The success of ancient Egyptian civilization came partly from its ability to adapt to the conditions of the Nile River valley for agriculture. The predictable flooding and controlled irrigation of the fertile valley produced surplus crops, which supported a more dense population, and social development and culture. With resources to spare, the administration sponsored mineral exploitation of the valley and surrounding desert regions, the early development of an independent writing system, the organization of collective construction and agricultural projects, trade with surrounding regions, and a military intended to assert Egyptian dominance. Motivating and organizing these activities was a bureaucracy of elite scribes, religious leaders, and administrators under the control of a pharaoh, who ensured the cooperation and unity of the Egyptian people in the context of an elaborate system of religious beliefs.
The writing systems used in ancient Egypt were deciphered in the early nineteenth century through the work of several European scholars, especially Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young. Ancient Egyptian forms of writing, which included the hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic scripts, ceased to be understood in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as the Coptic alphabet was increasingly used in their place. Later generations' knowledge of the older scripts was based on the work of Greek and Roman authors whose understanding was faulty. It was thus widely believed that Egyptian scripts were exclusively ideographic, representing ideas rather than sounds, and even that hieroglyphs were an esoteric, mystical script rather than a means of recording a spoken language. Some attempts at decipherment by Islamic and European scholars in the Middle Ages and early modern times acknowledged the script might have a phonetic component, but perception of hieroglyphs as purely ideographic hampered efforts to understand them as late as the eighteenth century.
The Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799 by members of Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt, bore a parallel text in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek. It was hoped that the Egyptian text could be deciphered through its Greek translation, especially in combination with the evidence from the Coptic language, the last stage of the Egyptian language. Doing so proved difficult, despite halting progress made by Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy and Johan David Åkerblad. Young, building on their work, observed that demotic characters were derived from hieroglyphs and identified several of the phonetic signs in demotic. He also identified the meaning of many hieroglyphs, including phonetic glyphs in a cartouche containing the name of an Egyptian king of foreign origin, Ptolemy V. He was convinced, however, that phonetic hieroglyphs were used only in writing non-Egyptian words. In the early 1820s Champollion compared Ptolemy's cartouche with others and realised the hieroglyphic script was a mixture of phonetic and ideographic elements. His claims were initially met with scepticism and with accusations that he had taken ideas from Young without giving credit, but they gradually gained acceptance. Champollion went on to roughly identify the meanings of most phonetic hieroglyphs and establish much of the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Egyptian. Young, meanwhile, largely deciphered demotic using the Rosetta Stone in combination with other Greek and demotic parallel texts. (Full article...)
Maaibre Sheshi (also Sheshy) was a ruler of areas of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. The dynasty, chronological position, duration and extent of his reign are uncertain and subject to ongoing debate. The difficulty of identification is mirrored by problems in determining events from the end of the Middle Kingdom to the arrival of the Hyksos in Egypt. Nonetheless, Sheshi is, in terms of the number of artifacts attributed to him, the best-attested king of the period spanning the end of the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate period; roughly from c. 1800 BC until 1550 BC. Hundreds of scaraboid seals bearing his name have been found throughout Canaan, Egypt, Nubia, and as far away as Carthage, where some were still in use 1,500 years after his death.
Three competing hypotheses have been put forth for the dynasty to which Sheshi belonged. First hypothesis supported by Egyptologists such as Nicolas Grimal, William C. Hayes, and Donald B. Redford believe he should be identified with Salitis, founder of the 15th Dynasty according to historical sources and king of the Hyksos during their invasion of Egypt. Salitis is credited with 19 years of reign and would have lived sometime between c. 1720 BC and 1650 BC. Second hypothesis supported by Egyptologist William Ayres Ward and the archaeologist Daphna Ben-Tor propose that Sheshi was a Hyksos king and belongs to the second half of the 15th Dynasty, reigning between Khyan and Apophis. Alternatively, Manfred Bietak has proposed that Sheshi was a vassal of the Hyksos, ruling over some part of Egypt or Canaan. The very existence of such vassals is debated. Final hypothesis says Sheshi could be a ruler of the early 14th Dynasty, a line of kings of Canaanite descent ruling over of the Eastern Nile Delta immediately before the arrival of the Hyksos. Proponents of this theory, such as Kim Ryholt and Darrell Baker, credit Sheshi with 40 years of reign starting ca. 1745 BC. (Full article...)
Image 10Naqada figure of a woman interpreted to represent the goddess Bat with her inward curving horns, c. 3500–3400 B.C.E. terracotta, painted, 11+1⁄2 in × 5+1⁄2 in × 2+1⁄4 in (29.2 cm × 14.0 cm × 5.7 cm), Brooklyn Museum (from Prehistoric Egypt)
Image 27Possible prisoners and wounded men of the Buto-Maadi culture devoured by animals, while one is led by a man in long dress, probably an Egyptian official (fragment, top right corner). Battlefield Palette. (from Prehistoric Egypt)