Saturday, January 2, 2010

The So-called Tehenu Palette

The palette itself appears to have an alternative name given to it by contemporary researchers, perhaps underlying the uncertainty surrounding the basis on which the palette has been associated with the Tehenu and/or else "Libyans", along with other speculative explanation based on such. For instance, on one website, the following was offered as an explanation:
The Tehenu palette (or Towns palette) in Cairo (C.G. 14238) is named after a sign on its verso: this shows three registers with domestic animals files and a fourth lower one with plants (trees) and the hieroglyph of the throwing stick on an oval (which means 'region', 'place', 'island'), thus a toponym of Libya or Western Delta (THnw, Tjehenw). The recto of the palette is of great importance, showing the feet of some persons and, below the register line, two rows of four and three groups respectively; each group is constituted by an animal grasping the Mer-hoe on the crenellated wall of a town; the name of each town is written within the wall [see my Corpus of Late Predynastic Decorated Palettes]. - Courtesy
...that alternative name, as provided above, is "Towns" palette. Given the air of uncertainty around preexisting rationales that associate the palette scenery with "Libyan" or "Tehenu booty", the relative neutral, if not ambiguous, moniker of "Towns palette" is not unreasonable. Coincidentally, the extract reaffirms what the present author had bumped into while researching the question of the actual underlying connections made between the "Tehenu Palette" and socio-ethnic entity known to us by primary Kemetic texts, i.e. prior to the above coming to immediate attention. This has to do with the said hieroglyphic sign of the "throwing stick". Accordingly, the present author put forth the following in a discussion elsewhere:

Managed to come across reference to Alexandre Moret's and Margaret Murray's interpretation of that "throw strick"/stick sign to the right of the plants-i.e. on the side of the "Tjehenu Palette" bearing the animals and plants--as "Thn", and therefore read it as "Tehenu" or "Libyans". But as far as I know, the "stick" is generally an ideogram for something "foreign" or a "foreigner", and not relegated to any one specific ethnicity or locality. On the other hand, Jean Capart put forth the case that the said plants are "Libyan", reportedly from having made comparisons to "a bas-relief depicting Libyan spoils in Sahure's temple".

Indeed, the "throwing stick" alone does not implicate nor is relegated to just one specific foreign socio-ethnic entity or foreign locality, unless, accompanied by other particulars or specificities that point to a specific foreign ethnic entity or locality. There is nothing there about the ovular-looking heiroglyphic sign [in the lowermost register on the "verso" side of the palette] accompanying the "throwing stick" in question either, that supposedly speaks to singular and specific foreign ethnicity or locality, which in the present case, is identified as either "Tehenu" or "Libyan". Therefore, one has to look for a more compelling explanation than the one suggested by either Moret or Murray, and pin it down to a specific ethnic entity and/or state. For instance, one can start by narrowing down the possible territorial confines in which the palette scenery is implicated. As an example, perhaps if there is any indication that the side of the so-called "Tehenu Palette" bearing registers of animals and plants describes a locality, then perhaps the donkey or ass figures therein could suggest that it is on the African continent, especially if one were to put faith in the age estimations given to the palette, the specifics of which we will shortly visit, which would make the domestication and widespread use of donkeys outside of Africa a relatively rare sight at the time in question. Jean Capart, as mentioned above, appears to have taken this latter route of correlating certain "spoils" [which presumably, happened to be made largely up of fauna] implicated in the endeavors of exotic personalities [vis-a-vis the Kemetian], as it relates to their dealings with Kemetic personalities in artistic scenery, with geography. To see how Capart may have made the "Libyan" connection to the so-called Tehenu palette, one might want to examine what is displayed in the Sahure temple wall renditions that he was presumably referring to; to this end, the following images come to mind:

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Indeed, here we see accompanying fauna and flora that are not that different from those seen on the so-called Tehenu palette. Visible are sheep-like figures, cattle and asses/donkeys, which are also featured on the so-called Tehenu palette. The only fauna shown here, not visible on the "Tehenu" palette fragment, is the goat or goat-like figures. Nor are flora featured in the particular rendering at hand; whereas, at the very bottom register of the "verso" side of the "Tehenu" palette, flora are featured. The wall relief above features human personalities just above and below the registers featuring fauna; The "verso" side of the "Tehenu"/"Libyan" palette on the other hand, displays no human figures, to the extent of what is visible there. There are human figures featured on the "recto" side of the palette though, but even these are not sufficiently visible, so as to make a logical statement about possible patterns of attire on not just a single figure, but several involved.

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Another standout, is the personalities accompanying the "spoils" [if these are indeed the spoils Capart was referring to] or else fauna; while they too are partially uncovered, where attire is concerned, the patterns invoked in their attire is markedly distinct from those featured in another palette wherein "Libyans" or else "Tehenu" have been implicated by some observers—the Narmer palette. What significance does the Narmer palette hold here? For one, it is supposed to be the temporally closer item to that of the "Tehenu" palette than the Sahure temple wall relief in question. Thus, if one is to have any faith on claims that "Tehenu" are featured on either the "Tehenu" or Narmer palettes, then it is only fitting to examine any connections between the attires featured on the human figures. For this purpose, the Narmer palette renditions are provided below:

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The bearded fellows under captivity, who are supposed to be "Tehenu" or else "Libyans" according to some observers, do not feature the same attire as the figures in the Sahure temple wall relief. If the figures on the Sahure wall mural are considered to be "Tehenu", then taking that into account thereof and making a comparison to the "Libyan" or "Tehenu" figures on the Narmer palette does not immediately make apparent, the prospect of the latter "Libyan" figures of the Narmer palette being "Tehenu" as well, solely based on attire. The strapped-gear around the trunk of the human figures of the wall mural are visibly absent on the bearded-figures featured on the Narmer palette. It can be pointed out that the figures on the Sahure temple wall mural generally comprise of juvenile and feminine personalities, as opposed to adult male personalities. A close inspection of the 'verso' side of the Narmer palette, as shown above, also features what appears to be a juvenile personality to the left hand side of the authoritative figure [generally deemed to be Narmer, in this case], and here too, one cannot help but notice a strapped-gear around the trunk, with the straps crossing one another at the chest level—not unlike the manner in which the "strapped-gears" of the Sahure wall mural "Tehenu" figures feature. This figure though, sports some yet-to-make-out item on the chest area, where the straps are supposed to cross one another; this feature is absent in the Sahure wall mural counterparts. Furthermore, this same figure appears to be wearing a loincloth that is not too deviant from that of the aforementioned head figure (Narmer). This stands in contrast to the juvenile "Tehenu" figures of the Sahure wall mural, whom aside from the said "strapped-gear", wore nothing underneath, i.e. below the waist. On the other hand, the "Tehenu" figures in general, feature some sort of neck gear or ornament, which is visibly absent in the Narmer "juvenile" figure in question. Not to be left out in the midst of these observations, is that this Narmer palette "juvenile" personality does not appear to be an accomplice of the supposed "Libyan" figures, as he doesn't appear to be under any form of suppression as the said "Libyan" figures, nor do they share attire forms.

Visible on at least one of the "Libyan" figures, is a semi-exposing attire below the waist, only featuring a "penis sheath". The adult "Tehenu" figures of the Sahure wall mural also appear to be wearing similar line of clothing, although these are generally accompanied by some rope-like or semi-looped tool, weapon or device on the sides of the figures, which is visibly absent on the Narmer palette figures in question. At the top registers of the Sahure wall mural, there are some characters that might remotely be deemed to be those of male figures, but because of the tearing and wearing, and especially if one is faced with dealing with repros, cannot conclusively be reported as such. However, repro of a "Tehenu" figure, floating around the web, displays an adult male figure featuring attire not too different from the Sahure wall mural personalities:

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This male figure above on the other hand, has gear that is visibly distinct from the personalities mentioned on the Narmer palette. Even the head-hair arrangement is distinct from those of the "Libyan" personalities of the Narmer palette. So, if these items are to serve as the parameters by which a connection between the Sahure wall mural figures and those of the "Tehenu" and the Narmer palettes are made, then such connection is not made apparent here. This in of itself doesn't disprove, or prove, that the figures on either the "Tehenu" or "Narmer" palette are of folks associated with territory now identified with Libya, but it does put a question mark on whether the figures of the palettes in question are in fact those of "Tehenu", i.e. if the Sahure wall-murals are determined to be those of "Tehenu". Nor does it get any clearer, when the recto side of the Narmer palette is considered:

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Can it therefore be reckoned, that the attire of the Tehenu may have changed through the time frames in which the discussed art renditions belong? It is not impossible, but evidence for such is wanting.

On a passing note, the long-necked feline creatures on the recto side of Narmer palette are hard to ignore. Some observers have dubbed them as "serpopards". Some have interpret  them as supposed "imports" from the so-called "Near East", predicated on the flimsy standpoint that similar creature is featured in Uruk artifact dated to more or less contemporary time frame as the Narmer palette, like the Uruk seal below, reportedly dated to c. 3000 BC:

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Notwithstanding such claims, the Nile Valley example is actually dated earlier than the "Near Eastern" examples. Anytime there are some parallel cultural/artistic expressions in the Nile Valley and the so-called Near East, these same characters tend to give priority to the so-called "Near East" as the most likely source, as if to tacitly say that the Nile Valley can never be conceived as the source (it is virtually impossible) and therefore, must always be the recipient of cultural diffusion. Note that the Uruk  serpopards have much longer tails than the Narmer palette rendition, with their tails almost as long as their necks.The mythic creatures themselves may well serve as "guardians" against enemies or adversarial elements, just as that served by other mythic creatures like the Sphinx. Now that the issue of dates has been brought up, we now visit the issue of the dating attributed to the palettes discussed here. On the basis of serekhs and iconography associated with successive designated rulers spanning the predynastic time frame, attempts had been made to place the age of the so-called Tehenu palette amongst several other palettes. For instance, G. Dreyer  [Umm el-Qaab I, Mainz 1998] sought to do this very thing, i.e. reading through a series of signs/serekhs on a single palette, check to see which pharaoh figures' signs, names or serekhs have been implicated and whose has been left out thereof, and extrapolate from there, the likely temporal place of the palette in question in the midst of several other palettes. Going by a website earlier cited above, we are informed how Dreyer and others went about doing this, in reference to the themes of the Coptos Colossi statues:
The colossal limestone statues of Min were found by Petrie in the temple of Koptos in 1894; they had been fashioned with hammering technique (no chiselling) and represented the god standing with erected phallus; only the torso and part of the legs was preserved and the head of one of the statues in Oxford, although almost entirely effaced; some signs in relief were noted on the statues showing animals, plants, shells and standards.

In an article published in 1988 [JARCE 25, 35-60], B. Williams suggested the presence of a fragmentary trace of the name of Narmer on the Cairo statue; this gave an important clue about the long disputed question of the date of the statues (which in the past had ranged from Predynastic to 1st Intermediate Period according to the opinions of different Egyptologists). [For reconstructions of the colossi and temple see this page in the Petrie Museum website: Digital Egypt].

In 1995 Dreyer (loc. cit. above) proposed that the graffiti on the statues were the names of older rulers, and Narmer had been the last one to make his name be carved on those statues; therefore the colossi probably dated well before his reign, down to Naqada IIIa, and the signs carved onto them would be perhaps something similar to a king list. I must notice that the Nar-fish and the Mer-chisel are very fragmentary -only the left end preserved- and, as suggested by Kemp, the upper sign is rather the tail of a bird than that of the Nar cat-fish, thus suggesting a falcon on a perch or on a standard [cf. B.J. Kemp, CAJ 10.2, 2000, 211-242, fig. 10; H. Goedicke, MDAIK 58, 2002, 253].

Basing on the reciprocal placement and superimposition of the signs on the colossi, Dreyer seems to have found a possible sequence of the stages in which the graffiti were incised (cf. table): Animal-head standard, Shell, Elephant, Bull, Stork, Canid, Min-standard, Plant, Lion and Narmer. - Courtesy
A similar approach was taken by Dreyer in narrowing down the chronological order of the so-called "Tehenu" palette amongst several other predynastic era palettes. In the case of the "Tehenu" palette, the signs implicated are those that belong to the following figures: Falcon, possibly but not certain—Falcon II, Lion, Double Falcon, and Scorpion II. Other figures or names had been left out from what was available to read on the palette, but from extrapolation, it may be safe to say that the palette belongs to a chronological order that proceeds those of unlisted figures that predate the ones named or implicated, while preceding those unlisted counterparts that are considered to post-date King Scorpion II. Reading on, from the above mentioned website, and in a passing, the author gives us his personal opinion about the chronological placement of the Tehenu palette...
Dreyer has postulated that, given the mentioned late-Dynasty 0 manufacture of the Tehenu palette (which in my opinion is in fact later than the Battlefield and Bull palettes but earlier than the Plover and Narmer palettes, it could never neither celebrate nor narrate the foundation of the towns by those kings : the town of the Heron (Djebawty), probably Buto, which is currently being excavated by T. Von der Way, was founded much earlier than Naqada IIIA. Therefore the action performed by the royal entities on the palette could eventually be the foundation of fortresses in the respective centers (cf. the example from Elephantine), or more probably it was the (symbolic ?) destruction of the centers after their defeat by the Southern Kings; this progressive military expansionism and submission of the Delta by the Thinite sovereigns, which is echoed in the scenes of battle and of their aftermath represented on Naqada III palettes and ivories, was probably a relatively common scenario until the country unification (cf. M. Campagno 2002). As quoted above, and always with the due cautions, it can be supposed that a parallel warfare-pattern should have been followed by the Dynasty 00-0 kings in respect of the Nubian antagonists; perhaps also in the Delta the Maadi-Buto decline hadn't happened (Naqada IIC-D) without some conflict; the EB I Canaan colonization is instead a different matter (although some scholars hypothesized, in the past, massive military interventions of the Egyptians there): the difference between Egypt and Canaan at that time was too large to favour the assumption of any possible competition between them; Egyptians must have found no resistance in their infiltration into those territories, contributing to their evolution towards the EB II Urbanization [cf. the interesting and still valid synthesis 'The relations between Early Bronze I age Canaanites and Upper Egyptians' by Branislav Andelkovic, 1995].- Courtesy
Indeed, there seems to be little agreement on, nor are any conclusive material backing available out there that sufficiently lean towards one interpretation or the other, what the signs for localities or towns specifically point out. Two common themes that the various interpretations seem to oscillate to and fro, is one either of "foundation" commemorative symbolism [acquiring territory] or "victory" commemorative symbolism [display of spoils of victory in conflict or war]. The issue of whether the  "Tehenu"/"Libyan" palette is justifiably named so has been explored over the course of this post, particularly as it pertains to the "Tehenu" socio-ethnic entity; but what about a relatively more generalized prospect of the palette featuring groups from "Libyan" territory? Well, again, some level of evidential specificity has to be first established that narrows the possible territorial candidacy down to a fairly restricted geographical confine, which in this case would be the area where modern Libya now lies, as opposed to evidence that might narrow the likely geographical location down to a sub-continental level or a wide regional level. Some of that has been looked at in terms of certain fauna, but that sort of evidence can only go so far in pinning down a specific restricted locality, since such fauna were likely found in multiple locals in the same general time frame. And even if one were to narrow the likely territory down to "Libya", that stills tells us little about the specific ethnicity or nationality involved, which in this case, some observers are inclined to implicate the "Tehenu". We've covered how J. Capart sort to make such connection via what is referenced as "spoils", between that seen in the Sahure wall mural—claimed to be associated with the Tehenu—and that seen in the "Libyan"/"Tehenu" palette; he does make some interesting comparisons around the fauna, but even then, as discussed above, questions continue to linger around human figures, what they feature in terms of gear and attire, and accompanying hieroglyphs of the scenery. The damages on the "Tehenu" palette for instance, make it difficult to ascertain any trends about the human figures on the recto side the palette; the Narmer palette on the other hand, provides a better opportunity to make a comparative analysis between the human figures and themes on that palette and say, those on the Sahure wall mural. The usefulness of the Narmer palette in our case study lies in its implication in featuring themes around "Libyan" or possibly "Tehenu" foe. Pressing issues around this implication have also been briefly covered here.

As further information comes to mind, this post will be correspondingly be modified.

— Sources as already cited.

— Retrieval of personal notes from elsewhere.