Thursday, July 30, 2020

Wendell Phillips, America's real Indiana Jones

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed "Unearthing Arabia,"a fascinating exhibit at the Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. in 2015.  Hearing about the exploits of the young archaeologist who had excavated these treasures, Wendell Phillips, immediately fascinated me when I read a BBC article referring to him as the American "Lawrence of Arabia." I found this video on YouTube that does an excellent job of summarizing his work in ancient Qataban which is now modern day Yemen.

Phillips was born in Oakland, California in 1921. His mother, Sunshine, was a gold prospector in California. His family was poor, and Phillips worked various jobs as a youth, including serving as a guide on Treasure Island during the San Francisco World's Fair. He suffered from polio as a young man and recovered in his early 20s.

Phillips graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1943 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in paleontology. His studies had been interrupted by World War II, in which Phillips served in the Merchant Marine before returning to college. Also during his college years, Phillips participated in fossil-hunting expeditions to Arizona, Oregon, and Utah, and corresponded with archaeologist William F. Albright, who later accompanied Phillips on his first archaeology expedition.

In the late 1940s, Phillips acquired funding from the University of California to organize a broad archaeological exploration of Africa. Though Phillips was inexperienced as an archaeologist, his used his charisma and persuasion skills to lead a team of approximately 50 scholars and technicians, equipped with trucks and an airplane. The expedition lasted 26 months and covered the entire length of the continent between Egypt and South Africa, receiving significant publicity in the United States. A highlight of the expedition's findings were jaws and teeth of a hominid from the Swartkrans site in South Africa.

Phillips's next expedition was in 1951 to the Arabian peninsula to explore the ancient city of Timna, a center for the incense trade in the ancient world. At Timna, Phillips's team excavated through layers of strata, allowing them to develop a timeline of the city dating to the 8th century BCE. An excavation at the House Yafash uncovered twin bronze lions and an alabaster figurine referred to by the team as "Miriam". The excavation also uncovered many utilitarian objects from daily life and funerary objects from a cemetery at Timna. Excavations included the Marib Dam, which was the largest of ancient times, and the Awwam Temple, which was one of the most important temples of the Sabaean people. Phillip's work was eventually brought to a halt by hostility from local Bedouin tribes.  At one point Phillips was even taken prisoner.

During his time in the Middle East Phillips became acquainted with the Sultan of Oman, who granted him the mineral rights to a modest oil producing region of his country, two offshore oil concessions, copper mining rights, and offshore fishing rights, the foundation for Phillips Middle east American Oil Company in 1954. Phillips traded some of his original concessions for more profitable mineral rights in Venezuela, Indonesia, and Libya.  By 1975, Phillips was the largest individual holder of oil concessions in the world, with a net worth in 1975 United States dollars of $120 million.

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Research indicates little evidence of widespread destruction at the end of the Bronze in the Middle East

This is interesting that researchers in the Middle East have found little actual evidence of widespread destruction once attributed to the Sea Peoples at the end of the Bronze Age especially in light of the recent article claiming there is evidence the "Hyksos", once thought to be the Sea Peoples, appear to be "homegrown" and not recent migrants to Egypt either.

Image: A man described as "Abisha the Hyksos" from the tomb of Khnumhotep II (circa 1900 BCE) courtesy of the Benihassan Project of Macquarie University.
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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Neck rests from New Kingdom, Egypt

Although the most common ancient Egyptian head rests found by archaeologists consist of a stand with an upper curved section to support the head and single or multiple supports attached to a fixed base, rare folding New Kingdom examples have also been discovered, featuring sculptures of Bes. Frequently represented on furniture, Bes was a household god who was often depicted as a lion. He was also a protective deity, and in this role he would safeguard the sleeping or the deceased against enemies with a ferocious growl like that indicated on his face in these examples.
While usually shown without any cushion to soften the hard surface on which the head lies, some headrests have been found that still have soft cloth wrapped around them, so they may not have been as uncomfortable as the bare rests suggest. The ancient Egyptians tended to view death as an eternal kind of sleep – as a result, many of the headrests found in Egyptian tombs were inscribed with the owner’s name and epithets. Archaeologists think some of the more ornate head rests, like those found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, depicted a religious association with the solar cult, since an individual lowered their head onto the head rest at night and arose from it in the morning.

Folding neck rest with depiction of Bes from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, ivory, New Kingdom, 18th dynasty courtesy of, Folding neck rest with depiction of Bes, New Kingdom, 1552-1069 BCE,

Folding neck rest with depiction of Bes, New Kingdom, 1552-1069 BCE, wood, in the collections of The Louvre courtesy of Hervé Lewandowski

Headrest from the tomb of King Tutankhamun with the base of the headrest depicting two “lions of the horizon”, while the god Shu holds up the head’s cup, in the same manner as is seen in the Book of the Dead where the solar barque rests on a stand. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Jon Bodsworth.
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