Palette of Narmer
|Form: Palette of Narmer from Egypt's Dynasty 1
dated circa 3100 BCE is in low relief and made out of mudstone. It is stylized
and subtractive with relatively little or no depth. It is fairly symmetrical
with balanced features on both sides and stands approximately 25" in height.
The Palette is about 6" thick and convex. It is has been carved in low
relief on both sides. The figures are generally in composite view
and it is highly stylized. In this view all the body's features but
the torso are shown in profile, the torso exhibited from the frontal point
The palette's front features Narmer with the White Crown of Upper Egypt. Behind him is an attendant holding his sandals and to the right is a falcon holding a rope with a human head. The falcon is perched upon papyrus while Narmer is ready to bring his enemy down. Below Narmer are two dead people. On the back of the palette Narmer is wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt behind him is his attendant holding his sandals and in front of him are his minister of state and for men. In front of them are decapitated bodies with a falcon watching them. Below two men hold onto feline creatures who's necks are entwined around the indentation in the palette. Below, a bull out side of the gates of the city is harassing an enemy or is knocking down he walls of a city. The picture plane is divided in registers that define space and stories.
Iconography: Stokstad refers to the composite view as a "memory image" in her section concerning "Representations of the Human Figure," Stokstad's discussion discusses this canon or formula of proportion as being fairly symbolic, therefore, the composite view can be both formal and iconic. When a figure, like the larger figure of the king, is displayed in such a way that all attributes of the physical body are shown at the same time. Composite view was often used to establish social/hierarchical status, which explains why Narmer is depicted in such a way. He was an Egyptian aristocrat. Also, the composite view may have been intended to portray perfection and thus enhance the image's supernatural power. Composite view would be then be really useful in tomb art, since the early Egyptians believed that the spirit of the dead could enter a secondary body in the afterlife.
Similarly hieratic scale is both a formal device as well as iconographic. Usually, the larger the figure, the more important they were to society. Narmer is noticeably larger than the other figures and this suggests that their roles were more inferior.
The iconography of the palette is complex and somewhat relates to the development of the pictographic system of writing called hieroglyphics. The square at the top and in the middle on both sides of the palette and next to Narmer's head on the back of the palette is symbolic of the ruler's name. The fish symbolizes (nar) and the vertical chisel is a symbol for (mer). The cows on either side are a symbol for the goddess Hathor. The large figures of Narmer is a symbol of his power and divine status. The falcon is a symbol for the god Horus. The papyrus is a symbol of lower egypt. The four men in front of King Narmer on the back of the palette are holding things that maybe symbols of different regions of Egypt. The entwined necks of the felines may be a symbol of unity. King Narmer wearing both the White and Red Crowns symbolizes that he rules both Upper and lower Egypt. The Bull is another symbol of his power and virility.
Context: King Narmer who had been a minor official in Upper Egypt rose to power and conquered Lower Egypt around 3100 BCE. He and his successors: established a theocratic political system over the entire navigable length of the Nile. King Narmer either unified Upper and Lower Egypt or began the process of unification that was completed in the first dynasty. Palettes were used to grind pigments that were worn as eye paint. This eye paint was worn by both men and women to reduce infections and to reduce the glare of the sun.
Fowling Scene from the tomb of Nebamun
1400 BCE - 1350 BCE
|Context: Much of the art and architecture of ancient
Egypt is based on the belief in the afterlife as outlined in the Egyptian
"Book of the Dead" which is a kind of Egyptian guide or bible of religious
This painting is form the tomb of Nebamun, a minor official and aristocrat in the Egyptian government shortly before or after the reign of King Akhenaton. The practice of creating tombs for the deceased was wide spread among the priestly and aristocratic classes in Egypt because their religion was devoted to the idea of survival in the afterlife. Although the bodies of the dead were preserved through mummification, frescos and sculptures depicting the inhabitant of the tomb were placed throughout it so that the individual's animated spirit or "ka" would have a replacement body to inhabit in the afterlife.
Form: The figure of Nebamun is central in this mural dry painted mural (paint on dry plaster is referred to as fresco secco). He is rendered with idealized body in typical composite view and his size is exaggerated in accordance with hieratic scale. The scene is surrounded by hieroglyphic writing which either describes his activities or are prayers taken from the "Book of the Dead."
Iconography: The idealized body and composite view
of the figure is probably based in the desire to create an image that is
the most perfect and complete and therefore the most magically potent.
The scene is a genre scene. (A scene of everyday life.) Although
a scene of everyday life, the iconography indicates his importance and
his place in Egyptian society. He is larger than the figures of his
wife and daughter and he is depicted going about a leisure activity hunting
on the Nile. The genre elements represent his status, the types of
activities he enjoys, and his abilities (has caught three birds) he enjoys
as one of the elite in the afterlife.
Musicians and Dancers from the tomb of Nebamun
1400 BCE - 1350 BCE
|Form: Some of the earlier Egyptian conventions
of depiction (the "memory image and composite view) are not followed in
this image. Although the two women on the left have been portrayed
in a classic manner, the middle two are shown in a very unusual frontal
and naturalistic position. In the depiction of the figures arms is
a bit of an attempt to show foreshortening of the limbs. As their arms
project into the foreground they become shorter to create the illusion
of space. The two figures to the far right are overlapping
also creating a slight illusion of space.
Iconography and Context: These dancing girls were probably meant as entertainment for Nebamun in his afterlife and were not very high in the cultures hierarchy. The break from tradition in depicting these figures could represent the influence of Akhenaton's reign on Egyptian art but these distortions are most likely due to the relaxation of rules governing the depictions of lesser known or less important individuals as in the depiction of the Seated Scribe 2525 BCE from Saqqara, Egypt.
Last Judgment of Hu-Nefer, 1290 BCE - 1280 BCE Thebes, Egypt Dynasty 19
|Form: Hu-Nefer is being escorted by a jackal while
his heart is on one side of a scale and a feather is on the other.
Osiris is to the right seated upon a throne. In front of him is a
lotus flower with tiny people in it.
Iconography: The weighing of the heart against a feather is iconographic of the belief of sin and rewards in the afterlife. The scene is iconographic of the judgment that is placed on someone when they die and the rewards to acting in a way that the society of the time deems fit. (For a more complete description of the iconography read Stokstad)
Context: The egyptians had to go through many tests to see how much they would be rewarded in the after life. One of these tests was the weighing of the heart of the person who has died against a feather. If the heart weighed more than the feather then Ammit was allowed to eat it and the person was not allowed into heaven.
Awesome web site all about this image: http://members.aol.com/egyptart/hall.html
Papyrus of Ani, 1280 BCE Thebes, Egypt Dynasty 19
Context: Below is a translation of one of the prayers
from the "Book of the Dead" found on a specific scroll called the Papyrus
Originally from the Papyrus of Ani, with revisions and reorganization to better suit the modern servant of the gods.
I have not turned the earth without cause.
I have not disturbed the air without cause.
I have not extinguished the fire in its season.
I have not held back the water in its season.
Maintained by the Rev. Dr. Corey Bantik, who can be contacted at email@example.com.
Stepped Pyramid of Djoser
2675 BCE - 2625 BCE
|Form: It is a series of smaller mastabas stacked
one on top of the other. It's corners are situated to the points
of the compass and it originally had a limestone facade.
Iconography: The pyramid and the necropolis surrounding it are iconographic of the city that the king lived in when he was alive. This false city will allow him to live and walk through it in his death. The height of the pyramid may be an icon of a mountain which is often times seen as a bridge between the earth and the heavens.
Context: The earliest know name of an architect is inscribed at the base of the Djoser's ka statue. Imhotep was prime minister and designer of this necropolis. It was the first very large royal tomb. Processions were held in it's main street that honored the dead king. He could supposedly watch this through peep holes in the funerary chapel. "[Mastabas are a] relatively low, rectangular structure which owes its name to the modern Arab word for "bench". This structure was favored as funerary monument from the Early Dynastic Period on. Originally, the mastaba was built above a shaft at the bottom of which was situated a tomb. As the Egyptian craftsmanship and wealth increased, the mastabas became more elaborate, housing funerary chapels, shrines and offering tables where the cult for the deceased was held. In contrast to their royal counterparts, the pyramids, which were left undecorated, the Old Kingdom mastabas offer us a variety of texts and images, illustrating scenes from the daily life of the deceased, offering scenes and ritual hunt scenes." http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/7279/glossary/mastaba.html
Plan of the Funerary Complex
Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu
2460 BCE, 2500 BCE and 2350 BCE
|Form: Khufu's pyramid is the largest and was covered
with a limestone veneer. Khafre's pyramid is the middle sized one,
it was also cover with a limestone veneer. Menkaure's pyramid is
the smallest and had a polished red granite base. The pyramids, themselves,
are on the west side of the Nile.
Iconography: The amount of time and effort put into the building of these pyramids is iconographic of how strongly the people felt that there kings happiness in the afterlife could effect the empire after his death. The pyramids are on the west side of the Nile because that is where the sun sets and this is iconographic of the connection between the Kings of the fourth dynasty and the sun god Re. These pyramids may also be iconographic of mountains and thus of a link between heaven and the earth.
Context: These pyramids are one of the "seven wonders of the world" that the early Greeks named. It is the only of the "wonders" that is still in decent shape. They are where the ancient kings of Egypt were buried. The graves of the kings have all been robbed and the treasures that lied with the kings have been taken. In side of Khufu's pyramid he was buried at the heart of the pyramid but there were three false passageways found. It is not known if these were meant to trick grave robbers or just changes in the architectural plan. In the fourth dynasty the kings considered themselves the sons of the sun god Re, whose symbol was a pyramidal stone.
|How to Build a Pyramid||Volume 60 Number 3, May/June 2007|
|by Bob Brier|
According to the new theory, an external ramp was used to build the lower third of the pyramid and was then cannibalized, its blocks taken through an internal ramp for the higher levels of the structure. (Dassault Systemes) [LARGER IMAGE]
The complexities of the Great Pyramid's design and construction could not have been deciphered without the aid of 3-D imaging software. (Dassault Systemes) [LARGER IMAGE]
Wooden hoists on notches left in the edge of the pyramid could have been used to turn blocks onto the next part of the internal ramp. (Dassault Systemes) [LARGER IMAGE]
A microgravimetry survey of the Great Pyramid in the 1980s yielded the enigmatic image at right. Less dense areas (indicated in green) seem to correspond to an internal ramp proposed by Jean-Pierre Houdin (diagram). (Dassault Systemes; Courtesy EDF) [LARGER IMAGE]
|Hidden ramps may solve the mystery of the Great Pyramid's construction.
Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only the Great Pyramid of Giza remains. An estimated 2 million stone blocks weighing an average of 2.5 tons went into its construction. When completed, the 481-foot-tall pyramid was the world's tallest structure, a record it held for more than 3,800 years, when England's Lincoln Cathedral surpassed it by a mere 44 feet.
We know who built the Great Pyramid: the pharaoh Khufu, who ruled Egypt about 2547-2524 B.C. And we know who supervised its construction: Khufu's brother, Hemienu. The pharaoh's right-hand man, Hemienu was "overseer of all construction projects of the king" and his tomb is one of the largest in a cemetery adjacent to the pyramid.
What we don't know is exactly how it was built, a question that has been debated for millennia. The earliest recorded theory was put forward by the Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Egypt around 450 B.C., when the pyramid was already 2,000 years old. He mentions "machines" used to raise the blocks and this is usually taken to mean cranes. Three hundred years later, Diodorus of Sicily wrote, "The construction was effected by mounds" (ramps). Today we have the "space alien" theory--those primitive Egyptians never could have built such a fabulous structure by themselves; extraterrestrials must have helped them.
Modern scholars have favored these two original theories, but deep in their hearts, they know that neither one is correct. A radical new one, however, may provide the solution. If correct, it would demonstrate a level of planning by Egyptian architects and engineers far greater than anything ever imagined before.
The External Ramp and Crane Theories
This approach suggests that the ramp corkscrewed up the outside of the pyramid, much the way a mountain road spirals upward. The corkscrew ramp does away with the need for a massive mile-long one and explains why no remains of such a ramp have been found, but there is a flaw with this version of the theory. With a ramp corkscrewing up the outside of the pyramid, the corners couldn't be completed until the final stage of construction. But careful measurements of the angles at the corners would have been needed frequently to assure that the corners would meet to create a point at the top. Dieter Arnold, a renowned pyramid expert at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, comments in his definitive work, Building in Egypt: "During the whole construction period, the pyramid trunk would have been completely buried under the ramps. The surveyors could therefore not have used the four corners, edges, and foot line of the pyramid for their calculations." Thus the modified ramp theory also has a serious problem.
The second theory centers on Herodotus's machines. Until recently Egyptian farmers used a wooden, cranelike device called a shadouf to raise water from the Nile for irrigation. This device can be seen in ancient tomb paintings, so we know it was available to the pyramid builders. The idea is that hundreds of these cranes at various levels on the pyramid were used to lift the blocks. One problem with this theory is that it would involve a tremendous amount of timber and Egypt simply didn't have forests to provide the wood. Importing so much lumber would have been impractical. Large timbers for shipbuilding were imported from Lebanon, but this was a very expensive enterprise.
Perhaps an even more fatal flaw to the crane theory is that there is
nowhere to place all these cranes. The pyramid blocks tend to decrease
in size higher up the Great Pyramid. I climbed it dozens of times in the
1970s and '80s, when it was permitted, and toward the top, the blocks sometimes
provide only 18 inches of standing room, certainly not enough space for
cranes large enough to lift heavy blocks of stone. The crane theory can't
explain how the blocks of the Great Pyramid were raised. So how was it
The Internal Ramp Theory
The theory suggests that for the bottom third of the pyramid, the blocks were hauled up a straight, external ramp. This ramp was far shorter than the one needed to reach the top, and was made of limestone blocks, slightly smaller than those used to build the bottom third of the pyramid. As the bottom of the pyramid was being built via the external ramp, a second ramp was being built, inside the pyramid, on which the blocks for the top two-thirds of the pyramid would be hauled. The internal ramp, according to Houdin, begins at the bottom, is about 6 feet wide, and has a grade of approximately 7 percent. This ramp was put into use after the lower third of the pyramid was completed and the external ramp had served its purpose.
The design of the internal ramp was partially determined by the design of the interior of the pyramid. Hemienu knew all about the problems encountered by Pharaoh Sneferu, his and Khufu's father. Sneferu had considerable difficulty building a suitable pyramid for his burial, and ended up having to construct three at sites south of Giza! The first, at Meidum, may have had structural problems and was never used. His second, at Dashur--known as the Bent Pyramid because the slope of its sides changes midway up--developed cracks in the walls of its burial chamber. Huge cedar logs from Lebanon had to be wedged between the walls to keep the pyramid from collapsing inward, but it too was abandoned. There must have been a mad scramble to complete Sneferu's third and successful pyramid, the distinctively colored Red Pyramid at Dashur, before the aging ruler died.
From the beginning, Hemienu planned three burial chambers to ensure that whenever Khufu died, a burial place would be ready. One was carved out of the bedrock beneath the pyramid at the beginning of its construction. In case the pharaoh had died early, this would have been his tomb. When, after about five years, Khufu was still alive and well, the unfinished underground burial chamber was abandoned and the second burial chamber, commonly called the Queen's Chamber, was begun. Some time around the fifteenth year of construction Khufu was still healthy and this chamber was abandoned unfinished and the last burial chamber, the King's Chamber, was built higher up--in the center of the pyramid. (To this day, Khufu's sarcophagus remains inside the King's Chamber, so early explorers of the pyramid incorrectly assumed that the second chamber had been for his queen.)
Huge granite and limestone blocks were needed for the roof beams and rafters of the Queen's and King's Chambers. Some of these beams weigh more than 60 tons and are far too large to have been brought up through the internal ramp. Thus the external ramp had to remain in use until the large blocks were hauled up. Once that was done, the external ramp was dismantled and its blocks were led up the pyramid via the internal ramp to build the top two-thirds of the pyramid. Perhaps most blocks in this portion of the pyramid are smaller than those at the bottom third because they had to move up the narrow internal ramp.
There were several considerations that went into designing the internal ramp. First, it had to be fashioned very precisely so that it didn't hit the chambers or the internal passageways that connect them. Second, men hauling heavy blocks of stones up a narrow ramp can't easily turn a 90-degree corner; they need a place ahead of the block to stand and pull. The internal ramp had to provide a means of turning its corners so, Houdin suggests, the ramp had openings there where a simple crane could be used to turn the blocks.
There are plenty of theories about how the Great Pyramid could have been built that lack evidence. Is the internal ramp theory any different? Is there any evidence to support it? Yes.
A bit of evidence appears to be one of the ramp's corner notches used for turning blocks. It is two-thirds of the way up the northeast corner--precisely at a point where Houdin predicted there would be one. Furthermore, in 1986 a member of a French team that was surveying the pyramid reported seeing a desert fox enter it through a hole next to the notch, suggesting that there is an open area close to it, perhaps the ramp. It seems improbable that the fox climbed more than halfway up the pyramid. More likely there is some undetected crevice toward the bottom where the fox entered the ramp and then made its way up the ramp and exited near the notch. It would be interesting to attach a telemetric device to a fox and send him into the hole to monitor his movements! The notch is suggestive, but there is another bit of evidence supplied by the French mentioned earlier that is far more compelling.
When the French team surveyed the Great Pyramid, they used microgravimetry, a technique that enabled them to measure the density of different sections of the pyramid, thus detecting hidden chambers. The French team concluded that there were no large hidden chambers inside it. If there was a ramp inside the pyramid, shouldn't the French have detected it? In 2000, Henri Houdin was presenting this theory at a scientific conference where one of the members of the 1986 French team was present. He mentioned to Houdin that their computer analysis of the pyramid did yield one curious image, something they couldn't interpret and therefore ignored. That image showed exactly what Jean-Pierre Houdin's theory had predicted--a ramp spiraling up through the pyramid.
Far from being just another theory, the internal ramp has considerable evidence behind it. A team headed by Jean-Pierre Houdin and Rainer Stadlemann, former director of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo and one of the greatest authorities on pyramids, has submitted an application to survey the Great Pyramid in a nondestructive way to see if the theory can be confirmed. They are hopeful that the Supreme Council of Antiquities will grant permission for a survey. (Several methods could be used, including powerful microgravimetry, high-resolution infrared photography, or even sonar.) If so, sometime this year we may finally know how Khufu's monumental tomb was built. One day, if it is indeed there, we might just be able to remove a few blocks from the exterior of the pyramid and walk up the mile-long ramp Hemienu left hidden within the Great Pyramid.
Bob Brier is a senior research fellow at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University and a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY.
|Form: This figure is extremely naturalistic.
He is sitting cross legged holding a partially unrolled papyrus.
In his right hand would have been a pen. He is flabby but he appears
knowledgeable and alert.
Iconography: The papyrus and missing pen ae icons of his trade and make it clear that he is a scribe. His flabby chest is iconographic of sedentary life style and age. The lack of idealization is also iconic of the scribe's status. Since he is a lesser individual in the hierarchy of Egyptian culture it is acceptable to render him in a more naturalistic fashion.
Context: Scribes were expected to learn reading, writing, algebra, religion, arithmetic, and law. They were taught these things mainly by their fathers. The position of scribe was a fairly revered one. If they became well known they may be appointed to "houses of life" where books were copied and studied. The reason that this figure is so naturalistic in comparison to the portraits of the kings is because he is a lay person. The kings were thought to have been god like so they were depicted in an idealistic manner.
Menkaure and His Wife,
|Form: This is a frontally oriented statue that
depicts Menkaure with his left foot out but with out the shift of weight
at the hips that usually accompanies such a stance. His wife also
assumes this stance in an exquisitely rendered see through dress.
He wears a kilt, nemes headdress, and a false beard. His wife
as one hand upon his arm and the other arm around his waste. This
piece was never finished being polished and it was originally painted,
as traces of the paint are still on the statue.
Iconography: The headdress and false beard are icons of a king. The wearing of beards probably is an extension of the idea that facial hair indicates maturity and therefore wisdom.
Context: This statue was originally in Menkaure's pyramid. This statue may have been created with the people in the poses that they are so that pieces were not likely to break off. This statue was meant to house the ka's of the king and his wife if their mummies were destroyed.
Prince Rahotep and His Wife Nofret
|Form: This statue is made of lime stone that was
then painted. Prince Rahotep was painted darker wearing a kilt, short
wig, mustache, and a heart amulet. Nofret was painted lighter wearing
a robe with two straps, a heavy wig with her own hair coming down over
her forehead, and a necklace with pendants. Their eyes are inlayed
with stone; opaque quartz, transparent rock crystal, and black paste.
Iconography: The darker color on prince Rahotep is iconographic of his male gender. The lighter color on his wife Nofret is iconographic of her female gender.
Context: the prince and his wife are sitting in judgment of the the world of the dead. Ancient Egyptian law required that members of the royal family marry within their family, thus Rahotep and his wife Nofret were also brother and sister.
|Form: The statue is made of diorite. The
king sits upon a throne that has stylized lions, lotus plants, and papyrus
plants on it. He wears only a kilt and Horus spreads his wings over
the kings head. He has a nemes headdress and a false beard.
The kings body is idealized but is still a portrait.
Iconography: The body of Khafre is iconographic of the body of a god. His nemes headdress and false beard are icons of a king. Horus's wings spread over the kings head are an icon of protection. The lions on the throne are symbols of a king and power. The lotus and papyrus plants are symbols of a united egypt.
Context: Sculptors created this statue as a place for the ka to go if the mummy was destroyed. This statue was originally in Khafre's pyramid.
|Fresco secco (dry fresco):
The artists would put plaster on a wall and let it dry before the painted
it. They mixed beeswax with pigments to make paint.
Horus: Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis. He is the symbol of an ideal son. He is usually depicted as being a falcon or as having a falcon head.
Isis: Isis a goddess who is the mother figure. She is both the sister and the wife of Osiris. She was used as a symbol of the ideal woman.
Ka: Is the Egyptian word for spirit or soul.
Mastaba: Arabic for "bench".
Necropolis: Greek for "city of the dead".
Osiris: Osiris is the father figure who is the founder of Egypt and its civilization. He is also the god of the underworld, death, and resurrection.
Seth: Seth is a mix between a dog and a camel or a jackal or a pigs head. He is a trickster god who disordered the world. He is not evil he is just the opposite half. He is sometimes represented as an enemy who has to be eliminated.
Basic Lessons in Hieratic http://home.prcn.org/~sfryer/Hieratic/
Online Hieroglyphic Translator http://quizland.com/hiero.htm
RIGBY'S WORLD OF EGYPT http://www.powerup.com.au/~ancient/
Official Internet Site of: The Ministry of Tourism, Egypt http://interoz.com/egypt/index.htm