Behold: a zonkey is born … leading to thoughts about ancient Egyptian animals

The bizaare hybrids called  zonkeys (Equus zebra x Equus asinus) are occasionally born in Africa and elsewhere and Jerry Coyne has an excellent blog about them, referenced below.

The existence of zonkeys leads me (as an occasional practitioner and follower of Egyptology and ancient Egyptian history) to wonder if similar crossbreeding might have either just happened or had been attempted by early Egyptians, with suggestive evidence being uncovered in the predynastic and early dynastic site of Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt.

At this site a selection of both wild and domestic breeds were carefully wrapped and buried, including elephant, some aurochs (pre-domestic cattle of North Africa and elsewhere), and a wide variety of other domesticated and wild creatures.

In an upcoming blog I want to discuss these predynastic and early dynastic animals and animal burials found at Hierakonpolis as well as the role of animals and animal monsters in ancient Egypt and beyond:

But in this blog let us have a look at a modern-day animal combi via Jerry Coyne;   the zonkey:

Why Evolution Is True

Here’s a nice hybrid for you, born only four days ago and sporting an adorable set of striped leggings:

A zonkey, the offspring of a cross between a zebra and a donkey, named “Khumba” has been born for the first time in Mexico on 21 April, as a zoo in the northern state of Tamaulipas reports. He weighed 26 kilograms and measured 70 centimeters at birth. Khumba’s mother, a female zebra whose name is “Rayas”, lives among exotic animals in the zoo, while his father, a an albino dwarfed blue-eyed donkey, lives in a nearby farm.

Since albinism is a genetically recessive trait, the zonkey shows the same coloration as a hybrid between a zebra and a non-albino donkey.

Wikipedia gives a surprising amount of information about zebra/equid hybrids, called “zebroids” as a whole. They can take occur not only with donkey parents, but also ponies (“zonys”) and horses (“zorses”). The females…

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An Ancient Jewish Community on Elephantine Island, Aswan

The following blog has been updated :

One of the most interesting interludes in ancient Egyptian history concerns the Jewish community that inhabited a portion of Elephantine Island, located in southern Egypt adjacent to the town of Aswan, during the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.E.  There has been considerable debate about the community over the last century – but in this and a few other blogs I want to deal with several social and cultural aspects that are of interest.
elephantine-excavation templestudy-com

“Jewish Life” comes alive through the remarkable, Aramaic-language scrolls, which describe a Jewish community on lush Elephantine 800 years after the biblical exodus … These people were descendants of Jews who had voluntarily returned to Egypt after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. While elite Jews were forced into exile in Babylonia, many soldiers and common folk relocated to Egypt, which proved to be a multicultural mecca,

Source /

Elephantine, the island on which the Jewish community and temple were located, is situated in the Nile River just next to the town of Aswan in southern Egypt.  It is the location of the First Cataract and the end of effective cultivation.  Source -

Elephantine, the island on which the Jewish community and temple were located, is situated in the Nile River just next to the town of Aswan in southern Egypt. It is the location of the First Cataract and the end of effective cultivation. Source –

Just how the community was founded continues to be debated – either the original population came into Egypt to help with Persian conquests in Nubia, and then stayed on as professional soldiers, and/or a group of disgruntled priests and others  emigrated to southern Egypt following the troubles with Manasseh of Judah, who introduced the worship of heavenly bodies, quite against Jewish laws.

We know about their life and affairs over several generations thanks to a series of manuscripts written in Aramaic (lingua franca of the time) that concerns their private lives as well as business concerns.   And even more interesting, the community founded and  maintained a temple in ancient Elephantine, and there are various of the documents that refer to it, which we will discuss in a future blog.

Ancient trade routes between the nile valley and the levant , and south to Aswan and Elephantine. Source -

Ancient trade routes between the Nile valley and the levant, and south to Aswan and Elephantine. Source –

This link to a Google satellite map shows the general layout of the island.

One of the interesting aspects of the legal documents has to do with the right of women to legally hold property, to both receive and sell it.  Below is one of the best preserved land deeds, in which a father provides his married daughter a grant of land and a house.  Note that even in the case of divorce, the husband is not allowed access to all of the house and property.

House contract 2nd.

Source – Cowley-Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C.  1923.

Elephantine Island, with the ancient  ruins visible at the south end of the island, looking north along the Nile River.  The modern town of Aswan is to the right.
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World Donkey Day (May 8)

Donkeys are very important in parts of Africa as well as all over the Middle East, and I shall be blogging about them to celebrate International Donkey Day. This is a great post.

Traditional Animal Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture

Donkey is very useful, important and precious animal genetic resource for food and agriculture. Donkey plays pivotal role in the livelihood earning of the million people of the world. Donkey is widely use for pastoral movement, carting, agricultural operations and recreation purposes. There is wide intra and in breed diversity. Such diversity is based on habitat, purpose, selection etc. Donkey is well adapted to all climatic conditions and ecosystem. It ranges from cold temperate region, cold deserts, dry and hot deserts, plain lands, high Alps and coastal ecosystems of the globe.

In some countries, the products, especially milk and meat of donkey is also use. Milk is use as medicine among the pastoral communities for the treatment of respiratory diseases since long time. The meat products are use in many countries of the world and Salami is the famous dish of donkey meat.

Donkey is now introduced in many EU countries as…

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Wheat rises to a symbol of equality and opportunity

Notes from a recent talk  at CIMMYT, by Rachel Laudan, on the history of wheat that will soon be Published.  Here are some notes from the talk and another link to the conference – interesting –

— As a greater range of foods began to be made from wheat, the grain became a status symbol for those who consumed it. The color of bread was a symbol of power and material wealth, with the rich consuming lighter breads and the poor eating darker breads made from grains besides wheat, Laudan said.

A recent article from the Global Development Professionals Network has this to say about the CIMMYT event –

Meeting the growing demand for wheat, as one of the world’s most important staple crops, would significantly boost food security in developing countries across the world.

Developing improved wheat breeds, species and technologies will also make wheat production easier and cheaper for farmers in the developing world – and so give them better access to markets…

See this link for more details.



MU Earth

By Meghan Eldridge

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico — A grain commonly found on today’s grocery store shelves has risen throughout history as a sign of equality and opportunity for those who eat it.

Rachel Laudan, a food historian and author of the book “Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History” from the U.K., discussed the role of wheat across history at a presentation on March 27 during the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security.

Rachel Laudan, historian and author, discusses research findings about the role of wheat in civilizations during a presentation on March 27, 2014. Laudan's research assesses the past, present and future importance of grains. Rachel Laudan, historian and author, discusses research findings about the role of wheat in civilizations during a presentation on March 27, 2014. Laudan’s research assesses the past, present and future importance of grains. Photo by Meghan Eldridge

Beginning 20,000 years ago, grains had a major influence on the development of ancient cities as a source of food for populations, Laudan noted.

Wheat touched every facet of life, from the work of grinding the grain to the worship…

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Darwin in Arabia – The Introduction of Evolution into the 19th Century Middle East

This is a book I cannot obtain here, but have found a detailed review, from which I quote below and provide references and other links.  The topic is indeed fascinating, in considering the multiple ways in which concepts move from one region to another – involving political, religious, and linguistic dimensions, among others – are treated.  As well, the concept of  *science* as being of European origin and implications of this fact in the Middle East.

READING DARWIN IN ARABIC, 1860–1950 by Marwa Elshakry
448pp. University of Chicago Press. $45.
978 0 226 00130 2
The Book of Animals of al-Jahiz, Syria, fourteenth century Irwin_Darwin in Arabia

In reviewing the above-referneced book, Robert Irwin points out some of the difficulties of translocating both concept and vocabulary of Darwinism from Victorian England into the Middle East as well as into Arabic >

For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”.“Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”.

When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”. Darwiniya entered the Arabic language.

Even ‘ilm, the word for “knowledge” acquired the new meaning, “science”. With the rise of scientific materialism came agnosticism, al-la’adriya, a compound word, literally “the-not-knowing”.

The word al-tatawwur has further migrated from meaning evolution in the 19th century (above) into the language of development in modern standard arabic.  I learned this some years ago when asking a professor at a regional university in Egypt what he thought I should call an upcoming talk I was giving at the university.  He responded, al-tatawwur fil-aryaaf wal-alaqaatuhu bi-dawlah (Development in the countryside and connections (of the countryside) with the State).

Regarding Darwinism itself, Irwin goes on to say –

Reading Darwin in Arabic deals primarily with the works of popularization and polemic produced by a small elite of bookmen during the heyday of the Nahda (Awakening, Rennisance) …

Elshakry’s densely argued and fascinating book casts the net wider than that and gives extensive coverage to such matters as missionary ambitions and strategies in the Middle East, Muhammad Abduh’s attempts to reform al-Azhar as a teaching institution, the rise of Pharaonism as a cultural movement, the growing sense of an Islamic civilization with a history, the eleventh-century Sufi al-Ghazali’s overweening presence in philosophical debates, and Arab interest in Atatürk’s reforms.

As Elshakry notes, enthusiasm for Darwin and his followers fell away after the Second World War and that enthusiasm turned to outright hostility from around 1970 onwards. The reasons for this lie beyond the scope of Reading Darwin in Arabic. Perhaps the intellectual prestige of the British declined as their empire was dismembered. Perhaps Muslim scholars took their lead from American creationists. The rise of a militant political Islam may also have been a factor.

This appears to be a most worthwhile read and I plan to obtain a Kindle addition. Reference to the article in the Times Literary Supplement from which I quote is –

Darwin in Arabia, by ROBERT IRWIN

A couple of other links to presentations by  Dr Marwa Elshakry are given bleow –

Translating Knowledge

Historians have begun to explore the paradox of the identification of a would-be universal form of rational knowledge known as science with the particular historical experience of Europe.

This begs the question: how have new forms of scientific knowledge been translated, received, assimilated, and engaged outside of the cultural contexts within which they were produced?

In this episode, Marwa Elshakry examines the case of Arab engagement with and translation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is the subject of her recently published book entitled Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950.


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Two Sentenced to Death for Throwing Children off a Rooftop in Alexandria, Egypt

Given the months of unrest in Egypt, it is indeed hopeful to learn that the persons responsible for this act have been punished. I remember seeing the original video last year and being horrified. The video was taken by a person in a neighbouring building, as I remember. It is graphic.

Egyptian Streets

The Alexandria Criminal Court has sentenced Mahmoud Hassan Ramadan and Mohamed Al-Ahmady to death for throwing three teenagers off the roof of an apartment block. The papers for the approval of the capital punishment have been sent to the Mufti.

The court has also ruled that 61 others arrested at the time of the incident will remain in detention until the next court hearing which will be held on May 19, 2014.

Two of the boys thrown off the roof in the incident that ocurred in July 2013 during pro-Morsi demonstrations suffered serious injuries. A third boy, who had just turned 19, was announced dead three hours later while in hospital.

The boys were attacked by the group of men, including a bearded man waving the black Al-Qaeda flag, for ‘celebrating the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.’ Dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters had gathered in Alexandria’s Sidi Gaber to call…

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The Roman Tower of Centum Cellas, Belmonte (Portugal)

This is an amazing Roman site in Portugal, built by a Roman tin trader. As the author of the blog says –

The IPPAR‘s excavations at the Centum Cellas Tower, undertaken between 1993 and 1998, revealed that it was not a single isolated building but part of a larger and more complex group of structures, including rooms, corridors, staircases, cellars and courtyards.

The tower appears to be the best-preserved part of what was the villa of Lucius Caecilius (according to a dedicatory altar found on the site), a wealthy Roman citizen and tin trader who built his villa here at the beginning of the first century AD, under the supervision of a qualified architect who knew Vitruvius‘ building techniques…


The Tower of Centum Cellas (also known as the “Tower of St. Cornelius”), located in the municipality of Belmonte in Portugal, is one of the most enigmatic monuments from the Roman period to be found in the country. These majestic ruins were part of a large Roman villa from the first century AD, situated on the road that linked Augusta Emerita (Mérida) to Bracara Augusta (Braga).

Roman tower of Centum Cellas, Belmonte, Portugal © Carole Raddato Roman tower of Centum Cellas, Belmonte, Portugal
© Carole Raddato

This rectangular building, made of pink granite blocks, appears to have had three levels with openings of various dimensions. It was thought that it was once a temple, a prison with a hundred cells (hence the name), or possibly a praetorium (the headquarters of a Roman camp), and a building part of Roman villa.

Roman tower of Centum Cellas, Belmonte, Portugal © Carole Raddato Roman tower of Centum Cellas, Belmonte, Portugal
© Carole Raddato

The IPPAR‘s excavations at the Centum Cellas Tower, undertaken between 1993…

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