An extremely old stamp.
This ancient stamp dates to the 22nd century BC, and is from the holy city of Nippur, located southeastern Iraq. Nippur was the religious centre of Mesopotamia for thousands of years, and was believed to have been where Enlil created mankind.
Translated, the inscription on the stamp reads: Narâm-Sîn built the house/temple of the god Enlil. As the British Museum state: “Such stamps were used to impress or mark the bricks of important religious and public buildings. They are therefore an important source for the identification of architecture and a valuable criterion for the date of a building.” The impression in front of the stamp is modern.
Artefact courtesy of & currently located at The British Museum, London. Photo taken by Klaus Wagensonner.

An extremely old stamp.

This ancient stamp dates to the 22nd century BC, and is from the holy city of Nippur, located southeastern Iraq. Nippur was the religious centre of Mesopotamia for thousands of years, and was believed to have been where Enlil created mankind.

Translated, the inscription on the stamp reads: Narâm-Sîn built the house/temple of the god Enlil. As the British Museum state: “Such stamps were used to impress or mark the bricks of important religious and public buildings. They are therefore an important source for the identification of architecture and a valuable criterion for the date of a building.” The impression in front of the stamp is modern.

Artefact courtesy of & currently located at The British Museum, London. Photo taken by Klaus Wagensonner.

The focus of today shall be: the Mouse Tank Petroglyphs of the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA.

Mouse Tank falls within a region which was occupied by Puebloan farmers from about AD 1 to 1200, and contains many Puebloan-style petroglyphs, as attested to by the photographs shown above. At about 1200 Southwestern farming cultures experienced significant drought, which ultimately resulted in the abandonment of the site.

Interpreting Puebloan rock art, to date, remains problematic. However, a few lines of thought can be given to aid us in our understanding. Here I will be summarizing a few key points from the work of Dr. David S. Whitley, who is generally regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on rock art.

Whitley suggests that some aspects of the rock art are likely shamanistic in intend and origin -elements of shamanism have continued through to Puebloan religions today. “Furthermore, we know that one of the characteristics of these archaic shamanistic practices was the making of rock art.” It is also thought that much of the art references the neuropsychological model of motif forms, which derived from altered states of consciousness. Whitley notes that much of the petroglyphs at Mouse Tank display entoptic patterns which are “common percepts in the first stage of a trance.” This includes spirals, parallel lines, zigzags, and other more complicated geometric forms. In essenceWhitley concludes that the Mouse Tank petroglyphs reflect “an expression of what are presumably formal religious cults and rites such as those still practiced by Pueblo groups today.” The figurative images, such as displayed in the 5th photo, likely represent ritual participants, deities, and the like.

Photos taken by & courtesy of George Lamson. Recommended reading: essentially anything from David S. Whitley, in particular: Discovering North American Rock Art (University of Arizona Press 2006) & Introduction to Rock Art Research (Left Coast Press 2011).

Graffiti at Deir el-Bahri.

Deir el-Bahri is the mortuary temple of Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut, who ruled from about 1473–1458 BC. 

The shown graffiti was carved later, and depicts Coptic text and symbols, including what appears to be two early Coptic crosses with olive branches. The ‘Copts’ are the Christians of Egypt. According to legend, their church was founded in the 1st century AD in Alexandria by Mark the Evangelist while Egypt was under Roman rule.

Photos taken by Irene Soto, and courtesy of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

A few details from Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico.

The capital of the Zapotecs during the Late Classic Period, Monte Albán has been occupied from 500 BC (at least!), to AD 1500, and peaked about AD 500-750. 

The Formative period low-relief carvings shown in the first and third photos (known as ‘the Danzantes’) are thought to represent sacrificial victims or prisoners.

Photos taken by Alex Torres.

More news from Amphipolis!

Greek Culture Ministry

+See also: a few of the Greek Culture Ministry’s press releases for the excavation, to date. They provide a lot of really great photos, so still definitely worth a look for the non-Greek reader.

This work is not only universally esteemed, but is accounted one of the rarest specimens of magnificence.”

In this quote from On Architecture (VII.15), Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius is speaking of the very structure shown here: the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens. 

While construction on this ancient Greek temple began during the 6th century BC, it was completed much later by Roman emperor Hadrian during the 2nd century AD.

Photos courtesy of & taken by F. Tronchin

Some breaking news in the world of archaeology: Pleistocene cave art has just been found on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi, the oldest of which is at least 40,000 years before present. Highly significant as, until now, the only confirmed paintings of this age come from caves in Western Europe.

As Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London states in the article: “It is a really important find; it enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe and did not develop in other parts of the world until much later.”

Here is also the journal article in Nature for those interested: doi:10.1038/nature13422.

A brief cross-cultural look at necklaces from the ancient world.

The first is made of green jadeite, from Chiapas in Mexico, and likely of the Maya culture. AD 200-900.

Second is an Egyptian necklace from the Late-Ptolemaic Period (711-30 BC), made of gold, mother of pearl, and yellow, green, and tan faience.

The next is Greco-Roman, and made of gold with the profile head of an emperor, dating to the 3rd-4th century AD.

Returning to Mexico, this next example is made of shell, and from Colima. 200 BC-AD 500.

The fifth necklace shown in Egyptian, dates to 664-525 BC, and is made of carnelian and faience.

The next example is likely Etruscan, dates to the Hellenistic period (325-50 BC), and made of gold.

Our final example is from ancient Bactria (located in modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), made of agate, and dates to the Namazga V period, circa 2200-1800 BC.

All artefacts courtesy of & currently located at the LACMA, USA. Via their online collectionsM.71.73.318M.81.15050.22.18M.86.296.203M.91.200.250.22.8 & M.2000.183.1.

Do not stand up against / me as witness; do not contradict me in the court; do nothing against me in front of the deities; / do not treat me with hostility in front of the Keeper of the Balance. You are my Ka (life-force), which is in my body; the creator, / who makes the limbs of my body whole; you may come out to the beautiful place, which is there prepared for me. Do not cause my name / to stink in the presence of the members of the court, who make people to resurrected (at) the beautiful place. Excellent is it for the posers; a pleasure is it / for the judge. Do not speak lies against me beside the great god.”

-A translated section from the right scarab, which is from spell 30B of the “Book of the Dead” (trans. Walters).

Scarabs in ancient Egypt.

One of the most well-known amulets from ancient Egypt is the scarab, which represented the dung-beetle. These amulets were usually made of faience or stone, decorated with an almost endless repertoire of geometric and figurative designs engraved on the base, and came in various sizes.

Originally a form of personal seal, scarabs took on the role of good-luck charms. The scarab-beetle itself was associated the Atum and the sun god Re, both deities concerned with resurrection and rebirth. The idea that the dung beetle was symbolic of rebirth and regeneration was probably inspired by its life cycle. When the beetle laid its eggs hidden in the sand, the newly hatched insects would emerge from seemingly nowhere, as though they were the result of self-generation. 

Large scarabs with engraved text from the Book of the Dead were used as a substitute for the heart in burial, intended to ward of evils and help gain the joys of the Egyptian paradise. The scarab shown in the right image is one such heart scarab. This funerary amulet was intended to have a supportive function for its deceased owner in the Court of the Dead, as illustrated by its translated text at the start of the post.

Both chosen examples of scarabs are from the Walters Art MuseumBaltimore, and via their online collections: 1984.30.542.81. The first dates to 946-525 BC (Third Intermediate-early Late Period), and the second, 1070-736 BC (Third Intermediate).

When writing up this post Rosalie David’s Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt (Penguin UK, 2002) was of use.

Sleeping Hermaphroditos, a Roman Imperial work (2nd century AD), which was discovered near the Baths of Diocletian in Rome, and probably inspired by a Greek original of the 2nd century BC. The mattress was sculpted by Bernini. 

With the voluptuous curves, one might assume walking by this sculpture, without closer observation, that a female is depicted. Hermaphroditos was actually a male, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, and is depicted here as a bisexed figure. The sculpture, and those like it, raise profound questions about the nature of arousal and desire.

The following sections are written by Astier Marie-Bénédicte of the Louvre, and are all worth a read:

The story of Hermaphroditos:

There is nothing improper in this work, but it still intrigues the viewer. Hermaphroditos, had rejected the advances of the nymph Salmacis. Unable to resign herself to this rejection, Salmacis persuaded Zeus to merge their two bodies forever, hence the strange union producing one bisexed being with male sexual organs and the voluptuous curves of a woman. Stretched out in erotic abandon on the mattress provided by Bernini, the figure sleeps. Yet Hermaphroditos has only fallen half asleep: the twisting pose of the body and the tension apparent down to the slightly raised left foot are indicative of a dream state.

An embodiment of Hellenistic taste:

[…] The subject reflects the taste for languid nudes, surprise effects, and theatricality, all of which were prized in the late Hellenistic period. The work is designed to be viewed in two stages. First impressions are of a gracious and sensuous body that leads one to think that the figure is a female nude in the Hellenistic tradition; this effect is heightened here by the sinuousness of the pose. The other side of the statue then brings a surprise, revealing the figure’s androgynous nature by means of the crudest realism. This effect of contrast and ambiguity, indeed this taste for the strange that plays with the viewer’s emotions, is the result of the theatricality of some Hellenistic art. This utopian combination of two sexes is sometimes interpreted as a half-playful, half-erotic creation, designed to illustrate Platonic and more general philosophical reflections on love. 

Courtesy of & currently located at the Louvre, France: Ma 231. Photos taken by Anne-Marie Bouché.

Depictions of the Abu Simbel temples, from 1843 to present.

Of the most magnificent monuments in the world, the two temples at Abu Simbel date to about 1260 BCE, and have long captured the interest and imaginations of many.

Ramesses II dedicated the so-called Small Temple of Abu Simbel to the goddess Hathor, and his wife Nefertari. Slightly further south is the larger temple, which Ramesses dedicated to the gods Ptah, Amun-Re, Re-Horakhty, as well as his own divine self. 4 colossal seated figures of Ramesses take up the facade of the latter.

The Great Temple of Ramesses II by kairoinfo4u.

Temple of Hathor/Nefertari, published in 1902, Internet Archive Book Images.

The Great Temple of Ramesses II, published in 1921, Internet Archive Book Images.

The Great Temple of Ramesses II, published in 1896Internet Archive Book Images.

'Interior of the excavated Temple of Abu Simbel in Nubia,' published in 1843, The British Library.

A quick look at: Greek votive offerings, with a particular focus on those of the Archaic period from Olympia.

Since we have received everything from the Gods, and it is right to pay the giver some tithe of his gifts, we pay such a tithe of possessions in votive offering, of bodies in gifts of (hair and) adornment, and of life in sacrifices.” -Sallustius in ‘On the Gods and the Cosmos,’ XVI (translation by Gilbert Murray).

A ‘votive offering’ is essentially a gift to a god. Once dedicated, the object is thought to become the “inalienable property of that god” (Whitley 2001). In theory, almost any kind of object could be used as a votive, we even have literary accounts which speak of captured ships being dedicated as a thank offering to a god (see Herodotus VIII.121).

Here I won’t be exploring the psychology of giving such offerings, however, it is likely that the motives were not quite so straightforward as suggested by the Latin phrase ‘do ut des' (I give that you may give). While the concept of reciprocity, a cycle of exchange between human and god, is of course relevant here, one must also not underestimate the value ancient Greek society placed on visibly showing one’s piety.

The shown Greek votive offerings are from Olympia, and consist largely of tiny animals made of bronze, stone, and clay. These objects date from the 10th century BCE, though those from the 8th century are the greatest in number. From the 9th century BCE, we can see a distinct increase in the range of votive offerings, and their quality.

When writing up this article, James Whitley’s book The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2001) was of use, and is recommended for those interested Greek history. Photos taken by Richard.