Archive for the ‘Ancient Egypt’ Category

A Historical Look at the Wenis

By: The Scribe on July, 2011

Today, the name wenis is applied to the skin on the back of a person’s elbow. Youngstersimage and the young of heart get a kick out of talking about their wenis, how it looks or how it feels. What they don’t realize is that “Wenis” is actually the name of a historical Pharaoh who was the last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty. In some inscriptions his name is also recorded as Unas. The exact dates of his rule are not known although archaeologists have managed to date his reign as being somewhere between 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE.

Like many other pharaohs, he had several wives. The two women, named Khenut and Nebet were actually buried together in a double mastaba tomb near the tomb that belonged to Wenis. It is believed that because the Fifth Dynasty ended with Wenis it was likely that he did not have any sons that survived long enough to take the throne after the death of Wenis.

Like some other pharaohs, Wenis built a pyramid. It was located at Saqqara and was positioned near the step pyramid which had been built by Djoser in the 27th century BCE. Archaeologists have been able to obtain some information about what life was like when Wenis ruled by the reliefs that are located inside Wenis’ pyramid. There are also numerous inscriptions that line the inside of the pyramid as well.

These inscriptions were religious in nature. Wenis was the first pharaoh to use funerary texts in his pyramid. The inscriptions are actually among some of the oldest religious texts that have been found to date. The inscriptions were a series of spells which were also referred to as “utterances”. Their purpose was to help protect the remains of the pharaohs and would help to reanimate his body after his death.

imageThey also talked about the ways that the Pharaoh would be able to travel to the heavens after his death. Some of the methods of transportation included ramps, ladders and flight. Other inscriptions were methods that could be used to call on the Egyptian Gods as well. A total of 228 spells were located on the walls of Wenis’ pyramid. Each tomb contained a variety of different utterances. A total of 759 spells have been found. Some of the tombs overlapped with the utterances that were inscribed on the walls but there is no one tomb that contains all of the spells.

One of the most interesting utterances was found on the walls of Wenis’ tomb. It is known as the “cannibal hymn”. In this inscription, Wenis is described as hunting the gods and consuming parts of their bodies.

Wenis had also started construction on a funerary temple that was not completed until after his death. The temple had a pink granite gateway which was also inscribed with the names of Teti, the ruler who came after Wenis and whose reign signified the start of the sixth dynasty. There was also a causeway that was decorated with a bas relief. This piece of artwork showed the transportation of a palm column via a boat that sailed down the Nile.

Ancient Africans also plagued by Parasitic Worms

By: The Scribe on June, 2011

A parasite which plagues hundreds of millions of people today has also been found in some ancient Nubian mummies. Eggs had been discovered on some Nubian mummies as early as the 1920’s but scientists were still searching for proof of exactly which parasite affected them. Now there has been conclusive proof that the mummies were affected by Schsitosoma mansoni, a parasite that lives in water.

This body was preserved by dry air instead of deliberate mummificationThe parasite causes a disease called schsitosomiasis. It does not usually kill people however it does cause many different health issues. Some problems that are caused by schistosomiasis include anema, impaired growth, impaired cognitive development in children, and anemia. The parasite uses aquatic snails as a host. The eggs are excreted from the body in urine and feces. If this contaminates the water supply, the eggs hatch and live in snails until they can infect a human host. The parasite that causes this disease can lead to higher rates of bladder cancer.

What is interesting about the discovery of S. mansoni in humans is the fact that the snails generally inhabit irrigation channels. Infection rates are highest among people who use irrigation channels because the snails tend to prefer water that is clean, moving, well-oxygenated to water that is stagnant or heavily polluted. In the past, scientists thought that a similar parasite, S. haematobium was actually the one that was infecting the mummies.

The group of Nubians that had the highest rates of infection was the Wadi Halfa. These individuals settled along the banks of the Nile and were farming there as early as 1,500 years ago. It has now been discovered that as much as 25 % of the Wadi Halfa population was infected by this particular parasite. The fact that it is S. mansoni infecting these individuals is yet more proof that the Wadi Halfa were using irrigation channels to allow their crops to flourish. Archaeologists had not thought that these ancient Nubians had been sophisticated enough to make irrigation channels. This parasite infects millions of people around the world

The mummies that showed infection were actually mummified naturally rather than by the methods utilized by ancient Egyptians. The dry air mummified the bodies and preserved them. The skin and some of the internal organs were usually dried out and preserved and are still able to be studied today. Hundreds of naturally mummified bodies were studied before the findings were announced.

Today, a modern city stands among ruins of the ancient Wadi Halfa population. Archaeologists have been searching for Nubian antiquities in the area because flooding from construction of the Aswan Dam. The Noba were a nomadic people who settled in the area around the fourth century CE. The words Nubia and Nubian are derived from the name Noba. They settled in northern Sudan as well as in southern Egypt. Ancient Egyptians imported luxury goods along trade routes that travelled through Nubia as early as 2300 BCE. This is when Nubia was first mentioned in records from Egypt’s Old Kingdom. They also traded directly with Nubia as well. The Egyptians also expanded into Nubia by building garrison forts along the Nile so that they could protect trade routes.

Ancient Egyptian Nuns may have engaged in Graffiti

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

When people envision the life of nuns, they tend to think of women engaging in a life of quiet reflection and prayer. Recent evidence that was discovered by Professor Jennifer Westerfeld shows that at least one group of nuns may have also engaged in creating graffiti as well.

This important archaeological site contains graffiti from many different sourcesProfessor Westerfeld of the University of Louisville has made a discovery on the walls of an ancient Egyptian temple that indicates a group of Coptic nuns visited the site and, when they did, added graffiti to the collection of ancient writings that were already there. The temple, which was located at Abydos, was part of a larger complex made up of courtyards, hypostyle halls, several chapels and a structure that was known as the “Osireion”. It is unknown what this structure was used for. The complex was built approximately 3200 years ago by the Pharaoh Seti I.

This Pharaoh lived from approximately 1294 BCE to 1279 BCE although exact dates are not known. Some archaeologists and historians believed that he reigned for fifteen years although there is only definitive evidence for eleven years of his reign. During the time that he reigned, Seti was able to put an end to social disorder within Egypt and reaffirm the country’s power over Canaan and Syria. He was able to confront the Hittites and was able to defeat them in battle even though he was unable to destroy them totally.

The memorial temple at Abydos, Egypt is one of the major structures that were completed during Seti’s reign. The temple is the location of the Abydos King List, a chronological list showing the cartouches of the dynastic Egyptian pharaohs. This list was extremely important as it has helped archaeologists determine the order in which many of the pharaohs reigned. A total of 76 pharaohs and Egyptian kings make up the list which is divided into three rows containing 38 cartouches each. Not all of the cartouches are the names of kings or Pharaohs. The cartouches on the third row are simply those of Seti’s throne name and praenomen. There are a number of other important structures that are also located at Abydos including a royal necropolis. This is the location where many early pharaohs were entombed and the town rapidly achieved the status of being an important cult site.This image of Seti I was also found at the Abydos temple

While the complex is 3200 years old, the writing is estimated to be only about 1500 years old. This estimate is supported by the Coptic faith’s history. While the majority of the country converted to the Muslim faith after the conquest of 639-642 CE, a minor part of the population continued to practice a form of Christianity instead. While they still make up a religious minority, the Coptic community in Egypt is still the largest population of Christians in the Middle East.

The graffiti on the complex is important because it proves that there was female monastic activity taking place in Egypt. While it is known that there was monastic activity taking place in the region, very little was known about their activities and information on them was fairly minimal in Egyptian history.

Ancient Egypt- Not a Great Place to be a Dog

By: The Scribe on April, 2011

The Ancient Egyptians were known for mummifying animals as well as humans. Animals that were mummified were often beloved pets or were part of votive offerings. Often, they were one of several different sacred animals. Some of the animals that have been found in mummy form include fish, birds of prey, crocodiles, snakes and baboons. It was known that dogs and jackals were also mummified due to their connection to the god Anubis. This deity had the head of a jackal and was associated with the afterlife as well as with mummification.

An Egyptologist examines a wood coffin containing the remains of a mummified dogEgyptologists found a complex series of catacombs located between ten and twelve meters below the surface of the Saqqara desert approximately one century ago. Saqqara is an area where several important archaeological finds have been discovered. This particular structure was known at the time of discovery as the “Dog Catacomb” and individuals who located the complex found that it was full of the remains of mummified dogs. At the time that it was discovered, it was unknown just how many dogs had been placed in the structure. Now, scientists have returned to the site and have discovered that as many as eight million dogs and other animals were placed in the catacombs. They were placed there at some time between the sixth century BCE and the first century BCE.

The catacomb system is made up of a central corridor with side passages which branch off on either side. In many areas, the piles of mummified remains are up to three feet high. Unlike other animal mummies, which were carefully wrapped and placed in ornamented containers, the dog mummies in the catacombs were often poorly wrapped and were often undecorated. Because they were poorly wrapped, many of them had slowly deteriorated and so were difficult to separate into individual sets of remains.An example of a mummified animal

The dogs were not all adults. Many were puppies and may have only been hours old when they were mummified. It is believed that the animals were bred at puppy mills that were located in the city of Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt. It was believed that the animals could act as an intermediary between humans and Anubis. While the animal that had been mummified was sacrificed in the process, it was the dedication of the mummy that was considered the pious act and not its sacrifice.

When the catacombs were first discovered, a smaller side tunnel was also discovered. It was thought by many that this tunnel was used not to add more mummies to the catacombs but to remove them. Often in the past, animal mummies were sold and ground up as fertilizer. Many were shipped to England and used for such a purpose there.

The dog catacomb is not the only structure of its kind in the area although it is the largest. Several other catacomb structures were found in the same area. Some were dedicated to animals such as baboons, ibises, hawks, cats, cows and bulls.

While the practice of using animal mummies as an offering to various deities was quite common for centuries in Egypt, when the Romans conquered Egypt it slowly died out and eventually ceased sometime after 30 BCE.

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