Writings from Ancient Egypt

translated-ancient-egyptian_2Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are as easy to recognize as the Great Pyramids or King Tut’s infamous Death Mask. They became recognizable to most of us because popular culture was fascinated by wild stories of ancient curses. Those spine-chilling tales found a perfect medium in motion pictures, spawning a long list of terrifying (and sometimes amusing) films featuring a reanimated corpse wrapped in dusty bandages. But without the wise old Egyptologist scholar character to translate the strange hieroglyphics and tell the story of how the Mummy came to be cursed, the story wouldn’t be half as interesting.

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.

illustration-of-hieroglyphicsSerious Egyptologists are too busy with the real-life challenges of studying an ancient, difficult-to-decipher language to lament the popularity of iconic movie monsters presenting a distorted image of a complex and fascinating advanced culture. The key to cracking the code of hieroglyphic script was the Rosetta Stone. Discovered by French soldiers in 1799, the Rosetta Stone contains text written in Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphics by Egyptian priests in 196 B.C.E. to honor the pharaoh. But it wasn’t until 1822 that Jean-François Champollion made the first significant breakthrough, setting the stage for later scholars and linguists to gradually unravel the mysteries of the pictorial written language.

egyptianhieroglyphicsThe last two centuries have seen steady progress in scholarly understanding of the texts that cover the walls and monuments of ancient Egypt. And yet, the general public is still much more familiar with ancient Greek and Roman culture through the study of their mythologies and the writings of their scholars. Who doesn’t know at least a little about Hercules, Socrates, Plato, Aesop’s fables, Julius Caesar, Emperor Nero, the destruction of Pompeii, and countless other peoples and events of antiquity? These have also found their way into our popular culture, but we have a general understanding of the daily lives of those people that we don’t have of the ancient Egyptians.

51hlbldoidlEgyptologist Toby Wilkinson, a fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University, has published Writings from Ancient Egypt, the first literary English translation of some of the texts that cover thousands of square feet of monuments and tomb walls. Wilkinson’s book explains that hieroglyphs are a complex collection of symbols that represent a mixture of objects, ideas and sounds, telling stories just as compelling and layered as any written by the Romans, not merely decorations to be used as wallpaper.

Wilkinson hopes his collection of stories will make the Egyptians accessible to modern readers. Some of the texts he included are familiar to a few specialists, but the original translations from more than a century ago make them stilted and difficult for today’s readers. He hopes his new translations can convey the complexity, subtlety and poetry found in hieroglyphics. “What will surprise people are the insights behind the well-known facade of ancient Egypt, behind the image that everyone has of the pharaohs, Tutankhamun’s mask and the pyramids.”

Tales of shipwreck and wonder, first-hand descriptions of battles and natural disasters, songs and satires are included in the anthology. Filled with metaphor and symbolism, they reveal life through the eyes of the ancient Egyptians. Writings from Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson is available on Amazon.com.







The Boy King’s Space Blade

Here’s some history that even fans of futuristic space operas can appreciate—one of the daggers buried with King Tut was made of extraterrestrial metal.


King Tut’s burial mask

King Tut occupies a unique place in popular culture. Ancient Egypt’s “Boy King” was made famous in 1925 when archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the undisturbed tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and Tut has been making headlines ever since. Scholars have written enough books to fill the Great Pyramids of Giza concerning the circumstances of his youthful ascent to the throne, political intrigue during his brief reign, and the conundrum of his untimely death more than 3,300 years ago. Less scholarly, but more popular, are the lurid tales of a mummy’s curse that captured the public’s imagination with a death grip that has continued to tighten with recent CG-enhanced big-screen spectacles.

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. Older and more mysterious than ancient Egypt, the strange kingdom of Dodrazeb ignites a Persian warrior’s curiosity when he leads an army to conquer it. Mesmerized by Dodrazeb’s puzzles, the warrior is determined to reveal its many layers of secrets as its desperate princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What have they been hiding from the rest of the world for thousands of years? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Interior of King Tut’s tomb

Every few years, scientists apply some new advanced technique to Tut’s mummy and artifacts to try to solve the enduring mysteries that swirl endlessly around his story like the thick curtain of a desert sandstorm. The latest headlines inspired by King Tut are really something out of this world. A study published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science declares that Tutankhamun’s blade is not made of iron from Earth, but from a meteorite that fell from space.


The space dagger, crafted from meteoritic iron

Two daggers were placed in the folds of material used to wrap Tut’s mummified body. One was made of gold. The other had an iron blade with a decorated gold handle ending in a round crystal pommel, encased in an ornate gold sheath decorated in a pattern of feathers, lilies, and the head of a jackal. As property of the Pharaoh, though likely ceremonial, both daggers would have been extremely valuable, crafted from rare and precious materials.

The ancient Egyptians of Tut’s Bronze Age era referred to meteoric metal as “iron from the sky,” and considered it more valuable than gold. Most archaeologists agree that the few iron objects dating to Egypt’s Old Kingdom (third millennium B.C.E.) were probably produced from meteors as iron smelting was not introduced to the Nile Valley until thousands of years later.


Close up of an iron meteorite

Observing that the dagger’s metal had not rusted and knowing that ironwork was rare in ancient Egypt, scientists have been intrigued by the remarkable gold-handled dagger with a crystal knob for decades. The Egyptian and Italian research team, led by Daniela Comelli of the Polytechnic University of Milan, analyzed the blade with an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. They found that its nickel and cobalt content are consistent with an extraterrestrial origin.


The Chinese Nangan meteorite, similar to the Kharga meteorite

With their spectrographic analysis complete, the research team set out to identify exactly which meteor provided the iron used to create Tut’s dagger. They found one whose composition was nearly identical to the iron in the blade: the Kharga meteorite. It was found in the year 2000 on a limestone plateau in Mersa Matruh, a seaport west of the city of Alexandria.

The scientists who made the breakthrough hope that their findings will provide further insight into the use of meteoric iron in Tut’s era and help archaeologists understand the evolution of metalworking technology in the region.









When Did Cats Become Pets?

img_2873aCats and people began interacting as humans developed agriculture. As rodents and other small prey were drawn to stockpiles of grains and other food, cats were drawn to human settlements. Hungry felines were a boon to hardworking farmers, helping to dispose of critters who wanted to consume the harvest. At one time, researchers had believed that cats were domesticated by the Egyptians between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. The recent discovery of a human and a cat buried together on the island of Cyprus dating back 9,500 years has overturned that theory.

swordtodMy novel,Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. A Persian warrior discovers a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. Dodrazeb claims to have influenced every ancient culture on earth, including the ancient Egyptians who may have gotten their love of felines from them. A sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com!

img_2980aChinese villagers 5,300 years ago may have had domesticated cats. Researchers excavating a village called Quanhucun found that both the humans and cats dwelling there ate a diet heavy in the grain millet. The cats most likely consumed rodents that fed on the humans’ stores of millet.

When did cats become domesticated pets, coexisting in households with human families and relying on them for food and shelter? Scientists aren’t sure, but they have determined by genetic analysis that the first major wave of cat expansion began in the Middle East. From there, cats spread into the eastern Mediterranean along with human farmers. A second major expansion, thousands of years after the first, took housecats from Egypt to Eurasia and Africa by sea between the fourth century BCE to the fourth century CE.

img_3096A DNA analysis of cat remains found at a Viking archaeological site in northern Germany dating to between 700 CE and 1000 CE shows that the seafaring warriors kept felines that had originated in Egypt. Cats were the most efficient way to get rid of rats and mice on board ships.

There’s another interesting tidbit revealed by studying the DNA of ancient cats. Tabbies didn’t exist until Medieval times, as the genetic mutation responsible for their distinctive stripes, spots, and whorls didn’t occur until then.

Today’s domestic housecats appeared between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago and are descended from a wild ancestor called Felis silvestris lybica. But unlike dogs that have been bred for specific desired traits and abilities for thousands of years, cats were never selectively bred until about 200 years ago. Furthermore, there is no genetic difference between house cats and feral cats that live wild and fend for themselves. Since most house cats are tamed feral cats that survived past six months of age, the personality traits in our beloved feline pets are the result of natural selection.


Cats, Persia, Egypt, and Ancient Warfare

Whatever the real reason for the war, the Battle of Pelusium is noteworthy for being an excellent example of psychological warfare in ancient times—housecats figured prominently in the Persians’ victory. Yep, domesticated felines were on the front lines of battle.

Battle of Pelusium

It’s impossible to say no animals were harmed in the Battle of Pelusium, 525 BC. But isn’t flinging felines at the enemy a tactic worthy of Monty Python?

In 525 BC, Cambyses II (son of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great) successfully conquered Egypt and annexed it into the Persian Empire. Though Egypt was an obvious target for an invasion as it posed a threat to Persian control of Palestine and Syria, the widely accepted story for the reason Cambyses decided to invade goes like this: Cambyses asked for the Egyptian ruler’s daughter, saying he would make her his wife. Pharaoh Ahmose was sure his daughter would be reduced to the status of concubine. To spare her from such humiliation, Ahmose sent an imposter in his daughter’s place. When the imposter revealed the truth about Ahmose’s deception, Cambyses was infuriated and decided to attack.


Bastet, Ancient Egyptian Cat Goddess

So how did cats become involved? Bastet originated as the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt. Long before the Battle of Pelusium, she had evolved from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. She is the Egyptian goddess of the home, fire, sunrise, music, dance, pleasure as well as sexuality, fertility, family, pregnant women and children. Her priests mummified cats when they died. Bastet’s gentle side was displayed in her duties as a protector of the home and pregnant women. Her aggressive and vicious nature was celebrated in her abilities as a huntress and an eliminator of vermin. Bastet is depicted either as a woman with the head of a domesticated cat, a lioness, or as a desert sand-cat.

Cambyses knew how the Egyptians felt about cats and used that knowledge to his advantage. He had his troops paint images of cats on their shields and place various animals sacred to the Egyptians such as cats, dogs, ibises, and sheep in his front lines. The punishment for killing a cat in Egypt was death, so the Egyptian army stopped fighting and were routed, allowing Pelusium to fall to Cambyses. “It is said that Cambyses, after the battle, hurled cats into the faces of the defeated Egyptians in scorn that they would surrender their country and their freedom fearing for the safety of common animals.”


Isabel, the feline overlord of my domicile.

If not for the Egyptians’ love of Bastet, the battle might not have been won by the Persians. For the science-fiction minded, there are probably a few parallel universes where housecats have taken over the earth and humans are their willing slaves. In our reality, the cats are conquering us one household at a time.

Coming soon from Silver Empire Publishing: The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. The hero in my sword-and-science fantasy adventure is a third-century Persian warrior who reveres Cyrus the Great, but wastes no affection on housecats.

How do you feel about cats? Love ’em? Worship them like the ancient Egyptians? Enjoy their funny videos on Facebook but avoid them in person? Leave a comment!