Monday, December 01, 2008

Forever In Stone...

A University of Chicago expedition team from their Oriental Institute found this 800 pound, three foot high stele in Turkey.  They found it at the ancient Iron Age city of Sam'al.  Apparently the inscription on it reads that a (a very affluent) man, Kuttamuwa, had died, been cremated and then had his soul sealed inside the stone.  It's an interesting notion (and might make for intriguing fodder for another installment in the Mummy franchise) but not a new one (even for this region as the original article written by the Oriental Institute suggests).  The giant stone slab dates back to the 8th century BCE.  However, the idea of the soul pre-dates this in Ancient Egypt.  Here they dissected the soul, broke it down into parts and named them.  The "ren" or name was used as a way to insure the survival of the soul.  If it was written and read, the soul would survive until it was destroyed and forgotten.  When new dynasties came to power, it was not an uncommon practice to go back and eliminate all reference to their predecessors.  Doesn't the stele recently discovered look an awful lot like some of the Egyptian ones from the Middle Kingdom?

The idea of the soul isn't exclusive to ancient Egypt either.  Writings on it appear in Greece, early Italy, and the ancient Near East as well.  The tablet itself suggests cross-pollination of ideas based in different regions of the Middle East, in it's Phoenician alphabet and West Semitic dialect.  It's not hard to believe that the idea of the soul traveled along the trade routes.

To illustrate further the idea of just how connected these cultures were, I give you the sphinx (and lamassu):

Starting from left to right:  Detail from the Anatolian Sphinx GateAlaca Höyük, 14th century BCE.  Detail of The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt, 25th century BCE.  Detail of a Lamassu, Khorsabad, 8th century BCE.  Sculptural view of a Sphinx from South Italy, circa 5th century BCE.  Sculptural view of a Greek Archaic period Sphinx, Attica, 5th century BCE.  
(The mythological guardian creature has also been sighted in South and South-East Asia, dating back to the 3rd century BCE.)

So, either there was an abundance of these creatures walking around or the idea and archetypal symbol was communicated by trade routes and military acquisitions.  The idea of the soul is no different.

For further reading on the discovery of the "Soul Stele" check out:

No comments: