magic spells by Augustalbum

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									HISTORY of Science                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        EGYPTOLOGY




                   Magic Spells
               to Combat Pests
                                                           Relations between humans and insects have a long (scientific)
                                                           history. In addition, however, insect researchers PROF. HERMANN
                                                           and DR. ANNA LEVINSON, formerly of the MAX PLANCK                                                                                                                                          Vignettes from the Egypt-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ian Book of the Dead:
                                                           INSTITUTE   FOR   BEHAVIOURAL PHYSIOLOGY        in Seewiesen,                                                                                                                              mummy-defiling animals
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      being warned off.
                                                           have been investigating the historical-cultural significance of
                                                           insects, which fluctuates between religious veneration and
                                                           pest control. The first place the scientists struck lucky was in
                                                           the ancient Orient, and in particular among the Egyptians.




                                                                                                                                                         tay far away from me, you      be protected from the effects of rav-
                                                                                                                                               “S        who have jaws that bite!”
                                                                                                                                               This saying from the Egyptian Book
                                                                                                                                                                                        aging by insects? It is among the an-
                                                                                                                                                                                        cient Egyptians that the first evi-
                                                                                                                                               of the Dead points to the fear the an-   dence of this problem of protecting
                                                                                                                                               cient Egyptians felt towards insects     food stores appeared. The issue of           The protection of grain stores oc-
                                                                                                                                               that ate mummies and the edible          protecting food stocks became an          curred along somewhat more ratio-
                                                                                                                                               burial objects placed alongside them.    important issue, independently of is-     nal lines and was invented, accord-
                                                                                                                                               According to ancient Egyptian be-        sues around mummification and bur-        ing to tradition, around 1600 BC by
                                                                                                                                               lief, death was merely a transitional    ial objects, ever since the people of     Jacob’s son, Joseph. Genesis, the
                                                                                                                                               phase on the way to life in the here-    the ancient Orient started to plant ce-   Qur’an and the story of Joseph in the
                                                                                                                                               after, and so from the reign of King     real in large quantities (around 4000     Sepher Hayashar (“Book of the
                                                                                                                                               Djoser until the end of the Roman        BC) and to store provisions for times     Righteous”) all state that Joseph,
                                                                                                                                               Empire (about 2667 BC to 395 AD),        of scarcity (from about 2500 BC).         who was in charge of food stores in
                                                                                                                                               the bodies of rulers and other impor-       The first means of protection from     Egypt, had large granaries built
                                                                                                                                               tant figures in Egypt were mummi-        pests the ancient Egyptians came up       throughout the land and filled with
                                                                                                                                               fied. The bodies of the deceased were    with was a mythological one: these        the grain that was left over from the
                                                                                                                                               to be protected by incantations writ-    harmful animals were to be deterred       harvest. This is the first time the
                                                                                                                                               ten either onto the walls of the grave   by drawings and spells painted on         storage of unthreshed grain had
                                                                                                                                               or buried along with the mummy as        the inside of the burial chambers.        been used as an effective means of
                                                                                                                                               papyri. These incantations were later    However, depictions of leaf-horn          protecting supplies: in the 12th sura
                                                                                                                                               gathered together in the Egyptian        beetles, weevils, or cockroaches be-      of the Qur’an it says, “… then what
                                                                                                                                               Book of the Dead.                        ing speared or threatened was meant       you reap leave it in its ear except a
                                                                                                                                                  The mummies were given ample          – according to Hermann and Anna           little of which you eat”. The “Book of
                                                                                                                                               food supplies to accompany them in-      Levinson – only symbolically, as in       the Righteous”, a Venetian Bible
                                                                                                                                               side the grave so that they would        the ancient Egyptians’ scheme of be-      commentary from the 17th century,
                                                                                                                                               have nourishment in the hereafter.       lief all animals were recognised as       states that the floors of the granaries
                                                                                                                              FIG.: SPIXIANA




                                                                                                                                               But how can mummified people as          equal beings in creation, and killing     were to be covered with the dust
                                                                                                                                               well as the living - and their food -    them was considered a grave sin.          from the fields in which the grain

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HISTORY of Science                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               EGYPTOLOGY


                                                                                                          A BEETLE ROLLS
            was grown. The soil of the Nile val-               of marshy areas built airy platforms       THE SUN BALL                                 period of the New Kingdom (approx.              similar to the Hebrew word “harbeh”                A painted clay tile from northern
            ley, when dry, became a fine, ex-                  on which they could sleep, as gnats                                                     1550 to 1069 BC), as is evident from            (= large amount), emphasising the                Mesopotamia reveals a dignitary
                                                                                                          Hermann and Anna Levinson of the Max
            tremely sticky dust. This is an aston-             and mosquitoes and so forth had dif-                                                    one farmer’s lament: “The worm has              huge numbers in which the insects                pleading with the god Assur, the As-
                                                                                                          Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiolo-
            ishingly modern insight, as mineral                ficulty flying up that high on ac-         gy in Seewiesen have recently published a    taken half the food and the hip-                appeared.                                        syrian national god, for protection
            dusts are usually deadly to numerous               count of the wind. Those living in         four-part treatise “Insekten als Symbole     popotamus the other. There have                   “For they covered the face of the              from plagues of locust swarms. In the
            insect pests because they disrupt the              the marshy areas themselves, on the        göttlicher Verehrung und Schädlinge des      been many mice in the fields, and               whole earth, so that the land was                7th and 8th century BC, several As-
            insects’ water balance and cause                   other hand, had a different method:        Menschen”, that is, “Insects as symbols of   the locusts have fallen upon us. The            darkened; and they did eat every                 syrian kings recorded on clay tiles the
                                                                                                          divine veneration and as pests to man” as
            them to desiccate. Insects that                    at night, says Herodotus, “every one                                                    cattle have eaten, and the sparrows             herb of the land, and all the fruit of           damage caused by locust invasions.
                                                                                                          a supplementary volume to the Journal of
            threaten supplies are also scared off              of them has a net, with which he           Zoology SPIXIANA. The key chapter in this    have stolen. The remainder lying on             the trees which the hail had left; and             Whenever this sort of periodic da-
            by fine soil dust, because the dust                catches fish by day, and at night he       volume is entitled “Kulturgeschichtliche     the threshing floor has been taken              there remained not any green thing               mage occurred, it provided the Assyr-
            causes severe irritation to their sen-             sets it around the bed where he rests,     Bedeutung der heiligen Käfer in Alt-         off by thieves.”                                in the trees, or herbs of the field,             ians with scant consolation that mi-
            sory hairs. Other warm-blooded ani-                then creeps under it and sleeps.           ägypten” (The cultural-historical back-                                                      through all the land of Egypt.” (Exo-            gratory locusts are edible. One repre-
                                                                                                          ground of the veneration of beetles in       PROPHETIC        WITNESSES
            mals are also familiar with this ef-               If he sleeps wrapped in a garment or                                                                                                    dus 10:15) A passage in the Book of              sentation from Assyria is known in
                                                                                                          ancient Egypt). The click beetle Lanelater   OF BIBLICAL PLAGUES
            fect, such as dogs and sparrows who                cloth, the mosquitoes bite through it;     notodonta, for example, which feigns                                                         Joel tells of a plague of locusts in             which locusts are depicted served on
            roll or “bathe” themselves in dry                  but through the net they absolutely        death if in danger and then “resurrects”       There is plenty of documentary                Palestine at the time of the later               meat skewers at the table of the As-
            sand in order to get rid of parasitic              do not even venture”.                      itself afterwards, was dedicated to the      evidence especially of the disastrous           prophets: “... for a nation has come             syrian King Sanherib (705 to 681 BC).
            insects and mites.                                    The ointment cones worn on the          war goddess NEITH, probably on account       effects of invading swarms of locusts           up upon my land, strong, and with-                 The huge numbers in which they
                                                                                                          of this characteristic, and was wor-
               Human beings have also tried to                 head by Egyptian women at celebra-                                                      in the ancient Orient. The most fa-             out number, whose teeth are the                  appeared, the ease with which they
                                                                                                          shipped as a divine being from the Proto-
            protect themselves from parasitic                  tory events were probably intended         dynastic Period until the end of the Fifth   mous appears in the second book of              teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek           could be collected and roasted, their
            pests that made life difficult for                 partly to promote hygiene and partly       Dynasty (about 3200 to 2345 BC). For a       Moses, where God sends ten plagues              teeth of a great lion.” The prophet is           high nutritional value (about 18 per
            them. In his histories, Herodotus tells            for the sake of elegance: in the           long time, from about 2345 to 343 BC,        to afflict Egypt in order to hasten the         even familiar with the different lar-            cent protein and 5 per cent fat), and
            of a means of protection against                   course of the evening the cone melt-       scarab beetles rolling dung balls            release of the Hebrews from their               val stages of the locusts – the older            their pleasant taste all made them a
                                                                                                          (Scarabaeinae) or storing dung under-
            mosquitoes invented by the ancient                 ed, perfuming and greasing the hair                                                     captivity there. The biblical expres-           larvae eat what the younger larvae               popular source of food in the ancient
                                                                                                          ground (Coprinae) were held to be a
            Egyptians. People who lived upland                 and scalp. The ointment cones were         manifestation of both god of the sunrise     sion for migratory locust, “arbeh”, is          have left behind!                                Orient.                   GOTTFRIED PLEHN
                                                                                                          CHEPRI and the creator god ATUM, sym-
                                                                                                          bolising resurrection and creation of the
                                                                                                          universe. According to ancient Egyptian
                                                                                                          belief, a scarab beetle lifts up the sun
                                                                                                          ball from the underworld and rolls it
                                                                                                          across the firmament. The 120-page
                                                                                                          volume (SPIXIANA, Supplement No. 27)
                                                                                                          can be purchased at the price of 30 euros
                                                                                                          from Dr. Juliane Diller, Zoologische
                                                                                                          Staatssammlung München,
                                                                                                          Münchhausenstraße 21, D-81247
                                                                                                          Munich (Fax: +49-89/8107-300,
                                                                                                          E-mail: Juliane.Diller@ zsm. mwn.de),
                                                                                                          or from Dr. Friedrich Pfeil publishing
                                                                                                          house, Wolfratshauser Straße 27,
                                                                                                          D-81379 Munich (Fax: +49-89/7242772,
                                                                                                          E-mail: 100417.1722@compuserve.com)


                                                                                                        made from cattle or sheep’s tallow
                                                                                                        and contained ethereal oils as well as
                                                                                                        a considerable amount of myrrh                                                                                                                            A meal of locusts in ancient
                                                                                                        resin, which repelled head lice. Such                                                                                                                     Assyria: two food bearers with
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  desert locusts lined up on skew-
                                                                                                        ointment cones were in use from the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ers, as they were served at the
                                                                                                        18th Dynasty (around 1550 until                                                                                                                           table of the Assyrian King
                                                                                                        1295 BC). However, they only pro-                                                                                                                         Sanherib (705 to 681 BC).
                                                                                                        vided temporary protection from                                                                                                                           Drawing based on a pedestal
                                                                                                        pests – some eggs from head lice                                                                                                                          relief found in the ruins of
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  the king’s palace at Nineveh.
                                                                                                        have been found still sticking to the
                                                                                                        hair of mummies; in spite of the
                                                                                                        zealous use of combs with a double
                                                                                                        row of teeth the lice could still not
   Fig. 2: Partial view of a banquet depicted on a Theban mural from the                                be removed.                                    Left: Assyrian clay tablet from Kalat Shergat in Mesopotamia (approx. 745 to 727 BC): a dignitary pleads with his god ASSUR
   18th Dynasty (around 1400 BC): women in Upper Egypt, each with an ointment                             Harvest losses due to pests must             to avert plagues of locusts. Right: CHEPRI, god of the sunrise and the creation of the world, in the form of a man with a scarab
   cone for delousing and perfuming the hair.                                                           have been considerable during the              beetle for a head. Mural in the antechamber of the rock grave of Queen NEFERTARI (approx. 1279 to 1213 BC).


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