How did camels get into the picture?

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How did camels get into the picture?

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dec 24, 2010, 7:49pm

When a friend recently returned from Egypt all excited about a picture of her riding a camel in front of the pyramids, I was reminded of this bit of century old "Afrocentric" speculation. Any facts?

"How comes it that the Camel has no place among the hieroglyphics? No representation of the camel is found on the monuments. It will be seen when we come to consider the origin and nature of the typology and hieroglyphics that this is almost an impossibility for any but an African people. The camel being a late importation into Egypt and other African countries, will alone explain its absence from the pictures of an African people." Gerald Massey

The camel does play a role in the Old Testament, but we get weasel words from translators about how this happened.

Redigerat: dec 25, 2010, 4:04am

I know way too little about the history of animal domestication - alas. It doesn't seem to be entirely true though that there are no early Egyptian depictions of camels - just not many ( - but I'm not sure how reliable that site is).

Anyway, part of the answer might be that the camel is clearly a desert animal - and the ancient Egyptians mostly saw the desert as a hostile place very much in contrast with their own "black land".

p.s.: The "Old Testament" as we know it is not as old as it makes out to be in certain parts. Reference to camels in patriarchic times might simply be anachronistic. Then again, they might not be.

dec 25, 2010, 6:14am

One of my roommates (who has degrees in ancient civilizations) says it's most likely because Ancient Egypt was all about the Nile and water travel, which is abundantly depicted in hieroglyphics. It's an interesting subject to look into in more depth...

dec 25, 2010, 12:12pm

I'm not at home now but IIRC there are rare depcitions of camels starting in the 12th dynasty. There's no determinative for "camel" in Gardiner's sign list, but I think I've seen a camel determinative somewhere. I think the suggestions in the posts above are probably correct; the ancient Egyptians didn't have much use for long range desert travel. The oasis routes were done with donkeys and water caches.

Redigerat: dec 25, 2010, 2:12pm

As #2 says, the history of this question has been influenced by the need for Biblical literalists and debunkers to confirm / refute Abraham's camels in Genesis 12:16.

The Demotic gmwl and Coptic ϭⲁⲙⲟⲩⲗ are evidently from the Accadian gammalu 'male dromedary' or some other similar Semitic source. (CDD G p. 31; Černý p. 331.)

ETA: Add proper references.

sep 6, 2012, 11:10am

quicksiva: Camel question.

The book "Bible Unearthed" by Finkelstein and Silberman gives a clear and archaeologically well-based answer on the Camel question. It supports the statement: "... The camel being a late importation into Egypt and other African countries ..." - exactly this is the case. By the way the book is a very good read, since it gives an overview on the current state of the art of biblical archaeology. (Believers are invited to realize that believe and history are two different dimensions: It is not a catastrophe for believe, if history was different, because the message stays the same.)

jan 7, 2013, 3:12pm

Camels in the Bible-

"The biblical text reveals some clear clues that can narrow down the time of its final composition. Take the repeated mention of camels, for instance. The stories of the patriarchs are packed with camels, usually herds of camels; but as in the story of Joseph’s sale by his brothers into slavery (Genesis 37: 25), camels are also described as beasts of burden used in caravan trade. We now know through archaeological research that camels were not domesticated as beasts of burden earlier than the late second millennium and were not widely used in that capacity in the ancient Near East until well after 1000 BCE. And an even more telling detail— the camel caravan carrying “gum, balm, and myrrh,” in the Joseph story— reveals an obvious familiarity with the main products of the lucrative Arabian trade that flourished under the supervision of the Assyrian empire in the eighth– seventh centuries BCE.

Indeed, excavations at the site of Tell Jemmeh in the southern coastal plain of Israel— a particularly important entrepôt on the main caravan route between Arabia and the Mediterranean— revealed a dramatic increase in the number of camel bones in the seventh century. The bones were almost exclusively of mature animals, suggesting that they were from traveling beasts of burden, not from locally raised herds (among which the bones of young animals would also be found). Indeed, precisely at this time, Assyrian sources describe camels being used as pack animals in caravans. It was only then that camels became a common enough feature of the landscape to be included as an incidental detail in a literary narrative."

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2002-03-06). The Bible Unearthed (Kindle Locations 700-713). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

jul 5, 2017, 9:56am

There were camels in Egypt according to the archaeologist Kenneth kitchen. He says the camels was known by 3000 bc. Apparently, camel skulls have been found southwest of Cairo 1400 bc. Camel hair rope has been found and pottery with camels heads dating to 3000 bc. During excavations.