Artifact Spotlight–Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus Panel

This original panel from an Egyptian Sarcophagus is from about 1070-714 B.C..  It is made from wood, plaster, and paint.  This artifact is one of Special Collections’ most fragile pieces: although we frequently bring it out for classes, it usually remains in the box and is not allowed to be touched.


The inscriptions on sarcophagi were believed to help the deceased as they journeyed through the afterlife.  They were painted on a thin layer of plaster which covered the cedar skeleton of the coffin.  Because Egypt is a desert, it is believed that the cedar used in this sarcophagus came from Lebanon.

The colors of this panel have faded with time.  The panel was once bright yellow and red.  The crudeness of the illustrations suggest that they were painted by an amateur or an apprentice.

Our Panel:

This particular panel has a common scene from Egyptian religious rites.  Two mummified males are depicted with the traditional red hair ribbons and false beards.  They face the left of the panel, and a woman is depicted kneeling before them.  She is very faded, but we can still see a raised arm, the outline of a face, and dark hair.  The first male figure extends a staff with the ankh (sign of life) on top of it.

In between the two males is the hide of a spotted cow tied to a pole.  This pole, known as the “Anubis Pole,” is signifying the god of embalming.  The far right of the panel depicts the djed pillar, associated with the god of the dead.  A striped cloth banner hangs from the pillar.  This was considered necessary to help human flesh become the spiritual form required in eternity.

Above the heads of the three figures are hieroglyphs.  These are a portion of the standard texts promising a happy afterlife.  The very top has a row of cobra heads and maat feathers, which symbolize the sun’s path through the sky (Goodstein).


Goodstein, Mark. “Collecting Antiques, Fine Art & Decorative Art: Trocadero Online Mall.” N.p., 2016. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.



Artifact Spotlight–Palm Leaf Manuscript

Tamil Palm Leaf Horoscope Manuscript

This original Tamil manuscript from India is estimated to be over 100 years old.   It is written on palm leaves and was purchased for the university in 2004.

Tamil Language:

The Tamil language is a Dravidian language spoken mainly in India, and is the official language of India’s Tamil Nadu state and territory of Puducherry, otherwise known as Pondicherry.  It is also spoken in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, and South Africa.  The language has been recognized for its ancient origin, independent tradition, and considerable amount of ancient literature.  There are approximately 66 million Tamil speakers in the world today (Krishnamurti).

Processing the Palm Leaf:

Manuscripts such as this one were made from palm leafs.  In order to prepare the leafs to be written on, the ripe leaf would be cut from the tree and dried in the sun until there was no moisture left.  It would then be boiled, and the leaf’s ribs would be removed.  The separated leaves would then be cut and put into bundles according to their size.  A hole would be cut in the end of the bundle, and a cord would be put through the hole to keep the leaves together (Samuel).

Scribes and Preservation:

These manuscripts are not made to last for a long time.  Even when properly cared for, they generally do not last more than 300-400 years.  Most of the palm leaf manuscripts today are copies of the originals, with the original words being copied onto new leaves (Samuel).


Palm leaf manuscripts contain everything from poetry, astrology, art, medicine, folklore, and architecture.  Most of the remaining manuscripts tell of traditional science and folk literature (Samuel).


Krishnamurti, Bhadrirjau. “Tamil Language.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 25 July 2011. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Samuel, J. G. “Preservation of Palm-leaf Manuscripts in Tamil.” IFLA Journal 20.3 (1994): 294-305. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Artifact Spotlight–Royal Storage Jar Handle

Royal Storage Jar Handle

This jar handle is from the age of King Hezekiah of Judah–about 725-698 BC.  It is made of Terracotta and is an original from Hebron, a city of Judah.  It has been a part of our collection since 2011.

jar-handleIn the center of the seal impression is a winged sun disc, the symbol of the Judean king. Above is stamped with the inscription, “Belonging to the King—Hebron.” Below are the letters (right to left) NRBH, indicating it was made for Hebron. More than 500 example of such handles have been found throughout Judah, suggesting that Hebron was a royal administrative and distribution center.


In 701 BC, near the end of the reign of Hezekiah, Judah as attacked by Sennacherib, King of Assyria. In preparation, large jars were filled with wine and olive oil. On Sennacherib’s Prism, a stele cataloging the battle during his campaign on Judah, it is boasted that the Assyrian troops destroyed forty-six of Judah’s cities. The siege on Jerusalem is mentioned, but it is not said to have been destroyed. Biblical accounts in Isaiah, Second Kings, and Chronicles corroborate this. Under siege, the Assyrian troops surrounded Jerusalem’s city walls. In 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah offers tribute to Sennacherib in exchange for Assyrian withdrawal. The Assyrian king agreed and Hezekiah gave him three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah had to empty the temple and take the gold from the doors and pillars to make such a large bribe. The Assyrian king did not keep his word and continued to lay siege on the city.

In 2 Kings 19, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that Sennacherib would fall and the city of Jerusalem would be safe from destruction. In the night, an angel slayed 185,000 Assyrians, making the city safe once more. Modern historians believe that the Assyrian troops may have been taken by disease, possibly cholera. Others suggest that the siege was so long and supplies were scarce so the troops retreated.

Although Sennacherib did not capture Jerusalem, he did capture Hebron. Over 200,000 Judeans were deported to Mesopotamia to work as slaves.


Malamat, Abraham, and Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson. A History of the Jewish People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1976. Print.

This Day in Idaho History

The US Territory of Idaho was created on March 3, 1863.  This territory, named after a ubiquitous Indian word supposedly meaning “gem of the mountains” or “sunrise,” lasted for 27 years before becoming a state on July 3, 1890.  Idaho Territory originally included parts of modern-day Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.  Although Idaho is now best known for its potatoes, the territory was originally a mining territory on the way to Oregon.

The Idaho Teton Mountains.  Image credit

Things we love about Idaho:

Information for this post was taken from this website.

Open House!

BYU-Idaho Special Collections and Archives will be hosting an open house entitled “The History of Writing” on March 1, 2017 from 2-4 pm.  We invite all to come and see how writing has evolved through the ages with rare items like a Roman Diploma, Egyptian Papyrus, and a Tibetan Block Book.vaultbook_layout_01

Fun facts:
*Wax tablets used to be used in Rome for temporary documents
*The Chinese invented printing
*Doubled documents helped prove authenticity
*One Bible could take as many as 200 sheep to make

Each semester, SPC hosts an open house to increase students’ awareness of the resources the university has available.  This semester we have chosen to center our open house around the history of writing because of the many artifacts we have dealing with this topic.  One of the popular classes that SPC hosts each semester is also about the history of writing.  This is a wonderful opportunity to come and learn the information and see the artifacts if you missed the class!

BYU-Idaho History

On Tuesday, February 7, history was made at BYU-Idaho.  On this date, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the creation of a new world-wide online university, known as Brigham Young University Pathway Worldwide (BYUPW).  This organization will serve students across the world to reach their higher education goals.

The Gilbert family with President Uchtdorf and Elder Oaks. Image Credit

This announcement affected BYU-Idaho in a very personal way.  President Clark G. Gilbert, the current president of BYU-Idaho, was named as the president of BYUPW.  President Gilbert and his family have served BYU-Idaho for nearly two years.  He and his family have become a beloved part of the university, and they will be missed as they move to fulfill this new call.

After the announcement of BYUPW and President Gilbert’s new position, another historic announcement was made at the weekly devotional.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Elder Kim B. Clark, former president of BYU-Idaho and current member of the Quorum of the Seventy came to speak to the students and announced the new president of the university.  Henry J. Eyring, current Academic Vice President of BYU-Idaho, will assume responsibility as president of the university beginning in the Spring semester.  President Eyring and his family have served the university for many years and we are excited to be under his leadership.


Henry J. Eyring will be the 17th president of BYU-Idaho. Image Credit

After the announcement of the new president was made, Elder Oaks, who conducted the devotional, allowed President Eyring, President Gilbert, and Elder Clark time to speak before he addressed the students.  President Eyring spoke about the creation of BYUPW and thanked President Gilbert for his service.  President Gilbert told us how much he and his family love BYU-Idaho and “hopes we have enough Rexburg in all of us.”  He spoke about how he and his family–and hopefully each of us–rise up and do hard things when they are asked.  He said that, “Above all, I want you to know that we have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”  Elder Clark then told us that he felt impressed to bear witness of Christ and that His hand is in the events of the day.  He told us how the Lord has been preparing President Eyring for this call–and that He has also been preparing each of us.  He told us that we are at this university so that our commitment to serve Christ and become like Him will grow stronger.

BYUI Eyring

Elder Oaks addressed students at BYU-Idaho. Image source

After the three presidents of the university spoke, Elder Oaks took a few minutes to address the students.  He told us that we live in hard times right now, but that the Saints have always lived in hard times.  He told us that the answer is the same as it has always been: to follow Christ, for the power of the Lord can overcome the world.  He told us to trust in God and His promises and to hold fast to hope.  He bore his testimony that Christ makes all things possible.

We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to hear from such inspired men and to have witnessed BYU-Idaho history being made.  We appreciate President Gilbert’s service and will miss him dearly, but are excited to get to know President Eyring.

Thank you, President and Sister Gilbert, for your service. Image source

More information about the creation of BYU Pathway Worldwide can be found here.

A transcription of this devotional will soon be available online.

Why Special Collections and Archives?

“I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself.  Write them down.”   One question that is commonly asked about Special Collections is, “Why do you keep the things you do?”  Our answer is simple: to keep a record.

In 1842, the LDS belief of baptism for the dead was still a new doctrine.  The practice was disorganized as no one was recording the names that had been baptized.  In Doctrine and Covenants 127:9, the Lord states, “And again, let all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation.”  Recording the names of those who had been baptized helped to prevent confusion and even unnecessary work.

The Nephites in the Book of Mormon also knew the importance of records.  Nephi and his brothers were commanded to take a record of the Jews with them into the wilderness.  “Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.”  Here, Nephi explains that we won’t remember God’s laws unless we have a record of them.  This is one of the most important reasons for record keeping–to remember.

President Henry B. Eyring of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and a former president of Ricks College) has explained another reason for record keeping.  “I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family… And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.”   President Eyring wrote down the spiritual experiences that his family had each day for years and then made a copy of this journal for each of his children.  And, just as he predicted, his children did need the journal.  “The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, ‘Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …’ and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.”  His son, Henry J., said that, “Dad’s family journal,… has helped us feel as though we were telling stories around the dinner table each night.” The strength of those who came before us is something for us to lean on when life gets hard, and that’s another reason we feel that record keeping is important.

We don’t just keep records for religious reasons, though.  The IRS states that record keeping helps to “monitor the progress of your business.”  Medical records “can be of considerable clinical value in relation to the ongoing care of a patient.”  Many of the records kept at BYU-Idaho are historical records.  These records have been used in writing the history of the university and many research papers.

We hope that our collection will help us to never forget the past.  Here’s a few stories we hope Special Collections will help everyone remember:

  • Why did a former president of the school nailed desks to the gym floor in the middle of the night?
  • Why was Starr Wilkenson known as Bigfoot?
  • How did the school survive during World War 2?
  • Why did a recipient of the Medal of Honor mail his award back to the White House?

For the answers to these questions, please come in to Special Collections between 9-5 on Monday-Friday!