B 350 - The Monument of Taharqo on the Jebel Barkal Pinnacle
PDF Print E-mail

VII. Examination of the Pinnacle Inscription

As I worked my way around to the front (south) face of the pinnacle peak (figs. 22a, b), I was at last able to view the inscribed panel, the surviving part of which was about 2 m below the summit.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment, for I saw that the original surface was nearly two-thirds gone, obliterated top and bottom by weathering and rock falls.  Only a thin, ragged middle section survived, and here the texts were extremely worn and difficult to read.  I could see, however, that the sculptors had originally worked a rectangular area about 120 cm high by about 270 cm long.  At the top it had curved outward slightly.  The original prepared surface had been divided into six vertical panels, each about 40 cm wide, separated by deep, square-cut grooves, 5 cm wide and about 3 cm deep.  The two middle panels each bore texts of Taharqo in three vertical lines of neatly formed hieroglyphs in raised relief (figs. 23, 24).  The inside lines each preserved Taharqo’s throne name in mirror image, followed by the words “son of Re,” which surely introduced his birth name, now lost.  The middle columns of text, as we determined after some study back in Boston, had mentioned victories over enemies east and west.  The panel on the right (east) referred to the Mntiw Stt, which would have been the traditional way of referring to eastern Asiatic enemies, possibly here to Assyria.  That on the left (west) made reference to the Tjmhu (“western desert people”), in which the determinative is a bound, kneeling, decapitated figure.[7] The outer inscribed columns of text in each panel did not preserve enough to be legible, although the outer line in the east panel preserved the hieroglyph of the White Crown. (This fact becomes interesting when we recall that the pinnacle, when seen from its east side, has a strong resemblance to a figure wearing the White Crown, and when we come to realize that the ancients  saw the same resemblance and gave the rock deep meaning because of this resemblance).

Fig. 22a: Front view of the pinnacle, showing Paul Duval seated on the summit and the author standing on the shelf in front of the alcove below the inscribed panel.  Note the vertical indentation in the face of the pinnacle, just below and to the left.  This feature is situated immediately beneath the point where the presumed crane arm, set in the diagonal channel “PW2,” would have overhung the pinnacle peak.  This groove seems to have provided clearance for burdens lifted by the crane from the ground.   Three to four meters below the author the rock face has been packed with rough stone masonry and mortar.  Photo: Enrico Ferorelli.

Fig. 22b: Telephoto view of the author seated just beneath the remains of the inscribed panel, which is divided into six sections.  The two central sections bear the cartouches of Taharqo; the second from right bears the cartouches of Nastasen.  All are covered with small holes, two of which still contained bronze nails in 1987, suggesting that the stone had been covered with gold sheet.  Below the panel is the alcove, at the sides of which were built walls, 60 cm think, made with rough stones set in plaster.  The author’s foot rests in the remains of a sunken socket apparently for a small statue.  Photo by Enrico Ferorelli.

Fig. 23: Drawing of the surviving remains of the inscribed panel, showing location of all surviving holes for bronze nails, with which the presumed gold sheet was attached to the stone.  The complete original panel was about 2.70 m long by 1.20 m high.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

Fig. 24: Detail of the eastern (right) panel of Taharqo.

To the left of Taharqo’s panels was one bearing a more crudely carved text of Nastasen, in sunk relief (fig. 25). The king’s throne and birth names appeared in twin cartouches – “Ba-ka-Re Nastasen” – surmounting the phrase di ‘nh mi r dt (“given life like Re forever”). To the left of the cartouches were two small incised standing figures, facing right, with hands upraised in adoration of the royal names.  To the right of Nastasen’s cartouches and also below them a third and fourth figure appeared in similar pose, adoring the names and texts of Taharqo, just beside them to the right.

Fig. 25: View of the inscribed panel of Nastasen, showing his double cartouche and the small incised figures adoring his name and that of Taharqo (just off photo, to right).

It was evident that Taharqo had ordered the original work here.  Three and a half centuries later, the monument had been restored by Nastasen, who evidently left the central two panels intact out of respect for his predecessor.  The panels on either side of Taharqo’s were on a plane 2 cm lower, suggesting that Nastasen had ordered his sculptors to grind down the originals and to erase Taharqo’s texts or reliefs there, which by then had probably become so worn or damaged that the panels needed complete resurfacing.

There seemed nothing remarkable about the texts or the carving; the surprise was in the discovery that all over the surviving original surface of the stone there were small, evenly spaced holes, and that two of these holes still contained bronze nails embedded in plaster (figs. 23-25).  This kind of work is well-known from temples in Egypt and from textual references even of the time of Taharqo (Lacau 1955, 221-250; Macadam 1949, 16, n. 20). This revealed that the complete original panel had once been entirely covered by a sheet - or multiple overlapping sheets - of gold, held in place by bronze nails fixed into the stone.  The thin gold would have been pressed against the inscriptions so that it conformed to their relief.

It suddenly became a bit clearer what these kings had been doing here.  They had carved on the most inaccessible point of the mountain a monument with an inscription - not to be read by man but to be seen by him from below and from afar.  While the texts had been written only for the eyes of the gods, the gold sheathing made the panel the most conspicuous feature of the mountain.  Facing southeastward (at an angle of about 160°), the gold panel would have reflected the sun variously from different angles throughout the day and throughout the year, and would have made a dazzling ornament for the mountain and the sanctuary below.  It was probably visible from across the river, and possibly for some distance even to caravans approaching from the Bayuda Desert to the south.

But there was more.  Under the inscription was the alcove we had observed through the telescope. It actually undercut the panel to a depth of about a meter, and it was about a meter high.  It was large enough for one or two men to squat in.  At either end, there were remnants of walls, each about 60 cm thick, built of rough stones set in a heavy white mortar (figs. 22b, 26).  In the middle of the floor of the alcove, centered beneath the two Taharqo panels, was the remnant of the back edge and corner of a square-cut depression, which looked like part of a socket for a small statue.  The floor beside it had been pecked, as if prepared for plaster.

Fig. 26:Remains of the crude masonry and mortar wall built at the east end of the alcove beneath the inscribed panel (taken from the east, looking west).  A similar wall, less well preserved, was also built at the west end.  These walls may have given shelter for a small statue set in the floor of the alcove in a squared socket centered beneath the panels of Taharqo.

As my eye followed the rock face downward from here some 3 to 4 m, I could see that there was a large irregular cavity that had been filled with the same crude masonry and plaster that had been used in the construction of the alcove walls (fig. 22a).  It appeared that the builders had done this to alter the face of the pinnacle cosmetically.

The need for the elaborate wooden construction on the top of the pinnacle now seemed evident. Heavy baskets of mortar and stones, and perhaps even a small statue, had been lifted to this point directly from ground level.  To accomplish this feat the builders had to erect here a wooden crane arm with a pulley.[8] This explained the function of the prominent diagonal groove PW2, which had supported a stout beam set at a 50° angle (fig. 27). Directly below the point where this crane arm would have overhung the pinnacle peak, it will be seen that the face of the pinnacle has a vertical groove, apparently natural, which would have allowed the rope of the crane to rise from or drop freely to the ground (fig. 22a). (If this crane had been set further to the left or right, the rope would always have been obstructed by the projecting stone).  Since the top of the pinnacle cannot have safely seated more than three or four men, even with the aid of a constructed platform, and since such a platform cannot have been large enough to support both the men and the enormous quantities of rope that would have gathered during any lifting operation from ground level, and since the few men on the pinnacle summit could not have lifted a statue or heavy baskets of stones or cement to this height anyway, it seems that this crane, mounted atop the pinnacle, had to be operated by a gang of men standing on top of the mountain itself, some 11 m away across the gorge.  The men on the pinnacle would merely have shouted out and signaled instructions to the men on the mountaintop, who were pulling the rope.

Fig. 27: Profile of the upper part of the pinnacle and cliff, seen from the west, showing the possible functions of the cut features.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

In 1987 we ascended the pinnacle five times; in 1989 we repeated the operation five more times.  On each ascent we observed and recorded new features that we had missed before. Although we had found evidence of an extraordinary construction project, we were still baffled by the motivations that lay behind it.  Why had Taharqo expended so much effort and risked so many men’s lives to inscribe and gild the summit of the pinnacle?  Why had Nastasen thought it necessary to restore the monument three centuries later?  Why had a major part of the labor included filling a large cavity in the front face of the pinnacle with mortar and rough stones?  What had been the form and meaning of the small statue seemingly raised up and set beneath the inscription?  Why did the Jebel Barkal temples (B 500, B 600, B 700, B 800, B 900, B 200, and B 300, B 1100 and 1150) and first palace (B 1200) all cluster around the pinnacle in an arc?

Page 7 of 8 All Pages