There has been a lot of discussion on OzArch, the Australian archaeological forum about the Strongs and their work, particularly in relation to Frederic Slater, a 1930s interpreter of Aboriginal rock art. Its forced me to polish up the Slater material and post it, but before that I need to complete an entry on the Strongs relating to the supposed discovery of an Egyptian stone tablet in Penrith, western Sydney, that appeared before Christmas 2014.
Its a nice little self-contained story, but the important thing is that you won’t find much of it online anymore. A lot of it seems to have been deliberately deleted. Steve Strong often throws accusations of censorship at those he doesn’t like, painting academia and professional archaeology of doing it, to hide their incompetence and to protect their reputations. But I think this incident throws some clear light on what Steve Strong’s position on suppression of information actually is, especially that which makes him look incompetent.
In keeping with the recent Secret Visitors Project theme of examining supposed ancient Egyptian artefacts found in Australia, and finding none that can withstand even modest scrutiny, I am pleased to bring you a supposed Egyptian stone tablet found on the outskirts of Sydney and promoted by Steven and Evan Strong, best known for their Kariong carry-ons. The Strongs say that this find – a smashed tablet or stela covered in Egyptian writing – is authentically ancient, and a treaty between Australia’s indigenous people and the pharaohs of Egypt. I say it’s a modern replica of a well-known museum specimen, currently on display in Vienna, Austria [no, not a typo – Austria, in Europe].
If that’s true how do they get it so wrong? We can answer that as we follow the story below.
It has been instructive to watch the story of the Penrith stela discovery unfold. In early October 2014 the Strongs posted a story that a smashed Egyptian tablet had been discovered. Their initial reports said it came from Parramatta, but later that was changed to Mulgoa, on the western margin of Sydney. It was brought to their attention by ‘Tracey’, who said it came out of an early colonial building in the 1980s. An Egyptian artefact like that could only support their case that the Kariong engravings were authentic, and other claims they have made over the past few years.
The tablet [actually a stela, essentially a tombstone] as it came to them was in several pieces of a hard composite material, inscribed on one side. It can be reassembled in the form of a squat rectangle, pierced centrally to portray a large ankh. Around it three figures are carved in recesses and the remainder of the space is covered in neat, precise hieroglyph script [see pics below]. It is also covered in hieroglyphs, which you would expect to provide a fairly definitive account of its purpose and age.
The first article [8 October – Wake up World] spent a lot of time talking about the apathy of the authorities to the Strongs’ previous finds. Aiming to drum up some publicity for a public talk, they called the Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, Australian Museum and others. ‘Admittedly, we already knew before making the first phone call that trying to engage the mainstream was a fruitless, mind-numbing venture. We’ve been down that vortex of ignorance before’. As expected all they got was ‘their trademark lack of enthusiasm and/or understanding of the bigger picture’. According to the Strongs this only shows
… the culture of intellectual impotence and denial that dominates government institutions (and those they fund) while further validating our belief that what we’re dealing with is beyond the comprehension of mainstream thinking.
At this time they became aware of the Egyptian tablet, and produced it to show there was evidence in support of their position. But, again, ‘icy winds of conformity and narrow academic focus were firmly a-blowin’ down the corridors of those decision-making cartels’, ignoring the evidence and suppressing discussion. But the apathy is only for show, Strong concludes, it:
… is actually a mask for the feeling of ‘shit scared’ that must currently be running down the spine of institutional government in Australia. This artefact that has the potential to literally rewrite entire chapters of ancient Australian and global prehistory, and to prove (once again) that the British were not the first to colonize the Australian continent nor did they behave lawfully in doing so – an outcome we are sure our friends from the commonwealth would prefer to avoid. [Steve Strong 8 Oct 2014]
According to the Strongs, after Tracey discovered the tablet she tried to interest the authorities in it. They either dismissed it out of hand or asked for it to be handed over. One thing that Tracey noted was that the tablet, shattered into a number of pieces, was not made of stone but a sort of pudding of stone chips in cement.
Further posts on 10 and 12 October 2014 offered additional information on the find. The find location was revised from Parramatta to Mulgoa, near Penrith, on land owned in the early 19th century by Sir John Jamison. His mansion, ‘Regentville’, was a landmark for travellers along the Great Western Road [Connah 1986]. In the 1980s the tablet was found in a property off Mulgoa Road, apparently wedged into the cavity wall of an outbuilding being demolished. A number of worker houses, factory and stables associated with Jamison’s Regentville had survived quite late, so it may even have been one of them.
The big surprise came in the entry on October 10th. Steve Strong revealed that
we received numerous pleas and even aggressive demands from within the research community to take down the article [presumably the 8 Oct one in Wake Up World – DG]. An image of a replica of the same tablet was shown as ‘damning evidence’ of our haste and sloppy research. The photograph of a commercial replica for sale was most certainly of the same format and content as the tablet we are now investigating. The ‘original’ tablet on which the replica was based is dated at 1800 Bc, from the Twelfth Egyptian Dynasty [Steve Strong, Wake up World 10 October]
And what he is referring to is a stela currently in a museum in Vienna, Austria, and it does look the same, right down to cracks and chips on the edges! Compare the Penrith stela [Figure 1 – left] and the one from Vienna [Figure 2 – right]. Unfortunately Strong doesn’t provide one decent photo of his find to show off his marvellous discovery.
And how did Steve Strong explain this? Well, largely through bluster and a vague assertion that his stela must be real. The best he could offer was that if the Penrith stela was real and was a really important document, then maybe a copy would have been made of it and taken back to Egypt, and then ended up in Vienna thousands of years later.
The guff about its find context got no more correct with the change from Parramatta to Penrith – a mish-mash of incorrect statements about the history of these two areas which Strong lacks the knowledge to challenge. All he can say is that he trusts ‘Tracey’ impeccably.
But surely the big news is that there is already a copy of one of these in a museum in Vienna, and you can buy replicas of it. And he knew that by the day after he breathlessly announced the find. What do we already know then of this object, or at least the version in Vienna?
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Stela of Senebef and Ipta
The Vienna stela was examined by two archaeologists and their findings published. In other words their findings were not censored at all, but put out there so that others could test and check their conclusions. They found that the stela dates from the 12th dynasty, which stretches from about 1990-1800 BC. The one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is carved from limestone and measures 45.5 cm high, 35.0 cm broad and 7.0 cm thick, which is pretty small given the quality and detail of the carvings. Its museum accession number is AS 109, and is known as the Stela of Senebef and Ipta, after two of the named figures. It came from Abydos and was purchased in Egypt for the Museum in 1821 [Hein and Satzinger 1993]. That means it was in a museum before the building in which its copy was found in Penrith was probably even built.
The stela contains three rectangular recesses with representations of mummies, around a central large recess that contains a large ankh symbol. These are Senebef, the Chamberlain or chief servant, in the left recess and Ipta on the right. This is a particularly elaborate version of a funeral stela. These sorts of stela are believed to be placed in tombs as commemorative plaques, honouring the deceased and often naming those who contributed to ensuring that burial rites were observed. Most stelae of this period are not as elaborately carved as this one, its pierced central ankh sets it apart as an important example of decorative art in this period.
Hein and Satzinger translated the inscriptions into German. The locations of the lines and directions the texts are read are shown in Figure 3. Their translation is a minimalist one, and does not turn the text into modern prose, and Egyptian names remain unchanged. I have run it through Google Translate to provide a rough but serviceable rendition. Words in italics are names or untranslated Egyptian terms [they do not include vowel symbols].
 MRJ, the Mmj has made.
 The Chamberlain Senebef has made the MRJ
 Ipta the Snbj has made.
 An offering which the king gives to Osiris, God quantities, a funerary offering of bread and beer, meat and poultry, linen and alabaster for the Ka of Ipta, the Snbj ge-making.
 opening of this Chamberlain Senebef, face so he could see the Lord of the horizon when he
 over ride the sky; he sits in front of the two sanctuaries of the horizon; give your arm to revitalize the rich Osiris
 Hr-nht has made kmh tws has the justified and the nh made kmhtw
 an offering which the king gives Wepwawet, the Lord of TJ-dsr, a funerary offering of bread and beer, meat and poultry for the Ka of the Chamberlain, has made the MRJ.
 Ipta, has made Senebef, the Lord of Worthiness.
 Hnmw, the Szent-HTHR [??]
 A funerary offering of bread and beer, meat and poultry, alabaster and slate
 The presents from his Lord truly beloved, and be [?????] favourite, the servants of God with pure fingers, the Chamberlain, the board of God’s field, the
 the food on the sacrificial altars; [??] of the calls for food, the Chamberlain Senebef.
 he says: I have had this stele made for me by being transfigured [and suitable] and by their place on the terrace of the Great God, the Lord of life , the First of Abydos
 in the area of Nbt htpwt so I [?????] the incense, which comes forth, and I was provided with the fragrance of God.
Despite the untranslated names and clunky phrasing it is clear, here are offerings for the dead Chamberlain / chief servant Senebef to help him make his way into the after life.
What do the Strongs make of it? They say it is an important document, like a treaty between nations, in fact. Despite saying they will refer it to Egyptologists that they trust the Strongs pull out the late Ray Johnston’s self-penned dictionary of what he calls proto-Egyptian, referring to an Egyptian language about 1200 years earlier and begin to stumble through a translation, one character at a time. And how does the treaty theory match with the translation? Their ‘crude but bold, 101 reading’ of the hieroglyphs is embarrassing, and does not suggest that the Strongs understand the nature of hieroglyphs.
- From the translation – any mention of Egypt, a ruling pharaoh or someone in charge at all who can enter a treaty? Nope.
- Any mention of a treaty, deal, arrangement, “if you do X, then we will do Y” type statements or anything treatyish in the least? Not as such.
- Any mention of anything resembling Australia? What could we expect? ‘Greetings, People of the Land of jumpy dog head things?’ or ‘Pocket Animal Island of the Sunrise’. Nah, nothing like that. Just old Senebef and Ipta trying to make sure their way into the afterlife has good catering.
Following their bizarre fantasy theory that it is a treaty, the Strongs say its no surprise that copies were made of it – one now in the Kunst Historisches Museum in Vienna, Austria and the other in Australia. But we are not talking about two copies of the same document – the Penrith tablet is an EXACT copy of the original in Vienna, down to every ding and divot received during its life apart from the final shattering of the Penrith one into pieces. This would have been immediately obvious if the Strongs had provided a single clear photo, something that is noticeably lacking for this amazing find.
The Strongs make much of the ‘mysterious’ plaster aggregate, mixed with quartz chips visible where it has shattered. ‘Without doubt the ancient Egyptians were the masters of concrete and composite mixtures …’ They call it ‘an unusual plaster-like substance’ and want to get it analysed. What they’ll find is that it is called artificial stone or cast stone, and has been around in various forms since the 18th century. That’s AD, not BC, and it has been used as a media for casting copies of statues and artefacts for a couple of hundred years [UKCSA 2009].
The Penrith stela is not just a copy, but a cast – it was made directly from the one in the Vienna museum as can be seen in the side-by-side comparison. We can match it point for point, scuff for scuff, ding for ding. The Vienna stela was the original, able to be traced back to Egypt and the one in Australia was made using a mould and modern casting compound, and can be traced, in one version to the back of a ute and . When did this take place? Some time after composite stone began to be used for museum replicas, perhaps in the 1950s. All the older casts that I have seen of things this size are just made from plaster.
The last real statement on the Penrith stela came on 16 October 2014, still only a week after it was announced. The Strongs remain convinced of its authenticity, but begin to give themselves loopholes as only being amateurs, not scientists.
Withholding evidence and suppression of the truth
That is all we have to date, a frenzied week of posting on the internet, a broken stela from Penrith and one in Vienna, which has been there since 1821.
In writing this I was hampered because the Wake Up World posts of October were deliberately deleted. The links from the Strong’s Forgotten Origin site were dead and led to nothing. Until they were reposted on the Strong’s own site sometime in the past few months I had to rely on other sites that copied the posts. This incidentally gives some insight into the range of people who think that what the Strongs write is worth repeating, and its not just hippies and new agers. The Local Terror [www.local terror.com] website is a shocker of anti-Semitism and brainless vilification. The Strongs must squirm to know that that is the one place that holds up their work as a triumph of scholarship.
The first post was on 8 October, and within a few days the Strongs knew about the stela in the Austrian museum. What did they do? Link to a picture of it to show just how alike they were? Maybe the Museum had already translated theirs? They do that sort of thing, in between conspiracies. I sent an email to the Curator of the Egyptian collection and got a copy of a detailed monograph studying the stela back within a day [Hein and Satzinger 1993]. You can use the excuse that you are amateurs to imply that you won’t get such favours, but you can also use to mask the fact that you don’t want to know, because you will run into facts that conflict with the exhilarating fact-free journey you have been travelling. And that is what the Strongs do, every time. They come up with an outlandish idea, shout ‘These are the undeniable facts’ and call anyone who disagrees with them liars, conspirators or suppressors of the truth, but they very carefully give themselves an out when they are shown to be wrong – ‘oh, we’re just amateurs …’
I nthe same way they accuse others, the Strongs suppressed relevant information – there was not a single link or reference back to the viennese original which they knew about from the second day. It was an inconvenient truth for them, which they tried to cover over with talk about a treaty and completely ridiculous D-I-Y hieroglyph translation. And this was compounded in this case by the deliberate removal of the Wake Up World posts for about 4 months – until at least February this year when they were reposted on Forgotten Origins.
Lets give the Strongs the benefit of a doubt they never give to academics or professional archaeologists. Lets say that they were victims of a computer error.
Lets conclude with some facts
The Penrith stela is a moulded copy of an original carved limestone stela in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. The material from which it is made is a modern casting compound. This makes it less than fifty years old, at the most. It is probably a commercial copy, made for general sale.
The Penrith stela does not record a treaty between Australia and Egypt. It records the usual votive sayings of an Egyptian funeral stela of the 12 Dynasty. We would not read ‘Rest In Peace’ on a modern headstone as an invitation to make an international peace treaty.
If this is correct, then how did it get into the wall cavity of an old early colonial farmhouse [or back of a ute]? Well, we only have a hearsay account about how it was found and the details have been inconsistent. By coincidence I worked on Sir John Jamison’s Regentville a number of times from the mid 1980s, to the early 2000s. The detail of the accounts given by Tracey do not fit well at all with my memories of the area.
The Strongs use the discovery of this alleged artefact to push one of their favourite themes, which is that all institutional arms of government, academia and the media are likely to be aware of the tablet’s significance, but are ignoring it in the hope that it, and the amazing historical revelations it demonstrates will go away. I think a more realistic version of the events is that everyone is ignoring Steve and Evan Strong, finding what they put up as serious evidence to revolutionise Australian history is extremely embarrassing, and quietly trying to back away from it.
We might even ask why so many of the original posts were deleted. It can’t be because the Strongs have changed their mind about the object. It continues to appear on a list of what they consider to be the most telling proofs for Egyptian presence in Australia, as recently as 19 November.
A spectacular Egyptian Tablet with close to 300 hieroglyphs, it has a carving of a three dimensional ankh that takes centre stage, three sarcophagi and Isis and Osiris seated. There is another Egyptian tablet, the Stela of Senebef which is seemingly identical. It is claimed to be a funerary dedication, we are not as convinced and believe both tablets, the one stored in Vienna and the other in Australia commemorate a formal agreement consenting to Egyptian presence in Australia. There is also very strong evidence that this tablet was seen and hidden within the first decade of the British Invasion. [Steve Strong, Forgotten origin 19 November]
But lets, as Steve Strong would say, take the big picture. An Egyptian-looking artefact is discovered somewhere in Sydney. It is broken so it is easy to see that it is not stone, but made of a composite. Within a day of announcing it you are told, with relevant links, that it is a duplicate of a museum specimen, and that copies are on sale in the museum shop. Ignoring these, you persist in your belief. All further posts push the story that it is an original ancient artefact, and somehow has been in Australia for nearly 4,000 years. Posted comments that point to evidence of it being a modern copy mysteriously disappear overnight, only to re-appear some four months later. As there never was a single link to the Vienna museum, all that is left is the object and articles that push the original ancient artefact line.
I would ask Steve Strong whether this disregard for evidence and apparent deliberate suppression of facts meets his expectations ‘to start behaving like curious, inquisitive researchers – like scientists.’? [8 Oct]. Further I would ask whether he is comfortable copping the same sorts of language he uses on others in this situation – ‘disinterest, disdain’, ‘culture of intellectual impotence and denial’ or ‘shameful and embarrassing’. All of them fit you, not just for this artefact but for so much of what you have brought forward.
The real point is that the Strongs and other pseudoarchaeologists make great capital from the idea that academics, the government and media all work together to protect the status quo, by hiding or denying the existence of evidence that he and other maverick researchers continually find. Steve Strong used the discovery of the stela, and the seeming lack of interest by these groups as proof that something was seriously lacking in their credibility.
Promoting your completely unsupported version of the Aboriginal past means doing exactly what you accuse others of – ignoring the evidence, and perhaps worse, replacing two centuries of institutionalised disregard for Aboriginal people with an equally outrageous fantasy story that rips off their history and humanity, in a completely new way.
Reportage by the Strongs
The first public announcement came on 8 October 2014, with a teaser on the Strong’s Forgotten Origin website [www.forgottenorigin.com], pointing to a longer article on the affiliated Wake Up World site [www.wakeup-world.com]. That first article ‘Ancient Egyptians in Australia – the final verdict moulded into stone’ is, for some reason, no longer hosted there, but is still available on a few pick-up sites. This first one was followed with another three lengthy articles, all affirming the authenticity of the tablet. The full chain of posts is:
By Evan Strong. This is a short teaser only. It links to the Wake Up World version, which is now a dead link.
Dead link – no sign that the article was ever posted on Wake Up World.
Replaces the dead link on Wake up World. Put up in Feb 2015.
By Steven and Evan Strong. Complete reposting of the Wake Up World article, made before it was removed from the main site.
As before this is a teaser linking to the Wake Up World article.
10 October 2014 – http://wakeup-world.com/2014/10/10/the-egyptian-stone-tablet-is-it-fake/
Another dead link – again no sign it was ever posted.
10 October 2014 – http://galacticconnection.com/egyptian-stone-tablet-fake/
Fortunately, someone did repost the Wake up World article before it was removed.
By Evan Strong. This offers a ‘crude but bold 101 reading of the hieroglyphs’, and canvasses its implications for suppressing knowledge in colonial Australia.
16 October 2014 – http://forgottenorigin.com/the-big-picture
By Evan Strong. Most recent statement on the Penrith stela to date.
10 November 2014 – http://forgottenorigin.com/the-top-30-article
Connah, G. 1986
‘Historical reality: archaeological reality. Excavations at Regentville, Penrith, New South Wales, 1985’, Australasian Historical Archaeology, 4, pp. 29-42.
Hein, Irmgard and H. Satzinger 1993
Stelen des mittleren reiches II: Einschliesslich der I und II Zwischenzeit, Corpus Antiquitatum Aegyptiacarum, Kunsthistoorisches Museum, Vienna, Lieferung 7.
[UKCSA] United Kingdom Cast Stone Association 2009
‘History of cast stone’, United Kingdom Cast Stone Association. Accessible here.
Dr Regina Holzl, Director – Egyptian-Oriental Collection, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Images – given that comparison of the detailed condition of the two stelae is important the reproduction of the images is undertaken in accordance with the fair dealing provision of the Australian Copyright Act, as a critique of published ideas.