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Side View, Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Clay Tablet



Flutes of Gilgamesh and Ancient Mesopotamia

The Epic of Gilgamesh , the greatest literary work of Ancient Mesopotamia, talks of a flute made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone. The passage was recently identified on cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian, an ancient semitic language.

When I happen to read about this new passage in Gilgamesh, it got me interested in flutes of the Ancient Near East. What were the style of flutes? How were they tuned and how were they played?

After hunting down the musical artifacts from that time, as well as literary references, the use of words in various languages, and images in sculpture and other visual art, we can get a composite image that tells us a great deal about the flutes of Ancient Mesopotamia. And amazingly, Archaeomusicologists identified a handful of ancient Mesopotamian texts written in cuneiform on clay tablets as precise tuning instructions for their stringed instruments. The information on these various &ldquomusical texts&rdquo dates from about 1800&ndash600 BCE and has been the subject of intense analysis and debate for the past 45 years.

This pages follows the evidence from visual art, artifacts, replicas of instruments, the languages of the time, written literature, and the set of musical texts. This composite view leads to some amazing correlations between flutes of Ancient Mesopotamia and early Native American cultures.


A Canadian in Abu Dhabi, UAE

When I visited the Louvre Abu Dhabi this week for a preview before it opens to the public this weekend (and boy is this a gorgeous building) I was particularly looking forward to installation commissioned from the American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, titled, aptly, For Louvre Abu Dhabi. Although she is often known for using neon light, most recently seen in her current exhibition, Softer, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, Holzer’s Louvre Abu Dhabi piece features something much different - and she is not messing around with the details.


She has used three stone walls to recreate three magical-looking historical texts throughout the museum. The first marble relief (pictured above) is located to the left upon entering the main foyer under the dome, behind August Rodin's sculpture from 1900, Walking Man, On a Column. This piece represents the oldest of the three texts, found on a Mesopotamian clay tablet excavated from the ancient city of Assur in modern-day Iraq. It recounts a creation myth imagined almost 4,000 years ago and told in two languages, Sumerian (left) and Akkadian (right) cuneiform scripts. That myth? Well, as it goes, after creating the heavens, earth and rivers, the gods created the first humans by mixing clay with the blood of a sacrificed diety.

The original, which is part of the Berlin Vorderasiatisches Museum in Germany, can be traced back to the birth of writing in Mesopotamia. It is something else to see.

The choice of Holzer is enlightened, particularly for this region, something that was echoed by Roxane Zand, Sotheby’s deputy chairman for the Middle East, when I spoke to her earlier this autumn.

“That is extremely exciting, because in the conceptual world there aren’t that many women who are as successful as the level of Jenny Holzer, so that in itself is significant, that a female artist has been chosen,” says Zand. “Secondly, she’s at the forefront of her field and to have an American woman having a work there is a significant thing.”

The woman’s dark hair is parted in the middle, accented across the forehead by a delicate chain and jewel, and tied up in a low chignon in the back. Her outfit and adornments are stylish but not lavish, standard for both her station and stage in life. The look on her face is hard to peg: she appears serene, if not a bit impatient, perhaps the slightest bit mischievous, and quite possibly throwing some of the earliest recorded side-eye to the left. La Belle Ferronniere, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s rare paintings also known as Portrait of an Unknown Woman, is one of the high-profile loans made to the new Louvre Abu Dhabi for its first year.

Although there are many who believe the identity of the woman depicted in La Belle Ferronniere remains a mystery, Martin Kemp, professor of art history at University of Oxford, a Leonardo expert and author of the newly published book Mona Lisa: The People and The Painting, isn’t one of them.
Kemp believes the woman is Lucrezia Crivelli, mistress to Leonardo’s patron, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, and mother to his son. The painting is one of only four portraits Leonardo painted of women, with the others being Lady with the Ermine, which depicts another of Sforza’s mistresses, Cecilia Gallerani the Florentine aristocrat Ginevra de' Benci and, of course, the Mona Lisa.

Kemp is reasonably assured La Belle Ferronniere is Crivelli, because there are poems that refer to the actual execution of the painting, and the date lines up: Leonardo lived in Milan from 1482 until 1499, and the painting was done sometime between 1490 and 1496. Most telling, however, is the way the woman is poised.

“There’s a very characteristic way that he paints the duke’s mistresses, rather than the members the court,” explains Kemp. “Members of the court, the high-ranking people, were always shown in profile… interestingly when Leonardo came to portrait other women who obviously didn’t have that high aristocratic status, he went what I call ‘free style’. He turned the figures towards you, he used their eyes and their mouths to communicate the nature of the subject. I think La Belle Ferronniere looks out in our direction but actually looks, if you trace it, slightly above eye line, so somebody of importance is being looked at who is more elevated than us.”

La Belle Ferronniere was the first artwork that Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the Musee du Louvre and Agency France-Museums announced would be loaned to the Louvre Abu Dhabi from the The Louvre in Paris during its first year in operation. The painting’s stay in Abu Dhabi, after a stint at the Milan Expo in 2015 followed by a restoration in Paris, not only marks the first time it has been outside Europe, but the first time a Leonardo has been shown anywhere in the Middle East.
“Any painting by Leonardo, in that we have under 20 surviving, is obviously an item of major interest,” says Kemp.

It had long been thought, Kemp points out, that perhaps the parapet in front of Crivelli, which was not a standard technique in Leonardo’s paintings, may have been added some time later. However examination at the Louvre during the restoration showed that not to be true.
“It’s interesting that the figure is set above a parapet, above that stone band along the bottom, which is unusual for Leonardo,” says Kemp. “But we know that he was aware of portraits by Venetian artists, particularly Giovanni Bellini. He sets his portraits very often behind a parapet, it’s a way of setting it up in space. It gives a kind of distance between us and the picture surface.”

Another important part of the permanent collection is Ayoucha whole fig[ure], the earliest known depiction of a veiled woman. The daguerreotype, which features a shimmery image captured in mercury on copper plate, shows the top two-thirds of a sturdy, broad-shouldered woman known as Cairene. She is clad in a thick abaya with heavy folds, staring into the camera from some distance. There is nothing else in the photograph.

The image was taken in 1843 Egypt, by the French artist and photographer Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey when he was on a tour of the Middle East, and remained in his private archive until the Louvre Abu Dhabi acquired it in 2011. The early photography method Girault de Prangey used to capture Cairene was painstaking and expensive. It involves polishing a sheet of silver-plated copper, treating it with fumes to make the surface light-sensitive, then using mercury vapor to reveal the image. It was then treated, rinsed and sealed behind glass. The result is ethereal, with the colors changing as it appears either positive or negative according to angle and lighting.

“It is an image that will become one of the icons of 19th century photography,” Laurence des Cars, the former curatorial director of Agence France-Museums and now director of the Musée d’Orsay, told UAE newspaper The National in 2013. “You are dealing with a very rare and fine example of a new technique in 19th century art.”

The Egyptian funeral set for the princess Henuttawy dates to the latter half of 10th century BCE and includes three wooden coffins - two beautifully painted and preserved, the third in fragments - and her cocoon-protected body. Featuring the open eyes set in the typically expressionless gold face of the time, the exterior of Henuttaway’s set features another fascinating detail: perfectly aligned and erect gold hands with extraordinarily long and thin fingers.

When the acquisition was unveiled earlier this year, Jean-Francois Charnier, the scientific director of Agence France-Muséums, and head curator for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, said he expects Henuttawy to be a centerpiece not only of its Egyptian collection, but the museum as a whole.

“The great care and attention given to the delicate features of the princess’s face and her ‘living’ eyes still watching us across the millennia remind us of the identity of the deceased person, who was a Pharaoh’s daughter,” the curator explains.


For some reason I am obsessed with this curious little 25.3-centimeter tall creature. In the permanent collection, an air of mystery and allure surrounds her, this 4,000-year-old sculpture representing one of Central Asia’s earliest empires, located in modern-day Afghanistan. She is strangely beautiful, but also slightly alien with her sharply oval eyes, wearing a woven dress carved out of a soft, soap stone-style chlorite, her arms outstretched, handless, her ivory face almost mask-like.

Having the Bactrian Princess places the Louvre Abu Dhabi among other world-class institutions, Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, professor of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Harvard University department of anthropology, told me. He estimates there are only about 20 in the world, with most all of the major museums in the world having one in their collection. It is believed the Bactrian princesses were used as part of some sort of religious object, or in a ritual - perhaps a funeral.

“They’re highly valuable,” he says. “We don’t know, of course, how many there are in private collections. If you want to deal with a comprehensive coverage of a bronze age civilization, having one of those is a benchmark of the Bactrian civilization. It’s a common aspect of a signature piece of that civilization. It immediately identifies it as Bactrian.”

Another person as captivated as I am by the Bactrian Princess is Dr Lamees Hamdan, the commissioner of the first United Arab Emirates pavilion at the Venice Biennale, founder and creator of the luxury beauty line Shiffa and one-time Oprah Winfrey guest.

“I’d like to know more historically about what kind of dress and beauty fabric they were using, did they have oils, did they have makeup, quote unquote, and where did they get it from? Did they get it from their place of origin?” she told The Art Newspaper. “So just from that one item you can actually look into a whole society. It’s important for me, as a woman, to know and be interested in the roles of women, not only in society, and modern societies in different parts of the world, but also ancient civilizations in different parts of the world.”

“The burials that are found are really quite rich, they have pots, pieces of metal, things like that,” says Lamberg-Karlovsky. “And in those burials it seems that women have greater amounts of burial goods than do men…So that leads to some individuals concluding that the status of women in the Bactrian civilsation was rather high, maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not.”

The Louvre Abu Dhabi provides a neat link between Leonardo and that painter whose technique he may have admired - or at least attempted to emulate - in Bellini’s Madonna and Child, an oil on panel painted between 1480 and 1485, acquired as part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection.
Considered the father of Renaissance painting, Bellini specialized in such devotional depictions. Yet while the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s painting is typically luminous, unlike many of his others that also feature landscapes, it offers only darkness in the background.

There is, however, a parapet, which in this case acts like an alter. The child sits on it, atop the Madonna’s scarlet robes, gazing up at her.


The technology of early cave paintings


But today we are not so sure about this 'traditional view'. The Blombos Cave in South Africa is home to deposits dated to ca. 70,000-100,000 years ago (and red ochre samples have been discovered on a archaeological site in Zambia dating from ca. 270,000 years ago). These deposits include engraved ochre, engraved bone, ochre processing kits, marine shell beads, and refined bone and stone tools. These findings point to Man being able to maintain a subsistence living, and to being able to make multi-step technology and composite tools. There is also a sense of stylistic elaboration of some tools, and possibly the attribution of symbolic important to some of them. If we then turn to a cave in the Hohle Fels , in the Swabian Alps , we find some of the earliest examples of both prehistoric art and musical instruments, dated to ca. 35,000-40,000 years ago (and including the earliest known Venus figurine , the so-called Venus of Hohle Fels ). These two sites would suggest that man&rsquos true moment of early artistic expression lies in the very early Aurignacian period of Western Europe, i.e. ca. 45,000 years ago.
This newer &ldquotraditional view&rdquo has been even more recently challenged by the findings in the Pettakere Cave in the Maros karst of Sulawesi in Indonesia (a karst is a soluble rock such as limestone full of sinkholes and caves). This cave is home to two stencils of human hands and a large painting of a red hog deer or Babirusa . Conservative estimates of the age of these works is ca. 34,400-39,400 years old, thus actually disconnecting the emergence of figurative representations from the Euro-centric tradition. This is comparable to the most recent data from the El Castillo Cave in Spain, where one &ldquored disk&rdquo has been dated to ca. 40,800 years old, and a hand stencil to ca. 37,300 years old. So, did figurative representation emerge independently in different parts of the world? Or was it carried by Homo sapiens as they emerged from Africa? What is certain now is that cave paintings appear to actually pre-date figurative and animal carvings (even if the opposite is still included on many Websites and in most textbooks).

What is so important about cave art? In addition to its artistic value, cave art is seen as one of the key elements in a long process of figural symbolisation preceding the development of writing (check out this publication ). What we started with are the engraving on stone and bone tools ( art mobilier ), then (according to the traditional view) the first 'sculptures', and then cave paintings. This sense of progress was seen as paralleling the different tool making 'industries', ca. 40,000-10,000 BC, (e.g. Aurignacian , Solutrean , Magdalenian ), and the development of language (possibly starting ca. 100,000 BC).

One could argue that the symbolic meaning of early cave art must include some set of common understandings about context and subject matter. But the way forward is to look at the what was created, how it was assembled and displayed, and what material were used, and how those materials were used. And much of that will boil down to how the paints were prepared and applied. Experts now feel that the answers to many of their questions is in the detailed analysis of the pigments used.

We will look at El Castillo and try to better understand the technical prowess of early Man. Firstly, the cave is composed of 26 strata each representing a period starting some 150,000 years ago, and running through to the Middle Ages, the cave has been often called the &ldquoencyclopaedia of Palaeolithic cave art&rdquo (up to ca. 9500 BC). Secondly, the 317 'red disks' were made using a mouth-operated airbrush, leaving a regular disk shape with more pigment in the centre, and a less intense halo around the outside. The central part of the disk included some pigment droplets, and some disks were smeared with a finger or brush.


The pigment used was mainly composed of iron oxide particles associated with alumino-silicates (mostly from potassic micas and/or feldspars found in clay), and calcium carbonates . The different disks are 'painted' with quite different types of red pigment, up to almost pure iron oxide . So two types of pigment were commonly used, one an almost pure iron oxide, and the other made from a ferruginised clay rock. Some pigment also contained biological material, in some cases but not all, this could be blood. In other cases a plant fibre might have been used as an organic binder , but it may have also been introduced from a hair or pelt 'brush'. It is clear that the pigment was prepared by pounding and grinding between two grindstones. The minerals found in some of the iron oxide rich pigments appear to have been added, but others appear to contain naturally occurring minerals. Some of the disks appear to have been painted with a very viscous pigment, other disks appear to have been painted with a pigment mixed with a significant quantity of water. The addition of the clay minerals made a coarser more viscose pigment.
The overall conclusion of this type of analysis is that early Man clearly tried different techniques, in part dependent upon the place where the disk was to be placed (less viscous the higher up the wall). But we must understand that early Man had to search for the natural materials, grind the minerals, decide how to mix them with a liquid binder to get the desired viscosity, and use different blowing techniques to apply the pigment. He also tried to obtain disks of the same size and shape, he aligned them, and he even smeared some of the disks to recuperate unsuccessful attempts. Evidence points to early Man trying to create a technically complex work, and not just making some clumsy step up the evolutionary tree.

More generally only three different colours were used in early cave paintings, the iron-based red ( hematite ), yellow ( goethite , or often called brown ochre , and limonite ), and black with charcoal, soot, or manganese dioxide in the form of Manganite and Pyrolusite (and rarely a Calcite white). For example, Manganite was known to pre-historic Man as a starter for wood fires, it lowers the combustion temperature from 350°C to around 250 °C. Manganese oxides are frequently found along with clays, quartz, calcite and iron oxides, and often the black pigment came from manganite heating. However there are plenty of examples where the black pigment came directly from a ground mixture of manganese ores, without any heat treatment.
In addition, prehistoric Man also knew how to transform goethite into red hematite under heat treatment. And they knew how to mix the pigments with extenders (clay, calcite, quartz, bone, talc, etc.), and with a binder (water, vegetable oil or animal fat). The use of binders and extenders tends to suggest that the pigments and paints were prepared outside the caves, and thus could also have figured in more domestic rituals (i.e. not reserved only for cave art). The earliest 'pigments' might simply have been a mix of clays and chalks with animal fats, ca. 35,000 years ago.


In the Chauvet Cave , home to many horses painted in black, what we see is charcoal applied directly (in 'crayons'), or ground before application. We also have manganese oxide mixed with quartz and iron oxides, but different figures actually use different sources of oxides. Given the variety of different ways to obtain black, there is the suggestion that the 'artist' was more focussed on the colours and the properties of the pigments, and less on the use of a particular mineral type. A very detailed analysis of the pigment types and structures shows that realisations near each other were often done more or less at the same time, but that the entire cave would have been decorated over quite an extended period of time.
We mentioned grinding pigments, well there are examples of the use of abalone shells and a quartzite stone being used to grind charcoal and ochre. And in terms of brushes, we have hair, grass, fingers, 'crayons', and thin bone tips, all used for applying the pigment to the cave walls.
There is also ample evidence of pigments being made from ores not found in the local region, suggesting some form of early trade network operating over an extensive area.

It is very difficult to capture fully the steps in the material production of cave paintings (including the selection of materials and tools, and the day-to-day manufacturing, usage, repair, and discard), particularly for the earliest paintings in Altamira in Spain, and Lascaux and Chauvet in France. We may do a better job with the cave paintings in Çatalhöyük , in Anatolia, because they are more recent (ca. 7500-5700 BC), include many layers of plaster and a large diversity of designs, and are very elaborate (and include relief sculpture).


In fact, Çatalhöyük is one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe and Middle East. The first thing to note is that examples of red ochre and marine shells (often associated with ochre) are known to have existed in the region from ca. 32,000 BC. Also there is plenty of evidence of sourcing and using ochre pigments, i.e. handstones, grinding slabs, basalt pestles, etc., however there are very few cave paintings sites in the region.
So, even at this late date, it would appear that the pigment raw materials was still 'imported' from a different site, often involving quite a long journey. Some experts attribute a ritual significance to the actual trip to obtain the raw ores, possibly due to the association of blood and red ochre that appears to have existed for perhaps the last 100,000 years. And we know that lumps of red ochre have been found in Africa dated back ca. 500,000 years ago, and some 300,000 years ago in Europe. The earliest red ochre processing tool-kit dates from ca. 100,000 years ago.
The first step would be to wash the raw minerals. Then they would be ground and sieved, with more grinding and sieving the colours became more bright and intense. Mixing and heating produced a variety of different colours and shades. Heating pigments was certainly used ca. 36,000 years ago. For example yellow iron hydroxide changes to yellow-brown, then to red iron oxide at ca. 250°C to 300°C. Further heating to ca. 575°C to 650°C changes the colour through red-purple to black. The powder could be compressed into 'crayons' or made runny when mixed with an extender such as clay, talc, calcite, bone, etc. Binding the pigment to a wall would involving mixing the pigment with water or an organic material such as plant oil, urine, blood, animal fat, etc.
One way was to use the secco technique , painting with a mix of pigment and water on to a dry wall. Another was to use the tempera technique which involves using an organic binder, producing better pigment dispersion and intenser colours. Often the water in the cave would be used, since it contained dissolved calcium salts, making it an excellent fixing agent.
The example of Çatalhöyük is significant since it clearly demonstrates how early Man used his cave painting techniques to decorate early house walls. Initially the walls and floors were plaster with a lime or gypsum plaster. The manufacturing process behind these plasters is a topic discussed elsewhere on this webpage. The true (burnt) lime plaster could make a hard, waterproof, durable surface. Red paint was often used, and designs could be elaborate, ranging from dots, to geometric motives and floral designs. Then followed the decoration of skulls, the making of figurines, and the creating of pottery.
One characteristic feature of the region were the decorated pillars found in both domestic buildings, and as monumental 'temple-like' architecture. In Nevalı Çori , an early Neolithic site, there were stone pillars decorated with carved animals and human figures, and in Göbekli Tepe , a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site, there were limestone pillars carved with various animal figures in low relief.


Another impressive find is the wall painting in the Syrian site of Djade al-Mughara, which dating from ca. 9000 BC, is considered to be the worlds earliest painting on a constructed wall. It is on a mudbrick wall in a large circular adobe house that would have once had a wooden roof. It has been claimed that the geometric designs are found throughout the Levant and Persia, and are also seen in carpets and kilims (rugs). Is it difficult to grasp the importance of these works, but we must remember that they were made before the discovery of pottery or the cultivation of wheat, 5,500 years before the first cities of Mesopotamia, and the (albeit smaller) stone circles pre-date Stonehenge by 7,000 years. The pigments used were burnt hematite for the red, crushed limestone for white, and charcoal for black.

As a general statement experts associated the evolution of painting in Çatalhöyük houses with the use of marl plaster and the production of fired clay figurines , but not with fired clay pottery. There does not appear to be a close relationship between wall paintings and pottery in terms of design or the materials used. For example the earliest pottery used an organic temper and had no decoration, whereas pigments used for wall paints were often mixed with a mineral and used in creating complex geometric patterns. It was only the later pottery (post ca, 6000 BC) that used a mineral temper and were decorated with geometric patterns. Experts have suggested that the earliest pottery was used purely for domestic purposes and had no ritual or symbolic importance.

Delving more deeply into the pigments used, experts have noted the wide variety of shades of red used, from orange red to brown red. Red was made mostly from red ochre, but there are also some examples of the use of Cinnabar . There were even a few examples of blue from ground Azurite and Green from Malachite (very rare), but these colours appeared to be exclusively associated with burials. It is thought that this was the first example of blue being used, and the Azurite could be finely ground to make a bright, light blue, or coarsely ground to make a darker, greeny-blue. The pigments could be finely ground to obtain brighter colours, and mixed to obtain different shades. In addition five different types of wall plaster were used, ranging from a fine wash over a coarser layer, to a single hard textured layer. Four of the five plasters were of a pale brown colour, the fifth was a white-yellow colour. The single layer plasters did not contain any plant temper. Tools for painting included animal hair brushes, cloth, skin, bone tools, wooden sticks, and even stone tools. As far as the experts can tell there was no systematic pattern to the mixes of plaster and paint types, nor the number of layers, nor the types of tools used, etc.
For a more extended description of the pigments, tools, plaster and the instrumentation used for the analyses, have a look at the PhD report entitled &ldquo The Wall Painting of Çatalhöyük (Turkey): Materials, Technologies and Artists &rdquo.


The God of Thunder

Hattusha Yazilikaya. A relief carving depicting God Teshub and King Tudhaliya IV from the rock cut chambers of Yazilikaya, Hattusha. Tudhaliya IV is believed to be the king who gave the chambers their final shape.

The Sky God

The sky has important religious significance. Most polytheistic religions have a deity or deities whose portfolio includes or is even limited to the sky or the heavens. While there are often multiple sky deities, sometimes this position is reserved for a deity who is conceived as reigning over the others, or at least is one of the most powerful.
When the main sky deity was seen as feminine, she often held the title of the “Queen of Heaven.” Ancient sky goddesses who held the title “Queen of Heaven” included Isis, Astarte, Ishtar, and Inanna. (The title was later applied to the Virgin Mary, along with various other features and attributes of ancient pagan goddesses.)
Another common conception is that of a complementary polarity between Earth and sky that may be ascribed genders as a mated pair. In some religions this takes the form of a Sky father and an Earth mother, while in other religions the mated couple are a sky goddess and an earth god. (For example, Nut and Geb in ancient Egypt.) In still other religions, there is a main pair of deities who rule the sky as husband and wife (for example, Zeus and Hera in ancient Greece), while a different pair of deities (e.g., Hades and Persephone) rule the Earth and/or chthonic realms.
Along similar lines, some scholars of religion hold that Jehovah or Yahweh, the monotheistic deity of the Jewish bible, originally had a wife who was most likely the sky goddess Asherah. In some contemporary religions, the divine pair of sky deities are known as the “Heavenly Father” and the “Heavenly Mother.”

The God of Thunder

Polytheistic peoples of many cultures have postulated a Thunder God, the personification or source of the forces of thunder and lightning a lightning god does not have a typical depiction, and will vary based on the culture.

Sumer and the Semitic forms

Enlil was the name of a chief deity listed and written about in Sumerian religion, and later in Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian), Hittite, Canaanite and other Mesopotamian clay and stone tablets. The name is perhaps pronounced and sometimes rendered in translations as Ellil in later Akkadian, Hittite, and Canaanite literature. In later Akkadian, Enlil is the son of Anshar and Kishar.
Enlil (EN = Lord + LÍL = Wind, “Lord (of the) Wind”), along with Anu/An, Enki and Ninhursag were gods of the Sumerians. He was considered to be the god of breath, wind, loft and breadth (height and distance). He was also the God of weather.
According to the Sumerians, Enlil helped create the humans, but then got tired of their noise and tried to kill them by sending a flood. A mortal known as Utnapishtim survived the flood through the help of another god, Ea, and he was made immortal by Enlil after Enlil’s initial fury had subsided.
Enlil was known as the inventor of the mattock (a key agricultural pick, hoe, ax or digging tool of the Sumerians) and helped plants to grow.
Enlil is associated with the ancient city of Nippur, sometimes referred to as the cult city of Enlil. His temple was named Ekur, “House of the Mountain.”
In one myth, Enlil gives advice to his son, the god Ninurta, advising him on a strategy to slay the demon Asag. This advice is relayed to Ninurta by way of Sharur, his enchanted talking mace, which had been sent by Ninurta to the realm of the gods to seek counsel from Enlil directly.
One story names his origins as the exhausted breath of An (god of the heavens) and Ki (goddess of the Earth) after sexual union. He is the father of Nisaba the goddess of grain, of Pabilsag who is sometimes equated with Ninurta, and sometimes of Enbilulu. By Ereshkigal Enlil was father of Namtar, considered responsible for diseases and pests.
The myth of Enlil and Ninlil («lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, discusses when Enlil was a young god, he was banished from Dilmun, home of the gods, to Kur, the underworld for raping a goddess named Ninlil.
Ninlil followed him to the underworld where she bore his first child, and of Ninurta, also called Ninurta and Ningirsu, and/or the moon god Nanna/Suen (in Akkadian, Sin). After fathering three more underworld-deities (substitutes for Sin), Enlil was allowed to return to Dilmun.
In Sumerian religion, Ninlil is the consort goddess of Enlil. Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia (god of stores) and Nunbarsegunu (or Ninshebargunnu [a goddess of barley] or Nisaba).
Another source says she is the daughter of Anu (aka An) and Antu. Other sources call her a daughter of Anu and Nammu. Theophilus G. Pinches noted that Nnlil or Belit Ilani had seven different names (such as Nintud, Ninhursag, Ninmah, etc.) for seven different localities.
After her death, she became the goddess of the wind, like Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms. As “Lady Wind” she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon “Lil-itu”, thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.
Ishkur in Sumerian, Adad in Akkadian, and Hadad in Aramaic are the names of the storm-god in the Babylonian-Assyrian pantheon.
Ishkur, in Mesopotamian religion, Sumerian god of the rain and thunderstorms of spring. He was the city god of Bit Khakhuru (perhaps to be identified with modern Al-Jidr) in the central steppe region.
Ishkur closely resembled Ninhar (Ningubla) and as such was visualized in the form of a great bull. He was the son of Nanna, the moon god. When portrayed in human shape, he often holds his symbol, the lightning fork. Ishkur’s wife was the goddess Shala. In his role as god of rain and thunder, Ishkur corresponded to the Sumerian deities Asalluhe and Ninurta.
Ninurta (Nin Ur: God of War) in Sumerian and the Akkadian mythology of Assyria and Babylonia, was the god of Lagash. The cult of Ninurta can be traced back to the oldest period of Sumerian history. He is identified with Ningirsu with whom he may always have been identified. In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity.
In the inscriptions found at Lagash, an ancient city located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of Uruk, about 22 kilometres (14 mi) east of the modern town of Ash Shatrah, Iraq, he appears under his name Ningirsu, “the lord of Girsu”, Girsu being the name of a city where he was considered the patron deity.
Lagash was one of the oldest cities of the Ancient Near East. The ancient site of Surghul/Nina is around 6 miles (9.7 km) away. Nearby Girsu, about 25 km (16 mi) northwest of Al-Hiba, was the religious center of the Lagash state. Lagash’s temple was E-Ninnu, dedicated to the god Ningirsu.
From inscriptions found at Girsu such as the Gudea cylinders, it appears that Lagash was an important Sumerian city in the late 3rd millennium BC. It was at that time ruled by independent kings, Ur-Nanshe (24th century BC) and his successors, who were engaged in contests with the Elamites on the east and the kings of “Kienĝir” and Kish on the north.
Some of the earlier works from before the Akkadian conquest are also extremely interesting, in particular Eannatum’s Stele of the Vultures and Entemena’s great silver vase ornamented with Ningirsu’s sacred animal Anzu: a lion-headed eagle with wings outspread, grasping a lion in each talon.
With the Akkadian conquest Lagash lost its independence, its ruler or ensi becoming a vassal of Sargon of Akkad and his successors but Lagash continued to be a city of much importance and above all, a centre of artistic development.
In Nippur, Ninurta was worshiped as part of a triad of deities including his father, Enlil and his mother, Ninlil. In variant mythology, his mother is said to be the harvest goddess Ninhursag. The consort of Ninurta was Ugallu in Nippur and Bau when he was called Ningirsu.
Nippur (Sumerian: Nibru, Akkadian: Nibbur), also known as “Enlil City» was one of the most ancient of all the Sumerian cities. It was the special seat of the worship of the Sumerian god Enlil, the “Lord Wind,” ruler of the cosmos subject to An alone. Nippur was located in modern Nuffar in Afak, Al-Qādisiyyah Governorate, Iraq.
Ninurta often appears holding a bow and arrow, a sickle sword, or a mace named Sharur: Sharur is capable of speech in the Sumerian legend “Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and can take the form of a winged lion and may represent an archetype for the later Shedu.
In another legend, Ninurta battles a birdlike monster called Imdugud (Akkadian: Anzû) a Babylonian version relates how the monster Anzû steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil. The Tablets of Destiny were believed to contain the details of fate and the future.
In the late neo-Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused Ninurta’s character with that of Nergal, with the main seat of his cult at Cuthah represented by the mound of Tell-Ibrahim. The two gods were often invoked together, and spoken of as if they were one divinity.
Nergal, born by Enlil and Ninlil, “lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”, also called Sud, actually seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only a representative of a certain phase of the sun.
Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.
Standard iconography pictured Nergal as a lion, and boundary-stone monuments symbolise him with a mace surmounted by the head of a lion.
The Akkadian god Adad is cognate in name and functions with northwest Semitic god Hadad. In Akkadian, Adad is also known as Ramman (“Thunderer”) cognate with Aramaic Rimmon which was a byname of the Aramaic Hadad. Ramman was formerly incorrectly taken by many scholars to be an independent Babylonian god later identified with the Amorite god Hadad.
The Sumerian Ishkur appears in the list of gods found at Fara but was of far less importance than the Akkadian Adad later became, probably partly because storms and rain are scarce in southern Babylonia and agriculture there depends on irrigation instead. Also, the gods Enlil and Ninurta also had storm god features which decreased Ishkur’s distinctiveness. He sometimes appears as the assistant or companion of one or the other of the two.
When Enki distributed the destinies, he made Ishkur inspector of the cosmos. In one litany Ishkur is proclaimed again and again as “great radiant bull, your name is heaven” and also called son of An, lord of Karkara twin-brother of Enki, lord of abundance, lord who rides the storm, lion of heaven.
In other texts Adad/Ishkur is sometimes son of the moon god Nanna/Sin by Ningal and brother of Utu/Shamash and Inana/Ishtar. He is also occasionally son of Enlil.
Adad/Ishkur’s consort (both in early Sumerian and later Assyrian texts) was Shala, a goddess of grain, who is also sometimes associated with the god Dagan. She was also called Gubarra in the earliest texts. The fire god Gibil (named Gerra in Akkadian) is sometimes the son of Ishkur and Shala.
Adad/Ishkur presents two aspects in the hymns, incantations, and votive inscriptions. On the one hand he is the god who, through bringing on the rain in due season, causes the land to become fertile, and, on the other hand, the storms that he sends out bring havoc and destruction.
He is pictured on monuments and cylinder seals (sometimes with a horned helmet) with the lightning and the thunderbolt (sometimes in the form of a spear), and in the hymns the sombre aspects of the god on the whole predominate.
His association with the sun-god, Shamash, due to the natural combination of the two deities who alternate in the control of nature, leads to imbuing him with some of the traits belonging to a solar deity.
Shamash and Adad became in combination the gods of oracles and of divination in general. Whether the will of the gods is determined through the inspection of the liver of the sacrificial animal, through observing the action of oil bubbles in a basin of water or through the observation of the movements of the heavenly bodies, it is Shamash and Adad who, in the ritual connected with divination, are invariably invoked.
Similarly in the annals and votive inscriptions of the kings, when oracles are referred to, Shamash and Adad are always named as the gods addressed, and their ordinary designation in such instances is bele biri (“lords of divination”).
Adad/Ishkur’s special animal is the bull. He is naturally identified with the Anatolian storm-god Teshub. Occasionally Adad/Ishkur is identified with the god Amurru, the god of the Amorites.
Hadad, also known as Haddu, is a Northwest Semitic storm and rain god, cognate in name and origin with the earlier attested East Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian-Babylonian) god Adad. Hadad was also called “Pidar”, “Rapiu”, “Baal-Zephon”, or often simply Baʿal (Lord), but this title was also used for other gods.
The bull was the symbolic animal of Hadad. He appeared bearded, often holding a club and thunderbolt while wearing a bull-horned headdress. Hadad was equated with the Anatolian storm-god Teshub the Egyptian god Set the Greek god Zeus and the Roman god Jupiter, as Jupiter Dolichenus.
In religious texts, Ba‘al/Hadad is the lord of the sky who governs the rain and thus the germination of plants with the power of his desire that they be fertile. He is the protector of life and growth to the agricultural people of the region. The absence of Ba‘al causes dry spells, starvation, death, and chaos.
Amurru and Martu are names given in Akkadian and Sumerian texts to the god of the Amorite/Amurru people, often forming part of personal names. He is sometimes called Ilu Amurru (MAR.TU). He was the patron god of the Mesopotamian city of Ninab, whose exact location is unknown.
Amurru/Martu was probably a western Semitic god originally. He is sometimes described as a ‘shepherd’ or as a storm god, and as a son of the sky-god Anu. He is sometimes called bêlu šadī or bêl šadê, ‘lord of the mountain’ dúr-hur-sag-gá sikil-a-ke, ‘He who dwells on the pure mountain’ and kur-za-gan ti-[la], ‘who inhabits the shining mountain’. In Cappadocian Zinčirli inscriptions he is called ì-li a-bi-a, ‘the god of my father’.
Accordingly, it has been suggested by L. R. Bailey (1968) and Jean Ouelette (1969), that this Bêl Šadê might be the same as the Biblical ’Ēl Šaddāi who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the “Priestly source” of narrative, according to the documentary hypothesis. Bêl Šadê could have been the fertility-god ‘Ba’al’, possibly adopted by the Canaanites, a rival and enemy of the Hebrew God YHWH, and famously combatted by the Hebrew prophet Elijah.
Amurru also has storm-god features. Like Adad, Amurru bears the epithet ramān ‘thunderer’, and he is even called bāriqu ‘hurler of the thunderbolt’ and Adad ša a-bu-be ‘Adad of the deluge’. Yet his iconography is distinct from that of Adad, and he sometimes appears alongside Adad with a baton of power or throwstick, while Adad bears a conventional thunderbolt.
Amurru’s wife is sometimes the goddess Ašratum (see Asherah) who in northwest Semitic tradition and Hittite tradition appears as wife of the god Ēl which suggests that Amurru may indeed have been a variation of that god. If Amurru was identical with Ēl, it would explain why so few Amorite names are compounded with the name Amurru, but so many are compounded with Il that is, with Ēl.
Another tradition about Amurru’s wife (or one of Amurru’s wives) gives her name as Belit-Sheri, ‘Lady of the Desert’.
A third tradition appears in a Sumerian poem in pastoral style, which relates how the god Martu came to marry Adg̃ar-kidug the daughter of the god Numushda of the city of Inab. It contains a speech expressing urbanite Sumerian disgust at uncivilized, nomadic Amurru life which Adg̃ar-kidug ignores, responding only: “I will marry Martu!”.

Set, or Seth, is a god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners in ancient Egyptian religion. Set is not however a god to be ignored or avoided, he has a positive role where he is employed by Ra on his solar boat to repel the serpent of Chaos Apep. Set had a vital role as a reconciled combatant. He was lord of the red (desert) land where he was the balance to Horus’ role as lord of the black (soil) land.
In Egyptian mythology, Set is portrayed as the usurper who killed and mutilated his own brother Osiris. Osiris’ wife Isis reassembled Osiris’ corpse and resurrected him long enough to conceive his son and heir Horus. Horus sought revenge upon Set, and the myths describe their conflicts. The death of Osiris and the battle between Horus and Set is a popular theme in Egyptian mythology.
In art, Set is mostly depicted as a fabulous creature, referred to by Egyptologists as the Set animal or Typhonic beast. The earliest representations of what may be the Set animal comes from a tomb dating to the Naqada I phase of the Predynastic Period (3790 BC–3500 BC), though this identification is uncertain. If these are ruled out, then the earliest Set-animal appears on a mace head of the King Scorpion, a protodynastic ruler. The head and the forked tail of the Set animal are clearly present.
Set was depicted standing on the prow of Ra’s night barque spearing Apep in the form of a serpent, turtle, or other dangerous water animals. In some Late Period representations, such as in the Persian Period temple at Hibis in the Khargah Oasis, Set was represented in this role with a falcon’s head, taking on the guise of Horus. In the Amduat
Set is described as having a key role in overcoming Apep, an evil god in ancient Egyptian religion depicted as a snake/serpent and a dragon, the deification of darkness and chaos, and thus opponent of light and Ma’at (order/truth), whose existence was believed from the 8th Dynasty (mentioned at Moalla) onwards.
During the Second Intermediate Period, a group of Asiatic foreign chiefs known as the Hyksos (literally, “rulers of foreign lands”) gained the rulership of Egypt, and ruled the Nile Delta, from Avaris. They chose Set, originally Upper Egypt’s chief god, the god of foreigners and the god they found most similar to their own chief god, as their patron, and then Set became worshiped as the chief god once again.
The power of Seth’s cult in the mighty (yet outlying) city of Avaris from the Second Intermediate Period through the Ramesside Period cannot be denied. There he reigned supreme as a deity both at odds and in league with threatening foreign powers, and in this case, his chief consort-goddesses were the Phoenicians Anat and Astarte, with Nephthys merely one of the harem.
Set also became associated with foreign gods during the New Kingdom, particularly in the Delta. Set was also identified by the Egyptians with the Hittite deity Teshub, who was a storm god like Set.
Herman te Velde dates the demonization of Set to after Egypt’s conquest by several foreign nations in the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. Set, who had traditionally been the god of foreigners, thus also became associated with foreign oppressors, including the Assyrian and Persian empires.
It was during the time that Set was particularly vilified, and his defeat by Horus widely celebrated. Nevertheless, throughout this period, in some outlying regions of Egypt Set was still regarded as the heroic chief deity.
Set’s negative aspects were emphasized during this period. Set was the killer of Osiris, having hacked Osiris’ body into pieces and dispersed it so that he could not be resurrected. The Greeks later linked Set with Typhon because both were evil forces, storm deities, and sons of the Earth that attacked the main gods.

Teshub (also written Teshup or Tešup) was the Hurrian god of sky and storm. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun (with variant stem forms Tarhunt, Tarhuwant, Tarhunta), although this name is from the Hittite root *tarh- “to defeat, conquer”.
Teshub is depicted holding a triple thunderbolt and a weapon, usually an axe (often double-headed) or mace. The sacred bull common throughout Anatolia was his signature animal, represented by his horned crown or by his steeds Seri and Hurri, who drew his chariot or carried him on their backs.
In the Hurrian myth of Teshub’s origin he was conceived when the god Kumarbi bit off and swallowed his father Anu’s genitals, as such it most likely shares a Proto-Indo-European cognate with the Greek story of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus, which is recounted in Hesiod’s Theogony. Teshub’s brothers are Tigris (personification of the river), Ullikummi (stone giant) and Tashmishu.
In the Hurrian schema, Teshub was paired with Hebat the mother goddess in the Hittite, with the sun goddess Arinniti of Arinna – a cultus of great antiquity which has similarities with the venerated bulls and mothers at Çatalhöyük in the Neolithic era. His son was called Sarruma, the mountain god.
Ḫaldi (also known as Khaldi or Hayk) was one of the three chief deities of Ararat (Urartu). He is portrayed as a man with or without a beard, standing on a lion. His shrine was at Ardini. His wife was the goddess Arubani, the Urartian’s goddess of fertility and art.
Theispas (also known as Teisheba or Teišeba) of Kumenu was the Araratian (Urartian) weather-god, notably the god of storms and thunder. He was also sometimes the god of war. His shrine was at Kumenu. He was often depicted as a man standing on a bull, holding a handful of thunderbolts. His wife was the goddess Huba, who was the counterpart of the Hurrian goddess Hebat. He is a counterpart to the Assyrian god Adad, and the Hurrian god, Teshub.
Shivini or Artinis (the present form of the name is Artin, meaning “sun rising” or to “awake”, and it persists in Armenian names to this day) was a solar god in the mythology of the Urartu. His shrine was at Tushpa. He is the third god in a triad with Khaldi and Theispas and is cognate with the triad in Hinduism called Shivam. The Assyrian god Shamash is a counterpart to Shivini.

Indo-European

In Indo-European cultures, the Thunder God is frequently known as the chief or king of the gods, e.g. Indra in Hinduism, Zeus in Greek mythology, and Perun in ancient Slavic religion or a close relation thereof, e.g. Thor, son of Odin, in Norse mythology.
In Greek mythology, The Elysian Fields, or the Elysian Plains, the final resting places of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous, evolved from a designation of a place or person struck by lightning, enelysion, enelysios. This could be a reference to Zeus, the god of lightning/Jupiter, so “lightning-struck” could be saying that the person was blessed (struck) by Zeus (/lightning/fortune).
Egyptologist Jan Assmann has also suggested that Greek Elysion may have instead been derived from the Egyptian term ialu (older iaru), meaning “reeds,” with specific reference to the “Reed fields” (Egyptian: sekhet iaru / ialu), a paradisiacal land of plenty where the dead hoped to spend eternity.
In Celtic mythology Taranis was the god of thunder worshipped essentially in Gaul, Britain and Ireland, but also in the Rhineland and Danube regions, amongst others. Taranis, along with Esus and Toutatis as part of a sacred triad, was mentioned by the Roman poet Lucan in his epic poem Pharsalia as a Celtic deity to whom human sacrificial offerings were made. Taranis was associated, as was the cyclops Brontes (“thunder”) in Greek mythology, with the wheel.
Many representations of a bearded god with a thunderbolt in one hand and a wheel in the other have been recovered from Gaul, where this deity apparently came to be syncretised with Jupiter.
The name as recorded by Lucan is unattested epigraphically, but variants of the name include the forms Tanarus, Taranucno-, Taranuo-, and Taraino-. The name is continued in Irish as Tuireann, and is likely connected with those of Germanic (Norse Thor, Anglo-Saxon Þunor, German Donar) and Sami (Horagalles) gods of thunder.
Taranis is likely associated with the Gallic Ambisagrus (likely from Proto-Celtic *ambi-sagros = “about-strength”), and in the interpretatio romana with Jupiter, in ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter (Latin: Iuppiter) or Jove is the king of the gods and the god of sky and thunder.
Jupiter was the chief deity of Roman state religion throughout the Republican and Imperial eras, until Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire. In Roman mythology, he negotiates with Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, to establish principles of Roman religion such as sacrifice.
The reconstructed Proto-Celtic form of the name is *Toranos “thunder”. In present day Welsh taranu and taran means ‘to thunder’ and ‘thunder’ (taraniñ and taran in Breton), and in present day Irish Tarann means ‘thunder’. This may also be connected to the Ancient Greek “ουρανός” (“ouranos”, meaning “sky”), and “του ουρανού” (“touranou” or “touranos”, meaning “of the sky” or “from the sky”, possibly indicating the origin of thunder (also see Ogmios).
Taranis, as a personification of thunder, is often identified with similar deities found in other Indo-European pantheons. Of these, Old Norse Þórr, Anglo-Saxon Þunor, Old High German Donar—all from Proto-Germanic *þunraz or *þonar-oz—and the Hittite theonym Tarhun (see Teshub) contain a comparable *torun- element. The Thracian deity names Zbel-thurdos, Zbel-Thiurdos also contain this element (Thracian thurd(a), “push, crash down”). The name of the Sami thunder god Horagalles derives from Thor’s.
Votive wheels called Rouelles, thought to correspond to the cult of Taranis. Thousands of such wheels have been found in sanctuaries in Belgic Gaul, dating from 50 BC to 50 AD. Musée d’Archéologie Nationale.
The wheel, more specifically the chariot wheel with six or eight spokes, was an important symbol in historical Celtic polytheism, apparently associated with a specific god, known as the wheel-god, identified as the sky- sun- or thunder-god, whose name is attested as Taranis by Lucan. Numerous Celtic coins also depict such a wheel. It is thought to correspond to a sun-cult practiced in Bronze Age Europe, the wheel representing the sun. The half-wheel shown in the Gundestrup “”broken wheel” panel also has eight visible spokes.
Symbolic votive wheels were offered at shrines (such as in Alesia), cast in rivers (such as the Seine), buried in tombs or worn as amulets since the Middle Bronze Age. Such “wheel pendants” from the Bronze Age usually had four spokes, and are commonly identified as solar symbols or “sun cross”. Artefacts parallel to the Celtic votive wheels or wheel-pendants are the so-called Zierscheiben in a Germanic context. The identification of the Sun with a wheel, or a chariot, has parallels in Germanic, Greek and Vedic mythology.
The so-called sun cross or wheel cross, a cross inside a circle, is frequently found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods. The actual significance of these symbols in the prehistoric period is not known. From their ubiquity and apparent importance, however, the symbols have been adopted in various schools of Neopaganism, esotericism and occultism.
In Norse mythology, Thor (from Old Norse Þórr) is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing and fertility.
The cognate deity in wider Germanic mythology and paganism was known in Old English as Þunor, in Old High German as Donar, in Old Saxon as thunar, and in Old Frisian as thuner, stemming from a Common Proto-Germanic masculine noun þunraz (meaning “thunder”).
Tendants in a distinctive shape representing the hammer of Thor (known in Norse sources as Mjöllnir) have frequently been unearthed in Viking Age Scandinavian burials. The hammers were worn as a symbol of Norse pagan faith.
Casting moulds have been found for the production of both Thor’s hammers and Christian crucifixes, and at least one example of a combined crucifix and hammer has been discovered. The Eyrarland Statue, a copper alloy figure found near Akureyri, Iceland dating from around the 11th century, may depict Thor seated and gripping his hammer.
The swastika symbol has been identified as representing the hammer or lightning of Thor. Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson (1965) comments on the usage of the swastika as a symbol of Thor: The protective sign of the hammer was worn by women, as we know from the fact that it has been found in women’s graves. It seems to have been used by the warrior also, in the form of the swastika. […]
Primarily it appears to have had connections with light and fire, and to have been linked with the sun-wheel. It may have been on account of Thor’s association with lightning that this sign was used as an alternative to the hammer, for it is found on memorial stones in Scandinavia besides inscriptions to Thor. When we find it on the pommel of a warrior’s sword and on his sword-belt, the assumption is that the warrior was placing himself under the Thunder God’s protection.
Swastikas appear on various Germanic objects stretching from the Migration Period to the Viking Age, such as the 3rd century Værløse Fibula (DR EM85123) from Zealand, Denmark the Gothic spearhead from Brest-Litovsk, Belarus numerous Migration Period bracteates cremation urns from early Anglo-Saxon England the 8th century Sæbø sword from Sogn, Norway and the 9th century Snoldelev Stone (DR 248) from Ramsø, Denmark.
Sun cross
Sun Chariot (horse)


Stone tools


A recent study of 19,000 stone tools from 81 locations, spanned 2 million years, showed that the edges of the tools got longer with time (more efficient) and more diverse.

In fact, so-called Pre-Mode I stone tools date back to 3.3 million years ago, and thus predate the genus Homo by some 500,000 years. Tools of the genus Homo are called Mode I tools, or the Oldowan Industry (2.6 to 1.7 million years ago). These tools were simple river pebbles struck using a hammerstone (so a percussion technology), creating conchoidal fractures and leaving sharp edges and tips and small flakes. Then came the more complex Mode II tools, or Acheulean Industry (1.7 million to 100,000 years ago), often associated with early humans . In this period we have the so-called biface , of which the hand axe is the most representative.


The biface just means a two-sided (symmetrical) lithic flake with an almond-shaped morphology. This technology evolved over a long period of time, from early retouched flakes (i.e. hit several times to obtain a desired sharp edge), to using bone or wood to help sharpen the tool, and through to the Levallois technique for knapping , a method for lithic reduction which provided greater control of the final shape of the flake. Mode III is the so-called Mousterian Industry (600,000 to 400,000 years ago), and involved stone tools made for an anatomically modern human (i.e. Neanderthal ). These assemblages involved small points and tools requiring strong grip strength. Mode IV is all about the move from flakes to long blades, and the Aurignacian Culture (40,000-31,000 years ago) of modern humans is a good example. Their tools included worked bone, perforated rods , and long, fine blades rather than &ldquocrude&rdquo flakes.


This culture produced some the earliest cave art , three-dimensional figurines , and pendants, bracelets, and ivory beads. Mode V are the so-called Microlithic Industries , or small stone tools and microblade technologies , made by people between 35,000 and 3,000 years ago. With the appearance of microliths, we enter both the Mesolithic (pre-agricultural, and in the Levant covering a period ca. 20,000-9500 BC, and also sometimes called the Epipaleolithic period), and the Neolithic periods (ca. 10,200 to 8800 BC in the Levant).


Above we have 20 examples of Mesolithic flint tools (in the Levant this pre-agricultural period ran from ca. 20,000 BC to ca. 9500 BC). Below we have examples of the more frequently used tools of Stone Age Man.


Pre-pottery cultures that fall into the period ca. 36,000-5000 BC include the following:
Emirian Culture (Levant, ca. 30,000 BC) - curve stone blades
Antelian Culture (Levant, ca. 30,000-18,000 BC) - narrow blade points
Kebarian Culture (Levant, ca. 18,000-12,000 BC) - small, geometric microliths
Natufian Culture (Levant, ca. 12,500-9500 BC) - semi-sedentary, earliest evidence of agriculture, short blades and bladelets, the microburin technique was used, the Helwan retouch flint-tool fabrication technology - followed by Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (ca. 9500 BC)
Qaraoun Culture (Lebanon, ca. 10,200-6900 BC) - often associated with the so-called Heavy Neolithic flint tools, of huge, heavy tools such as axes, picks, and adzes including bifaces, and no evidence of arrowheads , burins , or millstones
Shepherd Neolithic Culture (Lebanon, ca. 10,200-8800 BC) - small flint tools

Qadan Culture (Upper Egypt, ca. 13,000-9,000 BC) - watered and cared for local plant life, made grinding tools and blades, ritual burials
Harifian Culture ( Negev Desert , ca. 8800-8000 BC) - elaborate semi-subterranean houses, first time arrowheads were found among the stone tools - contemporary with Late Natufian and followed by Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (ca. 9500 BC)

Châtelperronian Culture (France-Spain, ca. 41,000-39,000 BC) - denticulate stone tools, flint knife with single cutting edge
Aurignacian Culture (South Europe, ca. 38,000-29,000 BC) - first example of human figurative art, cave art, worked bone or antler points, fine flint blades and bladelets
Gravettian Culture (South Europe, ca. 29,000-22,000 BC) - small, pointed, re-struck blades with blunt straight backs, carving tool known as a burin , use of nets for hunting small animals, hundreds of Venus figurines
Solutrean Culture (France-Spain, ca. 20,000-15,000 BC) - prehistoric art , ornamental beads, bone pins, finely worked, bifacial points made with lithic reduction percussion and pressure flaking (rather than the cruder flint knapping ), making of light projectiles and barbed and tanged arrowheads, long spear points, flint knives and saws
Magdalenian Culture (Western Europe, ca. 15,000-10,000 BC) - flint tools, elaborate worked bone and ivory (the Bone Age) including &ldquoharpoons&rdquo, blades, scrapers, denticulated microliths, perforated batons , and portable art with figurines, engraved projectile points and sea shell necklaces (and a suggestion of trade routes) - domestication of the dog
Azilian Culture (France-Spain, ca. 10,000 BC) - microliths, flat bone harpoons, and pebbles with abstract decoration
Ahrensburg Culture (North-Central Europe, ca. 11,000-10,000 BC) - flint arrowheads, lithic&rsquos, fish-hooks and amber animal sculptures
Swiderian Culture (Poland, ca. 11,000-8200 BC) - flint blades, lithic&rsquos
Maglemosian Culture (North Europe, ca. 9000-6000 BC) - bone and microliths for fishing and hunting, fishing spear - had domesticated dogs - note that this overlaps with the end of the last ice age &ldquo Weichselian glaciation &rdquo, ca. 9660 BC, and when Europe and Scandinavia were still landlocked with Britain
Kunda Culture (Baltic region, ca. 8000-5000 BC) - retouched tanged points fishing tools - trained domestic hunting dogs
Kongemose Culture (Scandinavia, ca. 6000-5200 BC) - stone axes, flintstone flakes, arrowheads, scrapers, drills, awls, and toothed blades


What Was a Reading Community?

by guest contributor Edmund G. C. King

It’s just after 10 am on a dingy December morning in London as I approach Canada Water underground station. The morning rush hour crowds have receded, leaving only their wet footprints on the platform leading into the station. The outside sheet of a copy of this morning’s Metro , the free London commuter newspaper, has been pulped and trodden into the pavement near the entrance. A single word of the front-page headline is still legible: “Aleppo.” Inside, I walk down the escalators and turn right, onto the westbound Jubilee Line platform. A train arrives almost immediately. I get into the first carriage and stand inside the doors facing away from the platform. To my left there are twelve people sitting, facing each other in two rows of six. Exactly half of them are reading. A woman scrolls through her Facebook newsfeed on an Android phone. A couple in their 30s read copies of The Metro . Opposite them, an older man is skimming an article in the personal finance section of a tabloid newspaper headlined “The Hell of Middle Age.” Two women sit opposite each other, each absorbed in a book. One is reading management theory. The other has a thick, tattered pop-psychology paperback with subsections headed in bold and diagrams illustrating interpersonal relationships. Next to them, a woman sits, headphones on, reading a Spanish novella. No one in the carriage acknowledges the existence of anyone else, not even the couple with their matching copies of The Metro . Each reading surface has become what Erving Goffman calls an “involvement shield,” a way of demarcating personal space and signalling social “non-accessibility” in a shared environment. Seats free up at Southwark. I take one, pull out my iPhone, put my headphones on, load up Spotify and a cached copy of a Jacobin article, and prepare to immerse myself in my own media cocoon .

For the past year, I have been Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded project, “ Reading Communities: Connecting the Past and the Present .” The purpose of the Reading Communities project was to reach out to contemporary reading groups in the United Kingdom and encourage them to engage with the historical accounts of reading in the Reading Experience Database . But the experience of working on a project like this has also changed my own academic practice as an historian of reading. I find myself paying more attention to the everyday scenes of reading unfolding around me than I might have done otherwise, looking for the elusive connections between reading practices and reading communities in the past and the present. Of course, a random collection of readers in a London tube carriage does not in itself constitute a “reading community.” We, in our Jubilee Line media cocoons, might all be using books and other forms of reading material in avoidant ways, as coping mechanisms to deal with the intensities and demands of occupying shared spaces in a large city. Some of us may even be consuming the very same text—this morning’s Metro —simultaneously. These acts of textual consumption form part of our social imaginary they are props for performing our roles as commuters and as Londoners. But simultaneity and a shared habitus are not sufficient in themselves to bind us together into a specific reading community. For a reading community to exist, the act of reading must be in some basic way shared . Readers need to interact with each other or at least identify as members of the same reading collective. The basic building blocks of a community are, as DeNel Rehberg Sedo observes, a set of enduring and reciprocal social relationships. Reading communities are collectives where those relationships are mediated by the consumption of texts. But how can we define the social function of reading communities more precisely? What relationship do they have with other communities and social formations beyond the realm of text? What can examples taken from historically distant reading cultures tell us about the social uses of shared reading experiences?

In Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire , William A. Johnson interrogates ancient sources for what they can reveal about reading and writing practices in elite Roman communities. The scenes of reading preserved in ancient sources provide detailed glimpses into the place of shared reading and literary performance in daily life. In Epistle 27 , Pliny describes the daily routine of Titus Vestricius Spurinna , a 78-year-old retired senator and consul:

The early morning he passes on his couch at eight he calls for his slippers, and walks three miles, exercising mind and body together. On his return, if he has any friends in the house with him, he gets upon some entertaining and interesting topic of conversation if by himself, some book is read to him, sometimes when visitors are there even, if agreeable to the company. Then he has a rest, and after that either takes up a book or resumes his conversation in preference to reading.

In the afternoon, after he has bathed, Spurinna has “some light and entertaining author read to him,” a ritual house guests are invited to share. At dinner, guests are entertained with another group reading, “the recital of some dramatic piece,” as a way of “seasoning” the “pleasures” of the evening “with study.” All of this, he writes, is carried on “ with so much affability and politeness that none of his guests ever finds it tedious.” For Johnson, this reveals Pliny’s belief that shared literary consumption forms a necessary part of high-status Roman identity. “Reading in this society,” he writes, “is tightly bound up in the construction of … community.” It is the glue that binds together a range of communal practices—meals, exercise, literary conversation—into one unified whole, a social solvent that simultaneously acts as an elite marker. Shared reading experiences in this milieu are a means of fostering a sense of group belonging. They are ways of performing social identity, of easing participants into their roles as hosts and house guests, clients and patrons.

Another externality that impels the formation of ancient Roman reading communities is textual scarcity. To gain access to texts in the ancient world, readers needed social connections. Literary and intellectual culture in such a textual economy will necessarily be communal, as both readers and authors depend on social relationships in order to exchange and encounter reading material. As Johnson shows , the duties of authorship in ancient Rome extended into the spheres of production and distribution. Genteel authors like Galen retained the scribes and lectors who would copy and perform their works for a wider coterie of friends and followers. This culture of scarcity in turn imprinted itself onto reading practices. In the introduction to his treatise On Theriac to Piso , Galen describes visiting Piso at home and finding him in the midst of reading a medical treatise, an act of private reading that readily segues into an extended social performance for Galen’s benefit:

I once came to your house as is my custom and found you with many of your accustomed books lying around you. For you do especially love, after the conclusion of the public duties arising from your affairs, to spend your time with the old philosophers. But on this occasion you had acquired a book about this antidote [i.e., theriac] and were reading it with pleasure and when I was standing next to you you immediately looked on me with the eyes of friendship and greeted me courteously and then took up the reading of the book again with me for audience. And I listened because the book was thoughtfully written … And as you read … a great sense of wonder came over me and I was very grateful for our good luck, when I saw you so enthusiastic about the art. For most men just want to derive the pleasure of listening from writings on medicine: but you not only listen with pleasure to what is said, but also learn from your native intelligence …

As Johnson notes, this passage is striking precisely because of its unfamiliarity, for what it says about the gulf that separates “Galen’s culture of reading” from “our own.” Specialised texts in the Roman world were so scarce—and hence so valuable—that it was axiomatic to readers like Piso and Galen that the “good luck” of mutual textual encounter should be maximised by an act of shared reading, not simply of a small extract, but of the entire work. The result is a precisely described scene of reading that baffles us with its strangeness. What these anecdotes indicate is not only that, as Robert Darnton puts it, “reading has a history,” but that reading communities everywhere bear the unmistakable imprints of that history.

In early Victorian London, juvenile pickpockets reacted in their own way to the externalities of textual scarcity. As Henry Mayhew records, literate gang members would read their copies of Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Calendar aloud in lodgings during the evenings to those in their networks who couldn’t read. These acts of shared reading not only fostered group identity, but enabled gang members to maximise their communal resources, to make literacy and textual possessions go further. The reading communities in early twentieth-century New Zealand that Susann Liebich has studied are similarly embedded in wider networks of friendship and group belonging. Sharing books and reading tips was, as she demonstrates, a means of “fostering connections,” a way for “readers to connect with each other and with a world beyond Timaru .” What each of these examples shows is that the social function of shared reading differs according to the needs and norms of the wider communities and cultures in which that reading community is embedded. At the same time, however, attending to these differences encourages us to consider what is distinctive about norms and practices within contemporary reading communities, helping us limn what Rob Koehler elsewhere on this blog identifies as “ the intimate and complex relationships between individuals, texts, and lived experience ” across time and space, within history and our own present moment.

Edmund G. C. King is a Research Fellow in English Literature in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University, UK. He works on the Reading Experience Database and is currently researching British and Commonwealth reading practices during the First World War. He is co-editor (with Shafquat Towheed) of Reading and the First World War: Readers, Texts, Archives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).


What's the earliest historical event that we know the exact day of its occurrence?

I've been thinking about the Gregorian calendar and how it doesn't really make much sense for a secular society and non-religious folk like me to be basing a calendar system on a religious event (meaning Jesus's birth). I figure it might make sense to start a hypothetically secular calendar from the first recorded event in human history that we can pin down to an exact day. What event would that be, and what day was it?

EDIT: Plus, I think it would be cool to have a calendar system that took account of as much of recorded human history as possible, not just a portion of it.

Well, I believe the event would have to be a contemporary recorded instance of a solar eclipse. Early descriptions of solar eclipses, where we know the approximate time period they occurred and the location on Earth they were observed from and described, can be very accurately dated (even down to the hour and minutes local or GMT time they would have occurred in many cases) by using modern study of orbital mechanics to backtrack to the time period and place in question to accurately determine exactly when that solar eclipse must have happened.

There was a recorded description of a solar eclipse in China that is believed to have been the annular eclipse that we know (according to the NASA link above) took place there on October 22, 2137 B.C.E, though I know there is some debate about whether that was the actual eclipse being referenced in the specific ancient text. I believe the debate there has to do with the precise dating of the text itself that mentions the eclipse, as the text was dated to within a +/- 200-year time period, and there was more than one solar eclipse in that area of China over that time period.

Aside from that, the "Ugarit Eclipse" of May 3rd, 1375 B.C.E. I think is a likely candidate for the earliest known exact date of an historical event, as it was described in an ancient Mesopotamian clay tablet that was discovered in 1948 in modern Syria (amongst the excavated ruins of the ancient city of Ugarit). In that case, the translated quote from the tablet was that "On the day of the new moon, in the month of Hiyar, the Sun was put to shame, and went down in the daytime, with Mars in attendance."

If anyone knows of any other described historical event/incident that is older and can be precisely nailed down to an exact calendar date, please chime in, as it is an interesting topic I think!


Astarte arrived in Ancient Egypt during the 18th dynasty along with other deities who were worshipped by northwest Semitic people. She was especially worshipped in her aspect as a warrior goddess, often paired with the goddess Anat.

In the Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Ra and are given in marriage to the god Set, here identified with the Semitic name Hadad. Astarte also was identified with the lioness warrior goddess Sekhmet, but seemingly more often conflated, at least in part, with Isis to judge from the many images found of Astarte suckling a small child. Indeed, there is a statue of the 6th century BC in the Cairo Museum, which normally would be taken as portraying Isis with her child Horus on her knee and which in every detail of iconography follows normal Egyptian conventions, but the dedicatory inscription reads: “Gersaphon, son of Azor, son of Slrt, man of Lydda, for his Lady, for Astarte.” See G. Daressy, (1905) pl. LXI (CGC 39291).

Plutarch, in his On Isis and Osiris, indicates that the King and Queen of Byblos, who, unknowingly, have the body of Osiris in a pillar in their hall, are Melcarthus (i.e. Melqart) and Astarte (though he notes some instead call the Queen Saosis or Nemanūs, which Plutarch interprets as corresponding to the Greek name Athenais). [5]


What Was a Reading Community?

by guest contributor Edmund G. C. King

It’s just after 10 am on a dingy December morning in London as I approach Canada Water underground station. The morning rush hour crowds have receded, leaving only their wet footprints on the platform leading into the station. The outside sheet of a copy of this morning’s Metro , the free London commuter newspaper, has been pulped and trodden into the pavement near the entrance. A single word of the front-page headline is still legible: “Aleppo.” Inside, I walk down the escalators and turn right, onto the westbound Jubilee Line platform. A train arrives almost immediately. I get into the first carriage and stand inside the doors facing away from the platform. To my left there are twelve people sitting, facing each other in two rows of six. Exactly half of them are reading. A woman scrolls through her Facebook newsfeed on an Android phone. A couple in their 30s read copies of The Metro . Opposite them, an older man is skimming an article in the personal finance section of a tabloid newspaper headlined “The Hell of Middle Age.” Two women sit opposite each other, each absorbed in a book. One is reading management theory. The other has a thick, tattered pop-psychology paperback with subsections headed in bold and diagrams illustrating interpersonal relationships. Next to them, a woman sits, headphones on, reading a Spanish novella. No one in the carriage acknowledges the existence of anyone else, not even the couple with their matching copies of The Metro . Each reading surface has become what Erving Goffman calls an “involvement shield,” a way of demarcating personal space and signalling social “non-accessibility” in a shared environment. Seats free up at Southwark. I take one, pull out my iPhone, put my headphones on, load up Spotify and a cached copy of a Jacobin article, and prepare to immerse myself in my own media cocoon .

For the past year, I have been Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded project, “ Reading Communities: Connecting the Past and the Present .” The purpose of the Reading Communities project was to reach out to contemporary reading groups in the United Kingdom and encourage them to engage with the historical accounts of reading in the Reading Experience Database . But the experience of working on a project like this has also changed my own academic practice as an historian of reading. I find myself paying more attention to the everyday scenes of reading unfolding around me than I might have done otherwise, looking for the elusive connections between reading practices and reading communities in the past and the present. Of course, a random collection of readers in a London tube carriage does not in itself constitute a “reading community.” We, in our Jubilee Line media cocoons, might all be using books and other forms of reading material in avoidant ways, as coping mechanisms to deal with the intensities and demands of occupying shared spaces in a large city. Some of us may even be consuming the very same text—this morning’s Metro —simultaneously. These acts of textual consumption form part of our social imaginary they are props for performing our roles as commuters and as Londoners. But simultaneity and a shared habitus are not sufficient in themselves to bind us together into a specific reading community. For a reading community to exist, the act of reading must be in some basic way shared . Readers need to interact with each other or at least identify as members of the same reading collective. The basic building blocks of a community are, as DeNel Rehberg Sedo observes, a set of enduring and reciprocal social relationships. Reading communities are collectives where those relationships are mediated by the consumption of texts. But how can we define the social function of reading communities more precisely? What relationship do they have with other communities and social formations beyond the realm of text? What can examples taken from historically distant reading cultures tell us about the social uses of shared reading experiences?

In Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire , William A. Johnson interrogates ancient sources for what they can reveal about reading and writing practices in elite Roman communities. The scenes of reading preserved in ancient sources provide detailed glimpses into the place of shared reading and literary performance in daily life. In Epistle 27 , Pliny describes the daily routine of Titus Vestricius Spurinna , a 78-year-old retired senator and consul:

The early morning he passes on his couch at eight he calls for his slippers, and walks three miles, exercising mind and body together. On his return, if he has any friends in the house with him, he gets upon some entertaining and interesting topic of conversation if by himself, some book is read to him, sometimes when visitors are there even, if agreeable to the company. Then he has a rest, and after that either takes up a book or resumes his conversation in preference to reading.

In the afternoon, after he has bathed, Spurinna has “some light and entertaining author read to him,” a ritual house guests are invited to share. At dinner, guests are entertained with another group reading, “the recital of some dramatic piece,” as a way of “seasoning” the “pleasures” of the evening “with study.” All of this, he writes, is carried on “ with so much affability and politeness that none of his guests ever finds it tedious.” For Johnson, this reveals Pliny’s belief that shared literary consumption forms a necessary part of high-status Roman identity. “Reading in this society,” he writes, “is tightly bound up in the construction of … community.” It is the glue that binds together a range of communal practices—meals, exercise, literary conversation—into one unified whole, a social solvent that simultaneously acts as an elite marker. Shared reading experiences in this milieu are a means of fostering a sense of group belonging. They are ways of performing social identity, of easing participants into their roles as hosts and house guests, clients and patrons.

Another externality that impels the formation of ancient Roman reading communities is textual scarcity. To gain access to texts in the ancient world, readers needed social connections. Literary and intellectual culture in such a textual economy will necessarily be communal, as both readers and authors depend on social relationships in order to exchange and encounter reading material. As Johnson shows , the duties of authorship in ancient Rome extended into the spheres of production and distribution. Genteel authors like Galen retained the scribes and lectors who would copy and perform their works for a wider coterie of friends and followers. This culture of scarcity in turn imprinted itself onto reading practices. In the introduction to his treatise On Theriac to Piso , Galen describes visiting Piso at home and finding him in the midst of reading a medical treatise, an act of private reading that readily segues into an extended social performance for Galen’s benefit:

I once came to your house as is my custom and found you with many of your accustomed books lying around you. For you do especially love, after the conclusion of the public duties arising from your affairs, to spend your time with the old philosophers. But on this occasion you had acquired a book about this antidote [i.e., theriac] and were reading it with pleasure and when I was standing next to you you immediately looked on me with the eyes of friendship and greeted me courteously and then took up the reading of the book again with me for audience. And I listened because the book was thoughtfully written … And as you read … a great sense of wonder came over me and I was very grateful for our good luck, when I saw you so enthusiastic about the art. For most men just want to derive the pleasure of listening from writings on medicine: but you not only listen with pleasure to what is said, but also learn from your native intelligence …

As Johnson notes, this passage is striking precisely because of its unfamiliarity, for what it says about the gulf that separates “Galen’s culture of reading” from “our own.” Specialised texts in the Roman world were so scarce—and hence so valuable—that it was axiomatic to readers like Piso and Galen that the “good luck” of mutual textual encounter should be maximised by an act of shared reading, not simply of a small extract, but of the entire work. The result is a precisely described scene of reading that baffles us with its strangeness. What these anecdotes indicate is not only that, as Robert Darnton puts it, “reading has a history,” but that reading communities everywhere bear the unmistakable imprints of that history.

In early Victorian London, juvenile pickpockets reacted in their own way to the externalities of textual scarcity. As Henry Mayhew records, literate gang members would read their copies of Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Calendar aloud in lodgings during the evenings to those in their networks who couldn’t read. These acts of shared reading not only fostered group identity, but enabled gang members to maximise their communal resources, to make literacy and textual possessions go further. The reading communities in early twentieth-century New Zealand that Susann Liebich has studied are similarly embedded in wider networks of friendship and group belonging. Sharing books and reading tips was, as she demonstrates, a means of “fostering connections,” a way for “readers to connect with each other and with a world beyond Timaru .” What each of these examples shows is that the social function of shared reading differs according to the needs and norms of the wider communities and cultures in which that reading community is embedded. At the same time, however, attending to these differences encourages us to consider what is distinctive about norms and practices within contemporary reading communities, helping us limn what Rob Koehler elsewhere on this blog identifies as “ the intimate and complex relationships between individuals, texts, and lived experience ” across time and space, within history and our own present moment.

Edmund G. C. King is a Research Fellow in English Literature in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University, UK. He works on the Reading Experience Database and is currently researching British and Commonwealth reading practices during the First World War. He is co-editor (with Shafquat Towheed) of Reading and the First World War: Readers, Texts, Archives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).


Watch the video: The Dark Secret Behind Your Favorite Makeup Products. Shady. Refinery29 (November 2021).