Organization and Distribution of Power Through Objects
By Isabelle Lucente
All objects represent a place and time. By examining how something is made, its materials, the location in which it’s found, who uses it, and its function, an objects history can be discovered. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Cylinder Seal, and Lukasa are three totally different objects that will be examined to learn more about the peoples and societies in which they came from. These objects will be analyzed to specifically determine the organization and distribution of power in their cultures.
The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus was from Thebes, Egypt and dates back to the Second Intermediary Period 1550 BCE. This papyrus was made from reeds commonly found in the Nile River. It had about 84 different mathematical problems written on it relating to division, multiplication, fractions, and geometry. This “textbook” used scenarios from the day to help solve problems. For example, dividing loaves of bread into different ratios to distribute. Ancient Egypt needed math to build infrastructure, manage food, measure flood levels, and create equal exchanges of goods.
Furthermore, mathematical documentation was necessary because this Egyptian community was developing, growing, and expanding its economy. At the time, Egypt was dominated by landowners, who paid their workers in units of grain. They had to use exact weights and measures, which was tedious and hard to get exactly correct. Therefore, they recorded everything to make sure this exchange was fair. This was when the first units of currency were being developed. Only scribes and people of highly educated statuses could read and write papyruses like this. The Emperor wasn’t always educated in mathematics so although he was looked up to as the leader of the society, the scribes were more knowledgable than him.
The Cylinder Seal was from the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia around 2250-2150 BCE. Everyone, no matter what their status, had their own seal because it was their signature and the only way to legitimize a transaction. Although their were distinguished economic rankings, everyone held basic human rights that allowed them to send out and receive information and acquire goods. These seals were made from semi-precious stones that had to be imported from Iran because Mesopotamia lacked good stones for carving. For the wealthy, their seals were capped with gold or silver. Depressions were carved into the stone to make the designs, and then wet clay was pressed into the mold to result in raised images. Two artisans worked on the seals. One carved the cylinders from stone and another executed the intricate engravings. Both of these artisans were in high demand and were, therefore, well off. These seals had incredible detail and their iconography could reflect the owner’s name, social rank, and, potentially, details about their job. Cylinder Seals are important pieces of history because they display what motifs and artistic styles were popular during the owners lifetime. The people of the day wore them as necklaces, bracelets, or pins and it doubled as an amulet that could ward off evil spirits.
The Lukasa was a wooden memory board from the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 19th-20th centuries. The Mbudye were known as “men of memory” and had extensive religious training. The Diviners were people that had the power to predict the future. Both of these groups could touch and feel the different beads and pegs to recount Luba history and the role and virtues of Luba kingship. The Mbudye had the power to determine whether the king and/or chief were fulfilling their jobs properly and could boot them out of office if they weren’t a good reflection of what the people stood for.
These three objects, the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, the Cylinder Seal, and the Lukasa, were from very different cultures, but they reflected the distribution of power and the people’s influence in their respective societies. Like any other archeological find, these objects were discovered and analyzed to determine what their use and purpose was. Although they were from different parts of the world and created thousands of years apart, these three artifacts have helped scientists and historians learn more about past cultures and peoples that lived on the Earth before us.
“The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.” British Museum. 2017. Accessed October 07, 2017. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=110036&partId=1.
Belluck, Pam. “Math Puzzles’ Oldest Ancestors Took Form on Egyptian Papyrus.” The New York Times. December 06, 2010. Accessed October 07, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/science/07first.html.
German, Senta. “Cylinder seals.” Khan Academy. Accessed October 07, 2017. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/ancient-near-east1/sumerian/a/cylinder-seals.
Moss, Juliet. “Lukasa (memory Board) (Luba peoples).” Khan Academy. Accessed October 07, 2017. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/africa-ap/a/lukasa-memory-board-luba-peoples.
Compare and Contrast Historic Paintings
By Isabelle Lucente
The paintings in the Chauvet Cave are similar yet different from those in the Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun. Function, materials, location, and symbolism will all be explored in this essay to compare and contrast these ancient pieces of history. Specifically the subject matter in these two paintings will reflect what the people in these societies held to be important and what their lives were like.
The Chauvet Cave is located in France and dates to prehistoric time 30,000 BCE. The paintings were not all done by one person and not all the artworks were made at the same time. Most of the artists, however, used simple line work that displayed perspective and naturalism. They also utilized stencils and negative space in their art. They performed “stump-drawing,” which means they drew with their fingers or pieces of animal skin. They painted with black, white, brown and red pigments. Some artists would scrape the walls with rocks, therefore, making smooth canvases so their paintings would be more vibrant. The painting of the red bears utilized wall topography to make its image more 3D. It was common for the artists to use the unique rock shapes to determine their subject matter.
The cave was probably a communal space where everyone was welcome to participate in ceremonies and make offerings. The discovery of the bear skull alter and the venus and the sorcerer painting reflected how the people of the day had a special relationship with animals and animal spirits. Unlike the Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun, which houses Nebamun’s body, no human remains were found in the Chauvet Cave.
The Tomb – Chapel of Nebamun was first occupied when Nebamun died c 1350 BCE. It was built into rock and found in Thebes, Egypt. It costed a lot of money to design tombs like this, and it was found near other high-ranking officials’ tombs. The scenes in the Tomb-Chapel were there to help transform Nebamun’s good life and fortune on earth to his afterlife. The collaborative group of artists, who designed Nebamun’s tomb, drew from life; however, some of the images were more surreal, like of goddesses and talking trees. “While many everyday scenes are shown, many of the occasions, and Nebamun’s role in them, are significantly enhanced and idealized,” said Philip McCouat in Journal of Art in Society. The depictions were meant to present an ideal version of how Nebamun wanted to be remembered. Images in the tomb consisted of Nebamun and his family, the funerary process, Nebamun’s life as an accountant, hunting scenes, banquets, and offerings. The artists would cover the walls and ceilings in a layer of mud plaster and then add white plaster to smooth the surface for painting. They used paintbrushes to apply pigments, like black, white, red, yellow, blue, and green, to the plaster. Nebamun’s Tomb-Chapel was where people could come and commemorate Nebamun and his wife with prayers and offerings.
Although the paintings in the Chauvet Cave and Nebamun’s Tomb-Chapel were very different, they had similarities. They were both built into rock, and because they were closed off from the outside world, they were preserved for centuries. They both used the same artistic layering effect of animals covering other animals to show many in a row. They had realistic depictions of animal life and they used different textures to make the paintings more lifelike. The subject matter from both places paintings were drawn from life. There was also prep work done to the stone’s surface so the paintings were more vibrant.
The Chauvet Cave and the Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun were designed thousands of years apart, were designed for different purposes, and depicted scenes of unique lifestyles. Yet they had many similarities within the artistic techniques and content and they valued conveying ways of life through visual imagery. These pieces of artwork are significant because they tell a lot about the society and people in which they were made in. The artists of these paintings shock us with how advanced their cultures were. By discovering these artifacts we learn that although thousands of years have past since these paintings were made, we still create in similar ways as they did. To date, artists use naturalism, perspective, and drawing from observation. Contemporary artists also use subject matters and scenes that they experience or encounter in their own lives and they prep and seal the surface in which they are working to ensure long lasting content. Artists, then and now, use self expression to leave their mark in history.
McCouat, Philip. “Lost Masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian Art from the Nebamun Tomb-chapel.” Journal of ART in SOCIETY. 2015. Accessed October 07, 2017. http://www.artinsociety.com/lost-masterpieces-of-ancient-egyptian-art-from-the-nebamun-tomb-chapel.html.
“Paintings from the Tomb-chapel Of Nebamun.” Khan Academy. Accessed October 07, 2017. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/egypt-art/new-kingdom/a/paintings-from-the-tomb-chapel-of-nebamun.
“The Art of the Chauvet Cave Ice Age Paleolithic Cave Paintings.” Bradshaw Foundation. Accessed October 07, 2017. http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet/chauvet_cave_art.php