List of Unsolved Problems in Egyptology

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

A Brief History

On this date, September 28, 48 BC, Pompey the Great was assassinated on the orders of King Ptolemy of Egypt after landing in Egypt.  Although we know of this incident, many open problems concern Ancient Egypt, and some of them may never be solved.  Egyptian archaeology is in a state of constant transition, with much of the terminology and chronology in dispute.  The archaeological record is incomplete, with countless relics and artifacts missing or destroyed.  New archaeological discoveries can call into question previous conclusions about Ancient Egypt.  Furthermore, there are internal problems of overall cohesion of various dynasties, and there are problems reconciling the Egyptian civilization with other concurrent civilizations.

The following are unsolved problems in Egyptology and modern knowledge of ancient Egypt.  The items are in the form of a list of unsolved problems.  This list originally appeared on Wikipedia before being removed due to electronic book burning.  A major contributor to the original article on Wikipedia was Doug Weller.  Other editor’s contributions can be viewed in the original article’s revision history.  This article therefore uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia.

Open Problems

Origins

Ancient Egypt appeared as a unified state no later than 3300 BC.  It survived as an independent state until about 30 BC. Archaeological evidence suggests that a developed Egyptian society may have existed for much longer.

  • History: What did the Egyptians know of their own history?
  • History: Who were the first leaders of the Hyksos, temporary rulers of Northern Egypt?
  • Name: Is the name of Egypt of Greek origin?

Chronology

  • Event: Volcanic eruption of Thera
    • In the Bronze Age, the massive volcanic eruption of the island of Thera (Santorini) deposited pumice and ash across the Eastern Mediterranean.  This archeological layer of debris provides a fixed date that can synchronize all the chronologies of the region, including Egyptian, Minoan, Mycenean, Canaanite, and so on.  The radiocarbon date of this eruption is well-attested, around 1613 ±13 BC,1 corroborated by numerous other carbon samples, plus other dating methods. Based on pottery, scarabs, and the Tempest Stele, some have argued that this event must have happened during the reign of Ahmose I, the founder of the 18th Dynasty.  Unfortunately, this date contradicts the conventional Egyptian chronology that starts the 18th Dynasty around 1550 BC, thus yielding a date for the eruption somewhere around 1530 BC based on archaeological remains such as ceramic ware.2  This contradiction has not yet been resolved.  Egyptologists have thus not  changed their chronologies, which without exception date Ahmose I to the 16th century.

The Pharaohs

  • Persona: Was King Khufu (Cheops) a good ruler or a tyrant, as later tradition described him?
  • Persona: Where did Khababash of the Thirtieth dynasty of Egypt come from?
  • Persona: What happened to Hatshepsut?  Was Senenmut the lover of Hatshepsut?  Why did Thutmose III obliterate the names and images of Hatshepsut, after a seemingly amicable coreign?
  • Persona: Where is the body of Akhenaten?  Was Akhenaten killed or exiled?  What did Akhenaten believe?  Did Aten have a connection with Adonai, Yahweh, or Elohim?
  • Persona: How did Tutankhamun die?  Was he son of Akhenaten?  Was he really son of Kiya, or could he have been son of Nefertiti?
  • Event: Was Amenemhat I assassinated?
  • Event: What happened to Nefertiti?  What caused the disappearance of Nefertiti?  Was Nefertiti Smenkhkare?  Did Nefertiti ever rule Egypt alone?3
  • Event: Was Egypt split during the rule of Smendes I?
  • Event: Did Ramesses III defend Egypt against the Sea People because they were invading or were they people fleeing to Egypt in the middle of a war?
  • Event: Was Ramesses III assassinated?
  • Event: Did Necho II really send out an expedition which sailed from the Red Sea around Africa back to the mouth of the Nile?

Temples and pyramids

Many Egyptian temples still stand today.  Others are in ruin from wear and tear, while others have been lost entirely.  The Egyptian structures are among the largest man-made constructions ever conceived.  They constitute one of the most potent and enduring symbols of Ancient Egyptian civilization.

  • Temples :When was the Sphinx built and who built it?
  • Temples: What was the purpose of the Sphinx?  Which pharaoh was the Sphinx’s face meant to resemble?  Was its face meant to resemble Khufu, Djedefra, Khafra?  Was there a second Sphinx across the Nile?
  • Temples : Was the Labyrinth at Heracleopolis a myth or real?
  • Temples : Who built the Osireion at Abydos?
  • Pyramids : When was the great pyramid at Giza built?

Burial and tombs

Mummification of the dead was not always practiced in Egypt.  Once the practice began, an individual was placed at his/her final resting place through a set of rituals and protocol.  The Egyptian funeral was a complex ceremony including various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in the dead’s honor.

  • Customs: Were there human sacrifices at royal tombs, or is this claim just blood libel?
  • Customs: What was the meaning of the royal boats at Abydos?
  • Tomb: Where is the royal tomb of Amenhotep I?  Why was Amenhotep’s body moved?
  • Tomb: Was the tomb of the sons of Ramesses II founded by Amenhotep II?
  • Persona: Who are the individuals that are buried at Qurneh?

Biblical synchronisms

The ancient Egyptians are featured in the Old Testament, and played a prominent role in the early Hebrews’ life, from Joseph’s capture to the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt, and later interaction with the Kingdom of Israel.

There are several unanswered questions as to the precise influence each had on the other.

  • Persona: When did Joseph live? Was Joseph alive in the Middle Kingdom, Hyksos Period, or New Kingdom, or was his story nothing more than a myth?
  • Persona: Is there a connection between Moses and Akhenaten (see Osarseph)?  Could Akhenaten have been Moses himself, or perhaps Yehoshua?
  • Persona: Who was Labaya of the Amarna Letters?  Was he a biblical figure (such as Saul or Mesha)?
  • Persona: Which Pharaoh gave Solomon his daughter to marry?  Was it Shoshenq I, or perhaps Psusennes II?
  • Event: Was the Exodus of the Israelites mythological or historical?  If historical, under which Pharaoh did it occur?  How many Hebrews were in Egypt?  How many left in the Exodus?  600 families or 600,000 people?  Was it in fact the Shasu exodus from Sinai to Arabia and then Canaan at the end of the reign of Ramses I, or was it based on the Hyksos expulsion?  Was the pharaoh of the Exodus Dudimose, a Hyksos pharaoh, Ahmose I, Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep II, Amenhotep III, Ramesses I, Ramesses II, Merneptah, or perhaps an unsuggested pharaoh?

Technology

Certain artifacts and records do not fit with conventional technological development systems.  There is a question as to the sophistication of ancient Egyptian technology.

  • Methods: When did Egyptians start producing glass?
  • Methods: Why is there not a neat progression to an Egyptian Iron Age?  Why did the Egyptians take so long to utilize iron?
  • Methods: Were the Egyptians capable of long distance navigation in their boats?  When did they become knowledgeable seamen?
  • Knowledge: What does the Tulli Papyrus describe?  Did it come from the reign of Thutmose III?  Is it even real, or was it just creative writing?
  • Knowledge: Did the Egyptians have some form of understanding of electricity?4,5  Did the Egyptians use batteries?

Language and the arts

  • Literature: Was the Story of Sinuhe a myth or real?
  • Customs: Who were the Egyptian priests and magicians?  What kind of magic and spells did they use?
  • Art: What are meaning of the reliefs at Dendera?

Miscellaneous

  • Geography: Where was the land of Punt?  Why was it referred to as “God’s Land“?
  • Geography: Was Alashiya the island Cyprus?
  • Geography: Where was the area of Yam?
  • History: Did the “Nubian Dark Age” really occur in the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt?
  • History: Was the First Intermediate Period of Egypt really a Dark Age?
  • History: Who was the victor at the Battle of Kadesh?
  • History: Were the cities of Sais and Heliopolis built before the cataclysm as Diodorus Siculus attested in his Historical Library, Book V?
  • History: Why did Plato write about Atlantis as described by Sonchis, Egyptian priest of Thebes?  Did Solon meet Sonchis or is it a fable?  Was Athens founded a thousand years before the appearance of the Egyptian civilization as mentioned in Timaeus or is it a fable?
  • History: Why were there Minoan paintings in Avaris?  What was the relationship between Minoan civilization and Egyptian civilization?
  • History: Who were the Sea People?

Historical Evidence

Notes

  1. New research in Science: date of the largest volcanic eruption in the Bronze Age finally pinpointed (27 April 2006)
  2. Summary of Evidence for the Absolute Chronology of the Early Part of the Aegean Late Bronze Age Derived from Historical Egyptian Sources
  3. JENNIFER SARANOW, “7 Missing Wonders: Many of history’s most famous shipwrecks, tombs and relics are still missing. Jennifer Saranow on the growing high-tech hunt for them”, The Wall Street Journal (November 9, 2007): W1.
  4. This assumption may stem from a misunderstanding of a text referring to “high poles covered with copper plates” to make this argument Bruno Kolbe, Francis ed Legge, Joseph Skellon, tr., “An Introduction to Electricity“. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1908. 429 pages. Page 391. (cf., “[…] high poles covered with copper plates and with gilded tops were erected ‘to break the stones coming from on high’. J. Dümichen, Baugeschichte des Dendera-Tempels, Strassburg, 1877″)” but Dr. Bolko Stern has written in detail explaining why the copper covered tops of poles (which were lower than the associated pylons) do not relate to electricity or lightning, pointing out that no evidence of anything used to manipulate electricty had been found in Egypt and that this was a magical and not a technical installation.  Stern, Bolko (1896 reprinted 1998). Ägyptische Kulturgeschichte. Reprint-Verlag-Leipzig. pp. 106-108. ISBN 978-3826219085. 
  5. Heinrich Karl Brugsch-Bey and Henry Danby Seymour, “A History of Egypt Under the Pharaohs“. J. Murray, 1881. Page 422. (cf., [… the symbol of a] ‘serpent’ is rather a fish, which still serves, in the Coptic language, to designate the electric fish […])

General information

Further reading and other publications

External links and other resources

Share.

About Author

Wikipedia contributors