09 Apr 2014

Translation Reveals ‘First-Ever’ Weather Report

What is believed to be possibly the world’s first weather report has been translated from an ancient Egyptian slab.

Scholars at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute found a 3,500-year-old inscription on a shattered stone block in Thebes, modern Luxor, telling of a “tempest of rain”.

They think a huge volcanic explosion at Thera – the modern-day Mediterranean island of Santorini – caused the freak weather.

Experts think the find could help them re-write the history of not only a pharaoh, but Egyptian history altogether.

If so, it would be the latest in a series of how new translations can change scholars’ understanding of crucial stages in history.

Take William Tyndale for example. Tyndale was described as the “most dangerous man” in Tudor England.

His “crime” was to translate the Bible into English in the 1520s. At the time, the only authorised Bible in England was a 4th-century Latin version and translations were banned.

Tyndale’s passionately wanted his fellow countrymen to read the holy book in their own language, and paid for it by being burnt at the stake. But his work inspired others, helping to open up the Bible’s accessibility to multitudes of new readers.

New Egyptian excavations constantly shed new light that contradicts perceived wisdom on the country’s history. A fresh translation of a 40-line inscription on Luxor’s 6ft-high (182cm) calcite block relates rain, darkness and “the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses”.

How does weather translation change scholars’ view of Egyptian history?

Volcanic eruptions can have widespread effect on the weather. The Thera explosion would probably have caused substantial disruptions in Egypt.

The slab’s translation dates back to the rule of Egyptian Pharaoh Ahmose, first monarch of the 18th Dynasty. It implies that he reigned around 30-35 years earlier than the original estimate of 1550 BC.

If so, this would be much closer to the Thera eruption and change scholars’ perception of a key time in human history – when a number of Bronze Age empires realigned. Ahmose’s reign saw the start of the New Kingdom, the apex of Egypt’s power.

The Oriental Institute’s David Schloen said: “This new information would provide a better understanding of the role of the environment in the development and destruction of empires in the ancient Middle East.”

The new chronology would help to explain how Ahmose rose to power and overthrew Egypt’s Canaanite rulers – the Hyksos.

The Thera eruption and subsequent tsunami would have devastated the Hyksos’ ports and substantially undermined their sea power. The eruption’s disruption to trade and agriculture would also have weakened the power of the Babylonian Empire.

This could explain why the Babylonians were unable to resist an invasion of the Hittites, another ancient culture that thrived in what is now Turkey.

How new translations can change scholars’ understanding of history

Translations are key to unlocking a culture’s secrets and rectifying previously mistaken interpretations of history. Take religious texts. Ancient art once regularly depicted Moses returning from Mount Sinai with horns on his head. This was the result of St Jerome, the patron saint of translation and one of the first people to translate the Bible into Latin from the original Hebrew. He mistook the Hebrew word “karan” for “keren”. While “karan” means radiance, “keren” means horned.

Four centuries ago, King James of England gave a six-year commission to scholars to improve earlier translations of the Bible into English. This King James Version left an indelible mark on the English language. One version was called the “Wicked Bible” after the word “not” was accidentally omitted from the commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Translated religious texts have helped spread the word via linguistic boundaries throughout the globe. The Qur’an was originally penned in Arabic, so its teachings were only available for Arabic-speaking people – until translators helped disseminate the word of Islam across different languages.

Similarly, the Bible, since the days of Tyndale and Jerome, has been translated fully into 450 separately languages, and partly into over 2,000. This accessibility has helped propel Christianity across the globe more quickly than others, making it a dominating force in Western society.


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