Sei sulla pagina 1di 9

Egypt Exploration Society

The Camel in Dynastic Egypt Author(s): Michael Ripinsky Source: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 71 (1985), pp. 134-141 Published by: Egypt Exploration Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/07/2013 12:33
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Egypt Exploration Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions





IN I975, I presented evidence showing a very early familiarity with dromedaries in Arabia-a presence of at least Io,ooo years.1 I did not mean to imply that the very camels, but my study was aimed at refuting early material suggested domesticated the idea advocated by W. F. Albright and his followers that camels could not have been domesticated before the second millennium BC since they had been absent from

this region before that time.2 This claim was extended to include not only Arabia,
but Mesopotamia and Syro-Palestine as well.3 Egypt and the Sahara, on the other received a of in distinction that the Graeco-Roman Period has been hand, place designated most frequently as witnessing the introduction of camels.4 The strength of these arguments was essentially founded on the assumption that, as a consequence of the arid geography of the area, man would have domesticated camels had they

existed there. The Camel in Prehistory

The distribution of dromedaries can be traced by fossil remains Africa in association in the Levant, the

Arabian peninsula, and all the way across North Africa.5 The bones of Camelus
thomasii were found in North-west with a stone industry of the

Atlanthropus man. This camel is, beyond doubt, one of the first true wild dromedaries, or an extremely close biological relative.
The faunal record shows the presence of C. thomasii in North Africa from the middle Pleistocene down to the early Postglacial, i.e. about Io,ooo years ago. There

is also evidence, derived from Neolithic charcoal, of a pastoral culture based on the domesticated sheep and/or goat in the Sahara, especially in Libya, during the sixth millennium BC, and perhaps even earlier.6 Between the fifth millennium and the end
W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, 3rd edn. (Baltimore, 1953), 96-7; The Archaeology of Palestine (Baltimore, 1960), 206-7; I. J. Gelb, 'The Early History of the West Semitic Peoples', YCS 15 (196 ), from Alalakh and Ugarit', 27; W. G. Lambert, 'The Domesticated Camel in the Second Millennium-Evidence BASOR i60 (I960), 43. 3 Until very recently, the appearance of the domesticated camel in the Near East has been customarily correlated with the first (?) mention of the Bactrian species in the cuneiform inscription (Akkadian udru) on the Broken Obelisk of Tiglath-pileser I (0 I 5-1077 Bc). This inscription relates to the breeding of the two-humped camels, a variety absent from Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, and Mesopotamia proper. I have been informed that work at Choga Mish, a site near Susa in southern Mesopotamia, produced a reference to the camel in the texts of the proto-Uruk Period (c. 3500 BC). 4 0. Brogan, 'The Camel in Roman Tripolitania', Papers of the British School at Rome 22 (I954), 126-3I. 5 Cf. M. Ripinsky, 'Pleistocene Camel Distribution in the Old World', Antiquity 56 (1982), 48-50. 6 E. S. Higgs, 'Early Domesticated Animals in Libya', in Background to Evolution in Africa (W. W. Bishop and J. D. Clark, eds.) (Chicago, 1967), 169.

1 M. Ripinsky, 'The Camel in Ancient Arabia', Antiquity 49 (1975), 295-8.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions






of the Neolithic wet period, pastoralism had already spread almost throughout the entire desert. Some shelters in Libya were dated from 5500 to 3500 BC, and in the Tassili from 3500 to 2500 BC.7 Yet, the archaeological testimony does not abound with signs indicating a widespread use of the domesticated camel before the first part of the second millennium BC, in spite of the fact that the occurrence of camels in the Sahara and the Nile region must predate the First Dynasty by at least several centuries. Before the advent of the more recent pluvial interludes which characterized the African Later Stone Age, around 9000-6000 BC,8 camels had already developed all the biologically adaptive traits which have typified them as arid-land mammals. Their ability to conserve water through an extremely specialized kidney mechanism, as well as the capacity to control body temperature, places the camels in a unique position.9 It is suggested here that this animal, because of a wetter climate in Lower Egypt, arrived there after it had reached certain parts of the upper Nile basin. As the climate became more moderate, resulting in savannah and woodland conditions, the camel dispersed southward and to the west in search of a more arid habitat. It is most probable that it was first utilized by the nomadic tribesmen inhabiting the drier, southern parts of the Sahara. Shifts in the climatic regime during that period were responsible for the oscillating distribution of camels throughout northern Africa. Later on, as desiccation replaced the savannah and forest environment, the camel reoccupied its ancient niche. At the same time, most of the human population that did not settle in the Nile Valley migrated to the higher elevations in the south-eastern corner, where, among the present-day inhabitants, one can still find the descendants of those groups. The domesticated one-humped camel was, very likely, introduced into the Nile Valley after it had diffused from its point of origin in South Arabia across the straits of Bab el-Mandeb, and then via Somaliland and Nubia into Upper Egypt, where it arrived before the beginning of the Dynastic Period.10 As early as 1903, Petrie attempted to offer a reasonable solution to the problem of whether camels enjoyed a continuous existence there throughout the Dynastic
7 B. G. Trigger, History and Settlement in Lower Nubia (Yale University Publications in Anthropology 69) (New Haven, 1965), 62-3. Also cf. M. M. Dalloni, 'Palethnologie', in Mission au Tibesti, 11 (Mimoires de for camel pictographs from the Tibesti massif, south of l'Academie des Sciences 62) (Paris, 1936), 3I4-29, Libya. Some of the camels shown are certainly domesticated; for they are either ridden or led by men. Dalloni dates them to the North African Neolithic. 8 Characterized by a microlithic industry of the Mesolithic hunters, who learnt more skilful and finer Period in Africa which has techniques of tool manufacture, the Makalian corresponds to the post-Pleistocene been correlated with the Atlantic European climatic phase dating between 8,ooo and 4,000 years ago. At least two divisions of the Makalian are recognized-separated by relatively dry periods-with corresponding shifts in plant and animal life. G. W. Murray ('The Egyptian Climate: an Historical Outline', Geographical Journal I 17 (195 I), 426, 428-30) points out that this wetter climate is indicated by vestiges of vegetation which flourished on the hillsides and the valleys of the Eastern Desert, which was traversed by grazing animals. 9 K. Schmidt-Nielsen, 'The Physiology of the Camel', Scientific American 201 (1959), I44. Camels can survive quite drastic fluctuations in the blood-plasma levels, which in equivalent proportions would prove fatal to man. 10 A. Staffe, 'Zur Frage der Herkunft des Kamels in Afrika', Zeit. fur Tierziuchtung und Ziichtungsbiologie 46


I3 5 -4;

M. Ripinsky,


49, 297.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




Period. But what he tried to explain in terms of biological extinction, 'the camels having died out',1 was rather a function of geographical dispersion, activated by the last rainy interludes from about gooo to 6000 BC and 3500 to 2500 BC respectively.
During both periods, the camel population embarked, so to speak, on its own exodus in the desert, migrating from Egypt and the northern regions of the Sahara to the south and the south-west, and diffusing across the southern tip of the great desert.

Egyptian Evidence The appearance of camels in Lower Egypt by the time of the First Dynasty (3 I002850 BC) is definitely attested by archaeological findings of several independent
teams. Among the earlier ones is that of Green and Quibell, who, while excavating at towards the end of the nineteenth century unearthed the terracotta Hierakonpolis

head of a camel from the First Dynasty.12 Similarly, Flinders Petrie, working at Abydos, found a relatively large pottery camel head, which measured 5 x 4 inches, in
a sequence of material dating to the same period as the find of Green and Quibell.13 While reporting on his excavations of the western chamber of the temple area at that the situation of early camels in Egypt resembled Abydos, Petrie commented that of the horse: 'Now a camel head in pottery found with objects of the I st Dynasty ... points to the animal having died out and been re-introduced; this is much like the history of the horse in Egypt, as lately suggested by Zippelin.'14 One of the aforementioned heads found its way into the Oriental Institute Museum of the of Chicago (No. 7972), and used to display a card reading: 'The red University

pottery camel's head suggests the early use of that desert beast in Egypt.'
A truly interesting find was made by Moller at Abusir el-Meleq. He discovered in a tomb from the First Dynasty a zoomorphic ointment vessel of yellow limestone in the form of a recumbent dromedary, now in the Berlin Museum.15 Zeuner believed

that it represented a dromedary carrying a load.16 Though Glanville and Frankfort both argued against its being of Egyptian manufacture, they did not dispute its age.17
H. S. Smith of University College London not only accepts that the tomb may date to the First Dynasty, but also feels that attempts at incipient domestication can be the of the 'indubitable camel from the supported by representations predynastic

period'.18 Sir Wallis Budge similarly maintained that 'The camel ... was known to
the pre-dynastic


and earthenware


of the camel were found


11 W. M. F. Petrie, Abydos, II (Memoirs of the Egypt Exploration Fund 24) (London, 1903), 49. F. W. Green and J. E. Quibell, Hierakonpolis II (British School of Archaeology in Egypt and the Egyptian Research Fund, Fifth Year) (London, I899), 49, pl. 62, fig. 2. 13 Petrie, Abydos, II, 27, pl. I0. 14 Ibid. 49. 15 G. Moller, 'Ausgrabung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft auf dem vorgeschichtlichen Friedhofe bei im Sommer, 1905', MDOG 30 (1906), 17. Abusir-el-Meleq 16 F. E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (New York, I963), 350n. 17 Vessels in the British Museum', JEA 12 (1926), 58; S. R. K. Glanville, 'Egyptian Theriomorphic H. Frankfort, 'Egypt and Syria in the First Intermediate Period', JEA 12 (1926), 82 n. 18 H. S. Smith, 'Animal Domestication and Animal Cult in Dynastic Egypt', in The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals (P. J. Ucko and G. W. Dimbleby, eds.) (Chicago, I969), 310.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



I37 of the

Nakada'.19 Others, too, e.g. Childe and Emery, agreed on the possibility

camel's having been included among the domestic animals kept by the Egyptians during the First and Second Dynasties.20
In the season of I 930-I, the Egyptian University was engaged in the excavation of a Neolithic site at Maadi (el-Ma'ady), on the outskirts of Cairo. The dig revealed the predynastic ceramic head of an animal, which, at the time of its discovery, showed signs of wear, and appeared somewhat schematic in style (see fig. i). Nevertheless, it

was a good representation of a camel with traces of red on white.21 As far as I know, however, there have been no absolute dates established for any of the deposits. The camel head from Maadi was placed in the University Museum at Cairo.


FIG. I. A predynastic pottery head of a camel from the Neolithic site and at Maadi, near Cairo, excavated by Menghin Amer1932), 33, p. 20.It shows

tracesof red on white.

Fromthe Wadi Natashel-Raiyan,in the EasternDesert, comes anotheritem from a slightly laterperiod. It is a rock-carvingof a dromedary,togetherwith other early animal figures-elephants, giraffes,ibexes, ostriches, and even men and boats-all executed by pecking. Caton-Thompson and Gardner, followed afterwards by Murray, who detached the camel carving from the original boulder, assigned the
19 E. A. W. Budge,TheMummy. A Handbook 2ndedn. (Cambridge,1925), Funerary Archaeology, of Egyptian 388. 20 V. G. Childe, WhatHappened in History(London, I142), 65-6; W. B. Emery,ArchaicEgypt(Baltimore,
I96I), 240.

21 0.

Menghin and M. Amer, The Excavationsof the Egyptian Universityin the Neolithic Site at Maadi

(Egyptian University Faculty of Arts Publication I9) (Cairo, I932), 33, pl. 20.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




dromedary to the Protodynastic Period.22 In addition, Winkler, travelling in the same desert, near the Wadi Abu Wasil, found rock representations of dromedaries executed by pecking and drawing. The former resembled, in manner and age, other animal rock-art from prehistoric times, while the drawn figures were more recent.23 Around 2600 BC, when the Saharan-Nilotic climate was starting to come out of its wet phase, and began to reflect the conditions of today, the gypsum mines of Umm es-Sawan in the northern Fayuim were worked on a regular basis. Caton-Thompson, while excavating in the gypsum quarries and workshops, found an important piece of evidence consisting of a relatively long rope made of animal hair. After a careful examination by Martin Hinton of the Museum of Natural History, it was indubitably determined to be camel's hair. The rope was a two-strand twist of hair lodged in a two-foot level of consolidated gypsum powder, which was dated throughout by pottery. The excavators felt that there could be no doubt that the camel rope dated to the Third or the very early Fourth Dynasty.24 Although its original purpose cannot be known, it might have held together some miner's garments. It is also possible, albeit without proof, that camels contributed, by then, to the total input of animate energy for the operation of the gypsum works. In any event, the importance of this find speaks for itself: it not merely suggests the presence of camels, but also hints at their domestication. Georg Schweinfurth, a recognized authority on petroglyphic art, described rockcarvings near Aswan and Gezireh in Upper Egypt where one of the panels contained seven hieratic characters and a figure of a man leading a dromedary by a rope (see fig. 2). Gustav Moller, working on the inscription, assigned it to the Sixth Dynasty, whilst Schweinfurth attributed the camel and the man, on the basis of desert varnish and style, to the same period as the inscription.25 During a geological survey of the Fayum basin, the skull of a camel was unearthed in a sequence of the so-called Pottery Phase I. The chronological designation for the BC,26 covering a period from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth deposits was 2000-1400 Dynasty. From about the same time comes the figurine of a recumbent camel unearthed at Byblos, and published by Pierre Montet.27 It was excavated along with many other Egyptian objects, and Montet had no doubt about its being of Egyptian origin. The entire assemblage dated from 2000 to 1500 BC. While in Paris during 1938, Joseph Free noticed in the Louvre's Egyptian section a small figurine of a dromedary amongst items labelled 'Recent Acquisitions'. Upon
22 G. and E. W. Gardner, The Desert Fayum (London, 1934), 123; G. W. Murray, 'Early Caton-Thompson Camels in Egypt', Bulletin de l'Institut Fouad I du Desert 2 (1952), io6. 23 H. A. Winkler, Rock Drawings of Southern Upper Egypt (Archaeological Survey of Egypt) (London,




'The Camel in Dynastic Egypt', Man 34 (1934), 21; Caton-Thompson G. Caton-Thompson, and Gardner, op. cit. 123. 25 G. Schweinfurth, 'Uber alte Tierbilder und Felsinscriften bei Assuan', Zeitschriftffur Ethnologie 44 (1912), 633. 26 0. H. Little, 'Recent Geological Work in the Faiyum and the Adjoining Portion of the Nile Valley', Bulletin de l'Institut d'Egypte I8 (1935-6), 215. 27 pl. 52 no. 179. Byblos et l'Egypte (1928), 91; (I929),

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




FIG. 2. A hieratic rock inscription, with a dromedary led by a man, found near Aswan by Schweinfurth, and assigned to the Sixth Dynasty. Part of the character on the left is missing on U this photograph. The inscription was interpreted by Moller as: Kfl [ (-

inquiry into the date and provenance of the object, M. Vandier of the Louvre staff and that L. Keimer was informed him that it was from methe Amarna Period, ogoing to publish it in the near future.28 Possibly because of the outbreak of war in the following year, no such publication appeared. Bisson de la Roque mentions a camel figure from the New Kingdom level at Medamud-fifteenth to fourteenth century BC.29 It is possible that the dromedary from Medamud was the same camel as that alluded to by Free, since the excavations had been carried out by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. Rock-carvings of camels near the rocky plateau known as Gebel es-Silsileh were recorded by Petrie, who dated them from 1567 to I 320 BC.30 But his most important discovery was made while excavating the necropolis at Rifeh, and consisted of a dromedary statuette burdened with two water jars. The figure was made of pottery and 'found in a tomb of XIXth dynasty in the northern cemetery. There were no traces of a later re-use of the tomb; the style of the figure is of the rough fingered pottery of the XIXth Dynasty, and quite unlike any of the moulded Roman figures; and the water-jar is of the XVIIIth-XIXth Dynasty type and not of a form used in Greek or Roman times.' Because of its characteristic style and method of manufacture, and in view of the fact that there had been no subsequent disturbances of the grave, Petrie affirmed strongly that the camel effigy could not be assigned to a later

J. Free, 'Abraham's Camels', JNES 3 (1944), I88-9. M. F. Bisson de la Roque, 'Rapport sur les Fouilles de Medamoud', Fouilles de l'institut franCais

d'archeologie orientale du Caire 7 (1929), 56.

30 Petrie, Ten Years Digging (London, 1892), 75.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




age,'. .. and it shows that as early as Ramesside times it was sufficiently common to be used as a beast of burden. Two examples of the camel's head at about the time of the Ist Dynasty should be taken in connection with this (Hierakonpolis, Ixii, mis-named a donkey, and Abydos, ii, x, 224)'.31 A glazed figure of a camel, with water painted jars, was excavated at Benha by Freiherr von Bissing. It was assigned to the Ramesside Period.32 It can be safely argued that, by at least I300 BC, camels were relatively well known as domestic beasts of burden in Egypt. The British Museum contains a group of faience vessels from the later dynastic period, elaborately decorated in low relief. One of these, described in its publication, is a sherd (BMC 65553) 'from the base of a dish with a head of Bes on one side, and on the other a frieze of desert animals, a gazelle, an antelope, a lioness, an ostrich, an ibex, a camel, and another antelope'.33 It may be mentioned, here, that around 1934, the Geological Survey of Egypt dug out a camel skull from beneath 9.6 m of sediment in the northern section of the Fayuim Lake.34 The only thing, however, that can be said with certainty about this discovery, at this point, is that it antedates the Ptolemaic Period. The skull was later exhibited at the Geological Museum, Cairo. According to epigraphic evidence, the Assyrian emperor Esarhaddon, during his invasion of Egypt in 670 BC, received camels from the Arabian chieftains to assist his armies in crossing the desert. On the basis of this tradition, Breasted infers the existence of camel herding among the tribes of the Eastern Desert.35 Another episodiie, similar to this one, took place over a century later, and was described by Herodotus (3.4-9): when Cambyses, king of the Persians, launched his campaign against Egypt in 525 BC, he had ordered water-bags made of camel skin filled with water for his troops, and then had these transported on camel-back across the desert regions. By the time of Herodotus, the domesticated dromedary was the only variety existing in North-West Africa, a fact which would explain why the camel was not listed in his Persian Wars when he itemized the wild fauna of the MVaghreb. Conclusions The discovery of camel effigies from as early as the First Dynasty could have shed more light on the history of the animal in ancient Egypt had they been given more attention. The lack of faunal remains should not have led to a casual disregard of the artefactual evidence. It should be remembered that plant and animal remains, not so long ago, were not ranked highly on the scale of importance among archaeologists concerned primarily with material culture. Consequently, nobody can know the quantities of camel bones, and those of other animals, that were summarily discarded by uninformed excavators before the remains could be properly identified.
31 32 33


Petrie, Gizeh and Rifeh (London, 1907), 23, pl. 27. Freiherr W. von Bissing, 'Zur Geschichte des Kamels', ZAS 38 (I900), 68-9. A General Guide to the Egyptian Collections in the British Museum (London, I969), Cf. Murray, op. cit. 105. J. H. Breasted, A History of Egypt, 2nd edn. (I909) (repr. New York, I964), 465.


This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions






Egyptian inscriptions inform us that the inhabitants of the Nile Valley were importing myrrh and frankincense (from South Arabia?) in order to meet their ritual needs as early as the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties36 while expeditions overland had been sent out to the incense country even earlier.37 The use of donkey- rather than camel-caravans for transporting goods across such long distances would have involved considerable hardship, and would have been physically very strenuous to accomplish within a reasonable length of time. Expeditions employing donkeys could not easily maintain sufficiently high frequencies to sustain any sort of normal trade designed to supply the gargantuan demands of Egyptian temples and shrines. In coastal terrain, of course, seafaring trade would have flourished far better and more economically, but it would have been quite ineffective in ventures into the hinterland. The ability of the camel to withstand both a true desert environment and the strain of long journeys under a heavy load in desert heat made it the ideal vehicle for such operations. All these points suggest that the introduction of camels into Egypt occurred, at the very latest, by early dynastic times and raise the possibility that the camel representations discovered in Egyptian tombs, together with other votive articles, depicted objects that were familiar to the deceased and those responsible for the burial. Certainly the evidence is sparse, but let me make reference to two intriguing situations in Siberia and South Africa. In the Amur-Ussuri Valley, numerous ancient rock drawings can be found carved by the tribal artists. To quote Okladnikov: 'Surprisingly, although these ancient tribes lived mainly by fishing, not one picture of a fish has been found in their rock drawings.'38 In the second case, J. Desmond Clark has made an interesting observation concerning prehistoric man-animal relationships by saying: 'The animals that provided the food supply of Later Stone Age populations and which are found in the cave deposits of southern Africa were more usually not those depicted in the rock art on the walls. It seems, therefore, that the animals the people would have preferred to kill (those in the rock art) and those off which they actually lived were not the same, owing to relative abundance and limitations of hunting technology.'39

Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, i (Chicago, I906), 37 B. Doe, Southern Arabia (London, I971), 30.



A. P. Oladnikov, 'The Petroglyphs of Siberia', Scientific American 221 (August, Ig969),8o. J. Desmond Clark, discussion following E. S. Higgs, 'Early Domesticated Animals in Libya' (see n. 6

above), 172.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Jul 2013 12:33:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions