Redating and relocalising a tombstone from Wikipedia

Update to this post: Jamila’s gravestone: update

On WikiCommons there is the picture of a gravestone.
It is written in a beautifully decorated kufic script. It is not that Fatimid type of kufic where the foliation/floriation is so overwhelming that you can barely read what’s written, and it is not that early kufic that has hardly any decoration. The inscription is embellished and highlighted with a vivid red pigment.

I like it, so I want to know more…

Wikipedia and the information I have

Wikipedia is usually a source of valuable information. Yet, when it comes to this slab, I am afraid we must admit that some work should be done.

In the file page it is written that the funerary stele comes from Djemila, Algeria, and is dated 1308. It also informs that the slab is now kept in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.

Funerary_stele_CdM_Inv57-42 (1)

Gravestone found on WikiCommons (courtesy of WikiCommons)

I started to gather information on the object. After having spent hours browsing the collections of the Cabinet, of the National Library of Paris and related institutions, I could not find anything about the slab, not even the slab. Being stubborn by nature, some weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to the Cabinet, asking if they had some information: no reply.

Ok, by now I only have a picture on WikiCommons. What information can I get from the object itself?

Time to read the inscriptions…

What’s written in it?

The gravestone has two inscriptions: the longer and informative one is in the central part. There is also an outer frame, inscribed in a cursive script, somewhat poor, if I may, which by now I’ve not been able to read properly.

The central inscription consists of 10 lines:

“بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
صلى الله على محمد كل نفس
ذائقة الموت وإنما توفون
أجوركم يوم القيامة فمن
زحزح عن النار وأدخل الجنة
فقد فاز وما الحياة الدنيا إلا
متاع الغرور هذا قبر جميلة
بنت عبد الرحيم ابي علي الكرسي توفيت
العشر الاحد من ذو الحجة ثمان وثلا
ثين وخمسمائة”

“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. [basmala] –
May God bless Muhammad [pious utterance] – Every soul
will taste death, and you will be given
your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who
is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise
has attained [his desire]. And what is life except
the enjoyment of delusion. [Q 3: 185] – This is the grave of Jamila
bint [daughter of] ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn ‘Ali al-Kursi (?). She died
on the 11 of Dhu’l-Hijja, in the year
538 [Jun 22nd, 1144]”

Just after reading I started to notice something strange.

The date: in which calendar?

WikiCommons dates the object to “1308”, without specifying whether the date is c.e. or hijra. Anyway I think it is pretty clear that it should be c.e..

I read 538 a.h., thus 1144 c.e. (and after having checked and re-checked I’m pretty sure I read what’s actually written).
With a calendar converter I tried to figure out whether in another calendar 538 equals 1308, but it does not.

I cannot imagine that the Cabinet des Medailles (if the slab is there) has made such a mistake. Maybe the guys who took the picture of the slab misinterpreted the date written. 538 and 1308 have two digits in common…maybe it was badly written, and badly read.

The place: Djemila the village or Djemila the girl?

Shifting from the date to the names, I was quite surprised to notice that the deceased woman had the same name of the city where the slab is said to have been found: Jamila (also written Djemila).

Jamila, meaning ‘beautiful’ is a nice name for a girl, and of course it is and has been used in Arabic-speaking country.

Djemila-the-place is an ancient Roman settlement in Algeria. It was inhabited between the 1st and the 6th century c.e. and then re-discovered at the beginning of the 20th.

Djémila © UNESCO

Djémila © UNESCO

As the tombstone is dated to the 12th, it does not make sense. How could someone possibly have died or have been buried there when the city was not inhabited?

1024px-Djemila_110

Artefacts from Djémila (courtesy of WikiCommons)

Also, if you try to understand which kind of objects were excavated in Djemila, it is quite patent that the kufic slab is out of context.

Is Jamila the name of the deceased only or is it also the name of the place where the gravestone was discovered? Well, I would say it is only the name of the poor deceased.

Corrections

To my point of view both the date and the place of origin are wrong.

As for the date I am able to propose the correction (through reading the inscription), but as for the place, it is more difficult.

On a calligraphic point of view it is quite easy to state that the tombstone comes from the North Africa influenced by the Fatimid style. But it is impossible, by now, to add something more detailed. Actually it can be presumed that the slab could also come from ‘far away’ provinces, as the style is not that different from slabs from Southern Italy.

Since I cannot better define the place of origin and the place where it is kept, I will say, by now, that it comes from Wikipedia and is kept in Wikipedia.

Post Scriptum
Wikimedia is a wonderful project, no doubt. I am also proud to say that I contributed with a donation: I believe in OpenAccess and I believe in the importance of the related projects. Actually, many of the pictures I use in my blog are from WikiCommons.
With this post I do not want to criticise the project, but to correct a little mistake 🙂


Sources

Wikimedia Commons, “Kufic funerary inscription from Djémila (Cdm Inv 57-42)”
[http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Kufic_funerary_inscription_from_Dj%C3%A9mila_(Cdm_Inv_57-42)?uselang=it] (accessed Nov 11th, 2014)

UNESCO, “Djémila” [http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/191] (accessed Nov 10th, 2014).

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10 thoughts on “Redating and relocalising a tombstone from Wikipedia

    • Thank you for your comment! I am really happy that you appreciate it!
      And thank you for your suggestion: ‘Abd al-Rahman makes much more sense also! Sometimes I read/write too quickly and misreading is the result!

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  1. Hi Giulia,

    I was just wondering whether you would have the time to provide a transliteration of the Kufic as well – I’m just starting out in this sort of thing and am getting a bit stuck after what I think must be ‘kull nafs’

    Great website by the way

    James

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  2. Pingback: Jamila’s gravestone – update | SquareKufic

    • I have tried to get in touch with BNF, but they haven’t replyed yet. I will try again in the future.
      As for WikiCommons I think I will, but I am not sure I can, as I would have to modify the description of an uploaded file…in the week-end I can try!
      I think I should 🙂

      Like

  3. Thanks for this. Fascinating! One small query: Your transliteration has عبد الرحيم ابي علي but the translation reads have ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn ‘Ali. Should it be ‘Abd al-Raheem Abi ‘Ali?

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    • Make sense to have more consistency in the transliteration and translation…I think I revised the reading some times before publishing it in the post…and probably I forgot to make the right adjustments in some parts 🙂 I will need to work some more on that… thank you for the precious point!

      Like

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