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Ancients Rang In New Year with Dance, Beer

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« on: April 04, 2008, 01:26:53 pm »

Ancients Rang In New Year with Dance, Beer
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Dec. 30, 2005 Many ancient Egyptians marked the first month of the New Year by singing, dancing and drinking red beer until they passed out, according to archaeologists who have unearthed new evidence of a ritual known as the Festival of Drunkenness.

During ongoing excavations at a temple precinct in Luxor that is dedicated to the goddess Mut, the archaeologists recently found a sandstone column drum dating to 1470-1460 B.C. with writing that mentions the festival.

The discovery suggests how some Egyptians over 3,000 years ago began their New Year, which for them started around the end of August to coincide with seasonal, desired flooding that drenched farmlands where they would grow crops, such as barley and wheat. The Festival of Drunkenness usually occurred 20 days after the first big flood.

While drinking and dancing are part of many modern New Year's celebrations, the early Egyptians probably would have disapproved of the partying because they viewed such activities in a very different light.

"The Festival of Drunkenness was not a social occasion for them," said Betsy Bryan, who led the dig. "People did not come to enjoy themselves. They drank to enter an altered state so that they might witness the epiphany of a deity."

Bryan, who is chair of the Near Eastern Studies Department at Johns Hopkins University, added, "In general, the ancient Egyptians frowned upon drunkenness, but they would come together to drink for a specific purpose."

She told Discovery News that written references to the festival date to several thousand years ago, but the writing on the newly discovered sandstone column drum is one of the first pieces of evidence to directly link the festival to an Egyptian leader and to a temple location.

In this case, the leader is the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, who reigned for close to 20 years in the fifteenth century B.C. The column reads, "She (Hatshepsut) made it (the temple) as a monument for her mother Mut Mistress of Isheru, making for her a columned porch of drunkenness anew, so that she might do as one who is given life forever."

The findings are published in the new book "Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh," which contains writings that were compiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book coincides with an exhibit on Hatshepsut that currently is at San Francisco's de Young Museum.

According to Bryan, the Festival of Drunkenness began with attendees appeasing a lion goddess deity, such as Mut, with red beer that received its color from red ochre.

A myth called the "Destruction of Mankind" suggested that if a goddess became drunk on red beer, she would no longer slaughter humans. The ancient Egyptians, therefore, believed that the colorful brew was associated with salvation.

Liturgical psalms used during the festival suggest that the goddess probably depicted on a statue was enthroned in the temple and then transported through a hall before being carried to the temple's front court. It was here that celebrants became inebriated, sang, danced, engaged in sexual activity, and waited to see the goddess.

"One commonality with modern celebrations is that they would have a 'designated driver' who was supposed to stay sober throughout the event to make sure that others were taken care of," said Bryan.
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