L.S. Baker is the associate director of the Andrews University Press. He also studies the ancient texts of the Egyptians, capturing the hieroglyphs of millennia-old treaties. Don Campbell, Herald-Palladium staff
BERRIEN SPRINGS — Most days, L.S. Baker is the associate director of Andrews University Press, working with Bible commentaries and other manuscripts.
On other days, he’s studying the ancient texts of the Egyptians, capturing the hieroglyphs of millennia-old treaties.
His path to the profession started with a fascination with dinosaurs. As he grew older, he was drawn to human history and studied the field while in college.
Baker discussed his work as an archaeologist and epigraphist with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Juliana Knot, where he detailed piecing together treaties from broken stone walls and dispelled the myth that emojis are a modern-day form of the ancient script.
I went to school in the Philippines and undergrad. And whatever class I took, I had teachers tell me all the time, “Why don’t you become a statistician? Why don’t you become a scientist or whatever? An English teacher?”
And when I took the class in archaeology, the professor said the same thing to me. I wasn’t sure that archaeology as a career was even possible. And so, he said “Yeah, actually, it is possible.”
That’s the first time something kind of stirred in my heart that maybe this is something I’d like to do. Even today, I’d still like to find a way to get paid. Right now, you have to be a professor or work in a university to have some kind of a day job.
I work here at Andrews University Press, and we publish a new study Bible and a Bible commentary and other important works. My boss is very, very sympathetic and allows me, very kindly, to go off and do my passion, which is archaeology. But that’s kind of how it all started.
Of course, when you study archaeology, you study every ancient civilization. You know, you’re studying all of them. And I’m interested in all of them, of course.
But it’s only when I study Egypt, that I really can spend long hours, like get lost in time, really, because it fascinates me. I’m an artist. I was going to be a comic book artist at some point. And so, I guess that part of it also resonates with me, as well.
I enjoy the drawing of the hieroglyphs. I enjoy the drawing of the images and all different things and just the artistry of ancient Egypt. The scope of the imagination is quite large, and I get lost in it, where in the other fields, I can get bored after a while.
There’s only so much pottery I can take you know, before that’s the end.
The Hittite Treaty is the oldest international peace treaty. It was conducted between Ramesses the Great – almost everyone knows Ramesses the Great – and the Hittite king. They had this famous battle at Kadesh, where Ramesses claimed to have almost single-handedly defeated the Hittites. There’s a couple of different war scenes, where it shows the Hittites (attacking) the camp, and he’s there, and he’s going to destroy them all himself.
The fact that there is a peace treaty makes it clear that maybe it wasn’t quite as victorious as he wants everyone to think it was.
So, the peace treaty was between these two international powers. The Hittites were quite a major power at the time. And it allowed them to reconcile. Even the U.N. has a copy of the Hittites’ cuneiform tablet version. I think it’s displayed in the U.N. building because they recognize the importance of this first international peace treaty of significance between major world superpowers. That kind of acts as a model.
And the treaty itself, some envoys, some ambassadors have come from the Hittites with the peace treaty in cuneiform on silver tablets. They’re going to present to Ramesses, and then Ramesses is going to copy.
And so, some ancient scribe for Ramesses, maybe a team of them, is to going to have them translated into hieroglyphs and put it up on the wall at Carnak and a couple other places. But (Carnak is) the best version we have.
It basically says have peace and stop fighting. And also says, you’ll protect my descendants. My lineage will keep ruling, and you’ll defend them. If some slaves run away, you’ll send them back. We’ll give each other gifts – that sort of thing.
So it’s more than just peace, but it definitely involves peace, even though some scholars would argue about whether it’s really about peace. It definitely has to be peace.
I’m an epigraphist and artist. This year, my role was really to do the preliminary, preparatory work of trying to get familiar with the hieroglyphs that are actually on the wall. I’m part of a bigger project – the Great Hypostyle Hall project.
It’s actually directed by Peter Brand at the University of Memphis and Jean Reves ... It’s a joint project to record accurately for science all the hieroglyphs, all the inscriptions in the Great Hypostyle Hall, which is the most glorious part of the template of Amun. (It’s) the biggest and the most glorious part of the Temple of Carnak. This still exists.
In the process of doing this, recording all these accurately, we’re using photogrammetry – and eventually – maybe next year or so, we’ll take this photogrammetry of the images, which (we) are using a computer to help us get (the images) accurately, using light sensitivity and distancing.
Then we draw them, using computer programs like Photoshop or InDesign or whatever, and some other programs to actually line draw all the images, all the hieroglyphs. My role this year was just to get preliminarily familiar with the hieroglyphs, see what’s actually on the wall.
It’s been translated many times. It’s been interpreted many times. It has been transliterated. But even this year, I found a couple mistakes – things that we thought it said because it’s what we’re familiar with, but actually on the wall, it’s different. And that’s going to help us in other ways.
Yeah, the one that you’ve probably seen (are) the memes going around about emojis being the modern version of hieroglyphs. Emojis are useful, especially when you’re texting someone, and you can’t communicate emotion so it gives you that.
Emojis are fantastic, but hieroglyphs are an actual full language. It has all the grammar, all the bits that maybe you don’t like in school and struggle with. Well, it’s all there. All of it: prepositions, everything, everything else. Plus, hieroglyphs go beyond that.
Each hieroglyph letter (and) character could have either one sound or might have two sounds or three sounds. There are different hieroglyphs for each of those categories. And so you’re allowed to spell words in different ways.
So, imagine you’re writing on a stone wall. You kind of run out of space at some point, right? But you can re-spell, so to speak. The spelling of the word is the same, but the way you portray that with the hieroglyphs changes with how you stack them and the ones you choose to use, based on space.
When you have a little longer space, maybe you’ll use the single letter hieroglyphs. Can you shorten space? Maybe you’ll use the two or three sound hieroglyphs – kind of shortened a little bit, but it still is the same word. Knowing what they did and how they were able to expand and contract to give some possibilities.
Also, hieroglyphs have determinatives. So, like ... if I say “sea” to you, for example, you wouldn’t know if I’m talking about a body of water, or maybe something you do with the eyes or maybe a letter of the alphabet. But if I put a ripple of water after it, then you know that when I say “sea,” I mean a body of water. So that’s a determinative.
And hieroglyphs have that to help us understand what they mean by the certain homophones that are being used and other things. So that gives a little bit more meaning, a little more flexibility and more clarity even.
Juliana Knot, Herald-Palladium reporter
Published on Jan. 31, 2022 and reprinted with permission of the Herald-Palladium