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4,000-year-old guide to Egyptian underworld could be oldest illustrated ‘book’

Archaeologists have unearthed a 4,000-year-old copy of a guidebook that provided ancient Egyptians with two pathways to a glorious afterlife.

Known as the “Book of Two Ways,” the intricate map could be the first illustrated “book” in history, according to a report in The New York Times.

“The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with life in all its forms,” Rita Lucarelli, an Egyptology curator at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Times. “Death for them was a new life.”
The floor of one of the coffins of Gua, a physician of the governor Djehutyhotep.

The floor of one of the coffins of Gua, a physician of the governor Djehutyhotep. (Werner Forman/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

According to the Times, the guidebook would have provided directions and spells to help Egyptians navigate challenges in the underworld, whether a soul chose to travel by land or by sea, in order to reach the realm of Osiris, the god of death.

Rebirth in ancient Egypt was linked closely to male gods, researchers have noted, and dead women were reportedly expected to adopt the pronoun “he” to be more like Osiris.

“The funny thing is the whole idea of how you survive in the netherworld is expressed in male terms,” study author Harco Willems, an Egyptologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium, told New Scientist.

The discovery was described in a paper in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology and gives researchers a better sense of how ancient literature developed.

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4,600-year-old step pyramid uncovered in Egypt

4,600-year-old step pyramid uncovered in Egypt

By Owen Jarus

Published February 03, 2014

  • step-pyramid-1 new.JPG

    Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu in southern Egypt have uncovered a step pyramid that dates back about 4,600 years. (Tell Edfu Project at the University of Chicagoâs Oriental Institute)

Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu, in southern Egypt, have uncovered a step pyramid that dates back about 4,600 years, predating the Great Pyramid of Giza by at least a few decades.

The step pyramid, which once stood as high as 43 feet, is one of seven so-called “provincial” pyramids built by either the pharaoh Huni (reign ca. 2635-2610 B.C.) or Snefru (reign ca. 2610-2590 B.C.). Over time, the step pyramid’s stone blocks were pillaged, and the monument was exposed to weathering, so today, it’s only about 16 feet tall.

Scattered throughout central and southern Egypt, the provincial pyramids are located near major settlements, have no internal chambers and were not intended for burial. Six of the seven pyramids have almost identical dimensions, including the newly uncovered one at Edfu, which is about 60 × 61 feet. [See Photos of the Newly Uncovered Step Pyramid]

The purpose of these seven pyramids is a mystery. They may have been used as symbolic monuments dedicated to the royal cult that affirmed the power of the king in the southern provinces.

“The similarities from one pyramid to the other are really amazing, and there is definitely a common plan,” said Gregory Marouard, a research associate at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute who led the work at the Edfu pyramid. On the east side of the newly uncovered pyramid, his team found the remains of an installation where food offerings appear to have been made — a discovery that is important for understanding this kind of pyramid since it provides clues as to what they were used for.

The team also found hieroglyphic graffiti incised on the outer faces of the pyramid. The inscriptions are located beside the remains of babies and children who were buried at the foot of the pyramid. The researchers think the inscriptions and burials date to long after the pyramid was built and that the structure was not originally intended as a burial place.

Initial results of the excavation were presented at a symposium held in Toronto recently by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities.

Uncovering the pyramid Though scholars knew of the existence of the pyramid at Edfu, the structure had never been excavated before Marouard’s team started work in 2010, he said in the study. His team found that the pyramid was covered by a thick layer of sand, modern waste and remains from the pillaging of its blocks.

It didn’t look like a pyramid he said, and people in a nearby village even thought the structure was the tomb of a sheikh, a local Muslim saint. As the team went to work cleaning the monument, the ancient pyramid was revealed. [In Photos: The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World]

Built of sandstone blocks and clay mortar, it had been constructed in the form of a three-step pyramid. A core of blocks rises up vertically, with two layers of blocks beside it, on top of each other. This made the pyramid look like it had three steps. The style is similar to that of a step pyramid built by Djoser (reign ca. 2670-2640 B.C.), the pharaoh who constructed Egypt’s first pyramid at the beginning of the third ancient Egyptian dynasty. The technique is close to that used at the Meidum pyramid, which was built by either Snefru or Huni and started out as a step pyramid before being turned into a true pyramid.

“The construction itself reflects a certain care and a real expertise in the mastery of stone construction, especially for the adjustment of the most important blocks,” said Marouard in his paper. Marouard also noted that the pyramid was built directly on the bedrock and was constructed entirely with local raw materials. The quarry where the sandstone was extracted was discovered in 2011, and is located only about a half mile north of the pyramid.

The growth of a modern-day cemetery and village poses a danger to the newly uncovered pyramid. In order to help prevent further looting, a fence was built around the structure, thanks to financial assistance from the American Research Center in Egypt and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Graffiti and child burials As the team uncovered the pyramid, they found that inscriptions had been incised on its outer faces. They include hieroglyphic depictions of a book roll, a seated man, a four-legged animal, a reed leaf and a bird.

“These are mostly private and rough inscriptions, and certainly dedicated to the child/babies’ burials located right under these inscriptions at the foot of the pyramid,” Marouard told Live Science in an email. One of the inscriptions appears to mean “head of the house” and may be a reference to the mother of a buried child.

Marouard said his team would be publishing these burials and images in more detail in the future.

A pyramid abandoned The archaeologists found that by the time of the reign of Khufu (the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid), ca. 2590-2563 B.C., the pyramid at Edfu had been abandoned, and offerings were no longer being made. This occurred less than 50 years after its construction, Marouard said.

This suggests the seven small pyramids stopped being used when work on the Great Pyramid began. It seems Khufu no longer thought there was a need to maintain a small pyramid at Edfu, or elsewhere in southern Egypt, Marouard said. Rather, Khufu focused all the resources on building the Great Pyramid at Giza, which is close to the Egyptian capital at Memphis, he added.

Khufu may have felt politically secure in southern Egypt and saw no need to maintain or build pyramids there, Marouard said in the email. The “center of gravity of Egypt was then at Memphis for many centuries — this region draining resources and manpower from the provinces, all regions being put to use for the large construction sites of funerary complexes.”

At Wadi al-Jarf, a port found on the shore of the Red Sea that dates to Khufu’s time, papyri (written documents) dating to the end of Khufu’s reign were recently discovered that supports the idea that the pharaoh tried to converge all the resources he could toward Giza and the ancient wonder being constructed there.

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Europe’s ‘Oldest Town’ Identified

Europe’s ‘Oldest Town’ Identified Near Provadia In Eastern Bulgaria

By VESELIN TOSHKOV 11/01/12 02:31 PM ET EDT AP

SOFIA, Bulgaria — A prehistoric town unearthed in eastern Bulgaria is the oldest urban settlement found to date in Europe, a Bulgarian archaeologist said Thursday.

Vasil Nikolov, a professor from Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology, said the stone walls excavated by his team near the town of Provadia are estimated to date between 4,700 and 4,200 B.C. He said the walls, which are 3 meters (10 feet) high and 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) thick, are believed to be the earliest and most massive fortifications from Europe’s prehistory.

“We started excavation work in 2005, but only after this archaeological season did we gather enough evidence to back up this claim,” Nikolov told The Associated Press.

The team has so far unearthed remains of a settlement of two-story houses with a diameter of about 100 meters (328 feet) encircled by a fortified wall .

Excavations have also uncovered a series of pits used for rituals as well as parts of a gate. Carbon analysis has dated them to the Chalcolithic age to between 4,700 and 4,200 B.C., he said – more than a millennium before the start of the ancient Greek civilization.

“New samples of the excavations have been sent to the University of Cologne, Germany, for further evaluation,” Nikolov said.

Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.3 million, hosts numerous Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age settlement mounds as well as significant remains of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine urban centers.

Nikolov said the settlement near Provadia was home to some 350 people who likely produced salt from the nearby rock-salt deposits.

“They boiled brine from salt springs in kilns, baked it into bricks, which were then exchanged for other commodities with neighboring tribes,” Nikolov said, citing as possible evidence the gold and copper jewelry and artifacts that have been unearthed in the region.

The most valuable is a collection of 3,000 gold pieces unearthed 40 years ago near the Black Sea city of Varna. It is believed to be the oldest gold treasure in the world.

“For millenniums, salt was one of the most valued commodities, salt was the money,” Nikolov said adding that this explained the massive stone walls meant to keep the salt safe.

The two-story houses, as well as the copper needles and pottery found in graves at the site, suggest a community of wealthy people whose likely work was the once-lucrative production of salt.

Nikolov expects more finds next summer when his team returns to the site and praised the New York-based Gipson foundation, which funded most of this year’s excavation.

“We wouldn’t be able to continue without private donations,” he said.

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