I recently visited the British Museum and found some beautiful pieces and the history accompanying them that I found very interesting. I am also providing a bit of background regarding the location of the tomb in which these artifacts were discovered. Pu-abi (Akkadian: “Word of my father”), also called Shubad due to a misinterpretation by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, was an important person in the Sumerian city of Ur, during the First Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2600 BCE). Commonly labeled as a “queen”, her status is somewhat in dispute. Several cylinder seals in her tomb identify her by the title “nin” or “eresh”, a Sumerian word which can denote a queen or a priestess. The fact that Pu-abi, herself a Semitic Akkadian, was an important figure among Sumerians, indicates a high degree of cultural exchange and influence between the ancient Sumerians and their Semitic neighbors.
Coins are ubiquitous in modern society, check your pocket and you will undoubtedly find a few right now. Have you ever wondered when the first coins were made? An exhibition at the British Museum tries to answer that exact question. The 1/6 stater, pictured above, is more than 2,700 years old, making it one of the very earliest coins. It was made from electrum, a natural occurring alloy of gold and silver which I discussed in a previous post on Egyptian gold. It was discovered in Ephesos, an ancient Hellenic city in the area of Lydia, known from the bible and a prosperous trading center on the coast of modern day Turkey. The Lydians were the first to have fixed retail shops, probably contributing to the development of the coins. The coin above looks like a tiny nugget with a design on one side only. This ancient stater was hand struck. A die with a design, in this case a lion's head, for the front of the coin was placed on an anvil. A blank piece of metal was placed on top of the die, and a punch hammered onto the reverse. The result was a coin with an image on one side and a punch mark on the other. Even though it looks crude, the weight was strictly monitored.
Everyone would love to find a treasure map. The Turin Papyrus Map is an ancient Egyptian treasure map, generally considered the oldest surviving topographical and geological map from the ancient world. It shows the locations of gold and slilver mines, where to quarry the prized bekhen-stone and it also depicts roads to the Dead Sea port used to travel to the fabled Punt, a place with even more gold. Punt was also really famous as the source of the biblical Frankincense and Myrrh, worth its weight in gold and used by the ancient Egyptians, along with natron, for the embalming of mummies and temple ceremonies. Although there are a few older topographic maps from outside Egypt, they are all quite crude and rather abstract in comparison to the relatively modern looking map drawn on the Turin papyrus.
The map was drawn about 1160 BC by the well-known Scribe-of-the-Tomb Amennakhte, son of Ipuy. Apparently his hieroglyphic cursive style is so distinctive there’s no doubt when an archaeologist sees it, could someone identify you after four thousand years by your handwriting? It was prepared for Ramesses IV’s quarrying expedition to the Wadi Hammamat in the Eastern Desert. According to the inscription on the map, this included 8,362 men, which makes it the largest recorded quarrying expedition to Wadi Hammamat (Valley of Many Baths) after one about 800 years earlier during the Middle Kingdom’s 12th Dynasty. Most likely, it was drawn as a visual record of the expedition to be viewed by either Ramesses IV or Ramessenakhte, the High Priest of Amun in Thebes, who organized the expedition for the king. The village where Amennakhte’s house and tomb were found is Deir el-Medina, home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom (1550–1080 BC). Tomb builders, artists, craftsmen and their families lived there during a period of about 400 years, leaving a rich record of daily life in that era. The Turin Papyrus was found in Amennakhte’s family’s private tomb, by the notorious Bernardino Drovettithe, the back of which was re-used by Amennakhte. In 1824, King Charles Felix of Sardinia acquired much of the personal collection of Drovetti, including this map, which went to the University of Turin and formed the foundation for the Museo Egizio in Turin.