miércoles, 12 de diciembre de 2012

3D imaging helps understand the role of birds in ancient Egypt

Entering the exhibition “Between Heaven & Earth: Birds In Ancient Egypt” at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, you will immediately feel transported into the ancient Nile delta marshlands with its lush green flora.
The combination of colours, video footage, bird song and ancient artefacts gives the impression of travel through time and space. At the start of the exhibition, you will find one of their most impressive artefacts, an empty shell of an ostrich egg from 3100 BC. Ostrich eggs have not only been used in ancient Egypt as containers for liquids and raw material for bead carving, but also symbolize the deep integration of avian life into ancient Egypt’s spirituality. All life is at times described as entering and leaving the world through the egg as a vessel, and that birds are messengers that can travel between the realms of men and their gods. Many of the Egyptian gods are portrayed as birds, and even their people have been symbolized by different bird species.

X-ray CT imaging

The information for the exhibition has been extracted from many sources such as ancient texts and drawings, exploration of burial sites, and with the help of X-ray CT imaging from mummified bird specimens. As shown impressively by Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer, the reconstructed 3D X-ray images can be examined with Amira® 3D analysis software to extract the desired information and sometimes even discover surprises. Rozenn and her team of imaging scientists worked on several specimens.

Small falcon mummy

The most impressive imaging results were obtained from a small falcon (see above, not on display at the exhibit due to space limitations). The falcon’s size and its missing wrappings allowed this specimen to be imaged in a micro-CT system at a resolution of approximately 180μm; more than 40 times higher than the clinical imaging system used for larger specimens. Using Amira’s advanced segmentation functionality and volume rendering, which allows masking of segmented regions in the visualization, the exact species of the falcon could be determined. Furthermore, it was shown that its neck had been severed, but that internal organs were still intact. The intestines had been pushed to the posterior of the bird to make room for a filled gizzard. The images also revealed the contents of the gizzard, which was identified as the remains of a small rodent from a piece of intact jaw bone.

Juvenile Eurasian sparrow-hawk

CT images from another mummy revealed a small juvenile Eurasian sparrow-hawk. In this mummy, the wrappings were larger than required for a bird of this size. Missing bone calcification was evidence for the immaturity of the bird, and a posterior air pocket indicated penetration of insects that fed on the bird’s carcass. With this specimen, careful segmentation in Amira was the essential key for visualization of the mummy’s interior and identification of the bird. Here, the low calcification proved challenging during the segmentation process. Once the segmentation was completed, Amira’s crisp surface rendering allowed further analysis and identification.
A mummified juvenile sparrowhawk in its too large wrapping. The size of the mummy required image acquisition in a clinical CT, resulting in visualization of only coarse details. In addition the low bone calcification further reduces bone contrast. Image: Anna R. Ressman © Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago
A mummified juvenile sparrowhawk in its too large wrapping. The size of the mummy required image acquisition in a clinical CT, resulting in visualization of only coarse details. In addition the low bone calcification further reduces bone contrast. Image: Anna R. Ressman © Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago
“Between Heaven & Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt” is an exciting exhibition combining traditional archaeological and anthropological methods with modern imaging techniques to inform the interested visitor about the role of birds in routine daily life as well as spirituality of ancient Egypt.
Source: Visualization Sciences Group/authors: Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer & Christian Wietholt

More Information

The Oriental Institute is open to the public without an admission fee. The exhibition is open until 28 July 2013.
Additional information about this exhibit can be found at: http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/special/birds

lunes, 10 de diciembre de 2012


I have already explained 2 how the increased importance that came to be attached to the corpse as the means of securing a continuance of existence led to the aggrandizement of the tomb. Special care was taken to protect the dead and this led to the invention of coffins, and to the making of a definite tomb, the size of which rapidly increased as more and more ample supplies of food and other offerings were made. But the very measures thus taken the more efficiently to protect and tend the dead defeated the primary object of all this care. For, when buried in such an elaborate tomb, the body no longer became desiccated and preserved by the forces of nature, as so often happened when it was placed in a simple grave directly in the hot dry sand.
It is of fundamental importance in the argument set forth here to remember that these factors came into operation before the time of the First Dynasty. They were responsible for impelling the Proto-Egyptians not only to invent the wooden coffin, the stone sarcophagus, the rock-cut tomb, and to begin building in stone, but also to devise measures for the artificial preservation of the body.
But in addition to stimulating the development of the first real architecture and the art of mummification other equally far-reaching results in the region of ideas and beliefs grew out of these practices.
From the outset the Egyptian embalmer was clearly inspired by two ideals: (a) to preserve the actual tissues of the body with a minimum disturbance of its superficial appearance; and (b) to preserve a likeness of the deceased as he was in life. At first it
p. 16
was naturally attempted to make this simulacrum of the body itself if it were possible, or alternatively, when this ideal was found to be unattainable, from its wrappings or by means of a portrait statue. It was soon recognized that it was beyond the powers of the early embalmer to succeed in mummifying the body itself so as to retain a recognizable likeness to the man when alive: although from time to time such attempts were repeatedly made, 1 until the period of the XXI Dynasty, when the operator clearly was convinced that he had at last achieved what his predecessors, for perhaps twenty-five centuries, had been trying in vain to do.


15:2 Op. cit. supra.
16:1 See my volume on "The Royal Mummies," General Catalogue of the Cairo Museum.

 Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, [1919], at sacred-texts.com


In the earliest known (Second Dynasty) examples of Egyptian attempts at mummification 2 the corpse was swathed in a large series of bandages, which were moulded into shape to represent the form of the body. In a later (probably Fifth Dynasty) mummy, found in 1892 by Professor Flinders Petrie at Medlin, the superficial bandages had been impregnated with a resinous paste, which while still plastic was moulded into the form of the body, special care being bestowed upon the modelling of the face 3 and the organs of reproduction, so as to leave no room for doubt as to the identity and the sex. Professor Junker has described 4 an interesting series of variations of these practices. In two graves the bodies were covered with a layer of stucco plaster. First the corpse was covered with a fine linen cloth: then the plaster was put on, and modelled into the form of the body (p. 252). But in two other cases it was not the whole body that was covered with this layer of stucco, but only the head.
Professor Junker claims that this was done "apparently because the head was regarded as the most important part, as the organs of taste, sight, smell, and hearing were contained in it". But surely there was the additional and more obtrusive reason that the face affords the means of identifying the individual! For this modelling of the features was intended primarily as a restoration of the form of the body which had been altered, if not actually destroyed. In other cases, where no attempt was made to restore the features in such durable materials as resin or stucco, the linen-enveloped head was modelled, and a representation of the eyes painted upon it so as to enhance the life-like appearance of the face.
These facts prove quite conclusively that the earliest attempts to reproduce the features of the deceased and so preserve his likeness, were made upon the wrapped mummy itself. Thus the mummy was intended to be the portrait as well as the actual bodily remains of the dead. In view of certain differences of opinion as to the original significance of the funerary ritual, which I shall have occasion to discuss later on (see p. 20), it is important to keep these facts clearly in mind.
A discovery made by Mr. J. E. Quibell in the course of his excavations at Sakkara 1 suggests that, as an outcome of these practices a new procedure may have been devised in the Pyramid Age—the making of a death-mask. For he discovered what may be the mask taken directly from the face of the Pharaoh Teta (Fig. 3).
About this time also the practice originated of making a life-size portrait statue of the dead man's head and placing it along with the actual body in the burial chamber. These "reserve heads," as they have been called, were usually made of fine limestone, but Junker found one made of Nile mud. 2
Junker believes that there was an intimate relationship between the plaster-covered heads and the reserve-heads. They were both expressions of the same idea, to preserve a simulacrum of the deceased when his actual body had lost all recognizable likeness to him as he
was when alive. The one method aimed at combining in the same object the actual body and the likeness; the other at making a more life-like portrait apart from the corpse, which could take the place of the latter when it decayed.
Junker states further that "it is no chance that the substitute-heads … entirely, or at any rate chiefly, are found in the tombs that have no statue-chamber and probably possessed no statues. The statues [of the whole body] certainly were made, at any rate partly, with the intention that they should take the place of the decaying body, although later the idea was modified. The placing of the substitute-head in [the burial chamber of] the mastaba therefore became unnecessary at the moment when the complete figure of the dead [placed in a special hidden chamber, now commonly called the serdab] was introduced." The ancient Egyptians themselves called the serdab the pr-twt or "statue-house," and the group of chambers, forming the tomb-chapel in the mastaba, was known to them as the "ka-house". 1
It is important to remember that, even when the custom of making a statue of the deceased became fully established, the original idea of restoring the form of the mummy itself or its wrappings was never abandoned. The attempts made in the XVIII, and XXI and XXII Dynasties to pack the body of the mummy itself and by artificial means give it a life-like appearance afford evidence of this. In the New Empire and in Roman times the wrapped mummy was sometimes modelled into the form of a statue. But throughout Egyptian history it was a not uncommon practice to provide a painted mask for the wrapped mummy, or in early Christian times simply a portrait of the deceased.
With this custom there also persisted a remembrance of its original significance. Professor Garstang records the fact that in the XII Dynasty, 2 when a painted mask was placed upon the wrapped mummy, no statue or statuette was found in the tomb. The undertakers

apparently realized that the mummy 1 which was provided with the life-like mask was therefore fulfilling the purposes for which statues
were devised. So also in the New Empire the packing and modelling of the actual mummy so as to restore its life-like appearance were regarded as obviating the need for a statue.
I must now return to the further consideration of the Old Kingdom statues. All these varied experiments were inspired by the same desire, to preserve the likeness of the deceased. But when the sculptors attained their object, and created those marvellous life-like portraits, which must ever remain marvels of technical skill and artistic feeling (Fig. 4), the old ideas that surged through the minds of the Pre-dynastic Egyptians, as they contemplated the desiccated remains of the dead, were strongly reinforced. The earlier people's thoughts were turned more specifically than heretofore to the contemplation of the nature of life and death by seeing the bodies of their dead preserved whole and incorruptible; and, if their actions can be regarded as an expression of their ideas, they began to wonder what was lacking in these physically complete bodies to prevent them from feeling and acting like living beings. Such must have been the results of their puzzled contemplation of the great problems of life and death. Otherwise the impulse to make more certain the preservation of the body by the invention of mummification and to retain a life-like representation of the deceased by means of a sculptured statue remains inexplicable. But when the corpse had been rendered incorruptible and the deceased's portrait had been fashioned with realistic perfection the old ideas would recur with renewed strength. The belief then took more definite shape that if the missing elements of vitality could be restored to the statue, it might become animated and the dead man would live again in his vitalized statue. This prompted a more intense and searching investigation of the problems concerning the nature of the elements of vitality of which the corpse was deprived at the time of death. Out of these inquiries in course of time a highly complex system of philosophy developed. 2
But in the earlier times with which I am now concerned it found practical expression in certain ritual procedures, invented to convey to the statue the breath of life, the vitalising fluids, and the odour and sweat of the living body. The seat of knowledge and of feeling was believed to be retained in the body when the heart was left in situ: so that the only thing needed to awaken consciousness, and make it possible for the dead man to take heed of his friends and to act voluntarily, was to present offerings of blood to stimulate the physiological functions of the heart. But the element of vitality which left the body at death had to be restored to the statue, which represented the deceased in the ka-house. 1
In my earlier attempts 2 to interpret these problems, I adopted the view that the making of portrait statues was the direct outcome of the practice of mummification. But Dr. Alan Gardiner, whose intimate knowledge of the early literature enables him to look at such problems from the Egyptian's own point of view, has suggested a modification of this interpretation. Instead of regarding the custom of making statues as an outcome of the practice of mummification, he thinks that the two customs developed simultaneously, in response to the twofold desire to preserve both the actual body and a representation of the features of the dead. But I think this suggestion does not give adequate recognition to the fact that the earliest attempts at funerary portraiture were made upon the wrappings of the actual mummies. 3 This fact and the evidence which I have already
quoted from Junker make it quite clear that from the beginning the embalmer's aim was to preserve the body and to convert the mummy itself into a simulacrum of the deceased. When he realized that his technical skill was not adequate to enable him to accomplish this double aim, he fell back upon the device of making a more perfect and realistic portrait statue apart from the mummy. But, as I have already pointed out, he never completely renounced his ambition of transforming the mummy itself; and in the time of the New Empire he actually attained the result which he had kept in view for nearly twenty centuries.
In these remarks I have been referring only to funerary portrait statues. Centuries before the attempt was made to fashion them modellers had been making of clay and stone representations of cattle and human beings, which have been found not only in Predynastic graves in Egypt but also in so-called "Upper Palæolithic" deposits in Europe.
But the fashioning of realistic and life-size human portrait-statues for funerary purposes was a new art, which gradually developed in the way I have tried to depict. No doubt the modellers made use of the skill they had acquired in the practice of the older art of rough impressionism.
Once the statue was made a stone-house (the serdab) was provided for it above ground. 1 As the dolmen is a crude copy of the serdab 2 it can be claimed as one of the ultimate results of the practice
of mummification. It is clear that the conception of the possibility of a life beyond the grave assumed a more concrete form when it was realized that the body itself could be rendered incorruptible and its distinctive traits could be kept alive by means of a portrait statue. There are reasons for supposing that primitive man did not realize or contemplate the possibility of his own existence coming to an end. 1 Even when he witnessed the death of his fellows he does not appear to have appreciated the fact that it was really the end of life and not merely a kind of sleep from which the dead might awake. But if the corpse were destroyed or underwent a process of natural disintegration the fact was brought home to him that death had occurred. If these considerations, which early Egyptian literature seems to suggest, be borne in mind, the view that the preservation of the body from corruption implied a continuation of existence becomes intelligible. At first the subterranean chambers in which the actual body was housed were developed into a many-roomed house for the deceased, complete in every detail. 2 But when the statue took over the function of representing the deceased, a dwelling was provided for it above ground. This developed into the temple where the relatives and friends of the dead came and made the offerings of food which were regarded as essential for the maintenance of existence.
The evolution of the temple was thus the direct outcome of the ideas that grew up in connexion with the preservation of the dead. For at first it was nothing more than the dwelling place of the reanimated dead. But when, for reasons which I shall explain later (see p. 30), the dead king became deified, his temple of offerings became the building where food and drink were presented to the god, not merely to maintain his existence, but also to restore his consciousness, and so afford an opportunity for his successor, the actual king, to consult him and obtain his advice and help. The presentation of offerings and the ritual procedures for animating and restoring consciousness to the dead king were at first directed solely to these ends. But in course of time, as their original purpose became obscured, these services in the temple altered in character, and their meaning became
rationalized into acts of homage and worship, and of prayer and supplication, and in much later times, acquired an ethical and moral significance that was wholly absent from the original conception of the temple services. The earliest idea of the temple as a place of offering has not been lost sight of. Even in our times the offertory still finds a place in temple services.


16:2 G. Elliot Smith, "The Earliest Evidence of Attempts at Mummification in Egypt," Report British Association, 1912, p. 612: compare also J. Garstang, "Burial Customs of Ancient Egypt," London, 1907, pp. 29 and 30. Professor Garstang did not recognize that mummification had been attempted.
16:3 G. Elliot Smith, "The History of Mummification in Egypt," Proc. Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, 1910: also "Egyptian Mummies," Journal of Egyptian Archæology, Vol. I, Part III, July, 1914, Plate XXXI.
16:4 "Excavations of the Vienna Imperial Academy of Sciences at the Pyramids of Gizah, 1914," Journal of Egyptian Archæology, Vol. I, Oct. 1914, p. 250.
17:1" Excavations at Saqqara," 1907-8, p. 113.
17:2 The great variety of experiments that were being made at the beginning of the Pyramid Age bears ample testimony to the fact that the original inventors of these devices were actually at work in Lower Egypt. at that time.
18:1 Aylward M. Blackman, "The Ka-House and the Serdab," Journal of Egyptian Archæology, Vol. Ill, Part IV, Oct., 1916, p. 250. The word serdab is merely the Arabic word used by the native workmen, which has been adopted and converted into a technical term by European archaeologists.
18:2 Op. cit. p. 171.
19:1 It is a remarkable fact that Professor Garstang, who brought to light perhaps the best, and certainly the best-preserved, collection of Middle Kingdom mummies ever discovered, failed to recognize the fact that they had really been embalmed (op. cit. p. 171).
The reader who wishes for fuller information as to the reality of these beliefs and how seriously they were held will find them still in active p. 20 operation in China. An admirable account of Chinese philosophy will be found in De Groot's "Religious System of China," especially Vol. IV, Book II. It represents the fully developed (New Empire) system of Egyptian belief modified in various ways by Babylonian, Indian and Central Asiatic influences, as well as by accretions developed locally in China.

19:2 The reader who wishes for fuller information as to the reality of these beliefs and how seriously they were held will find them still in active p. 20 operation in China. An admirable account of Chinese philosophy will be found in De Groot's "Religious System of China," especially Vol. IV, Book II. It represents the fully developed (New Empire) system of Egyptian belief modified in various ways by Babylonian, Indian and Central Asiatic influences, as well as by accretions developed locally in China.
20:1 A. M. Blackman, "The Ka-House and the Serdab," The Journal of Egyptian Archæology, Vol. III, Part IV, Oct., 1916, p. 250.
20:2 "Migrations of Early Culture," p. 37.
20:3 Dr. Alan Gardiner (Davies and Gardiner, "The Tomb of Amenemhēt," 1915, p. 83, footnote) has, I think, overlooked certain statements in my writings and underestimated the antiquity of the embalmer's art; for he attributes to me the opinion that "mummification was a custom of relatively late growth".
The presence in China of the characteristically Egyptian beliefs concerning the animation of statues (de Groot, op. cit. pp. 339-356), whereas the practice of mummification, though not wholly absent, is not obtrusive, might perhaps be interpreted by some scholars as evidence in favour of the p. 21 development of the custom of making statues independently of mummification. But such an inference is untenable. Not only is it the fact that in most parts of the world the practices of making statues and mummifying the dead are found in association the one with the other, but also in China the essential beliefs concerning the dead are based upon the supposition that the body is fully preserved (see de Groot, chap. xv.). It is quite evident that the Chinese customs have been derived directly or indirectly from some people who mummified their dead as a regular practice. There can be no doubt that the ultimate source of their inspiration to do these things was Egypt.
I need mention only one of many identical peculiarities that makes this quite certain. De Groot says it is "strange to see Chinese fancy depict the souls of the viscera as distinct individuals with animal forms" (p. 71). The same custom prevailed in Egypt, where the "souls" or protective deities were first given animal forms in the Nineteenth Dynasty (Reisner).
21:1 The Arabic word conveys the idea of being "hidden underground," because the house is exposed by excavation.
21:2 Op. cit. supra, Ridgeway Essays; also Man, 1913, p. 193.
22:1 See Alan H. Gardiner, "Life and Death (Egyptian)," Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics.
22:2 See the quotation from Mr. Quibell's account in my statement in the Report of the British Association for 1914, p. 215.

                                           fig. 2
fig 3
                                                                  fig 4

                                    PORTRAIT STATUE OF AN EGYPTIAN LADY OF THE PYRAMID AGE

Book: Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, [1919], at sacred-texts.com