The only existing ancient book written on linen was used thousands of years ago to bind a woman’s mummy in Egypt.
When Napoleon Bonaparte led a military incursion into Egypt in 1798, he ensured bring a good number of scientists and scholars. Thus, with the military and the soldiers, were the wise men of this world, because the French knew the great Egyptian archaeological value.
The results of this Napoleonic strategy were quite simply excellent, since in Europe has sparked strong interest in learning more about ancient Egypt. At that time, this renewed desire to learn about ancient culture was called “Egyptomania”.
After a while, it was already common to see many artifacts found in Egypt in different European museums. For example, among them there were papyri, statues and even one or another mummymost items were shipped from the Nile Valley itself.
An Egyptian mummy is found in Zagreb (Croatia)
In the midst of all this commotion that the valuables discovered in Egypt were causing and being distributed throughout much of Europe, a mummy has finally arrived at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb in Croatia. This happened in 1848, when the Croats Mihajlo Baric resigned from his post at the Royal Hungarian Chancellery to travel part of the world.
This is how, during one of his trips, he arrived in Alexandria, attracted by obtaining a souvenir of ancient Egyptian culture. So Baric chose buy a sarcophagus that contained a female mummy insidethat he moved to his home in Vienna.
Unfortunately Baric died in 1859 and his brother who resided in Slavonia, he had little interest in the Egyptian objects he inherited. The man ended up donating the mummy to the Croatian State Institute, better known today as the Archaeological Museum of Zagreb.
Since Baric purchased the mummy, no expert had carefully examined it. Therefore, no one ever noticed the writing on the linen that wrapped it. Until 1867, a German Egyptologist, named Henry Brugsch She discovered it.
Only this Brugsch, incorrectly concluded that the writing corresponded to simples egyptian hieroglyphs, which is why he did not delve into the matter. It took 10 years and a conversation with a colleague to realize that linen packaging was of the utmost importance.
This casual conversation between Brugsch and his English explorer friend Richard F Burton, made him change his mind about writing. Both concluded that it was important, but even if they couldn’t guess what it was really about, assuming it was a transliteration of the Book of the Dead. Another big mistake!
Who owned the mummy?
At first we thought that It was about a wealthy Etruscan woman who had fled to Egyptwhere she later died and was buried. As usual, the young woman was embalmed and buried wrapped in the mantle with the scripture. But this is only a hypothesis, which will soon be replaced by the truth thanks to a papyrus which accompanied the mummy.
It turns out that the deceased young woman was indeed Egyptian, her name was Nesi-hensuwomen paser hensu, a Theban tailor. Everything seems to indicate that the packaging with the Etruscan text, has no direct relation to the Egyptian mummy. It is presumed to have been placed, in the absence of another cloak, to cover the dead girl’s body.
The mystery behind the encrypted message
It was not until 1891 that the mummy’s packaging was examined in Vienna by an expert. The person responsible for carrying out the scrutiny was Jacob Krall. He was a specialist in the Coptic language, who was almost certain that it was a Libyan, Carian or Coptic language.
After several tests and more detailed inspections, Krall has established that the writing of the text corresponded to the Etruscan language. After a great effort to put the strips of the packaging in the correct order to try to translate it, he could not do it. Attempts were unsuccessful.
Reproduction of part of the text. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A possible historical accident!
Etruscan writing is poorly known, one of the reasons is that there is not much left of it today. However, at the time, it was thought the cryptic message found in the mummy’s packagingrefers to a book with a religious vocation.
known as Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (the Zagreb linen book) and also called Liber Agramensis. This document contains the only extant non-epigraphic Etruscan text, broken down into 230 lines totaling about 13,000 words, of which only about 1,200 are legible today.
Radiocarbon dating of the document revealed that it was created around 250 BC. AD, and the mummy was dated only a few years later, raising questions as to whether the book was created in Etruria and then transported across the Mediterranean, or if the contrary. it was written in Egypt.
The Liber Linteus Zagrebiensis is now in the Archaeological Museum of Zagreb. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The document, which consists of 12 columns, had the first three pages damaged and illegible, making the translation work difficult since it was not possible to determine how and where it started. The main text is written in black ink and the lines and diacritics in red ink; Also, it must originally have been folded like a codex instead of rolled up.
When used to wrap the mummy, the Liber Linteus it was torn into 5 strips, or ties, most of which were about 300cm long. These bonds were torn horizontally, along their entire length. Bound like a book, it would have been about 40-44 cm high, 30 cm wide and 12 cm thick.
According to some local gods identified in the text of the manuscript, the expert was able to determine the origin (either of the text or of its creator) of a small area in southeastern Tuscany, between the cities of Arezzo, Perugia, Chiusi and Cortona.
However, due to its precarious state, it was very difficult to decipher it in its entirety, only the names of certain gods and dates can be read there. This led experts to believe that it was some sort of liturgical religious calendar.
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Likewise, other authors have linked it to astronomy since some names of constellations and celestial bodies can also be read in the document, for which they consider that the document contained astronomical records derived from observations in order to predict weather and other events.
The researcher and Writer Sergei Rjabchikov claims to have identified the record of a solar eclipse that occurred on February 11, 217 BC. This eclipse was barely visible from the Italian peninsula, but it was visible from Alexandria.
Sample of an Etruscan text engraved in stone, discovered in Italy (1882).
Thanks to this “historical accident”, it has been determined that the Liber Linteus is the oldest known manuscript of etruscan language. The primitive Roman culture and the Latin alphabet are directly inspired by the Etruscan, even if it was completely exceeded in a few centuries.
However, until now, it has not been possible to determine how this Etruscan writing came to an Egyptian mummy, whether the document was created in Egypt or taken there, and why it contained this astronomical data. Questions that continue to be a mystery to the story. Undoubtedly, its unknown meaning and origins make the Liber Linteus one of the strangest linguistic artifacts in the world.
References: Information History / National Geographic.
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