[introductory section on the richness and diversity of Mediterranean cultural heritage]
-By Jasmine El Nadeem, based on an interview with Dr Aloisia de Trafford
Dr Aloisia de Trafford who is a specialist in Egyptology at University College London reveals that Egyptian civilization reached Malta indirectly through Phoenician merchants and sailors and Carthaginians during the First Millennium BC. We can find in Malta Egyptian influences in the main areas of Phoenician burials which are remaining in the rock cut tombs. In addition there are names of individuals like Abd-Osir and Osir-Shamar which are present in Phoenician inscriptions. In addition many architectural and religious features of Egyptian origins were found in the temples.
De Trafford explains that the surviving Egyptianised artistic products in Gozo, the twin island of Malta, are in a major, way amulets, which can hardly be distinguished from the amulets made in Egypt. These amulets include those of the gods Thoth, Bes with the head dress of feathers, and the Eye of Horus, made of steatite, green glass paste as well as ceramic. De Trafford indicated that archaeologists found, in a tomb at Tal-Virtu in Malta, a small papyrus wrapped inside an amulet of bronze in the shape of the head of the falcon god Horus. This papyrus has written inscriptions in ink in Phoenician script, as well as a picture of a woman wearing clothing and having the same hair style as the Egyptian style. De Trafford considers that the ankh in her hand and the symbol of the throne on her head make her appear as the goddess Isis, the mother of Horus. The inscription goes back to the sixth century BC and is similar in style to Egyptian texts concerning death, from the Late Period. The writing style is like the papyri and ostraca from Saqqara and Elephantine, and the content similar to the Late Period Book of the Dead.
They include menacing gestures to scare away the enemies and Isis is mentioned so that she can carry the deceased safely across waters to the other world. This style is similar to the Egyptian heritage of papyri of the same period:
“Laugh oh strong of heart at your enemy,
Laugh, laugh, and attack the enemy,
hit him, grind him over the water,
drop him over the sea,
tie him, hang him’’
Dr de Trafford indicates that there is also an amulet of pure gold from the tomb at Ghajn Klieb in Rabat that represents the gods Horus and Anubis. Probably the gold circle between their heads contained a wrapped papyrus. Each of them holds the sign of ankh and a sceptre.
De Trafford concluded that despite of the lack of a reference to Egyptianised features on the sarcophagus made from terracotta that has been found at Ghar Barka, the style of the sarcophagus indicates that the body was mummified, as was the practice in Egypt, unlike in Phoenician culture where the body was burnt.
The Mediterranean has elevated humankind mentally and morally , materially and spiritually. This distinguished sea, characterized by plurality of religions, many races and diversity of cultures and flourishing of arts and wonderful things in literatures, from this sea, from this vast huge great sea, philosophy and science, excelled mythology and theology toward the building of contemporary Western civilization.
Al Ahram newspaper, Culture Section
22nd February 2009