial artifacts, including 10 sealed beer jars, more than 80 miniature limestone vessels, a small perfume jug, and plates and cups for symbolic offerings of food and drink.

Also present were four flat-bottomed vessels known as “canopies,” which were used to store internal organs removed during the mummification process.

Beneath the lid of the sarcophagus, the mummy, which was wrapped long before preservation methods were perfected, was badly decomposed.

The body was inlaid with hundreds of Faience beads, and the official’s walking stick, about 6.5 feet long and decorated at the tip with small pieces of gold, was buried at his side.

The sarcophagus also contained a wooden scepter, which Neferinpu would have held in his left hand as sign of his seniority, said Tarek El-Awadi, an official with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and chief inspector at Abusir.

“It gives you nice insight into the strata of Egyptian society,” said Salima Ikram. “It gives you a sense of the people who are not a part of uppermost echelons and what was considered customary, proper, or appropriate for someone of that rank,” she added.

4,500-year-old tomb sheds light on burial customs of ancient Egypts middle class

Egypt Copyrights It’s Most Famous Antiquities

Apparently, anything that’s on display in the museums of Egypt or considered a national treasure is bartsphinx.jpgabout to be copyrighted and “Commercial use of ancient monuments like the pyramids or the sphinx would also be controlled,; said Zahi Hawass. “Even if it is for private use, they must have permission from the Egyptian government.”

I’m not exactly sure what to make of that move. Isn’t there generally a statute of limitations on works of art before they’re considered public domain?

More at, Egypt to ‘copyright antiquities’ [BBC]

Tutankahmen on Display – the Anniversary of the Discovery of his Tomb


Gold—everywhere the glint of gold! These were the words of Howard Carter as he recalled first seeing the antechamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb as he flicked his flashlight back and forth. Revealed to Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon were effigies of Tutankhamen himself, falcon-headed figures, a golden throne, overturned chariots, a gilded snake, and other treasures. It must have been a terrific sight -one that most archaeologists never come close to seeing as they meticulously dust and scrap matrix away from broken potsherds and dull-by-comparison hearths. And today, November 4, marks the anniversary of Carter and Carnarvon’s discovery of Tutahnkamen’s tomb, perhaps the single most celebrated pharaoh of ancient Egypt.

And this week, archaeologists removed Tutankhamen’s mummy from its sarcophagus, placing it on display in a climate controlled display case. According to the BBC, “only about 50 living people have seen the face of the boy king, who died more than 3,000 years ago” until the display that took place today. Part of the reason for the new venue is due to the heat and humidity introduced into his tomb each year by tourists. But I’m sure another consideration is revenue:

“The golden boy has magic and mystery and therefore every person all over the world will see what Egypt is doing to preserve the golden boy, and all of them I am sure will come to see the golden boy,” Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass told reporters before the body was moved.


Howard Carter and his team (Lord Carnarnvon died a few weeks after the tomb was opened from an infection brought on by a mosquito bite, giving rise to the “curse” myth) set a standard for meticulous excavation of the tomb. It took him nearly a full decade to photograph and record all the details of Tutankhamen’s tomb which contained 5,398 items! This, in spite of the fact that thieves made off with at least 60 percent of the original jewelry based on calculations made from comparing the 200 or so pieces that remained with packing inventories. Most of these that remained were actually in Tut’s sarcophagus and wrapped in his linens.

The mummy itself didn’t fare so well by today’s standards of excavation, however. While removing the treasures, Carter dismembered Tutankhamen and “used hot knives and wires to remove the gold mask which was fused to Tutankhamen’s face by the embalming process.”

Tutankhamen was actually laid out in the sun so the heat would soften the resin and allow the team to remove the wrappings and the artifacts.

Dilmun and Punt: Part III

This is the third in a three part series on the subject of Dilmun and Punt: Two Mythical Origins for Two Early Civilizations. In this final segment, I wrap up with discussion of Dilmun and Punt as places of origin for their respective civilizations and offer a bibliography for students or those interested in researching the topic further. I’ll also include links to the other two parts which I’ll add above the folds and at the ends of each part for convenience:

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

Discussion

Kramer (1944) concluded that Dilmun isn’t in Bahrain as the majority have suggested, but rather southwestern Iran, based primarily on the information in texts that describes Dilmun at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates. Cornwall (1952) cites at least two others that, likewise, agree that Dilmun is located in Iran, but presents evidence to the contrary in the form of two letters from Nippur that mention Dilmun as being reached by sea. Cornwall previously argued (1946) that the Assyrian use of the term for “in the midst of the sea” (in qabal tam-tim), which referred to islands such as Tyre, Arvad, and Cyprus provided evidence in favor of Bahrain as Dilmun. Another possible location that has had its favor with scholars is the eastern Arabian coast near Dhaharan and Howard-Carter (1987) describes archaeological finds which include steatite vessels with Mesopotamian motifs, un-worked blocks of steatite, lapis, copper ore and other tradable commodities as well as tumuli-tombs.

The tumuli-tombs are, as Lamberg-Karlovsky (1982) suggests, an enigma. Such a large cemetery population created in such a short period of time should have evidence of a large settlement center or centers surrounding it. Yet, as Lamberg-Karlovsky points out, the archaeological surveys of Bahrain do not support such an expectation. He draws a comparison between the Bahrain cemetery complex and that of other cemeteries of antiquity surveyed by modern archaeologists, such as Shahr-i Sokhata. This community spanned 350 acres, which was over twice that of Bahrain, but only had 20,000 burials (p. 46) to Bahrain’s 172,000 – 450,000, depending on if each tumulus contained a single body or an average of three (p. 48). Lamberg-Karlovsky refers to this as “a phenomenon in search of an explanation” and suggests that the island may have held significance in antiquity as a “ceremonial center of pilgrimage,” and, as Dilmun, was a place that interment would provide the eternal life and immortality that was promised Ziusudra. The people buried at the Bahrain complex were not of Bahrain but “from a large geographical area sharing only the fundamental belief in the manner of assuring an after-life.” Such a central place of pilgrimage then provided the basis for the establishment of a trade center (p. 49).

The similarities between Dilmun and Punt are many, but the evidence linking the two directly is thus far missing in the archaeological record. That ancient civilizations of Sumer and Egypt both record in their myths and histories far away lands of sacred and divine significance may be an expectation since both the Egyptians and the Sumerians emerged at a time when the climate was still undergoing changes. The switch from wet to arid conditions following the inundation of the Persian Gulf at around 15,000 BCE finally came at about 4,000 BCE when the sea stopped rising. Egypt, too, experienced similar conditions at around the same time, and early Egyptians eventually abandoned the Nabta Playa perhaps for the Nile Valley.

Both Dilmun and Punt may have begun as points of origins for the Sumerians and Egyptians, respectively. Both of these civilizations have origins that predate writing, so the memory of their ancestral homes must have been orally transmitted until they could be recorded as “the land of the gods” and the “land of the living” –the place “where the sun rises.” If such paradises existed, as two separate places or as one, they may very well have been along coasts or the basin of the Persian Gulf, long since inundated by rising sea levels. The pilgrimages and expeditions to the “lands of the gods” may have been the best attempts that these two societies could offer to reach a now submerged homeland they were forced to abandon several millennia before. Both Dilmun and Punt may have been trade centers (or a single center) that emerged as a result of pilgrimage and geologic circumstance which favored natural harbors and fresh water.

Bibliography and References

Aldred, C. (1987). The Egyptians. London: Thames and Hudson.
Bibby, G. (1969). Looking for Dilmun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Breasted, J. H. (1906). Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. I, The First to the Seventeenth Dynasties. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Breasted, J. H. (1906a). Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. II, The Eighteenth Dynasties. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Brewer, D. J., & Teeter, E. (1999). Egypt and the Egyptians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Caspers, E. C. D., & Govindankutty, A. (1978). R. Thapar’s Dravidian Hypothesis for the Locations of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan: A Critical Reconsideration. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 21(2), 113-145.
Cornwall, P. (1946). On the Location of Dilmun. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 103, 3-11.
Cornwall, P. (1952). Two Letters from Dilmun. Journal for Cuneiform Studies, 6(4), 137-145.
Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking Books.
Fagan, B. M. (1994). In the Beginning: An Introduction to Archaeology, 8th ed.. New York: Harper Collins.
Gupta, A. K., Anderson, D. M., Pandey, D. N., & Singhvi, A. K. (2006, April). Adaptation and human migration and evidence of agriculture coincident with changes in the Indian summer monsoon during the Holocene. Current Science, 90(8), 1082-1090.
Harvey, S. P. (2003). Interpreting Punt: Geographic, Cultural and Artistic Landscapes. In D. O’Connor & S. Quirke (Eds.), Mysterious Lands: Encounters with Ancient Egypt (pp. 81-91). London: Institute of Archaeology, UCL.
Howard-Carter, T. (1981). The Tangible Evidence for the Earliest Dilmun. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 33(3/4), 210-223.
Howard-Carter, T. (1987). Dilmun: At Sea or Not at Sea?: A Review Article. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 39(1), 54-117.
Ingman, M., Kaessmann, H., Pääbo, S., & Gyllensten, U. (2000, 7 December). Mitochondrial genome variation and the origin of modern humans. Nature, 408, 708-713.
Kramer, S. N. (1944, Dec.). Dilmun, the Land of the Living. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 96, 18-28.
Kramer, S. N. (1947). Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 1(1), 3-46.
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. (1982). Dilmun: Gateway to Immortality. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 41(1), 45-50.
Langdon, S. H. (1917). Sumerian Liturgical Texts. In The University Museum Publications of the Babylonian Section (Vol. 10 (2)). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, The University Museum.
Mark, S. (1997). From Egypt to Mesopotamia: A Study of Predynastic Trade Routes. London: Chatham Publishing.
Meeks, D. (2003). Locating Punt. In D. O’Connor & S. Quirke (Eds.), Mysterious Lands: Encounters with Ancient Egypt (pp. 53-80). London: Institute of Archaeology, UCL.
Naville, E. (1907). The Origin of Egyptian Civilisation. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 37, 201-214.
Price, T. D., Tiesler, V., & Burton, J. (2006). Early African diaspora in colonial Campeche, Mexico: Strontium Isotopic Evidence. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 130, 485-490.
Pritchard, J., ed. (1958). The Ancient Near East Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
PSD. (2006). Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project. Retrieved 30042007, from Babylonian Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology: http://psd.museum.upenn.edu/epsd/index.html.
Singer, D. A., Berger, V. I., & Moring, B. C. (2005). Porphyry Copper Deposits of the World: Database, Maps, and Preliminary Analysis (U.S. Geological Survey No. 02-268). http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1060: U.S. Geological Survey.
Smith, W. S. (1958). The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Thesiger, W. P. (1985). The Marsh Arabs. New York: Harper Collins.
Wendorf, F., & Schild, R. (1998). Nabta Playa and its Role in Northeastern African Prehistory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 17, 97-123.
Wicker, F. (1998). The Road to Punt. The Geographical Journal, 164(2), 155-167.
Woolley, C. L. (1928). The Sumerians. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

Hatshepsut’s Mummy Identified


Several other bloggers and news outlets have already written on this, but in case you haven’t seen the news, Hatsheptsut, the 5th pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, has been identified.

I first blogged about Hatshepsut here after visiting the Kimbell Museum of Art’s exhibition. Her reign as pharaoh (ca. 1473 – 1458 BCE) began after the death of her husband, Thutmose II, who was also her half-brother. After her death, Thutmose III, the step-son of the obese Hatshepsut, son of Thutmose II’s lesser wife (Hatshepsut was the Great Royal Wife) took the throne. After the death of his father, Thutmose III was too young and, perhaps, a bit oppressed by his (evil?) step-mother. Thutmose III concentrated on his military exploits, earning the title among later historians as the Napoleon of ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, his step-mother commissioned hundreds of magnificent buildings and monuments in both Upper an Lower Egypt such as Deir el-Bahr all the while consorting with her closest adviser and royal steward, Senemut (though this is a point frequently argued by Egyptologists).

Upon his return from military conquests after his step-mother died, Thutmose III began a systematic removal of her likeness and mention, trashing monuments and sculptures of her in the very quarries their raw materials were obtained.

Hatshepsut apparently died of cancer and diabetes and was very obese with “pendulous breasts” according to Zahi Hawass, the senior archaeologist of Egypt. The mummy identified as Hatshepsut was discovered in 1903 by Howard Carter, nearly two decades before discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, but it was only June of this year when a tooth, known to belong to Hatshepsut was exactly matched to the missing molar of one of the mummies. The fat one.

News articles:
Egyptian mummy found in 1903 is a former female pharaoh
CT Scan, DNA Tests Help ID Mummy as Hatshepsut

Blogs on the topic:
Intellectual Vanities
History Buff

Dilmun and Punt – Part II


In my last part, I discussed the mentions of Dilmun and Punt in Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts and examined their mythical contexts. In this part, I’ll discuss the physical considerations of the two mythical places in archaeological and geologic contexts.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

Archaeological Remains

The pottery found at Bahrain at around 3000-2900 BCE, the period known in Mesopotamia as the Jemdet Nasr, closely resembles that of Uruk, as do the bowls of steatite and chlorite. Oman also has buff-ware painted jars that closely resemble those of Mesopotamia at this time. Together, these correlations in pottery and ceramics are indicative of contact between Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula, and it is Bahrain and the eastern Arabian coast that have variously been suggested as sites of Dilmun. Ubaid-ware characteristics include motifs of marsh or riverine origin and include designs resembling nets, reed-matting and aquatic subjects which are painted on green-grey buff or red ware. During the period that marks the rise of the Ubaid culture, the marshlands of Sumer would have been teeming with fish, game, and wild plant-life, offering an environment in whose new inhabitants would not need to be pressured into food production strategies like agriculture. The Ubaid culture that is most known is at Eridu, but sites have been found as far south as Saudi Arabia (Bibby 1969). It stands to reason that the resources available would have attracted inhabitants; indeed, it does even today, when one considers the Marsh Arabs who dwell in elaborate and complex reed huts.

Various authors have placed Dilmun at Bahrain, but Howard-Carter (1981, p. 223) reminds that Mesopotamian artifacts before dating to before 2200 BCE aren’t present in the archaeological record on Bahrain and, instead, places Dilmun at Qurna, Iraq, which lies just under 75 km northwest of Basra where the Tigris and Euphrates converge. On Bahrain, Bibby (1969) excavated funerary sites called tumuli-tombs which consist of earthen mounds piled on top of graves. Other archaeologists both preceded and followed these excavations who also excavated tumuli, discovering over 172,000 in all. Lamberg-Karlovsky (1982) notes that if the tumuli only contained an average of two occupants, the total cemetery population would be 344,000, which is “an unparalleled cemetery population for the Near East. He goes on to cite literature that reports on surveys which reveal that while the tumuli date to as late as the third millennium, the time of Dilmun, there aren’t data to suggest a settlement of sufficient size to support a cemetery of even 172,000.

The earliest mention of Punt is on the Palermo Stone, which describes King Sahure’s expedition to Punt that retrieved myrrh, electrum and staves. Sahure was pharaoh in the 5th Dynasty, between 2498 – 2345 BCE and the monument, the largest fragment of which now resides in the Regional Museum of Archaeology in Palermo, Sicily, is also significant because it lists rules that both predate and precede Menes, accepted by some to be the first pharaoh of the First dynasty of Egypt.

Another mention of Punt that is, perhaps, the most descriptive is that of the Punt Reliefs at Deir el-Bahri. Breasted (1906a: 102) goes so far as to describe them as “the most interesting series of reliefs in Egypt,” but he is correct that they are almost the “only source of information on the land of Punt.” In addition to these inscriptions and the Palermo stone references, Breasted also lists the other references known to him through various texts (102-103) as:

1) a Fifth dynasty expedition by King Isesi, which brought back a “dancing dwarf;”
2) a Sixth dynasty attempt by Pepi II to send and expedition, which resulted in “sand-dwellers” killing the detachment sent to build a ship on the coast destined to Punt;
3) Pep II’s eventual success;
4) Chief Treasurer Henu’s Eleventh dynasty expedition for Senekhkere-Mentuhotep III;
5) Kentkhetwer’s Twelfth dynasty expedition for Amenemhet II; and
6) an expedition for Senwosret II.

But it was the Hatshepsut expedition in the Eighteenth dynasty that offers the most detail, while the above mentions are cursory and meager in their descriptions of their respective expeditions. The Hatshepsut inscriptions provided both texts and illustrations of the commodities the Egyptians obtained from “the Land of God,” which included gold, ebony, ivory, incense trees like myrrh, resin or gum, ostrich eggs, giraffes, and baboons. The illustrations depict the Puntite houses [fig. 3] as on huts on stilts and the Puntites themselves as brown skinned, rather than black as might be expected if Punt were at the Horn of Africa. Perhaps the most familiar image in the Deir el-Bahri inscriptions is that of the wife of the ruler of Punt. She is depicted as being obese, considered a revered quality among some African cultures since it marks her status as healthy and wealthy.

Geological Considerations

The Persian Gulf was completely dry at around 15,000 BCE according to Howard-Carter (1981, 1987) who cites at least three reports of detailed studies of the Gulf’s geology. The Tigris and Euphrates flowed separately and together to the Strait of Hormuz and emptied into the Gulf of Oman until the rising sea levels rose gradually from 14,000 to 8000 BCE forcing any riverine populations inhabiting the soon-to-be submerged Tigris and Euphrates to retreat to higher ground over time. According to Howard-Carter, the Gulf would have been three-quarters filled by 8000 BCE and completely inundated by 5500 BCE, the time of the Ubaid period.

Bahrain is known for its artisan springs in antiquity, which provided fresh water and, for an island in the Persian gulf may been a frequent stop for sea travelers. Indeed, the springs themselves may have provided fodder for the myths that included passages about Dilmun such as “her city drinks water of abundance” and “her wells of bitter water, behold they become wells of sweet water” from the myth of Enki and Ninhursag. Frequently mentioned in texts associated with Dilmun is the trade of copper and, indeed, copper has been discovered at sites proposed to be the location of Dilmun both on the eastern Arabian coast as well as Bahrain. Copper, however, isn’t found in deposits in either location, and the nearest deposits are located in Iran and the Indus Valley.

Copper was one of the commodities mentioned in the Hatshepsut inscriptions and of great value to Egyptian rulers building pyramids and monumental structures since copper instruments are needed to quarry and form the blocks used in their construction. Copper deposits are known in Egypt and the Sinai but are of limited value due to their size and quality. Wicker states “the only copper deposit known to be worked in ancient times is at Cayönii Tepsi in south-east Turkey near the headwater of the Tigris where the earliest exploitation dates from around 7000 BC and that the copper of Cyprus isn’t exploited until much later (1998, p. 159).” He goes on to suggest that Egypt could have obtained its copper from there before the Third dynasty, though he admits the prospect to be unlikely. Another possible source for copper, Wicker says, is in present-day Uganda both west and north of Lake Victoria and that no copper or gold deposits have ever been located in present-day Somalia, the country that dominates the Horn of Africa.

Copper is associated in trade expeditions to both Dilmun and Punt by Mesopotamians and Egyptians, but no copper is known to have been mined on the Arabian Peninsula. The copper deposits of present-day Uganda, west of Lake Victoria or in South Africa, are locations that are either inland or of considerable distance for either the Sumerians or the Egyptians. That Bahrain and Dhaharan traded in copper is evident in the archaeological record, so this metal must have come from other sources as yet unknown or at least as yet not connected to the Persian Gulf such as from the upper Indus Valley. But also important to the production of bronze was tin, with sources generally thought to be found in mountains of modern-day Iran and Afghanistan.

I looked for other mentions of copper in antiquity that might reveal what sources there were at the relevant periods of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations but found none that didn’t require active trade networks for the two, though sources in the Persian gulf such as modern-day Oman are eventually used. I think its entirely probable that the need for copper helped drive the Dilmun and Punt legends since there are very real needs that are fulfilled.

In the last part of this series, I’ll end with a brief discussion and list a bibliography for anyone wishing to look into this or related topics further.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

Dilmun and Punt: Two Mythical Origins for Two Early Civilizations (Part I)


Archaeology is about examining the material remains of the human past, often in hopes of learning something of the origins of civilizations in antiquity: where did they come from? why did they leave there? what motivated them to seek a new home? -these are but a few questions that archaeologists and cultural historians work with when looking at the earliest civilizations.

In this series, I’m going to examine two of the earliest civilizations of the Near East, both of which have fascinated me for some time. Specifically, I’ll look at the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures and their legends of mystical places of origin: Dilmun and Punt. In this first post, I’ll discuss the myths, legends and stories surrounding the two and I invite others to comment.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

Introduction

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence has demonstrated the human propensity to migrate beginning at around 30,000 to 45,000 years ago, coinciding with the artifactual evidence of cultural change. In regions like the Indus Valley, Central Europe and Mesoamerica migrations and population density were influenced by climate and catastrophe and demographic reorganization in response to these pressures resulted in various instances of successes in the form of the rise of complex civilization or failures in the form of societal collapse.

It follows, then, that populations of the Near East experienced cycles of diffusion and migration as they evolved into sedentary and complex societies. It may even follow that this diffusion and migration may have had some common points of origin following the peak of the Würm glaciation around 18,000-16,000 BCE as climate changed from dry to wet conditions and sea levels began to rise as the glaciers melted, potentially displacing coastal and riverine populations. Since these migrations would have occurred prior to the advent of writing, evidence would need to be looked for by tracing artifacts to points of origin or following motif patterns that can be traced from culture to culture. But both of these could also have explanations involving trade and diffusion between adjacent cultures. Another line of evidence that could be followed might be strontium isotope analysis of human remains, which can reveal geographic regions that an individual spent time in over his life. The number of bones and teeth available to analyze become exponentially decreased the further back in time one looks, however, due to preservation problems and lower population densities, and this type of analysis only looks at the origin and travels of the individual in his lifetime not migrational trends spanning generations.

Still another line of evidence that could be examined, albeit one that is more subjective and includes more induction than deduction, is the examination of early written texts since there is some indication that the earliest accounts of myths and stories have origins in oral traditions. Among the earliest literate societies is that of the Egyptian and the Sumerian. Both have legends, myths and stories that speak of distant lands that may have been the origin of their people; lands that are considered holy and sacred; and lands that are the subject of trade and considered in high regard. Those lands are Dilmun and Punt of Sumerian and Egyptian legends respectively.

Mythical References

The earliest mythical references to Dilmun are Sumerian and found in cuneiform texts known today by the titles: Enki and Ninhursag, Enki and the World Order, Enki and Nanna-Suen, Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living, and the Myth of Ziusudra.

In the myth of Enki and Ninhursag Dilmun is referred to as:

“the pure clean and bright land of the living, the garden of the Great Gods and Earthly paradise, located eastward in Eden, was the place where Ninhursag-Ki, the Earth Mother, Most Exalted Lady and Supreme Queen, could be found.”

The same story also refers to Dilmun as being, “blessed by Enki with everlasting agricultural and trade superiority, for through its waterways and quays, fruits and grains were sold and exchanged by the people of Dilmun and beyond” and as a “holy” place. In this myth, Enki created all the canals that irrigated the crops of the people as the “Sweet Waters god.”

In Enki and the World Order, Dilmun is mentioned alongside Magan and Meluhha as trading partners with boats from Dilmun being filled with wood, suggesting that Dilmun was a place of plentiful trees. The word “kur” is used before Dilmun, which has various meanings in Sumerian and Akkadian including land, country, hill and mountain. Dilmun is regularly mentioned in Sumerian mythology alongside Magan and Meluhha, which are referred to as south of Sumer.

In one of the tablets that reveals the Myth of Ziusudra, Dilmun is referred to as “the mountain of crossing, the mountain of Dilmun, the place where the sun rises.” And Kramer (1944) attributes the “land of the living” in Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living as being Dilmun, since it is also referred to in the poem as, “land of the cedars” and “as a land whose ‘creature’ is the sun-god Utu, which Kramer feels he has demonstrated to be references to Dilmun.

Punt is similarly referred to in Egyptian texts as “the Land of God” and as a place “to the East” where expeditions could be sent for specialty goods including gold, copper, myrrh, exotic animals, and staves or rods for spears since there were few good sources for these along the Nile. It was also called the “land of beginning” and the “country of first existence,” and Breasted (1906a, p. 117) notes that the ancient Egyptians may have viewed this as their ancestral homeland. Punt is mentioned in the Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor, which describes a sailor marooned on a mystical island where he meets a serpent that identifies himself as “the Prince of Punt.” This prince helps the sailor on his way, returning the sailor and his new found riches to Egypt in a two-month boat journey.

Both Punt and Dilmun are referred to in their respective myths as holy places and being to the east. Both are places of trade and are revered as being ancestral homelands. Both are given mystical and Utopian status and spoken of in myth with respect. And both are considered to be the “land of the god(s).” Punt, unfortunately isn’t written of nearly to the degree that Dilmun is, but its allure is, perhaps, equally mysterious and appealing to those of both antiquity and modernity.

In the next part, which I’ll post in a day or so, I’ll discuss archaeological remains associated with Dilmun and Punt in Mesopotamian and Egyptian contexts. I’ll also briefly describe the geologic considerations associated with each.

In the final part, I’ll conclude with a discussion and a bibliography of the sources I used.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography

New Egyptian Tomb Find May Be Best Preserved

www.arts.kuleuven.be
Belgian archaeologists of the Leuven Catholic University discovered a tomb of Henu, a high-ranking estate manager and Egyptian courtier. The tomb dates to about 4,000 years ago and is located in the necropolis of Deir al-Barsha in Minya, Egypt.

Hieroglyphic texts on the sarcophagus of Henu’s linen-wrapped mummy mention the gods Anubis and Osiris and the tomb included wooden models that depicted scenes of brickmaking, beermaking, cereal grinding, and one of a boat with 10 rowers.

The story as I found it was at ArtDaily.org, the “first art newspaper on the net.”

However, after a little “internet excavation,” I found the Deir al-Barsha project’s website and their page on The Tomb of Henu, where I found this quote:

Intact tombs of the First Intermediate Period that are as rich as Henu’s burial have been found only rarely, the latest similar find dating back more than twenty years. Before that, a number of similar tombs, although of slightly later date, were discovered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The find is therefore most exceptional. Additionally all of the objects are in perfect condition which is remarkable since they are made in wood that was first plastered and then painted.

The authors of the Tomb website go on to point out that looting in antiquity was probably thwarted because of New Kingdom quarry debris covering this and other tombs in the area.

Photo Source: http://www.arts.kuleuven.be

The Archaeology of Exodus

According to the Biblical account, Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites who gained their freedom by escaping their enslavement by the Pharaoh of Egypt. For most Christians, this weekend is significant for Easter, which marks the death and resurrection of Jesus. I suppose I could write a whole blog post on just the pagan origins of Easter and the non-Christian aspects of celebrating spring festivals involving the goddess Eostre or Ishtar, but I’ll abstain from anthropological discussion and stick to archaeology.

Passover and Easter coincide and are different holidays, but its the source of Passover that I’m interested in today. Passover and Seder, which follows, are fascinating and, as religious holidays go, among my favorite even though I’m neither Jewish nor a believer. Regardless of whether or not these holidays and their rituals are based in factual events, to me, is irrelevant to the fact that they provide a very valid and purposeful reason to bring family and close friends together. To me, this is rarely a bad thing.

Having said that, however, I’ve long been fascinated by the story that inspired Passover. A story that has been integral to Judeo-Christian mythology and often taken literally by fundamentalists. Moreover, its a story, alleged to have occurred nearly 4,000 years ago, that has probably contributed greatly to the current crises in the Middle East, specifically the Palestine/Israel conflict.

Below the fold is my discussion on Exodus and what can be said archaeologically about it, based mostly on the work of Finklestein and Silberman, cited below.

The Biblical Claim
The claim is, in a nutshell, this: 600,000 “children of Israel” escaped from Egypt where they were the slaves of the pharaoh. These Israelites were chased by the pharaoh’s armies who were unable to catch them. The entire band of 600,000 former slaves “wandered” the desert, camping at various locations, encountering various peoples and kingdoms, and finally settled to form a new nation. All of this occurred, ostensibly, in the 15th century BCE. We “know” this because I Kings 6:1 tells us Solomon’s temple was constructed in the 4th year of his rule, 480 years after Exodus. 966 BCE + 480 years = 1446 BCE.

Exodus 1:11 mentions two cities of Egypt: Pi-Ramesses and Pithom as forced labor projects of the Israelites. The first pharaoh named Ramesses is the son of Seti I and reigns in the year 1320 BCE, so even the 480 years of I Kings doesn’t work. Pi-Ramesses was built in the Nile Delta during the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE) and Egyptian records indicate Semites were used in its construction.

Who Were the Hyksos?
Often in discussions of Exodus and Israelites in Egypt, the Hyksos come into the picture. This is because the Hyksos were Semite in origin, specifically Canaanite. The same progenitor peoples of the modern day Israelites and Palestinians. The Nile Delta, a.k.a. Lower Egypt, was frequently inhabited by migrating peoples and nomads who sought to find refuge in the relatively stable delta ecology, particularly in times of drought and famine. From about 1668 – 1565 BCE, Canaanites occupied the Delta and ruled Lower Egypt. Manethos referred to the them as heku-shoswet, and, Hellenized, it became “Hyksos,” which means rulers of a foreign land. This later became a general Egyptian term for Asiatic foreigners.

The Hyksos had a distinctive Canaanite pottery and architecture, which is present in the archaeological record and, according to the Turin Papyrus, they ruled Lower Egypt for 108 years. One of the most prominent of their rulers was Apophis and their capital was Avaris, known today as the archaeological site Tell Daba’a.

Pharaoh Ahmose I (18th Dynasty) sacked Avaris and chased the Hyksos to southern Canaan to their fortress, Sharuhen near modern day Gaza. Ahmose laid siege to the fortress for three years before he stormed it.

From that point, the Egyptians maintained tight control of the border between Eastern Egypt and Canaan.

For those that are quick to pick up on the similarities of the Hyksos and the Exodus tale, it’s important to note that the dates also don’t line up with the I Kings account and the difference is more than 130 years. Moreover, there is no “Ramesses” for whom a city can be named at this point. Though, the correlation is one to not be quickly dismissed.

What if the Exodus Story Were Concocted?
What if, indeed? Why concoct such a tale and how would we know it was either concocted or true. Believers in Christianity and Judaism assign varying degrees of trust in Old Testament mythology: some willing to accept it as myth at one extreme; others taking great umbrage to the use of the term “myth” at the other.

But if we hypothesize for a moment that the Exodus narrative (I’ll stick to this term) is one that was invented by the authors of Genesis, then what might we expect to find to corroborate the hypothesis?

First, we might expect that narrative be limited to only what the authors knew. Assuming that they didn’t have Iron Age archaeologists excavating sites, we can assume that their knowledge was limited to the geography and politics of their time.

Second, if the narrative is an invented one, we would fail to see corroboration in Egyptian texts of it.

Third, if, indeed, this is a narrative invented by a much later author or set of authors, we would not expect to find archaeological evidence that supports it.

Guess What?
The sites mentioned in Exodus are real.

The problem is this: the sites mentioned were sparsely populated by a few pastoralists or otherwise completely unoccupied during the alleged period that Exodus occurred in the Late Bronze Age (13th century BCE). A few were well-known and occupied much earlier and certainly much later than the Late Bronze Age, but during the Exodus period, nada. They were unoccupied at precisely the time they were reported to be by Exodus.

Not only that, but Egyptian texts don’t mention “Israelites” at all. If 600,000 slaves escaped the pharaoh, they were so stealthy they slipped past all the border stations that were put into place following the Hyksos expulsion, snuck past each of the fortifications used to supply soldiers along the “Ways of Horus,” the 250 km route between Egypt and Gaza. And they successfully eluded Egyptian soldiers that were already present in Canaan, which was controlled by Egypt from the 13th through the 7th centuries BCE. The only mention of “Israel” is on the Merneptah Stele where Merneptah (1213-1203 BCE) boasts that “Isrir lies in waste its seed no more.” The lack of a country determinative in the hieroglyphs clearly indicates Merneptah was referring to a people not a country and the depiction of the Israelites on the stele was consistent with Canaanite hair style.

Addressing the third point above, regarding archaeological evidence, it must be recognized that there has been extensive work done in archaeology in the Levant, particularly in the Sinai desert where the “children of Israel” (all 600,000 of them) were said to “wander.” Biblical stories are very much responsible for this archaeology as “biblical archaeologists,” searched -and still search- for evidence that supports their beliefs.

600,000 Wandering Jews?
Let’s put the number into perspective. Fresno and Mission Viejo, both in California have populations of 500,000. Bakersfield is only 250,000. Vancouver, Canada has a population of 600,000.

Not a single archaeological expedition, and there have been a great many, has discovered evidence of any substantial group of people subsisting off of the land in the Sinai desert or in or near any of the sites mentioned in Exodus. According to the biblical narrative, the equivalent of the population of Vancouver was moving around and camping in the desert for 40 years. Not only were they stealthy (not encountering the Egyptian armies who recorded even encounters with a few nomadic pastoralists tending their flocks); but they were frugal! Not a single pot sherd has been found!

Not a single campsite or site of occupation has been found with the exception of the well-documented coastal forts and stations of the Egyptian army for the period of Ramesses II or for any of his immediate predecessors or successors. There have been repeated archaeological excavations at the site of St. Catherine’s Monastary in the Sinai, where Moses is supposed to have spoken to a burning bush, but the results have always been negative evidence. Not a single sherd or indication that the site was occupied in the Late Bronze Age. Modern archaeological techniques can trace the remains of hunter-gather and pastoral nomads all over the world, but cannot find a population the size of that of Vancouver in a barren desert! Indeed, the activity of a small population of pastoralists is present in the 3rd millennium (2000-3000) BCE, as well as in the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods. But the evidence is NON-EXISTENT for the Late Bronze Age.

Tell Arad
East of Beersheba there is the remains of a great Early Bronze Age city that spans about 25 acres. A “tell” is a mound of past human habitation that has since eroded from mud bricks to a pile of dirt, often built upon again and again over many generations. This tell also became an Iron Age fort, but there are no remains for the Late Bronze Age when Exodus is alleged to have happened.

This directly contradicts the biblical narrative since the king of Arad “who dwelt in the Negeb” attacked the Israelites who appealed for divine intervention to destroy the Canaanite cities (Num. 21:1-3). There’s no evidence of Arad anywhere in the Beersheba valley (Negeb).

Tell Heshban
The wandering Jews supposedly did battle here with the Ammorite king, Sihon, who tried to block there passage (Num. 21:21-25). Excavations here reveal NO Bronze Age city. Not even a village.

Eddom and Ammon were alleged to be full-fledge states ruled by kings on the Transjordan plateau, yet the evidence shows that the plateau was sparsely inhabited by pastoralist populations in the Bronze Age. Not a single sedentary population is evident in the archaeological record.

Conclusion
Exodus was probably a story written by authors in the 7th century, or possibly as late as the 6th century, BCE. The place names mentioned above existed by the 7th century but not in the Bronze Age. Iron Age authors would have known of the many public works created by the Saite Dynasty in Egypt’s 26th Dynasty, who employed the largest numbers of foreign settlers. A large community of immigrants from Judah was present from the 7th through the 6th centuries. Pithom, mentioned in Exodus 1:11, was built in the 7th century. Migdol, mentioned in Exodus 14:2, was built in the 7th century.

Exodus apparently did not happen in the period or in the manner in which it is portrayed in biblical mythology.

Useful References:

Beitak, M. (1996). Avaris the capital of the Hyksos: recent excavations of Tell el-Daba. London

Finkelstein, I. & Silberman, N.A. (2001). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and The Origin of its Sacred Texts. New York

Oren, E.D. (1987). The “Ways of Horus” in North Sinai. In Rainey, A.F. (editor), Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period. Tel-Aviv

Redford, D.B. (1992). Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton

Redford, D.B. (1987) An Egyptological perspective on the Exodus narrative. In: Rainey, A.F. (editor), Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period. Tel-Aviv

Redford, D.B. (1973). Studies in Relations between Palestine and Egypt during the First Millennium B. C.: II. The Twenty-Second Dynasty. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 93(1), pp. 3-17.

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