Huh? Nope, it’s Heh: How the Egyptians measured time and thought about eternity

The week is finally over! While only five days long, the workweek can certainly feel like an eternity. Which got me thinking (as many things do) about how the Egyptians measured time and thought about eternity.

Houston HehBarely an inch in height, this small hammered gold object depicts a man kneeling, wearing a knee-length pleated linen kilt and a long wig which comes down in two lappets on either side of his face – the typical get-up of Egyptian gods. His right hand stretches out to grasp a tall element with a curving top; his missing left hand originally did the same.

His pose and accessories identify him as the god Heh. Larger, more detailed representations show that the curved objects he holds are palm ribs, notched to tally up the years. The ‘years’ often rest on crouching frogs or tadpoles, the hieroglyphic sign for ‘100,000;’ these in turn sit on top of tied rings, symbolizing enduring protection.

Big HehWith all this in mind, it’s no surprise that Heh was considered the god of eternity, and was himself used as the hieroglyphic sign for ‘1,000,000’ – the largest number the Egyptians wished to write. Images of Heh in temples and on royal objects provided an eternal framework for the rituals that surrounded them. Tutankhamun was buried with a mirror in a Heh-shaped case, keeping him forever safe and youthful.

Our Heh is smaller and less finely worked than these, but is still made from expensive gold and would have been a cherished possession of its owner. A loop soldered to his back allowed him to be attached to a cord, where he would have served as an amuletic charm on a necklace, or possibly an element of a diadem.

Excavated parallels to our Heh date to the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period (which we Egyptologists abbreviate to ‘FIP’) of Egyptian history (Dynasties 6-10, around 2300-2000 BC), and illuminate the problems we can run into when studying the past. Literary accounts of the First Intermediate Period describe it as a period in which the legitimate king was unable to exercise his authority: chaos, fighting, and famine ensued until the kings of the Middle Kingdom were able to reunite the country.

Excavations of FIP cemeteries, however, reveal a different picture. Valuable metal objects like weapons and our Heh are preserved in far higher quantities from FIP graves than Old Kingdom graves. If the FIP didn’t benefit the king and his court, less privileged people used the weakening of royal control as an opportunity to enrich themselves in this life and the next.

The amulet of Heh will go on display in the Hall of Ancient Egypt in the summer. Keep an eye out for him!

A thousand words: Pixel Party photographers get snap happy in three HMNS exhibits after-hours

After-hours at the Museum on Feb. 23, we had one of our awesome Pixel Parties — where we open select exhibits exclusively to photographers (both amateur and professional). This time around, we opened the entire third floor, giving our photographers access to the Hall of The Americas, Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux, and the Hall of Ancient Egypt.

Here are some of our favorite shots from that evening:

HALL OF THE AMERICAS

Photo by Jerry Klumpp

Photo by Jerry Klumpp

Photo by Robin Merrit

Photo by Robin Merrit

Photo by Jonathan Parker

THE CAVE PAINTINGS OF LASCAUX

Photo by Gary Woodard

Photo by Jerry Klumpp

Photo by Jerry Klumpp

Photo by Alan Wilson

Photo by Alan Wilson

Photo by Jonathan Parker

HALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT

Photo by Kinjo Yonemoto

Photo by Kinjo Yonemoto

Photo by Sergio Garcia Rill

Photo by Sergio Garcia Rill

Photo by Gary Woodard

Photo by Gary Woodard

Photo by Kinjo Yonemoto

Photo by Kinjo Yonemoto

 

 

Preserving Egypt’s cultural past: A conversation about conservation with Dina Aboul Saad

Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Dina Aboul Saad, Director of Development at the American Research Center in Egypt.

ARCE Collage

Ancient Egyptian, Roman, Coptic and Islamic sites further our understanding of the rich cultural history of Egypt, but there’s much more to Egypt than digging up artifacts. Have you ever thought about what happens to the sites and objects once they are uncovered? And why do we endeavor to preserve Egypt’s cultural past?

The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) answers these questions through the most extensive program of conservation and training in Egypt today. In recent years the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) has conducted large-scale preservation and training activities at important archaeological sites throughout Egypt in collaboration with Egyptian colleagues and the Ministry of State for Antiquities.

On Nov. 7th at HMNS, you have an opportunity to see some of the iconic sites ARCE works to conserve and document.

fruitcake egypt

Working in Egypt since 1948, ARCE supports scholarly research in Egypt in a variety of areas including archaeology, training, site documentation and mapping, and conservation.

Brian Eno, the British rock musician and avant-garde artist, once remarked, “We are convinced by things that show internal complexity; [things] that show the traces of an interesting evolution. That is what makes old buildings interesting. Humans have a taste for things that not only show that they have been through a process of evolution, but which also show they are still part of one. They are not dead yet.”

We feel disconnected when the opportunity to involve ourselves with cultural history, even from a distance, is taken away.

Don’t miss Dina’s presentation, where she will give an overview of ARCE’s archaeological projects and the impact these projects have in Egypt. This event is co-sponsored by the Egyptian American Society of Houston here at HMNS on Thurs., Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. For advance tickets, call 713-639-4629 or get them online.

The Chiddingstone Chronicles: What do a castle, collector, countess & our Hall of Ancient Egypt have in common?

Pour yourself a spot of tea, loves, have a biscuit and brace yourselves for a story of utmost British-ness.

If you’ve visited our esteemed new Hall of Ancient Egypt, you may have noticed that many of the items on display are on loan from Chiddingstone Castle in the United Kingdom.

The historic house is the former home of antiquarian Denys Eyre Bower, an avid collector and consummate gentleman, as you’ll soon see.

Bower bought the castle and its surrounding 35 acres in 1955 for 6,000 British pounds. Although the castle was rundown, Bower — 50 years old at the time — was attracted to its potential. It had the space to house and display the many artifacts he’d collected over the years, and before long, he had made it something of a local destination, opening a makeshift ticket window for passersby and manning tours himself.

Chiddingstone Castle

By and by, Bower found himself in love with a young girl who lived a few miles way. She was only 19, but she managed to convince Bower that she was a French countess.

When he sensed that her affections might not match his own, Bower brought an antique revolver from his collection ’round to her apartment and threatened suicide if his love wasn’t reciprocated. During the ensuing confrontation (these things are always dramatic), the revolver went off and the “Countess” was wounded. Beside himself with grief and ever the gentleman, Bower shot himself to even things out. Neither were mortally wounded.

When he had recovered, Bower asked how his Countess was faring and was informed that she was neither dead nor a countess — she was the daughter of a Peckham bus driver.

A six-year stint in a notorious London prison — Wormwood Scrubs — followed on charges of attempted murder and attempted suicide (a punishable crime in those days), but it was during this time that Bowers befriended a woman named Ruth Eldridge.

Over many visits, Eldridge worked on Bower’s behalf to organize his release from prison, recruiting her sister to restore and guard the castle at Chiddingstone in the meantime. Bower and Eldridge remained friends until Bower’s death in 1977, and it was Ruth and her sister who set up the trust that still exists today — from which all of our objects are on loan.

Pretty crazy story, isn’t it? Just the sort one can’t make up.