Recovering Palimpsests

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I’m thrilled! The future is here! The speculation of yesterday is the modus operandi of today!

Early on in my blogging life I pondered the loss of Menander’s comedies. How could the works of possibly the most influential comic writer in antiquity have all disappeared? They had for a thousand years or so. Then they were rediscovered on an Egyptian palimpsest early in the 20th Century. I mused whether a technique would ever be developed whereby ancient Christian texts could be examined for early writings hidden within without damaging the visible texts. What was the dilemma? Why Christian texts in particular? It has a lot to do with the censoring/destruction of pagan culture by the Byzantines when they embraced Christianity in the 4th Century AD. With papyrus being such a commodity, I speculated that it would be washed and reused.

Well, they’ve done it! A scientific technique has been employed. Archaeology (1) reports on archaeologists using modern technology to read ancient texts overwritten in the 8th Century AD at St Catherine’s monastery on Mt Sinai. Those Byzantine monks didn’t wash out the texts but scraped them off. Now there is a machine that can read what was there before. Ancient overwritten texts can now be recovered and transcribed for our edification.Who knows how many hitherto forgotten texts will reemerge. It’s very exiting.
Perhaps Menander’s work, his comic brilliance will reemerge in its original brilliance sooner than expected!!!!!

‪(1)  http://www.archaeology.org/issues/207-1603/features/4155-egypt-monastery-palimpsests‬

Coming up soon – Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns, I begin to wind up my series of posts on making the Nemes Crown of the Pharaohs.

A Second Attempt at the Nemes Crown

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Something just didn’t look right with my first attempt at making the Nemes Crown of Ancient Egypt. I knew I didn’t quite get it right but I didn’t know why. I looked again at several Nemes Crowns from different angles. The idea of the Nemes Crown being the shape of the Great House, the Pyramid, the Pharoah, faltered and I realised that I missed a very important feature of the crown and mask – the ears. They are exposed.  The crown has been designed to sit behind them, framing them – kind of like the hood of a cobra.

Bite me

Cobra

Was the Nemes crown supposed to be a stylized hood, a personified uraeus/cobra transforming the person of the king? Kings liked to refer to their majesty and person as a uraeus e.g., Hatshepsut on the Speos Artimedos temple. What part of their religion had I missed that personified the God-Pharoah-King as a cobra? A uraeus? or perhaps the cobra goddess Wadjet? The kings and pharaohs had many names/titles and one of them was dedicated to the Goddesses Wadjet (the cobra) and Nekhbet (the vulture). Tutankhamen seems to have been saluting both of them by wearing ornaments of both on his Nemes Crown. But would he also try to depict himself as some form of Cobra/Uraeus with his headdress being the snake’s hood? There is a wonderful Middle Egyptian text that depicts a prince as a huge snake with the trappings of a king – gold skin, lapis hair, bones of gold – The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor.

Having already made a Nemes crown with my interpretation of Wadjet and Nekhbet, this time around I settled for a plain and simple uraeus. I gave up on the idea of finding gold and blue striped fabric and settled for white and gold instead. This time the lappets sat behind the ears. I lined the fabric and chose a diaphanous white and gold fabric for the visible parts of the crown.

The doubled over fabric made the lappets heavier, stiffer and reduced the flapping around. A choice of a heavier fabric still doubled over would have been more effective again but would have increased the weight to the back of the crown. The balance would be lost and it would slip back again. Perhaps this thin fabric over the lightish cotton fabric would create stiffness enough?

Trying to keep the weight to the back down to a minimum I didn’t use the numb-chuck form to create the ponytail this attempt but plaited the fabric and wrapped it in cords. Regardless, the crown was pulling  back even more than last time. Strapping on the beard this time didn’t give it the necessary forward pressure to anchor it. I had to use a second length of hat elastic to balance out the weight from back to front and to keep it on.


Again something wasn’t sitting well with me. Too much exposed hair. The crown had to descend lower to his ears. And the shape was wrong. The front top of it was too squarish, it needed to follow the shape of the forehead and pate more.

I knew what I did wrongly but couldn’t think of a different way. I  relied too much on my own interpretation of 2D images of the crown – these flattened and made squarish what I saw. I went with an upright front again chosing corrugated cardboard to steady the uraeus and keep it in place. I wanted to be assured that my stripes were as striking and precisely placed as they are in the originals. The cardboard backing gave me this but couldn’t seamlessly, smoothly follow the pate as well. To appear more accurate I should have wired the uraeus directly onto the structural form (the plastic colander). Had I done that I fear that I would have lost the precision of the stripes when I had to cover the form.

What I needed to achieve the striking appearance of the stripes and a smoothly moulded forehead was a material with both tensile strength and malleability – like metal or papier-mâché.

It needed more weight to the front. Longer lappets perhaps that sat lower onto his chest with heavier rods? A weightier uraeus? A solid beard with a more substantial attachment to the form? A tighter fitting form? These could all help a little but I couldn’t help feeling that I was using sticky-tape solutions to a greater problem that would best be served by different structural materials. This former jeweller couldn’t get the idea out of her head that metal – gold – would be the easiest if the most economically impractical solution. Was there a better way?

Next time: Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns, conjecturing a more malleable, organic solution.

Photo Credit

Cobra  – Photo credit: aftab. via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Gold Rods Low on Lappets, Lapis Locks and Lapidary Allusions . . . King Khafre!

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King Khafre – Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty c.2570BC

Who said nothing ever changed in Ancient Egypt? The Nemes Crown did, or so a comparison of these two images suggest.

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Death Mask- New Kingdom 18th Dynasty c.1345BCE

I love King Khafre’s Nemes Crown, it seems to answer my question of bald pate or milliners form? It is very different to Tutankhamun’s. Tutankhamun’s crown looks like it should be made in gold, Khafre’s courts linen. Why? Well it appears that the milliner’s form is exposed to view, above his pate, scaffolding the linen. Then low down,exposed metal rods of likely gold weigh down and set the linen lappets in stiff perpendicular lines against his face.

“Appears” to support my idea of using a form to give the iconic shape to the crown. I would so love this to be the case. The problem is that I haven’t seen the statue in real life nor have I read an art historian’s appraisal of it. Are the four vertical lines ascending from the crown over Khafre’s head the exposed form holding the linen on or are they the remains of a uraeus that hasn’t stood the test of time? The missing portions of his left leg and arm have added a deflating overtone to my hypothesis – quite possibly the uraeus has broken off. But if so, did it really break off so cleanly, with no swirls of its serpentine stance?

If you humour me my hypothesis I’d like to suggest that perhaps this early version of the Nemes Crown was made of linen dyed the blue of lapis. It was then hooked onto a metal form that descended over his forehead. The linen would represent his hair in a very stylised manner. The king would then live up to traditional propaganda that he had hair of lapis lazuli. 

Where would the Ancient Egyptians have gotten dye that colour? Pulverised lapis lazuli perhaps? Could the sanded down grains be pulverised and mixed with a medium that would adhere to linen? Could they? Just a suggestion – an uneducated guess.

If those early Nemes crowns were of linen then perhaps the king didn’t have a bald head but wore his crown over his long locks as in this earlier statue of King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty. His pointy lappets cover his hair. In the Old Kingdom there was an office in the royal household for the Royal Hairdresser. Has my impression that Egyptain pharaohs were bald descended on me via the bald Yul Brynner playing Rameses? If later kings of Egypt had hair it doesn’t seem to have been depicted in their extant art. 

Djoser’s Nemes crown is interesting in that it doesn’t sport a uraeus but does have a striped pattern over his forehead. Feint horizontal lines can be discerned moving across the lower lappets. Both Djoser and Khafre’s crowns appear bereft of the uraeus. Did they not wear them with this crown in the Old Kingdom? Could they not attach such heavy ornaments to the linen body of the crown?

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab, 3rd Dynasty, c.2575 BCE

I believe that the Nemes Crown kept evolving – almost as slowly as evolution. By the time of the New Kingdom, not only were the Nemes Crowns gold but the monarch wore a gold mask to have skin of gold as the folklore of the time led the people to believe.

Next up – my second attempt at making the Nemes Crown and why I believe the king wore a gold metal crown and face mask

Photo Credit: King Khafre

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Photo Credit: King Tutenkhamun’s Death Mask

Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Photo credit: King Djoser

Photo credit: HannahPethen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Archive Book Review • ONE NIGHT STANDS – British Theatre, 1971-91 via— Rogues & Vagabonds

There are two great pleasures to be had from reading Michael Billington’s first collection of theatre criticism, One Night Stands 1971-1991. The first, assuming you are old enough to have been going to plays in the Seventies, is to be reminded of some wonderful, occasionally mind-blowing, evenings in the theatre. Written in the wind as […]

via Archive Book Review • ONE NIGHT STANDS pub. Nick Hern Books • Michael Billington • 2008 — Rogues & Vagabonds

5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… Lappets

A question of gravity, currency, and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

Once the cloth covering of the nemes crown and its ponytail was complete I encountered my next obstacle. Under the added weight of fabric, cords and the hollow numchuck form, the crown kept falling back. It wouldn’t sit straight or actually stay on. I had to balance the weight of the front of the crown with that of the back.

The uraeus and vulture on the forehead alone didn’t solve the problem.I decided to attach the beard to the front of the form with hat elastic. This was the trick.

I wondered whether the ancient Egyptians had the same problem? Did Pseusennes I (1047-1001 BCE, 21st Dynasty) have the same problem?

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Death Mask of Pseusennes I

Are those pencil-line side burns sported by Pseusennes, stylized beard straps meant to balance the weight of the crown?

Now that my crown was sitting squarely in place it should have looked right, but it didn’t. There was something about the lappets – the long flappy bits that hang by the side of the pharaoh’s face. Flappy, they shouldn’t have been. Stiff, triangular – pyramidal, in histoy they appear to rigidly frame the face before reaching down over the shoulders from the chin. There is no movement – no flow of diaphanous fabric (okay, I realise this is Ancient Egypt, not Ancient Greece, but was everything as stiff as their statues would indicate?)

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The lappets of my crown didn’t unerringly frame my son’s face. They didn’t necessarily sit obediently, implacably on his shoulders – they twisted and curled. They needed the disciplinary action of a hard rod. Several actually. I set to work adding rods through the shoulder section of the lappet. I did the lower portion only, wanting to make sure the weight of the crown stayed forward and believing this was the minimum required to solve my dilemma. Time poor, I added a coin to help weigh them down –  something that is done in costuming now and again.

Coins are so convenient, smooth and readily available to use as clothing weights. Would the Ancient Egyptians have used their currency as such a cheat? We are told they didn’t have coins – it was a barter economy. Dominic Perry of the Ancient Egypt History Podcast has suggested that linen may have been used instead of coins. Now I couldn’t cheat with linen but what about a few heavy beads? Beads have been used for bartering in Africa for centuries. Could the Ancient Egyptians also have used them as money? Would Ancient Egyptian seamstresses weighed down their clothing with beads?

Now that I had weighed down my flapping lappets, they towed the line. Did the Ancient Egyptian crown makers need rods for their lappets? Is that why the nemes crown was stripped?

Something started niggling at me. Gold rods low on lappets, lapis locks and lapidary allusions . . . King Khafre! my next post.

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Photo Credits

Pseusennes I

Death Mask of Pseusennes I, the Silver Pharoah (1047-1001 BCE 21st Dynasty)

Photo credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/ddenisen/7364438180/

D.Denisen CC BY-SA

 

King Khafre Statue

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

4. Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont…)

Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?

Did the Ancient Egyptians shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form  required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?

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Lid from canopic vase of Tutankhamun

Photo credit: dnak via Foter.com / CC BY

 Because I was not going to use a golden tiara to anchor the crown on my child’s head, it suited me to conclude it had a definite form, like a modern-day milliner would use and that it was dressed in fabric. A three-quarter view of the crown, like the one above, seemed to confirm this. Assuming a golden tiara fit around his forehead, metal or papyrus supports holding the fabric up and stretching it around the back of his ears may have been soldered or riveted in place. The fabric would form around his bald pate then fall behind his head.

Problem 1 The snake and vulture protrude out from above the tiara, where the cloth is supposed to drape over the head. Fabric alone would not support the weight of these jewelled creatures. Something hard and durable had to support them – like gold.

Problem 2 – The  tiara doesn’t seem to disappear behind the ears but seems to form the side burns, cupping the head. As a consequence the tiara doesn’t appear to be holding the crown in place. The crown appears to be cupping the head, like a helmet.

Is this visible across other representations of the crown?

Photo Credits – Canopic Coffinette –  Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Shabti – Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Death mask – https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA

It seems so.

What would the Ancient Egyptians have used to make the royal helmet? Annealed gold? Papyrus reeds? Papyrus reeds could help create the stripes as a form of texture but they don’t go far in explaining away what colour the gold lines of the death mask are meant to represent and could have posed a problem in lining up with the dyed blue stripes of the cloth. However heartily they were manipulated, it’s questionable whether papyrus reeds could hold the weight of the uraeus and vulture. But gold as an alternative couldn’t have been comfortable or practicable for everyday wear.

Regardless, gold or papyrus, neither was an option for me. Nonetheless, I knew exactly what I was going to use.

A perforated plastic colander previously purposed for producing ricotta cheese!

I was able to sew the fabric on, attach the uraeus and vulture – mine are plastic and rubber –  and then solve a problem of gravity and balance by attaching the beard to it.

Answer: Bald pate or milliner’s form? Definitely a form – in my mind anyway.

 

Next: A question of gravity, currency and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

 

3. Making the Nemes Crown – Cloth or Gold!

In going through the motions of creating two Nemes crowns, the idea that the crown worn by Tutankhamun was probably the one he was buried with solidified in my mind. More and more I rejected the idea that it was made out of linen attached to a golden tiara. There were several problems to contend with that required metal weights and supports to eliminate. Something cloth, needle and thread alone couldn’t eliminate. With the amount of metal needed to get the look right, it seemed easier to recreate the look  out of gold, faience, electrum and ornamental stones – just as it was found attached to the death mask by Howard Carter. With this blogpost I will go through each major challenge I faced in recreating the cloth crown and the logic for my conclusion against it.

My First Attempt

Question 1: What does the cloth represent – hair or a pyramid?

I began with the accepted wisdom that the Nemes crown was made out of linen. Because gold thread was not the technology of the time, but dying was, I assumed that the linen cloth was woven with dyed thread and alternated with undyed linen to give it stripes. But what did the stripes represent? When a prince/king of Egypt is described he is said to have hair of lapis lazuli, a brittle, electic blue stone. That would indicate that the headpiece was representative of hair the colour of this highly prized stone.The gold could represent any colour. But what of its shape?

The Nemes crown flays out at the temples in a subtle pyramid form. Or so I imagined with my preconceived notions of what I thought I was seeing. The term adopted by later kings of Egypt, Pharoah, described themselves as the Great House. It seemed fitting that the look of the crown would reflect a pyramid shape. To this end I created a pattern for my faux-linen which allowed for the lapets to fall on the pharoah’s shoulders but the bulk of the cloth to be pulled loosely into a ponytail at the back.

The sewn panels would then dress a form, as in a millinery style form. I would attach the uraeus to the form and so would give the snake and vulture stability. Here I moved away from the logical circlet of gold with animals rivetted on as is seen on the death mask crown. This was a decision born of necessity – expense, time and weight. I knew what I was going to use for the form but did the Ancient Egyptians use one?

Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?

Did the Ancients shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form  required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?

Shabti of Tutankhamen

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Having a hard time finding the cloth that I wanted I resorted to using two old aprons – ravaged by use. I didn’t line the cloth and so I encountered another issue …

To be continued.

2. Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture

Arch, poised to stike, the deadly cobra sits in the middle of the Pharoah’s forehead. Which Pharoah? Each and every pharoah and king of Egypt it seems from Narmer in the Old Kingdom all the way down to Cleopatra, a couple of thousand years later. So what is King Tut doing putting a bird next to it? Even his heretic father, Akenaten didn’t do that. It seems that this combination of snake and bird is idiosyncratic to Tutankhamun and perhaps his wife, Ankhesenamun. If I was to recreate Tutankhamun’s look accurately then I had to figure out what the bird was and to satisfy my curiosity, why he broke with tradition to wear it.

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Shabti of Tutankhamen- with the two animals on his crown

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Not all images of his crown gave clear enough visuals. Was it a hawk – a representation of Horus?

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Horus, the Hawk/Falcon god of Egypt

Photo credit: Xuan Che via Foter.com / CC BY

Or was it a vulture, the deadly nemesis of a snake? Royal women wore vultures on their crowns. Sometimes they wore the cobra (uraeus) in assuming the role of King e.g., Hatshepsut or sometimes not, e.g., the Primary Wife of the King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiy, wore 2 cobras. Cleopatra VII wore three.

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Cleopatra VII, wearing three Uraeus’.

Photo credit: Tiffany Silva via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Why a cobra? The cobra was a symbol of Lower Egypt, the Nile Delta where it could be found. It was a protective motif that was known as the uraeus. Interestingly enough, when Kings referred to themselves they associated their identity with their “uraeus”. Some crucial part of their personality, spirit or soul they considered to be a cobra, a uraeus.

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Canopic Container of Tutankhamun – a vulture and cobra it seems

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tutankhamun coupled his uraeus uniquely with a vulture. Why? The vulture was a symbol of Upper Egypt. It was also the incarnation of the Goddess Nekbet, she who was the protectoress of royal children.(1) Was Tutankhamun ill? In need of protection? As a royal child was he sickly? Many, many walking canes were found in his tomb. It is said that he had a club foot and a partial cleft palate. Also very decayed teeth. If he was Akhenaten’s son, was he not considered fit enough for rule? He didn’t succeed Akhenaten but was relegated a third in line after a possible daughter, Neferneferuaten, and  then a son-in-law, Smenkhare?

But images of Tutankhamun before his funeral depict only the uraeus. Did he put the vulture there? Or did his successor responsible for his burial? And why would he?

Did the uraeus sit beside the vulture goddess Nekbet as a representation of another goddess, Wadjet? Together did the two affirm a united Egypt?

After Tutankhamun’s death, he was succeeded by the vizier Ay, Nefertiti’s possible father and so possibly his grandfather. Ay’s short reign was succeeded by Tutankhamun’s general, Horemheb. Then Egypt left the hands of two successive dynasties (17th and 18th) from Thebes in the south and fell into the hands of a military family from the north. Was there tension between the north and the south at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Horemheb was the man Tutankhamun wanted to suceed him but he was pushed aside by the elderly Ay. When Horemheb eventually got the throne, he left it to Rameses I, of that northern military family. Was Ay trying to send out a plea for unity among Horemheb’s supporters at a time when Egypt was at war and the rightful heir was away fighting that war in the  Middle-East?

Assuming it was Ay who chose to depict Tutankhamun wearing the cobra and vulture for his funerary rites, was the adoption of the symbol of the united Egypt a necessary political trapping of Tutankhamun’s well attended funeral? Egyptian funeral processions were quite an event – nobility, priests and professional mourners were all in attendance.(2) A clever place to make a political point to a targeted audience? How united was Egypt at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Was Egypt in danger of succumbing to a succession crisis?

For the health of the king or for the health of the kingdom, I was satisfied that the creatures are snake and vulture. So I tried to recreate them thus:

Next … 3.Making the Nems Crown – Cloth or Gold?

References

(1) http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/nekhbet.htm

(2) Dominic Perry’s wonderful Egyptian History Podcast describes a funeral not too long before Tutankhamun’s in the 17th Dynasty in Episode 56c: A Royal Funeral, here.

Tyldesley, Joyce, Tutankhamun’s Curse:The Developing Historyof an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013.

1. Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown

“He had grown old: his bones became silver; his flesh, gold; his hair of lapis lazuli . . .” (1)

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The Death Mask and Crown of Tutankhamun(2)

When I look at the death mask of Tutankhamun with the view to recreate it, the first question I have to ask myself is how much is it artistic representation? The Ancient Egyptians were notorious for using art as propaganda. How much of it was gold or lapis lazuli? How much was cloth? donkey or goat hair? faience (an ancient mouldable glass with properties apparently similar to clay)?

Egyptologists tell us that Nemes crowns were made of linen, a fabric the ancient Egyptians were adept at spinning coarsely and diaphanously finely. But not all of it could have been made of this material. Notice the two creatures in the centre of the young king’s forehead? They at least must have been fashioned of something more pliable than cloth. And what were they attached to – a tiara of gold?

What about the ponytail that gathers the cloth at the nape of the king’s neck? Is it supposed to represent cloth cords? papyrus ones? a metal sprung coil?

King Tut's Mask

Rear view of Tutankhamun’s Death Mask and Crown (3)

Before I go any further I must disclose my bias: I have worked and trained as a lapidary jeweller. This colours my first thoughts on how this crown and mask were made – how I want for it to have been made. This experience has also  influenced the steps that I took in recreating it as a theatrical costume.

When I look at Tutankhamun’s crown and mask, I see three sections: the crown and its lappets fanning out from his face; his face as a mask behind it; and an enormous inlaid necklace draped around his chest which I believe is a representation of another bib-style necklace that he wore in life, a beaded one. Inlaid jewellery is stiff and so impractical for movement. Strung beads however allow fluidity of movement.

This then invites me to question the beard of this young man, one very similar to another worn by his famous predecessor Hatshepsut. Surely neither Tutankhamun nor Hatshepsut grew their own beards! Did they wear fake ones of goat hair? Wouldn’t one of inlaid Lapis Lazuli or moulded faience have had greater impact and durability?

And then there is that ponytail. Is it bound together with cords of linen, wrapped over and over? Or could it have been a simple copper, silver or gold coil that the fabric was easily pulled through and held securely in place?

Finally, the look of a Nemes Crown made of linen would not have been gold and blue; gold thread hadn’t been invented yet and it would be another 1500 years or so before it was used in Roman era appliques. Of all of the crowns of Egypt, this style is the least ostentatious. Was this part of his everyday wear?

If we could play at being archaeologists on a hunt for the missing crown what would we be looking for? Striped linen cloth attached to a tiara with a couple of token sized totems protruding from the forehead? A coil of cord or wire for a ponytail and a fancy hair beard or an ornate one of faience encased in gold or silver?

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The Crafty Theatre Nemes Crown is posted on the Crafty Theatre facebook page(4)

How much is this famous image propaganda – the “would be god” with his hair shining with the rays of Ra and lapis lazuli, and his skin with the flesh of gold? This is just a taste of Ancient Egyptian propaganda, used even on a coffin and death mask. What about those animal figurines that protrude from the forehead? What are they ? What do they symbolise? Why did Tutankhamun wear two of them and only at the time of his death? What can they tell us of the state of his reign at the time of his death?

Next time : 2.Making the Nemes Crown:Snake and Vulture

Photos and References

(1) As read by Eric Wells on his Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt Podcast, 28th December, 2015, The Festival of Drunkenness and the Destruction of Mankind

(2) Photo Credit, King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

(3)Photo Credit King Tut’s Death Mask and Crown, back view:

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/24060770906/”>Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

(4 )https://www.facebook.com/CraftyTheatre/

Tutankhamen: Damnatio Memoriae

egyptian damnatio memoriae

Excised: Damnatio Memoriae – Neither Osirus nor Thoth could protect the forgotten one

Damnatio Memoriae, the erasing of one’s name, reputation, memory, for earthly eternity. In the case of Ancient Egypt, erasing one’s name was akin to black magic. You see, the Ancient Egyptians practised performative magic. By braking the ankles of a stone depiction of a person they crippled him in his afterlife. By erasing the cartouche, the written name of the king, the now-dead king also ceased to exist in the afterlife. The King had to have done something controversial, horrific, blasphemous for this to have been resorted to. At least that is how my 21st Century CE brain works. I can think of 20th Century despots that are worthy of this sort of treatment rather than the infamy they are accorded on their pedestals, celebrated for their excellence in despicability.

What could the boy king, Tutankhamen have done to have deserved this treatment? He, his immediate predecessors, Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten, and his father/uncle(1) Akhenaten were all purposefully forgotten from an Ancient Egyptian list of kings composed 100 years or so after their deaths. Even Akhenaten’s beloved primary wife, Nefertiti didn’t escape this abomination of her memory. Why?

Nefertiti and her daughter

Nefertiti and her daughter

 

Akhenaten was a heretic king who flouted the central cosmic order and balance of Egyptian society, maat, by throwing out the traditional anthropomorphic gods and enforcing the worship of an unknownable solar power, the Aten. Damnatio memoriae in his case was the monster that ate him when his heart was measured against his duty to maat and was found wanting. But Tutankhamun restored the old gods, restored maat, restored the cosmic order. Surely he didn’t deserve to be written out of history.

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten – Not only his face but possibly his cartouche has been excised.

 

When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb lots of questions arose. Was it Tutankhamen’s tomb?  Why was it unfinished? Was it originally meant for a mere nobleman and was swapped? Was the Chariot Tomb (KV58) originally intended for Tutankhamen but was unfinished due to his early death? (2) What was the pink sediment that draped the tomb’s walls? Was Tutankhamen a cripple? What caused his death? Was he murdered? What was his relationship to his successor Ay like? Was Ay his grandfather? Was he the son of Akhenaten? Who was his mother? If he was Akhenaten’s son, why didn’t he succeed Smenkhare as king? Why did his general, Horemheb begin the campaign of Damnatio Memoriae against his family after he succeeded Ay as king? Why was his widow, Ankhesenamen so threated by the Egyptian court that she wrote to the traditional enemy, the Hittite king, to send her a son to marry, who would then rule Egypt? Why was control of Egypt passed from an upper Egyptian family to a Lower one after Horemheb’s death? And. .. what happened to his crown?

 

Earlier this year my son was set the task of making an iMovie about the life of Tutankhamen. A reluctant learner, nothing I said could inspire him to begin. Tutankhamen was just your age when he reigned. He renounced his parent’s religion about the time you did. He changed his name too. You look so much like him …what if we dressed you up as Tut to narrate your movie? Well, the last one worked. I found myself making a Nemes Crown. By looking at Tutankhamen’s death mask closely some possible answers to the questions above arose. One possibility haunts me.

Could Tutankhamen’s crown be hiding in plain sight?

End Notes

(1) Eric Wells of the wonderful, thought provoking podcast Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt, makes a convincing argument for Akhenaten the uncle.

(2)KV58 is discussed by Joyce Tydesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing history of an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013, a wonderful, informative read

 

Photo Credits

Excised – Damnatio Memoriae

Photo credit: Allison Mickel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Nefertiti and her Daughter

Photo credit: IslesPunkFan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten

Photo credit: IslesPunkFan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC