TITLE: Turin Papyrus
DATE: 1,300 B.C.
DESCRIPTION: In so far as cartography is concerned, perhaps the greatest
extant Egyptian achievement is represented by the Turin Papyrus,
collected by Bernardino Drovetti before 1824 and now preserved in the Egizio
Museum of Turin, Italy. The papyrus scroll artifact probably dates from
3,100 B.C. with the map apparently prepared around the reign of Ramses IV
(1,150 B.C.), who initiated a systematic land survey of his entire empire.
The enormous expenditures of the Pharaohs and the priesthood were met principally
by taxes on the land, payable usually in the form of grain crops. For purposes
of such taxation, the land was carefully measured and registered, and the
boundaries marked. There is reason to believe that this type of data was
put down on maps. Centuries later, the Greek scientist Eratosthenes made
use of these early Egyptian measurements in his treatises.
The extant papyrus consists of two principal sections, earlier thought to
belong to two different documents. The more important section is a fragment,
measuring approximately forty centimeters high, generally called the "map
of the gold mines". It depicts two broad roads, running parallel to
each other through pinkish-red mountainous regions. They are drawn horizontally
across the papyrus, the lower with indications of a rocky bed or sparse
vegetation, characteristic of the larger dried-up watercourses or wadis
that form the natural routes across the eastern desert from the Nile to
the Red Sea. Legends written in hieratic, the cursive hierogliphic
everyday hand of the time, explain where these routes to the left are leading.
A broad, winding crossway wadi connects the two routes, from which an alternative
route is indicated and labeled, also leading to the left. Running vertically
from the upper route is yet another road with hieratic text that gives its
destination. The significance of the area painted red is explained by another
legend that reads, "the mountains where gold is washed: they are colored
in red." The Egyptian term used here for red, dsr, is that most
generally employed for all shades of red, the color used to depict red granite,
sandstone, and the tawny hue of the desert. The term "mountains of
gold" is repeated elsewhere in the area colored red, as well as apparently
the phase "mountains of silver and gold." In places the red area
is brought to a point and given a distinctive name such as "the peak"
or "the peak on which Amun is." The intention was apparently to
render the basic outlines of the mountains laid down flat on either side
of the valley route rather than to delineate precisely and accurately the
area of auriferous rocks.
There are other distinctive features outlined, colored, and labeled in hieratic.
Near the junction of the cross valley with the upper route a circular, dark-colored
image is marked, with a second partially overlapping design in a darker
black line. The figure is probably intended to represent a well, though
no text identifies it. A little below and to the right of the design is
another, more oblong in shape, colored green with the zigzag lines by which
the ancient Egyptians conventionally represented water. Within the design
there are traces of a hieratic group, apparently to be read as "cistern",
"water-place," or the like. In the same central section of the
map a round-topped stela is also indicated in white, with a legend dating
it to the reign of Sethos l of the Nineteenth Dynasty. The feature is presumably
to be identified with one of the rock-cut stelae executed by that king,
depicting Amun or another deity, preserved on the mountain face flanking
the wadi. There are also two man-made features on the upper side of the
upper route. One is clearly a large building containing several courts or
rooms with connecting doors, described as the "shrine", "resting
place" or "abode" of "Amun of the Pure Mountain."
There are also three small rectangular forms labeled "the houses of
the gold working settlement."
The second section of the papyrus comprises a number of fragments for which
the final placement, based on careful study of the fibers of the papyrus,
has yet to be made. Its principal feature is the continuation of the wide,
winding route of the wadi interspersed with stones. This constitutes
the lower route of the other section. In contrast with the gold-mine section,
the area on each side of the road is colored black, and the legend indicates
that in this area the stone known to the ancient Egyptians is bekhen is
to be found. This black or dark green stone, generally called schist
by Egyptian archaeologists, is more properly identified as graywacke.
The surviving fragments give no indication of precise locations comparable
to those found on the section depicting the gold mining region and its settlements.
The Turin Papyrus fragments were long considered the earliest surviving
topographical map from Egypt to have come to light. The papyrus clearly
has a character distinct from the cosmological drawings of the universe
or of the routes to or depiction of the after-life found within the formal
context of religious art. The draftsman has distributed distinctive features
in accordance with the reality of a particular area, adding clarity by the
use of legends and contrasting colors. The texts indicate that the area
depicted must be along the natural route from Coptos (Qift) on the
Nile through the eastern desert via Wadi al-Hammamat to the port
of Quseir on the Red Sea. This route was used in ancient times in
the course of expeditions to the Red Sea for trading voyages south to the
land known to the Egyptians as Punt [Somaliland]. The central area,
between Bir Al-Hammamat and Bir Umm Fawakhir, was visited
as a source of ornamental stone and of gold, and it is rich in rock tables
recording quarrying expeditions and in archaeological evidence of ancient
gold mining. More precise location rests on the interpretation of the orientation
of the map. This requires the resolution of questions concerning the placement
of fragments in the second section and the identification of the places
to which the roads to the left of the viewer are said to lead. In descriptions
of property in the later period of the points of the compass are given in
the order south, north, east, west, suggesting that Egyptians oriented themselves
facing south, with north behind them, the west to their right and the east
to their left. It would be natural, then, for them to designate the top
of papyrus as South. Such a view seems to be supported by the legend designating
the upper route of the gold map leading off to the left as "the road
that leads to the ym," that is, to the [Red] sea," taking ym in
its most common meaning. The route marked as leading off from the cross
valley to the left is likewise described as "another road that leads
to the ym." The placement of the second section to the right
of the map of the gold region seems correct, since it would then constitute
the beginning of a papyrus roll, which would normally suffer greater damage.
The map would then show on the right (that is, the west) the darker "schist"
areas of the main part of Wadi al-Hammamat, with the gold mines of
the region of Bir Umm Fawakhir some twenty-five kilometers to the
east. A more recent comparison of the features shown on the map with the
ground matches the various features specifically mentioned in the gold map
with the central area of Wadi al-Hammamat and with the upper part
of the papyrus constituting the North. If this placement were correct and
the fragments of the second portion were to be placed to the right, it would
require the ym to which the road now leads westward, that is, back to the
Nile, to be taken in some sense other than Red Sea. It would likewise place
the area of bekhen stone to the east of the location of the main
quarry inscriptions in Wadi al-Hammamat.
The difficulties in matching features depicted and labeled on the papyrus
with those on the ground are compounded by the absence of any indications
of scale. The map seems to be a freehand drawing. The only indication of
its purpose seems to be given in the series of hieratic notations written
on those areas left blank above and below the route and the black areas
depicted on the fragments of the second section. In contrast with the hieratic
texts on the gold map identifying geographical features, these texts refer
to the transport of a statute. A text of five lines, of which the first
four lack their beginnings, seems to reflect a situation in which a king
sent an expedition to the Wadi al-Hammamat to bring a statue back
to Thebes. It was, we are informed, deposited in a workshop beside
the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (Ramesseum) on the west bank of the Nile
of Thebes and subsequently taken, half-worked, to the Valley of the Kings
in a regnal year 6. Such a docket must have been written at Thebes, the
papyrus obviously having been at some time in the possession of one of the
scribes attached to the work gang responsible for constructing and decorating
the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Jottings on the back of the
papyrus include a reference to the statute of Ramesses IV of the Twentieth
Dynasty, suggesting that year 6 should refer to the reign of that king.
The purpose of the map is still obscure. Annotations on the second portion
of the papyrus suggest that the document was drawn up in connection with
work on the extraction and transport of stone, ultimately destined perhaps
for a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Some of these notes seem to
give measurements of blocks; one seems to provide measurements of actual
distances separating points on the map. The papyrus may be the result of
calculations of distances for logistical purposes. To judge from instructions
contained in a model letter copied by a pupil as part of his scribal training
(instructions that seem to refer to the same general area as the Turin
Map ), calculations of distance are the kind of work a scribe might
be expected to do. What is unusual is that a rough sketch map is included.
Surveying rarely resulted in graphic maps, and in this respect ancient Egypt
is very similar to medieval Europe until well into the 14th and 15th centuries.
In summary then, the orientation of this particular map places South
at the top. The geographical content depicts three roads leading from unidentified
Egyptian gob mines to the sea. A prominent feature of the plan is what seems
to be a winding wadi, or ravine, about the same width as the roads, in the
mountains of Egypt's eastern desert between Qift on the Nile, down
from Thebes, and Quseir on the Red Sea. The map was drawn
in connection with a statue of a pharaoh which had never been completed.
It is believed that this map also displays the gold-bearing basin to the
east of Coptos (shown in pink on the original map) in the mountainous
region of Nubia [part of modem Sudan] located at Bir Umm Fawakhir
in the Wadi Hammamat. The scroll notes the locations of the mine
and quarry, the gold and silver content of surrounding mountains and the
destination of the roadways. The mapmaker has tried to show how the two
main east-west roads lie in valleys that are linked by a road that curves
through a mountain pass. One of the roads runs from Pelusium to Heroopolis.
On either side of the main roads the map outlines sawtooth mountain ranges
in an early attempt at rendering topographical detail. The nature of the
country, the houses, buildings and entrances to galleries are also illustrated.
The map is thought by some scholars to commemorate the triumphal return
of Seti I from Syria (1366-1333 B.C.).
Two geologists from the University of Toledo in Ohio examined the map and
recognized topographical features from the map, a roadway still in use and
the mountains on both sides, shown as cones. The colors pink, brown, black
and white were used to illustrate mountains and other features; however,
the geologists James Harrell and Max Brown believe that these colors were
not used for aesthetics, but that they "correspond with the actual
appearance of the rocks making up the mountains". One region's sedimentary
rocks, which range from purplish to dark gray and dark green, are mapped
in black. Pink granitic rocks correspond with the scroll's pink and brown-streaked
mountain. According to these geologists, this is probably one of the oldest
surviving geological maps and the earliest evidence of geological thought.
According to the geologist Harrell, "In order for it to be a geological
map, it must show distribution of different rock types. Secondarily, it
should indicate the location of geological features like mountains and valleys.
In both regards the scroll qualifies and reminds us of modern geological
mapping." The English surveyor William Smith is credited with initiating
modern geologic mapmaking in 1815.
LOCATION: Egizio Museum, Turin, Italy
*Bagrow, L., The History of Cartography, p. 32.
*Ball, Egypt in the Classical Geographers
*Bricker, C., Landmarks in Mapmaking, p. 147.
*Brown, L., The Story of Maps, p. 33.
*Dilke, O.A.W., Greek and Roman Maps, pp. 14-15.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, pp. 117, 121-125.
*Raisz, E., General Cartography, p. 6.