Mummy Brown

Until relatively recently, Egyptian mummies, believe it or not, were used to produce a type of paint, which was called Mummy Brown, Mommia, or Momie. The main ingredient of this paint was, as you may have already guessed, ground up Egyptian mummies. This powder was mixed with white pitch and myrrh to produce a rich brown pigment. It was first made in the 16th century, and became a popular color amongst the Pre-Raphaelite painters of the mid-19th century.

For instance, it has been recorded that the British portraitist, Sir William Beechey, kept stocks of Mummy Brown. The French artist Martin Drölling also reputedly used Mummy Brown made with the remains of French kings disinterred from the royal abbey of St. Denis in Paris. It has been suggested that his L’interieur d’une cuisine is an example of extensive use of the pigment, while the mesmerizing painting by Edward Burne-Jones, entitled The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, is also believed to have been painted using Mummy Brown.

Apothecary: Using Ground Mummies to Cure Disease

Art supplies were not the only things that ground bones of mummies were used for. More surprisingly, perhaps, is their use for medicinal purposes. This was due to the belief that mummies contained bitumen, which was used by the ancient Greeks to cure a variety of diseases. Apparently, in the absence of real bitumen, the so-called bitumen from a mummy would do just as well. Keep in mind that the word mummy itself is derived from the Persian word for bitumen, mum or mumiya.

As a result of this belief in the medicinal properties of Mummy powder, Egyptian mummies were exported to Europe, ground down, and sold in apothecaries throughout the continent. Part of the craze for Mummy powder was due to the claim that mummies had a mysterious life force that was transferrable to whoever ingested it. Hence, ground mummies were consumed by Europeans well into the 18th century.

Sources: Ancient Origins, “The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine” in Smithsonian Magazine, “Ground Up Mummies Were Once an Ingredient in Paint” in Smithsonian Magazine.

Predynastic Egypt: Maadi Culture

Contemporary throughout its development to these three cultural phases, in Lower Egypt we first find the Maadian cultural complex, which is later joined by the Buto cultural complex in 3600 BC. 

The Maadian specifically is made up of a dozen archaeological sites, among those that emphasize the cemetery and the establishment of the own Maadi. Contrary to what we see at the sites of the Naqada civilization, the Maadi cemeteries are much less important to the archaeological record than the settlements.

In this sense, the excavated structures show three types of remains, one of which is completely exceptional. It consists of houses excavated in the rock with oval plans measuring 3 x 5 meters in surface and up to three meters deep, which were accessed through an excavated passage.

The presence of hearths, semi-buried jugs and household remains suggests that they were permanent places of residence, which is not without attention for being underground. On the other side of the scale, around 600 tombs have been discovered in Maadi, which is nothing compared to the 15,000 predynastic tombs in the south of the country. It is not only a question of quantity, but also of quality: the tombs of Lower Egypt are extremely simple, based on oval holes with the deceased in a fetal position, wrapped in a mat or cloth and accompanied only by one or two ceramic containers or even for nothing at all.

Starting in 3600 BC, the Maadi-Buto culture not only had contact with the civilization of Naqada II to the south, but was also related to Asia by land with the Palestinian strip and by sea with the northern coast of Syria and, through it, with Mesopotamia.

Predynastic Egypt: Naqada I & II

The civilization or culture of Naqada was born shortly after in the time of the end of the Badarian culture and something more to the south. Specifically, it covers all the territories previously occupied by the Badarian plus the Thebes region, already in the middle of Upper Egypt.

This second great phase of the Predynastic period takes its name from the archaeological site of Naqada, where the famous Egyptologist Flinders Petrie discovered a huge cemetery of more than 3,000 graves in 1892. These burials consist of little more than the body in a fetal position on the left side, wrapped in animal skin, sometimes covered by a mat and deposited in simple oval holes dug in the sand. Compared with the important finds from the world of the dead, the preserved remains of the human settlements of Naqada I are poor and scarce.

The buildings, built using a mixture of mud and organic materials, have not been well preserved, so they have not been able to be well studied by archaeologists. This ignorance directly affects our understanding of the life forms of Naqada I, so that we can only theorize about them from other evidence, such as the presence of domestic animals in the grave goods: Goats, sheep and cattle.

Predynastic Egypt: Naqada II

Naqada II is an evolution of everything already seen in the Nagada I culture, rather than an abrupt change or an independent culture. The Naqada civilization spread south to Nubia at the second cataract, and north to cover the entirety of Middle Egypt and come into contact with the Maadi culture in Lower Egypt.

In fact, around 3400 BC it continued its penetration towards the north, occupying the south and east of the Delta, even overlapping the Maadi culture itself. Finally, around 3300 BC, the culture of Naqada II is archaeologically documented throughout the Delta, thus achieving for the first time the cultural unification of all Egypt, centuries before political unification took place.

From this moment, the sedentary Egyptians experienced a rapid development of their civilization, all coinciding with the beginning of the exploitation of the quarries, the manufacture of pottery on the wheel, the decoration of the vessels with red paint, the appearance of the jewelry and copper metallurgy at full capacity and the manufacture of stone vessels. Likewise, the agricultural surpluses of the new locations stimulated the division of labor, social stratification and the evolution of the political system towards state forms.

Predynastic Egypt: Badarian Culture

The Predynastic Period begins in the middle areas of Egypt with the so-called Badarian culture, a name given to group a series of archaeological sites – six hundred tombs with rich funerary equipment and forty little-investigated settlements – distributed over more than thirty kilometers of the eastern bank of the Nile.

At first it was thought that it was a culture restricted to the area that gives it its name, El Badari, but more recently objects very characteristic of it have been found in much more southern and eastern areas. Beyond its relevance as the first demonstration of the use of agriculture in Upper Egypt, the Badarian culture is known above all for its necropolis in the desert.

All the graves are simple oval holes in the ground that, in many cases, contain a mat on which the corpse is placed. In general, these bodies are in a not too hunched fetal position, lying on the left side, with the head directed south and facing west. Its rich funerary furnishings are striking, suggesting an unequal distribution of wealth and, therefore, the existence of a certain social stratification. This thesis is further reinforced by the fact that the richest tombs tend to separate from the others in specific areas of the necropolis.

The Djed

The djed is an ancient Egyptian symbol for stability which features prominently in Egyptian art and architecture throughout the country’s history. `Stability’ should be understood to mean not only a firm footing but immutability and permanance. The symbol is a column with a broad base which narrows as it rises to a capital and is crossed by four parallel lines. The column and the lines are sometimes brightly painted and other times monochrome. The djed first appears in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and continues through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before it became a province of the Roman Empire.

The djed is often overlooked in Egyptian art, and especially in architecture, simply because it is so ubiquitous; the djed is featured on pillars, tomb walls, architraves (the main beam which rests on pillars), palace walls, sheets of painted papyrus, and especially sarcophagi. Once one is aware of the djed and its importance to ancient Egyptian culture it is impossible to miss. It is a potent symbol associated with the god Osiris and his return from the dead. The symbol has been interpreted to represent different objects such as the god Osiris’ backbone, the tamarisk tree which enclosed the god, four pillars rising one behind another, and a fertility pole raised at festivals. `Stability’, however, seems to have been its prime meaning and the one which the ancient Egyptians attached the greatest importance to.

The precise origin of the djed is unknown but it was associated with the god Ptah, an early creator god in the Predynastic Period whose attributes were later assumed by the deities Atum and Osiris. According to historian Clare Gibson, the djed was an early phonogram which could also act as a pictogram or ideogram. A phonogram is a symbol representing a sound and a pictogram a symbol for a specific word or phrase while an ideogram is a symbol of a thing itself without reference to words or sounds (such as numerals where one recognizes the symbol 10 as representing a certain quantity). The djed symbolized the spoken word-concept for stability, was the written word for stability, and stood for the concept itself.

Sources: World History Encyclopedia

Cannabis in Ancient Egyptian Religion and Culture

When the mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses II was uncovered and examined back in 1881, traces of cannabis in the remains was the last thing anyone was expecting, but it was there. Since then, a lot of the uncovered mummies have shown similar traces of the herb in their systems, confirming the suspicion that cannabis was indeed a part of the regular culture in ancient Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, cannabis was used for medicinal, religious, and cultural purposes.

Seshat, the goddess of wisdom, was often depicted with a leaf of the cannabis plant above her head in paintings from thousands of years ago. Bastet, the feline goddess of war, was also related to the use of cannabis in the region, but more in terms of witchcraft. Evidence also suggests that worshippers may have consumed marijuana in one form or the other during certain religious festivities and rituals.

Sources: Ancient Origins (Robert Brusco)

Rosetta Stone Discovered

Today in Egyptian history —> On this day in 1799, French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard found the Rosetta Stone in an Egyptian village. The stone was inscribed with hieroglyphics, demotic script and Greek script in 196 BC but was lost during the Medieval period. After its rediscovery, it prompted widespread excitement as scientists raced to be the first to decipher the ancient text. It was eventually translated by Jean-François Champollion, a French scholar, in 1822!

The inscription, by the way, is about the divine status of Ptolemy V.

The Egyptians want it returned for their new Grand Egyptian Museum (opening later this year), but the British Museum says no as it’s the most visited artifact in the museum.

First Pregnant Egyptian Mummy Discovered

The first known case of a pregnant Ancient Egyptian mummy has been revealed by researchers from the Warsaw Mummy Project.

The mummy, which is housed in the National Museum in Warsaw was previously thought to be the remains of the priest Hor-Djehuti, until it was discovered in 2016 to be an embalmed woman who lived in Thebes around the 1st century BC.

Dr. Marzena Ożarek-Szilke from the University of Warsaw said in an interview to PAP: “We were about to summarise the project and submit the publication to print. For the last time my husband Stanisław Szilkec looked at the x-ray images, and we saw in the deceased woman’s belly a sight familiar to the parents of three children … a little foot.”

A closer examination using tomographic imaging revealed that the woman was between 20-30 years old when she died and was in her 26th to 30th week of her pregnancy.

Wojciech Ejsmond from the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences said: “For unknown reasons, the fetus was not removed from the abdomen of the deceased during mummification.” This has led the research team to speculate as to whether the fetus was to difficult for the embalmers to remove, that there might have been an attempt to camouflage an unwanted pregnancy, or possibly in connection to the ritual beliefs of rebirth and the afterlife.

Scientists will now try to unravel the mystery of the cause of the woman’s death. “It’s no secret that the mortality rate during pregnancy and childbirth was also high at that time. Therefore, we believe that the pregnancy could have somehow contributed to the death of the young woman ”- noted Dr. Ejsmond.

Source: HeritageDaily

Harpokrates Stelae

An amuletic plaque of the god Harpokrates (Horus the Child) standing in the center on the heads of two crocodiles and beneath a mask of Bes, a god especially associated with the protection of children and of pregnant women and those giving birth. In each hand Harpokrates clutches a scorpion by the stinger as well as two serpents. He also grasps a quadruped by the horns with his right while his left grips a lion by the tail. In addition, he is flanked by standards in the form of lotus and papyrus columns.

The plaque is extensively inscribed with magical spells to protect against scorpions, snakes, and the other noxious forces subdued by the god, and to heal the stings and bites of wild creatures.

The object is made of chlorite schist and is dated to the Ptolemaic Period (304-30 BCE). This type of stelae was often set up in homes, but examples have also been found in burials. This suggests that they were believed to extend their protective powers to the deceased.

This piece is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

3500 years old Ancient Egyptian Lost City Discovered

Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a 3500 years old Ancient Egyptian city near Luxor in Egypt.

The Egyptian Expedition under Dr Zahi Hawass made the discovery whilst excavating an area between Rameses III’s temple at Medinet Habu, and Amenhotep III’s temple at Memnon in search of Tutankhamun’s Mortuary Temple.

The city dates from the period of Amenhotep III (also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent – the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty) based on a large number of archaeological finds, such as rings, scarabs, coloured pottery vessels, and mud bricks bearing seals of King Amenhotep III’s cartouche.

Excavations which first started in September 2020 have revealed several streets flanked by houses that extend all the way to Deir el-Medina, the village of artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Many of the houses have relatively intact walls, whilst the interior contains everyday tools and domestic items.

Several districts have been identified, with a southern area being used for the storage and production of food items, a residential and administrative district, and an industrial district for the manufacturing of mud bricks and decorative jewelry.

One notable find is a storage vessel containing 10kg of dried meat that has the inscription: “Year 37, dressed meat for the third Heb Sed festival from the slaughterhouse of the stockyard of Kha made by the butcher luwy.”

Another discovery is a mud seal inscription that reads: “gm pa Aton” – meaning “the domain of the dazzling Aten”, the name of a temple built by King Akhenaten at Karnak.

Betsy Brian, Professor of Egyptology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore USA, said ‘The discovery of this lost city is the second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun”.

“The discovery of the Lost City not only gives us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time when the Empire was at his wealthiest, but it will help us shed light on one of history’s greatest mystery: why did Akhenaten & Nefertiti decide to move to Amarna,” Brian added.

Sources: Heritage Daily, Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities