Correspondence: Horses and Chariots in Egypt
November 28, 2005
Thank you for this opportunity to pose a question.
I have recently purchased and read Aardsma's "chronology" and found it valuable.
I want to find out though, how G. Aardsma accounts for the existence of
chariots, and chariot wheels in the Joseph narrative as well as the
exodus narrative. I understand that it is believed that "Old Kingdom Egypt" did
not yet have chariots or wheels.
I had recently asked concerning the existence of chariot wheels in the
Genesis and Exodus narrative.
I want to let you know that I have further purchased and read "Volume 4,
number 6" of the chronologist, but it only dealt with Wyatt archaeology
and not with the crux of the question that I have. "Is there evidence of
chariots and wheels in Zoser's reign and the end of Old Kingdom Egypt?"
I am hoping to receive a satisfactory answer. Maybe I am mistaken as to
the introduction of the chariot wheel into "Old Kingdom" Egypt.
Stuart Piggott seems to be an acknowledged expert in regard to early
wheeled vehicles. Here is a quote from his book "The Earliest Wheeled
Transport From the Atlantic Coast to the Caspian Sea" (1983, pages 239--240)
providing some helpful factual background information.
The central problem of the earliest
wheeled vehicles in Europe from about
3000 BC is that of assessing the respective
merits of two hypotheses, that assuming a
restricted place and time for an invention
subsequently rapidly and widely adopted,
and that permitting independent invention
of the basic principle of wheeled transport
in more than one locality, with subsequent
parallel regional development. In specific
terms it raises the classic issue of 'diffusion'
from an area with a higher degree of technological performance to others with less inventive expertise: the Near East and Neolithic Europe around 3000 BC. The problem
is not rendered easier by the fact that we are
dealing with wooden structures with a low
survival value as archaeological artifacts,
helped only by fired clay models among
those societies which had a tradition of producing such miniature versions of everyday
objects, itself a restricted cultural trait. In
the instance of the earliest agricultural communities of south-east Europe from the
seventh millennium BC, which did so model
humans, animals, houses and even furniture,
the absence of vehicle models is at least a
suggestive piece of negative evidence for a
failure to make this break-through in vehicle technology, despite an efficient agrarian
economy and a precocious non-ferrous
metallurgy before the beginning of the third
millennium. When in that millennium the
first European wheels, and depictions and
models of wheeled vehicles, appear, radiocarbon dates show us how close in time
these are to the comparable evidence for the
first appearance in Sumer and Elam of the
same invention, and the likelihood of independent discovery in east and west, virtually
simultaneously, is sensibly diminished. The
thesis of the rapid adoption of a novel piece
of transport technology originating in the
ancient Near East, as proposed by Childe
thirty years ago, still remains the preferable
alternative. One of the most recent finds in
Western Europe, the wagon from Zilrich
with disc wheels of the tripartite construction, and a calibrated radiocarbon date of
3030 BC, greatly strengthens this supposition, for the relatively complex technology
is precisely that of the early third millennium wheels of Kish, Ur and Susa. ...
The foregoing makes it clear that: 1. there is an intrinsic difficulty
with survival of evidence of early wheeled vehicles, 2. wagons with
tripartite disk wheels were in existence by 3030 B.C., and 3.
this technology spread far and fast. Given these three facts, the problem of
proving that the highly advanced civilization of Old Kingdom Egypt did
NOT have wheeled military vehicles a full 580 years after the invention
and spread of the tripartite wheel seems to me to be a very much greater one than that
of proving that she did.
Trust this helps.
May 14, 2007
Dear Dr. Aardsma
I find that your solution to, at least, the conquest of Jericho and Ai is
brilliant. Could you perhaps explain away the problem which I perceive with
These animals are clearly mentioned in the biblical text of the Exodus, yet
could not have existed in the 6th dynasty Egypt, as they were only
introduced there by the Hyksos - approximately a thousand years later,
together with military chariots.
I don't know who told you that horses "were only introduced there [to Egypt] by the Hyksos"---the claim appears to be widespread---but whoever it was seems to me to have misled you in at least two ways. The first way is in regard to logic, and the second is in regard to data.
Let me deal with the logic first.
There is a general maxim which one must apply to archaeological evidence in all cases. This maxim is usually adhered to by competent archaeologists. The maxim is: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
This maxim becomes increasingly important as one moves back in the archaeological record, for at least two reasons: 1. chances of preservation of archaeological remains diminish as the elapsed time increases between creation of any object and the present, and 2. human populations diminish as one moves back in time, resulting in creation of fewer archaeological remains to begin with. The period of interest to us here---the Old Kingdom of Egypt, including the 6th dynasty---is sufficiently remote (in excess of four thousand years ago) that this maxim must certainly not be ignored.
The claim that horses and chariots were only introduced into Egypt by the Hyksos falls into the "absence of evidence" category. This is easily seen by noticing that the claim would be proven false the moment any archaeological evidence was found showing the presence of horses in Egypt prior to the Hyksos. Said another way, to have a possibility of being true the claim requires that there be a complete absence of archaeological and historical evidence for horses in Egypt prior to the time of the Hyksos.
But even a complete absence of evidence for horses prior to the Hyksos is insufficient to guarantee the veracity of the claim. After all, for such a remote time, evidence may be lacking for reasons having nothing to do with whether or not horses were actually present in Egypt during the Old Kingdom. For example, one can imagine that it is possible that archaeologists are in possession of so little data relevant to the fauna of Egypt's Old Kingdom that the absence of evidence of horses at that time is more or less to be expected whether horses were present there or not. And this is hardly the only possibility.
No matter how many times one may hear the claim that horses were only introduced into Egypt by the Hyksos, one should not regard it as a proven fact, and then use this supposed fact to conclude that therefore horses could not have been present in Egypt's Old Kingdom. It is not a proven fact. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Now for the data.
I have done some very limited reading within the technical literature regarding horses in Egypt, and this reading suggests that the claim that horses were only introduced into Egypt by the Hyksos is on very shaky empirical ground at present.
Specifically, archaeological data from Nahal Tillah seem to show unequivocal presence of domesticated horses within the Egyptian sphere of activity even prior to the Old Kingdom. Nahal Tillah is situated in the northern Negev of Israel. It displays a strong Egyptian presence in its archaeological record, causing the archaeologists involved to suggest royal Egyptian trading and administration relations at this site. The excavators took care to gather all bone fragments, as is normal today, and analyzed them according to type: sheep, pig, donkey, etc. They wrote:
The most surprising feature of the assemblage is the large number of equid remains, some of which are from domestic horses (Equus caballus). ... There was a general supposition that domestic horses were not introduced into the Levant and Egypt until the second millennium, but Davis (1976) found horse remains at Arad from the third millennium and small domestic horses seem to have been present in the fourth millennium in the Chalcolithic period in the northern Negev (Grigson 1993).
[Thomas E. Levy, David Alon, Yorke Rowan, Edwin C. M. van den Brink, Caroline Grigson, Augustin Holl, Patricia Smith, Paul Goldberg, Alan J. Witten, Eric Kansa, John Moreno, Yuval Yekutieli, Naomi Porat, Jonathan Golden, Leslie Dawson, and Morag Kersel, "Egyptian-Canaanite Interaction at Nahal Tillah, Israel (ca. 4500-3000 B. C. E.): An Interim Report on the 1994-1995 Excavations," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 307 (August 1997): 1--51.]
Thus the archaeological data which are presently available---indeed, some of which have been available since 1976---seem to seriously undermine the claim that Egypt was without horses until the Hyksos dynasties. The work at Nahal Tillah seems to show that horses were available just next door, in the northern Negev, very early on in the history of post-Flood Egypt, and Egyptians were clearly present where these horses were present. Are we to believe that these Egyptians failed to find domestic horses, with all their unique advantages for agriculture and transportation, of no interest, and chose to leave them all next door for century after century?
Might it be possible, perhaps, that the horse and military chariot were RE-introduced to Egypt by the Hyksos? After all, the time between the end of the Old Kingdom and the Hyksos is many centuries, as you have observed, and many things can happen in such a long time. Is it even possible, perhaps, that the military disaster Egypt suffered at the Exodus---the loss of the Pharaoh and all his horses and chariots in the sea---left a strong negative impression upon the Egyptians in regard to the value of the horse and chariot in military operations, causing them to abandon their further use and development for some centuries?
Be that as it may, I hope that you will agree that any claim for the non-existence of horses in Egypt during the Old Kingdom appears precarious at present.
Now let me make a prediction.
My long experience with the missing millennium thesis and the biblical chronology which results from it (Aardsma's chronology, as shown in the free PDF download on the home page of the BC website) causes me to predict that archaeological evidence of both the horse and the chariot within the Old Kingdom of Egypt will ultimately be found by archaeologists on native Egyptian soil. I base this prediction upon the string of successes the new chronology has had in bringing harmony between the biblical record and the archaeological data from the second and third millennia B.C. The conquests of Jericho and Ai, of which you are so kindly appreciative, are but the beginning. I have published a number of others in the BC. Have you read, for example, the article "Leviah---City of Og" in The Biblical Chronologist, Volume 1, Number 5? It shows how the Aardsma chronology harmonizes the biblical record and archaeological data for Og, king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:1--10) where ALL other biblical chronologies fail.
Such successes should, of course, not happen if the 1,000 years I have inserted into traditional biblical chronology do not really belong there. One cannot insert a full millennium into biblical chronology where it does not belong and expect to generate anything but a string of absurdities. Try inserting a millennium at 1000 A.D., for example, pushing everything earlier back an additional 1000 years, and then compare the history recorded in Acts with secular history and archaeology. I will immediately raise my eyebrows, chuckle, and ask, "What were the ROMANS doing in control of Jerusalem 950 B.C.?" Rome did not exist even as a monarchy at that time, let alone an empire. Yet when I insert a full millennium into biblical chronology at 1000 B.C., no such absurdities are seen, even after more than a decade of intensive investigation, and a whole string of longstanding and seemingly insurmountable difficulties between archaeology and the Bible disappear.
You are right, of course, to ask whether horses in the Old Kingdom might be an exception, for it is no good to count simply the successes of a hypothesis while ignoring its potential failures. But I have been through this exercise enough times now---it might have failed with Jericho, and with Ai, and with the length of the pharaohs' reigns at the end of the Old Kingdom, and with the character of the end of the Old Kingdom and that of the First Intermediate Period which followed it, and with the necessary kingdom of Og, and with the route of the Exodus, and with Mount Sinai, and with Joseph's famine, and with Sodom (unpublished at present), and with the past level of the Dead Sea, and with Elk Lake, and with Devon Island, and with zoogeography, and with Ceide Fields, ..., and most especially with the Flood---to feel that the hypothesis that exactly 1000 years were accidentally dropped from 1 Kings 6:1 very early on in its transmission is very probably true, and to venture to predict that whatever seeming exceptions might yet remain will yield completely to further honest research.
Meanwhile, I am hopeful that some may find the hypothesis useful in the intelligent defense of their faith against increasingly popular attacks on the historicity of the Exodus, the Conquest, the period of the Judges, and pretty much all of the earlier biblical narrative. By all I have seen, these attacks are totally unwarranted, resulting only from the missing 1000 years copy error in 1 Kings 6:1, not from any defect in biblical historiography.