13. Egypt and Mesopotamia Shared Evil Ritual.

The murder and interment in the royal tomb of much of the personal retinue of the king or queen, which we examined in the prior post, was not just a vice of the Mesopotamian tyrants at prehistoric Ur. Archaeologists have found similar burial rituals in prehistoric and early First Dynasty Egypt. The performance of these rituals at Ur and Hierakonpolis at opposite ends of the Fertile Crescent (900 miles apart as the crow flies, more than twice that by routes available at the time) is not easily explained as a coincidence. Moreover, this ritual is just one piece in a puzzle of other unlikely “coincidences” between Sumer and Egypt in that era.

A second “coincidence” would be the simultaneous development of the first two written languages in the world. These languages and their writing techniques were very different, comparing the Sumerian language and its Cuneiform script with early Egyptian Hieroglyphics, but the coincident timing is suspicious.

A third “coincidence” would be the influence of the Mesopotamian cylinder seal, where the example we’ll use is the engraved stone cylinder, carved in the concave, which produces a convex impression in relief upon the clay medium e.g. Queen Pu-Abi’s seal which we saw last week. Egyptian reliefs were carved in the convex. Nonetheless, there are a number of important predynastic Egyptian artifacts that reflect a Mesopotamian artistic influence e.g. the Narmer Palette, and the Gebel el-Arak Knife.

A fourth “coincidence” is the image of the man holding two lions at bay by their throats on the above knife’s handle, which fabled motif has come to be known as “The Master of the Beasts.” It first shows up in both prehistoric Mesopotamia and Egypt, and then in Harappa. You will notice it on this close-up of the handle of the Gebel el-Arak Knife introduced above, which is thematically a hybrid of both cultures. Some think the figure is Gilgamesh. If true, that would settle the matter. But, there is no consensus on this mysterious artifact from about 5450 BP.

Let’s take a look at the Egyptian royal burials and human sacrifices, which ended before the third dynasty, and compare them with that of Ur. The practice was recognized by Egyptologists as existing in Naqada (see Excavations tab) about 5500 BP. We have Wooley’s recognition of the ritual burial sacrifices at dynastic Ur (like Queen Pu-Abi’s) and other tombs stretching back indeterminately, perhaps to predynastic times. I have found no data to extend the Ur dates further back, but arguments from silence are not final. We won’t know unless we dig more, and use modern C14 and other methods of dating on new artifacts. But, these dates are comparable as to the earliest traces of human sacrifice which can be reasonably dated. It’s very difficult to assure that very ancient skeletons (which suffered all kinds of unrelated trauma after the burials) were sacrificed unless the evidence is compelling, such as it was at the Ur excavation of Pu-Abi’s tomb (First Dynasty of Ur) as described in the prior blog post and Pharaoh Djer’s tomb (First Dynasty of Egypt) where 338 victims were found, or where there is forensic evidence e.g. excavated skeletons were cleanly decapitated as at some predynastic Egyptian tombs.

The evidence suggests that the peak practice of human sacrifice at the tombs of both Egypt and Ur coincided in their early dynastic period. Queen Pu-Abi was in the First Dynasty of Ur about 4600 BP. The practice in Egypt stretched through the first dynasty and was gone, according to Romer, by Egypt’s third dynasty (4650-4575 BP). I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief of those forced into palace service e.g. slaves and indentured servants. And I’m sure it was easier to recruit and retain voluntary courtiers from the elites–or non-elites, for that matter.

This is a good point to introduce John Romer’s book: A History of Ancient Egypt, from the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid, which is included under our Bibliography tab, and he under the Archaeologist tab. I have read other sources on predynastic Egypt, but none were so methodical, well-organized, and clearly written as Romer’s. I highly recommend it to those who want to dig deeper into what I briefly describe here. Romer will take you up to the first pyramid (third dynasty).

Now, I’d like to make a brief disclaimer. I don’t sell other people’s books. If I recommend a book, it’s purely for your enjoyment. I am a writer of fiction who is trying to ignite your interest in this time period in Eurasia and North Africa, hoping you might read my novels set there. This milieu has become my passion over the past 12 years, and has gotten little publicity since Woolley’s excavation in the 1920’s. Archaeology is not my profession. Those listed under the website’s Archaeologists tab are professional archaeologists, and the site’s Bibliography tab lists their presentations on topics related to this period. I use their books as references (and own most in the Bibliography). I include them on this website because I don’t make pretensions about knowledge in their areas of expertise. I’d give myself a B+ as their student. Some of them might give me an A, and some an F. But, I am an author of fiction, a storyteller. I fill in the blanks where I haven’t found compelling facts that prohibit my story from introducing cultural or technological practices that I feel are within the capabilities of that period, regardless of whether evidence has been dug up, or properly provenanced, to support my doing so. In summary, I research the period through these professionals. I interpolate cultures and technologies where silence reigns. But, I write to satisfy my art, to entertain you, and, perhaps, to expand your horizons.

Please feel free to add your thoughts to this and every post, past and future.

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