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

Archaeological Finds 2020: Over 100 Ancient Sarcophagi

Egyptian antiquities officials have announced the discovery of almost 100 ancient sealed sarcophagi, which were buried more than 2,500 years ago in the Pharaonic necropolis and around 40 golden statues in south Cairo.

Archaeologists discovered a well-preserved mummy wrapped in cloth – which they later X-rayed to find out how the body had been conserved.

Tourism and antiquities minister Khaled el-Anany said the items date back to the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt for 300 years – from around 320BC to around 30BC and the Late Period (664-332BC).

Since September, antiquities experts have found around 140 sealed sarcophagi, featuring mummies inside almost all of them.

Nefertiti Bust

December 6th, 1912 – The Nefertiti Bust is discovered.

Here’s the Nefertiti bust, now residing in Berlin’s Neues Museum.  The limestone and painted stucco bust, which the Egyptians have been demanding back (and they have a case for its repatriation), was found in a sculptor’s workshop in the ancient city of Akhetaten,. The bust of Nefertiti is believed to have been crafted about 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose. The bust does not have any inscriptions, but can be certainly identified as Nefertiti by the characteristic crown, which she wears in other surviving (and clearly labelled) depictions, for example the “house altar”.

It’s truly a beautiful piece of work.

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Ancient Egyptian medicine was arguably the most advanced of its time. Natural and supernatural remedies were used together by practitioners/priests in order to cure injury, illness, and disease. Evidence of different diagnoses and treatments have been found on numerous papyri, giving details of both natural and supernatural cures for different ailments. These texts were organized from sections of the body, or focused on one form of treatment. Some of the most known of these are the Edwin Smith Papyrus describing cases of surgical procedures, the Ebers Papyrus which contains multiple natural remedies along with incantations, and the Domotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden describing incantations and magical processes (which show similarities to Greek papyri).

From symptoms, a diagnoses was found in order to treat ailments with natural treatments. Depending on the diagnoses numerous remedies would have been used. Medications were herbal/plant, mineral, or animal based. Castor oil was a very popular remedy for many ailments of all types. Honey was also used often, especially for wounds as a natural antiseptic. Some remedies were used domestically as pesticides to ward off insects and animals. Cosmetic remedies were also used to rid wrinkles, etc. Surgical procedures were not used often, only for broken bones, large wounds, circumcision, abscesses, and of course at death during the removal of organs for mummification. All surgical procedures also included medicines an most likely incantations as well.

The Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus, dated c. 1200 BCE, prescribes treatment for anorectal disease (problems associated with the anus and rectum) and prescribes cannabis for cancer patients (pre-dating the mention of cannabis in Herodotus, long thought to be the earliest mention of the drug). The Berlin Medical Papyrus (also known as the Brugsch Papyrus, dated to the New Kingdom, c. 1570 – c. 1069 BCE) deals with contraception, fertility, and includes the earliest known pregnancy tests. The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE) treats cancer (for which, it says, there is no treatment), heart disease, diabetes, birth control, and depression. The Edwin Smith Papyrus (c. 1600 BCE) is the oldest work on surgical techniques.

The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (c. 3rd century CE) is devoted entirely to magical spells and divination. The Hearst Medical Papyrus (dated to the New Kingdom) treats urinary tract infections and digestive problems. The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (c. 1800 BCE) deals with conception and pregnancy issues as well as contraception. The London Medical Papyrus (c. 1782-1570 BCE) offers prescriptions for issues related to the eyes, skin, burns, and pregnancy. These are only the papyrii recognized as focusing entirely on medicine. There are many more which touch on the subject but are not generally accepted as medical texts.

Along with natural remedies, the supernatural was equally important. ‘Magic’ (tied more closely to religion) and medicine were effective together in order to heal, which is why practitioners/doctors were also priests. Incantations are extremely prominent and go hand in hand with treatments of all types, which is prominent especially in the Ebers Papyrus. Amulets were also used and worn for protection against illness. Invocations gods such as Isis and other rituals are also noted to heal or ward off sickness, similar to ancient Greek practices.

The Sphinx and Its Meaning

The Sphinx is said to be associated with Khafre during 2558-2532 BC, and it lines up with the Pyramid of Khafre at the foot of its causeway.

The Sphinx has the body of lion and the head of a king or god. In 1905 the sand was cleared away from the sculpture base to reveal how massive the Sphinx really is. The paws alone are 50 feet long and the entire body equals out to 150 feet long. The head is proportionally a lot smaller at only 30 feet long and 14 feet wide. The Sphinx is believed to have been quite colorfully painted at one time. Unfortunately, the bedrock it is carved into is sandstone so it does not hold up well to the elements and a lot of erosion has occurred.

The Sphinx lost its nose because Muhammad Sa’Im Al-Dahr was angered by peasants making offerings to it, so he destroyed the nose then was promptly hanged for vandalism. Other stories such as the claim that Turks shot off its nose during target practice or even Napoleon. More mystery surrounding the Sphinx is who it resembles. Some believe that the face resembles that of Khafre’s older brother, Pharaoh Djedefre. A German Egyptologist has also suggested that the Sphinx was built by King Khufu, Khafre’s father. So many rumors circulate around the Sphinx, but I do not think we will ever truly know what it’s true purpose was.

The Dream Stele is between the paws of the Sphinx. The stele tells the story of when Thutmosis IV fell asleep under the Sphinx, which at the time was covered in sand up to its neck. He had a dream that the Sphinx talked to him and told him that if he freed the Sphinx from the sand then he would become king. Some people do believe that the Sphinx has magical powers or that it has hidden passageways under it. But none of these have been confirmed.