ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Ancient customer-feedback technology lasts millennia (New Scientist, 2 March 2015). Nanni wants a refund from Ea-nasir for these rubbish copper ingots.

The Newly Discovered Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh (Ancient History etc blog, 24 September 2015). It revealed more details of Gilgamesh and Enkidu's battle with Humbaba in the Cedar Forest.

Summer Solstice – Season of Passion and Social Justice (Summer's Path blog, 6 July 2015). Sekhmet, the Ancestral Outraged Mother, and fighting for racial and sexual equality.

Grave of ‘Griffin Warrior’ at Pylos Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations (NYT, 26 October 2015)

Farmers Have Been Enjoying The Fruits Of Bee Labor For 9,000 Years (NPR, 11 November 2015)

Remains Of Captive Carnivores Discovered At Mexican Pyramid (iflscience.com, 19 December 2015)

3,200-Year-Old Papyrus Contains Astrophysical Information about Variable Star Algol (scinews.com, 23 Decembe 2015): "Ancient Egyptians wrote Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days... The best preserved... is the Cairo Calendar dated to 1244 – 1163 BC (Ramesside Period). According to scientists at the University of Helsinki, this papyrus is the oldest preserved historical document of naked eye observations of a variable star, the eclipsing binary star Algol."

Early Egyptian Queen Revealed in 5,000-Year-Old Hieroglyphs (Live Science, 19 January 2016) "... one inscription the researchers found tells of a queen named Neith-Hotep who ruled Egypt 5,000 years ago as regent to a young pharaoh named Djer."

Discovery Of Ancient Massacre Suggests War Predated Settlements (NPR, 21 January 2016)

Ancient Babylonian astronomers used calculus to find Jupiter 1,400 years before Europeans (ABC, 29 January 2016)

Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? (Smithsonian, November 2008)

Rise of human civilization tied to belief in punitive gods (Science News, 10 February 2016)

Lost art of Aboriginal dendroglyphs revived by modern artist (The World Today, 19 February 2016)

Is the Moon seen as a crescent (and not a "boat") all over the world? (Ask an Astronomer) Had to include this because of Inanna's "crescent-shaped barge of heaven". :)

ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Presumptive "ocular prosthesis" found in the Burnt City - Tumblr discussion, including artist's impression. :)

Evolution of Angels: From Disembodied Minds to Winged Guardians

Africans in Roman York?

Oldest Perfumes Found on "Aphrodite's Island"

Peking Man Was a Fashion Plate

Papyri Point to Practice of Voluntary Temple Slavery in Ancient Egypt

Study shows 'gene flow' from India to Australia 4000 years ago

Stirling Castle's Amazon warrior revealed

Sekhmet's bits: Forgotten statue uncovered

Temple find shows sway of ancient Egyptian religion

War was central to Europe's first civilisation - contrary to popular belief

Ancient "Egyptian blue" pigment points to new telecommunications, security ink technology

DNA sleuth hunts wine roots in Anatolia

Robot Finds Mysterious Spheres in Ancient Temple (Best headline ever. The temple's in Teotihuacan.)

Uncovered: Ritual public drunkenness and sex in ancient Egypt

Linguists identify words that have changed little in 15,000 years

Classic gags discovered in ancient Roman joke book

Cosmic find unearthed using Aboriginal Dreaming story

Digging for the truth at controversial megalithic site (Indonesia's Gunung Padang)

Folk magic found in old Brisbane basement

The earliest iron artifact ever found was made from a meteorite

Evidence of 3,000-Year-Old Cinnamon Trade Found in Israel

Cheese first made at least 7,500 years ago

How Egyptian god Bes gave the Christian Devil his looks

Ancient Magician's Curse Tablet Discovered in Jerusalem

Egyptian goddess statue unveiled in İzmir’s Red Basilica (It's a nine-metre tall Sekhmet. Wow!)

Finds in Israel add weight to theory God “had wife”


Evidence of fire-raining comet discovered on Earth: "The sea of silica was a well-known area of study as its glass was found in highly valuable jewelry, including a brooch of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun."

Untangling the Mystery of the Inca (khipu)

ETA (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] alryssa!):

"Lost City" of Tanis Found, but Often Forgotten

Photos from the submerged ancient city of Heracleion
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Will Roscoe's article "Priests of the Goddess" compares the Graeco-Roman gallus, the Mesopotamian gala (and similar cultic performers), and the Indian and Pakistani hijra.

They have several things in common:

  • they are priests of a goddess (or goddesses)
  • they're organised into groups, and employed by temples
  • they dance, sing, and play instruments
  • they are reputed to be homosexual and/or sex workers
  • they have an alternative "third" gender
  • and they have magical powers.

    It's those two last features I'm particularly interested in.

    The galli, singular gallus, "were originally temple personnel in the cities of central Anatolia", worshippers of the goddess Cybele, whose cult eventually spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world. The hijra are devotees of the goddess Bahuchara Mata; like the galli, they tell fortunes and can "utter fearful curses". (Lifting their sari to show their scars "doom[s] the viewer to calamity".) Their tradition may date back as far as "the early first millennium". The galli were called the "third sex" and the "middle kind"; the hijra are called "third gender", "not-male", and "woman-man" (Cf UR.SAL, "man-woman", ie assinnu.)

    As Roscoe points out, while the gala et al were said to be "gender transformed" by Inanna/Ishtar, we don't know whether this was a physical transformation. Interestingly, though many hijra are ritually castrated, many postpone this and some never go through with it; it's not an absolute requirement of the job. Roscoe points out that the same may have been true for the galli.

    This may have reflected an understanding of sex and/or gender which isn't reduced to the genitals, but has to do with cultural traits such as dress, behaviour, and profession. The galli wore "partly female and partly galli-specific dress", the hijra formerly mixed male and female clothing but now wear women's clothes; the gala sang in emesal, the woman's dialect, the kurgarru and assinnu "portrayed the goddess in ritual, by wearing masks and cross-dressing", the saĝ-ur-saĝ mixed male and female dress. Roscoe suggests that "since homosexual practices were, for the receptive partner, considered androgynizing, the sexual activity of galli served to overdetermine their status as androgynes". (p 205)

    "Why is gender transgression so often attributed with religious meaning?" ponders Roscoe. Nanda writes that the hijras "call into question the basic social categories of gender on which Indian society is built. This makes the hijras objects of fear, abuse, ridicule, and sometimes pity. But hijras are also... conceptualized as special, sacred beings... both Indian society and Hindu mythology provide some positive, or at least accommodating, roles for such sexually ambiguous figures."

    ETA: By contrast, Piotr Michalowski's article on the Ur III period gala doesn't mention gender at all. (He does state that "Ur III ceremonial life" was based on concepts and symbols "very different from any that became before and after".) He remarks that "galas were important players in economic and religious life", involved in funerals, funerary cults, and organising official music performances, and possibly other entertainment. It's possible that men could temporarily take the role of a gala, such as at a wedding.

    ETA: More on the galli from The Gods of Ancient Rome by Robert Turcan, who states that Cybele's cult was overseen by "foreign priests (a Phrygian man and woman, as well as by galli... castrated like Attis, the companion who was both lover and son to the goddess."

    The galli left the goddess' sanctuary only on procession days. One procession is described as being accompanied by cymbals, tambourines, trumpets, and flutes, and the frenzied brandishing of weapons; the frightened onlookers showered the galli, who were dressed in multi-coloured garments, with offerings of coins and roses.

    During another procession, mourning the death of Attis, the galli whipped and cut themselves, and amongst all the shrieking, music, and dance, the new would-be galli castrated themselves with a flint. (One ancient writer cheekily referred to this as "the very day when the faithful of the Mother of the gods began to groan and feel sorry for themselves.").

    Legally, Romans could not be galli, as they could not be castrated, so the ritual of the taurobolium was substituted for officials such as the archgallus: he was completely soaked in the blood of a sacrificed bull (followed by a sacred marriage with the goddess "behind the curtain" - I hope he washed first).

    Turcan also mentions the "armed dance" and self-mutilation of the prophetic priestess of another Anatolian goddess, Ma-Bellona; and the "mendicant eunuchs of Atargatis" who similarly "slashed their arms with hatchets or swords" before prophesying.

    ETA: The tablet BM 29616 relates how Enki "upon hearing that Inanna was vexing heaven and earth with her wrath, fashioned the gala, and provided him with an assortment of chants as well as accompanying drum-like musical instruments... in order to soothe the goddess and help calm her rage." (Samuel Noah Kramer's article also notes that the "iršemma is a composition, often melancholy in nature", written in Emesal, "that was chanted by a temple singer known as the gala to the accompaniment of drum-like musical instruments.")

    ETA: More on the hijra from Serena Nanda. The basic definition of a hijra is an impotent man who renounces male sexuality through emasculation. However, there are exceptions to this, such as hijras who were raised as girls, but did not develop breasts or begin to menstruate at puberty, and a girl with intersex genitals who became a hijra. Nanda spoke to a hijra sex worker who was "skeptical" about the idea that hijras lacked sexual desire, and to a hijra in a relationship with a man; another was angered that men who had been married and had children had "joined [the hijra] community only for the sake of earning a living". Nanda says that the "hijra role" encompasses "people whom we in the West would differentiate as eunuchs, homosexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites."

    Nanda states that "wearing female attire is an essential and defining characteristic of the hijra. It is absolutely required for their performances, when asking for alms, and when they visit the temple of their goddess Bahuchara... Long hair is a must for a hijra." They also adopt (and exaggerate) female mannerisms, take female names and address each other with female kinship terms such as "sister" and "aunty". However, they also behave in ways which would be "outrageous" for women - lifting their skirts, smoking, using "coarse and abusive speech and gestures" (Cf the "bawdy speech" of the kurgarru).

    Nanda states that "Whereas Westerners feel uncomfortable with the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in such in-between categories as transvestitism, homosexuality, hermaphroditism, and transgenderism, and make strenuous attempts to resolve them, Hinduism not only accommodates such ambiguities, but also views them as meaningful and even powerful." She points to the plentiful "androgynes, impersonators of the opposite sex, and individuals who undergo sex changes" in Hindu myths, which are familiar through popular culture.

    Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Literature and the British Museum: the Promise of the Future. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 124(4) August 1980.
    Michalowski, Piotr. Love or Death? Observations on the Role of the Gala in Ur III Ceremonial Life. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 58 2006, pp 49-61.
    Nanda, Serena. "Hijras as Neither Man nor Woman". in Timothy F. Murphy (ed). Reader's guide to lesbian and gay studies. Chicago, London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.
    Roscoe, Will. Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion. History of Religions 35(3), February 1996, pp 195-230. (The author has shared a huge chunk of the article online!)
    Turcan, Robert. The Gods of Ancient Rome. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

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