The Festival of Drunkenness

A drawing based on an ancient Egyptian wall painting shows a drinking festival in progress. The upper row of figures features revelers drinking wine, including one woman who has overindulged. The lower row shows a procession with musicians.
Courtesy of Betsy Bryan via www.nbc.com

No, dear reader, this is not Panama City on Spring Break.  This is an actual religious festival from ancient Egypt.  We have discussed how beer played a part in religious festivals, and that the Sumerians actually had a goddess specifically for it. (For more on Nin-kasi, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/nin-kasi-lady-fills-mouth-beer/ )  There was an importance placed on beer in Egyptian culture as well.  The source of this festival is a mythological story of how beer saved the world.

The story goes that Re, the sun god, was frankly salty about the “duplicitousness” of mankind and called his children together to discuss it.  A Council of the Gods is called, and they decide to punish the rebellious men by letting loose the goddess Hathor.  She stormed out in the form of Sakhnet, which literally means female magical power.  In some stories this is the form of a great flood, and in others it is the form of a lion.  Whatever this form is, Hathor went to town killing everyone up and down the Nile Valley.  Re and the other gods started to feel bad about what they let loose, and tried to get her to stop, but at this point Hathor was in a blood rage and would not and could not stop.  In order to stop her murderous rampage, the Council of the Gods flooded the fields with beer that had been tinted red with ocher to look like blood.  Hathor greedily lapped it up and got drunk and passed out.  Mankind was saved by drunkenness.

Originally, it was thought these rituals took place in later in Egyptian history when they were ruled the Greeks and Romans.  However, recent discoveries from the excavations of the Temple of Mut complex in Luxor show they took place much earlier- around 1470 BCE.  Dr. Betsy Bryan’s research has found the Festival of Drunkenness was celebrated by people at least once a year, sometimes twice, in homes, temples and makeshift desert shrines.  It was different than many other temple ceremonies as the priests or pharaoh would act on behalf of the people.  In this ritual, everyone participated together- the elites and the peasants.  The scene is described in a hymn to Sakhnet as young women with flowing garlands in their hair serving alcohol to everyone  They all drink to the point of passing out, then are awoken to the beating of drums and the priests carried out a likeness of the goddess Hathor and they present their petitions to her.  It wasn’t just drinking going on either.  Graffiti was found discussing “traveling the marshes”, which is a euphemism for having sex.  These festivals took place at the beginning of the Nile floods in mid-August, which hearkened to the fertility and renewal of the land by the floods.

The excavations have found what is termed a “porch of drunkenness” associated with Hatshepsut, the woman who became pharaoh.  (For more on Hatshepsut, please see this post http://www.historynaked.com/hatshepsut-his-majesty-herself/ )  The porch was constructed at the height of her reign.  It has been theorized that Hatshepsut was instrumental in popularizing the festival to justify her assumption of pharaonic powers by association with a Great Goddess.  There is also a tantalizing discussion of Hatshepsut driving off enemies of Egypt termed the “shemau”, which at least one historian believes was the Jewish people.  Then the festivals would be a time to celebrate the fertility of the remaining Egyptians and to replenish their population.  This would place the Biblical exodus much earlier than theorized.  There is no additional corroboration for this theory however.

No one knows why the porch of drunkenness was taken down.  Hatsheput’s name was stricken by her successor, Thutmose III, so it could have been part of that campaign.  The ritual fell out of favor as well, and according to Bryan it had lost favor completely by the reign of Amenhotep III.  She observed that Egyptians did not like the alcohol making them lose control, and that was what this ritual was about- taking them to the edge of chaos.  However, in the time of the fun loving Greeks and Romans it regained popularity.  Herodotus reported in 440 BCE that the festivals drew as many as 700,000 participants and drunkenness and sexual permissiveness was the rule.  There are also mentions of the festival as late as 200 CE.  Although the significance of it had gone, there’s nothing better than a good party.

ER

Clava Cairns

Photograph courtesy of http://www.truehighlands.com
Photograph courtesy of http://www.truehighlands.com

The main attraction in the area around Inverness is the site of the Battle of Culloden.  However, there is another site nearby that is also an important part of Scotland’s past.  One mile southeast of the battlefield set on a terrace above the River Nairn are the Clava Cairns also called the Balnuaran of Clava.  These are three cairns and a number of free standing stones which date from the late Neolithic period.  Although it is thought by scholars that there may have been at least two additional structures, the three that are left have been designated the Northeast Cairn, Central Cairn and Southwest Cairn.  These site is thought to be a part of a system of cairns in the Inverness-Nairn Valley, which correspond to a pattern corresponding to planetary movement.

Both the Northeast and the Southwest Cairns are passage graves.  This means there is an inner chamber, which is linked to the outside by a passage.  These are both fifty feet in diameter and are currently about three feet high, but at the time of construction were thought to be up to ten feet high.  Like at New Grange (For more on New Grange, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/new-grange/ )  the passages into the tombs align with the midwinter sun.  On the winter solstice, sunlight streams into the passageways illuminating the grave chambers within which would have been in darkness every other day of the year.  Both of these graves are surrounded by kerbstones.  On the Northeastern passage grave, one kerbstone is has several “cup marks”.  These are circular indentations purposely chiseled into the stone, however, it is not known what these were made for.  The Central Cairn is a ring cairn, which means there is no passage linking the inside room to the outside.  All of the cairns are surrounded by a ring of standing stones.  It has been suggested that the fictional Craigh na Dun from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series was inspired by this site.  There is a second smaller site nearby called Milton of Clava.  It is a single standing stone.  There is also a ruins of a medieval chapel built much later.  

Photograph courtesy of http://www.truehighlands.com

Excavations at the site have shown the sites had been used from their creation around 2500 BCE and was in continual use for over 1000 years. Then the site was intermittently used until about 770 CE.  Remains of another ring cairn can be found near the original site and the medieval chapel ruins at Milton of Clava.  Unfortunately, we do not know much about the builders or those who were buried here.  Excavations beginning in 1828 did damage to the site and eradicated evidence.  However, evidence was found in the 1950s that some bodies were cremated here.  Studies of the in the 1990’s by Professor R. Bradley, theorize that the site was originally constructed “during a single phase”.  However, he was still puzzled by the ring and cup carvings on the kerbstones.  It is not known what part these played in the rituals conducted here or if they were made by earlier civilizations.  Despite the finds of cremated bones, no complete sets of remains have ever been found.

ER

The Vanishing Persian Army of Cambyses

Persian warriors, a detail from the frieze in Darius’ palace in Susa. Pergamon Museum / Vorderasiatisches Museum, Germany. Image credit: Mohammed Shamma / CC BY 2.0.
Persian warriors, a detail from the frieze in Darius’ palace in Susa. Pergamon Museum / Vorderasiatisches Museum, Germany. Image credit: Mohammed Shamma / CC BY 2.0.

When your dad is Cyrus the Great, you have a lot to live up to.  He began the Achaemenid Empire and reigned over the territory from Asia Minor to India.  Unfortunately, Cyrus met his match in a warrior queen named Tomyris and went to his long home.   (More on her in this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/tomyris-the-woman-who-brought-down-cyrus-the-great/ )  This left his son Cambyses in charge.  There had been a bit of trouble when he was overseeing things for his father in Babylon.  No one is quite sure, but the Chronicle of Nabonidus indicates there was an issue during the very important New Year’s Akitu festival.   Possibly with Cambyses being armed during the ceremony, which was expressly forbidden.  However, all of this was glossed over as Cambyses was the chosen heir and took the throne around 530 BCE.

To set Cambyses off on the right foot, he took up the conquest of Egypt.  Although the Egyptian empire had been weakened, it was no pushover.  Pharaoh Amasis was ready to fight and had allied himself with Greek mercenaries to augment their navy.  Unfortunately, their Greek allies turned coat and didn’t fight.  There is no record of a sea battle, and the Persians marched in six months later and defeated the Egyptian army.  Amasis was dead and his son Psammetichus was captured and surrendered, receiving honorable treatment.  What is telling also is the admiral of the Egyptian fleet, Wedjahor-Resne, became Cambyses’ right hand man soon after the conquest.  Perhaps there was some more turncoating afoot?  Who knows.  What is known is Cambyses was recognized as the new pharaoh of Egypt with Wedjahor-Resne by his side as adviser.

However, not everyone was ready to play nice with the Persian conquerors.  According to Herodotus, in 524 BCE the priests at the Temple of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa rejected Cambyses.  That wasn’t going to stand, and Cambyses sent an army of 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to march into the desert and take care of these rebel priests.  Herodotus reports the god Amun must not have liked someone trying to beat up on his priests and sent a sandstorm to swallow up the army.  Since that day, no one has found hide nor hair of them.  And that was that.  Well, not exactly.  Experience has shown you can’t die from a sandstorm alone.  So what happened to the 50,000 men?

19th century engraving of The Lost Army of Cambyses. Public domain.
19th century engraving of The Lost Army of Cambyses. Public domain.

Egyptologist Olaf Kaper believes he has the answer.  In 2014 he published his findings and based on his research, he believe the army was not headed for Siwa but for the Dachla Oasis.  This was the location of a shadowy figure in Egyptian history, Petubastis III.  He is thought to have been a local price and possibly a member of the old royal line.  He was the leader of the rebel movement against Cambyses.  Kaper found an inscription by Petubastis III that he defeated the lost army of Cambyses via an ambush.  After this, he was crowned pharaoh in the lower Egypt capital of Memphis.  He believes Cambyses’ successor Darius I put forth the sandstorm story to cover up his predecessor’s shameful defeat.

However, two other archeologists, Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, believe they found the resting place of the lost army.  They believe the army did not travel the well known route, but tried to sneak to Siwa around the back.  Instead of gaining surprise in battle, they only found the khamsin, the strong, hot wind from the Sahara desert.  In an excavation in 2009, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls.  Amongst the bones were Persian artifacts, such as arrow heads and horse bits.  Additional excavation has not been started according to the Egyptian authorities.

So was the army lost to natural elements or a military blunder?  Without additional study, we will never know.

ER

The Great Serpent Mound

Aerial view of the Great Serpent Mound. Photo Credit- http://ohiowins.com/great-serpent-mound/
Aerial view of the Great Serpent Mound. Photo Credit- http://ohiowins.com/great-serpent-mound/

In a previous post, we discussed the Mississippians and their mound city at Cahokia (http://www.historynaked.com/the-mississippians/)  Another similar system of mounds were made in Ohio, although much earlier than the Cahokia mounds.  The Great Serpent Mound is found in Adams County, Ohio near the town of Peeples.  Millions of years ago, a large meteor crashed into the area creating a five mile wide crater and surrounding plateau.  The mound was built on this plateau in the shape of a large snake with a curled tail.  It is the largest serpent effigy in the world, measuring approximately 1,300 feet in length and one to three feet high.  The head is oriented to the east and the tail points west, with seven winding coils in between.  There is a large oval on the head, which some scholars believe is an enlarged eye and others think is an egg or prey being swallowed by the snake.  

It is believed the native cultures in this area attributed supernatural powers to snakes, as many snake artifacts have been found made of copper sheets.  It has also been theorized that the mound was created to mark time or seasons.  The curves in the snake’s body parallel lunar phases or possibly align with the solstices and equinox, like other ancient monuments like New Grange in Ireland (http://www.historynaked.com/new-grange/).  There are also serpent effigies in Scotland and Ontario that are similar, but none this large.  Another theory is that the shape of the mound imitates the constellation Draco, with the first curve of the snake’s torso aligning with the North Star.  Still another theory suggests it is a depiction of Halley’s Comet, which appeared in 1066.

In 1847, Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis first sketched and surveyed the Great Serpent Mound.  The two were amatuer archeologists who published had their studies published by the Smithsonian Museum under the title of the Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.  The mound was first excavated by Frederic Ward Putnam of Harvard, who found the mound damaged by significant erosion and treasure hunters.  Worried for the mound’s safety, he bought up the mound and surrounding property for The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard.

Since then there have been several excavations on the mound to determine its age and who could have built it.  Scholars have proposed the mound was built by several different cultures including the Adena, the Hopewell and the Fort Ancient cultures.  18th century missionary John Heckewelder reported the native people of Delaware told him the Allegheny people built the mound.   Burial mounds from both the Adena and Fort Ancient cultures have been found near the Serpent Mound.  Radiocarbon dating in 1991 determined the mound was approximately 900 years old, which would count out the Adena culture as they were primarily in the area much earlier.  This date pointed at the mound being the work of the Fort Ancient culture.  The Fort Ancient culture was significantly influenced by the Mississippians, and shared the rattlesnake as a common theme.  However, later radiocarbon dating in 2011 places the age of the mound much earlier, being built around 300 BCE.  This would put the mound’s construction at the height of the Adena culture.  A theory exists which combines these two saying the Fort Ancient people simply refurbished and embellished on an existing site created by the Adena people.

The Great Serpent Mound was under consideration to become included as a UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.  The mound is under threat now not from the elements, but from human intervention.  The site has become popular with New Age groups who believe it is an intergalactic portal.  They bury amulets and crystals in the mound and destroy the site.  The Great Serpent Mound has also made an appearance on Ancient Aliens (which is the best unintentional comedy out there.), who said it was a landing site for “ancient astronauts”.
ER

New Grange

Newgrange Front View Photo Credit- www.knowth.com
Newgrange Front View Photo Credit- www.knowth.com

Built as a part of a complex of monuments along the River Boyne in Ireland, New Grange is a passage tomb dating from circa 3200 BCE. Along with Knowth and Dowth, these are called Brú na Bóinne. New Grange is the largest of as many as 35 so called passage tombs in the region. Passage tombs have, as the name suggests, a long passage leading to a chamber where the remains of the dead are placed. These remains were usually cremated. The passage and the chamber were then covered over by a large mound of stones and earth. New Grange is a large kidney shaped mound, which covers over an acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones. Many of the kerbstones around the base have been decorated with neolithic art. These carvings include triskelions, which are some of the oldest symbols for protection, as well as other spirals. One of the carved figures has a design which reminds observers of a stylized face. The most decorated of the stones is the Entrance Stone.

Newgrange Kerbstone K1 - The Entrance Stone Photo Credit- www.newgrange.com
Newgrange Kerbstone K1 – The Entrance Stone Photo Credit- www.newgrange.com

The cairn itself is roughly circular and flat topped. It is made from water-rolled stones from the terraces above the River Boyne. The tomb underneath is made up a long passage and a cross-shaped chamber. The passage is less than 60 feet long and leads into the chamber, which has three side recesses. The corbelled vault roof has survived watertight and intact without any renovation. This roof supports the cairn above, which is estimated to weigh 200,000 tons. The room on the right of the passage is the most ornate, and have two stone basins. These are one inside the other. Archaeologists believe carved basins were used to hold the remains of the dead. Because the tomb was disturbed before there could be a proper archaeological examination, it is not known how many bodies were interred in New Grange. The remains of five people were found, but it is theorized the original number was much higher. With the bodies were found, beads made of bone and polished stone balls.

Triskelion on orthostat C10 in the north recess at the back of the chamber at New Grange is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. Photo Credit- Knowth.com
Triskelion on orthostat C10 in the north recess at the back of the chamber at New Grange is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. Photo Credit- Knowth.com

Above the entrance to the passage, there is a small opening called a roof-box. From December 19th to December 23rd, the winter solstice, a narrow beam of light shines through the roof-box and illuminates the chamber inside. As each day passes, the beam of light widens until the entire room is awash in light. This lasts for only 17 minutes from roughly 8:58 am to 9:15 am. The scope the engineering needed to create this is unbelievable. New Grange was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids and more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge. It is believed the light illuminating the tomb may have been a symbol of life’s victory over death.

Although New Grange was built in neolithic times, it has taken its place in Irish mythology. The Celts believed these were sídhe or fairy mounds. New Grange specifically was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love. The tomb inside was opened in 1699 and New Grange became a place of interest to amatuer historians and archaeologists. The first formal excavation was not done until 1962. It is now been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Megalithic art carved on the underside of the roof stone in the east recess off the main chamber inside the mound at Newgrange. Photo Credit- Knowth.com
Megalithic art carved on the underside of the roof stone in the east recess off the main chamber inside the mound at Newgrange. Photo Credit- Knowth.com

ER

Sources available on request