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  1. Hi, Aten! Thank you for commenting.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned regarding the human species, it’s to keep an open mind regarding the inventiveness, inquisitiveness, and explorations of our ancestors! So while I can’t verify your family legends, I can say that it’s certainly worth looking into.

    As to how to do that: well, hmm. You might try for a start. If you want to really dig deeply into your family background, however, I’d suggest the National Geographic DNA Test for Ancestry. It’s on my wishlist of things to do someday too! :)

  2. I was reading up on your studies of mummies and I found the assertions on the Egyptian family and multiculturalism to be of particular interest… You see, my last name is Aten. My family has been in America since the early 1600’s. Before that, we lived in Holland. Family legend says that when the Israelites left Egypt, an Egyptian prince went with them, and it is from him my family is descended. There are other Jewish families with the same surname, from the North African coastal region and up into Spain. During the Inquisition, these Jews fled to Holland. This is a logical explanation for the surname, as “Aten” has little to no root in Dutch. A historical society in New Jersey, however, asserts that my family is descended from Scottish nobility descended from French nobility from Charlemagne… Is there any way we can figure out where we came from? Does any part of the legends of my family make any sense?

  3. Hi again, Elaine! Yes, I’d love to have your URL — let me know when your blog is ready, please? Also, many apologies for taking so long to reply to all your fascinating comments. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is sometimes all worn out! :)

    Re the mummies: thank you so much for that information! I’d never heard of the Guanche before now. I knew of the socio-religious unrest surrounding Akhenaten, but I had no idea of the familial unrest — quite fascinating! I’ll have to read more about it after this semester — I love this stuff! :)

  4. Hi Collie,

    Thanks ever so much for your e-mail, and response to my comment. It’s really rewarding to find that there are bloggers out there who actually take time to read, and mull over, comments.

    Delighted that I found your site – especially as I do something similar! Synchronicity, eh! I’m just updating and reconfiguring my blog, so it’s changing web address, but as soon as I can, I’ll forward you a link. Maybe you’d like to look in on some of my musings?

    By the way, I have to confess, I’m utterly fascinated by mummies. Not in a ghoulish sense, as some people might be – can’t see the point of that kind of immaturity. It’s more to do with an interest in human development and society; a fascination with how humans function, evolve, interact. I have a background in Social Work, and I’m currently studying Psychology Postgrad, so perhaps I’m just one of those individuals who naturally has a preoccupation with “what makes people tick”. I’m delighted to have found a kindred spirit!

    By the way, the mummies that I mentioned which were discovered in the Canary Isles are the mummies of the GUANCHE. I understand the Guanche to have been the earliest, possibly indigenous, inhabitants of the Canary Isles. They are often described by scholars who have written on the subject, confusingly I admit, as either “aboriginal”, or else “Hispanic/Spanish”. Not quite sure what to make of that!

    Sadly, very little resaerch has been undertaken with regard to the Guanche mummies. Furthermore, there are very few of them left – this is thought to be due to a combinatin of factors. Firstly, the mummies were discovered by the Spanish who came to the Canary Isles in the fifteenth century A.D. and are thought to have looted the burial grounds. Secondly, huge building projects associated with modern-day tourism have destroyed many burial sites prior to excavation. Further destuction of the mummies took place under the guise of “western medicine”. Many were pulverized, and sold as the tincture “mummy” or “mumi” – a sort of mysterious, Medieval cure-all, often advocated for stomach upsets (oh, the irony!).

    I can offer you a few tantalizing fragments of information. The mummies are predominantly believed to be those of high-status individuals; it is argued that they were Kings (or “Menceyes” in local dialect). Several have been eviscerated in “Egyptian” fashion. It is believed that they were dessicated as part of an artificial mummification process that involved use of sand, various types of vegetable matter, fat solids, and soil. They were further dried in the sun, then wrapped in goatskins. Apparrently, the number of goatskins used corresponds with status. The mummies were then placed on special wooden “mummy boards” to carry them and lay them in their cave tombs, following which, brick or stone walls were built around them to close the tombs up.

    It is interesting to see that the people of the Canary Isles practised mummification, in so apparrently “Egyptian” a form. Is this indicative of the spread of practices directly from Egypt? Certainly, the type of mummification carried out has similarities. Furthermore, the choice of cave tombs is redolent of the Valley of the Kings, and those found at Amarna (Akhetaten – Akhenaton’s capital city). However, this could be conjecture. It is perfectly feasible that the Guanche discovered mummification for themselves. Many ancient cultures venerated the ancestors, and those of high status. Artificially preserving a body may naturally follow from this. Caves provide micro-climates that are often beneficial to the long term preservation of a mummified body. The Guanche could have experiemented, and have discovered all of this for themselves.

    What intrigues me; irrespective as to whether the Guanche learned mummification from the Egyptians, or not; is the widespread practice of mummification, and what this says about our human ancestors. It offers us a window through which we can observe their thinking – their hopes and fears, their spiritual beliefs, their love of kinship, their sense of belonging, continuity and heredity.

    Sadly, I DID miss your previus posts with regard to the subject of Yingpin Man. I only came across this one whilst Googling a line of research for my own blog, and I have to admit that line of research was only distantly related. Still, thanks for providing me with the links.

    Thanks, too, for your mention of the fragments of tobacco leaves found in the wrapping of Egyptian mummies. I had heard of that previously, and found it fascinating, in that the ancient Egyptians seem to have displayed an astoundingly far-reaching knowledge and understanding of narcotics, hallucinogenics and “recreational drugs”.

    The ancient Egyptians, it would also seem, were an extremely well-travelled people. After all, there are suggestions that they even made the U.K. (Scotland, I believe).

    Researcher Lorraine Evans writes that a manuscript named the “Scotichronicon” came to light during her study of the Bower Manuscript. At the time, she was investigating the origins of the Scottish people, and their culture. She was surprised to find that the Bower Manuscript and Scotichronicon told the ancient story of an Egyptian Princess, named “Scota”, who fled from Egypt accompanied by her husband Gaythelos, and a large number of followers. They arrived, in a small fleet of boats, on the coast of Scotland and settled there. They lived for a while amongst the natives, then moved to Ireland, and from them arose the tribe, the “Scotii”. Descendents of these people later moved back to Scotland, giving the country its name.

    I cannot say whether this is true, or mere “urban myth”. However, there are some intriguing archaeological discoveries that may add credence to it…

    In 1955, the archaeologist Sean O’Riordan was excavating the “Mound of Hostages”, a site of ancient Kingship at Tara, in Ireland. Here, Bronze Age remains were found, including the skeleton of a young male, carbon dated to @ 1350 B.C. and wearing an extraordinary necklace of blue faience beads. Similar necklaces, with beads of identical design and construction, had been found in Egypt. In fact, some of the beads on Tutankhamun’s funerary jewellery were found to be matches for the Tara beads. Interestingly, Tutankhamun was entombed at pretty much the same time that the Tara skeleton was buried. Yet another necklace of similar design and construction was found with a skeleton buried in North Molton, Devon (again in a Bronze Age burial mound).

    Further evidence of ancient Egyptians reaching the U.K has been found in the form of the remains of a boat, discovered in mud flats at North Ferriby, near Hull, in Yorkshire. They type, and construction, of the boat match it to boats found in Egypt. The boat was radiocarbon dated to 1400-1350 B.C.

    This period is of enormous interest to anyone fascinated by Egyptology, for it spans the now notorious “Amarna Period” – the rule of Pharaoh Akhenaten (1352-1336 B.C.), as well as his father Amenhotep III, and, following Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Ay and Horemheb.

    There are suggestions that “Scota” is none other than Akhenaten’s oldest daughter Meritaten, and that she fled Egypt following the collapse of her father’s rule. It is well known that Akhenaten revolutionised religious belief, by being th first to practise monotheism (worshipping the sun disk or “Aten”). He is believed to have alientaed the priesthood of Amun, and many other subjects because of this. He is also thought to have contributed to social and political unrest. We know that Akhenaten was never mentioned on the Egyptian “List of Kings”, and that much Armana artwork was defaced (eradicating images of the Pharaoh). Some say this is because he was a heretic. I keep an open mind.

    Still, it is common knowledge that his “Great Royal Wife”, Nefertiti; with whom Akhenaten had 6 daughters; disappeared without trace several years before the end of Akhenaten’s rule. His secondary wife Kiya; thought to be Tutankhamun’s mother; also disappeared. We know that Tutankhamun, Akhenaten’s successor, died without issue. We also know that around this time, Egypt returned to former religious practices. Tutankhamun’s successors were, respectively, court Vizier (and possible brother of Nefertiti) Ay, then head of the Army, Horemheb.

    Archaeologists are still seekng to identify the Amarna Period mummies. Skepticism remains as to whether skeletonized remains found in KV55, Valley of the Kings, are those of Akhenaten. Tutankhamun has been found. There is the possibility that a mummy known as the “elder lady” found in KV35 is Akhenaten’s mother, Queen Tiye. Much has been made of another mummy, the “younger lady”, found in this “tomb” (little more than an unfinished cave), suggesting it is Nefertiti herself. Others argue it is Kiya. The likelihood is that Nefertiti, and Kiya, have not been located. Mummies of Akhenaten’s daughters have also not been found.

    Perhaps his eldest DID flee to Britain, following the fall of her father’s empire? Perhaps she travelled incognito, and changed her name? Perhaps she was not married to an Egyptian (Gaythelos, the name, suggests other origins)? We cannot know for certain. However, the archaeological finds in the U.K suggest that, if nothing else, trade was taking place internationally, and that Egyptian artefacts were ending up widely disseminated. Whether their owners, the people they were buried with, were Egyptian or not remains conjecture. Perhaps in the future, D.N.A. testing, or Strontium Isotope Analysis, will give us a clearer answer?

    By the way, there is LOADS of stuff on the Guanche Mummies; and the story of Scota; online. Just try a Google search! I also thought you might like to read the following, if you have a mind to:

    “The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession And The Everlasting Dead”, by Heather Pringle. Published June 19th 2002, by Hyperion.

    It covers ALL different types and locations of mummy – from those found in the high Andes, to those found in peat bogs. It covers the self-made mummies of Tibetan Buddhist monks, the ritualistic sacrifice of “bog bodies” in Europe, the jade clad mummies of Emperors in China, the tiny clay covered Chinchorro mummies of South America… You name it, they’re all in there.

    Sorry to have wittered on so long! Caught up in the buzz of mental exertion!

  5. Hi, Elaine;

    I’m so pleased to see how interested you are in these subjects! I’m not sure, but it sounds to me like you didn’t get to see the other postings I wrote on this particular visit to see the mummies at the Bowers Museum in the LA area. I’ve listed them in order below for you:

    Southern migration for the Mummies of Urumchi!

    The amazing mummies of the Tarim Basin

    Mummies & the museum

    Yingpan Man, Xiaohe Woman (which is this webpage, which you’ve clearly already read)

    I really should write more on that wonderful visit — it was extremely enjoyable and fascinating. Also, as I note in one of the earlier postings, I was writing of my emotional reactions rather than in a scholastic manner, and my main interest was in the much older, very early Bronze Age mummies.

    I do agree with you that ideologies undoubtedly traveled with the people carrying them — how could they not? — and of course they move through warring conquest as well as through peaceful trade. For example, in my thesis I amusedly note Herodotus unwittingly projecting his beliefs on the correct social status of women, when he notes the shock of discovering the Scythians actually had a female supreme deity! :)

    I didn’t know there were mummies in the Canary Isles — cool! Thank you for sharing that. Here’s something I consider nifty which you might enjoy in return: they’ve found bits of tobacco leaves in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies. That may not sound like much until we realize: tobacco is a New World plant — which means there had to be trade between the so-called New and Old Worlds even that far back in history! We are a wonderfully and amazingly inventive species.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

  6. True, some interesting things of note about Yingpin Man. It’s a pity you fail to enter into any detail. Yes, you do offer some tantalising hints as to the mummy’s origin. Yes, you raise points of note regarding the gold tones on the face mask, the humanoid carvings in the tomb, the “dolls’ clothes”, the Caucasian features…
    If you really ARE interested in finding out more about this mummy; and others of a similar ilk, including “Cherchen Man”, “The Beauty of Loulan”, “Xiaouhai Woman/Beauty of Xiaouhai””; then you need to start reading about and researching what are commonly known as “the mummies of the Takla Makan” (the desert area where many were found).
    These mummies are an extraordinary archaeological record of cross-cultural migration. They appear to be humans of Caucasian origin, who were following the ancient “Silk Route” into China, and beyond. We know from studies of many ancient civilisations, including those of the Celts, the Vikings, the Romans, the Greeks and possibly the Egyptians, that international trade flourished very early on in the history of civilization. Such great empires as Greece and Rome were firmly built upon it.
    Excavations of burial sites in places as far apart as Scandinavia, Britain, Austria, Italy, Greece and Egypt have thrown up remarkable similarities, which could perhaps indicate both the spread of trade, and the spread of cultural beliefs and ideologies throughout the known world of the time.
    We know from Pharaonic burials that the Egyptians buried the dead with grave goods. We know also that the face of the deceased often wore a gold, or gold-toned, death mask. This is because the Egyptians believed that the flesh of the Gods was made of gold – gold being utterly incorruptible. The dead Pharaoh became a God; he became one with Osiris upon his passing (in life he had been simultaneous with Horus; the earthly representation of the Falcon God, and son of Osiris). Thus, the Egyptians may well have come to believe the the Pharaoh became immortal, and that the flesh of immortals was gold. Given that each and every Egyptian sought such immortality (hence the need to preserve the mummified body), lesser individuals such as Princes and Nobles also sought to imitate the gold death masks and funerary ornamentation of the Pharaohs.
    Gold death masks can also be found in ancient Greece – Macedonia, to be precise. Perhaps this represents a dissemination of the Egyptian ideology? We do know that the Greeks assimilated many Egyptian religious beliefs, and deities. It is even thought that Alexander the Great; who along with his General, Ptolemy, conquered Egypt; chose to be mummified and buried in an Egyptian-styled sarcophagus. It is also to be noted that Ptolemy went on to become ruler of Egypt, and established his own ruling Dynasty (The Ptolemies, of whom Queen Cleopatra is the most famous descendent), leading to what is now known as the Ptolemaic era in Egypt. This period is known for its distinctive customs and art. For example, Ptolemaic sarcophagi are often easily recognisable – the faces are all very stylized, with wide eyes, serene and smiling faces. The feet, too, have an interesting cross-hatched pattern on the soles – to represent the woven soles of reed sandals.
    Could it be that the belief in gold as the skin of immortals spread as far as the Silk Route and beyond? We know that Alexander the Great travelled as far as India in his conquest of various countries. Perhaps he used the Silk Route? Maybe this is how Yingpin Man comes to have the colour gold on his face mask?
    Trade between different cultures is well known to have existed in antiquity. We know the Vikings traded extensively, exchanging fine metalwork and Baltic amber for silks, gold and garnets. Amber beads have also been found in Egyptian burials, whereas Egyptian faïence beads have been found in burials in Europe (Tara in Ireland, Devon in England and Mycenae in Greece are good examples).
    Ideologies may have spread with trade. For example, the practice of artificial mummification exists in Egypt, in South America, in China and in the Canary Isles. Some Norse deities share properties with Hindu deities; many of the major mythologies of the Greeks, Romans, Norse and Hindus share uncanny similarities. It is well known that the Greeks assymilated Egyptian deities, and that the Roman Pantheon of Gods id merely a bastardisation of the Greek one. However, it is perhaps of greater interest to know that the Hindu Vedas and the Norse Eddas are very alike, despite being separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years. The similarity was first remarked upon by German Geophysicist Alfred Wegener in 1915. Even more fascinating, perhaps, is the fact that in Norse mythology, the Gods may only become immortal by devouring the flesh of GOLDEN apples. Is this yet another reference to gold as the symbolic colour of immortality?
    Other beliefs, practices and ideologies may have spread along ancient trade routes. It is perfectly plausible; after all, why should multiculturalism only be a recent phenomenon? Surely, anywhere where different cultures come into contact will foment new ideologies, or allow for cross-cultural fertilisation.
    You mention the burial of the mummy alongside carved humanoid figures, and tiny outfits of clothing. Remember, that in many ancient cultures, including those of the Orient, human sacrifice used to take pace. Rulers and the elite might often be buried alongside their wives and concubines, and alongside slaves and servants of the household – all of whom could be sacrificed at the time of the ruler’s death. In India, the practice of Suttee (death of a wife on her husband’s funeral pyre) was not outlawed until the late 19th/early 20th century. Human sacrifice took place in ancient South America, in the ancient Near East, Europe, China, Tibet, Africa… We know of “bog bodies” in Europe, of mummified sacrificial children in South America. We hear of the “Wicker Man” being used for mass sacrifice in Celtic religions. In Egypt, ancient Pharaohs may have been buried with sacrificed servants, as was the case in ancient China…
    In many cultures, over time, such practices became morally abhorrent, and were outlawed. Still, they persisted in a symbolic sense. The shabti figures of Dynastic Egyptian burials may well be clay or wooden representations of the once sacrificed slaves and servants. This could be the same in China, where we see grave figures, often moulded in ceramics, extensively used throughout the various dynasties. Think of the Tang and Han period horse figures, and other grave figurines (examples held at the British Museum). Another fabulous example is the world famous “Terracotta Army”. The Chinese, just like the Egyptians, followed the practise of ancestor worship, where one’s predecessors were venerated and given offerings. Another similarity is that in both cultures, the dead were believed to require sustenance in the afterlife – they needed food, home comforts, and a “living”. Therefore they were buried with grave goods that included items of household furniture, cutlery and dining accoutrements, clothing, cosmetics… and often “staff” who might do their work for them in the afterlife. Several other cultures show similar practices, including the Celts, Vikings, Mongols, Greeks, Incas… to name but a few. Clearly, it was widely accepted that the dead entered some kind of afterlife, where they would continue to need to be provided for in some way. Perhaps the figurines and miniature clothing buried with Yingpin Man are part of this “provision”?
    There is no reason whatsoever to believe that multiculturalism was not common in ancient civilisations – it is not an exclusively “modern” concept. The “Silk Route” is famous for a reason. It is known to have been the road followed by ancient traders between the East and the West. It is therefore highly significant, in that it represents a meeting of different peoples and cultures, and a means by which cultures and cultural practices could be spread.
    Many suggestions have been put forward as to the origins of the “Takla Makan” and related mummies. Given the nature of the artefacts found with the bodies, combined with the fact that several of the mummies appear to have Caucasian features, it is not surprising that theories include those which suggest western roots. It is possible that these individuals were western traders, people who regularly travelled the Silk Route to do commerce. In the main, the mummies date from at the earliest, 1800 B.C., to as late as 300B.C. As the dates of burial appear to span such a wide period of time (from Tarim Basin period, to Chinese Han Dynasty) , it is thought that they may be of Celtic origin, or that they could be Norsemen. Such speculation is further fuelled by the fact that mummies have been found wrapped in a “tartan” cloth, of very similar design and weave to that found with bodies in salt mines in Austria, which date from the second millennium B.C., leading archaeologists to suggest a European origin. Other mummies, known as “the Witches of Subeshi”, were discovered wearing black felt, conical hats with brims, very much like those which form part of the traditional dress for Welsh women. Physical Anthropologists, and Linguists, have traced the spread of European-type languages, and have found that two types, Tokarian and Iranian (Saka) – both branches of the Indo-European language family, could be found in the areas where the mummies were buried. The usage of these languages is believed to be contemporaneous with the time that these mummies would still have been living, breathing human beings.
    There is an enormous amount that could be written about Yingpin Man, and the other mummies of the Takla Makan area. These mummies are fascinating, in that they pose ever so many questions about the origins and spread of human culture. They also highlight the fact that multiculturalism is not a modern day concept. On the contrary, peoples of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds were meeting, exchanging ideas, traditions and practices, long before you, or I , ever existed. Furthermore, such people were not so very different to the people of today. They lived and died, and did so according to their customs. They travelled, and brought back “souvenirs” – new styles of clothing, new types of food and drink, stories, folklore, types of music and dance… They met, and intermarried.
    When we look at the rise, and fall, of ancient civilisations, and cultures, we see a pattern that is replicated today. They rise, they expand, they fall. This is cyclical. However, what is perhaps of greatest interest is this – that most cultures, at their height (i.e. when they are thriving), are not inward-looking, or Xenophobic. Thriving cultures embrace multiculturalism. It is perhaps this mix of ideas, of beliefs, of knowledge, that makes them so vibrant.

  7. I cannot say authoritatively, but it is my suspicion the reason the female mummies are being titled “Beauty of [town name]” has less to do with the Chinese culture’s belief in the goodness of women, and more to do with the Chinese culture’s belief in the need to disempower women — to the status of simple breeder. Frankly, from her accouterments I’m suspecting Xiaohe Woman may have been a powerful shaman. More on this later, I hope. ;)

  8. I have an inkling of an idea in this regard.

    In the absence of evidence, we tend to associate positive motives and fantasy lives to the remains of the peoples of the past whos remains we honor in museums. Understandable, after all, as more people want to see things we associate with ‘good’ as opposed to the opposite.

    And as far as women are concerned, we often associate goodness with beauty. (except when we don’t, and the villians in movies and books are beautiful too…which really just confuses the matter). But keep in mind, of course, that while evil can be beautiful or ugly…you don’t often hear people talking about powerful historical women and how homely they were. Even Joan de Arc was played by Mila Jojovich in the movie.

    This is one of the many reasons I was quite happy with how they cast the actor for Calamity Jane in the HBO ‘Deadwood’ series. While the actress can be done up to be *quite* lovely by today’s standards, the Jane in the show was distinctly plain, just like the historical CJ. Which does not in any way subtract from her awesomeness.

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