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Daniel Simu -

Ancient Egypt juggling depictions..

We all know this famous image of the 4 woman juggling... this one:
The article where I found this particular picture ( ) uses this article as a reference:

This was the first time that I saw this big picture with a lot of glyphs:

Now the strange thing is: Both images are different! Where does the 4th woman come from? Why is the hair and the ankle bands different in the two images?
On the famous cropped picture there are 2 more balls (one in the hands, and one for the mills mess in the air) and one extra woman with one ball...
Another version from the cropped picture (seems like a trace, lines are slightly different from the 'famous one'), supposedly published in 1875:

It makes me wonder, what is the source of these images? Are they both real, or is one an artist impression of the other? Are there any photographs of the actual tomb wall?
The big picture seems more legit to me, but I had never seen it before..

seveirein - - Parent

This is not authoritative, but the big image is supposedly a depiction of a wall of the 15th tomb (out of 150) of the Beni-Hasan cemetary.

Note that both of the black and white renderings you have are artist sketches of what they saw on the wall, rather than the actual wall paintings.

It appears there are many of these rendition, that are passed off in articles without mention as not being the genuine article. Without original context, we don't even know whether the big picture is a spatially accurate representation of the original, or a collection of images taken from the original that were clear enough to depict.

I've also found it is very hard to tell what is real pictures of the tomb walls, and what is copied art in some cases. This color rendition: for instance seems to actually be an artist rendition of this: .

That said, however, looking at various images from different tombs I see the same basic themes and even image patterns often repeated (with slight variation). For instance, there is this vaguely visible picture of ball players: (toward upper right very faded) that appears to be another depiction of a similar scene.

If I had to be money, I'd say that original artwork for both of the pictures you referenced exist, in different tombs. That said, it is not unthinkable that the 4th figure has been doctored in.

seveirein - - Parent

Here is an openlibrary link to the apparent original source for the "small" 4 juggler depiction:

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Thanks for the info!

I assumed that those black and whites where just cleaned up 'scans'...
The openlibrary book uses (originated?) the version with the funny lines, which can be easily spotted if you compare the knees of the two versions.. Would one be redrawn from the other (and if so, why?), or are they both drawn from the same source (which makes it more likely that the 4th belongs there...)

seveirein - - Parent

Aha! I have found a clue to the mystery of the 4th juggler.
As linked before, this book, published in 1875, appears to be the source of the woodcut from which the "small" image came from:

I found a few particularly unsettling things about this picture: Most of the material in that section of the book appears to be about images clearly found in tomb 15. On page 65 is a woodcut of the people playing with balls right next to the jugglers, and it can clearly be attributed to tomb 15, as the same damaged hieroglyphics (which are apparently captions from what I've read) are represented in the woodcut.

So I did some more digging and have discovered an even earlier book from 1844 which has an interesting PAIR of depictions of the jugglers (no doubt the author of the 1875 book was aware of this book):;view=2up;seq=86

It appears now that the woodcut of the 4 jugglers that appears in the 1875 book was formed as amalgam of these two images together. Of course that raises all new questions about the 2nd picture in the 1844 book.

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Great find once again!

The mills mess picture as we know it never properly represents the mills mess on the two walls. On both walls one hand is super close to the body, instead of extended, like here:

If the artist of the 2nd picture in the 1844 book felt liberated to extend the arm more, perhaps he also drew 'the 4th woman' from this same wall, it kinda resembles the 3rd woman from tomb 17...

That would suggest they just left out the 2nd woman of tomb 17 and the 3rd woman of tomb 15.. Could that be it? In that case, I'd love to promote a new image featuring a 5th juggler, namely the middle woman of tomb 18 ;). (or, to be more correct the two seperate 3 woman images)

Something else, I vaguely remember reading that tomb 15 was about 'sports and entertainment'. I can't find the source any more, but more importantly: What is tomb 17 about?

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Ah, I think this is what I read:

'According to Dr. Bianchi, "In tomb 15, the prince is looking on to things he enjoyed in life that he wishes to take to the next world. The fact that jugglers are represented in a tomb suggests religious significance. There is an analogy between balls and circular mirrors, as round things were used to represent solar objects, birth and death." '

So what is tomb 17 all about? And how sure can we be that the second picture is from 17? The only reason I believe that is because of the description on this picture:
However, right now tomb 17 doesn't seem to be open for public

seveirein - - Parent

If you want to know what specifically is in tomb 17, it is very similar to tomb 15 in terms of subject material. Lots of the same topics--wrestling,juggling, etc.

This book (Book 2 out of 5 part survey of Beni Hasan) has plates for the tomb decorations, both 15 and 17:

Plate XIII has the tomb 17 jugglers/ball players. They are quite similar to the tomb 15 ball players.

I am still trying to find a plausible original source for the depiction from the 1844 book of our mystery 4th juggler. I have started looking through lots of survey material that was published and available. So far I've looked at all the beautiful plates from the Napoleonic "Description de L'Egypte" ( (no jugglers found).

pumpkineater23 - - Parent

Whether it's two balls or three, it's definitely more of a crossed arm reverse cascade than anything mills-messy though. The feet are pointing the wrong way for Mills.

Great thread by the way, interesting stuff.

seveirein - - Parent

Here is a picture of the tomb wall where the "big" picture is drawn from. It does seem to be an exact spacial representation, unfortunately the juggling section is very faded and hard to see in the picture:

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Awesome! Where did you find this?
At least this proves the authenticity for the big picture, on which there are 3 juggling figures next to acrobats.

I had never seen a tomb wall before, I wonder what the size of this is!

I don't see the ball players in the flickr image. Two people who might make a throwing motion, but not sitting on each others back like in the other pictures. Also they appear to be male

seveirein - - Parent

I agree, in retrospect, that I might have been seeing something that wasn't necessarily there in the flickr image.

seveirein - - Parent

Regarding where I found the tomb wall picture:

Well I ascertained that it seemed that most of the sites that were posting the big picture were getting their source material from an old "Juggler's World" article. This article is now hosted on JIS.

This excellent article by Billy Gillen of Brookly (sadly deceased), has a bibliography, and includes a list of names of researchers who have debated whether juggling was a spiritual activity or not in Egypt. While doing a search for "C.E. Devries jugglers" (C.E. Devries was one of the researchers) on Google I ran across this forum:

As it turned out, one of the links in one of the posts is the picture of the tomb wall.

Daniel Simu - - Parent

I found some more, answering my own question about the scale
The top picture on this page displays the jugglers (right, one third down)

It is supposed to be open for the public.. I'd love to see that!

Daniel Simu - - Parent

There are also jugglers in Tomb 17 (the other pictures are from tomb 15). Could this be the source of the 4th juggler?? She resembles it slightly...

Sadly it is not allowed anymore to take pictures in the tombs...

seveirein - - Parent

Found an even better picture. Penn and Teller did a TV show about the cup and balls trick.

The Penn and Teller Magical Mystery Show, Egypt:

About 43 minutes and 45 seconds in, there is a nice closeup of the jugglers in the tomb.

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Nice! I guess that makes it obvious that there is NO ball in the left womans hands, (so 2 total), but there IS a ball in the air with the mills mess, unlike what some sources suggested!

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Rehosted all the images from my first post:
Famous one
Big picture
Different lines

Daniel Simu - - Parent

So, as for now I found the sources (the walls) of these two pictures:

This is still suggesting that the 4th woman is taken from somewhere else...

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Another page displaying again only these two images:

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Poor guy, having a historically incorrect tattoo ;)

seveirein - - Parent

We still don't know that.

Olivier - - Parent

Really nice finds you made !

Sonja Boeckmann, the EJA archivist, made that discovery some years ago. I showed the wrong picture in my show about juggling history and she made me correct it.
She doesn't know either why there was an extra woman added. It is strange because normally these scenes use a specific number of people, 1, 3, 6, 9. I got that information from an egyptologist. But maybe at that time they didn't know about that. Maybe the guy who drew the depiction was an amateur. The 4th girl belongs to an other group, which is playing an other game of throwing the ball.
There was an article in a Juggle MAgazine, the last printed one, on this topic, from a guy who went there to find the truth.

This mistake is not the only one in juggling history. The Middle Age has the same problem.
(the first time I see this one, with no source of course)
show the same jugglers but not in the same position.
same here :
and here
None were drawn during middle age ! Surprise !
The first version of this picture comes from Strutt 1833 :
and all the other, including the one in the Virtuosos of Juggling take it as granted as jugglers from the middle age.
But at this time, people were not able to draw something so precise, just look how the other pictures from jugglers of the middle age look like for instance :

Daniel Simu - - Parent

Why is that image from 1833 redrawn soooo often? Here I find it again!

Orinoco - - Parent

For reference the broken links were missing a / between the '.com' & the '?'

& yes this is a really interesting thread. I never noticed this before!

seveirein - - Parent

Olivier said: "The 4th girl belongs to an other group, which is playing another game of throwing the ball."

Can you point me to somebody who knows where this other group can be found? I think this statement might just be speculation. I looked for ball players in all the survey material for the Beni Hasan tombs, specifically looking for an occurence of a figure in this configuration. It is however quite possible I missed her, or that she came from another artifact/location. It is also plausible that she is a mirror image of some figures that look vaguely like her in reverse.

I'd like to find this figure if it exists. Otherwise I think it is quite likely that the figure was not taken from another spot, but is a fabrication (done in the same style, possibly a composite/edit/misrepresentation of some of the other figures).

Olivier - - Parent

Wouldn't that be just a copy of one of the girls on the right on this picture : , with a ball added ?

seveirein - - Parent

Perhaps. But the depiction differs in three key ways:
1. The hands of the mystery 4th juggler start at one common shoulder, but then come distinctly apart and separating, rather than overlapping throughout the whole length.
2. The right hand shoulder of the mystery 4th juggler is forward, rather than back like 2md juggler, and a dress strap is shown.
3. There is a ball.


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