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XXI

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THE EARLY CYLINDERS

W. M. Flinders Petrie. Scarabs and cylinders with names: illustrated by the Egyptian collection in University College, London (London, 1917)

View Scarabs and Cylinders PDF Online

CHAPTER IV  THE EARLY CYLINDERS

(PLATES I-VII)

21. A corpus provided here

22. Classes of types

23. Primitive concept of writing


Materials

21. A corpus provided here

The early cylinders of black steatite have been hitherto neglected, because they belong to a stage of the writing when the recognised canons had not yet become fully regulated; and they need to be studied by inter-comparison, rather than by the same rules as the developed inscriptions. The present renderings given here are only a first attempt; and for the detailed reasons of the readings, reference should be made to the preliminary articles in Ancient Egypt, 1914, pp. 61-77, 1915. pp. 78-83.

In order to reach any conclusions, it is needful to have as much material as possible for comparison. The University College Collection already contained by far the largest series of such material; my best thanks are due to the Rev. W. MacGregor, for kindly lending me his cylinders from which I took casts, and also to Mr. Blanchard for supplying me with casts of all his cylinders; thus the two other principal collections are here shown in photographs. Beside these I have drawn all those published by Dr. Reisner from Naga ed Deir, and also obtained many drawings from other sources. Thus there is here practically a corpus of such remains, which will enable them to be compared for the first time.

22. Classes of types

The cylinders are classed here under the following divisions: seated figures, phrases, Aakhu figures, titles, later phrases, columnar inscriptions, figuries, early dynastic titles. These classes are in the apparent order of their origination, but of course they largely overlap in their dating. Within each class the order is that of the apparent date, grouping together those of similar style. As to definite ages for these, there are a few fixed. No. 81, of ivory, is of s.d. 65-76 (Diospolis, pl. x), a little before the Tarkhan cemetery and the earliest known kings. No. 56 is of S.D. 78-80, the beginning of the first dynasty (El Amrah, pl. vi, p. 39) ; this by the style of the band on it carries with it No. 39, which is obviously later in style than the simpler work of most of those on pl. i. No. 95 is dated by the name of King Athet, the third of the first dynasty. The more complex and detailed style of the Naga ed Deir cylinders, as 32-35, is well dated by the pottery and stone vases found with them, of S.D. 81, or the middle of the first dynasty. The dating by the forms of the tombs—on the strength of which several are assigned to the second dynasty is dependent on the theory of two forms of tomb not being used simultaneously; the pottery shows conclusively that these tombs are all contemporary, as it continuously changed, and differed from this style in the later period. Thus it seems that the titular cylinders may belong to the first dynasty while the religious types, even of advanced forms, are before the first dynasty, and probably go back to the incoming of the dynastic race. There is no ground for assigning any cylinders to the predynastic race, before dynastic influence entered the country.

The cylinder impressions found in the Royal Tombs of the first dynasty quite agree with the dates above stated. They are of more advanced style than most of these cylinders, and would quite imply that these were earlier than Mena. They do not serve to explain these, as they are entirely connected with the royal estates and property, whereas these are concerned with private devotion or religious service. The royal sealings are not included in this series, as they do not serve to explain these, and they have been already fully published in Royal Tombs i and ii.

23. Primitive concept of writing

Before considering the style of inscriptions found on these cylinders, we should glance at the ideas of such an age about language. The early Greek supposed that truths about ideas, and the nature of things, could be reached by arguing over the words by which he expressed himself; he took words as equivalent to thought, whereas we recognise now that they are a very inefficient expression of thought. Looking further back we see that the historic Egyptian valued words even more; he believed in creation by the word, the greatest of intentions was supposed to take effect only through spoken words; no object really existed without a name, the word gave it reality; plays upon words meant to his mind a hidden connection between the realities named. It is therefore to be expected that in a still earlier stage the word would be still more important; inversions of a word giving different senses, plays upon words, slightly varied repetitions of words, would all be supposed to have special value and meaning. We should expect to find this manipulation of words in any inscriptions which had a religious or magic purpose, in the same manner in which we actually see it upon these cylinders. Another consideration is that in early historic inscriptions the regular position of writing was not yet systematized; on the panels of Hesy, the tombstones at Abydos, and the variations of duplicates of the royal labels, we see that the rules for position were by no means certain. So long as all the elements were there, the value of them was the same in whatever order they stood. Hence the confused arrangement and inversions here seen on the cylinders are only an earlier stage of this unregulated writing which still prevailed in the first two dynasties.

The forms of some of the signs show how remote the usages were from those of even the first dynasty. The mouth was distinguished sometimes by a side view of it open, showing the teeth, as in Nos. 2, 3, 74. At other times it was shown in front view with the teeth as in Nos. i, 5, 31, 32, 62, io8a. The hand is shown with all the fingers spread, as in 113, 114. The mat, p, is drawn with loose ends, as in 101, 102, instead of a square, as on 132. Onkh is very rarely found, as the future life was certain, and only its welfare was prayed for; but it occurs on 123 in a very different form to any known later, with short, wide-spread ends—compare the normal form on a much later style of cylinder, 133.

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