A Revised Translation of the Tulli Transcription
By R. Cedric Leonard

It was only a few years ago that, while browsing through an out-of-state library, I came across a transcription of the famous Tulli Papyrus—the Egyptian text recording an event which allegedly occurred during the reign of Thutmose III of the 18th dynasty (circa. 1480 B.C.). After its original translation (de Rachewiltz, 1953), the transcript had been reproduced in several books; but until that day in the library, I had never seen a copy of the transcribed hieroglyphic text.

The original Egyptian papyrus, written in hieratic, was described in great detail by the Italian scholar and Egyptologist, Prince Boris de Rachewiltz, who claimed to have found the original Egyptian document, known today as the Tulli Papyrus, among the papers of the late Prof. Alberto Tulli. He stated that the original was "part of the Royal Annals of Thutmose III, 1504-1450 B.C." Portions of his description of the original Egyptian artifact are as follows:

"The transcription I send is from an original papyrus of the New Kingdom that I found among other papers and documents of the late Prof. Alberto Tulli, former director of the Egyptian Vatican Museum . . . the original is in very bad condition. The beginning and end are missing, its writing (in hieratic) is pale, and with several lacunae . . . Of the whole papyrus (cm. 20 x 18) I have chosen the best preserved and perhaps the most interesting part." (de Rachewiltz, 1953)

Upon translation the artifact revealed startling events: so startling in fact that few authorities accept the report as genuine. To make matters worse, it appears that the original has been mislocated after the deaths of its keepers, and remains lost at present. In an attempt to verify the existence of the original manuscript, Dr. Edward U. Condon (1968), head of a U.S. govenment sponsored committee to study UFOs, sent an inquiry to Dr. Walter Ramberg, Scientific Attache at the U.S. embassy in Rome. Ramberg replied:

". . . the current director of the Egyptian Section of the Vatican Museum, Dr. Nolli, said that Prof. Tulli had left all his belongings to a brother of his who was a priest in the Lateran Palace. Presumably the famous papyrus went to this priest. Unfortunately the priest died also in the meantime and his belongings were dispersed among heirs, who may have disposed of the papyrus as something of little value."

It should be noticed that upon receiving this enquiry, Vatican officials did not break out in laughter, but treated the request as if they were dealing with real facts. In their reply the artifact in question was referred to as "the famous papyrus" as if it were a real object and not a figment of someones imagination.* (Note, however, that mere existence is not a guarantee of authenticity.)

It should also be noticed that the location of the item "among the papers" of Prof. Tulli would indicate that it was never the property of the Vatican Museum, and that Prof. Tulli (or a close friend) had purchased it—presumably from an antiquities dealer, which often happens. We will get to that story shortly.

The New World Encyclopedia ("Ancient Egypt" article) includes the Tulli Papyrus in its list of ancient papyri, listing it as an "Egyptian Papyrus (dated 1400 BCE)". It is regrettable that the original artifact cannot be located. This indeed creates serious problems, since this precludes experts in paleography from examining the writing style, chemists from examining the ink, and any attempt at carbon-dating the papyrus itself. The absence of an original always raises the question of hoax (which thus remains a possibility).

The hieroglyphic transcription was relatively easy for me to translate. Since the earliest translations were made (vis., my own, and that of Rachewiltz), a German Egyptologist, has made an additional translation. The major difference between the latter translation and mine is the use of the sungod's name, "Re" where I had simply translated "sun". Also near the end, the Egyptologist has das Herz des Amun-Re ("the heart of Amun-Re") where I had "the heart of the gods". Differences between the three translations are minor.

I had requested permission from the librarian to make a zerox copy, which was granted. My hope at the time was that I might identify the Egyptian glyphs which had been translated "Fire Circles". However, once I had the opportunity to look at the transcription thoroughly, I realized that I could easily recognize much of the text; so I got out my Egyptian grammar books and hieroglyphic dictionaries and began the task of translating this transcription of the so-called Tulli Papyrus.

A transcription is simply a hand written copy of the original made by the translator from which the rough translation is to be made. Typically this is the first step taken before the labor of translation begins. Existing lacunae are duly noted, along with any other problems. Such a step saves wear and tear on the often fragile original document. To the right is the transcription I had located, allegedly made from the original Tulli Papyrus.

This is supposedly the origin of the transcription that I had before me. My next step was to re-copy the glyphs, spacing them to allow for the insertion of the English equivalents underneath (heiroglyphics are often "stacked," while English flows "horizontally"). This effort resulted in what might be termed an Interlinear Translation, which is displayed immediately below. To elliminate the roughness of the literal, further below I have provided a more readable "free translation" of the hieroglyphic text. Here is my Interlinear Translation:

An Interlinear Translation of the Tulli Papyrus Text

The glyphs translated "Circle of Fire" are aa-xet in Egyptian. I'm not doing an in-depth analysis of the Egyptian text at this point, but I think it is interesting that the glyph which has traditionally been translated "circle" is the normal glyph for "island" (Budge, 1966). In such instances a determinative for water is usually included. Two such examples can be found in Chaps. XXIV and LXXXVI of The Book of the Dead (Egyptian text; Budge, 1960).

But these particular islands are consistantly located by the text "in the sky"—which precludes any idea of these being ordinary islands! In any case, a solid disk seems to be indicated, as opposed to a mere "circle" with nothing in the center. This being the case, instead of "circle" I believe "disk" to be a preferable translation. Moreover, the Egyptian "fire" determinative is telling us that these are indeed Fiery Disks; therefore I have decided to revise my previous translation.

Although the manuscript was described as faint, damaged, and containing several lacunae, de Rachewiltz declared the papyrus to be "part of the Annals of Thutmose III" (de Rachewiltz, 1953). The following is my revised (2007) translation of the Tulli Transcription. It differs only slightly from Rachewiltz's translation.

In the year 22, of the third month of winter, sixth hour of the day [...] among the scribes of the House of Life it was found that a strange Fiery Disk was coming in the sky. It had no head. The breath of its mouth emitted a foul odor. Its body was one rod in length and one rod in width. It had no voice. It came toward His Majesty's house. Their heart became confused through it, and they fell upon their bellies. They [went] to the king, to report it. His Majesty [ordered that] the scrolls [located] in the House of Life be consulted. His Majesty meditated on all these events which were now going on.

After several days had passed, they became more numerous in the sky than ever. They shined in the sky more than the brightness of the sun, and extended to the limits of the four supports of heaven [...] Powerful was the position of the Fiery Disks.

The army of the King looked on, with His Majesty in their midst. It was after the evening meal when the Disks ascended even higher in the sky to the south. Fish and a variety of birds rained down from the sky: a marvel never before known since the foundation of the country. And His Majesty caused incense to be brought to appease the heart of Amun-Re, the god of the Two Lands. And it was [ordered] that the event [be recorded for] His Majesty in the annals of the House of Life [to be remembered] for ever."

It appears that Prof. Tulli had found the original papyrus back in 1934, belonging to an antiquities dealer in Cairo named Tano. (Incidentally, this was thirteen years before modern UFOs were ever heard of.) The original document was written in hieratic script—commonly used at the time of the New Kingdom. Re-transcribing into hieroglyphs before attempting translation is a common procedure among Egyptologists.

Prof. Tulli had called upon Egyptologist Dr. Etienne Drioton of the Cairo Museum to re-copy the hieratic text into standard hieroglyphics. Rachewiltz' claim that the deceased Tulli's "papers" had come into the possession of his brother, Gustavo; and that the latter allowed him to translated it, has the ring of truth to it (Gustavo Tulli was still alive in 1953 and could have easily refuted any such false claims).

Skeptics allege that Alberto Tulli was duped into accepting a faked manuscript. The obvious question is: Who could have created an "aged" and authentic appearing manuscript that could have fooled Tano, Drioton and Rachewiltz, all of whom were experienced veterans in dealing with Egyptian antiquities? Nevertheless, I looked into this possibility also.

In so doing I learned that Phocion J. Tano, once proprietor of the Cairo Antiquities Gallery, was a licensed and reputable antiquities dealer with whom Cairo's Egyptologists had long dealt (e.g., Dr. Drioton and the now-famous Nag Hammadi papyri; Robinson, 1984). Having spent years dealing with the Egyptian government and the Museums at Cairo, Mr. Tano would have been a fool to have committed such a faux pas as attempting to foist a forgery on veteran, long term clients, thus risking a lucrative future as a trusted antiquities dealer.

Skeptics make a lot of noise without knowing of whom they speak. Everyone involved—Tulli, Tano, Drioton, Rachewiltz—all have proven reputations, and to dishonor any of them with the label of "fakery" or "hoaxing" is totally unmerited, and smacks of professional jealousy.

The Italian scholar Franco Brussino has implied fakery by illustrating "Tulli-like" sentences from Gardiner's book "Egyptian Grammar" (1927), as if Prof. Tulli had lifted a number of relatively short phrases therefrom and simply pasted them together to make up a phoney text. (For whatever reason, Brussino depicts obviously faked versions of the transcription in his exposition, rather than the accurate one depicted above. Is it in his interest for his readers to see only obvious fakery?)

Gardiner used actual Egyptian sources for his example sentences. It should be noticed that there are obvious textual differences between several of the longer phrases in the Tulli transcript and the alleged "Tulli-like" phrases from Gardiner's book. In regard to the short phrases, I have no doubt that I could locate identical short phrases by looking in Budge's hieroglyphic text of the Book of the Dead. Would that prove that Tulli cribbed the text in question from Budge's book?

The Online Wikipedia asserts that Brussino has thus "proven" the Tulli text to have been faked. In actual fact, Brussino does no more than raise certain questions—which, incidently, should be raised. The bigger question is: how could anyone have created such a text to begin with, thirteen years before the subject of UFOs (ancient or modern) had ever been broached? Such an assertion clearly begs the question.

As to accuracy, re-copying from hieratic into hieroglyphics is straightforward. Since there is a one-to-one correspondence between hieratic characters and hieroglyphs, this presents no problem. I make it a practise to re-transcribe ancient Greek texts (written in all capital letters without spaces between words) into the cursive (adding spaces) with which I am more comfortable, before beginning my translation. Nothing is lost in this process.

The fact that Prof. Tulli has been dubbed an "amateur Egyptologist" by modern day skeptics has absolutely no bearing on the subject—it wasn't Prof. Tulli who did the translating. It was Rachewiltz, who was certainly qualified to translate ancient Egyptian texts. More importantly, the text has been translated by at least one other qualified Egyptologist (into German, with which I compared—and corrected—my own translation).

Boris de Rachewiltz's credentials appear to be somewhat more impressive than skeptics would lead people to believe. In fact, he authored several specialised publications that are still used in universities today. Rachewiltz was a respected academician with a reputation to uphold, and there is little doubt as to his expertise in ancient Egyptian texts.

And, what about the Egyptologist Etienne Drioton? Dr. Drioton was not only on staff at the Cairo Museum in 1934, only two years later he was promoted to Director General of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities. He is a reputable Egyptologist, authoring numerous works on ancient Egypt (e.g., Drioton, 1922), and is routinely referenced as an authority by others in the field (Emery, 1961; Tompkins, 1971; West, 1979, et al.).

The Tulli text exhibits numerous parallels to other documents of the Thutmoses III era, which would be extremely difficult to fake. According to several Egyptologists, judging by the style of the language and grammar it uses, the papyrus is either genuine, or has been forged by someone very knowledgeable in Egyptian scripts, vocabulary and syntax. It's difficult for me to believe a respected nobleman such as Prince Rachewiltz would be a deliberate perpetrator of such a hoax, especially since he had provided an hieroglyphic transcript of the original papyrus. §


Before launching into this aspect of the Fire Circle story, I think it fair to point out that whether or not there is any reality to the existence of extraterrestrial visitors to this planet, the opinion (however firmly based on our present state of knowledge) of the scientific community has absolutely no bearing (or influence) on reality. Having said that, I am going to offer a possible explanation for the event as reported.

The appearence of fiery objects in the sky is not the only material in the Egyptian document involving inherent strangeness. The rain of volatile objects (birds and fishes?) from the sky strikes one as exceedingly strange also; and that very strangeness is expressed in the text itself. So, what could be behind such an event? In order to give any credibility to the report in question, we must look for an answer.

Occurances of fish, frogs, snails, caterpillars, eels, and other living creatures falling from the sky, although unusual, is actually more common than generally believed. Such instances are well known to meteorologists and can be easily found on the internet (most recent occurence: 18 June 2007). One may call up some examples by entering "falling fish" into your favorite search engine (or google The Anomalist).

It is well-known among specialists that thunderstorms, tornadoes, waterspouts, and violent meteorological phenomena induced by massive volcanic eruptions, can be responsible (Lane, 1965). On this basis I am offering a suggestion which might be considered as one possibility. First of all, it must be realized that the actual date of the record in question cannot be pinpointed. Although the style of writing indicates the time of Thutmose III generally, it could have easily been written during the time of Thutmose I or II. Let's consider another significant event which took place in the Mediterranean area within this same time period.

The most glaring event is the cataclysmic vulcanism which destroyed the Minoan civilization (Leonard, 1975). Only recently the history of the eruptions of the Stronghyle volcano on the Aegean island of Santorini, and its subsequent caldera formation has been re-evaluated. It is now held that the collapse of the volcano occurred in two phases: the first accompanied the end of the first eruption, whenever it happened (circa. 1500 B.C. in the traditional chronology); the second took place several hundred years afterward. It is the first of these events that arouses our interest at this point.

This was an event so tremendous in scope that it could easily have been observed from outer space (such intelligences may have been well aware of conditions leading up to it). Since this catastrophe had a major impact on several civilizations in existence at the time, it is not out of the range of possibility that a flotilla of space ships were dispatched to observe the event and the extent of its consequences—thus the appearence of the Fiery Disks in the skies over Egypt (the general flow of smoke and debris—to say nothing of the accompanying tsunami—was to the southeast across the Mediterranean towards Egypt).

The report says that at first a single object was observed. Then, within a few days the sky was full of them from horizon to horizon. Then inexplicibly, they soared higher into the heaven and positioned themselves to the south—the smoke and debris from the Stronghyle vocano would have approached from the northwest. At this point, the volatiles began raining down from the sky. In view of these circumstances, the maneuvers and events as described in the Tulli Ms. make perfect sense. The above is offered as just one possible explanation.


* Scientific artifacts are sometimes lost for no apparent reason. A collection of fossilized skulls, known generically as Peking Man, was put on a train leaving Peking and bound for the port of Chinwangtao on 5 December 1941. Nine marines accompanied the shipment as guards, but when the train arrived at its destination the bones had all disappeared. The incident was investigated by Chinese, Japanese and American authorities for several years afterwards, but the fossils were never found. All we have to show for the original discovery are replicas that were made before their loss. (Get the connection?) No one in the field of anthropology doubts that the Peking Man fossils once existed, although they are now lost to us forever. (vide Howells, 1967) [Back]

§ In favor of its authenticity is the use of un-dn, Egyptian particles (usually left untranslated in English). Hoaxers would not be inclined to use such peculiarities when "making up" a phony text. To illustrate, certain Jewish authors of the New Testament (e.g., II Peter), not knowing Greek as their "first language," often failed to include common Greek particles in their compositions (in other words, they were not althogether familiar with the use of such niceties, and so did not make use of them). [Back]


Budge, E. A. Wallace, "An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary" (2 volumes), John Murray, London, 1920.
Budge, E. A. Wallace, "Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of ANI," University Books, New York, 1960.
Budge, E. A. Wallace, "Egyptian Language: Easy Lessons in Egyptian Hieroglyphics," Routledge & Kegan Limited., London, 1966.
Condon, Edward U., (editor) Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Conducted by the University of Colorado, Bantam Books, New York, 1968.
de Rachewiltz, Boris, "The Tulli Papyrus" in the magazine Doubt, No. 41, official magazine of the Fortean Society, 1953.
Drioton, Etienne, Cours de grammaire égyptienne, Le Musee du Caire, Cairo, 1922.
Emery, Walter, B., "Archaic Egypt: Culture and Civilization in Egypt Five Thousand Years Ago," Edinburgh, 1961.
Gardiner, Alan. H., "Egyptian Grammar," (3rd Edition, 1957) Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1927.
Howells, William, "Mankind in the Making," Doubleday & Co., Garden City, 1967.
Lane, Frank W., "The Elements Rage," Chilton Books, Philadelphia & New York, 1965.
Leonard, R. Cedric, "The Thera Volcano: With emphasis on the Bronze Age eruption," geography class paper, University of Oklahoma, 1975.
Robinson, James M., "The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices," Department of Antiquities, Cairo, 1984.
Tompkins, Peter, "Secrets of the Great Pyramid," Harper & Row Publishers Inc., New York & London, 1971.
West, John A., "Serpent in the Sky: The high wisdom of Ancient Egypt," Harper & Row, Publ., New York & London, 1979.

Copyright © R. Cedric Leonard, Jan 2004.
Version 3.1: Updated on 19 Dec 2010.