Archive for the 'Discoveries' Category

A moment in time.

Friday, June 9th, 2006

The census returns are a good source of information for the genealogist and the local historian. Looking at the 1881 census for England gives us chance to see some famous, or to become famous, men and women of the 19th and 20th centuries.

These links are to some of the 1881 transcriptions from

Queen Victoria. The Queen’s Personal Servant, John Brown, with whom she a strong bond, is also shown. The number of servants is quite astounding.

William Gladstone, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during the Second World War.
Here he is as a 6-year old with his the father, Lord Randolph CHURCHILL M.P.

Charles Robert Darwin, naturalist and author, shortly before his death in 1882.

Friedrich Engels. With Karl Marx developed the theory of communism. Marx is shown as Wass.

Thomas Hardy, author and novelist. Not living in his beloved Dorset, but a London suburb.

Joseph Carey Merrick aka John Merrick. The so-called Elephant Man who resided in the Leicester Union Workhouse.
If you’re are not familiar with his sad story, see this page for additional background information.

Florence Nightingale, nursing pioneer who famously went to the Crimean War to help sick and injured soldiers.

And the Earl of Lucan, famous for being involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade debacle.

They lived one or two doors away from each other. I wonder if they reminisced about old times and the Crimean War?

Daily Stone Age Life – The Sohi mother and child

Friday, June 9th, 2006

The Sohi people live in the mountains, in the tropics. They are thought to have been living here for fifty thousand years, and developed agriculture about ten thousand years ago.

It’s a hot, sunny day. There’s forest around us, with a path weaving through the trees. At one point, there is a break in the tree cover, and the ground is rocky. A small stream flows across the rocks.

A mother and her baby are walking along the path. The mother is naked apart from a grass skirt formed from a band around her waist from which grasses hang at the front and back; her thighs are not covered. The baby is naked, and is being carried by the mother, slung over her back in what we might describe as a stretchy string bag, made from plant fibres twisted into a twine and knotted into an open criss-cross pattern.

The mother takes the baby out of the carrier and gently washes it in the stream; the baby enjoys the cool water on the hot day. Soon, the mother has finished washing the baby and returns it to the carrier. The Sohi babies like the movement of being carried, and the closeness of the mother, and rarely cry.

The mother returns along the bush track, and a short distance into the forest rejoins her companions – several other Sohi women who are harvesting a sago palm. The mother sets two sticks into the ground, and suspends the baby – in her sling – between them, to keep it cool.

It is the men’s responsibility to plant and nurture the sago palms, but it is the women’s job to fell them and to extract the sago starch, which is one of the Sohi people’s staple foods.

The starch is extracted by scraping out the trunk using a triangular stone seated in a notch at the end of a stong stick and bound to it with a length of twine. The scraping is hard, physical work – and that’s only the start of the process.

The starch must be separated out from the scraped sago pulp by kneading the pulp then washing the starchy bits out with warm water. A leaf from the sago palm serves to channel the water and starch into a strainer, made from the fibrous part of a coconut tree. The starchy water is allowed to settle, and the excess water is poured off before the starch is transferred to baskets made from the thick and pliable parts of palm leaves, which are then tied up neatly.

All the time, the women sing, asking the sun not to set too quickly because there is still much work to be done. From the sago palm they also harvest leaves and sticks for the construction of houses, and the nutty-flavoured sago grubs that live in the base of the palm.

Heavily laden, the women carry the grubs, sticks, leaves and baskets of sago back to their village. They dig a hole near the river bank into which they put the baskets and cover them with soil. The sago will keep for a few months, during which time it may ferment.

That’s all for today’s post. Tomorrow’s post will be about the Sohi village.

Ancient Egypt VI – The Amarna Hiccup

Friday, June 9th, 2006

Perhaps the easiest way to approach this time in ancient Egyptian history is repost something I had written for another forum a few years ago. Some of you may have read it before and I have found excerpts of it, including at least one full text version other places online. It is not because anything leaked from that forum but because I have published it elsewhere. I have also edited it since that initial publication as there are references that would make no sense except to Google Answers Researchers who were part of that original forum.

I have no idea of what the legal status of giving citations in this case would be in regard to that other forum, but it is my work, so I will ignore them.

For those who do not know, “GAR” equals “Google Answers Researcher.”


Sit for a minute and relax. It is time to use a little of that GAR intelligence and skill of visualization. I have a story to tell.

Imagine a hawk circling high above the edge of the desert. Imagine it as a dark speck against the faint blue of the pre-dawn sky. The hawk soars higher, striking the first rays of the rising sun, and its feathers flame suddenly, glint and flash, harbingers of the suns arrival, transforming the bird of prey into an omen or a message from Re-Harrakte, phoenix soul of the sun itself. Dawn becomes myth; and morning in Heliopolis, as the Greeks called it a thousand years into its decline, was the time of worship. The sun, in all its forms and effects, had always been the “one” god of the ancient Egyptian city of Anu, “The Place of the Pillar of the Sun.” Nothing remains of Heliopolis save a single obelisk from the Middle Kingdom to remind us of its importance. And yet, its solar theology echoed down the ages long after the rest of Egyptian civilization had been lost.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stones and Bones

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

For many people the term “Stone Age” conjures up images of Fred Flintstone, or of savages chasing dinosaurs. Neither of these could be further from the truth!

There is no one “stone age”, because there were a wide range of stone age societies in different places and at different times. However, they were all pre-literate societies, and they did not use metal tools.

Sometimes it seems that we only know about the stone age by wild extrapolation from stones and bones that have been dug up or found in a cave, but there are some stone age societies about whom we know more – much more.

In my next few posts, I’ll be presenting the daily life of one such stone age society, whom I’ll call the “Sohi”. In the final post of the series, I’ll tell you who the Sohi people are, and how we can know so much about them.

I’m not an archaeologist, nor am I an anthropologist. Heck, I’m not any kind of ologist, not even a vulcanologist! So I ask you to humor me if at times I seem to be taking a liberty or two. Please wait to see how the series turns out! I will then welcome any criticisms, and if appropriate I will amend the articles.

Ancient Egypt V – A Gardener’s Lament

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Water from above, don’t get water on the leaves, flood irrigation only, use a light mist, water only in the evening, water only in the morning, don’t water much at all, soak it daily, and this is for only one courtyard in the palace garden.

Since Egypt has become an international power, the import of exotics has made the gardener’s life hectic, to say the least.

I should have stayed and worked on the vinyard. Great grandfather Amenhotep had turned it into a vast enterprise producing wine, raisins, edible grape leaves and more when he came home after fighting the Hyksos and Nubians.

But no, I had to go out on my own and raise flowers. Now here I am, chief of the royal gardeners, and the king, bless her name, has ships coming back from Punt loaded with even more exotic plant life for her mortuary temple. It would seem as though Hatshepsut can’t decide between a mortuary temple or an arboretum.

But I really do have what I want, complaints or not. Here I am surrounded in this single courtyard with iris, chrysanthemums, lilies and delphiniums. Blue lotus, white lotus, safflower, calanchoe, poppies, hollyhocks, mandrake, and those still difficult to grow roses.

Then the little pool barely visable through the pomegranates with its tiny beds of buttercups, clover, white daisies and cornflowers.

I wonder if the gardens of any other country in the world equal those of Egypt? I somehow doubt it.

Then to keep Her Majesty shaded, I have planted trees, tamarisk, olive, acacia, willows, date palms, doum palms with their strange branching trunks, sycamore, carob, myrtle and some whose names I do not know. And in the center of the garden there is a large covered grape arbor for even more shade.

Doum Palm Branching Egyptian Doum Palm – image courtesy

I have placed all these gardens on the north side of the palace so that the prevailing winds can carry the scent of the flowers inside to Her Majesty.

Grapes seem so simple.

I, Djbouti, did all this for Her Majesty, the King. But it is never enough. She wants the avenues leading to the major temples replanted with new shade trees. I think we have enough sycamore seedlings to do most of that.

And she wants Myrrh trees planted along the avenue leading to her temple. They are on the ships coming back from Punt. I know nothing about Myrrh trees other than seeing one once and it was not pretty. But perhaps to her, its connection to the sacred is what she is considering most of all.
myrrh6.jpgMyrrh Tree – image courtesy

Many of our common garden plants have a connection to the sacred. Papyrus is the sacred symbol of Northern Egypt and the lotus of the South. Tying a bundle of the two plants together symbolizes the united country we have today.

Hatshepshut wants her temple to be a “paradise.” Now there is an interesting new word she has introduced into our language. “Paradise” is a word from Persia and it means “an enclosed park.” I wonder how she knows of it? We have so little dealing with that part of the world.

She even has it carved as an inscription on her temple. “I have listened to my father . . . commanding me to establish for him a Punt in his house, to plant the trees of God’s Land beside his temple, in his garden, just as he commanded . . .”

Now, our Lady King may have more than gardening in mind when she calls her temple a paradise. She has been seen wandering more than once through the arcades with her architect Senenmut, and with all loyal retainers left far, far behind. He is also a Steward of Amun and tutor to the royal children. Although he already has a completed tomb at nearby Qurna, a second tomb is being carved for him into the rock near the temple. This tomb may be a gift from Hatshepsut and is grand enough for any pharaoh. In fact, this second tomb of Senenmut is being designed so that the burial chamber is directly under the courtyard of Hatshepsut’s temple.

That desire for eternal proximity has tongues wagging all over Egypt.

It seems every temple and house in Egypt is surrounded by lush greenery and flowers. Even the homes of the poorest have their patch of onions and even a blooming weed or two growing out of a muddy bit of ground. From the Delta to Thebes and beyond, Egypt is one long flower bed.

A poor gardener’s work is never done. Though we are not poor in the financial sense. Skilled gardeners and garden designers are employed by temple and palace, as well as the households of the wealthy and many of us are rich enough to employ gardeners of our own.

Working for Her Majesty, the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, has certainly allowed me to do that.

Riverside home and gardenRiverside home and garden – image courtesy

Till next time


Ancient Egypt IV – The Expulsion

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Amenhotep and his driver were standing in his chariot only a couple of places away from his king.

Pharaoh Ahmose ( Moses in the language of the Hyksos ) had completed an agreement with the Hyksos that they should leave the country and go where they will.

Amenhotep thought back over the events of the past few years.

Seqenenra Tao II had been killed during a raid on the Hyksos and the war had been put on hold while a new king ascended the Theban Throne, the Pharaoh Kamose. Then Kamose went north to attack. He surprised and defeated the southernmost Hyksos garrison at Nefrusy, ( near modern Asyut ), and then led his army as far north as the neighborhood of the Hyksos capital of Avaris itself. Though that city was not taken, the fields around it were laid waste by the Thebans. The Hyksos king had outlived his first Egyptian contemporary, Seqenenra Tao II, and was still on the throne of a much reduced kingdom at the end of Kamose’s brief reign.

About the time of Kamose’s death, he had received a dispatch from Thebes addressed to “Overseer of the Royal Stables, Amenhotep,” It began, “Excellency, your father, the Noble Digshotep, has flown to the Sun.”

Amenhotep had reached the most prestigious and highly prized rank in Egypt’s army, Overseer of the Royal Stables, and he had delayed writing his father about it for too long.

After the death of Kamose and the enthronment of Ahmose, a few years had passed before Ahmose took to the field against the Hyksos. Ahmose was only ten years old when he became king of Egypt. Amentotep grinned at the memory of his father trying to say his sister had hung on the young prince’s arm as a ploy in trying to keep him from studying medicine.

Fifteen years had passed since then and after several battles and a long seige of the city of Avaris, the Hyksos were ready to call it quits and leave. Now Amenhotep was simply waiting to find out if the King were going to accompany the departing hord. It seems he might as he wants to make sure these shepherds do not turn around and return.

He was also awaiting word from the Admiral of the newly refurbished Egyptian Navy, which had been instrumental in winning several of the battles. If the king decided to escort the Hyksos out of the country, he wanted to know the Navy’s readiness to follow along the coast as floating supply depots for the land bound army.

Amenhotep’s personal feelings were that they should not go with the Hyksos since there was new pressure building from Nubia in the south that needed attention soon. Nubia could also be a source of wealth that the kingdom needed badly.

Another reason the king wanted to go, besides not wanting the Hyksos to turn back, is that part of the surrender terms included Egypt providing guides through the wilderness to Palestine. Egyptian traders knew the route as well as anybody, and so did the Hyksos. However, they did not want to depend on Hyksos guides as such guides could slip away and perhaps have Hyksos allies waiting in ambush along the route. The king stressed that Egyptians needed to be in control of the exodus.

They knew of the special winds that would blow the waters of the Reed Sea away from the shallow north end allowing people to pass before the wind failed and the waters returned. They knew of the ‘secret’ traders springs which were sealed when not in use. A few blows from a spear or staff would break the seal and allow water to flow. Such sealed springs and wells were also common along the trade routes of the Eastern Desert to the mines and the Red Sea ports, Western Desert routes as well. These are natural cisterns formed of special layers of clay. The clays hinder water from local rainfall penetraing deep into the sandstone, therefore, creating underground water resources that could be easily tapped or that would have even formed natural outlets at topographically favorable places. And if one knew what to look for, symbols identifying these springs lined the trade routes across the desert.

Well, the word is in, we are going.

Ahmose drove the Hyksos as far as Sharuhen, where they resisted the expulsion. After a three year seige, they were defeated again and driven on.

I shall end this segment on Egyptian history with a quote from a later historian named Josephus Flavius.

“That the shepherds built a wall round all this place, which was a large and a strong wall, and this in order to keep all their possessions and their prey within a place of strength, but that Thummosis the son of Alisphragmuthosis made an attempt to take them by force and by siege, with four hundred and eighty thousand men to lie rotund about them, but that, upon his despair of taking the place by that siege, they came to a composition with them, that they should leave Egypt, and go, without any harm to be done to them, whithersoever they would; and that, after this composition was made, they went away with their whole families and effects, not fewer in number than two hundred and forty thousand, and took their journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, for Syria; but that as they were in fear of the Assyrians, who had then the dominion over Asia, they built a city in that country which is now called Judea, and that large enough to contain this great number of men, and called it Jerusalem.”
– Josephus Flavius, Against Apion, Book 1:14

Please note: – Ahmose is considered the founder of Egypt’s Great 18th dynasty. However, there was no ‘family’ change, only a ‘historic’ change. The 18th dynasty was a continuation of the same Royal Family that was the 17th dynasty.

A special note: – Whether this is, or is not, the basic event that was written of later by Israeli historians as “The Exodus” is not for me to say is, or is not, the case in this post.

My personal belief is that it is. It would be more politic for such historians to say “we escaped” than it would be to say “we were kicked out on our butts.” Your own belief will depend on your own research and the directions you take it.

Please remember that people such as David M. Rohl, who completely reinvented a chronology of Egyptian history to match Biblical timelines (mainstream archaeology does not accept it) and Ron Wyatt, who is not an archaeologist, but a anesthesia/surgical nurse from Tennessee, involved strongly with ‘fringe’ archaeology and promotes himself as an expert in the field, are “not” accepted as valid archaeological or historical researchers by mainstream archaeologists and historians. – – Though for reasons of your own, you may.

Till next time


Ancient Egypt III – The Hyksos Presence, its Social and Technological Changes

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Digshotep had enlisted in the campaign against the Hyksos. This life changing event had come about by accident due to the success of his winery, still the only venture of its type in the Theban region.

Traders coming upriver to Thebes from Crete had told him that wine had a certain purification property. He did not know what made it work but experimentation showed him that it did.

Trade was beginning to slow as the Hyksos were cancelling travel permits for foreigners through their territories. They had solid control of Memphis and river traffic was subject to their whim. Wine imports from Crete were slowing to the point they were dry and Digs had expanded his production accordingly.

The Pharaoh’s troops had been limited in their ability to carry supplies, especially drink. The only safe liquid was beer and it meant that troops had to stop every day or so to brew more. The vast amount of water in the river which flowed beside them was useless. Even if allowed to settle till it was clear, drinking it could cause all kinds of sickness.

Digs’ experiments had demonstrated that mixing wine with the clarified water ( or even unclarified ) as the traders had told him, could make it much safer as a beverage. Wine was also easier to transport than was beer, which needed to be made fresh almost daily. This discovery allowed the king’s army to move much faster as they now could slake their thirst from the Nile simply by mixing one part of strong wine to three parts water.

Digshotep stood beside his lead mule, one of dozens loaded with jars of wine, and watched demons approach across the desert. He wondered if Amenhotep were anywhere nearby to witness this deadly miracle? He had not seen his son since the boy enlisted three years earlier.

The sun was just setting, heat waves created a quivering haze across the horizon and all was in sillouette. But he could still see clearly enough to recognize his doom as it approached.

What kind of magical powers did the Hyksos possess that they could call up demons from the very pit? What kind of power did they get from worshipping the demonic god Seth? It is said they had adopted that ancient Egyptian deity of evil as their own almost as soon as they had entered Egypt. Seth’s domain was the Eastern Desert and the mountains of the Sinai. This god had no business being in the valley.

But Digs knew what he saw. Wavering images of tall four legged monsters with human arms, human torsos and men’s heads were rapidly heading his direction. There was no use running from such swift devils. He sank to the ground to wait for the end.

The demons were now among them and there was panic all around. When out of the confusion he heard, “Dad, Dad, look up here. Get up off your knees and look.”

Digs raised his head, and his amazement was almost as great as it was when he first saw the demons attacking. There on top of a great long legged, snorting beast, sat his son.

“Dad, you don’t need to be afraid. They’re called horses. We captured them from some Hyksos scouts. Have you ever seen such wonderful animals?

“Gaaaaak” said Digs, with his usual sense of having just the right word at the right time.

Amenhotep slid down from his horse, grasped his still shaking dad and helped him sit in the shade of a rock. “Maybe I had better give you some explainations,” he began.

“Gaak,” responded the eloquent Digs.

“When I enlisted three years ago, I was assigned to a medical team working directly with the king’s personal guards. I think the old butler had a lot to do with that.

“Anyway, when one of the Pharoah’s favorite hunting dogs fell ill, I was called to attend it. The dog lived and a few days later I was called into the King’s presence.

“I was then told about a secret weapons program that was being developed for the war against the Hyksos. It seems the Hyksos had developed a moving platform on wheels from which their warriors could fight. It was pulled by these beasts called horses.

“The king had already captured several of these animals and had them on a secured private estate far south of Thebes. He had established a breeding program and was determined to hit back at the Hyksos with their own weaponry. Except he wanted to do it in a much more efficient manner than the Hyksos. He sent me there as a stable master in charge of the beast’s health.

“He had also sent several engineers and architects to try and make the moving platforms even more effective. They were rather cumbersome and not really designed for the terrain of the desert and valley. And they broke down a lot.

“Those chariots which we had captured had large solid wooden wheels on wooden axles and were miserable to turn, other than in a wide curve, making them next to useless for close combat.

“Our engineers did away with the solid wheels and devised spoked wheels which are not only lighter, but give greater manuverability. We also put tires on them instead of a solid wood rim, that too increases their manuverability. They don’t slide on turns like the Hyksos wheels do. The tires are made of sections of wood tied to the wheel with leather lashings, which pass through slots in the tire sections. The thongs don’t come in contact with the ground, making the chariot more reliable and reducing the number of breakdowns. There are many other changes we made too, such as chariot rails made of one piece of boiled and shapped wood instead of gluing several short pieces of wood together, and covering the axles with metal sheething to reduce friction.EgyptianChariot.gif

“It is because of the secrecy of our research that I had not been able to get away till this mission to test the Hyksos strength this far south. We also wanted to bring back some prisoners since we need extra slaves for the stables.”

“Slaves,” spat Digshotep, finding his voice at last. “Slaves.” That is probably the most abominable thing these Hyksos brought to our land. “Slaves.” And what is even more abominable is that our people picked up the disgusting habit of using such labor.

“My father, and his father, never even heard the word ‘slaves,’ let alone know what it means. The great monuments of our golden past were built as labors of love. Every man and woman who helped build the pyramids did so out of the desire to be part of something greater than themselves.

“They were not forced and they certainly were not slaves. Every person working on those projects knew they would share the king’s immortality. His life was theirs and his afterlife was theirs. The workers were well taken care of and excellent villages and barracks were built to house them while they worked on public monuments. They weren’t housed in swine pits as ‘slaves’ are.

“The people loved the gods and the king was among the greatest of gods. And the gods and the king loved the people back. When we build temples in the future, how will the gods love us back? Those temples will not be built by willing servants but built on the blood and sweat of forced labor. How can the gods then love Egypt, when the very houses we build for them will no longer be labors of love, but monuments giving testimony to terror, pain and blood?

“These are the enduring gifts the Hyksos have brought us. Until these Shepherd Kings invaded from Palestine, Egypt never even had an organized army. Now we have secret weapons programs.

“Before these Hyksos invaded from the East, we built for the glory of the gods and we did it with love. Now we will build only for the glory of king and country, and we will do it with the blood and sweat of captives who don’t know the gods, or care for them.”

Seeing his father in such a mood, Amenhotep decided it was time for a change of subjects. “And how is my little sister doing? Is she still hanging on the arm of young prince Amose?

“You know you almost had me when you said she was trying to catch the prince’s royal eye. It didn’t come to my mind till much later that little Amose was just that; little. What was he at the time, about five? I was at his eighth birthday celebration just a few weeks ago.”

“Look,” said Digs, “It seems like more of your horse riders are arriving. And it doesn’t look like they’re stopping.”

“Back to Thebes,” came the cry from the mounted scouts as they swept past. “Back to Thebes.

“The Falcon Seqenenra Tao has flown to the Sun. The King is dead. Back to Thebes.”

Egyptian_Museum_Tut_s_chariot.jpgKing tut’s royal chariot, Cairo Museum – photo source unknown

Till next time


For more about daily life in ancient Egypt:

Bookmark Madness, Powermarks Sanity

Saturday, May 27th, 2006


You know how it is. You stumble across an interesting site with something new…a particularly cool design, something weirdly offbeat, some facts and figures of interest, a database you might want to come back to and explore one day. Only half conscious of what’s happening, you mouse over to Add to Favorites, and before you know it, your bookmark list is half the size of the Manhattan Yellow Pages.

And good luck ever finding that database again.

If you’re a professional internet researcher, then multiply that scenario by at least an order of magnitude. I currently have 4,557 bookmarked sites in my personal collection…and this after a recent purging of dead links! Not quite the Manhattan phone book, but still, a hefty and unwieldy collection.

I long ago realized that the Internet Explorer method of storing links in Favorites folders just wasn’t going to cut it. Sure, I could have my Maps folder of links, and my Census folder, and my Cities folder. But what happens when I find a site that takes city census data and maps it on the fly? Which category should it get stored in? And — a year later, when I want to use the map tool — how the heck am I supposed to remember where I put it?

Looking around for a better way of doing things, I came across a free-trial of software called Powermarks. I almost abandoned it, at first, because it seemed an awkward and unfamiliar way of managing bookmarks. But some instinct told me to stick with it, and I eventually wound up doing something that (for me) is pretty rare…I bought the danged software!

Now, five years later, I can’t imagine working and researching without it.

Powermarks is simple to set-up, and actually is quite simple to use, my initial reservations notwithstanding. It puts some small icons in your tool bar or task bar (quick…which is which?), and you use these to quickly add a bookmark, and to efficiently manage your entire collection.

It’s a keyword-based system. As you store a new site, Powermarks generates likely keywords based on the URL and tags and such, though I only occasionally keep these. Usually, I just add my own keywords from scratch.

So, for example, my Powermarks entry for the above-mentioned Census site has keywords for census, maps, cities, states, zip, and 3-digit.

And years later, when I’m thinking: Where was that site that could map out 3-digit zip codes?, I can search on zip or 3-digit or map, and Powermarks will find it for me in an instant.

And cooler than cool, I can sychronize bookmark lists over the web, so that the PC in my attic, and the laptop in the kitchen and my computer in the office all have the same set of bookmarks listed.

It’s such a useful tool, that I haven’t even explored any of the new online bookmark management tools that are popping up all over the Net

It would be interesting to hear about anyone’s experience with them, if they think they’ve found a top-notch solution to the bookmarking madness.

Cheers, all

pafalafaga David Sarokin

Daily Life – Ancient Egypt II – Medicine

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Digshotep, the patriarch of a Late 17th dynasty Middle Kingdom, upper middle class, Egyptian family rests under a palm on his new country estate. His lot in life has improved tremendously since he planted those first ‘new fangled’ grape vines in his back garden. In just a few years he had developed Thebes first small commercial winery.

The royals seem to like the sweet, cloying stuff and are willing to pay a premium for it. Though it will never take the place of good Egyptian beer.

Life seems to be bright, the beer flows, the kids are just finishing their education, and the only personal dark spot is his relationship with his son, Amenhotep, who has now reached the age of 18.

Four years previously, Amenhotep had graduated from scribe training at the Shrine of Thoth, and with honors. He also received his cherished admission to the advanced school in Karnak Temple, where he was still receiving honors.

However, Seqenenra Tao II was now on the throne in Thebes, and there were rumblings of war with the Hyksos in the North.

Just as Digshotep had wanted, Amenhotep was socially networking nicely with the high officials of the court who were also taking classes, as well as some of the younger members of the Royal Family.

One of his closest friends at school, and one who had great influence on him was the Royal Butler, which in the Egyptian court means he was also one of the king’s main advisors. He was a man in his late fifties who believed in returning to school as frequently as he could. He was a priest and architect, a leading academic in anatomy and an expert in math. His hero was the great Imhotep, also a priest, physician, mathematician, and the 4th dynasty architect of the first Egyptian pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara.

This is where the conflict between Amenhotep and Digshotep started to simmer.

Digs had dreams of his son rising high in temple or court, perhaps even both. But thanks to the influence of the Royal Butler, Amenhotep wanted to study anatomy and become a physician.

“Pure quackery,” yelled the old man. “You think mixing up piles of hippopotami dung sweetened with milk and honey actually cures somebody instead of killing them? Do you want old men puking all over you? Do you want widows dragging you in front of the king’s court accusing you of killing their husbands? And your hands will always stink.

“Why can’t you be more like your sister? She has joined a troop of temple dancers. She’s second lead in the Karnak choir. She’s cultivating her friendships with the Royal Princesses and has even been seen hanging on the arm of the king’s younger son, Amose. She’s at least trying to make something respectable of herself and get ahead in the world. And her hands won’t stink like some common cattle barn mucker.”

“Dad, I wash my hands a lot, ok?

“You have been healthy all your life. I think about all you know about modern medicine is old-wives-tales, and the stories your nurse used to tell you in order to scare you into washing behind your ears. You really haven’t had that much exposure to the healing arts.

“There is a lot more to medicine than honey drizzled hippo poop. Though it has its place. And I don’t stick my hands in it. That’s what post-grads are for.

“Up-to-date medicine is a mix of observational science, magic, faith healing, properly used spells and more. We have gone far beyond kissing it to make the hurt go away then spreading on the doo-doo. Though some people still practice that simplicity, and even then a few get the order of the procedure backwards.

“We have totally modernized. We no longer have the archaic separation of physician, priest and magician. It is now all one discipline, and better because of it.

“If you were to cut your foot on a broken pot, I would apply a paste of fruit and honey, then I would put a bandage over it, then I would say the proper incantation, and last I would give you a magical amulet to keep until the cut was healed. See what I mean? We now address medicine on every level, not just the old-fashion cover it up and hope for the best.

“We also encourage people to keep bathing, shaving their head and body hair, and maintaining dietary restrictions against raw fish, any kind of pork, and other animals that are unclean to eat. Temple and palace precincts are forbidden to the uncircumcised, those who eat unclean foods and those with any body hair. That’s why even foreign embassys are greeted in the palace courtyard and never permitted inside till they have met with our cleanliness standards.

“Remember the young prince from Babylon who came to study at Karnak Temple? As high ranking as he was, he was not permitted in the classroom till he shaved his elaborate beard and hair, threw away his abominable woolen clothing, and was circumcised to acknowledge the covenant between Egypt and its gods.

“We are the cleanest and healthiest nation in the world. You and mom are now both over sixty years old. That’s more than 30 years beyond the average lifespan in some other countries and many of our people reach that mark and more. In fact, our normal lifespan, including the lowest classes and slaves is well over forty years.

“Our modern medicine makes the difference.

“Besides, if the king has his way, we will soon be marching north to meet the Hyksos threat. The army will need all the trained physicians it can get. He is already calling on the military recruiters to drag in all the able-bodied men they can round up. One way or the other, I will be going. Being a trained scribe and academic will not keep me out of the infantry. The only way I can avoid that would be to enlist voluntarily and use my education to give me ‘officer’ status. At least I would be able to sleep in a tent, instead of on the ground with only the stars as a shelter.”

Digs merely grunted. Why go on? He knew he had already lost this argument. All he could do would be wish for the best and hope the gods would see fit to end the coming war early. Whatever Amun wants, Amun gets.

He turned slowly and gave his son a serious look. “We are going back to the townhouse in Thebes in a few days. On your way back to Karnak, would you stop by Iggys and let him know the air conditioner is on the fritz again? The pads are drying out too fast and it’s not cooling the air.”

physician Physician – painting by HM Herget – National Geographic October 1941

Till next time


Daily Life – Ancient Egypt

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

This will be one of several posts about daily life in ancient Egypt.

While Egypt was a conservative civilization and the daily round did not change all that much in three thousand years, there was still enough difference between eras that articles about middle and upper class life during the Old Kingdom and Greco-Roman Egypt would reflect changing attitudes and styles. Plus there is that cultural hiccup known as the Amarna period.

So, we will begin in the middle somewhere. How about middle class, late Middle Kingdom Thebes;17th dynasty? (Some scholars call this the Second Intermediate Period, a term which applies to the whole country. But since we are dealing with the Theban region, we are culturally still Middle Kingdom.)

During much of this time, Egypt maintained a social element almost missing from many other ancient civilizations; a fairly large and thriving “middle class.”

Some things never seem to change.

The middle class Egyptian family had to worry about house payments. Dad went to the office to work each day. Mom may have rehearsed with, and sang in a temple choir. And they were trying to put enough aside to give their kids a good education.

Then there were the unexpected expenses, such as the air-conditioner breaking down or fixing a clogged drain from the back yard swimming pool, not to mention that the ice maker is on the fritz again.

Such were the visitudes of life in surburban Thebes during the Late Middle Kingdom.

First, we had better get that air-conditioning fixed. It looks like it will be a scorcher of a day. Try to get a plumber to make a house call at dawn. And little Amenhotep is going to be late for school again if he doesn't get his butt out the door.

The air conditioning should be fairly easy to repair – if the man ever shows up.

Ancient Egyptian air conditioning systems were along the line of what we might call “swamp coolers” today; they were evaporative units ( malqaf ).

During most of the year, the wind in Egypt is from the north. That provided two ongoing bonuses. The Egyptians could “float” downstream ( south to north ) and with the wind from the north, could use sails to get back up the river again ( north to south ). It also meant that 'wind catchers' could be placed on top of various buildings, such as homes, and as long as the north wind blew, it provided a steady stream of air into the interior. The Egyptians then placed pads of water soaked linen in the path of the moving air and the evaporation cooled the air before it entered the house. Some of these units had roof tanks which were filled with water and a slow drip kept the pads moist – – thus the need for our plumber.

80A01E0M.gifThis line copy of an ancient Egyptian drawing of a house shows two date palms behind the house and the triangles on the roof are the air catchers, the “air conditioning” units – malqaf. – – image courtesy United Nations University

The broken ice maker worked along the same principle. Egyptian winters can be downright cold. So cold at times that frozen buckets of water have been observed as far south as Aswan. Throughout the Delta and the northern Nile Valley, there are occasional winter cold snaps accompanied by light frost and even snow.

While temperatures going below freezing are rare, winter nights can still get close to that mark. Once again we deal with evaporative cooling to get the job done. When temperatures are near freezing, a combination of breezes and very low humidity can lower the temperature of a very shallow pan of water enough that a skim of ice will form on the surface. Actually our broken ice maker is no more than a crack in the bottom of the ceramic ice making tray ( jar ) which should be an easy repair. If we can get enough made ahead, we can wrap it in an insulating material, bury it, and it will keep quite a while. Nothing like fruit juice, milk and honey whipped into crushed ice on a hot afternoon.

You will find more about ancient Egyptian ice making here:

I wonder if that kid has made it to school yet. He is enrolled in an intermediate class for scribes at the Thoth Shrine. If he does well enough there, he might be able to make it into the advanced classes at Karnak Temple. The Pharaoh's own sons study there and it would be a good opportunity for social networking. It won't be cheap. Certainly hope he winds up being more than a simple clerk in a temple supply room.

Now to get to work on that clogged pool drain. That pool was one of the best ideas ever. Great place for the kids to splash around in ( no crocodile danger from swimming in the river ) we can grow fish and water lilies. It also irrigates a wonderful garden.

And my dear Nefert tried to say we didn't need one.

We now grow our own onions and garlic, melokyiah greens, fava beans, dates, figs, and pomegranates. Next year maybe we'll try one of those new fangled grape vines.

Now that there is the garden, Nefert wanted something colorful too. So, in addition to the water lilies and lotus blooms, there is a line of oleander bushes along one wall and something new from Crete called roses. What a lovely smell.

I'll bet he stopped to watch a ball game again, instead of going to classes. It seems all he wants to do is hang around a ball field, eat long sausages wrapped in bread and drink beer. At least it is our national beverage. Might be our national pastime too. ( sausage and beer vendors were a common sight at Egyptian sporting events )

If he did, I'll tan his hide when he gets home. After all, “a boy's ear is on his back.” – (quote from a student exercise for scribes.)

Now to get little Amenirdis ready for her dance class. She's not so little anymore. She's studying written language right along with the boys, and keeping ahead of most of them too.

We have made sure the girls in our family received good educations too. In this day and age, if a woman wants a good position in a palace, temple or merchant accounting house, she has to be able to read and write. Otherwise, she will just wind up being some guy's personal adornment with no real life of her own – or selling flowers, and other things, on the street corner.

Did I mention that my dear Nefert is a priestess and one of the lead singers at the new chapel at Karnak?

Because of her added income, we now have a new indoor bathing slab and comode room. No more running to the river to clean up or to the outside pits in the middle of the night. Modern technology is wonderful.

Remodeling the rest of the house too. We have just finished covering the walls with fresh whitewashed plaster and a local artist is painting one wall with flying ducks.

ducks image courtesy University College London

We have four rooms now, including the new bathroom. Sleeping quarters for Nefert and me, a large “family room” where the kids sleep and we entertain, plus a combination grainery, pantry, storeroom. We still do most of the cooking outside.

Which reminds me, I have to cut this short. Dan and his tribe are coming by later to play a game of senet ( sort of like backgammon ). We will probably play by the pool. They'd eat us out of house and home if I let them get near the pantry.

back garden Painting by HM Herget – October 1941 National Geographic magazine

We also have another large social affair coming up we need to save food and money for. We now have a handful of deceased relatives encoffined and stored under the floor of the “family room.” We will get together with the neighbors, and their deceased relatives, to hire a funerary priest to perform the rites and move our late relatives to their permanant houses of eternity. It seems only the very rich have the means to throw a funeral every time someone in their family dies. The rest of us have to make do with “group rates.”

Now, where is that game board? Dan's at the door and I haven't even picked up the beer yet.

Gotta run