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Misconceptions and falsehoods about ancient Egypt
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2004 3:24 am    Post subject: Misconceptions and falsehoods about ancient Egypt Reply with quote

As a museum docent I frequently encounter people who have misconceptions about life in ancient Egypt. I've met people who cling to the most ridiculous of myths and fringe theories. Most people are just misinformed, though. I've met only a few true "pyramidiots." When your main source of knowledge about ancient Egypt is more often than not Hollywood (i.e., The Mummy and The Mummy Returns), you're bound to have a faulty foundation to your knowledge of history.

What silly theories about ancient Egypt drive you folks nuts? I'd love to hear what all of you have to say, and the explanations you surely most patiently give to people to straighten them out. Share with me. Maybe what some of you have to say will help me with my work in our Egyptian exhibit, and the people I talk with there.

I'll share one misconception I frequently encounter, though it's no big deal. I want you good folks to share the truly juicy stuff. Many people think it was common for pharaohs to kill their servants and have them buried with them. This is of course not true. We have to go all the way back to the beginning, the Early Dynastic Period, to find evidence of it. For instance, outside the tomb of the 1st Dynasty pharaoh Hor-Aha are 34 small pit graves containing the skeletal remains of young men, none of whom are over the age of 25. And outside the tomb of Djer, also 1st Dynasty, are 318 such graves! Many of these were marked by stelae, and we know from these that the bodies here are those of both men and women, including two dwarves.

And that's about it, as far as I know. It was a waste of life, and I think the Egyptians themselves came to this conclusion. Soon thereafter there developed the famous tomb models of the Old Kingdom, and after that came shabtis, followed later by ushabtis. In a land where magic was part and parcel with everyday life, why kill valuable servants when you can magically bring to life models of servants?

That's my contribution. I eagerly look forward to reading what some of you have to say.
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2004 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here are some that drive me nuts:
The Egyptians were evil.
The Egyptians worshipped evil death gods.
Anubis is an evil god.
The Egyptians put curses on all their tombs.
The pyramids were built by slaves.
The pyramids were built by aliens.
The Egyptians are foreigners-either they were white european types (like in the movies-i know, all this race stuff is a debatable subject so please don't kill me Laughing but I don't think the Egyptians looked like what the movies make them out to be...) or from Disney Land, or worse-from another planet!
The Egyptians were death-obsessed and thought more about their afterlife than their life.
Therefore, the Egyptians were very morbid and morose.
The Egyptians treated women badly-I'm not sure about this one but I think women in ancient Egypt were treated better than modern women there-and of course you have that female pharaoh, can't spell her name but you know the one...
The Egyptians enslaved the entire Hebrew race (another debatable subject, I know, but it doesn't seem in their nature to enslave entire races of people)
The Egyptians were racist xenophobes. (not really true because many foreigners were given high status. The Egyptians only fought against the people who were deliberately threatening the country, or for things like gold etc)
Scarabs don't eat human flesh. To say it bluntly, they eat s*** Laughing
I could think of more...

I know a lot of people disagree but i do like all those astronomy of ancient Egypt theories (such as the orion theory etc) provided they don't go all 'Stargate'! Wink
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Psusennes
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2004 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh- but behold- sometimes we get too uppity!

The Egyptians put curses on all their tombs
I appreciate now that you included the word 'all', but there was at one time in the New Kingdom a craze for putting curses on the first lintel of your tomb to deter robbers. An older example of one of these curses comes from the tomb of the house of Meni. It curses those who enter to be plagued with sepents from land, monsters from sea, and locusts from sky. . . .

Many people think it was common for pharaohs to kill their servants
This is a lie. After Pharoah Ka-a, shabti dolls and images of servants were used instead. This happened around the same time as actual food was replaced (or at least substituted).
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Psusennes III
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 12:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll tell you a story about an English dancer who knew everything about Ancient Egypt because she'd been in Egypt 1 day with a cruise from Cyprus to Caïro and back to Cyprus. She told me she'd visited the tomb of Tutankhamun in Caïro namely the big pyramid. When I told her she must have been mistaken and that Tutankhamun wasn't buried in a pyramid at all, she told me: "because you tell me differently, all guides at Gizeh must be wrong". I told her: "if they told you that, they are really wrong". Then she got really angree at me to prove her right, so I wisely shut my mooth and left her in ignorance. She was my colleague in Mallorca, and although ancient history is my passion I never mentionned a word about it afterwards (to her Wink ).

Another Siggy to add "Psusennes III the wise one"
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 12:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Psusennes III wrote:

Another Siggy to add "Psusennes III the wise one"


Psusennes III prophet of Maat would be more in keeping with the nature of the forum Wink

The one I don't like is the one where either the atlanteans or the aliens built their great monuments (usually the pyramids).
It's rude towards the ancient egyptians. They built some magnificent monuments and they should get credit for that. Somehow these ideas imply that they must not have been smart enough to have been able to do it themselves....

Other than that I hear so many whoppers about so many topics, that it's hard to really shock me Laughing
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 12:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This reminds me of a compilation of student bloopers. These have supposedly been collected over decades by many teachers and professors.

I will only quote the ones related to Egypt:

The inhabitants of ancient Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation. The Egyptians built the Pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube. The Pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments.


There's a bunch more covering the rest of history Very Happy
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 2:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh, goodness, anneke, I'm busting a gut laughing right now. Those lines from school kids were terrific. It reminds me of a site I came across about kids' history bloopers:

http://www.angelfire.com/ca3/glenglo/kidsay.html

Kids are some of my favorite guests at the museum. It's surprising how much knowledge an 8-year-old can have, and it's charming to hear other kids say the types of things you quoted. Kids are fun. They're cute that way, but when adults say nonsensical things about history, it's just annoying. All of you have hit on the same things that drive me nuts.

One of the most irritating is the example anneke cited: that aliens or Atlantians (or some other mysterious lost race) built the great monuments of Egypt, particularly the pyramids. I completely agree with anneke that's it's insulting to the genius and tremendous skill of the ancients. Give them credit because they deserve it. I think such silly notions come from pure arrogance. In other words, the Egyptians lived so long ago and had such basic technology that they certainly couldn't have figured it out for themselves. Well, we know otherwise. All the evidence is there.

Psusennes III, you brought up another common occurance with the example of the horribly misinformed English dancer. In my work at the museum I have to be careful correcting people, and usually they're very open to correction, but sometimes we encounter people like the one you mentioned. Some people just can't admit they're wrong, regardless of how obvious the error is. And that's one reason I've never been able to afford to go to Egypt. I want the deluxe trip, headed by a degreed and publsihed Egyptologist, and my those packages are expensive. But it's much better than following along some semi-literate native tour-guide who's making it up as he goes along!
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 3:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

isisinacrisis wrote:
The Egyptians treated women badly-I'm not sure about this one but I think women in ancient Egypt were treated better than modern women there-and of course you have that female pharaoh, can't spell her name but you know the one...


This is a great example, isisinacrisis. I'm glad you mentioned it. Though there are varying degrees of how strictly Islamic law is followed in modern Muslim countries of the Middle East, you're absolutely correct that women of ancient Egypt were well treated and highly regarded. They certainly enjoyed more liberties than many modern Arabic and Persian women and were fully protected under the law. They could own their own property and businesses. The female pharaoh you're thinking of is, I'm sure, Hatshepsut. She was a fascinating figure in ancient Egypt. Her temple at Deir el-Bahri is one of my very favorite monuments of ancient Egypt (as well as the desktop on my computer!).

Your Jewish slave example is also classic. I deal with this misconception all the time at the museum. I'm sure there were some Hebrews among the slaves of ancient Egypt, but it is simply nonsense to think that nearly all Hebrews of the time were slaves. Quite the contrary. We know they lived side by side with the Egyptians as merchants and villagers, and built their own temples to their god. I believe the remains of one were found at Philae--correct me if I'm wrong, but it was in fact in the Aswan region.

I also get a lot of questions at the Field about Moses and Joseph (when they lived, who they were, and that sort of thing). I have to be careful, because the folks who ask such questions are often quite devoutly Christian and I don't want to offend them. The fact is, outside the Bible there is simply not one shred of evidence of either Moses or Joseph. How does one approach this thorny issue when dealing with devout people?
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 4:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kmt sesh wrote:
I also get a lot of questions at the Field about Moses and Joseph (when they lived, who they were, and that sort of thing). I have to be careful, because the folks who ask such questions are often quite devoutly Christian and I don't want to offend them. The fact is, outside the Bible there is simply not one shred of evidence of either Moses or Joseph. How does one approach this thorny issue when dealing with devout people?


I think I would tell them that this is still an open problem in biblical archeology. Scholars don't even agree in which time period these people would have lived.
It might be interesting for them to learn that Moses really is an Egyptian name. It shows up in the names of some famous Kings like Ahmose and Thutmoses.
It might be interesting to tell them about someone like Aper-el. He may have been semitic and his name refers to "El". We don't think Aperel is either Moses or Joseph, but his life gives a good example of what their lives may have been like. Aperel was a priest and also a vizier if I remember correctly. He would have been an important man and he lived his life connected to court. His sons held high positions at court. One of them was a general I think.

-- I know you likely know all this, but that's roughly the outline of what I would tell them I think.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 4:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anneke, I tell them pretty much what you wrote, including the fact that "Moses" is likely an Egyptian name. I've also enjoyed studying the secular history of the Bible and the ancient Hebrews in general, and am able from time to time to tie the two interests together at the museum when I talk with people.

I must confess I am not familiar with Aper-el. The name sounds vaguely familiar but I can't place it. Now, you've gone and interested me! Do have any links or book suggestions that may help me learn more about him?

Any help is appreciated.
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 4:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

LOL I did a search on google to get some links for you, and guess what? First result is a post by me on Egyptian Dreams! Laughing Laughing
ED thread, tomb of Aperel

Aperel ( or Aperia) was Vizier under Amenhotep III and Akhenaten and his tomb was found in 1987 by the French egyptologist Alain Zivie.

Here are pictures of objects from the tomb with this article.

Quote:
Tomb of Aper-el
The entrance to the tomb of Aper-el lies in the cliff below the Antiquities Service rest-house at Saqqara, in an area known as Abwab el-Qotat (Doors of the Cats) where hundreds of mummified cats had been interred in earlier tombs. Alain Zivie's excavations with the French Archaeological Mission of the Bubasteion revealed the tomb of Aper-el (or Aperia), Vizier under Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, during their search for cat-burials in 1987. A huge burial complex on four levels was subsequently cleared and in the lower level, the burial apartments of Aper-el, his wife Tauret and their son, Huy was found to contain a large part of their funerary treasure, including the mummified bodies of the family still in their beautiful coffins - an astonishing find for Egyptian archaeology and art history. The find was of great importance, not only because of the treasures revealed, but because the paintings illustrate art in the time of Akhenaten, not from Amarna or Thebes, but from Memphis which had remained Egypt's main administrative capital. A further exciting discovery which came to light in the 1994-5 season was a bas-relief portrait of the god Osiris, flanked by Isis and Nephthys in a cult-niche. The portrait of Osiris was carved over the defaced portrayals of Aper-el and his family in the niche and it is thought to be completely new at Saqqara. During the same season, the French Mission discovered an unusual well-preserved statue-pair of a granary supervisor, Merysekhmet and his wife in a nearby New Kingdom tomb, also said to be the first time such rock-carved statues have been found at Saqqara.


fromhttp://www.egyptsites.co.uk/lower/saqqara/tombs/newkingdom/newkingdom.html
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 4:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is a picture of an ivory spoon from Aperia's tomb

and 2 cubit measuring rods from his tomb

This site has some more amazing pictures (different periods)...
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 5:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's a beautiful spoon. What craftsmanship! I also loved that inlay of Isis in the other site you provided, though it's unfortunate that so much of it has disappeared. I wonder what the blue in the inlay is--blue-glaze, turquoise? Thanks for the links, anneke. Lots of lovely things to examine in those photos.
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's another miscinception that my mum has-she believes the Giza pyramids are covered with hieroglyphs on the inside chambers. That's wrong-the walls are bare!!! There is a pyramid with hiero's covering the walls, but it ain't one of the famous giza ones.

Also, a lot of people think the Egyptian temples were stone coloured, and I've just recently found out that they would have been brightly painted-so they would have been much more colourful. Even the sphinx had paint on it, apparently.
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Psusennes
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 11:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is without doubt the most hillarious website of misconceptions that I have come across. Enjoy!

http://www.populationprayer.com/bookformat1.html

http://www.populationprayer.com/symbolsglossary.html

They really are so ridiculous that it's impossible to believe that anyone could have written them seriously. Oh well. Smile
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