by Lorraine Evans
Kingdom of the Ark is a
work of narrative non-fiction, putting forward the
theory that refugees from Ancient Egypt settled in
Britain and/or Ireland in the middle of the Bronze Age,
under the leadership of Meritaten, eldest daughter of
the 'Heretic Pharaoh' Akhenaten.
A medieval manuscript called the
Chronicles of the Scots, written in AD 1435 by a monk named
Walter Bower, gives the
following legend about the origin of the Scots:
"In ancient times Scota, the
daughter of pharaoh, left Egypt with her husband Gaythelos
by name and a large following. For they had heard of the
disasters which were going to come upon Egypt, and so through
the instructions of the gods they fled from certain plagues that
were to come. They took to the sea, entrusting themselves to the
guidance of the gods. After sailing in this way for many days
over the sea with troubled minds, they were finally glad to put
their boats in at a certain shore because of bad weather."
The manuscript goes on to say that the
Egyptians settled in what is now Scotland, were later chased
out by the local population and moved to Ireland, where they merged
with an Irish tribe and became known as the Scotti. They
became High Kings of Ireland, and eventually re-invaded and
re-conquered Scotland, which gains its name from their founding
This sort of folk etymology, deriving contemporary names from
(legendary?) eponymous founders, was extremely popular in the Middle
Ages. For example, Britain is supposed to have been named after
Brutus (Historia Brittonum), Gwynedd after a (legendary?)
king Cunedda, and the seven provinces of the Picts after the seven
sons of Cruithne.
Orkneyinga Saga, written in
Iceland in about 1200 AD, attributes the name of Norway to a
legendary founder called Nor, and Historia Brittonum,
written in northern Britain around 830 AD, attributes the names of
major European tribes (Franks, Goths, Alamans, Burgundians,
Longobards, Saxones, Vandals) to the sons of a descendant of
Kingdom of the Ark attempts to find
evidence to support the story of Scota's journey from Egypt to
Britain or Ireland.
As Scota is not an Egyptian name, the first task for the
author is to identify a plausible candidate princess from surviving
Egyptian records. The Walter Bower manuscript gives the name
of Scota's father as Achencres, and a historian called
Manetho, writing around 300 BC, gives Achencres as the
Greek version of Akhenaten. As readers of the recent novel
Nefertiti will know, Akhenaten ruled in Egypt around 1350 BC and
instigated a political and religious revolution, moving the capital
to a new city at a site known today as Amarna and attempting to
change the religion of Egypt to sole worship of the sun-disk or Aten.
Six daughters of Akhenaten and his queen
Nefertiti are known from carvings in the royal palaces excavated at
Amarna. The author argues that five of the daughters appear to have
died in Egypt, and that the eldest daughter Meritaten
disappears from the records at around the time of Akhenaten's death
and met an unknown fate.
On the strength of this, she identifies
Meritaten as 'Scota'.
Akhenaten's reign was not a successful time for Egypt, and the end
of his reign appears to have resulted in a period of political
chaos. He was followed by three short-lived successors (including
Tutankhamun of the famous tomb), and then by a military Pharaoh
Horemheb, who came to power about 1320 BC. Horemheb appears to have
had a particular dislike of everything associated with Akhenaten,
and systematically destroyed buildings and monuments erected in
Given this upheaval, it is not
implausible that a daughter of Akhenaten might have had good reason
to become a political refugee and look for a new life outside Egypt,
perhaps with a foreign husband. Several chapters in Kingdom of
the Ark are devoted to Akhenaten's chaotic reign and its
aftermath, and are among the most detailed and informative in the
book (probably reflecting the author's background as an
Having suggested that Scota might be an alternative name for
Meritaten, the author then looks for evidence that Meritaten/Scota
travelled from Egypt to Britain and/or Ireland as recounted in the
Walter Bower manuscript.
This relies mainly on material from a
range of archaeological sources, summarized below.
A necklace of amber, jet and faience beads was found with a
secondary Bronze Age burial of a young man in a Neolithic burial
mound at Tara in Ireland, excavated in 1955 and carbon-dated to 1350
BC. The faience beads were similar to those in the tomb of
Tutankhamun, which dates to about the same period. (Note:
faience is a ceramic, often characterized by a glossy blue glaze
resembling precious stones such as turquoise or lapis lazuli).
A second, similar, necklace was found in
a Bronze Age burial mound in Devon in 1889. As the faience beads are
similar to those found in Egypt at the same period, the author
suggests that the burials may have been high-ranking Egyptians.
A shipwrecked boat excavated in Ferriby on the Humber Estuary
in northern England in 1938-1946 was of a design similar to those
used in the ancient Mediterranean and was carbon-dated to 1400-1350
BC. The author suggests that the boat may have been part of Scota's
fleet from Egypt.
Amber from the Baltic Sea is found in
Bronze Age contexts in Britain and in Mycenae (Greece), indicating
the existence of long-distance trading routes across Europe. The
amber's source can be identified by infrared analysis.
Egyptian artifacts such as faience are found in Mycenaean
excavations, and Mycenean-style pottery is found in Akhenaten's city
of Amarna in Egypt, indicating trading and/or diplomatic links
between Mycenae and Akhenaten's Egypt. The author suggests that
Akehenaten's daughter Meritaten could have known about
north-western Europe via contacts with Mycenae.
There are mysterious prehistoric towers called
Spain, which consist of a conical tower in an enclosure.
One was excavated in 1947 and metalwork dated to the middle Bronze
Age was found.
The Bower chronicle says that the
followers of Scota settled for a while in Spain and built,
"….a very strong tower, encircled by
deep ditches, in the middle of the settlement….", and the author
suggests that the motillas are these towers.
Motilla sites - Spain
Numerous Egyptian artifacts have been
found in Spain, dating from the Third Dynasty (well before the time
of Akhenaten and the supposed flight of Meritaten),
indicating long-established links between Egypt and Spain.
(However, as far as I can see the author does not claim that
Egyptian artifacts have been found at motilla sites).
Two barrow burials near Stonehenge in Britain were excavated in 1808
and 1818 and contained amber jewellery and gold artifacts that
resemble types found in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tin ingots have been found in Cornwall that resemble those found in
the eastern Mediterranean. The author suggests that Cornish tin may
have been traded, probably by the Phoenicians, into the
Mediterranean in the Bronze Age, but notes that it cannot be proved
because the Cornish ingots cannot be dated.
Two Bronze Age shipwrecks found in the English Channel, one near
Dover and one in Devon, date to about 1200 BC and appear to have
been carrying cargoes of bronze artifacts of types found in
Continental Europe, indicating that seaborne trade between Britain
and Europe occurred in the Bronze Age.
To my mind, the archaeological finds described in the book make a
reasonably convincing case for trade links across Europe in the
Bronze Age, connecting Ireland, Britain and the Baltic with central
Europe, Spain, the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt.
If the boats
found at Ferriby did indeed come from the eastern Mediterranean,
some of this trade may have been direct rather than the passage of
goods through a sequence of intermediaries.
This doesn't particularly surprise me;
ancient cultures have a habit of turning out to be more mobile, more
connected and more sophisticated than we thought. I would have liked
to see some attempt to set the finds in context. As presented, they
indicate that long-distance trade was possible, but give little idea
of whether it was rare or commonplace.
I'm afraid I'm less convinced that these links can be construed as
'evidence' of a single person's journey from Egypt to Ireland and/or
Britain, and still less that they constitute proof that a daughter
of an Egyptian Pharaoh founded the dynasty of the High Kings of
Tara and gave her name to Scotland. It could have
happened (and it would make a great starting point for a novel), but
it seems to me that the artifacts do not demand an explanation
involving a refugee Egyptian princess.
can be just as easily, and more simply, explained as the result of
regular trading and/or diplomatic links over a considerable period.
Kingdom of the Ark presents an intriguing hypothesis, but in
my view has a tendency to over-interpret its evidence. For example,
the book claims that the
Walter Bower manuscript had
preserved accurate details that were only later discovered by
archaeology, such as "the exact dimensions" of the towers in Spain
and the "terrible plagues" in Akhenaten's Egypt.
Yet the actual wording of the Bower
manuscript - taking the translations given in the book - seem to me
to be too unspecific to support this claim.
Bower's description of
the Spanish settlement is,
"….a very strong tower, encircled by
deep ditches, in the middle of the settlement….".
This is a general description, not a set
of exact dimensions.
It could also apply to a medieval castle in the
middle of a fortified town, for example - which would presumably
have been familiar to Bower. And Bower specifically says that Scota
fled "…from plagues that were to come," whereas the plagues
documented at Amarna happened before Meritaten disappeared from the
records - i.e., Bower would seem to have got the events the opposite
He may have been drawing on a genuine
tradition (although it's worth noting that 1350 BC to 1435 AD is
over 2,700 years, which is a very long time to maintain a
tradition), but I think it is stretching a point to claim accuracy.
There are also occasional oddities in editing, e.g. "These are found
on the Continent, predominantly in southern Germany to the west of
the River Seine."
The famous River Seine is in France. Is
there another one in Germany, or is this an error? Kingdom of the
Ark presents its case with a strong narrative drive that carries the
reader easily along, but needs to be read with a critical mind.
A colorful narrative full of interesting snippets of history and
archaeology, presenting an intriguing (though to my mind not
entirely convincing) theory.