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 BCE) 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 BCE).  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 conferred it on kings, particularly the dead ones.
Faience ankh, Boston MFA 03.1089.

Right.  The Meso-American Toltec warrior (10th to 12th century CE), 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 from eastern Iran and dated to the middle of the 3rd millennium (ca 2,500 BCE).  We tend to call them weights these days, because they have wear marks on their 'handles', probably due to tying with rope and hanging, perhaps as a weight that could hold down a covering.  They are flattish stone and superficially two dimensional with no ‘bagginess’ at all, like say the capacity to carry stuff.  
The Egyptian hieroglyph 'hetep' or 'hotep'.
Centre top.  Is a poor photo of an ivory label with the 1st Dynasty Egypt (late 4th mill. BCE) naming queen Neithhotep in hieroglyphs.  However, their ‘bag’ hieroglyph, ‘hotep’, is in fact a composite sign combining two objects: it is a reed mat with a loaf of bread placed in the centre, that is drawn as though viewed from the side.  No bag to be seen... no handle.  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 buckets from 13th century Mari. Louvre ao19491 & ao18934.

Top right.  The Neo-Assyrian (early 1st mill. BCE) 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 (above), although they are about 500 years older than the Assyrian ones.  The British Museum has a bronze bucket dating to the Achaemenid period (BM:91163, mid 1st mill. BCE). Mesopotamian libation buckets may be made from vitreous material like faience or glass, or metal like bronze and copper, high end ones might be silver or gold.

Pillar in Enclosure D, Göbeckli Tepe, Turkey. Image Wikipedia.

Bottom right.  Is on a stone pillar in Enclosure D at Göbeckli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey (10th mill. BCE). Considering how early and schematic these carvings are, archaeologists can only make educated guesses about the significance of their icons, which existed more than 6,000 years before any language was written down.  Because these things are a schematised loop and a crooked 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 9,500 BCE and sundry objects from 3,500 BCE to the 1st millennia Common Era 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 pseudoscience 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
April 2018

PS: Smoodging entire historical cultures together that range 10,000 years, from 9,000 BCE to 1,100 CE is seriously just plain sloppy.

Further Reading
Aruz, J. 2003, 'Intercultural Style: Carved Chlorite Objects', in J. Aruz, Art of the First Cities, pp 325-45. Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications, New York.
Dodson, A. & D. Hilton, 2004, The Complete Royal Families of Egypt. London.
Giovino, M. 2007, 'The Cone, the Bucket and Climate', & 'Bucket and Cone Revisited', chapters in M. Giovino, The Assyrian Sacred Tree: A History of Interpretations. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 230, ZORA https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-141569
Morello, N. 2016. 'A Gish on a Tree: Interactions between Images and Inscriptions on Neo-Assyrian Monuments', in N. Gilbert, Understanding Material Text Cultures, a Multidisciplinary View, Multerialen Textkulturen 9, pp 36-7.
Tepe Telegrams, Göbekli Tepe Research Project website - https://www.dainst.blog/the-tepe-telegrams/the-research-project/ 
Wilkinson, R.H. 1999, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art. New York.

A rather nice critique of the Father Crespi Ecuadorian plaque by Jason Colavito:

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...