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The Egyptian Egg Ovens Considered More Wondrous Than the Pyramids
Farmers still use the same techniques developed 2,000 years ago. Lenny Hogerwerf. Courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , Reproduced with permission
Many aspects of Egyptian culture impressed the ancient Greeks, including their mathematics, papyrus-making, art, and egg-hatching. Aristotle was the first to mention that last innovation, writing that in Egypt, eggs “are hatched spontaneously in the ground, by being buried in dung heaps.” But 200 years later, the historian Diodorus Siculus cast Egyptian egg-hatching as wondrous. In his forty-book-long historical compendium Library of History, he wrote:
The most astonishing fact is that, by reason of their unusual application to such matters, the men [in Egypt] who have charge of poultry and geese, in addition to producing them in the natural way known to all mankind, raise them by their own hands, by virtue of a skill peculiar to them, in numbers beyond telling.
Aristotle and Diodorus were referring to Egyptian egg incubators, an ingenious system of mud ovens designed to replicate the conditions under a broody hen. With lots of heat, moisture, and periodical egg-turning, an egg oven could hatch as many as 4,500 fertilized eggs in two to three weeks, a volume that impressed foreigners for centuries. Western travelers mentioned the wondrous structures constantly in their writings about Egypt. In 1750, French entomologist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur visited an egg incubator and declared that “Egypt ought to be prouder of them than her pyramids.”
Ancient Egyptian mural depicting food offerings (1422-1411 B.C.). Chicken did not become a feature of Egyptian diets until the fourth century B.C. Public Domain
Egg incubators were quite a late invention, considering Egypt’s long history. According to Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, chickens were not a native bird of the Nile valley. They probably came from Asia—where they were domesticated from wild fowls 10,000 years ago—through Mesopotamia, or perhaps via trade ships that sailed to East Africa. It was only during the Ptolemaic dynasty, which lasted from 323 to 30 B.C., that chicken became a staple feature of Egyptian diets, says Ikram. In order to have a regular supply of chicken meat, Egyptians developed the first egg incubators.
From the outside, many incubators looked like smaller, more rounded versions of the pyramids. They sat upon rectangular brick foundations, and had conic-shaped chimneys with a circular opening at the top. That thousands of eggs could be hatched in a single oven was an impressive feat, considering that a broody hen can only hatch up to 15 eggs at a time. Incubator hatching also meant that hens could spend more time laying eggs.
An illustration of Egyptian egg incubators by Charles E. Riddiford. Courtesy of Aviculture Europe
Exactly how workers operated the ovens is much less clear. According to some scholars, Egyptians were very secretive with egg ovens. Travelers may have relied more on their imagination than factual observation when explaining their workings. The Irish friar Simon Fitzsimons framed the ovens as supernatural. Fitzsimons visited Egypt as part of an epic pilgrimage that took him from Ireland to the Holy Land in the early 14th century. This is how he described the wondrous egg ovens:
“Also in Cairo, outside the Gate and almost immediately to the right … there is a long narrow house in which chickens are generated by fire from hen eggs, without cocks and hens, and in such numbers that they cannot be numbered.”
By failing to mention that eggs were fertilized by roosters, Fitzsimons led readers to imagine that chickens could be “generated by fire.” Descriptions of “furnaces” that would “produce” chicks were later included in one of the most popular travelogues of the Middle Ages, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, further adding to their mythical allure. As noted by Cynthia Resor, a professor of social studies education at Eastern Kentucky University who has studied accounts on Egyptian egg ovens, Western authors projected their own worldviews to make sense of the incubators. “A medieval friar in the Middle Ages was looking for miracles, and he found one,” she says.
A diagram of the egg incubators by French entomologist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur. Courtesy of Aviculture Europe
It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that Europeans produced the first reliable description of Egyptian egg ovens. In 1750, Réaumur traveled to Egypt and was allowed inside the “mythical” ovens. He wrote a detailed description of what he saw. According to Réaumur, the ovens were structured in two symmetrical wings separated by a central corridor. Each wing contained up to five sets of two-tiered chambers. Fertilized eggs were placed in the lower tier, and kept warm with heat from a smoldering fire in the upper tier. Aristotle wrote that the eggs hatched after being buried in dung. In fact, dung was indeed key in the hatching process, but it wasn’t used the way the Greek philosopher thought. In the semi-arid Nile valley, manure was easier to source than wood, so sun-dried dung was burned as fuel to keep eggs warm.
A few rooms were used as accommodation for hatchery workers. Their main job was to monitor the fire and to turn eggs regularly—a crucial aspect of hatching. According to Phillip J. Clauer, an assistant teaching professor of animal science at Pennsylvania State University, egg-turning prevents embryo membrane from getting attached to the shell, which can lead to chicks hatching with deformities.
Egg incubators free up hens from having to warm their eggs. Lenny Hogerwerf. Courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , Reproduced with permission
Knowing when to stop brooding is also key. In the final days of egg incubation, chicken embryos develop enough internal heat to hatch. Too much external heat can cause an early birth. Hens can figure this out instinctively by feeling the temperature of their eggs with their bodies. So did Egyptian egg hatchers. Réaumur described how workers would carefully hold an egg between their fingers and gently press it on their eyelids—one of the most sensitive parts of the human body.
By mimicking the behavior of a broody hen, Egyptians could hatch eggs year-round. In contrast, European farmers could only hatch chicks in the spring and summer, as most hens could not warm eggs successfully during cooler months. Réaumur tried to replicate the ingenious Egyptian method back home in France. But due to the colder European climate, egg ovens required much stronger heat and more fuel to effectively hatch eggs. The scientist failed to find a cost-effective solution. After his death, other scientists took on the challenge. But it was not until 1897 that Canadian farmer Lyman Byce came up with the coal lamp incubator, using an electric regulator to keep temperature constant. Byce’s invention was soon widely commercialized and eventually turned the city of Petaluma, California, into the “chicken capital of the world.”
Petrol lamps are used to warm eggs. Lenny Hogerwerf. Courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , Reproduced with permission
With the invention of the electric incubator, fascination with Egyptian egg ovens faded further. Most contemporary poultry experts believed that the ovens were long gone. But in 2006, a team of experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that Egyptian egg ovens are still hatching chicks today. Workers follow the same methods developed 2,000 years ago. “We were mapping rural farms to check for avian flu risks,” says Olaf Thieme, a livestock expert who co-led the FAO survey. “We found that locals in three governorates still use the ancient system.”
As detailed in their FAO survey report, contemporary egg ovens look a lot like their predecessors. They still have main wings that are separated by a corridor. Each wing has the same two-tiered system described by Réaumur. Despite the availability of thermometers, workers still rest eggs against their eyelids to check egg temperature. The main difference is that petrol lamps have replaced animal dung as a source of heat. But despite that change, “that the ovens still existed and at such a big scale was a big surprise for me,” Thieme says.
Two tiers are still the norm for egg ovens. Lenny Hogerwerf. Courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , Reproduced with permission
In his 1750 account, Réaumur specified that hatchery workers mostly came from the town of Brene, on the Nile delta. That’s exactly where FAO documented the highest concentration of traditional egg ovens, although it is now called Berma. Indeed, the Arabic word for hatchery workers, bermawy, means “man from Berma village.” The FAO experts concluded that “the system was basically passed on from one generation to the next without formal training,” Thieme says. That means that oral knowledge of egg incubation survived 2,000 years of linguistic evolution, from ancient Egyptian to Coptic, and finally Arabic.
Some 200 egg ovens are still operating today. Lenny Hogerwerf. Courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , Reproduced with permission
According to Ali Abdelhakim, who co-authored the FAO report and now serves as the Chairman of the General Organization for Veterinary Services in Egypt, an estimated 200 ovens are still managed according to ancient technique. But most hatchery workers are gradually shifting to more contemporary methods. Many have already incorporated modern features like metal trolleys, automatic egg turning, and thermostats. As demand for poultry keeps rising, this trend is likely to continue. But as Clauer points out, even the most advanced incubator still runs on the same ingenious principle first devised 2,000 years ago: replicating the ministrations of a broody hen. Maybe Réaumur was right. That might be even cooler than the pyramids.
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Who Built the Pyramids?
Not slaves. Archaeologist Mark Lehner, digging deeper, discovers a city of privileged workers.
Lehner’s front photogrammetric elevation of the Great Sphinx. Below: As seen in a north elevation, weathered limestone and bedrock form the Sphinx’s head and upper body. Photogrammetric elevations by Mark Lehner
Lehner’s front photogrammetric elevation of the Great Sphinx. Below: As seen in a north elevation, weathered limestone and bedrock form the Sphinx’s head and upper body. Photogrammetric elevations by Mark Lehner
On the lower portions, restoration masonry predominates. Photogrammetric elevations by Mark Lehner
On the lower portions, restoration masonry predominates. Photogrammetric elevations by Mark Lehner
Lehner's conjectural 1985 drawing of the Giza plateau as it might have appeared near the end of Khufu's reign (the two later pyramids and the Sphinx, at center, are ghosted). Though later digs changed his views about certain specifics, this vision of Egyptian organization across the landscape remains remarkably accurate. Map by Mark Lehner
Lehner's conjectural 1985 drawing of the Giza plateau as it might have appeared near the end of Khufu's reign (the two later pyramids and the Sphinx, at center, are ghosted). Though later digs changed his views about certain specifics, this vision of Egyptian organization across the landscape remains remarkably accurate. Map by Mark Lehner
The pyramids and the Great Sphinx rise inexplicably from the desert at Giza, relics of a vanished culture. They dwarf the approaching sprawl of modern Cairo, a city of 16 million. The largest pyramid, built for the Pharaoh Khufu around 2530 B.C. and intended to last an eternity, was until early in the twentieth century the biggest building on the planet. To raise it, laborers moved into position six and a half million tons of stone—some in blocks as large as nine tons—with nothing but wood and rope. During the last 4,500 years, the pyramids have drawn every kind of admiration and interest, ranging in ancient times from religious worship to grave robbery, and, in the modern era, from New-Age claims for healing "pyramid power" to pseudoscientific searches by "fantastic archaeologists" seeking hidden chambers or signs of alien visitations to Earth. As feats of engineering or testaments to the decades-long labor of tens of thousands, they have awed even the most sober observers.
The question of who labored to build them, and why, has long been part of their fascination. Rooted firmly in the popular imagination is the idea that the pyramids were built by slaves serving a merciless pharaoh. This notion of a vast slave class in Egypt originated in Judeo-Christian tradition and has been popularized by Hollywood productions like Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments, in which a captive people labor in the scorching sun beneath the whips of pharaoh's overseers. But graffiti from inside the Giza monuments themselves have long suggested something very different.
Until recently, however, the fabulous art and gold treasures of pharaohs like Tutankhamen have overshadowed the efforts of scientific archaeologists to understand how human forces—perhaps all levels of Egyptian society—were mobilized to enable the construction of the pyramids. Now, drawing on diverse strands of evidence, from geological history to analysis of living arrangements, bread-making technology, and animal remains, Egyptologist Mark Lehner, an associate of Harvard's Semitic Museum, is beginning to fashion an answer. He has found the city of the pyramid builders. They were not slaves.
"I first went to Egypt as a year-abroad student in 1973," he says, ". and ended up staying for 13 years." His way was paid by a foundation that believed a hall of records would be found beneath the paws of the Sphinx. Young Lehner, a minister's son from North Dakota, hoped to discover if that was true. But the more time he spent actually studying the Sphinx, the more he became convinced that the quest was misguided, and he exchanged its fantasies for a life grounded in archaeological study of the Giza plateau and its monuments.
Lehner works fast to document features briefly exposed by modern construction projects. Photographs by John Broughton
Actually, he became, in the words of one employer, an "archaeological bum" who soon found work all over Egypt with German, French, Egyptian, British, and American expeditions. "At the end of these digs, there were lots of maps and drawings left to be done," he adds—steady work once the short dig season was over. Lehner discovered he had a knack for drafting, and got his first lessons in mapping and technical drawing from a German expert. "I fell in love with it," he confesses.
His first big break came in 1977, when the Stanford Research Institute conducted a remote sensing project at the Sphinx and the pyramids— a search for cavities using non-invasive technologies. The Sphinx is carved directly from the sedimentary rock at Giza, and sits below the surface of the surrounding plateau. Lehner was put in charge of a group of men cleaning out the U-shaped, cut-rock ditch that surrounds the monument, so that the sensing equipment could be brought in. In order to plot the locations of any anomalies, the largest existing surface maps of the Sphinx—about the length of an index finger—were enlarged and found to be extremely inaccurate.
By then a seasoned mapper, Lehner asked the director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE, a consortium of institutions including museums and universities such as Harvard) if they would sponsor his effort to map the Sphinx. But Lehner, despite his experience in the field, didn't have a Ph.D. Running his own "dig" appeared to be out of the question until ARCE assistant director James Allen, an Egyptologist from the University of Chicago, essentially adopted Lehner professionally, took him under the wing of his own Ph.D., and designed a mapping project. The German Archaeological Institute loaned photogrammetric equipment, the sort used by highway departments for taking highly accurate stereoscopic photographs from the air, and Lehner soon produced the first scale drawings of the Sphinx, which are now on display at the Semitic Museum.
During the mapping, Lehner's close scrutiny of the Sphinx's worn and patched surface led him to wonder what archaeological secrets it might divulge. "There are layers of restoration masonry going back all the way to pharaonic times," he says, indicating that even then, "the Sphinx was severely weathered." What Lehner saw, in essence, was an archaeological site, in plain view, that had never been described.
A workman pulls an intact breadpot, or bedja, from an ancient compartment built into a wall. Bedja came in three standard sizes this is an example of the largest. Photographs by Mark Lehner
To better understand the differential weathering in the natural layers of rock from which the Sphinx is cut, Lehner initially consulted a geologist with expertise in stone conservation. Then his interest in the geological forces that created the Giza plateau brought him into contact with a young geologist, Thomas Aigner, of the University of Tübingen, who was studying the local cycles of sedimentation. The layers in the lower slope of the plateau, where the Sphinx lies, tend to alternate between soft and hard rock. The softer layers of rock were deposited during geological eras when the area was a backwater lagoon protected by a coastal reef they are highly vulnerable to erosion. Aigner pointed out to Lehner that the "hard-soft" sequence of layers in this part of the plateau would have made it easy for ancient stonecutters to extract blocks of stone for building. His analysis revealed that the stones used to build the temples in front of the Sphinx had been quarried from the ditch that surrounds it on three sides. Many of these huge blocks, some of them weighing in at hundreds of tons, are so big that they have two or three different geological layers running through them, and they are loaded with forminifera. Detailed logs of the fossils—gastropods, bivalves, sponges, and corals—in each block and layer allowed Lehner and Aigner to actually trace the stones back to the quarry. "We began to unbuild these temples in our minds," Lehner explains, "and realized that the same could be done for the pyramids themselves and for the whole Giza plateau."
A bedja from the tomb of Queen Hetepheres is part of Harvard’s Peabody Museum collections and is now on display at Harvard’s Semitic Museum. Photographs by Mark Lehner
Lehner had often imagined what Khufu's architect must have envisioned when he looked down from the Maadi formation knoll high above the southeast slope of the plateau and planned the very first pyramid: quarries, a port for bringing in exotic materials like granite and gypsum mortar, a place for the workers to live, provisions for their food, a delivery route from the port to the construction sites. The ancient Egyptians, having already quarried materials for other pyramids for generations, "probably were good geologists in their own right," says Lehner. They knew how to line up all three of the massive examples at Giza precisely on the strike of the plateau's slope (if you can walk around a hill without going either up or down the slope, you are on the strike). In consequence, all the pyramids—which align on their southeast corners—begin at nearly the same elevation. Most modern scholars think they were built with ramps: the crumbling stone chips from the Mokattam formation quarries were close by and may well have provided the secondary material for the ramps. "This was one of the many insights given us by the geologists," Lehner says. Yet almost nothing of the infrastructure needed to build a pyramid, with the exception of the quarries, had ever been located. Lehner went back to the ARCE. Why not map the whole plateau, he asked, to see what the land itself could tell about how ancient Egyptian society organized itself around the task of large-scale pyramid building?
Studying the geology of an archaeological site is standard practice today, but it had barely been done for Giza, Lehner says, because "Egyptology grew up in the study of inscriptions." When Jean-François Champollion deciphered hieroglyphics in 1822, "suddenly huge temple façades and tombs everywhere started 'talking' to explorers." Then came the overwhelming abundance of "fabulous art objects—fabulous in their own right," he says, "but less useful out of context than they would have been if properly documented. Egyptology grew up largely as a philological and art historical discipline. Archaeology as a standard practice was late to come to Egypt."
Archaeologist Fiona Baker provides a sense of scale at a royal storehouse—filled with circular grain bins—still in the process of being excavated. Photograph by Mark Lehner
Over several seasons, Lehner surveyed the plateau to an accuracy of within a millimeter, and began to see with greater certainty how the pyramid builders had arranged themselves across the landscape. An ancient wadi—a desert streambed that flows with water only during the occasional downpour—would have made a perfect harbor, he surmised. The locations of the stone quarries, down the slope from the pyramids themselves, were known, and he thought he knew where a city of pyramid builders might fit into this pattern.
What began to interest Lehner more than the question of how the Egyptians built the pyramids was, he says, "how the pyramids built Egypt." Construction of the immense Giza monuments, thought to have been built for three successive pharaohs in a kind of experimental gigantism, must have required a lot of "free-wheeling" on the existing social apparatus. Influenced by Cambridge University's Barry Kemp, who wrote Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, Lehner came to believe that the colossal marshaling of resources required to build the three pyramids at Giza—which dwarf all other pyramids before or since—must have shaped the civilization itself.
By now, Lehner was in his early thirties and realized that continuing his career hinged on getting a Ph.D. From 1986 to 1990, he suspended fieldwork to study at Yale under William Kelly Simpson. In his final year, with an offer of funding for what, he says, "had been jelling in my mind" for some time, he designed his "dream project": to find and excavate the settlement of workers who had built the pyramids. His studies had given him an idea of what he should be looking for—a city of about 20,000 people, on a scale with the earliest major urban centers of Mesopotamia, such as Ur and Uruk. In other words, he was looking for one of the most important cities of the third millennium B.C.
Lehner let the geology of the plateau guide his search. Guessing at the location of the harbor, he surmised where the delivery route to the pyramids must have run. Logically, the settlement for workers should be to the south-southeast, he thought, and in fact, at precisely that location, at the mouth of the wadi that divides the plateau, a towering stone wall, called in Arabic "the wall of the crow," loomed above the sand. In Lehner's home state of North Dakota, he says, the ancient masonry would have drawn attention and eventually been designated a national monument. But in Egypt, with its hieroglyphics, "gold bowls, and mummies," the wall was virtually ignored.
But not completely. Harvard professor of Egyptology George Reisner, an early promoter of stratigraphic digging in Egypt, had noted the massive stone blocks in this wall almost in passing in the early twentieth century he even stated that there was probably a "pyramid city" beyond it. But Lehner thinks that even the methodical Reisner, who unearthed much of the extraordinary Egyptian collection at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, was burdened by the magnitude of material coming out of the excavations he had undertaken. The manner of the discovery of the tomb of Queen Hetepheres is a perfect illustration. Reisner was actually in the United States when his photographer, setting up the legs of his tripod, inadvertently punched through the desert sand into a buried shaft leading to a hidden chamber filled with grave goods. The contents of the chamber had been disassembled in antiquity, and Reisner painstakingly reconstructed them: a golden chair, a golden bed with a headrest—furniture from the boudoir of the queen.
Figures from the Fifth Dynasty tomb (found at Saqqara) of an official named Ty illustrate scenes in a bakery. First the dough is mixed in vats. Then the lids are stacked over an open hearth. The dough is placed in the pots, covered with the lids, and baked in hot coals. After cooling, the bread is removed. Lehner and his team used the scenes to create a working, modern reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian bakery complex. Drawings Courtesy of the Koch-Ludwig Expedition and the Harvard Semitic Museum
Lehner found himself facing a different kind of obstacle altogether. Now that he had his Ph.D., his nascent career as a scholar began to limit his time for fieldwork. He had accepted a tenure-track position at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, just when a massive modern sewage project for Greater Cairo had begun to expose the very area where Lehner planned to search for his ancient city.
For several seasons, Lehner worked as most professor/archaeologists do, digging for two or three months and teaching the rest of the year. The rapid pace of encroaching development kept him and his crew "working like firemen," he says, but led to some important discoveries, including the oldest bakery ever found in Egypt—right in the area where the workers' city should be. A backhoe narrowly missed one of two large mixing vats along the bakery's back wall. Inside, Lehner and his team found a cache of bread pots, easily recognizable from tomb scenes that document the bread-making process. Analysis of the plant remains at the site by paleobotanist Wilma Wetterstrom, an associate in botany in the Harvard University Herbaria, showed that Egyptian bakers used barley and emmer wheat for their bread. (Emmer has very little of the gluten that makes modern bread "spongy and gives it a nice crust," says Lehner, so it is grown today only in experimental agricultural stations.)
For the most part, the bakeries duplicate, many times over, the same process by which bread was made in any Egyptian household of the time. Egyptologists might be mistaken, says Lehner, to think of pyramid building as analogous to a 1930s WPA project. "You don't just cross this threshold around 3000 B.C." and have state projects with economies of scale, he argues. That would take another 1,500 years to develop. Instead, he says, the bakeries—and by extension, probably these "first skyscrapers"—"were built by replicating a household mode of production." But some evidence found at the bakery site did suggest that a cultural evolution might have begun: the pots, or bedja, would have made a conical loaf more than a foot long. Lehner says the Egyptians appear to have been reaching, even at this early phase in the process of state formation, for some economies of scale.
An adjacent chamber turned out to be a hypostyle, or pillared hall, the oldest ever discovered in Egypt, filled with low benches. Speculation about how it was used suggested a dining hall, but its likely purpose remained a mystery for several years.
Lehner, in the meantime, gave up his professorship at Chicago to dedicate himself to the excavation of the pyramid city. In October 1999, with funding from philanthropists Ann Lurie, Peter Norton, David Koch, and others, he launched a "millennium project" to uncover the pyramid city through a consolidated effort of excavating eight months a year for each of the subsequent three years. Lehner believes the city was intentionally razed and erosion then swept away the rubble before the sand blew in. Today, all across the site, the ruins stand only ankle to waist high.
Lehner brought in trucks and front-end loaders to remove the overburden of sand that had preserved the site. "We now have an exposure of about five hectares, and have mapped the city over the whole area," he says. His international team of 30 archaeologists has excavated 10 percent—or 5,000 square meters—intensively, a huge undertaking when using modern stratigraphic standards. With more than 100 workers in total, they have amassed the largest collection of material culture from any dig anywhere in Egypt.
Looking northwest across the site of Lehner’s “Millennium Project,” outlines of the eastern town’s walls are visible in the foreground. This settlement appears to have grown organically over time, and Lehner speculates that it housed permanent workers. Beyond the tents lie the galleries believed to have housed a rotating labor force of several thousand. In the distance are the “wall of the crow,” still partly buried by sand (left), and beyond, the causeways leading to the pyramids of Khufu (right) and Khafre. Photograph by Mark Lehner
They have found not one town, but two, side by side. The first is laid out in an organic fashion, as though it grew slowly over time. Lehner speculates that this was the settlement for permanent workers. The other town, laid out in blocks of long galleries separated by streets, on a formal, grid-like system, is bounded to the northwest by the great wall that both Lehner, and Reisner before him, had noted. This "wall of the crow" turned out to be massive indeed, 30 feet high, with a gateway soaring to 21 feet, one of the largest in the ancient world. The main street leading through the complex is hard-packed limestone, paved with mud, with a gravel-lined drain running down the center—engineered, says Lehner, "almost like a modern street." His team has partially excavated a royal building filled with hundreds of seals dating from the time of Khufu's son, Khafre, and his grandson, Menkaure. And they have found a royal storehouse with circular grain bins just like those depicted in De Mille's The Ten Commandments.
But there was something missing. There were not enough houses for all the people. Generations of scholars have painstakingly calculated how many laborers would have been needed to quarry, transport, and position the stones of the great pyramids. Estimates have ranged widely—from the 100,000 cited by Herodotus to just the few thousand posited by recent assessments that allow for decades of construction time. Yet Lehner and his team were not finding enough houses to accommodate even the low-end estimates. "Where are all the people?" he wondered. His graduate studies had taught him how other scholars of Middle Eastern settlement patterns had analyzed sites in order to come up with estimates of population size. Lehner was approaching the problem from the opposite perspective. He had a sense of how many people were needed to build a pyramid, and so could infer the size of the city he would find. But there were too few dwellings. The city seemed a ghost town.
Everywhere, Lehner and his team turned up institutional-looking buildings. One was used for working copper—the hardest metal known to the ancient Egyptians, and critical for quarrying and dressing stones. On the floor of another, the excavators found what at first looked like ears of wheat, suggesting another bakery. But these turned out to be fish gills. The site was littered with them, and with fish fins and cranial parts it turned out to be a place for processing or consuming fish. For a city with few residents, someone seemed to be eating a lot of loaves and fishes.
Because there were just 40 galleries in four large blocks in the entire area, Lehner was sufficiently disturbed that he called in his friend Barry Kemp, the world's foremost authority on ancient Egyptian urbanism, to have a look. "Looks alien," teased Kemp, when Lehner asked him what he made of the large, sprawling galleries. In fact, Kemp believed and Lehner agreed that each gallery included the elements of a typical Egyptian house—a pillared, more public area, a domicile, and a rear cooking area—stretched out and replicated on a massive scale.
The surprises were just beginning. Faunal analyst Richard Redding, of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, identified tremendous quantities of cattle, sheep, and goat bone, "enough to feed several thousand people, even if they ate meat every day," Lehner adds. Redding, who has worked at archaeological sites all over the Middle East, "was astounded by the amount of cattle bone he was finding," says Lehner. He could identify much of it as "young, under two years of age, and it tended to be male." Here was evidence of many people—presumably not slaves or common laborers, but skilled workers—feasting on prime beef, the best meat available.
Redding and Wilma Wetterstrom had worked at another site in Egypt where cattle appeared to have been raised on a kind of estate. Wetterstrom had found tremendous quantities of clover plant remains that had been eaten by cattle, yet Redding "had found very little cattle bone," Lehner notes. "We know from historical sources that the Egyptians were trying to colonize their hinterland during this very period," and Redding had hypothesized that cattle were raised at the estate and shipped to somewhere near the capital or near the pyramids at Giza. At Giza, the amount of cattle bone that Redding found suggested that the city site uncovered by Lehner and his team was "downtown Egypt," and that farms and ranches along the frontier could have been feeding the pyramid builders at the society's core.
Redding's faunal evidence dealt a serious blow to the Hollywood version of pyramid building, with Charlton Heston as Moses intoning, "Pharaoh, let my people go!" There were slaves in Egypt, says Lehner, but the discovery that pyramid workers were fed like royalty buttresses other evidence that they were not slaves at all, at least in the modern sense of the word. Harvard's George Reisner found workers' graffiti early in the twentieth century that revealed that the pyramid builders were organized into labor units with names like "Friends of Khufu" or "Drunkards of Menkaure." Within these units were five divisions (their roles still unknown)—the same groupings, according to papyrus scrolls of a later period, that served in the pyramid temples. We do know, Lehner says, that service in these temples was rendered by a special class of people on a rotating basis determined by those five divisions. Many Egyptologists therefore subscribe to the hypothesis that the pyramids were also built by a rotating labor force in a modular, team-based kind of organization.
Lehner and Dr. Zahi Hawass (left) have worked together since 1974. Below: Ashraf Abd al-Aziz, sitting where an overseer might have lived, excavated this gallery, where workers and team members demonstrate that more than 50 people could have slept on this once-pillared porch. Photograph by Ronald Dunlap
If not slaves, then who were these workers? Lehner's friend Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has been excavating a "workers' cemetery" just above Lehner's city on the plateau, sees forensic evidence in the remains of those buried there that pyramid building was hazardous business. Why would anyone choose to perform such hard labor? The answer, says Lehner, lies in understanding obligatory labor in the premodern world. "People were not atomized, separate, individuals with the political and economic freedom that we take for granted. Obligatory labor ranges from slavery all the way to, say, the Amish, where you have elders and a strong sense of community obligations, and a barn raising is a religious event and a feasting event. If you are a young man in a traditional setting like that, you may not have a choice." Plug that into the pyramid context, says Lehner, "and you have to say, 'This is a hell of a barn!'"
Lehner currently thinks Egyptian society was organized somewhat like a feudal system, in which almost everyone owed service to a lord. The Egyptians called this "bak." Everybody owed bak of some kind to people above them in the social hierarchy. "But it doesn't really work as a word for slavery," he says. "Even the highest officials owed bak."
Ashraf Abd al-Aziz, sitting where an overseer might have lived, excavated this gallery, where workers and team members demonstrate that more than 50 people could have slept on this once-pillared porch. Photograph by Mark Lehner
Slaves or not, as the last season of his dig began, Lehner still did not know where all the workers slept. With his household model in mind, he had been looking for large "manor houses" where lords could board their laborers for the pharoah. Instead, he had found whole blocks, 170 meters long, of "precocious, sleek, modern-looking nondomestic galleries, albeit with elements of a typical Egyptian home." Gradually, his team has developed a hypothesis for how these facilities were used. "We now see the enigmatic rows of long galleries. " wrote Lehner at the end of the 2002 season, "as barracks housing for a rotating labor force, perhaps as large as 1,600 to 2,000 workers." This is why there are scores of bakeries flanking the galleries, as well as an abundance of bone.
If the next few years of documentation, publication, and peer review bear him out, Lehner's findings will suggest that the ancient Egyptians were even more advanced in their social organization at this period than previously supposed. Perhaps the Old Kingdom's pharaohs did indeed preside over something more like a nation than a fiefdom. What was arguably humanity's first great civilization may have been even greater, at an earlier date, than we have ever supposed.
The latest article by author Jonathan Shaw '89, explains how new plant technologies could simultaneously feed the planet at peak population and save the environment in a new Green Revolution.
Egypt - Working conditions
Since the 1970s, the Egyptian labor force has been growing at the rapid rate of 500,000 (2.7 percent) per year. In 2000, Egypt's labor force stood at 19 million. The official unemployment rate for 1999 was 7.4 percent. However, Egypt's unemployment rate is believed to be higher than the official figures. Independent estimates put unemployment at about 10 percent. Almost one-third to one-half of the labor force is believed to be under-employed.
Egypt's labor force generally lacks secondary education and proper job training, which explains why much of the younger workforce cannot expect high pay. Despite higher rates of school enrollment since the 1960s, illiteracy is still high, at 35 percent for men and 58 percent for women. The educational sector remains overburdened and understaffed, and shortages in technical skills are viewed as a major impediment to business operations.
Unemployment remains especially high among women and workers under 20 years of age. The government is hard-pressed to meet its commitment to create
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
jobs for the thousands of university graduates entering the workforce every year, a major challenge since the 1980s. The average waiting period for a job in the public sector is estimated to be 11 years.
Egypt has a long tradition of trade unions. Workers' unions have existed in Egypt since the British mandate and, although repressed by the British government, workers routinely organized strikes to protest working conditions. By 2001, the workers' movement was less effective. Workers have the right to join trade unions, but are not required to do so by law. Some 27 percent of union members are state employees. There are 23 general industrial unions and some 1,855 local trade unions all of them are required by law to be members of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). Although semi-independent, the ETUF maintains close ties with the ruling National Democratic Party and has traditionally avoided confrontations with the government. The close connection between the ETUF and the ruling party has meant less protection for state-sector employees, but the federation has been far more successful in bargaining on behalf of private sector employees.
The Egyptian government supports workers' rights promoted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has set conditions governing industrial and human relations and established minimum-wage standards. The 6-day, 42-hour working week is the standard. The government-mandated minimum wage in the public sector is approximately US$33 a month, although the actual income a worker takes home is triple that amount, due to a complex system of added benefits and bonuses. The minimum-wage law is also observed in the private sector. In addition, the government provides social security benefits that include a retirement pension and compensation for on-the-job injuries. Wages have increased steadily over the last few years and are expected to increase again, since the 2001-02 budget has allocated US$10 billion for public sector workers' salaries and bonuses. However, it is only recently that the rate of increase in public wages has exceeded the rate of inflation.
Egypt has had a history of child labor problems. Poverty has driven many children younger than the minimum working age of 14, to join the labor force. Official estimates indicate that children under the age of 14 make up 1.5 percent of the total labor force. The number, however, is believed to be much higher, and it remains difficult to gauge the real extent of the child labor problem. The majority of working children (78 percent) work in agriculture. Children are also employed in craft shops, as domestic servants, and in the construction industry. The problem of child labor is worsened by poor enforcement of the law and the inadequacy of the education system.
The current labor laws make it difficult for employers to dismiss workers. Despite the protection offered by unions and the labor laws, however, working conditions are not ideal. Workers do not have the right to strike, and although strikes occur, they are considered illegal. The abundance of available labor has meant that workers are generally underpaid and are usually forced to work in overcrowded and often unsafe conditions. Government health and safety standards are rarely enforced, resulting in many workers seeking extra income through a second job or work in the informal sector , perhaps as street vendors. Thousands of Egyptians also seek employment opportunities in other countries, mainly in the Arab Gulf region. According to the latest census by the Egyptian government, 1.9 million Egyptians live and work abroad, and their remittances are a major source of foreign currency.
History of Alchemy from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times
The roots of alchemy date back to ancient Egypt and a mysterious document called the Emerald Tablet.
To most of us, the word “alchemy” calls up the picture of a medieval and slightly sinister laboratory in which an aged, black-robed wizard broods over the crucibles and alembics that are to bring within his reach the Philosopher’s Stone, and with that discovery, the formula for the Elixir of life and the transmutation of metals. But one can scarcely dismiss so lightly the science — or art, if you will –that won to its service the lifelong devotion of men of culture and attainment from every race and clime over a period of thousands of years, for the beginnings of alchemy are hidden in the mists of time. Such a science is something far more than an outlet for a few eccentric old men in their dotage.
What was the motive behind their constant strivings, their never-failing patience in the unravelling of the mysteries, the tenacity of purpose in the face of persecution and ridicule through the countless ages that led the alchemists to pursue undaunted their appointed way? Something far greater, surely, than a mere vainglorious desire to transmute the base metals into gold, or to brew a potion to prolong a little longer this earthly span, for the devotees of alchemy in the main cared little for such things.
The accounts of their lives almost without exception lead us to believe that they were concerned with things spiritual rather than with things temporal. They were men inspired by a vision, a vision of man made perfect, of man freed from disease and the limitations of warring faculties both mental and physical, standing godlike in the realization of a power that even at this very moment of time lies hidden in the deeper strata of consciousness, a vision of man made truly in the image and likeness of the One Divine Mind in its Perfection, Beauty, and Harmony.
To appreciate and understand the adepts’ visions, it is necessary to trace the history of their philosophy. So let us for step back into the past to catch a glimpse of these men, of their work and ideals, and more important still, of the possibilities that their life-work might bring to those who today are seeking for fuller knowledge and wider horizons.
References about alchemy are to be found in the myths and legends of ancient China. From a book written by Edward Chalmers Werner, a late member of the Chinese Government’s Historiological Bureau in Peking comes this quotation from old Chinese records: “Chang Tao-Ling, the first Taoist pope, was born in A.D. 35 in the reign of the Emperor Kuang Wu Ti of the Hari dynasty. His birthplace is variously given as T’ien-mu Shan, Lin-an-Hsien in Chekiang, Feng-yang Fu in Anhui, and even in the “Eye of Heaven Mountain.” He devoted himself wholly to study and meditation, declining all offers to enter the service of the state. He preferred to take up his abode in the mountains of Western China where he persevered in the study of alchemy and in cultivating the virtues of purity and mental abstraction. From the hands of the alchemist Lao Tzu, he received supernaturally a mystical treatise, by following the instructions in which he was successful in his match for the Elixir of Life.” This reference demonstrates that alchemy was studied in China before the commencement of the Christian era and its origin must lie even further back in Chinese history.
From China we now travel to Egypt, from where alchemy as it is known in the West seems to have sprung. The great Egyptian adept king, named by the Greeks “Hermes Trismegistus” is thought to have been the founder of the art. Reputed to have lived about 1900 B.C., he was highly celebrated for his wisdom and skill in the operation of nature, but of the works attributed to him only a few fragments escaped the destroying hand of the Emperor Diocletian in the third century A.D. The main surviving documents attributed to him are the Emerald Tablet, the Asclepian Dialogues, and the Divine Pymander. If we may judge from these fragments (both preserved in the Latin by Fianus and translated into other languages in the sixteenth century), it would seem to be of inestimable loss to the world that none of these works have survived in their entirety.
The famous Emerald Tablet (Tabula Smaragdina) of Hermes is the primary document of alchemy. There have been various stories of the origin of the tract, one being that the original emerald slab upon which the precepts were said to be inscribed in Phoenician characters was discovered in the tomb of Hermes by Alexander the Great. In the Berne edition (1545) of the Summa Perfectionis, the Latin version is printed under the heading: “The Emerald Tables of Hermes the Thrice Great Concerning Chymistry, Translator unknown. The words of the secrets of Hermes, which were written on the Tablet of Emerald found between his hands in a dark cave wherein his body was discovered buried.”
An Arabic version of the text was discovered in a work ascribed to Jabir (Geber), which was probably made about the ninth century. In any case, it must be one of the oldest alchemical fragments known, and that it is a piece of Hermetic teaching I have no doubt, as it corresponds to teachings of the Thrice-Greatest Hermes as they have been passed down to us in esoteric circles. The tablet teaches the unity of matter and the basic truth that all form is a manifestation from one root, the One Thing or Ether. This tablet, in conjunction with the works of the Corpus Hermeticum are well worth reading, particularly in the light of the general alchemical symbolism. Unhappily, the Emerald Tablet is all that remains to us of the genuine Egyptian sacred art of alchemy.
The third century A.D. seems to have been a period when alchemy was widely practiced, but it was also during this century, in the year 296, that Diocletian sought out and burnt all the Egyptian books on alchemy and the other Hermetic sciences, and in so doing destroyed all evidence of any progress made up to that date. In the fourth century, Zosimus the Panopolite wrote his treatise on The Divine Art of Making Gold and Silver, and in the fifth Morienus, a hermit of Rome, left his native city and set out to seek the sage Adfar, a solitary adept whose fame had reached him from Alexandria. Morienus found him, and after gaining his confidence became his disciple. After the death of his patron, Morienus came into touch with King Calid, and a very attractive work purporting to be a dialogue between himself and the king is still extant under the name of Morienus. In this century, Cedrennus also appeared, a magician who professed alchemy.
The next name of note, that of Geber, occurs in or about 750 A.D. Geber’s real name was Abou Moussah Djfar-Al Sell, or simply “The Wise One.” Born at Houran in Mesopotamia, he is generally esteemed by adepts as the greatest of them all after Hermes. Of the five hundred treatises said to have been composed by him, only three remain to posterity: The Sum of the Perfect Magistery, The Investigation of Perfection, and his Testament. It is to him, too, that we are indebted for the first mention of such important compounds as corrosive sublimate, red oxide of mercury, and nitrate of silver. Skillfully indeed did Geber veil his discoveries, for from his mysterious style of writing we derive the word “gibberish,” but those who have really understood Geber, his adept peers, declare with one accord that he has declared the truth, albeit disguised, with great acuteness and precision.
About the same time, Rhasis, another Arabian alchemist, became famous for his practical displays in the art of transmutation of base metals into gold. In the tenth century, Alfarabi enjoyed the reputation of being the most learned man of his age, and still another great alchemist of that century was Avicenna, whose real name was Ebu Cinna. Born at Bokara in 980 A.D., he was the last of the Egyptian alchemical philosophers of note.
Alchemy arrived in Spain during the Arabian occupation by the Moors and then spread into the rest of Europe.
About the period of the first Crusades, alchemy shifted its center to Spain, where it had been introduced by the Arabian Moors. In the twelfth Century Artephius wrote The Art of Prolonging Human Life and is reported to have lived throughout a period of one thousand years. He himself affirmed this:
“I, Artephius, having learnt all the art in the book of Hermes, was once as others, envious, but having now lived one thousand years or thereabouts (which thousand years have already passed over me since my nativity, by the grace of God alone and the use of this admirable Quintessence), as I have seen, through this long space of time, that men have been unable to perfect the same magistry on account of the obscurity of the words of the philosophers, moved by pity and good conscience, I have resolved, in these my last days, to publish in all sincerity and truly, so that men may have nothing more to desire concerning this work. I except one thing only, which is not lawful that I should write, because it can be revealed truly only by God or by a master. Nevertheless, this likewise may be learned from this book, provided one be not stiff-necked and have a little experience.”
Of the thirteenth-century literature, a work called Tesero was attributed to Alphonso, the King of Castile, in 1272. William de Loris wrote Le Roman de Rose in 1282, assisted by Jean de Meung, who also wrote The Remonstrance of Nature to the Wandering Alchemist and The Reply of the Alchemist to Nature. Peter d’Apona, born near Padua in 1250, wrote several books on Hermetic sciences and was accused by the Inquisition of possessing seven spirits (each enclosed in a crystal vessel) who taught him the seven liberal arts and sciences. He died upon the rack.
Among other famous names appearing about this period is that of Arnold de Villeneuve or Villanova, whose most famous work is found in the Theatrum Chemicum. He studied medicine in Paris but was also a theologian and an alchemist. Like his friend, Peter d’Apona, he was accused of obtaining his knowledge from the devil and was charged by many different people with magical practices. Although he did not himself fall into the hands of the Inquisition, his books were condemned to be burnt in Tarragona by that body on account of their heretical content. Villanova’s crime was that he maintained that works of faith and charity are more acceptable in the eyes of God than the Sacrificial Mass of the Church!
The authority of Albertus Magnus (1234-1314) is undoubtedly to be respected, since he renounced all material advantages to devote the greater part of a long life to the study of alchemical philosophy in the seclusion of a cloister. When Albertus died, his fame descended to his “sainted pupil” Aquinas, who in his Thesaurus Alchimae, speaks openly of the successes of Albertus and himself in the art of transmutation.
Raymond Lully is one of the medieval alchemists about whose life there is so much conflicting evidence that it is practically certain that his name was used as a cover by at least one other adept either at the same or a later period. The enormous output of writings attributed to Lully (they total about 486 treatises on a variety of subjects ranging from grammar and rhetoric to medicine and theology) also seems to suggest that his name became a popular pseudonym. Lully was born in Majorca about the year 1235, and after a somewhat dissolute youth, he was induced, apparently by the tragic termination of an unsuccessful love affair, to turn his thoughts to religion. He became imbued with a burning desire to spread the Hermetic teachings among the followers of Mohammed, and to this end devoted years to the study of Mohammedan writings, the better to refute the Moslem teachings. He traveled widely, not only in Europe, but in Asia and Africa, where his religious zeal nearly cost him his life on more than one occasion. Lully is said to have become acquainted with Arnold de Villanova and the Universal Science somewhat late in life, when his study of alchemy and the discovery of the Philosophers’ Stone increased his former fame as a zealous Christian.
According to one story, his reputation eventually reached John Cremer, Abbot of Westminster at the time. After working at alchemy for thirty years, Cremer had still failed to achieve his aim, the Philosopher’s Stone. Cremer therefore sought out Lully in Italy, and having gained his confidence, persuaded him to come to England, where he introduced him to King Edward II. Lully, being a great champion of Christendom, agreed to transmute base metals into gold on the condition that Edward carry on the Crusades with the money. He was given a room in the Tower of London for his work, and it is estimated that he transmuted 50,000 pounds worth of gold. After a time, however, Edward became avaricious, and to compel Lully to carry on the work of transmutation, made him prisoner. However, with Cremer’s aid, Lully was able to escape from the Tower and return to the Continent. Records state that he lived to be one hundred and fifty years of age and was eventually killed by the Saracens in Asia. At that age he is reputed to have been able to run and jump like a young man.
During the fourteenth century, the science of alchemy fell into grave disrepute, for the alchemists claim to transmute metals offered great possibilities to any rogue with sufficient plausibility and lack of scruple to exploit the credulity or greed of his fellowmen. In fact, there proved to be no lack either of charlatans or victims. Rich merchants and others greedy for gain were induced to entrust to the alleged alchemists gold, silver, and precious stones in the hope of getting them multiplied, and Acts of Parliament were passed in England and Pope’s Bulls issued over Christendom to forbid the practice of alchemy on pain of death. (Although Pope John XXII is said to have practiced the art himself and to have enriched the Vatican treasury by this means.) Before long, even the most earnest alchemists were disbelieved. For example, there lived about this time the two Isaacs Hollandus (a father and son), who were Dutch adepts and wrote De Triplici Ordinari Exiliris et Lapidis Theoria andMineralia Opera Sue de Lapide Philosophico. The details of their operations on metals are the most explicit that had ever been given, yet because of their very lucidity, their work was widely discounted.
The English Alchemists
Alchemy reigned as the supreme science in Europe for 1,700 years.
In England, the first known alchemist was Roger Bacon, who was a scholar of outstanding attainment. Born in Somersetshire in 1214, he made extraordinary progress even in his boyhood studies, and on reaching the required age joined the Franciscan Order. After graduating Oxford, he moved to Paris where he studied medicine and mathematics. On his return to England, he applied himself to the study of philosophy and languages with such success that he wrote grammars of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew tongues.
Although Bacon has been described as a physician rather than an alchemist, we are indebted to him for many scientific discoveries. He was almost the only astronomer of his time, and in this capacity rectified the Julian calendar which, although submitted to Pope Clement IV in 1267, was not put into practice until a later papacy. He was responsible also for the physical analysis of convex glasses and lenses, the invention of spectacles and achromatic lenses, and for the theory of the telescope. As a student of chemistry, he called attention to the chemical role played by air in combustion, and having carefully studied the properties of saltpeter, taught its purification by dissolution in water and by crystallization.
Indeed, from his letters we learn that Bacon anticipated most of the achievements of modern science. He maintained that vessels might be constructed that would be capable of navigation without manual rowers, and which under the direction of a single man, could travel through the water at a speed hitherto undreamed of. He also predicted that it would be possible to construct cars that could be set in motion with amazing speeds (“independently of horses and other animals”) and also flying machines that would beat the air with artificial wings.
It is scarcely surprising that in the atmosphere of superstition and ignorance that reigned in Europe during the Middle Ages, Bacon’s achievements were attributed to his communication with devils. His fame spread through western Europe not as a savant but as a great magician. His great services to humanity were met with censure, not gratitude, and to the Church his teachings seemed particularly pernicious. The Church took her place as one of his foremost adversaries, and even the friars of his own order refused his writings a place in their library. His persecutions culminated in 1279 in imprisonment and a forced repentance of his labors in the cause of art and science.
Among his many writings, there are two or three works on alchemy, from which it is quite evident that not only did he study and practice the science but that he obtained his final objective, the Philosopher’s Stone. Doubtless during his lifetime, his persecutions led him to conceal carefully his practice of the Hermetic art and to consider the revelation of such matters unfit for the uninitiated. “Truth,” he wrote, “ought not to be shown to every ribald person, for then it would become most vile that which, in the hand of a philosopher, is the most precious of all things.”
Sir George Ripley, Canon of Bridlington Cathedral in Yorkshire, placed alchemy on a higher level than many of his contemporaries by dealing with it as a spiritual and not merely a physical manifestation. He maintained that alchemy is concerned with the mode of our spirit’s return to the God who gave it to us. He wrote in 1471 his Compound of Alchemy with its dedicatory epistle to King Edward IV. It is also reported in the Canon of Bridlington that he provided funds for the Knights of St. John by means of the Philosopher’s Stone he concocted.
In the sixteenth century, Pierce the Black Monk, wrote the following about the Elixir: “Take earth of Earth, Earth’s Mother (Water of Earth), Fire of Earth, and Water of the Wood. These are to lie together and then be parted. Alchemical gold is made of three pure soul, as purged as crystal. Body, seat, and spirit grow into a Stone, wherein there is no corruption. This is to be cast on Mercury and it shall become most worthy gold.” Other works of the sixteenth century include Thomas Charnock’s Breviary of Philosophy and Enigma published in 1572. He also wrote a memorandum in which he states that he attained the transmuting powder when his hairs were white with age.
Also in the sixteenth century lived Edward Kelly, born in 1555. He seems to have been an adventurer of sorts and lost his ears at Lancaster on an accusation of producing forged title deeds. Dr. John Dee, a widely respected and learned man of the Elizabethan era, was very interested in Kelly’s clairvoyant visions, although it is difficult to determine whether Kelly really was a genuine seer since his life was such an extraordinary mixture of good and bad character. In some way or other, Kelly does appear to have come into possession of the Red and White Tinctures. Elias Ashmole printed at the end of Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum a tract entitled Sir Edward Kelly’s Work that says: “It is generally reported that Doctor Dee and Sir Edward Kelly were so strangely fortunate as to find a very Iarge quantity of the Elixir in some part of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, which was so incredibly rich in virtue (being one in 272,330), that they lost much in making projection by way of trial before they finally found out the true height of the medicine.”
In March 1583, a prince of Poland, the Count Palatine of Siradia, Adalbert Alask, while visiting the Court of Queen Elizabeth, sought to meet with Dr. Dee to discuss his experiments, of which he became so convinced that he asked Dee and Kelly and their families to accompany him on his return to Cracow. The prince took them from Cracow to Prague in anticipation of favors at the hand of Emperor Rudolph II, but their attempt to get into touch with Rudolph was unsuccessful. In Prague at that time there was a great interest in alchemy, but in 1586, by reason of an edict of Pope Sixtus V, Dee and Kelly were forced to flee the city. They finally found peace and plenty at the Castle of Trebona in Bohemia as guests of Count Rosenberg, the Emperor’s Viceroy in that country. During that time Kelly made projection of one minim on an ounce and a quarter of mercury and produced nearly an ounce of the best gold.
In February 1588, the two men parted ways, Dee making for England and Kelly for Prague, where Rosenberg had persuaded the Emperor to quash the Papal decree. Through the introduction of Rosenberg, Kelly was received and honored by Rudolph as one in possession of the Great Secret of Alchemy. From him he received besides a grant of land and the freedom of the city, a position of state and apparently a title, since he was known from that time forward as Sir Edward Kelly. These honors are evidence that Kelly had undoubtedly demonstrated to the Emperor his knowledge of transmutation, but the powder of projection had now diminished, and to the Emperor’s command to produce it in ample quantities, he failed to accede, being either unable or unwilling to do so. As a result, Kelly was cast into prison at the Castle of Purglitz near Prague where he remained until 1591 when he was restored to favor. He was interned a second time, however, and in 1595, according to chronicles, and while attempting to escape from his prison, fell from a considerable height and was killed at the age of forty.
In the seventeenth century lived Thomas Vaughan, who used the pseudonym “Eugenius Philasthes” (and possibly “Eireneus Philalethes” as well) and wrote dozens of influential treatises on alchemy. Among Vaughan’s most noteworthy books are An Open Entrance to the Shut Palace of the King, Ripley Revived, The Marrow of Alchemy, Metallorum Metamorphosis, Brevis Manuductio ad Rubinem Coelestum, Fone Chemicae Veritatis, and others to be found in the Musaeum Hermiticum. Vaughan came from Wales and his writings were regarded as an illustration of the spiritual approach to alchemy. Yet whatever the various interpretations put upon his work, Vaughan was undoubtedly endeavoring to show that alchemy was demonstrable, in every phase of physical, mental, and spiritual reality. His work Lumen de Lumine is an alchemical discourse that deals with those three aspects. His medicine is a spiritual substance inasmuch as it is the Quintessence or the Divine Life manifesting through all form, both physical and spiritual. His gold is the gold of the physical world as well as the wisdom of the spiritual world. His Stone is the touchstone that transmutes everything and is again both spiritual and physical. For instance, his statement “the Medicine can only be contained in a glass vessel” signifies a tangible glass container as well the purified body of the adept.
Thomas Vaughan was a Magus of the Rosicrucian Order, and he knew and understood that the science of alchemy must manifest throughout all planes of consciousness. Writing as Eireneus Philalethes in the preface to the An Open Entrance from the Collectanea Chymica (published by William Cooper in 1684), Vaughan says: “I being an adept anonymous, a lover of learning, and philosopher, decreed to write this little treatise of medicinal, chemical, and physical secrets in the year of he world’s redemption 1645, in the three and twentieth year of my life, that I may pay my duty to the Sons of the Art, that I might appear to other adepts as their brother and equal. Therefore I presage that not a few will be enlightened by these my labors. These are no fables, but real experiments that I have made and know, as every other adept will conclude by these lines. In truth, many times I laid aside my pen, deciding to forbear from writing, being rather willing to have concealed the truth under a mask of envy. But God compelled me to write, and Him I could in no wise resist who alone knows the heart and unto whom be glory forever. I believe that many in this last age of the world will be rejoiced with the Great Secret, because I have written so faithfully, leaving of my own will nothing in doubt for a young beginner. I known many already who possess it in common with myself and are persuaded that I shall yet be acquainted in the immediate time to come. May God’s most holy will be done therein. I acknowledge myself totally unworthy of bringing those things about, but in such matters I submit in adoration to Him, to whom all creation is subject, who created All to this end, and having created, preserves them.”
He then goes on to give an account of the transmutation of base metals into silver and gold, and he gives examples of how the Medicine, administered to some at the point of death, affected their miraculous recovery. Of another occasion he writes: “On a time in a foreign country, I could have sold much pure alchemical silver (worth 600 pounds), but the buyers said unto me presently that they could see the metal was made by Art. When I asked their reasons, they answered: ‘We know the silver that comes from England, Spain, and other places, but this is none of these kinds.’ On hearing this I withdrew suddenly, leaving the silver behind me, along with the money, and never returning.”
Again he remarks: “I have made the Stone. I do not possess it by theft but by the gift of God. I have made it and daily have it in my power, having formed it often with my own hands. I write the things that I know.”
In the last chapter of the Open Entrance is his message to those who have attained the goal. “He who hath once, by the blessing of God, perfectly attained this Art,” says Vaughan, “I know not what in the world he can wish but that he may be free from all the snares of wicked men, so as to serve God without distraction. But it would be a vain thing by outward pomp to seek for vulgar applause. Such trifles are not esteemed by those who truly have this Art — nay, rather they despise them. He therefore whom God has blessed with this talent behaves thus. First, if he should live a thousand years and everyday provide for a thousand men, he could not want, for he may increase his Stone at his pleasure, both in weight and virtue so that if a man would, one man might transmute into perfect gold and silver all the imperfect metals that are in the whole world. Secondly, he may by this Art make precious stones and gems, such as cannot be paralleled in Nature for goodness and greatness. Thirdly and lastly, he has a Medicine Universal, both for prolonging life and curing all diseases, so that one true adept can easily cure all the sick people in the world. I mean his Medicine is sufficient. Now to the King, eternal, immortal and sole mighty, be everlasting praise for these His unspeakable gifts and invaluable treasures. Whosoever enjoys his talent, let him be sure to employ it to the glory of God and the good of his neighbors, lest he be found ungrateful to the Source that has blessed him with so great a talent and be in the last found guilty of disproving it and so condemned.”
From England, there is also the story of a transmutation performed before King Gustavus Adolphus in 1620, the gold of which was coined into medals, bearing the king’s effigy with the reverse Mercury and Venus and of another at Berlin before the King of Prussia.
In the same century, Alexander Seton, a Scot, suffered indescribable torments for his knowledge of the art of transmutation. After practicing in his own country he went abroad, where he demonstrated his transmutations before men of good repute and integrity in Holland, Hamburg, Italy, Basle, Strasbourg, Cologne, and Munich. He was finally summoned to appear before the young Elector of Saxony, to whose court he went somewhat reluctantly. The Elector, on receiving proof of the authenticity of his projections, treated him with distinction, convinced that Seton held the secret of boundless wealth. But Seton refused to initiate the Elector into his secret and was imprisoned in Dresden. As his imprisonment could not shake his resolve, he was put to torture. He was pierced, racked, beaten, scarred with fire and molten lead, but still he held his peace. At length he was left in solitary confinement, until his escape was finally engineered by the Polish adept Sendivogius. Even to this dear friend, he refused to reveal the secret until shortly before his death. Two years after his escape from prison, he presented Sendivogius with his transmuting powder.
Alchemy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Many of the cathedrals of the Middle Ages carry alchemical symbols and secret formulae.
The first man to teach the chemistry of the human body and to declare that the true purpose of alchemy was the preparation of medicine for the treatment of disease was one Jean Baptista Van Helmont, a disciple of Paracelsus. Van Helmont has been called the “Descartes of Medicine” for his probing philosophical discourses. But he was also an accomplished alchemist. In his treatise, De Natura Vitae Eternae, he wrote: “I have seen and I have touched the Philosopher’s Stone more than once. The color of it was like saffron in powder but heavy and shining like pounded glass. I had once given me the fourth of a grain, and I made projection with this fourth part of a grain wrapped in paper upon eight ounces of quicksilver heated in a crucible. The result of the projection was eight ounces, lacking just eleven grains, of the most pure gold.”
In his early thirties, Van Helmont retired to an old castle in Belgium near Brussels and remained there, almost unknown to his neighbors until his death in his sixty-seventh year. He never professed to have actually prepared the Philosopher’s Stone, but he say he gained his knowledge from alchemists he contacted during his years of research.
Van Helmont also gives particulars of an Irish gentleman called Butler, a prisoner in the Castle of Vilvord in Flanders, who during his captivity performed strange cures by means of Hermetic medicine. The news of his cure of a Breton monk, a fellow-prisoner suffering from severe erysipelas, by the administration of almond milk in which he had merely dipped the Philosopher’s Stone brought Van Helmont, accompanied by several noblemen, rushing to the castle to investigate. In their presence Butler cured an aged woman of “megrim” by dipping the Stone into olive oil and then anointing her head. There was also an abbess who had suffered for eighteen years with paralyzed fingers and a swollen arm. These disabilities were removed by applying the Stone a few times to her tongue.
In Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers (published in 1815), it is stated that prior to the events at Vilvord, Butler attracted some attention by his transmutations in London during the reign of King James I. Butler is said to have gained his knowledge in Arabia in a rather roundabout way. When a ship on which he had taken passage was captured by African pirates, he was taken prisoner and sold into slavery in Arabia. His Arab master was an alchemist with knowledge of the correct order of the processes. Butler assisted him in some of his operations, and when he later escaped from captivity, he carried off a large portion of a red powder, which was the alchemical Powder of Projection.
Dennis Zachare in his memoirs gives an interesting account of his pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone during this period. At the age of twenty, he set out to Bordeaux to undertake a college curriculum, and hence to Toulouse for a-course of law. In this town, he made the acquaintance of some students in possession of a number of alchemical books. It seems that at this time there was a craze for alchemical experiments among the students of Paris and other French towns, and this craze caught Zachare’s imagination. His law studies were forsaken and his experiments in alchemy began. On his parents’ death, having expended all his money on his new love, he returned home and from their estate raised further money to continue his research. For ten years, according to his own statement, after experiments of all sorts and meetings with countless men with various methods to sell, he finally sat down himself to study carefully the writings of the philosophers on the subject. He states that it was Raymond Lully’s Testament, Codicil, and Epistle (addressed to King Robert) that gave him the key to the secret. From the study of this book and The Grand Rosary of Arnold de Villanova, he formulated a plan entirely different from any he had previously followed. After another fifteen months of toil, he says “I beheld with transport the evolution of the three successive colors that testify to the True Work. It came finally at Eastertide. I made a projection of my divine powder on quicksilver, and in less than an hour it was converted into fine gold. God knows how joyful I was, how I thanked Him for this great grace and favor and prayed for His Holy Spirit to pour yet more light upon me that I might use what I had already attained only to His praise and honor.” In his only writing (titled Opusculum Chemicum), Zachare gives his own personal narrative and states that the Great Art is the gift of God alone. The methods and possibilities of the transmutation of metals and the Elixir as a medicine are also considered.
There is also the evidence of John Frederick Helvetius, as he testified in 1666. He made claim to be an adept, but admitted he received the Powder of Transmutation from another alchemist. He wrote: “On December 27th, 1666, in the forenoon, there came a certain man to my house who was unto me a complete stranger, but of an honest, grave and authoritative mien, clothed in a simple garb like that of a Memnonite. He was of middle height, his face was long and slightly pock-marked, his hair was black and straight, his chin close-shaven, his age about forty-three or forty-four, and his native place North Holland, so far as I could make out. After we had exchanged salutations, he inquired whether he might have some conversation with me. It was his idea to speak of the ‘Pyrotechnic Art,’ since he had read one of my tracts, being that directed against the Sympathetic Powder of Sir Kenelm Digby, in which I implied a suspicion whether the Great Arcanum of the Sages was not after all a gigantic hoax. He took therefore this opportunity of asking if indeed I could not believe that such a Grand Mystery might exist in the nature of things, being that by which a physician could restore any patient whose vitals were not irreparably destroyed. My answer allowed that such a Medicine would be a most desirable acquisition for any doctor and that none might tell how many secrets there may be hidden in Nature, but that as for me — though I had read much on the truth of this Art — it had never been my fortune to meet with a master of alchemical science. I inquired further whether he was himself a medical man since he spoke.so learnedly about medicine, but he disclaimed my suggestion modestly, describing himself as a blacksmith, who had always taken great interest in the extraction of medicines from metals by means of fire.
“After some further talk the ‘craftsman Elias’ — for so he called himself — addressed me thus: ‘Seeing that you have read so much in the writings of the alchemists concerning the Stone, its substance, color, and its wonderful effects, may I be allowed to question whether you have yourself prepared it?’
Coin minted from alchemical gold showing the symbol for lead raised to the heavens.
“On my answering him in the negative, he took from his bag an ivory box of cunning workmanship in which there were three large pieces of a substance resembling glass or pale sulfur and informed me that here was enough of his tincture there to produce twenty tons of gold. When I held the treasure in my hands for some fifteen minutes listening to his accounting of its curative properties, I was compelled to return it (not without a certain degree of reluctance). After thanking him for his kindness, I asked why it was that his tincture did not display that ruby color that I had been taught to regard as characteristic of the Philosophers’ Stone. He replied that the color made no difference and that the substance was sufficiently mature for all practical purposes. He brusquely refused my request for a piece of the substance, were it no larger than a coriander seed, adding in a milder tone that he could not do so for all the wealth which I possessed not indeed on amount of its preciousness but for another reason that it was not lawful to divulge, Indeed, if fire could be destroyed by fire, he would cast it rather into the flames.
“Then, after some consideration, he asked whether I could not show him into a room at the back of the house, where we should be less liable to observation. Having led him into the parlor, he requested me to produce a gold coin, and while I was finding it he took from his breast pocket a green silk handkerchief wrapped about five gold medals, the metal of which was infinitely superior to that of my own money. Being filled with admiration, I asked my visitor how he had attained this most wonderful knowledge in the world, to which he replied that it was a gift bestowed upon him freely by a friend who had stayed a few days at his house, and who had taught him also how to change common flints and crystals into stones more precious than rubies and sapphires. ‘He made known to me further,” said the craftsman, ‘the preparation of crocus of iron, an infallible cure for dysentery and of a metallic liquor, which was an efficacious remedy for dropsy, and of other medicines.’ To this, however, I paid no great heed as I was impatient to hear about the Great Secret. The craftsman said further that his master caused him to bring a glass full of warm water to which he added a little white powder and then an ounce of silver, which melted like ice therein. ‘Of this he emptied one half and gave the rest to me,’ the craftsman related. ‘Its taste resembled that of fresh milk, and the effect was most exhilarating.’
“I asked my visitor whether the potion was a preparation of the Philosophers’ Stone, but he replied that I must not be so curious. He added presently that at the bidding of his master, he took down a piece of lead water-pipe and melted it in a pot. Then the master removed some sulfurous powder on the point of a knife from a little box, cast it into the molten lead, and after exposing the compound for a short time to a fierce fire, he poured forth a great mass of liquid gold upon the brick floor of the kitchen. The master told me to take one-sixteenth of this gold as a keepsake for myself and distribute the rest among the poor (which I did by handing over a large sum in trust for the Church of Sparrendaur). Before bidding me farewell, my friend taught me this Divine Art.’
“When my strange visitor concluded his narrative, I pleaded with him to prove his story by performing a transmutation in my presence. He answered that he could not do so on that occasion but that he would return in three weeks, and, if then at liberty, would do so. He returned punctually on the promised day and invited me to take a walk, in the course of which we spoke profoundly on the secrets of Nature he had found in fire, though I noticed that my companion was exceedingly reserved on the subject of the Great Secret. When I prayed him to entrust me with a morsel of his precious Stone, were it no larger than a grape seed, he handed it over like a princely donation. When I expressed a doubt whether it would be sufficient to tinge more than four grains of lead, he eagerly demanded it back. I complied, hoping that he would exchange it for a larger fragment, instead of which he divided it with his thumbnail, threw half in the fire and returned the rest, saying ‘It is yet sufficient for you.”
The narrative goes on to state that on the next day Helvetius prepared six drachms of lead, melted it in a crucible, and cast in the tincture. There was a hissing sound and a slight effervescence, and after fifteen minutes, Helvetius found that the lead had been transformed into the finest gold, which on cooling, glittered and shone as gold indeed. A goldsmith to whom he took this declared it to be the purest gold that he had ever seen and offered to buy it at fifty florins per ounce. Amongst others, the Controller of the Mint came to examine the gold and asked that a small part might be placed at his disposal for examination. Being put through the tests with aqua fortis and antimony it was pronounced pure gold of the finest quality. Helvetius adds in a later part of his writing that there was left in his heart by the craftsman a deeply seated conviction that “through metals and out of metals, themselves purified by highly refined and spiritualized metals, there may be prepared the Living Gold and Quicksilver of the Sages, which bring both metals and human bodies to perfection.”
In Helvetius’ writing there is also the testimony of another person by the name of Kuffle and of his conversion to a belief in alchemy that was the result of an experiment that he had been able to perform himself. However, there is no indication of the source from which he obtained his powder of projection. Secondly, there is an account of a silversmith named “Grit,” who in the year 1664, at the city of the Hague, converted a pound of lead partly into gold and partly into silver, using a tincture he received from a man named John Caspar Knoettner. This projection was made in the presence of many witnesses and Helvetius himself examined the precious metals obtained from the operation.
In 1710, Sigmund Richter published his Perfect and True Preparation of the Philosophical Stone under the auspices of the Rosicrucians. Another representative of the Rosy Cross was the mysterious Lascaris, a descendant of the royal house of Lascaris, an old Byzantine family who spread the knowledge of the Hermetic art in Germany during the eighteenth century. Lascaris affirmed that when unbelievers beheld the amazing virtues of the Stone, they would no longer be able to regard alchemy as a delusive art. He appears to have performed transmutations in different parts of Germany but then disappeared and was never heard from again.
Our Debt to the Alchemists
If there were any of the alchemists who discovered the mineral agent of transformation, fewer still were able to find its application to the human body. Only a very few adepts knew of the essential agent, the sublime heat of the soul, which fuses the emotions, consumes the prison of leaden form and allows entry into the higher world. Raymond Lully made gold for the King of England. George Ripley gave a hundred thousand pounds of alchemical gold to the Knights of Rhodes, when they were attacked by the Turks. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had an enormous number of gold pieces coined that were marked with a special mark because they were of “Hermetic origin.” They had been made by an unknown man under the protection of the king, who was found at his death to possess a considerable quantity of gold. In 1580, the Elector Augustus of Saxony, who was an alchemist, left a fortune equivalent to seventeen million dollars. The source of the fortune of Pope John XXII, whose residence was Avignon and whose revenues were small, must be ascribed to alchemy (at his death there were in his treasury twenty-five million florins). This must be concluded also in the case of the eighty-four quintals of gold possessed in 1680 by Rudolph II of Germany.
The learned chemist Van Helmont and the doctor Helvetius, who were both skeptics with regard to the Philosopher’s Stone and had even published books against it, were converted as a result of an identical adventure which befell them. An unknown man visited them and gave them a small quantity of projection powder he asked them not to perform the transmutation until after his departure and then only with apparatus prepared by themselves, in order to avoid all possibility of fraud. The grain of powder given to Van Helmont was so minute that he smiled sarcastically the unknown man smiled also and took back half of it, saying that what was left was enough to make a large quantity of gold. Both Van Helmont’s and Helvetius’ experiments were successful, and both men became acknowledged believers in alchemy. Van Helmont became the greatest “chemist” of his day. If we do not hear nowadays that Madame Curie has had a mysterious visitor who gave her a little powder ” the color of the wild poppy and smelling of calcined sea salt,” the reason may be that the secret is indeed lost or, possibly, now that alchemists are no longer persecuted or burnt, it may be that they no longer need the favorable judgment of those in official power.
Until the end of the eighteenth century, it was customary to hang alchemists dressed in a grotesque gold robe on gilded gallows. If they escaped this punishment they were usually imprisoned by barons or kings, who either compelled them to make gold or extorted their secret from them in exchange for their liberty. Often they were left to starve in prison. Sometimes they were roasted by inches or had their limbs slowly broken. For when gold is the prize, religion and morality are thrown to the side and human laws set at naught. This is what happened to Alexander Sethon, called “the Cosmopolitan.” He had had the wisdom to hide all his life and avoid the company of the powerful and was a truly wise man. However, marriage was his downfall. In order to please his ambitious wife, who was young and beautiful, he yielded to the invitation extended him by the Elector of Saxony, Christian II, to come to his court. Since Sethon was unwilling to disclose the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone, which he had long possessed, he was scalded every day with molten lead, beaten with rods and punctured with needles till he died.
The famous alchemists Michael Sendivogius, Botticher, and Paykull all spent part of their lives in prison, and many men suffered death for no other crime than the study of alchemy. If a great number of these seekers were impelled by ambition or if there were among them charlatans and impostors, it does not diminish the fact that a great many of them cherished a genuine ideal of moral development. In any event, their work in the domain of physics and chemistry formed a solid basis for the few wretched fragmentary scraps of knowledge that are called modern science and are cause for great pride to a large number of ignorant men.
These “scientists” regard the alchemists as dreamers and fools, though every discovery of their infallible science is to be found in the “dreams and follies” of the alchemists. It is no longer a paradox, but a truth attested by recognized scientists themselves, that the few fragments of truth that our modern culture possesses are due to the pretended or genuine adepts who were hanged with a gilt dunce’s cap on their heads. What is important is that not all of them saw in the Philosopher’s Stone the mere vulgar, useless aim of making gold. A small number of them received, either through a master or through the silence of daily meditation, genuine higher truth. These were the men who, by having observed it in themselves, understood the symbolism of one of the most essential rules of alchemy: Use only one vessel, one fire, and one instrument. They knew the characteristics of the sole agent, of the Secret Fire, of the serpentine power which moves upwards in spirals — of the great primitive force hidden in all matter, organic and inorganic — which the Hindus call kundalini, a force that creates and destroys simultaneously. The alchemists calculated that the capacity for creation and the capacity for destruction were equal, that the possessor of the secret had power for evil as great as his power for good. And just as nobody trusts a child with a high explosive, so they kept the divine science to themselves, or, if they left a written account of the facts they had found, they always omitted the essential point, so that it could be understood only by someone who already knew.
Carl Jung made alchemical methods part of modern psychology.
Examples of such men were, in the seventeenth century, Thomas Vaughan (called Philalethes), and, in the eighteenth century, Lascaris. It is possible to form some idea of the lofty thought of Philalethes from his book Infroitus, but Lascaris has left us nothing. Little is known of their lives. Both of them wandered throughout Europe teaching those whom they considered worthy of being taught. They both made gold often but only for special reasons. They did not seek glory, but actually shunned it. They had knowledge enough to foresee persecution and avoid it. They had neither a permanent abode nor family. It is not even known when and where they died. It is probable that they attained the most highly developed state possible to man, that they accomplished the transmutation of their soul. In others words, while still living they were members of the spiritual world. They had regenerated their being, performed the task of mankind. They were twice born. They devoted themselves to helping their fellow men this they did in the most useful way, which does not consist in healing the ills of the body or in improving men’s physical state. They used a higher method, which in the first instance can be applied only to a small number, but eventually affects all of us. They helped the noblest minds to reach the goal that they had reached themselves. They sought such men in the towns through which they passed, and, generally, during their travels. They had no school and no regular teaching, because their teaching was on the border of the human and the divine. But they knew that a truthful word, a seed of gold sown at a certain time in a certain soul would bring results a thousand times greater than those that could accrue from the knowledge gained through books or ordinary science.
From the bottom of our hearts we ought to thank the modest men who held in their hands the magical Emerald Formula that makes a man master of the world, a formula which they took as much trouble to hide as they had taken to discover it. For however dazzling and bright the obverse of the alchemical medallion, its reverse is dark as night. The way of good is the same as the way of evil, and when a man has crossed the threshold of knowledge, he has more intelligence but no more capacity for love. For with knowledge comes pride, and egoism is created by the desire to uphold the development of qualities that he considers necessary. Through egoism he returns to the evil that he has tried to escape. Nature is full of traps, and the higher a man rises in the hierarchy of men, the more numerous and the better hidden are the traps.
Saint Anthony in his desert was surrounded by nothing but dreams. He stretched out his arms to grasp them, and if he did not succumb to temptation it was only because the phantoms vanished when he sought to seize them. But the living, almost immediately tangible reality of gold, which gives everything — what superhuman strength would be necessary to resist it! That is what had to be weighed by the alchemical adepts who possessed the Triple Hermetic Truth. They had to remember those of their number who had failed and fallen to the wayside. And they had to ponder how apparently illogical and sad for mankind is the law by which the Tree of Wisdom is guarded by a serpent infinitely more powerful than the trickster serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Students examined a series of images of the wall decorations of two different ancient Egyptian tombs. They used the information in the images to make inferences and draw conclusions about life in this ancient society. Students expressed their ideas in an appropriately structured parag raph. Following detailed teacher feedback on their written texts, students then redrafted the paragraph and compared their two texts to reflect on changes and developments in their learning. The task was completed in class over two 50-minute lessons.
By the end of Year 7, students explain the role of groups and the significance of particular individuals in past societies. They suggest reasons for change and continuity over time. They describe the effects of change on societies, individuals and groups and describe events and developments from the perspective of people who lived at the time. They identify past events and developments that have been interpreted in different ways.
Students sequence events and developments within a chronological framework, using dating conventions to represent and measure time. When researching, students develop significant questions to frame a historical inquiry. They identify and select a range of primary and secondary sources and locate, compare and use relevant information and evidence to answer inquiry questions. They analyse information and evidence to determine their origin, purpose and usefulness and to identify past and present values and perspectives. Students develop texts, particularly descriptions and explanations. In developing these texts and organising and presenting their findings, they use historical terms and concepts, incorporate relevant sources, and acknowledge their sources of information.
Egypt: Workers have taken to the stage of history
Hundreds of thousands of workers have taken action over the past week to defend the revolution and demand radical changes in their pay and working conditions.
Bus drivers in Cairo have been on strike since Thursday of last week. Mustafa Mohammed, a driver, said, “We are immersed in debts. We are staying until our demands are met.”
He added that the administration had sent a senior employee to “throw us a bone” with a holiday bonus, but it wasn’t enough.
Workers locked buses in the garages and released a statement declaring “down with Mubarak”. Other public transport workers have joined the strikes.
Railway workers around the capital have blocked the train tracks and held organising meetings on them. On Monday an army officer attempted to persuade the workers to leave. He was surrounded and shouted down, then left.
Meanwhile, in the Giza district of Cairo, hundreds of ambulance drivers protested for better pay and permanent jobs. Some 150 tourism workers demonstrated by Giza’s pyramids, calling for higher pay.
And workers at Masr Menufiya textile factory in Menufiya held a sit-in over wages.
Oil workers were set to strike this week demanding a halt to gas exports to Israel and to impeach minister Sameh Fahmy.
The Independent Syndicate for Real Estate Tax Workers organised a protest in front of the state-loyal Egyptian Trade Union Federation in Cairo, demanding the resignation of head Hussein Megawer, and the federation’s board.
Hundreds of Telecom Egypt workers blocked roads last week demanding higher wages and the resignation of the company’s board. They say their wages have stagnated for more than 20 years.
Some 5,000 post workers protested outside the Egypt Post Authority.
The mostly female workforce at the Egyptian Animal Health Research Centre demonstrated to demand the immediate resignation of the director.
“She’s totally corrupt,” said one worker. “She used the money for studying and preventing avian flu to build personal villas in Cairo and Alexandria.”
In Kafr Al Zayat, doctors joined 1,500 workers at a sit-in at the city’s public hospital.
And workers at Egypt’s largest factory, the Misr Spinning and Weaving textile factory, struck in solidarity with anti‑government protesters and to demand higher wages.
Workers at the factory—which employs 24,000 people in the Nile Delta city of Al-Mahalla al-Kubra—walked out on Thursday of last week, padlocked the buildings and massed in front of the administration offices.
Many of the workers are women. A court ruling raised the minimum wage last year, but workers say they haven’t been paid the new rate.
Strike organiser Faisal Naousha said, “Mubarak’s resignation was one of our main demands. Now that it has happened, we will refocus on our economic demands.”
They suspended the strike on Monday of this week. Faisal says they have gone back to work “for now” but will keep fighting.
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Mass Media in Egypt
Egypt is the most progressive country in the Middle East is the field of media. Journalism, film, television, music and the arts are of supreme importance in Egyptian culture. Egypt has a press that is basically free, especially when compared to the censorship applied in other Arab nations. The biggest newspaper in the country is called "Al Ahram," but other papers are also distributed. Egypt's radio broadcasting system transmits programs throughout the Arab world in Arabic, English, French and other languages. Egyptian television is controlled by the government, with five national television channels. Egypt is the only Arab country with a movie industry and has been making movies since the 1930s. Egypt is also home to live entertainment venues, such as the Cairo Opera House, National Puppet Theater, Pocket Theater and National Symphony. The country has several museums that boast the ancient art traditions and has produced a Nobel prize winner in literature.
Cultural heritage at risk: Egypt
For centuries, Egyptian archeological sites have been looted to feed the black market trade in antiquities. With so many priceless artifacts wrenched from their home in Egypt, it feels as though we are fighting an impossible battle.
This situation is particularly acute following the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the ensuing political instability. Having experienced two revolutions in as many years, the majority of Egypt’s key archeological sites have fallen victim to looting. According to the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities , around $3 billion worth of Egyptian antiquities have been looted since the troubles began in January 2011. Subsequently the antiquities market has been inundated with artifacts of Egyptian origin, as reported in the Washington Post .
It is not only archaeological sites at risk extensive damage has been inflicted on the country’s leading museums. Over a hundred valuable artifacts were destroyed at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo in early 2014 when a car bomb detonated outside the building. Likewise nearly all of the collections, numbering more than a thousand artifacts, were looted from the Malawi National Museum in Upper Egypt in 2013 amidst the unrest.
Left: Looting has been documented near the pyramid of Amenemhat III at Dahshur, Middle Kingdom, 1860–1814 B.C.E. (12th Dynasty) , (photo: Tekisch, CC BY-SA 3.0) Right: Satellite view of the pyramid and looted areas to the south (©Google, 2018)
What is at stake for Egypt?
There are seven cultural and natural properties in Egypt inscribed on the World Heritage list, in addition to 32 sites on the tentative list . One of these properties includes the pyramid fields from Giza to Dahshur, a region known to be brutally pockmarked with holes dug by looters in search of saleable artifacts. BBC Cairo reporter Aleem Maqbool reports vertical shafts and tunnels, presumably dug in the hopes of finding archaeological material scattered across the landscape.
Armed robbers have also attacked storehouses holding antiquities from ongoing excavations, most of which were unregistered , meaning we have no idea just how many objects were lost. This loss of knowledge is incalculable.
“We are losing a lot of the monastic graffiti (Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Demotic) and several other archaeological features. Egyptian history is being destroyed….” Archeologist Monica Hanna told SAFE.
Before the Arab Spring revolution in 2011, tourism accounted for more than ten percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product. Since then, the tourist industry has struggled to find its footing amidst economic and political uncertainty. According to official statistics, foreign tourists have been returning to Egypt slowly but surely, with over a million visiting in April 2013. Although these numbers are increasing, they nevertheless remain well below pre-revolution levels, putting a serious strain on an industry that used to support a substantial portion of the population. Moreover, in a country where unemployment is rife , the budget deficit continues to grow, and the currency has lost much of its value, looting can appear to be a “get rich quick” occupation. It is of the utmost importance to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage in this turbulent time.
Egypt’s cultural heritage endangered
Egypt is home to one of world’s the oldest civilizations whose millennia of recorded history have had a profound influence on the cultures of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Although Egyptian archaeological sites have for centuries been looted to feed the black market trade of antiquities, recent upheavals in the region have led to the exposure of its material to the ravages of rampant looting. While the market demand remains strong, Egyptian antiquities are among the most valuable—and vulnerable—in the world.
To meet this demand, looters are even breaking the taboo of going into a tomb to store their loot in a location others won’t have the audacity to enter. Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported about a family of looters who stored their artifacts in an already plundered tomb because “ [n]o one would dare to take it .” One member of the family even bragged that “we don’t need fakes anymore” because there are so many vulnerable originals up for grabs. Armed criminal gangs have also been known to ravage the endangered sites in search of both antiquities and valuable land.
The pyramids of Abusir (Abu Sir Al-Maleq) (photo: Francesco Gasparetti, CC BY 2.0)
Archeologist Monica Hanna believes that many of the looters are looking for quick gold due to a mistaken belief that gold is readily available. At the site Abu Sir Al-Maleq, a burial ground about 70 miles from Cairo, there are piles of bones and mummy wrappings that have been hastily discarded as looters pick through on the hunt for quick cash. Although these looters might gain a small sum of money, what they are losing is far greater: the ability to understand past cultures. Hanna says the case of Abu Sir Al-Maleq is even more tragic because it has not been fully excavated, meaning that only salvage archeology can be conducted at this point.
Other threats to archaeological sites include encroachment on the land by residents trying to expand their homes or property, or repurposing of the land for use as landfills or car parks. This damages unexcavated sites, forcing archeologists to expedite their work and potentially miss crucial discoveries. After a new structure has been built on top of an unexcavated site, ancient artifacts might not be found for decades or even centuries, if ever.
Objects in museums are not immune to destruction. In August, 2013 thieves broke into the Mallawi Museum in the Upper Egypt city of Minya , destroying 48 artifacts and stealing 1,041 objects. Although nearly 600 artifacts were recovered, another museum became the target of destruction only months later. In January 2014 Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art—home to one of the world’s most important collections of its kind— was hit by a bomb blast .
Market demand for Egyptian antiquities
Egyptian archeologist Heidi Saleh has stated that as long as the market continues to drive demand for Egyptian antiquities, the looting will continue. As she says in a newspaper article from June 2013 , “antiquities have become a low priority for the average Egyptian” and that unless foreign collectors stop purchasing unprovenanced artifacts, the looting will continue—perhaps indefinitely.
After the revolution in 2011, international museums were on the on the lookout for artifacts that were potentially illicitly obtained. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London released a statement saying that, “All of us who are friends of Egypt can help the efforts to stop looting of archaeological sites, stores and museums, by focusing on the international antiquities trade.”
In December 2010, a mere 13 Egyptian artifacts sold for a reported total of $9,789,500. With a market demand capable of driving prices to such dizzying heights, it seems unlikely that auction houses or dealers will stop trading in Egyptian antiquities any time soon.
The sale of illicit artifacts is also taking place online. In February 2014, SAFE commented on the progress of curtailing sales of Egyptian antiquities on the world’s largest online auction site, eBay. According to a report in the Cairo Times , eBay has agreed with the U.S. Egyptian Embassy to stop the sale of Egyptian antiquities.
There is an ongoing debate surrounding the St. Louis Art Museum’s Ka-nefer-nefer mummy mask , purchased in the late 1990s. Other prominent cases include the conviction of antiquities dealer Frederick Schultz and the looting of the Mallawi Museum south of Cairo. Some of the objects looted from Mallawi have been recovered, but many more are still lost, vulnerable to the illicit trade.
What is Egypt doing to protect its cultural heritage?
Relevant laws and treaties
Protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage is enshrined in the country’s constitution, with Articles 12 and 49 committed to protecting Egyptian heritage through education and artistic freedom. Yet while the excavation and exploitation of ancient Egyptian sites dates back hundreds of years, the UNESCO Database of Cultural Heritage Laws indicates that it wasn’t until 1912 that the “Regiement pour l’Exportation des Antiquites” established a structured system for the exportation of antiquities.
The 1983 Law on the Protection of Antiquities clearly states that, “all antiquities are considered public property.” Any antiquity originating from Egypt belongs to the government and may not be obtained, purchased, or sold by a private individual. The 1983 law also gives merchants a grace period of a year to liquidate any antiquities that they might have in their possession—a time limit that has clearly been violated for more than two decades.
After looters broke into the Cairo Museum in 2011, hundreds of people formed a human chain around its perimeter to prevent the looters from escaping. This kind of story is inspiring, and it demonstrates the public’s desire to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage, although it is not feasible for such actions to be taken at every site in Egypt.
In June 2013, the National Committee of Egyptian Archaeological Sites was established to oversee the protection of Egypt’s World Heritage sites. The committee includes representatives from the Ministry of State for Antiquities as well as regional representatives. However, this committee provides little respite for uninscribed sites from the epidemic of looting and destruction.
Fekri Hassan, the Cultural Heritage Director at Egypt’s French University, is working with the United Nations to train “heritage guardians” as guides for Dahshur, a site that has taken the brunt of much of the looting .
According to this report in the Cairo Times , the world’s largest online auction site, eBay, has agreed with the U.S. Egyptian Embassy to stop the sale of Egyptian antiquities. This could mean a significant deterrent to the illicit trade, and in turn, a disincentive to loot.
Archaeologists such as Monica Hanna have spoken out in defense of Egypt’s cultural heritage and made important issues part of a public discussion. There have also been efforts via social media, such as the Facebook page “ Stop the Heritage Drain ” and “ Egypt’s Heritage Task Force ,” which post pictures and live updates of sites damaged by looting.
Other efforts to protect Egypt’s heritage
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) published the Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk , listing categories or types of cultural items that are most likely to be illegally bought and sold. This adds to other Red Lists of objects from twelve other countries produced by ICOM.
In March of 2014, the Egyptian Antiquities Minister and the U.S.-based International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (ICPEA) signed an agreement to protect Egyptian cultural heritage sites and antiquities from looting and cultural racketeers. According to ICPEA’s website , they have agreed upon a series of short-, medium-, and long-term programs to strike at the core of the cultural racketeering.
There are dozens of Facebook groups that aim to support Egypt’s cultural heritage, where members share news of the latest looting incident and aim to support those in Egypt by calling for greater protection of sites. Some of these include Protect Egyptian Cultural Heritage , The Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities , Egypt’s Heritage , and Save El Hibeh Egypt . Monica Hanna’s active Facebook page Egypt’s Heritage Task Force has thousands of followers from around the world.
Continuing media coverage of looting and destruction of heritage sites in Egypt shows a desire to learn about and prevent such incidents from happening. Nevine El-Aref’s roundup of the damage that happened during 2013 demonstrates that protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage is as relevant an issue as ever. Increased public awareness in and out of Egypt, facilitated by social media tools, will no doubt play a critical role.
On April 16, 2014 the U.S. State Department announced that Egypt requested that the U.S. impose import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities, made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property , to which both Egypt and the U.S. are state parties. The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) received public comment on this request in an open session on June 2-4, 2014 in Washington.
What our partners at SAFE are doing to protect Egyptian cultural heritage
One month after the Arab Spring revolt of 2011, SAFE created the Say Yes to Egypt’s Heritage, Our Heritage campaign to show solidarity for the people of Egypt and raise awareness about the alarming threats to Egypt’s cultural heritage. In addition to content on the website highlighting the issues, “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” buttons were distributed around the globe. The campaign relaunched in 2014 to distribute buttons in Egypt , in honor of the Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Monica Hanna, the SAFE Beacon Award Winner . SAFE gathered some of these efforts outside of Egypt here .
You can read a SAFE discussion and analysis of recent sales in Egyptian antiquities here.
Egypt bombshell: 4,500-year-old Saqqara mummy bone analysis ‘could change ancient history’Link copied
Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb: Netflix teases documentary series
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Wahtye was a priest who served under the third king of the Fifth Dynasty, Pharaoh Neferirkare. Described as a &ldquoonce in a generation&rdquo find, his tomb was found in a remarkable state of preservation &ndash with 55 statues carved into the walls &ndash making it the most decorated tomb ever found in Saqqara. Excavations led by a team of Egyptian archaeologists uncovered over 3,000 artefacts during their journey, helping to piece together the secrets of what has been called &ldquoEgypt&rsquos most significant find in almost 50 years&rdquo.
Netflix&rsquos new documentary &lsquoSecrets of the Saqqara Tomb&rsquo follows the decoding of the burial of the Old Kingdom priest, untouched for 4,500 years and the excavation of five shafts to uncover the rest of his family.
But Professor of Rheumatology at Cairo University, Dr Amira Shaheen, revealed during the series how she discovered an anomaly within the remains of Wahtye&rsquos bones.
She said: &ldquoHis skeleton is kept better than the other ones.
&ldquoAlthough he&rsquos a man, he still had some feminine features for his skull.
Wahtye's tomb was described as the discovery of a generation (Image: GETTY)
Wahtye's tomb was found in Saqqara (Image: GETTY)
&ldquoHe seems to be a very delicate man. He&rsquos about 35 years old.
&ldquoI think this was Wahtye, at last, I meet him.
&ldquoHe does not have that strong or rough muscle attachment, which may indicate that he was a fine man with a fine job.&rdquo
But the expert found that some of the bones were distended &ndash an indication of what possibly led to his death.
She added: &ldquoThe skull of Wahtye was showing thickening of the bone and this can give us an indication that something was happening inside these bones.
The tomb was in pristine condition (Image: GETTY)
&ldquoIt&rsquos very interesting to be close to them and to feel them as if I&rsquom feeling his pains and suffering.
&ldquoThe shape of his lower limb bones are not that healthy because the knee is torted (twisted) to the inside.
&ldquoI think the angle should be externally rotated, but in this man, he has it turned the other way.&rdquo
Dr Shaheen compared his bones to the others inside the tomb, believing that the family may have been struck by some disease.
She added: &ldquoI think he was weakened, these bones aren&rsquot healthy. Maybe he suffered a lot of pain.
Statues of the high-ranking priest filled the tomb (Image: GETTY)
&ldquoThese bones can tell us that this person may have some sort of anaemia.
&ldquoThe same swelling was found in the mother, we have congenital causes of anaemia.
&ldquoThis is a remote idea because they both died at a different age, but by putting the whole situation together, we may think of some sort of disease, or epidemic. Most probably malaria.
&ldquoIt may have affected this whole family. If that&rsquos true, it would change ancient Egyptian history.&rdquo
This is a monumental theory, as if proven, it will be the first documented case of malaria in history by more than 1,000 years.
Wahtye's remains were discovered down a shaft (Image: NETFLIX)
Bone analysis suggests a disease struck Egypt (Image: NETFLIX)
The documentary, which will be released globally on Netflix tomorrow, also features the exploration of the wider ancient necropolis where Egyptians buried their dead over thousands of years.
It details the discovery of shafts filled with mummified animals, beautifully preserved human mummies still inside their highly decorated coffins, funerary artefacts and rare finds spanning from the Old, New and Late Kingdoms.
The documentary was filmed in Saqqara, less than a mile from the site of the Step Pyramid &ndash one of the oldest and most iconic stone structures on Earth.
Director James Tovell said in a press release: &ldquoThis has been an exciting moment for the whole world.
&ldquoShooting this film has been an experience full of thrilling surprises. Working with an Egyptian team that has a deep connection with their ancestors has made the project even more unique.&rdquo
Professor of Rheumatology at Cairo University, Dr Amira Shaheen (Image: NETFLIX)
Transporting the audience back through the millennia, the film provides a unique and unprecedented window into the lives &ndash and deaths &ndash of one man and his family.
Its release comes after the Egyptian government announced the discovery of more than 80 sarcophagi in the same site last week.
Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, Khalid el-Anany, said in a statement that archaeologists had found the collection of colourful, sealed caskets which were buried more than 2,500 years ago.
The breakthrough came just two weeks after 59 sealed coffins were also found in the area, with mummies inside most of them.