Category: Egypt

Recent work on the mummies of working people at Deir El-Medina in Egypt suggest that tattoos were much more common than previously thought 3,000 years ago. In the local cemetery, seven mummified women have been identified with tattoos. One had over 30!

The subject of the tattoos included sacred motifs such as Wadjet eyes, baboons, cobras, cows, scarab beetles, and lotus flowers. Some tattoos appear to have religious meaning, while others appear to offer healing or protection. Just like today, ancient Egyptians got tattoos for many reasons.

The Mamluks were a corps of slaves which went from being the elite bodyguards of the Ayyubid Caliphate founded by Saladin, to running Egypt for themselves. It lasted as an independent state for over 250 years, from 1250 to 1517 when Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. But the Mamluks survived.

By the 1630s, a Mamluk emir managed to become de facto ruler of the country. By the 1700s, the importance of the pasha (Ottoman governor) was superseded by that of the Mameluk beys, and it was even made official. Two offices, those of Shaykh al-Balad and Amir al-hajj – both offices held by Mameluks – represented the rulers of Egypt. In the name of the Ottoman Sultan, of course. It was only with the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1799 that the Mamluk power center was permanently ended.

This is the cubit rod (aka ruler) of Maya, “treasurer of king Tutankhamun.” He also served under Tutankamun’s two successors, Ay and Horemheb. The cubit rod was an important part of being a treasurer because the Egyptian government was built on land management, and taxes were mainly agricultural products. To know how much to tax, you had to know how to measure the field, and the unit of measurement was the cubit.

This rod measures the royal cubit of seven palm-lengths (52.3 cm) and the common cubit of 6 palm-lengths. There are also a number of gradations shown including “digits,” palm-lengths, and fractions of digits from halves to sixteenths. Just in case Maya needed to measure really small distances.

THE Seven Ancient Wonders of the World were known in Greek as Themata or ‘things to be seen’ which is now referred to as ‘must see’ sites. Watch our new video to learn more about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!  

ANCIENT History Magazine #24 is out now: http://bit.ly/ahe-ahm

Throughout much of Egyptian history, foreign and local trade networks were critical to the country’s economy, and there is a great deal of evidence for state-run commerce. However, records of private traders and merchants remain far more scarce. In issue 24 of Ancient History, we look at how trade both sustained and spread Egyptian culture, from the Old through New Kingdoms.

Image: A reconstruction of the ancient capital (and trade hub) of Pi-Ramesses, by Rocío Espin.

The known, Dynastic Egypt began around 3,100 BCE. But the magnificent, complex civilization we still learn about in elementary school did not suddenly emerge, fully-formed. What came before? Archaeologists know that roughly between 9,300 BCE and 4,000 BCE, an enigmatic Neolithic people built a proto civilization in Egypt. But there has been little research on them, so a new excavation of three burial sites has the possibility of adding greatly to the understanding of how ancient Egypt became, well, ancient Egypt.

During the Neolithic, Egypt was much greener, allowing ancient herders to populate what is now the middle of a barren desert. During the Final Neolithic (4,600 – 4,000 BCE) they began to bury the dead in formal cemeteries. We know this from excavations at three burial sites which were not lone graves but large cemeteries housing over 100 burials each.

One cemetery appears to be for the elite. It had a low childhood mortality rate, tall stature, and relatively long lifespans for the Neolithic. Men averaged about 170 cm tall (5’7"), and women about 160 cm (5’3"). Most had lived beyond 40, and some even into their 50s. That’s not old today, but for the Neolithic, that’s nothing to scoff at. And most tellingly, those in this cemetery were buried with many artifacts including ornamental pottery, jewellery from stones and ostrich eggshells, sea shells far from the sea, and animal remains. Two other cemeteries appear to be for lower-status individuals. They had few artifacts, high child mortality, were physically shorter, and had shorter lifespans. The larger of the two cemeteries had a separate burial area for children under 3 years old, although most of the remains were infants and late-term fetuses. It is the earliest known infant cemetery.

These three very different burial sites suggest that by 4,600 BCE, Neolithic society had developed stratified social hierarchies. It also suggests that age 3 is when children became “people” and were included in adult cemeteries. Finally, there was evidence of respect for those previously buried, because when coming across old skeletons in reused graves, they often carefully repositioned their ancestors’ bones, sometimes even replacing teeth that had fallen out! The archaeological evidence suggests a sophisticated herding society, one slowly evolving towards what would become Dynastic Egypt.

IMMORTALITY OF WRITERS IN ANCIENT EGYPT:  

For the ancient Egyptians, life on earth was only one part of an eternal journey which continued after death. One’s purpose in life was to live in balance with one’s self, family, community, and the gods. Any occupation in Egypt was considered worthwhile as long as one was performing one’s duties in accordance with ma’at (harmony and balance as personified in the goddess Ma’at), the central value of Egyptian culture. This is evident through inscriptions as well as artwork depicting people engaged in various jobs presented, for the most part, admirably.

The inscriptions were set down by scribes, among the most highly respected professions in Egypt, and while most of their works have other people, professions, or events as subject matter, there are a number which celebrate the occupation of scribe above all others. The most famous of these is The Satire of the Trades (from the Middle Kingdom, 2040-1782 BCE) in which a father encourages his son to become a scribe because it is better than any other profession. Another well-known work, this one from the New Kingdom (c. 1570 – c. 1069 BCE), is A Schoolbook or Be a Scribe which delivers the same message, this time from a teacher to a lazy student.

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This is Meritamun. Her name means “beloved of Amun,” the great Egyptian creator/sun god. She lived in ancient Egypt, sometime between 1500 BCE and 331 BCE, and was likely high status judging by the quality of the linens she was mummified with. Meritamun was between 18 and 25 when she died.

(I can’t find the first pic without the watermark, sorry !)

Farid El-Atrache (1910-1974) was an Egyptian-Syrian singer, musician and composer. He started his career in the 1930’s with his sister Asmahan.

The Neolithic Revolution, also known as the Agricultural Revolution, occurred about 12,000 years ago. For those, like me, who are not the best at math, that is around 10,000 BCE. There was a global trend away from nomadic hunting and gathering and towards sedentary farming. It appears to have arisen independently in multiple places in the Middle East, as well as in China and Papua New Guinea. Egypt and the Indus River Valley may have independently developed agriculture as well, or gotten the idea and the seeds from the Middle East or China.

Cereals, like barley in the Middle East and rice in China, were likely the first to be domesticated, eventually supplemented by protein-rice plants like peas and lentils. As people began to settle down they also domesticated animals. The earliest archaeological evidence of sheep and goat herding comes from around 10,000 BCE in the Iraq and Anatolia. Animals could be used as labor in the fields, or as sources of additional nutrients and calories to supplement the new cereal-heavy diet.

The Neolithic Revolution did not happen everywhere, and not all at once. And there remain a variety of hypotheses as to why humans stopped foraging and started farming. Population pressure may have caused increased competition for food and the need to cultivate new foods; people may have shifted to farming in order to involve elders and children in food production; humans may have learned to depend on plants they modified in early domestication attempts and in turn, those plants may have become dependent on humans. Whatever the reason, the Neolithic Revolution changed humanity – and our world – for good.