Jugglers depicted in Beni Hasan tomb — 4,000 years ago

The history of juggling goes way, way back. Case in point: the picture used in the header image is a depiction of hieroglyphs found in a tomb at an Ancient Egyptian cemetery site.

Jugglers on the wall of the 15th tomb at Beni Hasan in Egypt

A wall depicting jugglers, and others, in the 15th Tomb at Beni Hasan in Egypt (Percy Edward Newberry's "Beni Hasan")

The cemetery — called Beni Hasan (also Bani Hasan, or Beni-Hassan) — contains 150 tombs, and the image of the jugglers is found in what is known as the 15th tomb. The tomb dates back to around 4,000 years ago, between 1994 and 1781 B.C.

This is according to Billy Gillen’s piece on the subject in Juggler’s World, “Remember the Force Hassan!”

The jugglers appear in the third row, along with weavers, acrobats and people playing a ball game.

“The first juggler seems to be doing a two-ball multiplex (closer examination reveals the hands empty), the second apparently a three-ball cascade, and the third what seems to be an exaggerated Mills Mess without the third ball,” Mr. Gillen writes.

So whose tomb was it? Billy Gillen says the prince entombed there is unknown.

Baqt III

But according to “Beni Hasan: Archaelogical Survey of Egypt, Volume 2,” the 15th tomb belongs to Baqt III (also spelled as Baqet III). He is described as the “Governor of the Oryx Nome.”

beni hasan 15th tomb

Beni Hasan Tomb No. 15, Great Chief of the Oryx nome, Baqt III (Percy Edward Newberry's "Beni Hasan")

The book by Percy Edward Newberry, which dates back to 1893, includes a color detail of two people playing ball, who appear on the wall right next to the jugglers. Maybe this gives a sense as to what the jugglers would have looked like.

Acrobats playing ball in Beni Hasan tomb No. 15

Tomb No. 15: A Game of Ball (Percy Edward Newberry's "Beni Hasan")

Cups and Balls in the 15th Tomb?

Penn and Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour

Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour (2003)

Want to see the jugglers? Penn & Teller did. In the documentary “Magic and Mystery Tour” they visit the tomb.

cups and balls Ancient Egypt

Cups and Balls?

Mostly, they’re there to check out a hieroglyph in the same tomb that is said to be the earliest depiction of a magician performing the Cups and Balls. (They’re not convinced it’s a picture of a guy doing the classic magic effect. Neither is Bill Palmer. Mr. Palmer thinks the guy is a potter or baker.)

But Penn and Teller check out the jugglers, too.

Penn Jillette, who was a juggler before he became a magician, says in the documentary: “Jugglers always seem to arrive before magicians.”

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