This post started out simply for me. I saw this meme...
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...
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.|
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).
|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|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.
|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.
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
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.
Sources and further reading
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.
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.