The Hierakonpolis painting and the Gebel el Arak knife by the blog Sumerian Shakespeare.

Watercolour from Tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis. Image source Quibell and Green 1902.

The following serves as an illustration of the pitfalls of writing beyond your knowledge base and also for talking to people who are experts in another area if you can’t be bothered doing the required amount of study yourself.  And incidentally, that free access to books online is pretty much useless when this only provides outdated research.

It is possibly also a recommendation not to write and drink at the same time.  But this is more of a guideline.

For some reason the amateur history blog Sumerian Shakespeare who writes up ancient Mesopotamian topics took it upon themselves to critique objects from Predynastic Egypt in two of their posts.  In the past I had assumed this blog was an adequate if unimaginative introduction to Mesopotamian culture for keen learners, but with the added bonus of nice pictures that are credited.  I have since altered this stance.

Now I find their blog shallowly researched, outdated, a bit racist, pseudo-archaeological nonsense that is effectively dressed up to look like ‘educated’ critique.

The Hierakonpolis painting and the Gebel el Arak knife
The overall premise of both blog articles by Sumerian Shakespeare is that while the Sumerians could not have settled Egypt and founded the Egyptian state (an outdated theory from the early 20th century) they could have mounted rustling expeditions … have a think about that … a rustling expedition ... or two. 

This glorious theory is supported by the fact that the two examples that they cite are contemporary and from the same region, Abydos …

Well … no … there is no evidence for where the knife came from.  It was purchased from a Cairo dealer by George Benedité for the Louvre collection, and is only reputedly from Gebel el Arak near Abydos.  In addition, the painting and knife are not contemporary.  The knife is dated to Naqada IIIA (c. 3350-3150 BCE), Tomb 100 at Hierakopolis is earlier and dated to Naqada IIC (c. 3500 BCE).  They are, at best, a hundred years apart, or likely more.

Master of animals on the Gebel el Arak knife. Image credit Wikipedia.

The critique of the Gebel el Arak knife (Aug 2016)
The knife is a flint blade with a carved ivory handle that has always attracted plenty of commentary, so this choice is rather predictable.  The post itself is basically introduced with the assertion that the writer decided to study the knife, because upon finding it in a web search of Sumerian images they were sure it was Sumerian, not Egyptian.  So like all good critical thinkers (from 1899) they set out to prove their theory was correct.

As is to be expected, a great deal of waffle about this object revolves around the master of animals figure between two lions that is on one side of the knife.  However, the writer immediately recognises him as the Sumerian shepherd king from Uruk in southern Mesopotamia.  Here we have a glorious example of early 20th century Biblical terminology being imposed on this early Mesopotamian motif, which is usually called a ‘priest-king’.

‘For a hundred years there has been a lot of scholarly debate about the identity of this man,
none of which is correct’… Cocky arse.

The Gebel el Arak knife handle. Image Wikipedia.

Once the writer has exhausted all the generic comparisons to 4th and 3rd millennium Sumerian glyptic to justify their claims, they arbitrarily switch sides of the knife and deal with the battle scene on the opposing side. This incidentally ignores the desert hunt imagery on the previous side.  And apparently on viewing the new scene, the penis sheaths worn by all combatants made them quite uncomfortable:

‘All of the soldiers wear penis sheathes. It’s beyond me why any man would wear this
ridiculous contraption, especially in combat – but there it is. I have to admit, I was very
disappointed to see the Sumerians thus attired. I always assumed that the Sumerians,
even at their most primitive, were more civilized than that.’

Then there is a lot of time wasted on describing the fighters – where the dominant figures with no hair are designated as Sumerians versus their opponents, the long haired Egyptians.  Let us just ignore that the fighting figures are equal in size and are all dressed in those penis sheaths. Then some considerable time is spent identifying the boats, basically still intended to prove that the boats on the lower part of the handle are all Sumerian, not Egyptian. 

To conclude the piece the writer backflips their entire argument and says that the knife cannot be Sumerian because a real battle between Egypt and the ‘marines’ of a Sumerian shepherd king is not possible.  They instead state that the artist copied details from Sumerian seals and artefacts, but did not understand all their iconography, so drew what they knew.  Which rather insanely explains away all the Predynastic Egyptian features of the knife. 

Then they end on their awkwardness with penises again.

‘That is why he shows them wearing penis sheathes like the Egyptians. (I was relieved
to know that my beloved Sumerians never wore these ridiculous accoutrements.)’

Watercolour from Tomb 100 Hierakonpolis. Image Quibell and Green 1902.

But it did not stop there and in February of this year Sumerian Shakespeare produced a sequel:

The critique of the Hierakonpolis tomb painting (Feb 2018)
With this piece a lot of time was again wasted by the writer in self satisfied waffle about their own ability to reinterpret ancient art, but when conclusions come they are odd and based on this person's intuitive perceptions of a modern painting of an ancient painting.  Admittedly these conclusions are entirely consistent with the previous ramble. 

The images they use are incidentally a watercolour and a line drawing from the original excavation report in around 1900-2.  Their only other literary source appears to be an article from 1962.  But they clearly ignored most of its content, as that article assumes the imagery is Predynastic Egyptian.  The haphazard narrative style is, like before, quite confusing and contradictory, as though they were just writing out their thought processes (at 2 am in the morning).

Anyway, some highlights

The writer claims that all the red figures in the painting are Sumerians, and the white figures are Egyptians … this assumption is based on schematic figures and goes against the Egyptian convention for the colour of people, red-brown was for Egyptian men, light colouring were used to depict Egyptian women.  Although, I am not confident to push that convention into the Predynastic.  However, the easiest way to find differentiation is to look at costume and hair.  They do not do this, and all figures in the drawing are, by the way, red-brown to dark brown.  

Watercolour from Tomb 100 Hierakonpolis. Image Quibell and Green 1902.

There is some fairly predictable use of the media worthy cliché about experts being baffled for 100 years … yes, that’s us … baffled by the image of goats encircling a wheel like enclosure. The writer calls this symbol a ‘carousel’ in what can only be a ludicrously subjective manner and uses condescending language inferring that the Egyptians kept trying to control nature well after everybody else had moved on like sensible people.

Regardless, the circular design that is called a carousel is probably an animal trap.  Traps or hides for wild animals were a common motif of control in Egyptian funerary art, early and later.

Apparently this trying to tame nature is why the master of animals was so compelling to the Egyptians … was it? … oh oh … wrong culture right there.

While the writer assumes control of wild nature was a compelling motif, they appear unaware that the Egyptians made a distinction between domesticated animals and the desert dwellers.  Symbolically speaking they were the difference between social order and chaos.  However, in ignorance of this, instead the writer states that the wild antelopes are all livestock … Egyptian livestock that is ripe for rustling ... so he is thinking quite subjectively and a fan of cowboy movies.

According to Sumerian Shakespeare the entire painting is about warfare brought about through a spot of livestock theft … They argue the painting illustrates the invasion of Egypt by a Sumerian expedition.  The flotilla of boats that dominate the composition are Sumerian boats and the red skinned Sumerians in long white skirts are the captains of the ships.  On the largest boat Sumerian warriors are surrounding and capturing an Egyptian leader who is in a pavilion.

Watercolour from Tomb 100 Hierakonpolis. Image Quibell and Green 1902.

Short pause as they talk about lord Hierakon and I wonder vaguely who he is?  Apparently the captive leader on this boat can’t be him … oh it is his tomb … gotcha … because he wouldn’t put a record of his own public embarrassment in his tomb.  Therefore it must be a neighbour who was attacked by the Sumerians ... seriously? … although another part of me is like, Lord Hierakon, eh … sounds sinister … wait, I’m thinking of the vampire lord.

Then the writer heads off at a tangent and compares this imagery to the battle scene from the Gebel el Arak knife and gives some scintillating commentary on that.  Apparently on the knife the Egyptians were also overwhelmed in an attack, by that shepherd king and his marines …  Reiterating that the bald figures are Sumerian and those with long hair are Egyptian ...  But I thought they decided it was all a dream?

Watercolour from Tomb 100 Hierakonpolis. Image Quibell and Green 1902.

Then we return to the Hierakonpolis painting and the scene of a man facing two lions that is in the upper left part of the painting, and without any pause for breath the writer says that this small scheme shows the lion pals of the Sumerians, because the lions are totally chilled and not hostile … muahaha … therefore they must be pets!

As the (il)logical extension of this idea, the armed male figure is therefore siccing (not my term) his lions on the antelopes! 

So there it is, in a nutshell.  

The second piece claims that on the Hierakonpolis tomb painting the Sumerians are rustling the Egyptian herds of domestic antelope with their highly trained pet lions.

‘That's it boys, saddle up the boats, we need to travel a few weeks with our trusty pet lions and rustle us some ibex in Egypt.’ ... (me btw)

After this bombshell, Sumerian Shakespeare puts some time into explaining with maps how the Sumerians might have travelled in boats all the way to Hierakonpolis (in inland Upper Egypt) … just to rustle some livestock …  I might add.  Then he backflips again by saying it couldn’t happen and the Egyptians just thought they were Sumerians … eh?

Basically the writer of these pieces can’t make up their mind whether the Sumerians could invade Egypt or not, and repeatedly contradict themselves.  After all, if it is too far to settle, invade, or whatever, it is also technically too far for spot rustling raids.  And how did they go with all those pet lions and antelopes on the long boat trip home?  

Did anybody get back alive?

Finally, to conclude both articles Sumerian Shakespeare ties it all seamlessly together with the pithy conclusion that these Sumerian rustling events on the Hierakonpolis painting and on the Gebel el Arak knife were so traumatic for the Predynastic Egyptian rulers that they caused political collaboration between tribal groups which resulted in state formation in Egypt …  

Now I really need a lie down.

Basically this was a farce from go to woah.  So lets get three points clear:

1)  Interconnections: In the 4th millennium Egypt did have long distance contact with the Near East and there is no question that early Egypt valued raw materials from much further east.  Even in the Predynastic they valued lapis lazuli highly, which will have come from northern Afghanistan to Egypt via overland or maritime trade routes. This relationship was most likely over land via Sinai, the Levant and Syria.  In the 4th millennium Egypt had a cultural presence in the southern Levant.

But the evidence favours connections to Susa in Iran, not necessarily Uruk period Sumer in Mesopotamia.  And this long distance trade does not prove direct contact with any of the intermediate cultures, but it infers the existence of trade routes and movement of objects and people in both directions.  It also infers they could have seen each other’s visual idiom, particularly administrative sealings.  
However, we have absolutely no archaeological evidence of intercontinental wars or invasions. This theory is an example of early 20th century colonialist thinking, stemming from the likes of Assyriologist A. H. Sayce and others of his generation who chose to trace the development of all western 'civilisation' from Babylon.

2)  The Hierakonpolis painting and the Gebel el Arak knife
Early ancient Egyptian iconography was complex and does not always mirror the imagery they produced in the pharaonic period.  However, some important themes about power survived into the Bronze Age and dominated state rhetoric, and they were formed in the Naqada period, when both the knife and painting were made.

The most important of these were the use of battle, prisoner taking and hunting scenes to show dominance over the forces of disorder.  The forces of disorder were always wild (not domestic) desert animals and human enemies.  These motifs were used in the Naqada period and the painting and knife examples discussed here have them.  Visual propaganda representing the ruling powers conquering chaos was common to Egyptian royal monuments and for high status tombs. 

Boating scenes were also dominant in both early and later Egyptian funerary art.  They painted these scenes of funerary barques and cult festivals in rich tombs and temples.  In the Naqada period they were also de rigueur on funerary and cult vases ... usually with specific details like pavilions, standards and palm fronds on the prows.  Just like those that are present on the knife and in the tomb painting.

The flotilla of boats in the Hierakonpolis painting is thought by experts to show a funerary or ritual procession.  With three female figures on the largest boat who could be gods or cult personnel.  The posture and dress of the figures have parallels with the depiction of female ritual figures at that time.  The boats on the painting and the knife are also pretty consistent with Predynastic boat imagery, but I understand that the writer got around that awkward issue by saying the Egyptian artists drew what they knew. 

Finally, the master of animals on each of these examples is the main argument for foreign influences or presence on the painting and the knife, (high prowed boats being another), because the master of animals was not a feature of pharaonic Egyptian iconography.  But in the mid 4th millennium it was not an overly dominant motif in Sumer either.  It comes properly into vogue in Mesopotamia in the early 3rd millennium.  In the 4th millennium it was a motif from Susa in Iran. 

3)  Writing style: The language employed in this blog is problematic at best.  The choice of words has a distinctly black and white/primitive versus civilised tone which contaminates both entire pieces.  Nothing is impartial about their writing.   

The writer employs an array of loaded modern American film-media language to gleeful effect, such as ‘rustling’, `bad guys’, ‘homeland defence’, ‘action hero’, ‘marines’, ‘soldiers’ and ‘seaborne invasion’.  By doing this they manipulate the perception of the reader in very inappropriate directions.

If you don’t want to read the originals, I will cut it down to essentials:

The Egyptians were the bad guys and they wore creepy penis thingys.

‘For the record, the Sumerians never wore this ridiculous apparatus. It was much too primitive and barbaric for the Sumerians. In my opinion, it proves that the Sumerians were far more civilized 
than the Egyptians during this period of history. There, I said it. Someone had to say it.’


To sum up, as I said at the beginning, I would generally recommend reading more widely before deciding it was a good idea to produce such incoherent, longwinded and culturally ignorant trash, and then, to publish them on the internet.  However, it did give us a running gag around the house for about 24 hours.  A good hearty laugh about rustling antelopes with your trusty pet lions is never a bad thing...  (edit) it turns out we are still getting the odd laugh out of it.

So, to close … a word or two of advice.  An uninformed opinion is pretty much valueless to humanity, whether you are talking about history, archaeology, politics or dental procedures ...  Don’t publish it ...  Another basic rule of thumb for coherent historical reasoning is, if a reading resource is more than 60 years old it is best to avoid relying on it.  Equally, scrolling through pop history sites on the internet at 2am in the morning is not a basis for sound research.  These pieces of writing are living proof of the pitfalls of these methods.

Andrea Sinclair

Louvre knife
Sumerian Shakespeare
Gebel el Arak-

Sources/further reading
The research they seem to have cherry picked:
Case, H. and J. Crowfoot Payne. 1962. ‘Tomb 100: The Decorated Tomb at Hierakonpolis’. JEA 48.
The out of Babylon/Sumer theory
Sayce, A. H. 1903. The Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia. (p 23)
Waddell, L. A. 1929. The Makers of Civilization in Race and History. (all)
Possibly this dreadful article
Comte Mesnil de Buisson. 1968.  ‘Le décor asiatique du couteau de Gebel el-Arak’. BIFAO 68.

Better literature on these topics
Hendrickx, S. and M. Eyckerman. 2012. ‘Visual Representation and State development in Egypt’. Archaeo-Nil 22.
Hendrickx, S. and M. Eykerman.  2015. ‘Les animaux sauvages dans l’Egypt prédynastique’. Apprivoiser le sauvage/Taming the Wild, editors B. Massiera, B. Mathieu and F. Rouffet.
Philip, G. 2002. ‘Contacts between the ‘Uruk’ World and the Levant during the Fourth Millennium BC: Evidence and Interpretation’. Artefacts of Complexity: Tracking the Uruk in the Near East, editor N. Postgate. BSA Iraq.
Pittman, H. 1996. Constructing Context: The Gebel el-Arak Knife. The Greater Mesopotamian and Egyptian Interaction in the Late Fourth Millennium B.C.E.  The Study of the Ancient Near East in the Twenty-First Century, editors J.S. Cooper and G.M. Schwartz.
Teissier, B. 1987. ‘Glyptic Evidence for a Connection between Iran, Syro-Palestine and Egypt in the 4th and 3rd Millennia'. Iran 25.
Trost, F. 2012. ‘Das Berühmte Grabe 100 von Hierakonpolis’. Almogaren XLIII. 

Modern crimes against ancient goddesses

Before I begin I want to get something clear: I am an archaeologist who specialises in Near Eastern/Egyptian iconography, BUT, I have also been a professional artist for my entire adult life, so I am an enormous fan of modern reception of the ancient Near East.  I even run a fb group for this and make reception pieces myself, it is fun. 

What I am not a fan of, is the proliferation of modern reception being used as examples of the real thing on Pinterest, Wiki, and a multitude of Christian and neo-pagan blogs and websites (plus some pseudo-history pages that purport to educate the masses).

This post will look at some viral ‘fake’ artefacts on the interweebs.  They are not really originally fakes, btw… I assume the artists will have probably made them as freestanding artworks and as homage.   

Other people have turned the copies into fakes by taking the image out of context.  However, most of these images are so prolific that their original artist is long forgotten.  Basically, because the individuals stealing these images don’t give a crap who made them.  They believe they are OLD and REAL.

1) The ivory lid from Ugarit

Left: REAL, the Minet el Beida ivory pyxis lid from tomb III, Minet el Beida, Ugarit, Syria. 13th century, Late Bronze Age.
Image © Louvre Museum, Paris.   Right: MODERN COPY.

These copies amuse me, because the reception pieces consistently misinterpret the imagery on the original object (above left).  On a multitude of dodgy internet sites the female figure can be described as any goddess from Ugaritic Anath, Asherah or Ashtart, to Assyrian Ishtar, and Sumerian Inana (wrong millennium kids).  Some even call her Phoenician Ashtarte or biblical Ashtoreth (again, wrong millennium). 
This object and its copies are interesting because they appear to have influenced modern artists regarding the design of costume for Near Eastern goddesses beyond this one group.  Which I must say is a misleading assumption, because the original ivory lid is in hybrid style and has mostly Aegean features.  It may even be a Mycenaean object.  So it may not be Near Eastern at all.  However, the lid is fairly unique and has no clear parallels in Syria (a goddess between rampant animals is damn near everywhere in the late Late Bronze Age).

Left and Right: MODERN COPY (right is the same plaque after someone put it through photoshop)

So what has changed on the reception pieces?  Quite a bit…  Both artists change the rampant goats of the original lid to horses (horses don't have beards), and the sheaths of wheat or leafy vegetation in her hands are given eyes and altered to snakes.  A few sites therefore call her a snake goddess.  On two copies she is standing on human skulls, rather than the grainy undulating ground of the original…  Some bright spark clearly wanted a chthonic goddess with all those skulls and snakes. 

After this she also appears to have influenced pieces that are not direct copies

Above is an 'Astarte' from various pagan commercial sites that sell reception trinkets.  It is probably worth mentioning we don’t know who the goddess is, if it is one... One thing is pretty sure, she is not Mesopotamian.

2) Astarte

Left: REAL,  Gold sheet plaque from Lachish, 14-13th century, Late Bronze Age Levant. Image
© Israel Museum, Jerusalem.  Right: MODERN COPY.

This one is actually just a nice little homage copy of the original plaque, no major errors or cavalier changes.  She is again a Late Bronze Age hybrid piece with this time Levantine and Egyptian characteristics. She is from a city and time frame when the Levant was under Egyptian rule, so a fusion goddess makes perfect sense…  Again, nothing particularly Mesopotamian to see here. 

I would leave it alone, but for Wikipedia having the gall to call it the original plaque.  And naturally it is used by cheerful pop-history (Mr P’s Mythopedia), conspiracy theory (Mesopotamian Gods and Kings) and neo-pagan sites as the real object.   Yet again, you can basically pick any high profile Near Eastern goddess and she will be called this, even though actual experts are still arguing over whether she is Anath, Qudshu or Astarte.

3) Inana?

Left: MODERN FORGERY, Early 20th century.  Image © Fitzwilliam Museum, London.  
Right: MODERN REWORKING of early 20th century forgery.

A reception goddess that is ironically a copy of a fake goddess that is a copy of a real Minoan votive figurine.  Exhausting just to think about it… but to be pedantic: no Mesopotamian goddess here either.

The source for these modern and almost modern copies are votive figures in faience and bronze from Minoan Crete, dating to around 1600 BCE. When Arthur Evans discovered the first figurines in the early 1900s he used a resourceful bunch of guys to restore them and he was totally cool with their making a bit of cash on the side selling antiquities.  The original ‘goddesses’ were so popular that the art market was just a tad desperate to get some and his trained restorers stepped up to the mark and flooded the market with very good fakes. 

The reception plaque is a modern interpretation of the Fitzwilliam Museum of London’s fake Minoan ‘goddess’ figurine, plus perhaps a couple of fragments of fakes that Evan’s published.  Authentic Minoan votive figures have quite specific arm gestures and do not clasp their breasts like goddesses on Syro-Levantine votive figures and seals.   This plaque is labelled the goddess Inana on various internet sites, or the Inana of Crete, whatever that means.

4) Ishtar

Left: REAL, Ishtar from Eshnunna, Iraq.  First half of 2nd millennium, 2000-1500 BCE. Image © Louvre Museum, Paris.  Right: MODERN COPY.

This plaque (right) is obviously a fan copy of the original, as it resembles it relatively closely.  The original is a clay plaque in the Louvre of the goddess Ishtar, that is from Eshnunna.  We know it is Ishtar because of her attributes, the quite specific sceptre, the lion (under her foot) and the diadem of a high god.  The artist here however has reinterpreted the details and clearly not understood some idiom, such as the lion and the lion sceptre, but otherwise it is kinda cute. 

It is again used on various Mesopotamian history pages as the real deal.  I particularly enjoyed the caption on Mesopotamian Gods and Kings: ‘Inanna with liberty torch’.  Not only is she described as an alien nephilim giant, but she was also the goddess of liberty… because, wait for it... the badly copied sceptre is really a torch like the American statue of liberty holds…  cue eye roll.

On the upside it is a copy of a Mesopotamian goddess.

5) Ereshkigal
This figurine was most probably creatively sourced from the same Louvre plaque with the goddess Ishtar from Eshnunna, or something similar like seals, but the claws for hands clearly reference the British Museum Queen of the Night (Burney Relief) plaque.  Personally, I suspect the Ugarit lid copies have had some input in the design too, with that uncharacteristic skull and the patterns on the flounces.  But that is after all artistic licence.

Modern goddess by Netjerwaret

The modern reception artwork was made by the profile Netjerwaret at Deviant Art, but no blame may lay at their door that dodgy history sites like Mr P’s Mythopedia and Mesopotamian Gods and Kings call it a real ancient statue of Ereshkigal. 

Handy hint for the uninitiated:  There are at this point in time no confirmed ancient images of the Mesopotamian underworld goddess Ereshkigal in any medium in any collection in the world.  We don't know what she looked like.  The closest we come to one is the Queen of the Night plaque goddess and this connection is hotly disputed, because if the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians avoided depicting the goddess of the dead, she is unlikely to be her..

6) ‘Ninhursag’
The final plaque (right) is again a respectable copy of the original object, there are as usual minor details where the artist misread the content, like her missing left hand and the loss of her horned crown, but it is a lovely piece of reception nonetheless.

Left: REAL, goddess on a vase fragment naming Enmetena of Lagash,ca. 2400 BCE,
© Vorderasiatisches Museen, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.  Right: COPY, woodcut by Nicholas Fasciano.

The copy was most likely commissioned for the book by Samuel Noah Kramer that it illustrates, ‘History Begins at Sumer’ which  is a perennial favourite that was published in the 1950s and has been republished repeatedly since then.  The goddess is one of four woodcuts in the book by American illustrator Nicholas Fasciano. It is called 'Ninhursag' by Kramer.

The original object (left) is a fragment from a votive vessel that names the king Enmetena of Lagash (ca. 2400 BCE) that is in Berlin. The tablet records the dedication of a temple to Inana, but also mentions Nanshe and Ninhursag, with both goddesses being possibilities for the goddess depicted here.  However, the Berlin museum describes her as Nisaba.  The iconography is not overly specific, but she holds dates and has grain or vegetation in her crown, so a vegetation goddess is very likely.

The copy is another prolific mislabelled image on the internet and is used as an authentic ancient object on a multitude of pop history, neo-pagan and downright crazy sites, who embellish their descriptions with all sorts of interesting attributes for Ninhursag, the Sumerian birth goddess.  Some even try to give it a legitimate provenance, like Looklex Encyclopaedia who claim the woodcut is from the temple of Ninhursag at Tall al-Ubayd…  No it isn’t.

But the winner for complete nonsense reception again goes to Mesopotamian Gods and Kings with their farcical description of Ninhursag involving the planet Nibiru, mixed breed races of creation, plus calling the mythical king Lugalbanda her ‘giant mixed breed son’…  say what?

On the upside again at least it is originally a Mesopotamian goddess.

The copy incidentally came with three other woodcuts of gods that are also viral online as the real objects, but these will have to be the topic of a future blog post.


In summary, sourcing pictures of ancient goddesses from unreliable sites:  Don’t do it, it’s a trick

Seriously guys, you really can’t trust the internet to provide you with reliable and authentic images of ancient Mesopotamian gods.

Andrea Sinclair

7) Inana
in flight suit with helmet that has goggles
First of all … subjective much?

Now I have that off my chest, there is another viral image that may be found on any tin foil hat wearing page that pays homage to Sitchin on the net.  However, as with all the previous ladies this example is a reception piece that is an interpetation of a drawing from 1922.

REAL: Left: the real gypsum plaque from the Ishtar temple at Aššur.  Right: an artist's interpretation 
of the pigment decoration.  Andrae 1922, plates 27a and 28c. 

The original object is a 20cm high fragmentary gypsum plaque that Walter Andrae excavated in the early 20th century in the Ishtar temple at Aššur in Iraq. It was found in a room adjacent to the main cult room in layer H which dates to the Early Dynastic III (ca. 2500 BCE). There were traces of paint on the plaque, so the excavators did a line drawing to try to reproduce the colour designs.  There is no guarantee that the drawing is an entirely accurate reconstruction.  In the 1920s illustrators have been known to improvise.  It is clearly not drawn to scale.

The identification of the plaque as Inana also cannot be guaranteed, as experts are still disputing whether the Mesopotamian frontally posed naked goddess is an aspect of this goddess or another separate goddess.  Offerings of figurines in temples are not goddess specific, and it was possible for other gods to have cult places within the main building of a god.  It incidentally does not appear to be a wall sculpture (contra Sitchin).

Left: black and white image from Sitchin 1976. Right: MODERN REPLICA from the Herschel blog.

The modern copy of a drawing of a drawing is from the web site of Wayne Herschel, a rabid devotee of Zecharia Sitchin who has worked out how to make a dollar or three by selling expensive “replicas” to fans.  Herschel claims that Sitchin found the plaque in the Iran museum, and this is the story all over the internet.  An easy mistake I guess, Iran/Iraq, q and n are so easily confused.  It is actually either in the Berlin or Istanbul museums (distribution of finds).  Sitchin himself cites Andrae and the Ishtar temple in his book.

“The team headed by Andrae found yet another unusual depiction of Ishtar at her temple in Ashur.  More a wall sculpture than the usual relief, it showed the goddess with a tight-fitting decorated helmet with the “earphones” extended as though they had their own flat antennas, and wearing very distinct goggles that were part of the helmet.”

You have got to admire how much information can be gleaned from a black and white line drawing of a small plaque, but Sitchin’s claims about ancient astronauts are a whole separate issue and he too approached facts with a generous tablespoon of salt.  I could not possibly tackle his nonsense here.

Regardless, in this case we have a chain of outcomes beginning with a pseudo-science interpretation from the 1970s, and then another individual has added confusion by desiring to cash in on this craze by writing his own book and selling the public expensive replicas.  The object you see on the web is a 3 dimensional modern interpretation of a black and white drawing that is a copy of a polychrome drawing of a scruffy broken plaque from 1922 … confused yet?

W. Andrae 1922. Die Archaischen Ischtar-Tempel in Assur.
Z. Sitchin 1976. The 12th Planet.
W. Herschel:

Museum Websites

Louvre ivory lid

Louvre Ishtar

Israel Museum gold plaque

Fitzwilliam Minoan forgery

Berlin goddess

Bullshit Memes #1: Ancient ʽMysterious’ Handbags

 Chlorite weight from Jiroft in eastern Iran, mid 3rd millennium.  National Museum of Iran.
Image Wikipedia

Bullshit Memes #1: Ancient ʽMysterious’ Handbags

Or how some people really can’t see past their own subjective experience, and will buy any old tat because it looks cool and often has mysterious in the title. 

Yes I just did that.

The answer is ‘completely different objects’.

Left.  This Neo-Assyrian (1st millennium, 9th century BC) relief from Iraq has a winged protective Apkallu divinity who is holding a ritual bucket filled with a libation liquid.  The image is a two dimensional interpretation of a circular bucket with a handle that is viewed in profile.  The pine cone he holds is dipped into it, so that he can sprinkle the liquid.

Close up, you can see the metal handle, photo by A. Sinclair

Middle.  The jackal headed figure is the Egyptian god of mummification Anubis from a wall in the burial chamber of Tutankhamen’s tomb (2nd mill., 14th century BC).  He is holding an amulet, the symbol of life, the ankh, that is really not in any known universe a bucket, or a handbag.  Egyptian gods carried life in their hands and confered it on kings, particularly the dead ones.

Right.  The Meso-American Toltec warrior (10th to 12th century AD), is from the pyramid of the Toltec creator and chief god Quetzacoatl at Tula in Mexico.  The figure holds something specific to his warrior status and his culture that resembles neither of the other objects.  It is a weapon.

More ‘bags’:  This is a classic.. although I would recommend next time they check for grammar issues before pressing post.

Left.  Most of the objects (5) on the left are chlorite weights of some description from eastern Iran and dated to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC (ca 2500 BC).  We tend to call them weights these days, because they have wear marks on their 'handles', probably due to tying with rope and hanging in some capacity, perhaps as a weight that could hold down a covering.  They are flattish and superficially two dimensional with no ‘bagginess’ at all, like say the capacity to carry stuff. 

Centre top.  Is a poor photo of an ivory label with the 1st Dynasty Egypt (late 4th mill. BC) naming queen Neithhotep in hieroglyphs.  However, their ‘bag’ hieroglyph, ‘hotep’, is in fact a line drawing of a reed mat with a loaf of offering bread placed in the centre, that is drawn viewed in profile.  No bag to be seen.  This is not even a particularly ambiguous hieroglyph.  There is royal art where you can see the woven pattern of the mat.  The other hieroglyph is incidentally a shield with two arrows.

Faience ritual buckets from 13th century Mari. Louvre ao19491 & ao 18934.

Top right.  The Neo-Assyrian (1st mill.) divinity is again holding a ritual bucket used for libation liquids in scenes with sacred trees.  These buckets actually exist btw, or something very similar, the Louvre has a couple made from faience from Mari in Syria, although they are about 500 years older than the Assyrian ones.

Bottom right.  Is on a pillar from Göbeckli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey, (10th to 8th mill. BC). Considering how very very early and schematised these carvings are, archaeologists can only make educated guesses about the significance of their icons, which existed more than 6000 years before any language was written down.  Because these things are a schematised loop and a rectangle carved in relatively flat relief, it is not possible to say how they are meant to be viewed.  Should we assume drawn looking down from the top? In profile?  Or like the ancient Egyptians, with all the important bits put together?  Is it three separate objects, or one long one?  Pretty safe to assume they are not handbags.

There is in fact no way to argue a connection between a sculpture from 9000 BC and objects from the 3500 BCE to the 1st millennia AD unless you don’t require any evidence at all to believe stuff.

The final image is a children’s game: called ‘one of these is not like the others’.

Can you spot the modern fake?  I’ll give you a clue: it is not from Neo-Assyrian Iraq.


All three internet memes illustrate how foolish it is to use modern words like ‘handbag’ and subjective reasoning to read ancient art.  Ignorance of the physical context and artistic conventions of early cultures combined with narrow interpretation of two dimensional images could quite possibly make you look like a git on the internet. 

Also, the use of culturally specific modern English nouns for academic writing and the media to describe ancient artefacts is completely bogus and can inadvertently deceive the reader, or facilitate the deception of the public by pseudo-science websites.  This meme fad basically could have begun because of misinterpretation of the word handbag to describe the chlorite ‘weights’ from Iran (or, at a stretch, a troll thought this would be hilarious).

Cambridge online Dictionary: ‘Handbag, a bag, often with a handle or a strap going over the shoulder, used esp. by women for carrying money, keys, and small personal items such as makeup; purse’.

Don't do it, it's a trick
Andrea Sinclair

PS: Smoodging entire historical cultures together that range from 9000 BC to 1100 AD is seriously just plain sloppy.

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