Temples of Abu Simbel


Abu Simbel Temples

Lithics, defined as “relating to, or characteristic of a specified stage in the use of stone by humans”, describes the material evidence of our human prehistoric past. This evidence of the past in ancient Egypt has been found in stone construction of buildings, incised (engraved or carved) texts, manufacturing of stone tools and lithic artifacts, all expertly crafted by early man. The use of lithics in prehistory is called tool usage and the discovered lithics substantiate “the archaeological record”, providing for humanity’s early technological industry. The science of archaeology, the scientific discovery and study of physical remains left by humans is evident in no other place more than ancient Egypt. The first inhabitants in ancient Egypt used stone to record everything about their world. Not only a building legacy of it’s past, Egypt also used stone to make the instruments themselves, recording names, titles, history vignettes, prayers, religious texts, triumphs in war, and death. Nowhere is this more evident than in ancient Egypt. Stone has been the dominant material throughout the ages. From crude, rough simplistic stone implements and tools, to accurately stylized projectile points, used as tools and/or weapons, a simple slate tablet, stele, or slate cosmetic palettes to the great pyramids of Egypt, all substantiate the stone record. A crucial factor necessary to understand its importance in prehistory is to look at excavations in all parts of the world. Development of stylized stone tools did not necessarily coincide at the same time. Cultures differed greatly in their development over time. Some lithic development of tools and objects was only a representation. An example of this is the famous Narmer Palette. This “story on stone” dates to about 3,200 BC and is carved on both sides recounting the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is similar in design to other cosmetic palettes of ancient Egypt, but most likely ceremonial rather than utilitarian. Discovered in the late 1800’s, and carved from a single piece of greenish schist, the hieroglyphics carved on both sides of it are some of the oldest known. This ceremonial piece, though in the shape of a cosmetic palette, was used for communication of a great event, rather than its original shape use. It resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Throughout the ages, many eras of lithic development took place. Beginning with the Paleolithic period, (the scientific name), sometimes referred to as the Old Stone Age, (the common term name), refers to the cultural period of the earliest chipped stone tools, about 750,000 years ago, until the beginning of the Mesolithic Period. During this time, flaked instruments transitioned into blade production and led the way for further advances working with stone. Bladelets, stone grinding implements, hoe blades, flint axes, chipped and flaked knives and later, limestone mace-heads appeared. Bladelets were used in sickles and hoes and a variety of other tools developed for cultivation of land. Some of these food industry tools look like the typical Native American stone axes. Stone Age tools have been found fashioned in materials such as flint, quartzite, jasper and chalcedony. Consumers of the available stone material, which they found everywhere, were used for hunting, fishing, and butchering and everyday use. Towards the end of this era, cave art paintings came into existence and more specialized tools were required, and bone and antler were mostly used for incising and engraving. Mesolithic or the Middle Stone Age lasted from 11,000-9,000 BC with apparently no major technological changes. With climate conditions changing, animals and humans were forced to adapt to new environments. Animals became smaller and faster, requiring man the hunter to develop his stone tools in a lighter, more practical form. In comparison with the Paleolithic age, more stone tools became tools of bone and wood. The Neolithic, or New Stone Age, 8,0005,500 BC, saw plants being cultivated, animals domesticated and the real beginnings of civilization and advancement in the manufacture and use of tools. In ancient Egypt, the first evidence of lithic industry and/or tool development predates the First Dynasty. Respectively, cultures of Tarifian, (8,000-5,200 BC) , Nabta Playa, Fayum Neolithic, Merimde, el Omari, Badarian, Maadi, Naqada I, II, III, including early Dynastic Egypt cultures, (3,1002,686 BC), all exhibited examples of lithic development into tools. The Naqada I, II & III culture stone tools consist of finely worked tools evidenced by projectile points with a unique serrated fishtail design, flint blades with color tips, elongated stylized blades & pointed warrior mace heads. Though very few pre-dynastic sites in ancient Egypt have been excavated to date, one of the earliest Neolithic settlements, located in the Nile Delta, is “Merimda Beni Salama”. Discovered in the 1920s, the site dates between 5,000-4,800 BC. The earliest inhabitants hunted, fished and cultivated the land, much in the way of all ancient civilizations. Settlements were composed of random placed reed hut shelters, some subterranean. “Grain rubbers”, or pestles were excavated. These grain rubbers are similar to the aboriginal Native American Indian pestle (mano and metata). Mano being Spanish for “hand” (tool) and metate, the larger surface for grinding the corn. The Fayum is the first true Neolithic culture in Egypt evidenced by abundant pottery, stone tools and bone implements. Later on, the Tarifian culture, dating at 4,800 BC, and mostly a hunting/gathering society, left a large number of stone flint artifacts, all of local material. Re-touched flakes, blades and scrapers were found. Chalcolithic, or the Copper Stone Age (5,500-3,000 B.C.) sees the discovery of metal from trade between local and other civilizations. Mesopotamia and Egypt by then, had invented writing and reached a high level of civilization. Up to the present time, man has strived to record in stone the events of the world and had successfully done just that in monuments, buildings, steles and implements of stone. However, now an era emerged where metal replaced some lithic tools, though some remained in use. Egyptian graves of Abydos’ 1st Dynasty rulers revealed plentiful flint stone tools, chert handled knives, flakes and projectile points. The Badarian culture, of which many beautiful stone tool artifacts are found, some exhibited in the Egyptian wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, flourished between 4,400 and 4,000 BC. This culture, named after the village it was located in, is one of the earliest civilizations using farming and agriculture in Upper Egypt. It also has revealed an abundance of stone tools and weapons. Excavations in the early 1920s uncovered Badarian tombs containing flint knives, bone tools, blades, axes, blade knife, glazed beads, arrowheads, and pottery. The great pyramids of Giza and the many temples erected in ancient Egypt throughout its civilization, attest to the grandeur and mystery of the construction of these beautiful structures in stone. Over 100 pyramids of quarried limestone were built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms of Egypt. Their mysteries, including their construction, is still being investigated and most likely always will. The Abu Simbel temple structures, two massive temples south of Aswan are a magnificent testament to Pharaoh Ramses II and Nefertari. Commemorating the Battle of Kadesh, the structures were carved out of the mountainside, but then relocated in the 1960s to avoid being submerged by Lake Nasser.

The elegantly inscribed Pyramid funerary texts that were found in Saqqara in the burial chamber of the 5th Dynasty Pyramid of King Unas (2,375-2,345 BC) are a testament in themselves. These written walls are the oldest religious text in the world. Unas erected his pyramid at Saqqara, directly adjacent to the great Step Pyramid complex of Djoser, but decorated his chambers in a new way with these texts. They are utterances, spells and rituals taken from sacred knowledge, some old and others new. The spells are written to protect the dead king from snakes and insects, and others speak of the food, drink and clothing necessary in the afterlife. The Book of the Dead, also ancient funerary text, though not in stone, were usually written on papyrus scrolls and put into the tomb or sarcophagus to serve the same purpose, to allow the deceased to pass into the afterlife. A record in stone story, however, cannot be written without mentioning the discovery of one of the greatest tools that helped modern mankind link himself to the ancient world, to communicate effectively and further record his history. The Rosetta Stone, created in 196 BC, is a magnificent engraved stone tablet of granite or basalt-like material in shades of blue/gray/pink. Multi-lingual, three (3) translations of a single passage are inscribed on it, in Demotic, classical Greek and Hieroglyphic script. This stone artifact was the first useful tool for decipherment of hieroglyphic writing. The text of the Rosetta Stone is a decree from the Ptolemaic era repealing taxes and building of statues in temples. This is just another example of the many monumental works of art fashioned in stone, written or incised upon, carved or sculpted in stone, that symbolized the civilization of ancient Egypt. The Palermo Stone, a history book of sorts, and no less important, was a written text of the early kings of Egypt, along with information prior to the dynastic era. It is called Egypt’s oldest history book, a basalt stele, inscribed on both sides. Now only fragments remain. Smaller fragments are currently in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and The Petrie Museum, London. These are just a few of the achievements of this lithic stone culture, inscribed texts on stone, temples, buildings, pyramids, and useful stone tools that survived from early the Egyptian civilizations. From everyday chores to wars, worship and death, Egypt’s history has been recorded on stone.


Abu simbel Story


A city in Egypt where RAMSES THE GREAT (Ramses II) (1304–1237 B.C.) carved a pair of rock-cut temples. Situated on the west bank of the NILE at Egypt’s southern border, Abu Simbel lies 180 miles south of Aswan. The larger of the two temples, the Great Temple, Hwt Ramesses Meryamun, called the Temple of Ramses Beloved of Amun, is dedicated to Egypt’s principal gods: AMUN-RE, REHORAKHTY, PTAH, and the deified Ramses. The walls of the Great Temple are decorated with religious scenes, including an array of gods and goddesses, and scenes of Ramses’s most important battles—the most well-known being the Battle of Kaddesh, which depicts Ramses’s victory over the Hittites. The most impressive parts of the temple are four 67-foot-tall seated statues of Ramses that occupy the open-air court in front of the entrance to the temple. Each one was carved from the rock face of the mountain. (It has been suggested that Mount Rushmore in South Dakota was based on these figures of Ramses.) One of the statues (on the left as you face the temple) was damaged by an earthquake in antiquity, and the head lies on the ground. Carved on the sides of each throne are Nile gods tying LOTUS and PAPYRUS plants around the hieroglyph “to unite,” symbolizing the unification of UPPER and LOWER EGYPT.  Statues of the royal family are carved between and beside the legs of all four colossal statues of Ramses. Prominently shown around the first southern statue are: Queen Nefertari (the Great Wife), Muttuya (king’s mother), and Prince Amen-hirkhep-shef (the firstborn son). From the second southern statue are: Princess Bint-Anat, Princess Nebet-awy-by, and a female figure whose name has been lost, perhaps Esenofre, a minor wife. The family members shown with the two northern statues are: Queen Nefertari, Princess Beket-mut, PrincPi-Ramses, Princess Merit-Amun, Queen Muttuya, and Princess Nofre-tari. Beneath the statues are figures of bound captives, and above the entrance to the Great Temple is a carving of the sun god REHORAKHTY. To his right is a jackal-head symbol meaning “power”; to the left is MAAT, the goddess of truth. Together the three symbols form an ancient Egyptian pun: they spell one of Ramses’s names, Usr-Maat-Re, “the truth of Re is power.” In front of the Great Temple were two stone basins where the priests purified themselves with Nile water before entering the temple. The Great Temple has four rooms: the first, called the great hall, has eight square pillars each with a statue of Ramses. The four on the right wear the double crown, signifying the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, and those on the left wear the white crown of Upper Egypt. In the second hall, the four pillars are decorated with religious scenes—the king in the company of the gods: ANUBIS, SATIS, MIN, MUT, WADJET, AMUN-RE, HATHOR, MONTU, and several manifestations of HORUS. On the entrance to the vestibule the king makes offerings of wine, incense, bread, and flowers to the gods. The vestibule leads to the sanctuary, where statues of the gods are cut into the rock. From left to right are Ptah, Amun-Re, Ramses II (as a god), and Re-Horakhty. The image of Ramses is the same size as those of the gods, suggesting he is the equal of the gods he is honoring. The HOLY OF HOLIES at Abu Simbel is oriented so that on February 21 (Ramses’s birthday) and October 21 (Ramses’s coronation date), the rays of the sun shine through the corridor into the sanctuary and illuminate Ramses and the gods.

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