Thursday Roundup: Pyramid Papyri, Mountains of the Moon, and Victorian Views of Cave People
Thank you all for the well wishes for my cat. He has started on medication, and he had some food, which is a good sign.
I want to call your attention today to an article in the new issue of Smithsonian magazine outlining what archaeologists have learned over the past two years from the discovery of a set of Fourth Dynasty papyri in the ruins of a port at Wadi al-Jarf in 2013. According to the article, the papyri include the diary of Merer, an overseer who helped to transport goods. He describes working for Ankh-haf, the half-brother of Khufu, who was revealed to be the overseer in charge of some of the construction of the Great Pyramid. The journal also describes picking up material from the same town where the limestone for the Pyramid’s outer casing came from. When the diary and other documents were combined with the archaeological remains found at the site—from blocks inscribed with Khufu’s name to boats and copper tools—it quickly became clear that this site, located near the largest source of copper, in the Sinai, was an important supply station for moving the copper needed to carve the Pyramid’s stones. This find, in connection with the large worker’s village that once housed as many as 20,000 workers, offers key insights into how the Egyptians built the pyramids.
One of the most interesting details is that Merer reports taking limestone blocks to the “Horizon of Khufu,” almost certainly the Great Pyramid, by ship, implying, according to archaeologist Mark Lehner, that a canal had been drawn from the Nile to the Pyramid for easier transportation of blocks.
The author of the article, Alexander Stille, dryly notes that this new information undercuts fringe claims that the Pyramids were magically constructed by space aliens or a lost civilization. No wonder Graham Hancock has been singing a new tune recently, arguing now that Khufu did indeed build the pyramid (he wasn’t sure in the past) but that he got the plans from a lost civilization’s secret library—an unprovable claim, and one that evidence won’t easily contradict.
It will be interesting to see how those who have advocated for the Great Pyramid being as much as 12,500 years old manage to incorporate these findings into their elaborate conspiracies. Certainly, these findings should make it harder to support the notion that the Arab pyramid myths setting the building of the Pyramid before the Great Flood (i.e., the Ice Age melt-off) have any basis in fact.
But something I would like to share is this interesting detail from a map of Africa published in 1802.
What you see are the Mountains of the Moon, identified as the source of the Nile River. This map detail remained unchanged from Late Antiquity, and was widely accepted as the geography of inner Africa among the Arabs. The story was first told by a man named Diogenes, and reported by Ptolemy, from whom the story was taken up by the Arabs. The Akhbār al-zamān discusses it in these words around 1000 CE:
Al-Wālīd, continuing to move forward, reached the lake(s) whence the waters of the Nile discharge themselves; they are fed by the rivers that flow from the Mountain of the Moon. The Mountain of the Moon is a steep mountain, very wide and very long. It received this name because the moon rises in relation to it, because of the position it occupies far below the equator. (my trans.)
In 1154 al-Idrisi drew it in his world map (here oriented with south at top):
I am astonished at the persistence of myth from Ptolemy down to the nineteenth century. The mountain source of some of the White Nile in the Rwenzori Mountains wasn’t found until 1889.
That said, I would be remiss if I did not share what has to be the greatest image of prehistory I have ever found in a Victorian book. I stumbled across it the other day, and it amused me greatly. Our selection comes from W. E Webb’s Buffalo Land (1872), and, according to the title page, it was drawn by Henry Worrall. It depicts what the author assumed to be the first Americans, a primitive race of monkey-people who battled dinosaurs. Note carefully that even these primitive pre-humans anticipated YouTube by a million years: They have a cat picture hanging on the wall!
Sadly, Victorian images like this have shaped the popular understanding of prehistory more than we might like to admit. These sorts of depictions are to this day the types of images many reach for when trying to imagine the past.
Two articles by Pierre Tallet about Wadi el-Jarf are available in French: https://www.academia.edu/9644107/_Les_papyrus_de_la_mer_Rouge_ouadi_el-Jarf_golfe_de_Suez_CRAI_2013_p._1015-1024 and https://www.academia.edu/9509033/_Des_papyrus_du_temps_de_Ch%C3%A9ops_au_Ouadi_el-Jarf_Golfe_de_Suez_BSFE_188_2014_p._25-49
busterggi (Bob Jase)
9/24/2015 11:57:57 am
9/24/2015 12:41:19 pm
Anyone notice the child on the far right of the caveman illustration looks sort of like a Who?
9/24/2015 02:51:15 pm
Looks like a butt to me. Mountain of the Moon indeed!
9/25/2015 08:43:06 am
Speaking of anatomical models, I wonder if H. Rider Haggard ever saw that map.
9/24/2015 03:28:07 pm
Uhmm...the cat is wearing glasses.
9/24/2015 05:15:23 pm
"Note carefully that even these primitive pre-humans anticipated YouTube by a million years: They have a cat picture hanging on the wall!"
9/24/2015 06:36:50 pm
The framed drawings in the cave are a nice decorative touch.
9/24/2015 06:45:52 pm
"...and dinner tonight is fried lizard and starfish."
9/24/2015 08:59:19 pm
"But Ogg, you know I'm vegan!"
9/24/2015 07:48:05 pm
I like how the Dad is holding a staff to hide his junk, a nice Victorian touch.
9/25/2015 11:16:32 am
He also suffers from male pattern baldness.
9/24/2015 07:51:08 pm
I'm sorry your cat's been sick. I wish him a speedy recovery.
9/24/2015 08:32:44 pm
The (presumably) female person seated on the left looks suspiciously cat-like.
busterggi (Bob Jase)
9/25/2015 09:08:12 am
Furries go back to day one.
9/25/2015 09:16:47 am
My thought as well. My guess is she's Catkind, which the Tardis Data Core Wiki decribes as "a species of humanoid felines that originated on the planet New Savannah but soon spread across the New Earth Empire. Catkind had some similarity to the non-humanoid cats of Earth, though they were closer to the size of a human."
9/24/2015 11:29:51 pm
I've never believed the most absurd Fringe theories, and I've long abandoned my past flirtation with an Enoch affiliation. I believe Egyptians built it.
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
9/25/2015 04:37:36 pm
"Engravings" were not standard on the walls of Egyptian burial chambers until a century after Khufu. What documentation says it already existed before Khufu?
9/25/2015 09:40:07 am
The fringe "theorists" will simply alter their "theories" so any evidence against their claims can be ignored and they'll continue selling books and making TV shows.
Duke of URL
9/25/2015 11:56:24 am
[a] Mazel Tov on your beloved cat's recovery.
9/25/2015 01:43:29 pm
The secret lies in work-hardening, Duke. Copper is soft and easy to work--but once you've worked it, you can make it much harder just by banging on it. Banging on it causes the crystal structure to become more rigid. You can make tools plenty up to cutting through limestone and granite that way--especially since what I've seen suggests that they didn't use chisels so much as sand and copper saw blades to cut the stone with, which doesn't require nearly as much hardness as, say, a pickaxe.
Duke of URL
9/26/2015 02:01:20 pm
That's amazing, V - I had NO idea that you could do something like that. Fascinating - gives me some ideas to possibly work into my current books.
9/25/2015 01:35:39 pm
A canal, eh? This is both fascinating and unsurprising.
9/25/2015 11:19:08 pm
I shall save that pic, find a frame at the local Antique Mall, and hang it proudly on my wall. (BTW, I am reminded of an old, fading Far Side cartoon magneted on the front of my fridge. Cave family sitting about the dining rock. Mom approaching with a steaming stone bowl. The Cavedad exclaims, "Primordial soup *again*?")
9/27/2015 02:46:11 pm
Hi, where can we find Graham Hancock's tune change on this ?
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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