Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ludwig Borchardt...bust of old essay

Yes, it was Ludwig Borchardt that discovered the bust of Queen Nefertiti now residing in Berlin's Neues Museum and the object of Egyptian repatriation led by the infamous Egyptologist Zawai Hawass and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA]. Below is an article written by Borchardt in 1898 on "TOMBS OF THE FIRST EGYPTIAN DYNASTY". How things have changed in 112 years.


NO. 1178


JUNE 25, 1898




Director of the German School in Cairo.

For many years various European collections of Egyptian antiquities have contained a certain series of objects which gave archæologists great difficulty. There were vases of a peculiar form and color, greenish plates of slate, many of them in curious animal forms, and other similar things. It was known, positively, that these objects had been found in Egypt, but it was impossible to assign them a place in the known periods of Egyptian art. The puzzle was increased in difficulty by certain plates of slate with hunting and battle scenes and other representations in relief in a style so strange that many investigators considered them products of the art of Western Asia.

The first light was thrown on the question in the winter of 1894-95 by the excavations of Flinders Petrie in Ballas and Neggadeh, two places on the west bank of the Nile, a little below ancient Thebes. This persevering English investigator discovered here a very large necropolis in which he examined about three thousand graves. They all contained the same kinds of pottery and the same slate tablets mentioned above, and many other objects which did not seem to be Egyptian. It was plain that the newly found necropolis and the puzzling objects already in the museums belonged to the same period. Petrie assumed that they represented the art of a foreign people—perhaps the Libyans—who had temporarily resided in Egypt in the time between the old and the middle kingdoms. He gave this unknown people the name "New Race." But his theory met with little approval, least of all from German Egyptologists; and even at that time, an opinion was expressed that this unusual art belonged before the known beginning of Egyptian culture. However, in spite of much discussion, the question could not then be decided.

About the same time another riddle was presented to Egyptologists by the results of the excavations made in Abydos by the French scholar Amélineau; and another hot discussion was raised. Amélineau had excavated several large tombs and had also found objects which could not be arranged in the known development of Egyptian art. The fortunate discoverer ascribed these to the dynasties of the demigods, who, according to Egyptian tradition, reigned before the kings; but of course this idea met with determined opposition, and indeed especially among his French colleagues. The tomb of Abydos offered, however, on quiet consideration, more material for establishing its date than those of Ballas and Neggadeh. In Abydos a number of inscriptions had been found which, rude as they were, showed that the people buried in the tombs had known the hieroglyphic system of writing. The occurrence of so-called "Horus names" in these inscriptions was especially important. For every old Egyptian king had a long list of names and titles, and among them a name surmounted by the picture of a hawk (i.e., Horus), and called on that account the "Horus name." As the name is, at the same time, written on a sort of standard, it is also called the "Banner name." Such "Horus" or "Banner names" occur, then, on the objects found by Amélineau. Accidentally, one of these names occurs, also, on a statue in the Gizeh Museum which, according to its style, is one of the oldest statues which the museum possesses. Thus it became evident that the Abydos objects were, in any case, to be placed in the earliest period of Egyptian history.

The discussion stood thus when, in the spring of 1897, the fortunate hand of De Morgan, the former Directeur-général des Services des antiquités égyptiennes, succeeded by renewed excavations in Neggadeh in furnishing the connections between the objects found by Petrie in Ballas and Neggadeh and those found by Amélineau in Abydos. He discovered, not far from the necropolis, excavated by Petrie, the tomb of a king which, on the one hand, contained pottery and tablets like those found by Petrie, and on the other, objects entirely like those found by Amélineau. Thus it was proved that both Petrie's tombs and those of Amélineau belonged to the same period, and, indeed, the oldest period, of Egyptian history, before the third dynasty. They were older than the most ancient objects which we had thought that we possessed. But it was still impossible to date them exactly.

At this point, an epoch-making discovery of Dr. Sethe, privat-docent at the University of Berlin, placed the whole matter at a single stroke on a comparatively sure foundation. He pointed out that the inscriptions on a few unassuming potsherds from Abydos contained not only Banner names of old kings, but also their ordinary names. These names were not inclosed, as later, in cartouches, and even contained many unusual spellings; but they were still too clear to be misunderstood. Sethe succeeded in identifying the names of the fifth, the sixth and the seventh kings of the first Manethonian dynasty, called by the Greek authors Usaphais, Miebais and Semempses. Thus it became extremely probable that all these newly discovered objects were from the first dynasty, but still not absolutely certain; for the three names occurred only on fragments of vases, and absolutely nothing was known of how these fragments were found. The proof that they belonged to the other objects was wanting. A very skeptical investigator might still have said that the other objects were older, that the potsherds had only fallen accidentally into ruined tombs of an older period; or he might have said quite the contrary, that the potsherds were older than the tombs.

At this point occurred the possibility of finding a solution of the question in the objects found in the royal tomb of Neggadeh. For the report of the excavations at Neggadeh was more exact than that of the excavations at Abydos; and the whole contents of the tomb of Neggadeh had been kept together and preserved in a separate room in the Grizeh Museum. The possibility became a reality. One of the principal objects of this royal tomb was found to bear the ordinary as well as the Horus name of the king—a fact which had escaped the fortunate discoverer. The object is a small ivory plate with incised representations of funerary offerings before the king. Animals are being sacrificed to him; jars full of beer and other things are being offered. The figure of the king, in front of a hanging mat, is not preserved; but the upper corner still remains with the two names, which were written above the figure. First, there is the same Horus name which occurs on all the inscribed objects of this tomb and which may be translated "The Warrior." Beside the Horus name in a sort of cartouche is the title "Lord of Vulture and Serpent Crown" (Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt), and beneath the title the sign which represents a checkerboard, and has the syllabic value Mn. There can therefore be no doubt that the king buried in the royal tomb of Neggadeh, of whom we had only known the Horus name "The Warrior," had also the name Mn. Now, there is no other known Egyptian king who could be identified with this name Mn than the first king of the first Manethonian dynasty, called Menes by the Greeks. It is impossible here to go into the philological basis of the identification of Mn and Menes. The final conclusion is this: In Neggadeh, we have before us the tomb of the oldest king of whom the Egyptians had preserved any memory, and whom they considered the founder of the Egyptian monarchy.

In consideration of the importance of the questions involved, a short description of the tomb of Menes and of the objects found in it will certainly be of interest. The second part of De Morgan's book, "Recherche sur les origines de l'Egypte," which has just appeared, furnishes us with the facts concerning the tomb, and the objects found in the tomb I will describe from the originals in the Gizeh Museum.

The tomb consists of a large building, standing alone, measuring 54 X 27 m. (about 100 X 50 Egyptian ells), and built of burned brick. The outside walls were ornamented, as was usual in later Egyptian buildings, with pilasters composed of groups of smaller rectangular pilasters. It is the same motive so often to be observed in the sham doors in tombs of the old kingdom, and is really the most natural facade ornamentation for brick buildings, as it may be made by simply setting every alternate column of bricks forward or backward. The walls were, in addition, plastered. Back of the thick outside wall on each side lay a row of narrow rectangular rooms, formed by dividing a corridor by means of cross walls. Inside this surrounding row of rooms was the real tomb, a building with thick walls and five rooms in a row. The middle one of these rooms, noticeably larger than the others, is the real burial chamber. These five rooms were originally connected by doors which were afterward walled up. As to the roof, we can only make surmises, as the excavator has furnished us with no material on this point. The walls as they now stand are at the highest point about four meters high, and thus may form only the lower part of the building. Whether the roof was an arch of stone or simply of wood, is uncertain; but it seems to me probable that it was of wood. For the tomb contained a layer of ashes in which all the objects put in the grave with the dead man were found; and, assuming that the roof was of wood, it is possible that the roof was set on fire at the time when the tomb was robbed and that the ashes came from this fire. The explanation which the excavator gives of these ashes, that the body and the offerings were burned in the closed grave, hardly deserves consideration. In any case, the grave has been robbed and destroyed. That is shown by the fact that many pieces of funeral furniture, which originally could only have been put in the central rooms, were found partly broken in the outside rooms, or on the side toward the fields, the side most exposed to the attack of grave robbers.

The assumption that the grave has been robbed and intentionally destroyed agrees entirely with the fact that all the more valuable objects found in the grave were in fragments. But, fragmentary as they are, they are sufficient to give us a good idea of the art of the first period of the Egyptian kingdom, a period which is now most generally estimated to be five and a half millenniums before the present day (3600 B.C.) The skill with which ivory carving was done in that early time is indeed amazing. Reclining lions, hunting dogs and fish are so skillfully reproduced that one asks how many centuries of development must have preceded before the art of carving reached this perfection. A number of feet taken from the legs of small chairs and other similar furniture, and made in imitation of bulls' legs, show such a fixity of style and at the same time such a freedom of execution, that no archæologist, without the report of the excavator, would dare to proclaim them the oldest dated works of Egyptian art. But it was not only in carving ivory, which is easy to work, that the Egyptian artists showed their skill. They also make bowls and vases of diorite and porphyry with the same success; and the forms presented by the smaller ivory vases are also to be found in vases made of those refractory stones. Further, the vases made of stone present not merely such forms as might be made by turning or boring, but there are also bowls with ribs which are as finely polished as the turned bowls. The hardest material used in the objects already found is rock crystal, of which several small flasks and bowls and a little lion are composed. But the lion, it must be confessed, is rather rudely worked. A few small vases of obsidian also occur—remarkable in view of the fact that we do not know of any place in or near Egypt where this stone may be found. Besides these vessels of hard stone, there are, of course, a large number made of softer stone. Alabaster vases occur in every conceivable form. Cylindrical pots, with wavy handles or simple cordlike ornamentation, appear to have been especially favored. The great beer jars, closed with enormous stoppers of unbaked clay, were made of ordinary baked clay. Of course the different stone and clay vessels, which, undoubtedly, originally contained offerings for the dead, form the bulk of the contents of the grave. The slate tablets for rubbing cosmetics for painting the body, and the flint weapons and knives of all sorts, follow in point of numbers. Remarkably enough, metal objects occur in this oldest historical period alongside the stone implements, though, of course, in less numbers. Several objects made of copper and a slender bead of gold have been found. Such, in short, is all that remains of the things put in the tomb with the king. But little as there is, it gives us an idea of the richness and splendor with which these old royal tombs were furnished.

It might certainly be productive of unusual emotions to know that the few human bones found in the tomb, and now preserved in the Gizeh Museum, once belonged to the oldest Egyptian king. But as we know almost nothing of him, except some unfounded traditions, this sort of relic worship deserves very little respect. The scientific value of the proof that Menes was the king buried in the royal tomb of Neggadeh lies rather in the fact that we have now settled the question of the age of that culture which was presented to us by the excavations of Ballas, Neggadeh and Abydos. The products of a whole period of Egyptian civilization which had been misunderstood, and had been used to support false historical conclusions, fall into their true place; and our knowledge of the history of Egyptian culture is carried back not merely a few centuries, but to a period presenting characteristics different from the oldest previously known period, but containing the germs of the later development.

Cairo, Egypt.

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