The Pharaohs Shadow: Travels in Ancient and Modern Egypt

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Analyzing samples spanning over a millennium, researchers looked for genetic differences compared with Egyptians today. They found that the sample set showed a strong connection with a cluster of ancient non-African populations based east of the Mediterranean Sea. Krause describes the far-reaching data set gained from looking at mitochondrial genomes: "This is not just the DNA of one person. It's the DNA of the parents, grandparents, grandparents' parents, grand-grand-grandparents' parents and so forth.

Exploring Sudan's forgotten pyramids. Krause hypothesizes that ancient Northern Egypt would be much the same, if not more, linked to the Near East. Ancient Southern Egypt might be a different matter, however, where populations lived closer to Nubia, home of the "Black Pharaohs" in what is now Sudan. One of the mummies analyzed as part of the study.

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The human remains were discovered in the s by a historian studying papyrus writings, says Krause. This period covered the rule of Alexander the Great B. Strict social structures and legal incentives to marry along ethnic lines within these communities may have played a part in the Egyptians' genetic stasis, the paper speculates. Egypt unearths 8 mummies in 3,year-old tombs. The paper cites increased mobility along the Nile, increased long-distance commerce and the era of the trans-Saharan slave trade as potential reasons why. The team's findings do come with one obvious caveat: "All our genetic data was obtained from a single site in Middle Egypt and may not be representative for all of ancient Egypt," the paper concedes.

While the study might be limited in scope, the team believes it has made some technical breakthroughs.


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This vision of the afterlife altered in different eras, sometimes being more widely accepted and sometimes less, but remained fairly constant. Along with this view went an understanding of disembodied spirits - ghosts - which, more so than the view of the afterlife, remained unchanged from the earliest evidence through the end of ancient Egyptian history: ghosts were as much of a reality as any other aspect of existence.

The Pharaoh's Shadow: Travels in Ancient and Modern Egypt

Egyptologist Rosalie David writes:. It was believed that society consisted of four groups - gods, the king, the blessed dead, and humanity - who shared certain moral obligations and a duty to interact in order to maintain world order. The existence of this order, and the assumption that it was constantly under threat, was a basic premise of Egyptian belief The central value of Egyptian culture was ma'at harmony, balance which the Egyptians observed in virtually every aspect of their lives; among the more important of these was the proper burial of the dead.

A human being was thought to be traveling on a one-way road from birth, through death, and on to the afterlife. Provision was made through tomb paintings, inscriptions, and statuary for the soul to return and harmlessly visit the earth but the spirit was expected to depart to its own realm relatively quickly. The appearance of a ghost , and especially its interaction with the living, was a certain sign that the natural order had been disturbed and the most common cause of this trouble was a spirit's dissatisfaction with its body's burial, the state of the tomb, or a lack of respectful remembrance.

In early Egyptian belief, the soul was viewed as a single entity known as the Khu which was the immortal aspect of the person. In time it came to be recognized as being comprised of five different aspects, sometimes of seven, and sometimes of nine depending on the era in Egyptian history. It is this belief which led to the Egyptian practice of mummification. When a person died, the family brought the body to the embalmers, the ancient equivalent of the modern-day funeral home. The body would then be cared for to the degree the family was able to pay.

There were three options for embalming and burial from the top-shelf price which associated the corpse with the god Osiris to a lesser price, which included embalming, rites, and a coffin on a more modest scale, to the lowest price which provided the least amount of service. The family's choice of these options would dictate the kind of coffin provided, the funerary rites the corpse was entitled to and, just as importantly, how the body was prepared for burial.

Embalmers would present all three of these choices to bereaved families knowing that their choice could affect the deceased's afterlife as well as their own life in the coming months; if the family could afford the deluxe Osiris option, but chose instead to save money on the second or even third option, the spirit of the deceased had every right to return to complain.

In cases such as these, the Akh was given license by the gods to return to earth and right the wrong. The Akh could return for a number of other reasons besides a cheap burial with insufficient funerary rites, however. Any wrong which had been done to the deceased, which had not been atoned for in life, could be cause for a haunting after the person's death. One of the best-known examples of a haunting in ancient Egypt comes from a letter written by a widower to the spirit of his dead wife found in a tomb from the Middle Kingdom.

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He writes:. What wicked thing have I done to thee that I should have come to this evil pass? What have I done to thee? But what thou hast done to me is to have laid hands on me although I had nothing wicked to thee. From the time I lived with thee as thy husband down to today, what have I done to thee that I need hide? When thou didst sicken of the illness which thou hadst, I caused a master-physician to be fetched…I spent eight months without eating and drinking like a man. I wept exceedingly together with my household in front of my street-quarter. I gave linen clothes to wrap thee and left no benefit undone that had to be performed for thee.

And now, behold, I have spent three years alone without entering into a house, though it is not right that one like me should have to do it. This have I done for thy sake. But, behold, thou dost not know good from bad Nardo, The man must have been enduring some suffering which could only be explained by the agency of his deceased wife. Illness and bad fortune were attributed to either the work of the gods to teach one a lesson or punish some sin , activities of evil spirits, or the anger and resentment of the dead.

In this case the widower claims to have done everything properly in his relationship with his wife even after she died stating he has even gone so far as to avoid visiting a brothel "a house" in the three years since she has been gone. Brothels were practically non-existent in Egypt prior to the time of the Late Period and so his reference is assumed to be to an establishment like a bar or pub where prostitutes may have been found.

There is not a great deal of evidence for prostitution in ancient Egypt on the whole, however, and the man could simply be referring to "a house" in the way one today would an ale-house or pub without any sexual implication, though the passage is generally not interpreted in that way. In a case like this, the man would have gone to a priest or a "wise woman", a seer, to intervene or perhaps visited a temple. Rosalie David comments on this, writing : "Some temples were renowned as centres of dream incubation where the petitioner could pass the night in a special building and communicate with the gods or deceased relatives in order to gain insight into the future" When these options failed, the living would resort to writing a letter.

David continues:. An important means of contact with those who had passed into the next world was provided by the so-called 'Letters to the Dead'. People who considered that they had suffered injustice could write a letter to the dead, asking them to intercede on the writer's behalf. If a living person with problems had no powerful patron in this world, he could seek the help of the dead Requests found in the letters are varied: some sought help against dead or living enemies, particularly in family disputes; others asked for legal assistance in support of a petitioner who had to appear before the divine tribunal at the Day of Judgement; and some pleaded for special blessings or benefits Since the dead continued to exist in the afterlife, they could be contacted whenever the living needed them to; just because they could no longer be seen on earth was no reason to believe they had ceased to exist.

Egyptologist William Kelly Simpson writes:. Death for the deceased Egyptian who had undergone the rites of beatification was an extension of life, and as the practice of festal banqueting in tomb chapels indicates, rapport between the living and the dead was by no means always a gloomy affair Egyptian ghosts were not so much eerie beings as personalities to whom the living reacted pragmatically Although the extant version of the story dates from the New Kingdom it is thought to be a copy of an older piece from the Middle Kingdom.

In this tale, the High Priest of Amun , Khonsemhab, encounters a spirit named Nebusemekh whose tomb has fallen into ruin. Nebusemekh is depicted as an individual with a problem; not as a ghost who has returned to haunt or trouble the living.

The Pharaoh's Shadow: Travels in Ancient and Modern Egypt

The story begins as Khonsemhab returns to his house, presumably after meeting the spirit by chance in the necropolis of Thebes. He summons the spirit to speak with him directly, finds out his name, and discovers his grievance: his tomb has deteriorated because the ground beneath it fell away and it collapsed. No one knows where he is buried and so no one brings him offerings anymore.

Khonsemhab promises the spirit he will build him a new tomb but Nebusemekh is skeptical saying he has heard such promises many times before when he has complained about this to people. Khonsemhab sends servants who find the tomb and announces to an official his plans to build a new tomb for Nebusemekh. The end of the story is lost but it is assumed that Khonsemhab was as good as his word and Nebusemekh was provided with a new tomb. This story, though fiction, is in keeping with the way ancient Egyptians believed they actually interacted with spirits.

Khonsemhab is considered fictional, as is Nebusemekh's tale of his life on earth, but the plot of the story would not have seemed outlandish to an ancient audience. The purpose of the story, aside from entertainment, would have been to impress upon an audience the importance of honoring and respecting the dead through continued remembrance and care of their tombs. The story makes clear that Nebusemekh had been an important man in life whose tomb deserved continued maintenance and respect and, if this could be denied to someone like that - a man honored by so great a king as Mentuhotep II - then it could be denied to anyone.

The moral would have reminded an audience that one should be careful to honor and respect the dead because, eventually, all would find themselves in that same state. The afterlife, known most commonly as The Field of Reeds, precisely mirrored one's earthly life. The gods had created the most perfect of places when they made Egypt and Egyptians were granted the great gift of living there eternally after they had passed through death and the judgment by Osiris.

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As noted, this understanding of eternity would alter at times but that central understanding continued to weave its way through Egypt's long history. In the Middle Kingdom, however, one finds texts which most sharply deviate from the belief in an eternal life of joy in the next world and this is reflected in lines which Khonsemhab speaks to the spirit of Nebusemekh:.

How badly you fare without eating or drinking, without growing old or becoming young, without sunlight or inhaling northerly breezes. Darkness is in your sight each day. You do not get up early to leave Simpson, This is a view one finds commonly expressed in Middle Kingdom literature : death may have been a certainty but what came after was not. The Egyptian view from this period, at least as expressed in the literature, is much closer to that of Mesopotamia where the dead lived on in an eternal twilight, drank from puddles, and ate dust.

Unlike the traditional Egyptian view where one lived on as one always had, now the spirit was thought to have no connection to one's previous life. Khonsemhab's line, "You do not get up early to leave" would refer to one's earthly practice of rising in the morning to go to work. In the traditional view, one would have worked on in the afterlife at whatever one had done on earth.

Tombs were always considered one's "eternal home" in Egypt from the mastabas of the Early Dynastic Period c. Concern over the dead and returning spirits had always been a part of Egyptian culture but a certain skepticism marks the Middle Kingdom attitude and made ghosts a much more present threat to the established order in questioning an afterlife of eternal peace: if there was no paradise then where did people's souls go when they died? The most prevalent answer seems to be, nowhere. They remained in their tombs, their eternal homes.

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