A medieval alchemical book reveals new secrets

An absolutely fascinating post from the British Museum just popped up in my mailbox. It is related to their exhibition Egypt: Faith after the Pharaohs, which actually closes this weekend. The NCMA Art Library purchased a copy of the exhibition catalogue, which arrived two days ago and is currently sitting on my desk. I will actually need to consult it in the next little while for something I am working on….

British Museum blog

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library 

Marcel Marée, Assistant Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum

Add. 25724 A page from the 18th-century copy of al-‘Irāqī’s Book of the Seven Climes (British Library, Add. MS 25724, fol. 50v)

Among the many intriguing objects on display in the Egypt: faith after the pharaohsexhibition is an 18th-century copy of the Book of the Seven Climes (Kitāb al-aqālīm al-ṣabah), on loan from the British Library. The book’s 13th-century author, Abū al-Qāsim al-‘Irāqī, believed it held ancient secrets coded in hieroglyphic texts. He was right, but not exactly as he imagined!

Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-‘Irāqī, known as al-Sīmāwī (‘the practitioner of natural or white magic’), was an author of books on alchemy and magic. He lived in Egypt during the reign of the Mamluk sultan Baybars I al-Bunduqdārī (r. 1260–1277). His books were popular and…

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Cat Mummies from the Louvre

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the first month of 2016 is cutest thing…

CAT MUMMIES

Type: organic remains (animal mummy)
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: no idea (!)
ARCHAEO-Crush: I don’t think an ARCHAEO-Crush can get any cuter than these little cat mummies!!! Aren’t they absolutely adorable?  The cat mummies are amongst the many mummies of the Musée du Louvre; however, there isn’t any information about them on the gallery labels or the museum website. Nothing regarding their discovery or their date. Zilch, niet, nada.
Paris 2012 211What is remarkable about these little mummies is that their legs were wrapped separately from their body and they look like gambolling kittens! That is why they are so, so, so cute! Actually, I had never seen cat mummies wrapped like this before. Usually, they look like the little guys in the picture on the left.  You have to admit that the effect is not quite the same!  It’s unfortunate not too have any additional information…  Animal mummies are generally offerings to the gods or sometimes mummified household pets buried with their owners.
Bucket list status: I saw these cute mummies back in 2012.
Additional information: 
Since the Louvre does not have any further information about these kitties, there is not much else I can share with you.

Answer for Stuff You Missed in History Class

My friend Mary B. at the Museum told me that the ladies who do the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcasts had a question about ancient Egyptian names (which came up in their Unearthed in 2015, part 1.) Apparently a bona fide Egyptologist had yet to furnish an answer to their question…  so, ladies… hope this helps!

Regarding Raneferef and Neferefre (or Neferefra)…. There is this thing with the ancient Egyptian written language called ‘honorific transposition.’ This means that when the name of a god or king is a component of a person’s name, it is put at the front of all the hieroglyphs making up that name (regardless of it being syntactically in the wrong place). The god (or king) is being honoured by having first place, if you will.

TutankhamunCartouche

To be read in very short rows from right to left, starting at the top. Reed leaf+game board+water squiggle = Amun ; half circle+quail chick+half circle = tut ; Egyptian cross with loop = ankh (the name is followed by a title, which you need not worry about!)

As an example, let’s look at the name of Tutankhamun—a pharaoh whose name includes that of the god Amun. Everybody knows Tutankhamun. Tut. Ankh. Amun. If you look at the hieroglyphs that spell his name, you’ll see that it is actually spelled Amun. Tut. Ankh.  (Read the caption to know what sign is what.)

He was named after the god Amun and even though in the short sentence the name Amun should be at the end, it is moved up to honour that god. (Tutankhamun means ‘living image of Amun’.)

Now, do the names above make sense if I tell you that the Fifth Dynasty King listed above was named after the god Ra? (Also spelled Re.) Ra. Nefer. Ef  is really Nefer. Ef. Ra.

 

As for Queen Khentkawes… her name  can be spelled Khentkaus… because the sound U and W are very close. It can also be spelled Khentakawes or even Khentakawess! Egyptian hieroglyphs are primarily phonetic. It is also a language where the vowels are seldom written (which is the case with Hebrew, for example). When you’re stuck with only the consonantal roots of words, you need help trying to pronounce these words today…. So Egyptologists will stick the vowel E in between consonants. You’ll inevitably end up with varied spellings of the same name. An example: Ramses. Can also be spelled Rameses. Even Ramesses! The consonantal root is r ms s… bring on the vowels!

There is also the ancient Greek version/rendition of Egyptian names, which is very confusing.  In English, we tend to use the Egyptian version of these names: take for example, Khufu… (the sounds fit with the hieroglyphs) but in French we prefer Cheops (this is how the Greeks referred to the king who built the Great Pyramid).  Senwosret (also spelled Senusret) versus the Greek SesostrisAmenhotep versus Amenophis!

Plus, it seems that modern languages adapt Egyptian names, too.  Don’t go look for Nefertiti in a German book! You’ll find her name spelled Nofretete instead.

Are you confused yet? Aren’t hieroglyphs and the ancient Egyptian language fun? (Insert grin here!)

If you’re interested in ancient Egyptian language for fun, I suggest you take a look at one of the world’s most ancient and noble blogger’s posts on Circa, the North Carolina Museum of Art’s blog. Fefi is sharing secrets about hieroglyphs… which can be read from right to left, left to right and vertically downwards (not from the bottom).

Check out Fefi’s posts:
Learn Hieroglyphs with FefiViper, viper, reed leaf, nobleman
Name or Nickname? That is the question?
Write Your Name in Hieroglyphs

The 10th Annual Archaeologists’ Day

Wish I were there… Happy Archaeologists’ Day to all my colleagues and friends currently playing in the sand in Egypt–at Malqata and elsewhere. May the dig season be fruitful!

iMalqata

Peter Lacovara

Friday is our day off work, at least at the site. We usually spend the time doing research in the Chicago House Library or catching up on notes, visiting other sites, buying supplies or doing all of the above. Our break this week comes, appropriately, just after Egypt’s tenth annual Archaeologists’ Day. To celebrate the work of Egyptian and international archaeologists, the Ministry of Antiquities made admission to all archeological sites in Egypt free for Egyptians and foreign residents.

10thfeast

The Minister of Antiquities, Mamdouh El-Damaty, announced that the goal of this policy is to raise awareness of Egypt’s heritage, and also to celebrate the work of both Egyptian and foreign archaeologists. He hopes many more people will visit museums and archaeological sites, and support the preservation of this heritage, which belongs not only to Egypt, but to the whole world.

Egypt began celebrating this day in 2007, selecting January 14th because this was…

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David Bowie: The Pharaoh of Music

I sadly learned of David Bowie’s passing while I was at the gym a little while ago.  With his absolutely amazing voice, Bowie is a god of modern music.  I say god because that’s what a pharaoh becomes when he dies…

Bowie-pharaoh

David Bowie as Pharaoh (photo from a post on the WordPress website of Olivia Macarte: https://oliviamacarte.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/bowie-plath/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP David Bowie (1947-2016)

 

 

Egyptian Action Figures?!

Staff members have been helping out during our very, very busy fall exhibitions by taking guard duty in the permanent galleries. A number of colleagues have dropped by my office to share visitor comments regarding the Egyptian galleries (always good comments and fun stories). This morning, Laura F dropped by and made my day with her anecdote. When she was on duty in the Egyptian gallery, a small boy of about 9 zoomed passed her straight to the vitrine with our two statuettes of Isis and Horus and one of Osiris with great excitement. “Egyptian action figures!” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
(Laura’s rendering of story also made it very funny.)

I howled with laughter! It made my day!

A rather poor photograph taken by yours truly this morning of the so-called 'Egyptian Action Figures.' (The Museum is not open to the public on Mondays, so the galleries are not lit... hence the poor photograph.)

A rather poor photograph taken by yours truly this morning of the so-called ‘Egyptian Action Figures.’ (The Museum is not open to the public on Mondays, so the galleries are not lit… hence the poor photograph.)

The Head of Augustus from Meroe

December’s ARCHAEO-Crush is one of my favourite artefacts at the British Museum that comes from the site of Meroe in Sudan.

The so-called ‘Meroe Head’ (or Head of Augustus) at the British Museum is a magnificent bronze head of Emperor Augustus excavated in Meroe, Sudan.

THE HEAD OF AUGUSTUS FROM MEROE

Type: artefact (statue fragment)
Civilisation: Roman Empire, rule of Augustus, 27 BC – AD 14
Date:  27 BC – 25 BC
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a soft spot for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome,  but I’m not quite sure why. (I mean the guy defeated Cleopatra and Antony at Actium and Egypt became a Roman province. I’m an Egyptologist… I shouldn’t like Augustus!) It might be that I am partial to his statues’ beautiful features–his idealised boyish good looks found in both marble and bronze. And, in this particular case, his eyes! These amazing eyes are the original inlays with glass pupils set in metal rings and irises made of calcite.  However, of all the statues of Augustus an archaeologist (or a tourist) will come across, this one is the most amazing in my very humble opinion…  Even more so because it was not found in any part of the Roman Empire… it was discovered in Sudan at the Royal City of Meroe!
This story includes the Romans getting their butts kicked by a girl, the great Meroitic Candace Amanirenas (perhaps more on that another day), whose army looted statues of Augustus that were set up at Aswan during the Kushite attack in 25 BC (remember Egypt had become a province of the Empire and there were statues of the emperor all over the place). The booty was taken back home to Meroe, capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Clearly, not all statues were returned after the Romans and the Kushites negotiated a peace treaty because this more than life-size head of Augustus was excavated by John Garstang at Meroe in 1910 (you’ll find great pics here).  Interestingly, the bronze head of Augustus was discovered underneath the steps of a temple, metaphorically being trampled by the feet of those entering (needless to say it was deliberately placed there). The lovely head’s fate is a remarkable illustration of the Kushites’ opposition to the Roman rule of Egypt.  The Romans never controlled Kush…
Bucket list status:
I have seen this fabulous bronze head a few times, but, strangely enough, I photographed it only once–the first time I went to the BM–before I even owned a digital camera. I had been wanting to blog about it, but had wait until I came home for Christmas to scan the picture because the original was at my parents’ house!
Additional information: 
The accession number for this object is 1911,0901.1 and you can read more about it on the British Museum website.  It was featured in the BM’s wonderful series History of the World in 100 Objects as object #35, and you can listen to the entry by clicking on the pink button using the link.