Bullshit Meme #9: UFOs, Forteans and the Tulli papyrus

 

 

This post started out simply for me. I saw this meme... 

Paused...

Scratched my head and idly wondered how accurate it was, because I had never heard of such a papyrus. Which is entirely possible, I don't normally study papyri, but as an Egyptologist this doesn't stop me knowing the famous ones. We initially study the language on these after all. And it hasn't stopped me working with one either (Ebers Papyrus).

But I'd never heard of this.

And being the sort of person who habitually says 'but why?' to flippant statements and who likes to know the answers to odd questions, I went looking for it, working on the assumption it was either complete fiction, or legit, but blown out of proportion.

And as often happens, for me at least, the story is not 'exactly' fiction, but a great deal of artistic licence has been applied to it ... a great deal .... As a result, I decided to throw together a short overview for this blog. Nothing fancy, just a bit of critique and some pictures. 

However, I prefer to really understand what I am looking at before I write, and the closer I looked at this, the more interesting it became, like research generally does for me.

So this is not a short overview at all.

Ancient Origins 2017.

Today's Bullshit Meme is courtesy of clickbait purveyors of quality pseudo-babble at Mysteries Unsolved, who don't actually 'unsolve' anything btw, they just flog overblown pseudo hyperbole using bold print and modern reception images yoiked from the internet... like many other sites, in fact.

To put it briefly, this meme is the outcome of a repeatedly debunked hoax that has nonetheless been regurgitated in UFO and unsolved mystery type publications for almost 70 years...

Grunge.com 2020.

These sites often credit this papyrus as the earliest UFO sighting in history...

Yet it is an elaborate confection of old school quackery, deftly disguised with the judicious sprinking of words that infer academic authority, like 'Egyptologist', 'professor', or 'museum director'.

Therefore, this papyrus has the dubious honour of very brief mention by Erich von Däniken in his UFO blockbuster from 1968 Chariots of the Gods, which pretty much guaranteed perpetuation in all subsequent paranormal literature.


Since that time most pseudo sources repeat Däniken's seamlessly inaccurate narrative, usually throwing a variation of the information at their audience and running, because truth be told, the backstory is sketchy and providing more information might raise alarm bells.

Therefore, now that I have wasted a lot of time looking all the madness up, I thought I'd provide you with those awkward details.

Hieratic is a cursive form of hieroglyphs.

Example from the replica of the Ebers Papyrus in the Albertina Library, 
Leipzig University. My photo.


The Tulli papyrus

The myth amounts to this: 

An Egyptian papyrus, written in hieratic script and describing circles of fire in the skies during the New Kingdom reign of pharaoh Thutmose III was - 'found among the papers of the late professor Alberto Tulli, former director of the Vatican Egyptian Museum' (Rosenberg 1968).

The earliest information about the existence of this papyrus comes from the transcription and translation by Prince Boris Luciano de Rachewiltz (born Luciano Baratti 1926) who was studying Egyptology at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1953. 
 
It is unclear how specialised this study was, as the institute was a centre founded by the Vatican for study of scripture and biblical doctrine, and he was also studying Vatican diplomacy at the time.

Boris de Rachewiltz's drawing of the Tulli papyrus, Doubt 41, 1953.

According to de Rachewiltz's account his drawing and translation were taken from an original hieratic papyrus of the New Kingdom that he found among the papers of the former director of the Vatican Egyptian Museum, who had brought this from Egypt. A document that he claimed Tulli's brother Gustavo, of the Vatican Archive, had shown to him after the brother's death.


He also stated that this papyrus was a document from the Royal Annals of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III (actual reign ca. 1479-1424 BCE), and that the original was in very poor condition, so poor in fact, that he needed to provide a transcription of the best part (above).

And then he supplied his own translation:

de Rachewiltz's translation of the papyrus from Doubt 41.

I might observe here that there are lapses in the English ('scribas', 'volatiles') and he appears to have misread 'to please the heart of Amen-Re, lord of the thrones of the Two Lands ... as he wrote 'to pacify the hearth (... 9 ... to write?)...' He has also mistranslated 'like Re' as 'more than the sun'.... these are dead easy phrases to translate if you are learning hieros...

.... so we are having a short pause for wtf?

And what you need to remember as we travel further along, is that English was not his first language.

But dodgy translation is the least of our problems, as it gets murkier:

Because academic research does not usually get published in paranormal magazines.

 

Doubt nos. 38 and 41

Doubt

Boris de Rachewiltz published his translation as a brief note in 'Doubt', the newsletter of the Fortean Society of New York, a private group devoted to paranormal studies. Members of this society represented British and American writers, actors and journalists. 

The newsletter itself is a hodgepodge of quirky news stories and UFO sightings, with de Rachewiltz's contribution taking up less than a page.

This alone gave me pause, as I was puzzled why an impoverished Italian aspirant to nobility and student at the Vatican in Rome would have a connection to a New York paranormal group, and why he would publish there and not in Italy, where he lived ... so I dug deeper.

Boris had met the founder and editor of the Fortean Society, writer Tiffany Thayer in Italy in 1952 through literary contacts of his father-in-law, the poet Ezra Pound. He and Maria Rudge, Pound's daughter, who grew up in Italy, had met and married 6 years previously in Rome in the aftermath of World War II. The couple were as poor as church mice (M. de Rach. 1971).

Thayer 1952, Doubt 38, pp. 166.

Thayer and de Rachewiltz appear to have hit it off immediately, and Boris became a member of the Fortean Society, warmly welcoming their members to stay at his recently purchased tumbledown castle in northern Italy (as paying guests). He also became the official representative of the society in Italy, and held that post for 7 years until Thayer's death in 1959 when the newsletter was discontinued.

Talking his qualifications up, Boris was a student, remember.
 

Somewhat surprisingly, while Boris appears to have promised more ancient Fortean mysteries to Thayer, his only other contribution to Doubt is an article dedicated to him on the joys of Atlantis by Thayer (Doubt 39). After his 1953 expose of the Tulli papyrus the novelty appears to have worn off, perhaps his 'colleagues' at the Vatican were underwhelmed by Fortean themes.

The novelty however may have worn off for de Rachewiltz, but it did not for paranormal publications, and his brief story in Doubt went on to be cited all over the shop as the earliest historical evidence of a UFO sighting, culminating in von Däniken's UFO hommage from 1968.

 
Clypeus journal nos. 1.1, 1964 & 7.29, 1970.

Boncompagni

However, at approximately the same time interest in this topic had begun to raise doubts of authenticity among, of all things, UFO researchers. The first of these appears to have been Solas Boncompagni, a teacher from Florence, who wrote 4 articles for Italian paranormal magazines examining this topic (Clypeus 1964, 1969 & 1970, Il giornale dei misteri 1971). 

His 1964 article only consisted of an overview of the Doubt text, however for the 1969 article he consulted an Egyptologist, Giuseppe Botti, who was cautiously sceptical and had in fact unsuccessfully attempted to view or purchase the papyrus from the brother of Tulli. 

Botti had also corresponded with an unnamed Egyptologist who had seen de Rachewiltz's transcription from Doubt and declared it to be a fragment of a late version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Reggiani 2013, 2017, Conti 1971).


 

More 'doubt' - The Condon Report

In 1968 the Tulli translation by de Rachewiltz was also examined by Samuel Rosenberg in The Condon Report, a publication of a University of Colorado study of evidence for Unidentified Flying Objects in collaboration with the US Air Force. In his chapter Rosenberg concluded that the Tulli text correlated too closely with the Biblical narrative of wheels of fire from Ezekiel, inferring that one may be copied from the other (1968, 839). 

In addition, an attache to the US Embassy in Rome corresponded on behalf of Condon and Rosenberg with the then inspector of the Vatican Egyptian museum, Gianfranco Nolli, who denied all knowledge of the papyrus and its whereabouts, emphasising that it had never been part of the museum collection, nor the Vatican Archive. 

He also stated that on his death prof. Tulli had bequeathed his possessions to his brother, that he too was dead and such a papyrus would then be lost. Adding that Tulli was an amateur Egyptologist, and de Rachewiltz no expert either, inferring that Tulli could have been easily deceived and the papyrus was instead a modern forgery.

As a result, Rosenberg concluded there was not enough evidence to prove the verity of the account, and the similarity to a Biblical text was singularly problematic. He incidentally also stated that there was no reliable historical evidence for UFOs having visited ancient civilisations.

'...all accounts of "UFO-like sightings handed down through the ages" are doubtful - until verified.' (1968, 840)

Misteri 1971 nos. 5 (Boncompagni) and 6 (de Rachewiltz).

Il giornale dei misteri

Solas Boncompagni on the other hand was not finished with this topic and in 1969 he too corresponded with the Egyptian museum inspector for confirmation of de Rachewiltz's earlier statements. Again, Nolli denied knowledge of the papyrus's whereabouts, but the curator also contacted Boris de Rachewiltz for more information and passed this on to Boncompagni. 

The revised account does not match the original, as now Boris claimed that the authentic papyrus never left Egypt and that Tulli had only seen it at the shop of a Cypriot dealer in antiquities in 1934 in Cairo, Phokion Tano. As the papyrus was too expensive to buy, Tulli had copied the hieratic text and taken this to Egyptologist Etienne Drioton to be transcribed into hieroglyphs. 

The papyrus Boris claimed to have copied in Rome in 1953 was now a copy of a copy from 1934.

Boncompagni published this account in Clypeus 29, 1970 and another paranormal magazine, Il Giornale dei Misteri 5, 1971, concluding that the evidence for the papyrus' existence is dubious. An overview was also published by S. Conti in Il Giornale dei Misteri 4, 'Storia di un misterioso documento', and providing copies of Boncompagni, Rosenberg, Nolli and Boris' statements. 

There is btw more than a dash of snarkiness in the latter's letter to Conti.

Wilkins in 1955 appeared to struggle with fripperies like chronology.

1600 BCE is not 5,500 years ago, but he also claims this papyrus is from the Tulli 
papyri of the Vatican Archive and dates to the Middle Kingdom, pp. 78-9.


Back to Boris

Obviously both Rosenberg and Boncompagni's correspondences with the Vatican museum had resulted in backstories that inconveniently clashed with the earlier description from Doubt 1953.

Therefore de Rachewiltz, now an Egyptologist of not so impressive standing, if Nolli is to be trusted, changed his tune, publishing defences of his original story in 1969 in Laforghiana 6, and reprinted in 1971 in Il giornale dei misteri 4, (by Conti). A few months later he also responded to Boncompagni's critiques in Volume 6 of same with; 'Ancora sul Papiro Tulli'. 

All again for paranormal magazines.

.... rather than say, I don't know, publishing in academic journals ...

In these magazines he reiterated the new improved backstory, adding that errors in translation and misinformation in the article from 1953 were the result of editorial interference from an 'American writer', aka Tiffany Thayer. Consider me shocked, as editors are usually not interested in changing your story beyond recognition.

 

He also bemoaned the spread of misinformation about this papyrus via misinterpretations of his text by others. Apparently tales about Tuthmose III greeting space aliens were a dram too far over the top for him.

In case you have forgotten, the original claim was that he had transcribed an hieratic papyrus into hieroglyphs that he had viewed among the papers of prof. Tulli. Now he claimed to have made a copy of a copy drawn by Drioton in Egypt in 1934. He also judiciously held Tulli responsible for the idea that the text came from the Annals of Thutmose III and Drioton was credited with suggesting that it recorded a meteor shower.

Everybody involved in this account, Tulli, Tulli's brother, Drioton, Thayer, was oh so conveniently over the rainbow bridge in 1971 and therefore unable to corroborate these statements. 

Ancient Origins 2016, butchering an already pretty mutilated corpse.

Leonard

Yet UFO publications continued to cite the Tulli papyrus as evidence of ancient UFOs, and other similar studies continued to determinedly question the conclusions or its authenticity. 

In 2004 the anthropologist, Cedric Leonard, who himself had a taste for esoteric topics, published his own translation of Boris's transcription. Leonard had no training in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, so instead he reached for Budge's Hieroglyphic Dictionary and Egyptian Language (1920 & 1889, don't do it, it's a trick), which resulted in a translation that is just as amateurish as the original effort ... although he almost gets the reference to Amen-Re correct ... almost.

However, after rationalising extensively over the unlikelihood that anyone involved in the creation of this document could ever have concocted a hoax, Leonard concluded that it may have recorded a meteorological phenomenon, such as the volcanic eruption of Thera in the Aegean.  He deftly circumvents the chronological difficulties involved in this by forcing the Thera eruption and the 22nd year of Thutmose III to fit one date, 1500 BCE... 

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just shove dates together willy nilly to suit an argument? 

Trench cites the basics about the Tulli papyrus in books from 1960 and 1966.


Ares

Also in 2004, Nacho Ares, an amateur Egyptologist with an interest in magic and the paranormal wrote an article for a Spanish UFO website Antiguo Astronautas 'Existe en realidad el Papiro Tulli? ('Does Papyrus Tulli Really Exist?)' and in 2009 in Fenix, 'Papiro Tulli: il documento mai esistito' ('The Document that Never Existed'). 

Ares had enough knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphs to finally point us in the right direction, and after analysing the text concluded:

'...the Tulli Papyrus seems to have been made by a person who has learned this language with 20th century methods and taken the trouble to translate a modern text into hieroglyphs; a circumstance that is reflected in some grammatical errors that a scribe of the House of Life would never have made in the time of Thutmosis III...' (2004)

He then goes on to suggest that the possible counterfeiter appeared to have taken advantage of the Egyptian Grammar by Egyptologist Alan Gardiner from 1927. The book that was the foundation text for learning Egyptian hieroglyphs for the much of the 20th century. 

Bingo!

I rather like this one, article on the best UFO destinations, Mercury News.


Finally some Egyptologists weigh in

Until that time Egyptologists had steered well clear of this topic, presumably due to the questionable nature of the sources and the noticeable absence of an authentic primary document. However, this situation changed.

In 2006 two linguistic studies were made of de Rachewiltz's drawing by Frank Brussino and Edmund Meltzer, in which both scholars independantly concluded that the text contains too many grammatical inconsistencies to be authentic and instead appears to be patched together using excerpts from well known Egyptian texts.

Fragments of these texts are standards of studying Middle Egyptian and have been available for a resourceful forger to copy from Gardiner's Grammar. If de Rachewiltz was studying Egyptology in 1953, it is very likely he would have had access to this book at the Vatican Archive or could have purchased it himself. In his 1953 Doubt note he also ingenuously mentioned that he was reading Gardener on the Egyptian House of Life. 

Brussino and Meltzer identified a minimum of 16 phrases that are from the Grammar. These represent excerpts from texts dating from the Egyptian Middle to New Kingdom, such as The Shipwrecked Sailor, Westcar Papyrus, or Ebers Papyrus.They also cite grammatical issues and vocabulary that match Gardiner.

In addition, because I really do trust no-one (always check the source), I armed myself with a copy of the book and checked their citations for parallels, and yes, these are too close to argue casual coincidence ... but I also found a few more phrases and a fictional exercise that match, as well as parallels with his vocabulary, building a solid argument for a patchwork approach.

All without a search function I might add.... so there could be more.

That the texts match is important, because ancient Egyptian writing conventions were not like English. In Egyptian there was no correct 'spelling' of a word. Instead words could be written in flexible ways, by adding or removing signs or using only a single sign, depending on the text and the space being used. 

In Gardiner the 'spellings' were chosen for clarity, not because they were the only way to write something.

In de Rachewiltz's copies the Egyptian signs and grammar in entire sentences match Gardiner. What is more the English translations of these same phrases also match Gardiner's English (except for errors and where there are changes to subject).

Push comes to shove, it is a quite clunky stitch together.

And the same issue for hieroglyphs applies here: translation is an organic process, a word in another language can have a range of possible translations in English, a sentence, many variations, yet these are Gardiner's words and his sentences, and remember Boris was not a native English speaker.

The accidental errors in copying the signs also do not match the English translation in places, and as Meltzer points out minor errors from Gardiner's original text also transfer into Boris' copy. 

And don't get me started on his not being able to translate the phrase - 'like Re'.

Which is all rather damning, I think.

Ta da! ... it even looks like a patchwork.

So damning in fact, that even without the input of Egyptologists, many Ufologists have concluded the Tulli papyrus is a hoax. Not just Rosenberg, or Boncompagni, or Ares, others too have voiced their doubts, and as late as 2010 another volume on the historical evidence for UFOs also concluded it was a hoax, for the simplest of reasons: it is impossible to prove the authenticity of a copy (Vallee and Aubeck 2010).

 

What do we know?

  • There is no empirical evidence that this papyrus exists... nothing.

  • The hand drawn copy of a copy of a copy is full of errors, inconsistencies and excerpts from famous Egyptian texts from different time periods, almost all available sign for sign from Alan Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar.

  • The gaps in the text may have been intended disguise this patchwork.

 

On the basis of the text:

  • It describes a celestial event with fire circles in the sky that is structurally similar to the Biblical narrative of Ezekiel.

  • In Egyptian texts celestial events like comets are usually written using the word for 'star'. For example; the star that appears from the south and burns up the enemy troups on the Gebel el Barkal stele of Thutmose III, which may have had an influence on this hoax.

  • The use of 'fire circle' is exclusive to this text. It is constructed using two words from the Gardiner Grammar vocabulary - 'surround/encircle' and 'fire'.

  • The papyrus is not from the Royal Annals of Tuthmose III. The king is not named.

  • Nonetheless, a date of 1500 or 1480 is incorrect for Tuthmose III to be tooling around with his army, he would have been a baby in 1480 BCE.

  • The date in the text is faulty, as while year, season, month and hour are stated, the day is not given.

 


Prince Boris de Rachewiltz 

  • Was actively and financially involved with the Forteans, a New York paranormal society throughout the 1950s.

  • He was still publishing on this topic with paranormal magazines as late as 1971, always far away from the critical scrutiny of academia.

  • His translation does not change from 1953 to 1971. Even though he later wrote a defence of the original, the sign and translation errors remain and are blamed on interference ... I mean wtf? ... I am capable of tweaking a translation months down the track (and freaking out over minor errors).

  • Boris studied Vatican diplomacy and Egyptology (1951-1955) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute at the Vatican in Rome. He was neither an experienced nor qualified Egyptologist in 1953. In addition, the specific level of this education is never stated. His later reputation as an Egyptologist is patchy, and what translations of his I have viewed involve a degree of poetic license.

  • In 1953 he was 27, married to Maria, the daughter of poet Ezra Pound, with 2 young children and no secure income. The couple had bought a derelict castle in the Italian Tyrol for a pittance a few years earlier on a whim that they struggled to repair and finance. He had also recently applied to the Vatican to have his family's obsolete title revived and dubbed himself Prince de Rachewiltz. Admittedly, this was probably quite useful for impressing the Fortean guests (M. de Rach.1971).

  • From 1953 the couple were working to get Pound released from the asylum where he was incarcerated by lobbying the international literary scene, inclusive of Fortean Society members. Pound, whose antisemitisim and penchant for fascist rhetoric had caused singular awkwardness in the aftermath of the war (Casillo 1985, Nadel 2013), lived with his daughter and her family after his release in 1958 (M. de Rach. 1971). 
  • Boris appears to have had a singular interest in contemporary esoterica and ancient mysticism. His sources on magic and myth when collaborating with Pound for the Rock-Drill Canto in 1954-5 tend to support this assumption, and include JG. Frazer, EAW. Budge (both obsolete) and Laurence Waddell (Aryan supremacy pseudobabble) (Casillo 1985, Pound & Taylor 2010, B. de Rach. 1969, Odlin 1977).

  • Overall, de Rachewiltz seems to have been a 'colourful character', with a soft spot for espionage, for a time working as a spy for Italy's intelligence service. He also ended up in prison for unclear reasons, likely debt related (M. de Rach. & Sieburth 2010), was editor of an Italian neo-fascist periodical (Tryphonopoulos & Surette 1998), and tried and acquited for fascist activities in Italy in 1994 (Francheschini 2020).

None of this sends a particularly reassuring character endorsement. So when clickbait sites use words like 'prince', 'professor', or 'esteemed Egyptologist' they are employing authority related weasel words intended to lend their pseudobabble credibility.

But hey, perhaps it wasn't him who devised this hoax.

It might have been Alberto Tulli, or the antiquarian in Cairo, in the early 1930s, but then why specifically construct a forgery based on circles of fire? Neither of these men would have had awareness of the UFO fad of the late 40s and 50s when creating the original. Tulli is also not known to have had any skill with hieroglyphs or hieratic, how did he copy this priceless relic in a Cairo shop? 

Conversely, Phokion Tano was a famous dealer in antiquities in Cairo, while the authenticity of some of his products may be questionable, as applies to all artefacts that have no provenance, if he was selling a unique and expensive papyrus (fake or authentic) in 1934, it would not have vaporised into thin air never to be seen again afterwards. 

Yeet Aliens at Facebook. Please do not ask me what a yeet is.

The likelihood that Egyptologist Etienne Drioton was involved in this farce is quantitatvely lower, as he would never have made the dumb transcription errors, they are the work of an amateur. He also would have recognised the texts used to create the patchwork ... I mean, I am not Drioton and I sure as hell recognised P. Ebers and the Shipwrecked Sailor. 

Drioton was capable of producing a better quality fake than this, he was also experienced enough to recognise a forgery.

However, none of the scholars cited by de Rachewiltz were alive or provided written evidence in their lifetimes or after death to corroborate his claims, so again we end up back at Boris.

All anecdotes about the existence of this papyrus lead back to him, his stories from 1953 and 1971 contradict themselves, and he alone is responsible for the English 'translation'.

You be the judge.

I personally like the ambitious Egyptology student with a copy of Gardiner's Grammar and a certain lack of scruples for this hoax.

howandwhys.com illustrating just how misleading names of websites can be.

Which begs the question:

Why fake a story like that? 

Well why not, I guess? Because you can? As an elaborate prank perhaps? Or even simply to cash in on the latest craze in the paranormal. Perhaps because being an impoverished descendant of nobility with way too long a name and a rambling castle there was a degree of financial pressure.

Nonetheless, because of everything discussed above I am confident that the Tulli papyrus is a mid 20th century hoax that was perhaps a little too successful. And, let's be realistic, a copy of a copy of a copy is about the farthest thing from secure evidence as is humanly possible without there being none.

There is no real papyrus. Thutmose III didn't witness a cosmic event, his scribes didn't record it in the Royal Annals. And he certainly didn't go joyriding with space aliens in their souped up fleet of fire circles ... lol.

Yet now every second pseudo or clickbait history site pursues this same highly profitable trend in paranormal hyperbole that your great-grandparents may have been mad for in 1953.... with pretty much the same motives.


Andrea Sinclair

Feb. 2023



PS: I am indebted to Nicola Reggiani for her sound overviews (2013, 2017) and thorough referencing of the sources. It is perhaps a contributing factor to the spread of this myth online that many of the excellent critiques of this hoax are not published in English... Or not... it is almost impressive how lacking in scruples clickbait sites can be.


I guess this is all you need to know about the standard of research that went into this awful book, Haze 2013.  If the name Shemsu Hor has you scratching your head I have written on them here.

Further reading and references

The Source

de Rachewiltz, B. 1953, 'Forteana ca 1500 BC,' Doubt 41. Fortean Society: 214-5.
de Rachewiltz, B. 1969, Laforghiana 6, Fortean Society. Reproduced in Conti 1971.
de Rachewiltz, B. 1971, 'Ancora sul papiro Tulli', Il Giornale dei Misteri 6: 46-7.


The Critiques

Ares, N. 2004, '¿Existe en Realidad el Papiro Tulli?', @ Antiguos Astronautas - http://www.antiguosastronautas.com/articulos/Ares02.html
Boncompagni, 1964, 'Dischi volanti al tempo dei faraoni', Clypeus: Il giornale del dischi volanti & cronache dell'insolito 1.1: 1.
Boncompagni, 1969, 'Storia di un'incheista', Clypeus 6.24: 103-9.
Boncompagni, 1970, 'Il papiro Tulli torna a far parlare di se', Clypeus 7.29: 42-3.
Boncompagni, 1971, 'Il papiro Tulli', Il Giornale dei Misteri 5: 58.
Brussino, F. 2006, 'Il papiro di Tulli', PlusEgitto di Egittologia.net - http://www.egittologia.net/portals/0/articoli/IlPapiroTulli.PDF
Conti, S. 1971, 'Storia di un misterioso documento', Il Giornale dei Misteri 4: 3-7.
Leonard, R.C. 2004, 'Fire Circles: A Revised Translation of the Tulli Transcription', @ Atlantis Quest - https://atlantisquestscience.wordpress.com/myth/ancient-aeronautica/fire-circles/
Meltzer, E.S. 2006, 'Comments on the So-Called Tulli Papyrus', Glyphdoctors, @ Academia edu - https://www.academia.edu/36024531/COMMENTS_ON_THE_SO_CALLED_TULLI_PAPYRUS_Glyphdoctors_post_2006_updated
_Comment_on_a_supposed_papyrus_frequently_cited_in_the_UFO_literature_allegedly_
recounting_a_UFO_sighting_under_Thutmose_III_
Reggiani, N. 2013, 'Lo strano caso del Papiro Tulli', Terre di confine magazine: La revista di cultura fantasica - https://terrediconfine.eu/lo-strano-caso-del-papiro-tulli/ 
Reggiani, N. 2017, 'Il Papiro Tulli: un affaire Egittologico tra storia e leggenda', Analecta Papyrologica 29: 217-33.
Rosenberg, S. 1968, 'UFOs in History: "The Tulli Papyrus"', in The Condon Report: Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, E.U. Condon (ed). University of Colorado - https://files.ncas.org/condon/text/s5chap01.htm#s8
Vallee, J. and C. Aubeck 2010, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times. New York.

 

Sources and further reading

Casillo, R. 1985, 'Ezra Pound, L.A. Waddell and the Aryan Tradition of the "Cantos"', Modern Language Studies 15.2: 65-81.
Franceschini, C. 2020, Geheimdienste, Agenten, Spione: Südtirol in Fadenkreuz Fremder Mächte. Bozen.
Gardiner, A.H. 1957, Egyptian Grammar, Griffith Institute, Oxford.
Nadel, I.B. 2013, 'Ezra Pound and MI5', Paideumia: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 40: 327-47.
Odlin, R. 1977, 'Kati and Antef'. Paideumia: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 6.2: 181-2.
de Rachewiltz, M. 2005 [1971], Ezra Pound, Father and Teacher: Discretions. New York.
de Rachewiltz, M. and R. Sieburth, 2010, 'Mary de Rachewiltz in Conversation with Robert Sieburth, 2008', Paideumia: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 37: 7-57.
Tremblay, T. 1999, '"Boris is Very Intelligent and 'Simpatico' and Interested in Worthwhile Things" the Association and Correspondence of Ezra Pound and Prince Boris de Rachewiltz'. Paideumia: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 28.1: 151-160.
Tremblay, T. 2005, 'de Rachewiltz, Boris (1926-1997)', in The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia, D.P.  Tryphonopoulos & S.J. Adams (eds), London.
Tryphonopoulos, D.P. and L. Surette, 1998, "I Cease not to Yowl," Ezra Pound's Letters to Olivia Rossetti Agresti. Chicago.


I am not supplying links to the clickbait articles, you can easily search this topic online and find them all, much more easily than the informative articles.

Archaeology vs pseudoscience: some blunt realities from the former

 


So, just a little commentary from me this morning on how archaeologists are doomed to not have our voices heard, no matter how much public outreach we do, because that is what we are invariably guilt tripped with after a public kerfuffle over a well known pseudoscientist who has massive readership and publicity.
 
Do more public engagement.
 
Sure we can do outreach, big fan of it myself, but there are a few problems associated with that fantasy:
 
1) Public engagement makes you a target for endless bile. It is not for the faint hearted in this age of online abuse. Not everybody in academia has that sort of intestinal fortitude. Universities on the other hand tend to emphasise to their staff that they represent the university and must behave accordingly - basically "play nice". Pseudos are not constrained by the same expectations. I don't blame any of my academic friends for treading cautiously, it is barbaric out there. 

2) Who is funding it? The answer often is - nobody - many archaeologists are doing outreach, or debunking pseudo, like my blog, in their spare time, entirely for free, unless they have monetised themselves on Youtube, FB or Blogger, but if you are not a marketing concept like Ancient Origins, and pay a shitton to a website for exposure, your writing is not going to have a great deal of audience reach. 
 
 
3) Who is reading/watching it? - very few people - unless you monetise your product or have a celebrity promote your site. Case in point, which started me thinking about this: 2 weeks ago my partner posted one of my blog posts on a music celebrity's page, and the post went viral, off the chart busy with views and is still mildly active today. The same post shared on a group or page devoted to history, art or archaeology is lucky to get a few views at the time of posting, no matter if the site has a million followers.
 
Say what you like about the quality of my writing, the outcome is dependant on the message vehicle, not the message quality. 
 
Therefore, the only way to get widespread mainstream exposure for academic research is to produce a palatable product that is attractively packaged for the public, preferably sexed up, sensationalist and a bit mythico-magical. Then it has to be monetised and picked up by celebrities and influencers, because naturally then the media would gleefully follow in their trail with drool running from their lips, squabbling over who could write the stupider headline.
 
This is why archaeologists are fucked.
 
 
Andrea Sinclair
 
Dec. 2022 






 

Bullshit Memes #8: An ancient Egyptian cucumber

In June of 2021 the Metropolitan Museum of New York shared a photograph of one of their Egyptian artefacts on Twitter that subsequently went on to create a lot of ribald twatter, and this “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” hilarity then spread to other popular social media, such as Facebook and Reddit. 

At that time, I vaguely noticed the sniggering on a few Facebook history groups and moved on, because it really was just an opportunity for people to have a bit of a laugh at something that looked like a penis..... Cue smutty jokes about ancient Egyptian sexual peccadillos.

A year later my daughter was idly scrolling past another of these memes doing the rounds yet again on Twitter and foolishly pointed this out to me …. immediately receiving a brief bout of my infinite potential for pontification.

But this time I considered taking it on. Not because I have issues with smutty humour, btw. 

Go ahead, snigger away at the idea that people from an ancient culture might have indulged in creative sexual intercourse, honestly not my concern, and I totally get that for a few of you out there this is just a gag, and I should lighten up ....

Which is basically why I hadn't bothered with it until now... but it is also difficult not to resent the suggestion that I and other archaeologists can't differentiate between a salad vegetable and a penis.

And, to add insult to injury, this meme won't die a decent death, again probably because there might be a penis. Yet memes like this reinforce views that passive aggressively undermine the general public's faith in expertise.

 
Therefore, this post is aimed at those individuals who might actually believe the idea that archaeologists in 2022 are incapable of recognising a penis, and because it also provides a convenient opportunity to explain why first impressions of ancient artefacts can be somewhat misguided. 
 
An explanation of why the ‘looks-a-bit-like’ method is amusing, yet dodgy af.
 

Why this object is not a penis (to an ancient Egyptian), or for that matter, a dildo:

1.    The Egyptians practiced circumcision; It is unlikely that they would omit the head of the penis if they were intending to make a penis, which we know they had no problem with representing: For example gods with erections, naked statues, erotic papyri, fecundity figurines and wooden votive penises that were left in temples…

A votive penis from the chapel of Hathor at Deir el Bahari, New Kingdom.
Royal Ontario Museum 907.18.900.1. Image (c) ROM.
  
And yes, archaeologists are somehow able to recognise the wooden ones.
 
The god Amen-Min, Louvre Museum, N3544.
Late Period. Image by RAMA @ Wiki.
 
All were circumcised. If the model was a ritual/funerary/domestic accessory type penis it would be their idea of realistic, not yours.
 
The hieroglyph for penis and male related activities from Kom Ombo
temple, Ptolemaic Period.  Image Thorpe117 @ IMGUR.
 
 
2.   It is fragile: The museum model is made from Egyptian faience, which is a vitreous material that was the immediate precursor to glass. This silica (sand) based composition is more fragile than stone and it is a lot more like a light coloured ceramic with a glaze, or an early glass…. 
 
Faience was porous, glassy and could break easily.... and yes that thought ought to make one whince just a little bit.

Food models from the tomb of Amenhotep II. New Kingdom.
Image (c) Wiese & Brodbeck 2004.
 

3.    It is too small: The Metropolitan Museum artefact is only 9.6 cm, or 3.78'' long, which is not the smallest of the examples of these in museums around the world, some can be as small as 6.27 cm. (2.4'') long… 

I am not sure what your expectations of penises are…

Faience phallic votive figurine, Late Period.
Image (c) British Museum, EA90380.
 

Why archaeologists identify them as cucumbers:

Context, it is super important: 

     1.   These models are found in tombs or in foundation deposits under important buildings. It was reasonably common for Egyptian tombs and buildings to have been provided with food offerings, often made of faience and smaller than lifesize. 
 
The Met Museum object was found with other model artefacts (image below) in a pit at Lisht in the Middle Kingdom cemetery near the pyramid of Senwosret, it is unclear whether these were in a tomb or part of a foundation deposit.

The Met model with other food models from Lisht, Middle Kingdom.
Metropolitan Museum. Image Hayes 1959.
 

      2.    They are normally found with other model foodstuffs and offering bowls, because food offerings were essential provisions for the tomb and the afterlife.

The Met Museum model was found with another similar model, plus a model jerboa, a little cat, tiny human servants, and more food, like grapes, figs and grains. A similar set of these in the Louvre (below) incidentally comes with model offering bowl, figs, grapes and peas.

Egyptian faience food models from Heliopolis, Middle Kingdom.
Louvre E14188. Image Caubet & Pierrat-Bonnefois 2005.
 

3.    The model was green: These models usually have a green-turquoise glaze, the most common colour for faience in Egypt, but often this glaze has worn away over time. You can even see traces of the original glaze on the museum object, but most has faded leaving the creamy coloured faience core underneath.
 
Ancient Egyptian penises would only be green when they are attached to a god of regeneration, human penises were the colour of human males, reddish-brown, pale or white would normally be more likely to indicate the female body.

Faience offering set from Lisht in the Metropolitan Museum.
Image (c) Met Museum, 15.3.125-130.
 

4.   Diet: The ancient Egyptians ate varieties of the vegetable Cucumis (melo L. var.), from the cucumber and melon family. They listed these vegetables among food offerings on the walls of tombs and in medical texts. 

Offerings on a Middle Kingdom coffin.
From Steindorff 1901.

Cucumis melo seeds and other plant remains have been found in Egyptian archaeological contexts dating from the Predynastic period (ca. 3200 BCE) to the Roman era 3000+ years later.

The faience models also resemble the cucumbers from food offering scenes painted on coffins, or temple and tomb walls.

Food offerings from Deir el Bahari temple, New Kingdom.

Photo (c) Bruce Allardice.


 5.    Finally, the looks-a-lot-like method of identification: When these artefacts still have the original glaze, they actually most resemble varieties of cucumber or pickling melon. There are unambiguous examples of these faience models that are clearly a long greenish gourd-like vegetable. 
 
Model from a Late Bronze Age tomb (84) at Enkomi, Cyprus.
Image (c) British Museum, 1897,0401.1204.
 
Some of these models are also false vessels, hence the hole in one end.

Model from a New Kingdom tomb at Sedment.
Image (c) Penn Museum, E15436.


What you do with your pre-glass, miniature cucumber is of course entirely your own business, but it is nonetheless still a model vegetable.


Conclusion

I guess the point of my writing this post is that while some of us may appreciate a joke after a sweaty day spent processing a bazillion Iron Age ceramic sherds in the middle of nowhere, archaeologists as a species do not use a photo from a museum in order to draw conclusions about the identity of an artefact.

They may have done so over 100 years ago when science was significantly less fussy about accuracy than now, and there was a lot less evidence available, but that sort of sloppy thinking has been binned long ago, although I cannot say the same attention to detail applies for pseudoscience publications, clickbait sites and social media.

Instead, archaeologists gather the available evidence, and when context, text, representation, colour and material all point in one direction, then conclusions may be drawn. And you may be confident that if they get this wrong some bright spark further up the food chain will point it out over a beer at the next conference, or in a peer reviewed paper, because we are a tough audience to please and disproving other people's theories is an occupational requirement.
 
Therefore, according to the evidence given above the Metropolitan Museum artefact is most likely a funerary food offering model of an ancient Egyptian variety of cucumber or melon.



Andrea Sinclair 
Nov. 2022



Images
Thanks to Bruce Allardice and the museum digital collections, plus:
Caubet, A. and G. Pierrat-Bonnefois 2005, Faiences de l'antiquite: de l'Egypt a Iran. Louvre Editions (fig. 70).
Hayes, WC. 1959, Sceptre of Egypt I. Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 225).
Steindorff, G. 1901, Der Sarg des Sebek-O: Ein Grabfund aus Gebelen. Spemann, Berlin (pl. II).
Wiese, A. and A. Brodbeck 2004, Tutanchamun, das goldene Jenseits (p. 161).
 
References
Bisognin, DA. 2002, 'Origin and Evolution of Cultivated Cucurbits'. Cienca Rural 32: 715-23.
Germer, R. 2008, Handbuch der altägyptischen Heilpflanzen. Harrassowitz (Cucumis melo L: pp. 242-44).
Manniche, L. 2002, Sexual Life in Ancient Egypt. Kegan Paul. (circumcision pp. 8-9)
Pinch, G. 1997, 'Offerings to Hathor' (wooden penises as votive offerings to the goddess p. 146).
Pinch, G. and EA. Waraksa 2009, 'Votive Practices'. In UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, J. Dieleman & W. Wendrich (eds) - http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz01nfbgg
Robins, G. 2007, 'Male Bodies and the Construction of Masculinity in New Kingdom Egyptian Art'. In Servant of Mut: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Fazzini, SH. D'Auria (ed), 208-15. 
de Vartavan, C. A. Arakelyan and VA. Amoros, 2010, Codex of Egyptian Plant Remains. SAIS (Cucumis sp. pp. 89-90).

Sitchin’s rocket in the tomb of Amenhotep-Huy

Painting of the west wall in the tomb of Huy by Charles K. Wilkinson (1920s), Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. If yo...