text, sign, utility

I've been visiting the Shabako Stone, at the British Museum, for as long as I have been living in London, its a source of wonder.

In the twenty-fifth Dynasty, sometime around c700 BC, an Egyptian mythological text was incised for eternity in a basalt stela.  The text contains an account of the creation of the world by Ptah, God of Memphis and patron deity of craftsmen.....

.....For the very great one is Ptah, who gave [life] to all the gods and their kas through this heart and through this tongue, in which Horus had taken shape as Ptah, in which Thoth had taken shape as Ptah. Thus heart and tongue rule over all the limbs in accordance with the teaching that Ptah is in every body and every mouth of all gods, all men, all cattle, all creeping things, whatever lives,.....


Lost and centuries later refoud, the stela was repurposed as the base of a mill. A square hole was cut, the 'eye', to locate the mill shaft, and shallow radiating furrows to produce the flour from the milled grain as the top stone turned. Decades of grinding grain slowly obliterated most of the text.

Shabaka Stone

My wonderment in the Shabako stone is that an ancient creation myth has been overwritten by an image of one of our own, the big bang, and the whole inadvertently produced by the logic of utility.  Several millenia, and several orders of things, fused into a single artefact; a hyperfact.

The stone was given as a gift to the museum by Earl Spencer in 1805, provenance unknown

Read a translation of the Shabako Stone text or visit the British Musuem catalogue



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