On the origins of the Egyptian Pantheon
Results of a 4WD-trip to Gebel Uweinat and to the Gilf Kebir
12/1/2009 – 12/20/2009
- part two -
(continued from part one, chapter 5.345.32)
5.345.33 The headless beast’s gender and related issues - a case study
In “Summary and Outlook”, at the end of chapter 5.345.1, the question of the gender of the White Nut painting as well as those of other headless beasts´ was raised. At this point it seems appropriate to delve deeper into this issue and also to further investigate other related aspects by means of a case study. The scope of our investigation is reasonably predefined by Le Quellec whilst the foreseeable obstacles to this enquiry are outlined by the same author when he states that, with “… their apparent variety,…. (headless beasts) seem to defy interpretation: in their current state of conservation, at least nine… (out of a total of thirty-five discovered by the end of 2002) are endowed with a penis, four only have two legs drawn, twenty eight have three, and only one has four; ten seem to have cloven hooves or two digits, while one displays powerful claws; twenty-seven have a long tail (generally ending in a circular floss), four have a short, hanging tail (but one has a short, raised bifid specimen), and fifteen are touched by people….Eight of the Beasts known at present (that is, more than one in four) seem to be enveloped in kinds of nets whose grid-motif is clearly drawn in white or especially in yellow … What is one to make of such menagerie?”(J.-J. Le Quellec: Can one “read” rock art? An Egyptian example. In: P. Taylor (ed.): Iconography without texts. London 2008, p. )
Sidenote 14: To Leo Frobenius, catching a hold of an animal’s tail is reminiscent of a guiding technique that facilitates cattle drives. (L. Frobenius: Ekade Ektab. Die Felsbilder Fezzans. Graz1963, p. 43)
To achieve meaningful results Le Qellec´s observations must be resolved, and the issues that he addresses have to be understood by close investigations of the menagerie concerned i.e., headless beasts of different gender depicted in various body postures and involved in a variety of actions. (In this context the “White Nut” will be treated as just another headless beast.) Of the characteristic features mentioned by Le Quellec (penis, legs, feet, tail, interaction with human figures and decoration) the strange forelimb stance of some of the enigmatic animals, which might explain why, in some instances, only a single forelimb is depicted, has already been dealt with (chapter 5.345.32) so, apart from the beasts´ gender, there remain, by and large, four other features to focus on: feet, tail, interaction with human and animal figures and decoration.
There is no clear-cut archetype (i.e., standardized shape or ornamentation) pertaining to a headless beast that can serve as a template for their interpretation. Considering the confusing panoply of depictions which, in all their variety, complicate our understanding of this enigmatic animal’s nature and its categorization, we should bear in mind that, at WG 21 and at other Wadi Sura rock shelters we are, perhaps, standing face to face with wall paintings that represent travel guides to the afterlife. Apparently, the reference points for such journeys were inspired by daily life situations and from the environment actually present in Neolithic times. (From this follows that a real creature may have been used as a blueprint for the “design” of headless beasts. For details see chapter 5.346.) Moreover, the WG 21 imagery in particular, may elucidate that, due to the presence of the “White Nut” whose body arches over several figures rendered in reddish-brown, and because of the presence of further white figures (see chapter 5.345.1) this netherworld, in all likelihood, was conceived as “cosmically fixed” (German: kosmisch fixiert) and that, on the passage into or through the next world, various things could happen to any of the Neolithic wayfarers. As we shall focus mainly on the headless beasts´ metaphorical essence overly stringent standards regarding the classification of their body postures and actions are left aside.
The fact that representations of headless beasts vary widely may also indicate that, at the time when their worship(?) was en vogue, their phenotype was not yet strictly established. Furthermore, contrary to the principals of the (much later) Egyptian two-dimensional representational art, these enigmatic animals that serve as iconographic focal points in most of the more complex mythical WG 21 metaphors, are not always shown in a (static) posture of “controlled power”. Since the Neolithic artists created images and compositions according to principles that are, for the most part, different from those underlying Egyptian art, a confusing array of scenes full of motion and vitality unfolds in front of the observer’s eye as opposed to the “… formal, unchanging and idealized (Egyptian) worlds of the gods and the dead, which are consequently static in character” (G. Robins: Egyptian painting and relief. Oxford 1988, p. 57) Thus, most of these chaotic scenes are executed in a semi-realistic manner that seems to be informed by a body of cult and myth. But as no detailed rules of how to depict the divine and the “forecourts of the gods” seem to have existed, artists may have enjoyed a comparatively large degree of freedom when decorating the Wadi Sura rock shelters.
Given the artistic license and cultural conventions of the time, how can varying representations of headless beasts be further explained? What is the reason why some of these strange animals are depicted with cloven hooves(?) whilst others are endowed with two digits or even with powerful claws? Referring to the wide range of representations of the mysterious Seth-animal, the Egyptologist Hans Bonnet has argued that although such a beast could have existed in reality, it may have become alien to man for reasons of its extreme rareness or because it had disappeared completely. In both cases the Seth-animal became subject to stylization that resulted in a distortion or relativization of its former natural form. (H. Bonnet: Lexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte. 3rd edition, Berlin 2000, p. 702) Such developments may have been underpinned by aetiolological myths through which natural phaenomina i.e., the vanished blueprints of the headless beasts, became subject to legend formation in which myth merged with a wide range of theological threatening gestures. Would such a hypothetical course of events account for the appearent variety in headless beast´s representations, or would it be appropriate to apply an idea already considered in the 1930s by Kurt Sethe, when he set out to explain the fabulous Seth-animal which Egyptologists refer to as Typhonic beast? According to this approach, depictions of headless beasts would have to be looked at as a result of a stigmatization (i.e. a destruction, injury or modification of an image on grounds of religiously motivated disgust or aversion. German: „Verletzung im Bilde aus religiöser Abscheu“. (Ibidem)) which aims at dismantling a supernatural force that is endowed with various negative attributes. (see K. Sethe: Urgeschichte und älteste Religion der Ägypter. Leipzig 1930, chapter 87 and http://de.wikepedia.org/wiki/Seth_…) These efforts would have led to (partly) unworldly depictions as seen in the headless beasts who, for no obvious reason, were painted headless or were provided with varying “unrealistic” feet or forelimb postures. In the end, concerning the Seth animal, Kurt Sethe abandoned this interesting approach. However, with regard to the mysterious images of the headless creatures in the Wadi Sura region, his attempt at explanation of the phaenomenon of distorted or factitiously modified Seth-animals, in combination with an aetiological approach as indicated above, could be helpful in the understanding of why the enigmatic creatures were depicted the way they are. In this context, the faint image of a mysterious turtle-like(?) animal endowed with a massive torso, a broad, heavy-boned rump, a bent foreleg and a cranium that mounts on top of a sturdy neck (figures 96 + 97), may provide a clue to the possible origin of headless beasts. Compared with the state of conservation of the much smaller headless beast just above it, the mysterious turtle-like(?) creature is probably much older. However, before any attempt is made to determine its species or its precise chronological position within the WG 21 imagery, advanced image enhancement technologies should be applied to procure more pictographic information. Til then, the question has to be left open whether certain features of this turtle-like(?) creature could be conceived as a blueprint for the mythical-religious concept of the headless beast and its artistic advancement towards the “White Nut” image. In chapter 5.346 we will discuss which real animal most likely served as a template for the various depictions of the enigmatic headless beasts.
figure 96: From WG 21. Scene consisting of a headless beast and, below it, a mysterious turtle-like(?) animal endowed with a massive torso, a broad, heavy-boned rump, a bent foreleg and a cranium that mounts on top of a sturdy neck. In front of both creatures human figures are to be seen. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 97: . Detail of figure 96. Could this faint image of a turtle-like animal be conceived as the precursor of headless beast portrayals? Image shown is color enhanced.
There is no doubt that, for the most part, Wadi Sura rock art portrays movement (in a frozen state) embodied in a variety of human and animal characters, in gestures and body postures, in dance and battle scenes. Although stylised and with the exception of but a few swimmers and other figures portrayed dead, it is therefore live gods(?), animals and human characters who are shown interacting with their respective surrounding. And yet, especially in the case of WG 21 one cannot avoid the impression that, contrary to the appearant ordinariness of the figurative arrangements, the WG 21 imagery as shown in figures 100 + 101 may have been designed by its creators as an absolutely realistic but, at the same time, as a mythical allegory for an entrance to the hereafter. Do the wall paintings allow the observer an intimate insight into paradise? In the following paragraphs we will again try to ascertain if and to what extent such ideas can be confirmed or excluded. In the course of this study it will be important to be keep the mainstream Egyptological ideas about the development of the Egyptian religious practices in mind and to note that in the earliest times of the Egyptian culture the adoration of the divine consisted mainly of “…ritual of worship, religious hymns, fragments of old myths, and finally prayers on behalf of the dead…(which eventually gave way to) the gradual invasion of mortuary religious beliefs by the power of magic...” (J. Breadsted: Development of religion and thought in ancient Egypt. London 1912 (reprint), pp. 95 et seq.) which resulted in the triumph of magic after 1.500 BC. (Ibidem) So far, there is no evidence supporting the view that such “Egyptian magic” (so characteristic of the New Kingdom) was already echoing from the magnificent fresco at WG 21 which, as an expression of indigenous Pure Art, in all likelihood, depicts prehistoric life, its renewal and eternal reincarnation.
If the emergence of myths viewed as the very first poetic expressions made by the members of a given culture who step outside themselves to ascertain (German: hinterfragen) the reasons of their existence and also, if a specific myth is seen as a sacred tale invented and endorsed by priests and rulers, then the rock art at WG 21, could be mirroring oral narratives and reflecting customs, beliefs or magical practices to ward off evil. As indicated by the discovery of a Neolithic sacrificial altar at WG 61 (figures 98 + 99), such enactments and recitals took place in the public sphere.
figure 98: From WG 61. Rock altar with “…carved decoration and small channels that were probably designed to lead off offered liquids.” (M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 102) Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 99: Detail of figure 98.
Are we perhaps being misguided when we assume that key parts of the Wadi Sura imagery were meant to mould and to support a “collective narrative space” (German: Erzählraum) intended to create a solemn atmosphere or “sacral breath” conductive to ritual practices and to the perpetual reiteration of tales? Almost certainly we aren´t. If, as in the case of WG 21 and WG 61, such splendid “Erzählräume” which seemingly, were designed to take visitors under their spell and which provide an imposing background for staging celebrations, sacrificial rituals, obsequies, funeral ceremonies or invocations, it seems appropriate to follow Gyözö Vörös´ and Miroslav Barta´s suggestion and to interpret some of the Wadi Sura rock shelters as “…the earliest known antecedents of Egyptian temple architecture…” (G. Vörös: Egyptian temple architecture.100 years of Hungarian excavations in Egypt, 1907-2007. Budapest 2007, p. 32 et seq.; M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 103) In several of these “…cave sanctuaries…” (G. Vörös: op. cit., p. 41) cultic images(?) of headless beasts play an important role. Doubtless, together with handprints and swimmers these enigmatic beasts represent a characteristic feature, i.e., a Leitmotif in quite a few Wadi Sura rock panels. Next, some of these “…holy paintings…” (Ibidem, p. 40) will be reviewed again.
Sidenote 15: Already in 1932, Leo Frobenius regarded some of the rock art galleries at Wadi Bardjudsch in Libya as sanctuaries and envisioned their engravings as the essential accessory of a temple complex. (L. Frobenius: Ekade Ektab. op. cit., p. 19) However, he did not find, for instance, an altar to support his hypothesis as I did at WG 61.
figure 100: From WG 21. General view of the rock art penal to the lower left of the “White Nut” (Image shown is color enhanced.)
figure 101: Extension of the rock art panel to the right of figure 100. Note that a remarkable number of at least 14 depictions of headless beasts are to be seen on figures 100 + 101. Image shown is color enhanced.
5.345.331 Headless beasts depicted with a penis
5.345.331.1 The ”White Nut” as just another headless beast of male gender representing the night sky
If some of the rock art motifs presented in the panel shown in figures 100 + 101 are seen as interlinked chapters of a never-ending mythical tale which was preserved by the oral traditions of the Wadi Sura culture and which, subsequently, were put on stone in order to preserve and to transmit their complex metaphorical messages beyond the limits of speech, then the prominence of the “White Nut” scene in this narrative and its immortalization in stone raises the following questions:
- Why is the white beast so large?
- Why was the color white chosen to portray it?
- Is it a mere coincidence that this motif is placed in a position where it dominates over 13 other headless beasts depicted in the immediate surroundings?
Answers regarding the first two issues have been given and discussed above. However, before further comments are made, the reader’s attention should be drawn to an eye-catching detail.
In 2005 Le Quellec had already noted that the right hind leg of the white beast is strangely raised (J.-L. Le Quellec; P. + P. de Flers: Peintures et gravures d´avant les pharaons du Sahara au Nil. Soleb 2005, p. 206, caption to figure 569). This odd pose is clearly seen in figure 102. Moreover, the said leg seems to be bizarrely bent to the extent that it almost touches the beast’s rump. Such a posture deviates considerably from the “usual” headless beast’s hind leg stance as illustrated by its straight left hind leg. In a line drawing (figure 103) J. Malatkova, paying no attention to this “bizarre stance”, has accentuated the “normal stance” of the right hind leg only (see M. Barta; M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 48). The latter is still barely visible in figure 102. The fact that, in comparison to the “bizarre stance”, the “normal” right hind leg stance is badly weathered could indicate that the original (“normal”) posture of this leg was modified after the first completion of the painting. (Note that, compared with its single front leg, both the executions of its right hind leg as well as the left hind leg of the white beast have survived in faint white shades only. Still, all these body parts are readily identifiable although they and the beast’s head and tail, seem to be badly weathered(?) or discolored(?) over the millennia.)
figure 102: The white beast photographed by M. Frouz exposing an unusual stance of the right hind leg. (M. Barta; M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 48) Courtesy of Miroslav Barta.
figure 103: Line drawing based on the same image by J. Malatkowa neglecting the unusual hind leg stance. (Ibidem) Courtesy of Miroslav Barta.
Sidenote 16: Due to an unnoticed sudden failure of my camera’s shutter mechanism a number of close-up shots of the white beast and its surroundings turned out to be extremely overexposed. In addition, our expedition photographer, Roland Keller, refused to further provide me with image material. So, for a detailed investigation of the “White Nut” scene, I therefore must rely on photographs published by Le Quelec and de Flers, (J.-J. Le Quellec; P. P. de Flers: op. cit., pp. 198, 206, 254) and by Barta and Frouz (M. Barta; M. Frouz: op. cit., pp. 40, 48). Additional low-resolution images were contributed by Andras Zboray. (A. Zboray: Rock art of the Libyan Desert, op. cit.. Andras also supplied me with a low-resolution overview of WG 21). Although the majority of the available pictures are not color enhanced thus, rendering true-to-life reproductions, uncertainties do remain. For instance, the images which I have access to provide no precise information as to whether the white patches immediately to the right of the white beast’s hind end, consist of a white layer of paint forming its oddly twisted hind leg or whether these streaks of white are caused by the natural coloration of the sandstone. Such uncertainties create confusion, as one might tend to interpret a conspicuous, white semi-circular configuration as the beast’s bizarrely bent hind leg where, in fact, there is only the whitish color of abraded rock. Recently, this problem has been addressed also by Kuper et al. pointing out that “… even on site, some faint traces of color, especially white, can only be detected and adequately interpreted under favorable lighting conditions, depending on the time of day, and whether these traces are the remains of a faded figure or just smudges of paint, or even part of the natural coloration of the rock face.” (R. Kuper et al. Wadi Sura, field report season 2009-2, p.10, in: www.wadisura.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de) So, can we trust Le Quellec´s observation? Could one trust the impression which is conveyed by figures 102 + 103? (To, partly, resolve the said uncertainties several images containing the White Beast and the surrounding figures that I exposed to differing degrees of color enhancement are shown here. Hopefully, these by no means superfluous versions will enable readers to assess the difficult circumstances under which the interpretation of the rock art concerned has to be carried out.) Furthermore, the images do not tell us much about the topography (surface shape) of the rock section above the white beast. To what extend does this part of rock face recede into the background and what are the implications of such an inclination with regard to the interplay of light and shade during the daily course of the sun and during her yearly cycle (i.e., solstices and equinoxes)? Such considerations should not be viewed as trivial as a conspicuous white patch of rock seems to arch over the white beast scene. (figures 104 + 106 + 107) Thus, the particular place for depicting the enigmatic white beast may well have been deliberately chosen because of the natural aura provided effort-free for the artist by the rock, i.e. the whitish coloration of the sandstone. Was this aura considered beneficial in the rituals of worship? All these and other issues should be treated on further visits to WG 21.
The white beast’s oddly bent right hind leg seems to merge with white (abraded?) hues of a narrow sandstone stratum that arches over the enigmatic beast and that stretches all the way to the front legs of the large giraffe which is engraved above the white beast’s head. (figures 102 + 104-107) Is it conceivable that this association was intentionally established and can one attach any meaning to the leg’s odd twist and its (possible) abnormal elongation? Or, is the conjunction merely accidental and thus a product of my effervescent fantasy? Furthermore, does this partly artificial, partly natural white band signify a “spiritual bond” between the white beast and the giraffe as, in a similar manner, does the (truly existent) umbilical cord emerging from between a female figure’s legs/womb and fusing with her(?) “child” (figure 11)? As can be seen by the tall human figures (gods?) depicted in the immediate surroundings of the white beast, it was not uncommon for Wadi Sura artists to portray legs in an extremely elongated way (see for instance the legs of the “earth god” below the white beast). This circumstance may well indicate that depicting long-limbed creatures, whether human or animal, was a well-established concept of Neolithic artistic representation.
Sidenote 17: There can be no doubt that the questions raised above abet unusual interpretation and risky reasoning. Once again, the issue of the odd leg stance painted in white and its natural “extension”, also in white, is raised here because of the assumption that their concurrence may have been deliberately exploited for ends loaded with symbolism. In the case of the pair of giraffes depicted jumping “…over a natural crack in the rock…” Miroslav Barta has shown that “… inhabitants of the Western Desert, exactly as the ancient Egyptians, mastered the art of using nature to emphasize their forms of expression.” (M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 45, fig. 15. See also Uwe George´s observation regarding affinities between erosion structures and a depiction of two rows of human figures “…standing above and below a fault line..” at WG 21. (U. George: In the cave of the Sky goddess. op. cit., p. 91) Why should similar thinking not be considered for the issue at stake here?
Until they are supported by the results of advanced image enhancement, the interpretations I have proposed will admittedly remain on shaky ground. But rather than wait for such precise(?) findings and restraining myself to purely descriptive statements, I have opted for an interpretive approach and accept the attendant risks and imponderables.
Remarkably, fairly along the elongation(?) of the oddly bent right hind leg three small human figures seem to be heading in the direction of the giraffe’s fore legs. (figures 105 + 106 + 108) Apparently, their bodies are either partly over painted, washed out or eroded. The leftmost of these figures has stumbled(?) and below this figure to the left, close to the “mouth” of the white beast, a swimmer is depicted upside down. (figures 105 + 109) What is closer as to interpret this ensemble in similar ways as the “Seti lion” scene (figure 62) in which the lion is apparently about to devour a star that belongs to an array of celestial bodies that originate from “his womb”, travel along his hind leg and surround the beast in a semi circle? (for details see Summary and Outlook at the end of chapter 5.345.1) From that perspective the depiction of the white beast could indeed represent the preliminary stage of Nut images subsequently known from ancient Egypt. The white beast with the human figures wandering along its back and cranium towards its “mouth” might also represent the birth of humans from the beast’s “womb”. Is this interpretation too far-fetched? In fact, one of a pair of human figures depicted at the rear end of the white beast, is shown touching the upper section of the oddly distorted hind leg indicating that this figure may be engaged in a forthcoming parturition. (figures 104 + 110) Hence, it may be assumed that, with the help of streaks of natural coloration, a complete cycle from birth to death (embedded in white hues) is presented here, albeit not in the same way as shown in figure 62, where stars are depicted as if born in the region of the “Seti lion’s” hind leg, whilst at WG 21, human figures are wandering along the white, grotesquely twisted and elongated hind leg(?) arching over the white beast’s body. The semicircle of white paint and natural white coloring that surrounds the front legs of the giraffe, might have been a means used by the ancients to bestow mythical-religious qualities from the white beast to the giraffe. In any event, there seems to be a parallel between the “Seti lion” and the white beast scene as stars are shown traveling “inside” the formers whitish lower hind leg whilst small reddish-brown human figures are displayed as if they were moving (almost) “inside” and along the latters grotesquely elongated white lower limb.
figure 104: From WG 21. The “White Nut” and its immediate surroundings. Image shown in a color enhanced version. (Courtesy of Andras Zboray)
figure 105: From WG 21. Detail of figure 104. A group of five human figures approaching(?) the giraffe from the east. Below them, three other human figures, their bodies either partly over painted, washed out or eroded, seem to be heading in the direction of the giraffe’s fore legs whilst, at the same time, wandering along the white headless beast´s spine. Image shown in a color enhanced version. (Courtesy of Andras Zboray)
figures 106 + 107: Color enhanced version of figure 104 revealing more clearly the bizarrely bent and extremely extended right hind leg of the white beast. (accentuation in black by the author)
figure 108: Three human figures wandering along the white beast’s back and making haste in the direction of the giraffe’s fore legs. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 109: A swimmer depicted upside down and therefore, interpreted by Le Quellec as a diver (J.-J. Le Quellec; P.+P. de Flers: op. cit. p. 206). Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 110: A pair of human figures enclosed by the white beast’s oddly twisted hind leg. One of the figures is touching the upper part of this leg. Is he preparing for an impending parturition? Image shown is color enhanced.
Sidenote 18: Speaking chronologically, there seem to be several layers of paint representing different phases during which the white beast and the surrounding images were created. The range of these creative periods could well cover more than a millennium. However, focusing on the white beast only, this range may be estimated, if not less, at a few years or decades only. If these observations are correct, did the painters of the white beast use older images as a source for a complex artistic statement? And did they deliberately select a place next to an already existing (engraved) giraffe and other figures as well as a stratum of whitish sandstone to amplify such a statement? What precise message does this particular choice of site convey to us? And does this have any impact on the scene´s interpretation?
Speaking of subject matter, one should bear in mind that the white beast ensemble represents a fabric into which the most varied strands have been woven. However, whilst the supreme subject of the white beast reveals a process and development of custom and belief which brought forth the creature and which, perhaps, was going on until the grotesquely bent right hind leg was added i.e., until a last stage of the myth was incorporated into the said representation, the beast´s body parts seem to have been compiled from the most varied sources. As the enigmatic animal and its surrounding figures which may have been adorned(?) on the occasion of various rituals of worship, stem from a long vanished world they form together almost a terra incognita. Hence, “…while the content of the… (scene) relates to matters which unhappily are unintelligible without the full knowledge of the myth from which they are drawn… (the scene´s meaning) may thus be indicated in a general way; a precise and full analysis is a far more difficult matter.” (J. Breadsted: op.cit., p. 96)
Already in chapter 5.345. 2, Ref. figure 69 it had been pointed out that the white headless beast was an addition to an existing scene. This is indicated by two human figures that are overlaid by the beast’s white body. The torso(?) of one of these humans is sticking out of the beast’s hindquarter. In their latest publication in Sahara 22, Noguera and Zboray suggest that “… imperfect overlapping of … paintings …(indicates) that the pastoral painters acted mainly as patient recipients in relation to the already ancient art left by the hunter-gatherer groups… In fact, they generally did not intervene on the art left by their predecessors in overhangs, which should have been at their time more evident than today….Within the most comfortable and best-located shelters, the pastoral painters commonly obfuscated the URH (Uweinat Roundhead style) painting by their own figures, as they were not perceiving at all the pre-existing paintings, even when just an inch would have sufficed to avoid annoying superimpositions hampering the clarity of their own creations.” (A. M. Noguera, A. Zboray: Rock art in the landscape setting of the western Jebel Uweinat (Libya). SAHARA 22 (2011) p. 114) However, as outlined in Ref. figure 69, it appears that the place where the white headless beast is depicted may have been deliberately chosen because of its closeness to the giraffe (or vice versa). It also should be pointed out that the situation at Gebel Uweinat may differ from the one at Wadi Sura and that “… groups of hunter-gatherers rather than pastoralists… (are considered to be) the creators of the drawing(s)” at WG 21. (K. Kuper et al. Report on the third field season of the Wadi Sura Project (Gilf Kebir, SW Egypt) in spring 2010. op. cit., p. 13)
If one interprets the white headless beast as belonging to a later phase of paintings created by hunter-gatherers at WG 21, it may follow that the “… common occurrence in many a painted shelter of a layer of solid white … figures - this being the last added layer - could have been a technical response to the wish and need of evidencing these figures on panels already decorated with a pattern of brightly colored … figures…” (A. M. Noguera, A. Zboray: op. cit., p. 114) Then, according to Noguerra and Zboray, “…the topmost white (or orange)… layer observed in many sites, does not perhaps have any special significance in terms of artistic filiations or chronology… (as) it would be quite strange if the last prehistoric artist (of the hunter-gatherers) who entered an already decorated shelter had each time just finished his red paint and was always left with a ´palette´ of white and orange only.” (Ibidem)
However, contrary to the conclusions of Noguerra and Zboray, the proposal in this paper is that the overlaying of the older, reddish-brown figures by the white headless beast, was most probably intended to have some meaning or symbolic message i.e., the composition as a whole may have served as a complex mythical metaphor in which depictions left by predecessors(?) such as the pair of human figures at the rear end of the white beast, and the streaks of natural white coloration (figure 110) were integral components. The character of the superimpositions of the later artists has therefore been influenced by and is partly a reaction to, the earlier paintings. In this case the creators of the white headless beast “… behaved as active recipients in relation to the (already existing) art… by adding paintings to paintings…” (Ibidem; or by superimposing one on top of the other) in a meaningful way whilst, at the same time, competing “…for the available space…(with a certain) disregard for… (some of the) pre-existent paintings”. (Ibidem) Some of the latter (notably those to the left of the white beast which are not overlaid by later paintings) are badly faded as shown in figures 100 + 104.
Can therefore, the white beast scene as a whole be regarded as an allegory of the cycle of life, its inevitable end and its perennial new beginning similar to the Nut mythology of the Nile? At one stage of it’s evolution within the Egyptian pantheon, Nut had come to be portrayed “… as a human female figure whose nude body arched over the earth, sustained the stars, gave birth to the sun every day, and swallowed it at dusk, so that it could pass through her body. In spell 306 of the Coffin Texts, Nut performs the same remaking for the deceased identified with Re. This rebirth of the sun god … gave her a very important role in … cults centered on the afterlife.” (D. B. Redford (ed.): Essential guide to Egyptian mythology. New York 2003, p. 278) Note that, similar to the path of the sun, the white beast’s orientation is east to west i.e., the animal is facing west thus, in a Nut-like way, it is giving birth at its eastern end (sunrise) and is about to devour a human figure into it’s “mouth” i.e., a swimmer at it’s western end (sunset).
The conspicuous features discussed so far may further help to create a frame of reference for a concept, which envisions the white beast at WG 21 as a cosmic figure and as a precursor of the Egyptian Nut. It also seems likely that mythical-religious ideas formed the basis of the creation of the magnificent artistic fresco at WG 21 which, at first sight, seems to merely reflect “…the ebb and flow of live… in terms of the experience of the men who produced…” it (J. Breadsted: op. cit., p. 88), but which, on account of its underlying mythical-religious character, elevates the Foggini-Mestekawi Cave to a residence of the gods. However, in contrast to Egyptian religion there are, by and large, only few features in the WG 21 imagery, that could be interpreted as a vigorous protest against death. With regard to the white beast panel, the theme expressed as a “…revolt against the great darkness and silence from which none returns.” (Ibidem, p. 91) does not appear to have been of much significance to the Wadi Sura populace.
If ancient Egyptian color preferences are taken as a yardstick and rigorously used to determine gender then, definitely, the white beast would not be male. As outlined in chapter 5.345.1, colors were used as a means of gender differentiation and according to Egyptian artistic convention, red represents a male of any species. (see also J. Malek: op. cit., p. 88) But the white beast is endowed with a penis. And there are exceptions from the said rule which, irrespective of the gender, allow for a god-like being whose skin normally would have to be painted golden yellow to be depicted in white because of the essential equivalence of gold, yellow and white. (see sidenote 8) Hence, by ancient Egyptian standards the white color of the enigmatic male beast would, eo ipso, indicate a divine creature. (i.e., in the case of the WG 21 imagery, a divine Nut-like creature. See also figures 32 + 33 showing a white, male quadruped whose divine status may be inferred by the pair of white hands/forearms supporting the animals hind end.)
figure 111: Detail of figure 102 showing that the white beast’s penis is touched by two large figures placed below its belly. Image shown is color enhanced)
The white beast’s penis is touched by two large figures placed below its belly. (figures 102 – 104 + 106 + 107 + 111 - 113) However, this male animal, as mentioned before, seems to have been endowed with female i.e., childbearing qualities which, at first sight, may appear grotesque. Nonetheless, an explanation of this weird association has been presented in Summary and Outlook at the end of chapter 5.345.1, where it was suggested that such animals could be viewed as hermaphrodite creatures (or even as androgynous deities). Perhaps this is why the white beast is shown in a comparatively placid and peaceful mode.
The benevolence that seems to emanate from the animal may be the reason why human(?) figures placed below its belly do not show the slightest sign of worry (Obviously, these individuals are deliberately depicted in a relaxed posture. One of them is even touching a foreleg of the white beast with one hand, whilst palpating the creature’s non-aroused penis with the other. Should these relaxed personages be viewed as deities who are on equal terms with the white beast?) and why people of different sizes (and age?) depicted to the left of the white beast are heading towards it without fear. (figure 104) To this peaceful scene we may add the engraved giraffe which, seemingly, is connected to the white beast by the oddly twisted hind leg of the latter (and the natural white band in the rock, i.e., a “corona”; see text above). In addition to the three human figures just mentioned, another five individuals arranged in a line above them, seem to approach the giraffe from the east (Indeed, these personages are not unmotivatedly standing around.) whilst another human figure is touching its head. None of the figures show any signs of concern or fright. Does this “group of five” head for the giraffe or communicate with the animal in its capacity as sun-bearer? Or are we dealing with a scene which was meant to promote the restoration of the land fertility by invocations? (giraffes as rain-animals; see Ref. figures 70 – 75 and also Ref. figures 78 - 80) Is the rock art panel linked to a general fertility cult as expressed by the procession of ithyphallic figures ascending one of the legs of a god(?) as shown in figures 26, 29 + 31 (see also chapter 5.344) who himself is touching the white beast’s non-aroused penis? By providing the white beast with the hoof of an ungulate or herbivore instead of the claws of a predator, did the Neolithic artists intend to further enhance the placidity and calmness of the white beast scene, which single front extremity, is already symbolically tied? (see chapter 5.345.32)
Remarkably, a formal principle which governs the depiction shown in figures 84 – 86 seems to recur here (figure 112) i.e., that of symmetry and completeness executed “…as a synthesis of two complementary, and sometimes confrontational, elements…” (J. Malek: op. cit., p. 31) which are arranged “…according to an imaginary central axis.” (Ibidem) Its occurrence further attests to the fact that the giraffe, the white headless beast and the iconographic repertoire around them (including the large figure holding the white beast’s tail (upper right), the procession of ithyphallic figures (lower right) and a number of human figures heading towards the white beast on the left (up to the point where the rock face recedes into the background. See figure 100)), were intended to merge to a single metaphorical message. The way this message has been contrived i.e., the subtle imagery of this rock art panel, may thus be regarded as another example of superb artistic refinement and ingenuity of the artists concerned. Although they are, with respect to the image’s longitudinal axis, slightly shifted out of their vertical alignment, the main (animal-) protagonists of the scene, i.e., the giraffe and the white beast, are stacked one on top of the other. In addition, they also face each other. (Albeit in a much different way than, for instance, in the case of the heraldic opposition symbolizing the containment of unrule in the universe which is earliest known from a rhomboid Naqada III period palette and from the “Hierakonpolis Palette; see S. Hendricks, F. Förster: op. cit. p. 836 et seq., figures 37.8 + 37.9) The oppositely directed movement of the respective groups of human(?) figures (including the participants of the ithyphallic procession) that are approaching the two animals enhances this polarization (which, seemingly, based on a concept of completeness, combines two complementary but “confrontational” movements with the intention to create a symbolic statement.) Within the confines of the rock face this complex imagery seems to have been developed along an imaginary central axis (figure 112) whose lower end is emerging from the center right (east or southeast) and whose upper end terminates at the center top left (west or northwest) of the scene. Thus, the said axis would intersect the two large figures (gods?) below the white beast’s belly and also the necks of the white beast and the giraffe. (see the slightly tilted black line in figure 112) In this context, the particular area on the rock face chosen for these images (to be depicted i.e., begun, modified and extended), a place where a white, naturally abraded(?) stratum in the sandstone extends leftward of the white beast and thus to the west, may not be a pure coincidence. The whole layout suggests that an archaic conception of symmetry underlies much of this highly symbolic artwork. Apparently, the said conception which differs considerably from the symmetry of a mirror image, persisted until the completion of the scene, a point in time that may coincide with the moment when, deviating from the original posture, the oddly raised hind leg was attached to the white beast’s rear end. (It should be noted that, the archaic conception of symmetry en vogue at WG 21 differs from other concepts of symmetry that, for instance, surface in a piece of decorated Gerzean period ware depicting boats with standards (see W. S. Smith: The art and architecture of ancient Egypt…fig. 3), in a decoration detail from a Naqada I period dish picturing an archer flanked, on both sides, by trees(?) (see J.-J. Le Quellec; P. + P. de Flers: op. cit. p. 314, fig. 811) and in the register-linked symmetry common in ancient Egyptian art. (For further examples of symmetrical designs charged with symbolism from the Wadi Sura area see J.-J. Le Quellec; P. + P. de Flers: op. cit. p. 190 fig. 502, p. 250 figs. 694 + 695, p. 251 fig. 697 (handprints) and p. 221 fig. 632 (“… human figures standing above and below a fault line…” (U. George: op. cit. p. 91). Seemingly, these lines of human figures anticipate the later pharaonic convention of lining up a narrative content on a base line or imbedding it into registers.))
figure 112: An imaginary central axis inserted into the “white beast panel”. This axis is tilted slightly to the left thus aligning itself to the rock fissures at the picture’s right margin. More human figures belonging to this scene and located beyond the left margin of the picture cannot be presented here because of lack of suitable photos. For an overall view of the scene see J.-L. Le Quellec; P. + P. de Flers: op. cit., p. 204, fig. 557, M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 40, fig. 11 and this paper´s figure 100.
figure 113: Color enhanced version of figure 102 with the white beast’s raised tail outlined in black by the author.
As mentioned above, the white beast shown in figures 104 + 106 has a raised tail that is touched by a tall human(?) figure. For better detail see figure 113 where black coloring enhances the tail. The tail terminates in a three-point tassel. Is the tall human figure lifting the tail to better examine what is going on at the beast’s rear end? Or is the tall human helping to promote an expected parturition? According to common predynastic and pharaonic dress codes, as for example seen on the Hunters Palette, hunters are wearing animal tails which are attached to the back of their belts. This identifies them with the beasts to which the tails belonged. Could this practice, which is perhaps “…intended to take over magically the strength of a powerful animal…” (S. Hendricks, F. Förster: op. cit. p. 835. See also Wilkinson who, quoting from Staehelin, remarks that, in dynastic times “… the innate power of the bull – its virility and strength – was conveyed by means of a bull´s tail…” (T. A. H. Wilkinson: Early dynastic Egypt. London, New York 1999, p. 191)) also be applied here? If so, the scene below the white beast’s body, where human(?) figures palpate the creature’s penis, might also represent a “tapping” into the power and strength of the “WG 21-Nut”. Thus, this scene may attest to a cult centered around male power, strength and fertility which was believed to unfold within the circle of birth, death and rebirth.
Author’s note: This is an unedited manuscript. With the exception of its content, orthography and sentence structures will be corrected at a later date. Despite the formal shortcomings I decided to publish first results of my rock art studies without delay so as to introduce readers to some remarkable findings and to a few new insights into the meaning of the artworks concerned.
5.345.331.2 Excursus: On cosmological (solar and stellar) symbolism. Tracing the origins of the ancient Egyptian religion in Egypt’s Western Desert – a survey from Nabta Playa to Biar Jaqub, Farafra, Wilkinson’s “another Wadi” and Wadi Sura
On several occasions I have referred to certain species of the Neolithic fauna which, in ancient Egyptian symbolic representations and in those of the period before (the Predynastic) were, according to Westendorf and Huyge mythologically linked to the sun. In the following text the meaning and implications of these associations will be further explained.
Motivated by Neolithic rock art depicting enigmatic wheels, nets or circles of rays (figure 113) with ostriches and giraffes (figures 114-116) which Frobenius discovered in Wadi Habeter and Wadi Berdjudsch, Fezzan, Libya, and by an image of a bull carrying a disc between his horns (figure 117) found by Lieutenant Vivani in Wadi Marzit, Fezzan (L. Frobenius: Ekade Ektab. op. cit, p. 35, figs. 18-23, p. 38, fig. 28, p. 39 and plates XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXV), Westendorf made an attempt to deal with an issue already raised by Frobenius who, following G. Schweinfurth, interpreted such images as mythologically inspired art related to the sun or to the moon which depictions they believed, belonged to those groups of images that were precursors of ancient Egyptian religious symbolism.
figure 113: Ancient circle and ovoid diagrams from Fezzan, Libya (L. Frobenius. op. cit., p. 35)
figure 114: Two large birds (ostriches?), one striding ahead of a round net-like object, the other one following behind. (Ibidem, plate XXXV)
figure 115: Six ostriches enclosed by a circle. (Ibidem, plate XXXIII) The meaning of the depiction remains obscure. The circle could be interpreted as a mere contour line, a lasso, a huge trap, a fenced vivarium or as a solar disc. The fact that (a) a human figure is striding towards and touching this strange “bubble” from below with an arm that reaches out in longing (in a gesture of adoration?) whilst the other arm is raised and (b) that the ostriches are drawn in the upper half of the circle, may suggest that, at the time when the drawing was made, mythological concepts of the sky were playing a decisive role.
figure 116: Rock engraving consisting of (a) an ovoid to which eight ray-like lines and two legs(?) are attached, possibly representing an ostrich, (b) another ostrich whose head consists of an 8-spoked “wheel” and (c) a giraffe. (Ibidem, plate XXXI) There is reason to believe that the strange 8-spoked structure representing the head of the ostrich symbolizes the sun. In this case the creators of the rock engraving would have mythologically linked the ostrich to the solar disc.
figure 117: Bovid carrying a disc(?) between its horns. (Ibidem, p. 38)
Taking these considerations as a starting point and assuming that the very conservative, ancient Egyptians adhered to their established traditions to a greater extent than did other societies, Westendorf hypothesizes that any change of religious beliefs and its corresponding symbols, from times immemorial to the New Kingdom and later, would have left their traces in pictorial art. But, until Akhenaten, substantial religious changes did not occur. (Or, in Huyge´s words, “… from the Predynastic through the Pharaonic period, ancient Egyptian civilization seems to display a single line of progress and a considerable degree of conceptual conservatism… What occurred in Egypt… (during) the time of state formation was not an abrupt change of iconography, but rather a profound formalization, standardization and officialization. Image-making passed from a less disciplined ´Preformal´ artistic stage …. to a ´Formal´ canonical phase. This change is indeed ´huge´, but basically it is a change on the exterior. The content of the iconography… and the underlying beliefs… remain very much the same and will continue to be so for several millennia.” (D. Huyge: Cosmology, ideology and personal religious practice in ancient Egyptian rock art. in: R. Friedman: Egypt and Nubia. Gifts of the desert. London 2002, p. 194, 196)) What are the reasons for this stability? Were the conformist tendencies inherent in the mythological and religious practices of Pharaonic Egypt inspired by and inherited from a previous, deeply rooted cultural conservatism that had already pervaded the Western Desert Neolithic long before the dawn of the Egyptian civilization? Hence, could the roots of this spiritual conservatism be reflected in the rock art of this region? Indeed, new discoveries seem to suggest that, “… substantial seeds of religiousness must have been present….” (Ibidem) in the Wadi Sura Neolithic and in other regions west of the Nile. If rock art in its essence is understood as a “…devotional outlet…” (Ibidem) that, for instance, “…represents a zoomorphic pantheon… (around which human beings) perform liturgical actions such as prayers and sacrifices…” (Ibidem), the huge number of hand prints at WG 21 and the recently found rock altar at WG 61 (see figure 99), indicate that, already in the Neolithic, the execution of a rock drawing may have been a religious statement and a devotional act in itself. To identify the unknown myths and religious ideas which underlie Western Desert rock art and to correlate these with the basic concepts of the ancient Egyptian religion will be the task of the following pages.
Regarding the relationship between the Uraeus serpent and the sun disc and the origins of Egyptian sun god related myths, on which he focuses at length and for which ample textual evidence is available from the historic period, Westendorf attempts to show that this association may have come into being long before the pharaohs in prehistoric times. This subject matter is highly relevant for our survey as, contrary to the arguments presented in this paper, rock art specialists like Andras Zboray emphasize that the Gilf/Uweinat cultures are linked to the broader Saharan-Sahelian cultures and that therefore they have no link whatsoever with the Nile valley. (see chapter 5.343) So, if Westendorf´s work demonstrates that the origins of the Pharaonic sun cult can be traced to Predynastic Egyptian and if the still older roots of this cult would surface in the Wadi Sura Neolithic and elsewhere in the Western Desert, the idea that the white headless beast at WG 21 is indeed a precursor of the ancient Egyptian myth of Nut becomes more likely.
For the most part, Westendorf examines Egyptian artifacts found in the Nile Valley belonging to the “…Terminal Predynastic and Early Dynastic…” (3,300-2,650 BC; D. Huyge: op. cit., p. 201) which he compares with religious ideas and artifacts of later periods. The images in figures 118 - 125 depict assortments of animal characters in chronological order which are typical of their time. In Westendorf´s view which is in conformance with that of Huyge, the differences between the depictions over time are merely stylistic/formal changes but the underlying conceptual ideas are the same, attesting to a cosmological symbolism that had persisted over thousands of years.
Although the provenance and age of some artifacts shown in figures 118 -125 are not precisely known, Westendorf presents a sequence of development which presents a convincing evolution of the mythical themes in question through the ages, in particular that of the giraffe motif and associated figurative elements. According to his findings giraffes were among the first animals to be used by ancient artists as symbols for cosmological ideas connected with worship, myth and religion.
figure 118: Giraffe-ostrich motif engraved on an ostrich egg (From W. Westendorf: Uräus und Sonnenscheibe. op. cit., p. 204)
figure 119: Giraffe-wading bird-snake-crocodile-scorpion motif depicted on a Predynastic vessel (Ibidem, p. 205)
figure 120: Giraffe – palm tree – dog motif, Louvre Palette (Ibidem, p. 208)
figure 121: Giraffe – palm tree – ostrich – crocodile - quadruped motif, Spiegelberg fragment, Berlin. (Ibidem, p. 209)
At a later stage, giraffes underwent a metamorphosis into hybrid creatures the so-called serpopards. These mythological beasts are clearly seen in figures 122 + 123. An intermediate stage of this development is shown in figure 121 where the necks of the two giraffes are sinuously bent alluding to the phenotype of a snake. Yet, it remains debatable whether serpents must also be considered predecessors of the serpopards. It is certain though, that “…serpents depicted in upright position do occur together with giraffes before the unification of Egypt.” (W. Westendorf: op. cit., p. 212, my translation. See also figure 119)
figure 122: Serpopard – dog – ostrich – horned wildlife motif, Oxford Palette (Ibidem, p. 211)
figure 123: Serpopard – human being motif, Narmer Palette (fragment) (Ibidem, p. 213)
Around the time of Narmer (circa 3,000 BC) the substitution of giraffes by serpopards was completed. According to Westendorf, from then on, giraffe motifs no longer played a part in the mythical-religious iconography of the new state. (Huyge reasons that, as the animals had become uncommon in the landscape adjacent to the Nile valley, their near-extinction was considered a sign of weakness so that giraffes “… could no longer symbolically function in good confidence.” (D. Huyge: op. cit., p.201)) At this time, wild dogs arching over the sky were also replaced in the religious imagery by the Celestial Cow. This possibly reflects the transition from hunting and gathering to animal husbandry and agriculture that had by then, taken place in the Nile valley on a larger scale and therefore, the increased significance of cattle. The head rope (figure 123) known from Neolithic giraffe motifs and also shown in figure 119, survived this iconographic transformation. Note that the round deepening in the center of the Narmer Palette (figure 123) is encircled by the necks of two serpopards. In Westendorf´s view, this deepening represents the solar disk. This suggests that the image shown in figure 123 was meant to reproduce the sky which rests on the serpopards in their symbolic role as bearers of the sun (German: “Sonnenträger“ i.e., “…von den Schlangenhals-Tieren gehoben und getragen..” (Ibidem, p. 213, 221)) These “heliophorous” beings i.e., sun-bearers are, to their left and right, controlled by two “gods of the horizon” who are escorting the hybrid creatures across the sky. Obviously, the iconography of the Narmer and other ceremonial palettes from this period are also related to the then current “cult of the god’s eye” and the intertwined necks of the serpopanthers that encircle the said deepening point to the “ unification of the two horizons” by means of the sun. (Ibidem)
The Gebel el-Tarif knife handle shown in figure 124 displays two intertwined serpents forming three circles, each containing a rosette. Curto interprets the latter as solar symbols (Curto, ZÄS 94(1967), pp. 22-24. But, it seems that the rosettes could also refer to other celestial bodies.) which gives reason to suspect that the image on the knife handle is just another type iconography that represents the sky.
figure 124: Intertwined serpents – rosette – motif, Gebel el-Tarif knife handle (Ibidem, p. 214)
Remarkably, when finally, during the reign of king Djer (2,999-2,952 BC), serpents replaced the serpopanthers on the figurative borders of the palette’s central deepening (figures 125 + 126), the iconographic metamorphosis had come full circle. Later, as shown in figure 127, the motifs concerned had become more anthropogenic. But a particular detail, the four legs of the serpent, had remained as a memento of the past i.e., of the (four-legged) giraffes or serpopanthers.
figure 125: Serpent – serpopard - wild dog – serek motif, Metropolitan Museum Palette (Ibidem, p. 215)
figure 126: Two serpents motif, circular palette (Ibidem, p. 216)
figure 127: From the Amduat. The two former serpopanthers are joined to a four-legged serpent called Sokar, “…an ancient falcon god of the Memphite region…” ( R. H. Wilkinson: The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. op. cit., p.209) who is flanked by two “goddesses of the horizon”. (From W. Westendorf: Uräus und Sonnenscheibe. op. cit., p. 218)
Referring to the earth god Geb who, in his typical, standardized posture, reclines under the sky (Nut) and to Aker, another earth god, Westendorf emphasizes that, over thousands of years and well into dynastic times, the ancient Egyptians had retained the same mythological beliefs and concepts of the sky as presented in figures 118-126. Finally, the sun disc as shown in figure 128, which was originally supported and carried by serpopanthers or by a giraffe (figure 129a) in an earlier(?) depiction of the far away “Tassili-Neolithic”, emancipated from its former “transport aides”. This transformation led to a downgrading of the age-old powers of heaven to which, it seems, crocodiles, scarabs, scorpions, ostriches, storks, flamingos and guinea fowl had also associated. (see S. Hendricks, F. Förster: op. cit., p. 834)
figure 128: Sun disc to which two Uraei serpents are attached as mere appendages (Ibidem, p. 221)
figure 129a: Head of a giraffe with a streaked disc found in Tassili, Libya (rom Huard: Les chasseurs anciens du Sahara. RdE 17(1965) 59, figure 2
Thanks to the meticulous rock art analysis performed by Huyge at Elkab in Upper Egypt, which he combined with elaborate statistical evaluations, the period during which giraffes had been mythologized as vehicles of a sun-god could be extended further back in time i.e., beyond the limits verified by Westendorf, to the Naqada I period. (More precisely, from the Early Dynastic (Dynasties 1-2 i.e., 3,050-2,686 BC; chronology according to B. Adams, K.M. Cialowicz: Protodynastic Egypt. Princess Risborough 1988, p. 5) and the “Terminal Predynastic” (Naqada III; 3,200-3050 BC) to well into Naqada I (“Middle and Late Predynastic”; determined by Huyge to cover 3,900 – 3,300 BC, by Adams and Cialowicz 3,800-3,500 BC)) Regarding the Naqada I period at Elkab, the iconographic spectrum there, is almost exclusively characterized by depictions of giraffes (79.2%) whose solar symbolism manifests itself by their orientation. Whilst the greater part of these animals (over 60%) is oriented to the west (according to Gatto et al.: north. See M. Gatto, S. Hendrickx, S. Roma, D. Zampetti: Rock art from West Bank Aswan and Wadi Abu Subeira. Archaeo-Nil 19, January 2009, p. 151), they “… are drawn facing almost exclusively (80%) to the viewer’s left…” (D. Huyge: op. cit., p. 199) thus, revealing a profound lateralisation to the left hemisphere (as compared to only 30% of the cattle-, 28% of the asses- and 14% of the ibex depictions) which indicates “…the local sense of the apparent rotation of the sun… (See Huyge´s plan view-sketch of the ´Rock of the Vultures´ below. (figure 129b)) Because the orientation of the rock drawings is in general predominantly eastward (over 70%), this westward orientation … (must be) significant. The West... is considered as the location of the hereafter in the traditional religious symbolism of the ancient Egyptians… ” (Ibidem, p. 199 et seq.) By comparing depictions of the so-called Naqada II type VII boats which are considered to be sacred solar barques “… and therefore not primarily funerary in nature…” (Ibidem, p. 200), and which are (a) oriented “… almost exclusively eastward (the heavenly direction where the sun rises)…” (Ibidem, p. 200 et seq.) and further, which (b) are, in consistence “…with the apparent sense of rotation of the sun,… also mainly lateralised to the left …” (Ibidem, p. 201), the said giraffes, like these solar barques, may therefore “…be considered symbolic bearers of the sun.” (Ibidem, p. 201. The plan view-sketch shown in figure 129b illustrates the in situ situation at the hillock concerned and visualizes Hugge´s reasoning.)
figure 129b: D. Huyge´s plan view-sketch of the ´Rock of the Vultures´ onto which the solar rotation and the orientation of giraffe, boat and donkey depictions are projected. Cited from D. Huyge: Cosmology, ideology and personal religious practice in ancient Egyptian rock art. op. cit., p. 200, fig. 5.
Huyge himself concedes that his statistically based reasoning “… carries insufficient authority especially…” (Ibidem, p. 204) with regard to depictions of the Elkab-Naqada I which he compares with the ones from Naqada II. Whilst the rock drawings from the first period, as mentioned above, consist almost exclusively of giraffes, those of the second period mainly consist of sickle-shaped boats (15.8%), human figures chiefly shown with raised arms (circa 10.8%), asses (37.5%), ibexes (19.2%), antelopes and gazelles (10%). Such periodic differences in the rock art repertoires could be indicative of different types of symbolism. But can one at all compare Naqada I rock art characteristics with those of Naqada II? Nevertheless, Huyge´s treatise provides us with a means whereby, we can extract meaning from ancient pictorial art and with which we can understand the motivation of the artists concerned and the cosmological symbolism that seems to underlie the artistic expressions of the Naqada I and the Naqada II Nile valley cultures. However, in more complex scenes such as those seen at far away WG 21, the results of a statistical analysis based on Huyge´s methods would have to be treated with caution. The same applies when regional dissimilarities and chronological uncertainties conceal a rock art’s symbolic meaning and complicate direct comparisons as well as analogies extending over space and time.
We have cast our net over a wide area ranging from the Fezzan in Libya to Elkab in Upper Egypt bringing together artifacts from different periods and places that, possibly, echo similar symbolic meanings. As evidence to support the existence of solar symbolism since earliest times, Huyge, quoting Westendorf, presents an oval White Cross Line earthenware platter from the Naqada I period which depicts two orbs with lines radiating from them, one at each end of a mountainous landscape associated and two stacks of water lines that stretch across the face of the platter and which, incontestably, represent “… the immutable rhythm of sunrise and sunset… indicated by two radiant sun-disks…” (D. Huyge: op. cit., p. 203; p. 202, fig. 6) (figure 130) A further confirmation of solar symbolism can be found in the excavation report by W. M. Flinders Petrie covering the discoveries at Diospolis Parva where decorated White Cross Lined pottery from the Naqada I period shows depictions of small mountain ranges crossing a landscape abounding with goats that is lit by two radiant solar discs. (figure 131) Is it conceivable that the cosmological symbolism in the art of the finds made in the Fezzan and in the Tassili (figures 113-117+129a) could be related to those of the Nile valley as seen in figures 118-128? Westendorf leaves this question only half answered. Yet figures 130 + 131 and Huyge´s insights may yet prove that such ancient links could at least have existed within the boundaries of present day Egypt, including the art at WG 21, if not with that of far away Fezzan.
figure 130: Solar symbolism on a White Cross Line platter (from D. Huyge: op. cit. p. 202 who has cited the image from W. Westendorf: Altägyptische Darstellungen des Sonnenlaufes auf der abschüssigen Himmelsbahn. Münchener Ägyptologische Studien 10. Berlin 1966, fig 27) Photographed from a black & white photocopy.
figure 131: Decorated White Cross Lined pottery from Naqada I depicting a landscape filled with mountains and goats and lit by the rays of two suns. (from W.M.F. Petrie: Diospolis Parva. London 1901, pl. XIV).
What about Wadi Sura? Can parts of its imagery be linked to concepts of “cosmological machinery” and would these concepts pre-date similar mythological manifestations found in the Nile valley?
Given Huyge´s observations and assuming that his reasoning is correct, the time span that separates the youngest and the earliest dates that have been assigned respectively to the Elkab Naqada I - giraffe period (circa 3,900 – 3,300 BC) and the engraved giraffe at WG 21 period shown in figures 104 + 105 (the latter probably dating to 6,000 – 3,800 BC (see Report on the results of radiocarbon datings from the Wadi Sura area, Gilf Kebir, southwestern Egypt in Results of Winter 2009/10 Expeditions on this website)), amounts either to a negligible 100 years or may instead exceed 2000 years (see table 1), the younger end of the 6000-3,800 BC-period relating to the bone fragments (dated to calBC 4,050 – 3, 820) discovered at the foot of the sacrificial altar at WG 62. This important find indicates that, indeed, as late as circa 4,000 BC, religious activities consisting of ceremonies and sacrifices were performed at some of the decorated rock shelters of the Wadi Sura area.
In the light of the age determinations presented above one could take the easy way out and refer to the “negligible 100 years” only, asserting that there is no need to fill this tiny gap with artifacts that would provide the much wanted evidence which could link mythological/cosmological inspired artwork of the Wadi Sura area to the early art of the Nile valley also being underlain by cosmological ideas. But if this time gap is circa 2,000 years, it appears to be a hopeless enterprise to fill such a long-lasting “dark period” with the said evidence, because, at first sight, it seems impossible that the Western Desert could ever provide sufficient pictorial proof.
Leaving aside the dating issue and focusing instead on the spatial distribution of possible pieces of evidence that, in one way or another, speak of cosmological (solar) symbolism, is it too far fetched to assume that one day the huge distance that separates Wadi Sura and the Nile valley will be filled with such proof? So far, it seems, there are only Nabta Playa, Biar Jaqub and a couple other sites that provide the “right artifacts”.
5.345.331.21 Evidence from Nabta Playa
Regarding Nabta Playa, there seems to have existed “….a strong connection between the Sahara Neolithic and the Neolithic in Upper Egypt.” (M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 77) Already in the period between 5,900-5,500 BC, large fire places “…comprising burned bones of many domesticated animals… (attest to) large gatherings of local populations at certain points of the year during which domesticated animals were offered… (first significant stage of ceremonial community life)… ” (Ibidem, p. 79) Later, during “… the two succeeding periods between 5,400 - 4,600 and 4,500 - 3,100 BC., Nabta Playa emerged as a real regional ceremonial center with sacred space and specific ceremonials and rituals (attesting to a) “… highly elaborate, abstract culture…” (Ibidem, p. 83) which was already in existence around 5,400 BC. Furthermore, a “sun calendar” found at Nabta Playa (figure 132) attests to the fact that visitors and the local population had an interest in and an attention directed to, the sky and the yearly cycle of the sun and that, in all likelihood, particular myths developing in their culture may have been based on the observation of the sun’s movement.
figure 132: “Sun calendar” from Nabta Playa photographed by L. Sukova. (Courtesy Miroslav Barta.) Image shown is color enhanced.
At Nabta Playa there is no rock art. However, rock drawings can be seen in abundance at Biar Jaqub where I also noticed a remarkable artificial stone alignment that is reminiscent of a “sun calendar” (I found another such man-made stone construction on top of the limestone plateau north of Dakhla Oasis). I dated the earliest Biar Jaqub rock art to calBC 5,157-4,673 and hence to the age of the Bashendi B cultural unit. (see Results of winter 2007/08 expedition, Preliminary report on the results of radiocarbon- and TL-datings on this website) A further cluster of 14C dates from Biar Jaqub that spans the period between calBC 3,360-2,923 points to rock art production during the Naqada II. (Ibidem)
5.345.331.22 Evidence from Biar Jaqub
5.345.331.221 Evidence of giraffe-serpent-combinations in Biar Jaqub rock art dating to the Bashendi B period
Although rare and not formalized as shown in figure 119 (standardized and canonized type art works begin to emerge in the early Egyptian Pre-Dynastic), a number of very old Bashendi B period compositions consisting of combinations of giraffes and serpents do exist at Biar Jaqub. (see for example figure 133)
figure 133: A rock panel at Biar Jaqub probably dating to the Bashendi B period and consisting of a giraffe, another quadruped (possibly also a giraffe), an extremely elongated serpent and an ibex. According to van Hoek, snakes are linked to rain and fertility but also could be associated with death. http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/vanhoekart/web/rap1part1.html) Here the snake may indeed be mythologically linked to rain as the reptile is shown in association with a giraffe. Some authors interpret the latter as an animal that predicts rain. (see chapter 5.345.2, Ref. fig.70-75) Image shown is color enhanced.
5.345.331.222 “Rosette Site” - evidence of mythologically inspired assemblages of animal characters and human figures in Biar Jaqub rock art dating to the Naqada II period
At Biar Jaqub, in times, probably contemporaneous with Naqada II, combined depictions that include more than serpents and giraffes, seem to recall works of art known from the same period in the Nile valley such as figures 134+135 which reveal motifs that are to some extent reminiscent of ´seal´ imprints from the Nile valley. Symmetry in this scene is provided by two human(?) figures with arms raised. Surprisingly, this symmetrical arrangement seems to be intertwined with another one consisting of two (three) giraffe footprints. (Regarding the concepts of symmetry in Pharaonic and Neolithic art see chapter 5.345.2 Ref. figures 84-86 and chapter 5.345.331.1.) The long fingered figure on the left is shown empty handed whilst the smaller figure on the right is holding upright a pair of straight sticks(?), one in each hand. This part of the composition is complemented by a footprint of a giraffe (that, concurrently, may also be part of the second symmetrical arrangement) and by a severely weathered (mutilated(?)) depiction of a serpent(?) shown in an upright position. Both, footprint and serpent(?), are placed between the said human(?) figures. Above the giraffe’s footprint a “sitting” quadruped, most likely a giraffe, has also been carved into the rock surface. Immediately (a) to its left and (b) above the long fingered human(?) figure a small mutilated(?) quadruped(?) can be seen. On the panel’s far left another giraffe footprint and below this a further footprint(?) (Both, similar to the repetitive imprint of a cylinder seal, are believed to be linked with the footprint placed in between the two human(?) figures and hence, indicating an urge to establish symmetry and a perception of completeness.) are shown. Even further below, a much weathered (mutilated) quadruped is heading north or northwest. On the far right an indefinable quadruped and an ostrich, both also heading northwest, complete the panel.
Sidenote 19: I discovered the rock panels shown in figures 134 – 139 on 1/21/2004 during a survey by camel with Janine el-Saghir. The hillock which bears the rock art is situated at N 25 19.350+E 28 21.704. The position of the rock panels and the interpretation of the imagery are based on the notes I had taken on the day of discovery. As no later cross checks were made, minor errors with regard to the exact orientation of the penal may exist. The waypoints of this and other hillocks are revealed here to facilitate independent in situ assessments of my findings.
figure 134: Rosette Site. A rock panel at Biar Jaqub probably dating to the Naqada II period consisting of two intertwined compositions indicating an urge to establish symmetry and a perception of completeness. To the first composition belong a giraffe footprint and a serpent(?) which are controlled on both sides by two human(?) figures shown with their arms raised. To the second composition belong the giraffe footprint just mentioned and the ones further on the left. The animal to the far right may be an ostrich. Note that above the footprint in the center of the first composition a “sitting” quadruped, probably a giraffe has been depicted. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 135: Same panel photographed with side flashes to enhance the visibility of details.
What is the meaning of this rock panel, next to which (to its left) a further panel presents yet another enigmatic imagery consisting of (a) a pair of long fingered human(?) figures to the immediate right of whom (b) a giraffe’s footprint executed in low bas relief is visible followed by (c) an enigmatic flower-like ornament, (d) two sitting horned quadruped with tails raised, (e) two giraffe footprints and (f) a comparatively large speckled giraffe? Above the giraffe’s torso (g) a human figure with arms raised and an indefinable item are carved into the rock face whilst above the animal’s head appears (h) another quadruped rendered upside down. To which torso the two bent long horns belong whose lower ends are, probably, emerging from the region of the speckled giraffe’s head is not easily discernable. It seems however that, these items are related to a torso that is partly superimposed onto the said head thus, possibly, representing an Oryx dammah (sable antelope). Regarding the concept of symmetry and the perception of completeness mentioned above one may also envision a rudimentarily developed form of it in figure 136 where symmetry seems to manifest itself in the arrangement of the human(?) figures controlling the composition on both sides in a similar way as the two “gods of the horizon” shown in figures 123+127.
figure 136: RosetteSite. Rock panel at Biar Jaqub located to the right of figure 134 and probably dating to the Naqada II period. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 137: Same panel (left section) photographed with side flashes.
figure 138a: Same panel (right section) photographed with side flashes.
The rock panels concerned are facing northeast. Were the images discussed here (figures 134-138a+139) deliberately carved into the rock surface at this specific locality? Is, for instance, the orientation of those quadrupeds that are shown in a naturalistic (standing) posture (i.e., with their spines parallel to the alleged horizon) and of the ostrich an outcome of an artist´ s conscious decision? The answer could be yes as rock surfaces decorated with engravings, albeit in a different style and also differing in subject matter, are also found at the hillock’s northern and southeastern slopes. (The hillock’s western slopes are not suitable for decoration.) Furthermore, could the flower-like ornament shown in figures 136+137 which I have interpreted before as a rosette or as a schematized palm seen from above (Note that, in Predynastic and early dynastic times, the rosette motif appeared in the Nile valley as a designation of the ruler himself (see Results of winter 2006/7 expedition, chapter D. Latest news from Biar Jaqub, subchapter 1.5 Palaeobotanical findings)), also be viewed as an enigmatic object possibly derived from a colocynth plant and alluding to the solar disk which the artist endowed with nine “fruit-bearing” rays? (Please bear in mind that Westendorf views enigmatic wheels, nettings or circles of rays of obscure meaning shown in figures 113+114 as related to the sun thus seeing in them possible precursors of ancient Egyptian religious symbolism. See text above.) Hence, the “rosette” may not only be a realistic representation of an item from the actual earth-based environment of the time concerned but could also be interpreted as a symbolic or ritualistic object related to the functioning of a cosmological machinery.
Sidenote 20: As briefly mentioned in Results of Winter 2008/09 expedition, advance report, Hardy Böckli and I, visiting Winkler’s site 81 in the Upper reaches of Karkur Talh at Gebel Uweinat, concluded that the enigmatic motifs depicted together with, inter alia, a cattle herd could represent colocynth plants (Arabic: Handal). Figure 138b shows one of the plants(?) which, obviously, is attracting a cow. Is the beast shown in an attempt to devour it? The plant(?) consists of several radiating spokes, each terminated by a small disc. Placed in its center is a larger disc. In the above mentioned advance report I have remarked that the same depiction was found at Biar Jaqub and that this may hint to a cultural transfer between Gebel Uweinat and the Dakhla region. My view is now supported by Mark Borda who, in his mail of 10/5/2011, comments that, the mysterious object at Rosette Site (see for direct comparison also figure 138c) is “… not just similar but identical with the well known depictions at Gebel Uweinat and that this belies a definite but undetermined link between the peoples responsible for these respective images.”
figure 138b: From Winkler’s site 81 in the Upper reaches of Karkur Talh at Gebel Uweinat. Enigmatic item, possibly a plant resembling Citrullus colocinthis (Handal). Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 138c: Close-up from figure 136. Image shown is color enhanced.
But is this really so? If, during the period in question, colocynths, a plant of the steppe, are considered ubiquitous in the Western Desert, everyone drawing the plant would have arrived at similar results. Thus, these images (as e.g. those of cattle that are depicted fairly similar everywhere in the world) are not controlled by cultural traits but depend on the appearance of the cucurbits themselves. However, the dry Handal seeds could have been of considerable importance as famine food, and the pulp of green colocynths may have been a common water source for donkeys, sheep and goats (see for instance Results of Winter 2007/08 Expedition, A solution to the Clayton ring problem (continued)) This could explain why to colocynths, as one of their last resorts in times of drought, the Naqada 2 inhabitants of Biar Jaqub attached a symbolic meaning that, finally, led to the integration of a representation of this plant (as a prominent pictorial element) into the imagery shown in figure 136. Thus, in the eyes of the Naqada 2 populace, Handal ensured their survival - as the rays of the sun enabled life.
But how would the standing quadrupeds and the ostrich shown in figures 134+135 contribute to this functioning as, depicted on the northeastern side of the hillock, they are oriented against the solar run? With the exception of the ostrich (that, according to Hendricks and Förster belongs to the animal species which qualify for a symbolic role as sun-bearer (see S. Hendricks, F. Förster: op. cit., p. 834) so that, if carrying out this role, the ostrich would perhaps not have been depicted in an antagonistic position to the solar run) any attempt at indiscriminately linking animal depictions to the solar movement would imply that not only beasts depicted in a sitting posture or even rendered upside down, but also animals in “normal” posture would have to be considered as loaded with meaning. Is this too far fetched? Indeed, for several reasons it is not easy to verify in the scenes shown in figures 134-138a+c a hidden solar symbolism. Firstly, the surroundings of the hillock concerned seem to be indiscriminately dotted with occupation sites whose age has not yet been determined. (So far, only a hunter’s(?) lookout(?) just a stone’s throw away associated with a fireplace containing a tamarix branch and charcoal has been dated to BP 3,586 +/-23, calBC 2,020-1,885, proving that this temporary(?) occupation site cannot be related to the rock art concerned. See Results of Winter 2007/08 Expedition, Preliminary report on the results of radiocarbon- and TL datings) Therefore a definite vantage point from which the ancient occupants of the area may have viewed the hillock and its rock art is unascertainable. Due to such lack of information it is impossible to determine with a reasonable degree of certainty the rock art’s lateralisation according to the “local sense of the apparent rotation of the sun” (see Huyge´s approach outlined above) to either the left or the right hemisphere. Secondly, as the hillock’s western slopes are unsuitable for decoration, meaningful statistical evaluations as performed by Huyge in Elkab cannot be carried out here. Thirdly, placed between the panels shown in figures 134 + 135 and figures 136-138a is a severely eroded composition (figure 139) consisting of two comparatively large human(?) and five(?) animal figures. The smaller of the human figures is rendered headless and both are featured with horizontally spread out arms, long-fingered hands and long-toed feet. To which species the animals concerned belong cannot be ascertained because of their poor state of preservation. Nevertheless, such a determination could help to correlate (beyond of the group of animals proposed by Hendricks and Förster) any of the animal species shown on the panel (and thus, their mythological-religious symbolism as, presumably, attached to them by the ancients) with the course of the sun. (Note for instance that, according to Westendorf, ancient Egyptians considered antelopes as foes of the sun. (W. Westendorf: op. cit., p. 210)) Below, I shall try to exemplify such solar ties by taking the speckled giraffe (shown in figures 136+138a) and its orientation as an example which, eventually, will help us to delve deeper into the mysteries of the mythological rock drawings shown in figures 134-138a+c that, despite of being separated from each other by a few metres, seem to constitute an ensemble of petroglyphs which, due to their identical age and style, evoke the impression as if they are conveying a single coherent message.
figure 139: From Biar Jaqub. Rosette Site. Severely eroded panel consisting of two comparatively large human(?) and five(?) animal figures. Image shown is color enhanced.
Obviously, the speckled giraffe seen here as a rain animal (see chapter 5.345.2, Ref. figures 70-75) is oriented in accordance with the solar run (as the beast is depicted on the hillock’s eastern/northeastern side and thus, looking towards the south or southeast) and therefore it may, in Huyge´s terms, qualify as a “heliophorous” being. Moreover, this giraffe is carved into the rock at the very right (northern(?) or northwestern(?)) end of the panel hence, according to this panel’s inherent “logic”, at the point of sunrise. (Is this spinning yarn to the extreme distancing us from reality? Well, certainly not as one has to acknowledge that, due to the absence of suitable places on the hillock’s western slopes the complete cycle of life and death seemingly inherent in this rock art were to be recapitulated and condensed on its eastern/northeastern side and also, perhaps, in a single rock panel. In the context given here, the objection that the artist concerned had no choice but to depict the giraffe heading to the left if he wanted to avoid letting the beast “run” against the rock to the right, may safely be rejected. There are a number of rock art sites in Biar Jaqub where such “inadequate” solutions were implemented (See for instance the representation of a gemsbok depicted in the lower “register” of Barque Site 2 (figure 152)) which could indicate that, in the case discussed here, a hidden “design principle” governing the composition, and not the physical features of the rock face, necessitated the said orientation of the speckled giraffe.)
Set against the long necked creature thus, in opposition to the sun-bearer (i.e., the speckled giraffe) and, so to speak, in opposition to the sun herself, are two footprints allegedly belonging to the same animal species. As it seems, their antagonistic status is deriving from the coeval presence of two “sitting” quadrupeds depicted above them. Interestingly, the legs of these sitting zoomorphs are conspicuously stretched out against the solar run.
Sidenote 21: Similar to the interpretation given in chapter 5.345.2, Ref. figures 84 – 86, the positioning of a sitting quadruped above the giraffe’s footprint may have served as an attribute (i.e. as a determinative as known from purely ideographic ancient Egyptian writings. See A. Gardiner: Egyptian Grammar. 3rd edition, Oxford 1979, pp.32+34) in the context of an allegory of death thus, demonstrating that the “pictorial language” of the Biar Jaqub Neolithic, like the one of the Wadi Sura region, already used, in a quite rudimentary form, ideographic signs and premature “grammatical patterns” to which, at the dawn of the invention of writing, the later Egyptian hieroglyphic system resorted.
The “sitting” phenomenon has been linked before with death and extinction (see sidenote 10, caption to figure 56 and also U. W. Hallier, B. C. Hallier: Felsbilder der Zentralsahra. Stuttgart 1992, p. 95) although almost all of the “sitting” zoomorphs depicted in rock art do not really look dead and also seem to be “sitting” on their tails. (The latter peculiarity is considered by Scherz as a constituent feature of a “sitting” posture. (see M. v. Hoek in: http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/vanhoekart/web/rap1part1.html. op. cit)) Despite of these definitional problems it must be assumed that an image of a zoomorph which has been rotated by 900 thus, contrary to its natural sitting position, letting the animal concerned appear “…as ´sitting on its buttocks´, the spine more or less in a vertical position and the head at the top” (M. v. Hoek: The sitting zoomorph in Saharan rock art. Sahara 16 (2005), p. 183), has been intentionally depicted this way and that this mode of representation may be a “…premeditated result of a set of specific but still unknown determinants…. involving cultural rationales” (Ibidem) used for tackling issues such as death and extinction which, in terms of our current fragmentary knowledge, manifests itself in an obscure symbolism.
Sidenote 22: According to Andras Zboray´s suggestion the two sitting zoomorphs shown in figures 136+138a that are endowed with strangely shaped horns and tails raised, may represent sheep. In his e-mail of 9/18/2011 Andras wrote: “I have never seen anything like those beasts myself…. But my best bet would be fat tailed sheep on account of the strangely disproportionate body… The problem is that you never know from isolated examples when an image is depicted realistically, and when it is very stylized or even distorted.” Andras´ estimation corresponds well with my assessment according to which we are dealing here with representations of wild goats. But it also could be dead cattle.
The closest image of sheep or goats (caprinae), Caprinae Site , is located on a flat topped hillock at the eastern banks of Shallow Wadi (N 25 17.061+E 28 19.680) circa 5,4 kilometres to the south-southwest of the Rosette Site. (figure 140; see also Results of Winter 2003/2004 Expeditions.) However the shapes of the animals´ horns are not identical. This could be owed to the fact that, in the case of figures 136+138a, the wild caprinae were depicted in twisted perspective i.e., their bodies portrayed in profile and their horns in frontal view, whilst the horns in figure 140 are shown in side view. Note that, in figures 136+138a,to the head of one of the sitting animals a goatee beard seems to be attached.
figure 140: From Biar Jaqub. Caprinae Site. A representation of two wild caprinae in a mirror-image arrangement. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 141: From Biar Jaqub. An array of footprints representing a giraffe’s track as the palaeoartist may have seen it imprinted into muddy playa surfaces after rain. Image shown is color enhanced.
It could be argued that the footprints shown in figure 138a were meant to reproduce reality as indicated by a beautiful array of footprints possibly representing a giraffe’s track on a muddy playa surface after rain. (figure 141) I found this image not far away (about 3½ kilometers to the southwest of the Rosette Site, at N 25 18,208+E 28 23,350) on the windward side of a hillock and next to a small cluster stone circles. But such footprints also could convey a hidden (cosmological) symbolism. In the case discussed here the latter assumption seems more likely suggesting that, the footprints seen in figure 138a may represent giraffes in a reduced, minimalist form with the intention to lay open a weak (or promising(?)) side of these animals, a revelation that may have been considered useful within the framework of a mythical-religious context that governed the Biar Jaqub artworks at the time of the panel’s creation. This assumption is supported by the aforementioned presence of two sitting wild caprinae whose legs are shown stretched out against the solar run, a posture that, in addition to the allusions of death and extinction referred to above, further enhances the impression of ephemerality and transience of existence. Hence, do we see here a variant of animal symbolism composed of but a few iconographic elements and set into a solar-religious context which anticipates Egyptian ideas on the afterlife? If, in this regard and according to Westendorf´s interpretation, the speckled giraffe could be envisioned as an epitome of a uniquely and immutably animal shaped being that carries the sun (German: einmalige und unveränderliche Sonnenbringerin. See W. Westendorf: op. cit., p. 206) and if the “rosette” depicted to the left of the two sitting wild caprinae is seen, (a) as a force that controls the elements of chaos i.e., drought and famine, similar to the Egyptian Predynastic perception where the rosette symbolized royalty (see G. Dreyer: Narmerpalette und Städtepalette. Die Unterwerfung des Deltas, in: K. Daoud, S. Bedier, S. Abd el-Fatah (eds.): Studies in honor of Ali Radwan. Cairo, ASAE 34.1, p. 254) or (b) as a solar disc whose fruit bearing rays(?) were meant to signify beliefs in the afterlife, then the iconographic elements of the rock panel concerned do represent more than a mere message of people’s presence. Rather, this panel may have to be regarded as an artwork that was executed according to specific mythical-religious concepts in which observations and ideas about the solar cycle played an important role. So, in all likelihood, we are looking at a mythological work of art in which not only the few human(?) figures framing the scene but also the speckled giraffe as opposed to the giraffe footprints (their “negative” meaning being enhanced by the sitting caprinae placed fairly close above them) are executed as antithetically positioned iconographic elements.
Finally, a few words regarding (A) the sable antelope (Oryx dammah) which, according to figure 142, may indeed partly be superimposed onto the speckled giraffe (B) obliterating the head of the latter. This antelope (A) which is oriented to the right (i.e., north or northwest) and, as far as one can see, whose hind legs are extending to one of the said footprints (C), is meeting another quadruped (D) “nose to nose”. Quadruped D is rendered upside down. Its legs are also stretched out against the solar run. Moreover the superimposition of the giraffe’s head (B) by the sable antelope (A) indicates that the latter, together with the two caprinae (E) and quadruped D which show similar leg stances, may have been added to the scene at a later date. But what “later” means in this context cannot exactly be calculated by aggregating days, months or even years. (Note however, that the sable antelope (A) may partly be superimposed onto the quadruped D as well as onto one of the caprinae (E))
figure 142: Detail of figure 138a. Photographed with side flashes to enhance the visibility of details.
5.345.331.223 Barque Site 1 - evidence of mythologically inspired animal characters and a representation of two funerary barques from the southern outskirts of Biar Jaqub (Ard Chalil) dating to the Bashendi B period
If the scene in figures 136+138a+142 is compared with one from the Bashendi B period found on 1/28/2004 together with Janine el-Saghir circa 14 kilometres to the south-southeast of the Rosetta Site at Ard Chalil, in the southern fringes of Biar Jaqub (Barque Site 1; position N 25 12.696+E 28 25.586), one will note the following:
(1) The artwork at Barque Site 1 shown in figure 143 is carved half way up a hillock into a vertical rock surface facing northeast (400).
(2) The panel, which is the hillock’s only rock carving, measures 3 metres in length and 2½ metres in height.
(3) Neither a “sitting animal” nor giraffe’s footprints have been added to the composition.
(4) Not a single beast is shown heading in a direction that is opposed to the general movement characteristic of both the giraffes and sable antelopes. It seems as if all the animals were bound to a single pivotal idea.
(5) Both herds, which are heading northwestwards, are depicted in a tranquil mood and, in the case of the giraffe shown separated from her companions and placed at the upper right end of the panel we are, perhaps, witnessing a parturition. (for a close-up see figure 144)
(6) Below the parturient(?) giraffe two enigmatic sickle shaped items resembling the hulls of Predynastic boats (see also figure 145), one of them manned with a crew of about twenty plus one chieftain (the latter being represented by a taller stroke) the other with a crew of circa ten are to be seen. (See fairly similar depictions in R. Rohl: The followers of Horus. Eastern Desert Survey report. Vol. 1, Abingdon 2000, p. 9 (fig. 31), p. 36 (fig 10), p. 66 (fig 2).) If the human figures were represented in realistic scale the length of the larger one of the vessels would be roughly 20 metres. But is it at all conceivable that a representation of an item commonly associated with mythical-religious artistic expressions of the Predynastic would extend back into the Western Desert Neolithic? Undoubtedly, for reasons of style and choice of motifs, this artwork, if not earlier, has to be dated to around 6,500-5200 BP (circa calBC 5,500 – 3,900; M. Stuiver, P. J. Reimer: Radiocarbon 1993 (35) pp. 215-230. See also Results of Winter 2007/08 Expedition, Preliminary report on the Results of Radiocarbon- and TL-datings on this website.). (Regarding the images shown in figure 143 Andras Zboray comments “…the giraffe and ibex or scimitar horned Oryx(?) have a distinctly prehistoric flair, and that the earliest boat depictions appeared in the Protohistoric. The enigmatic items definitely appear to be part of the composition, wear and patina is the same. Until finding some clearer analogies I would just leave it at that and simply state that we have no idea what they represent. Email of 9/3/2011) Or can the said enigmatic figures be interpreted as “unfinished” long coated giraffes tethered to something to their right that is impossible to discern, and whose hind legs were “forgotten”?
figure 143: Rock art at funarary Barque Site 1 depicting Neolithic perceptions of afterlife existence and a cult of the dead thus, elevating the composition to one of the earliest and most splendid mythologically inspired monuments of the Biar Jaqub region. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 144: Detail of figure 143. Parturient(?) giraffe. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 145: Detail of figure 143. Two Neolithic funerary barques with crews. The larger left one, above which a bird and below a carnivore are depicted, is drawn by men depicted as strokes visible on the extreme right. Image shown is color enhanced.
On 10/24/2003, whilst surveying the Eastern fringes of Biar Jaqub, Marlies Kriegeler and I came across a hillock at N 25 18.328+E 28 24.412, circa five kilometres to the east-southeast of the Rosette Site, that is sparsely decorated with severely eroded rock art. (figure 146) Among the faint drawings is a comparatively large speckled(?) giraffe which, as it seems, is depicted with its back hair standing on end. However, a closer look (figure 147) reveals that the said coat consists of three small four-stroke clusters, indicating the remnants of three almost completely eroded quadrupeds which, once upon a time, were depicted just above the giraffe’s spine. Yet, does this insight get us any further when applying it to the enigmatic depictions shown in figures 143+145? The answer is no, because contrary to the three clusters of legs shown in figure 147 the strokes in figures 143+145 seem to be tightly attached to their base.
figure 146: Rock panel consisting, inter alia, of large speckled(?) giraffe. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 147: Detail of figure 146. Image shown is color enhanced.
The result of our inquiry throws us back to our initial assumption according to which the enigmatic entities shown in figures 143+ 145 have to be regarded as Neolithic representations of sickle shaped boats heading to the northwest and thus, being oriented against the solar run or, more probable, heading in the direction of the celestial bodies that, during the course of the night, never dip below the horizon (circumpolar stars) and that were called by the ancient Egyptians “The Imperishable Ones” (see chapter 5.345.1, summary and outlook). Fairly similar to a boat presented by Rohl (D. Rohl: op. cit., p. 66 (MA-2, No. 3)) the two vessels concerned are endowed with a high prow and a low stern. To both of them two large steering oars(?) have been attached. (See a similar design but endowed with only a single steering oar in D. Rohl: op. cit., p. 135 et seq. (WD-2, Nos. 1+3)). The prow-position of the steering oars(?) as indicated in figures 143+145 is indeed unusual. But as the larger one of these vessels is connected by a horizontal line (most certainly representing a rope) with a sizable number of people clearly to be seen on the panel’s extreme right where they are represented by short strokes, the vessel is probably being towed. Usually, a towline is attached to a ship’s prow. If this is also the case here, there can be no doubt about the boats orientation and the positioning of the steering oars(?). This assessment is further supported by the shape of the boat’s low stern that, “behind” the last crewmember, in a slightly downward directed curvature, extends a bit further to the left. On those grounds, it cannot be doubted that the boat is towed against the solar run or towards “The Imperishable Ones”. This movement alone qualifies the vessel as a funerary barque and the odd position of its two steering oars(?) may, in one way or the other, point to this function.
Sidenote 23: Following a suggestion of Raban and Bowen, the boat’s two enigmatic devices attached to its prow and shown slightly spreading apart from each other, could also be interpreted as “…a kind of knotted rope(s) loosely dangling down from the prow… The overall repertory of this device might be considered as a purifying one, keeping the sacred barge, or boat, off any possible floating impurity during its ceremonial…” journey. (A. Raban: The enigma of the long planks Predynastic boats on the Upper Nile. http://ina.tamu.edu/library/tropis/volumes/4/Raban,%20Avner%20-%20The%20enigma%20of%20the%20long%20planks%20predynastic%20boats%20on%20the%20upper%20Nile.pdf, p.377 et seq.; R. Bowen: Egypt’s earliest sailing ships. Antiquity 34, p. 120) In such a case, the said objects would underscore the boat’s role as a mythical vehicle that would carry a deceased across the water and towards the “Imperishable Ones”.
Note however, that the said boat also could be regarded as if being pulled rearwards, and that its two steering oars(?) are used as supports for jacking up the hull at the waterside possibly indicating that, finally, the shores of the netherworld i.e., the realm of eternity were reached, and that an entity similar to the “Waters of Nun” (i.e., the primeval waters that, according to Egyptian mythology, existed before the world came into being. M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 59), had been successfully crossed. Such an interpretation would not significantly change the panel’s meaning as, in this case, the boat’s orientation would indicate its readiness to set sail again after the disembarkation of its passengers. Hence, the barque could represent a ferry navigating between the earth and the stars or between the world and the netherworld and vice versa.
(7) In the light of these findings it comes as no surprise that a procession of Oryx dammah and not giraffes are “following” the large barque and that above the smaller barque a parturient(?) giraffe has been depicted. Both iconographic elements add to the impression that the composition as a whole qualifies as a pictorial report (German: Bildbericht) designed to convey a symbolic message. Most certainly, the message’s content is about the eternal cycle of life and death including a vision on afterlife existence as expressed by oral myths and religious(?) practices of the Bashendi B period. It is likely that, in this context the sable antelopes have to be regarded as sacred animals connected with a cult of the dead, a cultural-religious conception that may have resonated through history until it transformed into the ancient Egyptian bias, which considered antelopes as foes of the sun. (W. Westendorf: op. cit., p. 210)
According to the artwork’s compositional structure two other animal species seem to be connected with the cult of the dead: As evidenced by figures 143+145, above the larger one of the two barques a long-necked and fairly long-legged bird and below it a long-tailed, long-nosed quadruped, possibly an aardwolf (an insectivorous mammal of the hyaenidae family) (figure 148), or, in Andras Zboray and Koenraad de Smet´s view (email of 9/24/2011), an aardvark (figure 149a), have been depicted. At some distance, the aardwolf/aardvark is followed by a smaller conspecific. The three animals concerned, as all others, are shown oriented towards the right margins of the panel thus, to the northwest and also against the solar run (and further, towards “The Imperishable Ones”). To closer evaluate the scope of the composition’s symbolic meaning as reflected in the left part of figure 145 and also in figure 143, we now shall deal in separate subparagraphs with the long-necked bird and the enigmatic, long-tailed animals assuming first that (a) the beasts could be aardwolves and secondly, that (b) they are aardvarks.
(a) Perhaps, these long-tailed, long-nosed quadrupeds are aardwolves, the smallest of the hyenas, and the bird is a crane whose long outstretched neck becomes apparent only when the bird is flying. Aardwolves spend the day in burrows and come out at night to search for termites, insect larvae and carrion. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardwolf) These features would fit well into the composition’s symbolism as the aardwolves could be interpreted as representatives of the underworld and the crane, in its capacity as a migratory bird that is shown ready to fly (indicative of such readiness is its outstretched neck) northwards, as a metaphor of the journey of the soul heading for “The Imperishable Ones”. However, at present the aardwolf’s habitat is confined to the scrublands of eastern and southern Africa. In Egypt aardwolves occur in the country’s southeastern corner only (see map in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardwolf), and it has not yet been ascertained whether the animals inhabited the Western Desert during the Neolithic.
(b) Exactly this is the case with regard to the habitat of aardvarks as Pachur and Altmann established their presence “…by bone fragments found in late Quarternary deposits in the north east vicinity of the Gilf Kebir.” (M. Borda: Rock art finds at Garet Shezzu and an aardvark? Sahara 22(2011) p. 132; see also H.-J. Pachur, N. Altmann: Die Ostssahara im Spätquartär. vol. 1, p. 494 + vol. 2, map 3, Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene Fauna in the Eastern Sahara. Berlin, Heidelberg, 2006). According to the two researchers aardvarks are burrowing nocturnal mammals. They are dependent on the availability of water and feed on termites, ants, locusts, cockchafer crubs and insects. Their favorite feed besides termites is the so called aardvark cucumber (cucumis humifructus) which fruits underground and whose pulp is devoured for its water content (Ibidem), as is the case of the pulp of colocynths that is eaten by desert adapted donkeys, sheep and goats for the same reason. (see Results of winter 2006/07 Expeditions, experiments in the Sudan – a solution to the Clayton ring problem (continued)) Therefore it is quite conceivable that, in times of drought, the prehistoric aardvarks of Egypt’s Western Desert also fed on green colocynths to quench their thirst.
An aardvark weighs between 40 and 65 kilograms and is “…vaguely pig-like in appearance. Its body is stout with an arched back…the limbs are of moderate length… the ears are disproportional long, and the tail is very thick at the base and gradually tapers. The greatly elongated head is set on a short, thick neck, and the end of the snout bears a disc which houses the nostrils.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardvark) These features, with the exception of the arched back, are fairly well reflected in the rock drawing concerned. So, if not the smaller skinny (young(?)) creature to the left, then the one shown in figure 145 may indeed be an aardvark.
Hence, the indisputably symbolic nature of the scene shown in figure 145 is underscored by an image of a nocturnal “animal of the underworld” that existed in reality, that roamed around up to 16 kilometres during the night (H.-J. Pachur, N. Altmann: op. cit, p. 494), that, when resting, seems to prefer lying on its back (figure 149b; thus, when in supine position, giving the impression of a lifeless corpse that, nevertheless, at the beginning of the night appears “reborn”) and that is shown here in unequivocal association with a funerary barque, more precisely, below the said vessel. (It seems that, in the case discussed here, the Neolithic artist was guided by a clear-cut concept when placing a certain iconographic element impregnated with mythological-religious meaning above and another one below a third, central element emanating a meaning of the same kind. So, depicting the aardvark below and the bird above the sacred vessel has to be considered as highly intentional and, at the same time, as quite realistic.)
figure 148: Aardwolf, also called maanhaar jackal. (Photographed by Dominik Käuferle, cited from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardwolf.)
figure 149a: Stuffed dermoplastic of an aardvark exhibited at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. (Photographed by Masur, cited from http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erdferkel.)
figure 149b: Aardvark in supine position. (photographed by Alexander Wilkie, cited from http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Aardvark_sleeping_on_its_back.JPG&filetimestamp=20090202222519) Image shown is color enhanced.
The crane-funerary barque-aardvark-combination is regarded here as further proof of the influence that the Neolithic cultures of the Western Desert exerted on the religion and mythology of Predynastic and Pharaonic Egypt. In particular, the occurrence of an aardvark in a funerary context placed at the “shores of the netherworld” from where the soul would start its journey into eternity i.e., to “The Imperishable Ones”, supports de Maret´s proposal who, according to iconographic and ethnographic evidence, has linked the aardvark to Seth. (P. de Maret: L´orycterope, un animal “bon a penser” pour les Africains, est-il a l´origine du dieu egyptien Seth? Bulletin de l´Institut francais d´archeologie orientale du Cairo. 105(2005)pp. 107-128, cited from M. Borda: Rock art finds. op. cit., p. 132). According to the prevailing thought, Seth could be represented in the guise of an “…antelope, ass or donkey, goat, pig, hippopotamus, crocodile, and certain fish (which) were all regarded as symbolically noxious…” (R. H. Wilkinson: The complete Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt. op. cit., p. 199. Probably, the evil character assigned by the ancient Egyptians to pigs is a “perverted” remnant of a Neolithic cult of the dead in which the vaguely pig-like looking aardvarks played an important role.). Altogether “…more than twenty different animals, and even a bird … have been suggested as the mysterious Seth animal” (H. te Velde: Seth, in: The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Egypt. vol. 3, op. cit., p. 269) of which a few were “… supposed to live in the desert.” (Ibidem) Funerary Barque Site 1 reveals that the aardvark may be the one which, in Neolithic times, was endowed with Seth-like attributes. Moore than 2,000 years later, in the Pharaonic script, these age-old qualities which, probably, the Bashendi B culture had attached to “their Seth animal” at around 5,000 BC “… served as a determinative classification sign for about twenty-five words denoting confusion in cosmological, social, and personal life.” (Ibidem) Are we witnessing, at funerary Barque Site 1, first attempts at inventing a syntax for a pictorial language, which was employed to enhance the symbolic content of certain reports inscribed in stone?
(8) On the extremely narrow plateau of the hillock’s summit a small stone circle has been erected. From there one can look across the wide playa plain (Ard Chalil) that extends eastwards. This stone circle could have been used as a lookout but might also have served a religious function. In either case, the person occupying(?) the stone circle may, in fact, have observed diurnally an abundance of large mammals roaming across, browsing or resting on the plain. Is it conceivable that such observations provided the background and basis for the mythological-religious artwork depicted on the magnificent panel below? In this context it is important to note that, in comparison to the Naqada II artwork at Rosette Site, here the eternal cycle of life and death is presented in a more organic, even “relaxed” and less fearful or pleading way. Is this owed to the climatic conditions which, during the Bashendi period, ensured that the region still abounded in wildlife? Seemingly, the assumed affluence has been successfully translated by the artist concerned and incorporated into this monument’s imagery. As, in all likelihood, the Bashendi B populace of Ard Chalil experienced no scarcity of wild life, images of giraffe’s footprints as evidenced at Rosette Site were not incorporated as an authentic expression or as a mythological sublimation of the factual, i.e., of tracing big game in an environment lacking sufficient animal populations.
(9) At the lee side, covered by sand and sediment, the remains of a cluster of stone circles are to be seen. Probably those who created the rock art and performed their religious rituals in face of the imagery may have lived here.
All iconographic elements combined are elevating this rock panel to one of the most splendid mythologically inspired monuments of the Biar Jaqub region. The exceptional nature of its imagery is further enhanced by the fact that at a, so far, unexpected very early age i.e., already around 5,000 BC, a pronounced solar or stellar cult together with a cult of the dead had existed at Biar Jaqub and its surroundings. Moreover, it seems likely that these cults were embedded into a highly elaborate culture in which particular myths were formed and passed on until, during the terminal period of the Neolithic Wet Phase (which resulted, inter alia, in a steady exodus of the desert-steppe populace to the Nile valley) they gradually converted into the formalized mythological-religious iconography that, woven around the narrative structures of the age old myths, became characteristic of the Pharaonic civilization.
Solar symbolism, perceptions of afterlife existence and the cult of the dead have been described as primary forms of Egyptian thoughts. At Biar Jaqub we have arrived at one of their possible origins. Similar beginnings, although not substantiated by pictorial evidence, was reported from Nabta Playa thus, demonstrating that the said cults were spread across a considerable part of Egypt’s Western Desert. Later, we shall work our way further to the southwest with the intention to link the evidence found at Biar Jaqub with the one evident in the Wadi Sura area. In fact, with his discovery of a representation of an aardvark at Garet Shezzu, Mark Borda has extended the area in which similar prehistoric mythological-religious concepts may have prevailed, already beyond Gebel Uweinat. At Garet Shezzu the aardvark is depicted in close association with two human figures. As “…aardvarks would not normally interact with humans in the way portrayed… (see figure 87a above)… the panel is perhaps not ´naturalistic´ in character, i.e. it is not recording an actual event such as a hunting scene etc. and therefore, it maybe represents a religious or mythological belief.” (M. Borda. Rock art finds. op. cit., p. 133) That the aardvark depicted at funerary Barque Site 1 serves a similar function has been amply explained above.
5.345.331.224 “Barque site 2” – the Shallow Wadi giraffe-boat panel. Evidence of mythologically inspired artwork including a sun barque dating to the Bashendi B period.
The hillock (Barque Site 2, figure 150) that bears the rock panel shown in figure 152 was discovered by Johannes Kieninger on 11/27/2003 whilst I had to pause in camp because, on that day, I had fallen from a nearby hill. The discovery is located at the western banks of Shallow Wadi (at N 25 16.946+28 19.629) circa 5.6 kilometres to the south-southwest of the Rosette Site. Caprinae Site (figure 140) is only 230 metres away, in the direction of 200, on the other side of Shallow Wadi.
Barque Site 2 is decorated with rock art at its eastern side only where, from scree slopes, a few steep rock faces rise into the sky. One of them is right-angle shaped and its two inner surfaces are embellished with drawings. No datable settlement remains are to be seen at the hillock’s foot. But, according to iconographically comparable drawings from other Biar Jaqub sites, the hillock’s artwork i.e., the representations of quadrupeds and the boat shown in figures 151-155, can be assigned to the Bashendi B period. (As the hillock’s rock drawings concentrate on its eastern side Huyge´s concept of rock art evaluation cannot be applied here straight away.)
figure 150: Barque site 2 is the hillock in the photograph’s center crowned with bright steep rock faces. The right-angle shaped rock face, which bears the drawings, is clearly to be seen. View from the north-northeast. Photographed from Caprinae Site 230 metres afar.
figure 151: From Barque Site 2, upper “register”: Close-up of the right-angle shaped boat with a crew of four(?) and sixteen oars. Photographed with side flashes to enhance the visibility of details.
figure 152: Barque Site 2. Ensemble of giraffes, a boat (upper “register”),a cluster of giraffes and other large mammals (lower “register”) depicted at the hillock’s eastern side on a vertical rock surface that faces north. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 153: Detail from figure 152 photographed with side flashes to enhance the visibility of details. Note the quadruped at the lower left corner of the photograph. Photographed with side flashes to enhance the visibility of details.
figure 154: Detail from figure 152 photographed in daylight. Note the giraffe above the boat depicted in a posture possibly indicating that the beast is drinking. Image shown is color enhanced.
figure 155: Close-up of a giraffe shown whilst about to drink(?) water. Image shown is color enhanced.
The panel shown in figure 152 appears to be split in two “registers”. This impression is created (a) by a distinct natural ledge dividing the panel into two parts and by the fact that, (b) the surface, coloration and inclination of the parts differ considerably from each other. Very probably, the Neolithic artists took notice of the almost horizontal ledge and adapted to it when embellishing the site’s rock surfaces with drawings.
In its upper “register”, the penal which faces north, contains a pair of large giraffes oriented to the observer’s right (west). Seemingly, one of the two beasts (the head of the other one is missing), together with a smaller conspecific engraved in front of the couple, is focusing on the comparatively small sized barque (figures 151-154) depicted further to the right (west) where the panel meets its rock art decorated counterpart at right angle. The vessel, which has a square-shaped hull, is endowed with a high prow, a stern of the same height, and circa 20 oars. Nothing indicates the direction of the barque´s “movement”. So, whether the vessel was meant to head to the right (west) or to the left (east) remains obscure. However, there are two ways to find out more about the barque´s orientation. Both options are taking into account the orientation of the neighboring petroglyphs depicted above and below the boat asking whether or not, in the mind of the artist concerned, the alignment of the former could have influenced the vessel’s heading or vice versa. So, if, on the one hand, the orientation of the giraffe shown with a well stretched neck and a lowered skull and placed above the boat (see figure 154+155) is taken as a determining factor for the direction of boat’s “movement” the vessel would be heading westwards thus, running against the traverse rock face immediately to its right. If this were to be the case, the boat’s orientation would comply with the “overall orientation” predetermined by three large mammals i.e., the giraffe above the boat and the pair of large giraffes in the composition’s center. On the other hand and less probable, the vessel’s orientation could align with the orientation of the small quadruped depicted almost two boat-lengths below the barque. (figure 153) This “adversely oriented” small quadruped seems to be facing the pair of large giraffes. (figure 152) It possesses a horizontal spine indicating that it does not represent a giraffe but rather an antelope. Bearing in mind the ancient Egyptian prejudice, which considered antelopes as foes of the sun, could such bias, if it had previously existed, have “spilled over” to the boat and thus, influenced the perception about its desired orientation? Is such reasoning too far-fetched, and are we reading tea leaves when hypothesizing that it is possible to assign an assumed antagonistic relationship between the antelope and the pair of giraffes to a boat-giraffe combination (although the latter combination may not even exist)? It has to be admitted that the rock panel renders no information to support this idea. If at all, there may be a relationship between the boat and the giraffe which, placed above the barque, is shown in a posture that suggests that the beast is drinking. In case this interpretation is correct the common denominator of both of these entities (giraffe and boat) is water. The water, which the giraffe guzzles, is the matter and medium that allows the boat to navigate. Even more, the Neolithic engravers may have depicted the beast as if drinking from the primeval “Waters of Nun” on which the vessel had been imagined to float. This then would explain why the “drinking giraffe” is engraved above the holy barque.
Sidenote 24: As for the question what the giraffe shown at the top of the upper “register” is doing, one may answer.
(a) The giraffe accidentally arches over the barque.
(b) The giraffe is depicted with its skull lowered because of limited space. As the Neolithic engraver had to adapt to a crack and to other physical features of the rock face, and as he may not have been inclined to reduce the animal’s size, he could not draw the beast in normal posture i.e., with its head raised.
(c) The giraffe is shown grazing. But there is no bush or small tree to be seen on which she is feeding. (as is the case at Wadi Hamra (figure 156). This representation is also to be found in J.-J. Le Quellec; P.+P. de Flers: op. cit., p. 152, fig.371 who also published a few petroglyphs and a rock painting of giraffes shown browsing on large trees. In this case the beasts are depicted in a relaxed, natural pose with knees kept straight. Consequently, their legs are executed in a straight line too. (Ibidem, p. 160, figs. 395-397, p. 161, figs. 398-400.)) Furthermore, in comparison to the Wadi Hamra giraffe and to the depictions of giraffes published by Le Quellec and de Flers, the giraffe at Barque Site 2 is shown in a quite strained pose. This pose corresponds fairly well with the awkward posture when a giraffe is drinking.
(d) Whenever a giraffe reaches out for something way below her knees (may this be short grass or water) she is obliged to spread apart her forelegs fairly similar to the posture shown in figure 155. Although the said giraffe’s front legs are only slightly angled, and her head is not placed low enough so that her lips could touch the ground or the surface of the water, it can be reasonably assumed that water is the object of the beast’s desire. Hence, even though the water surface is not indicated (e.g. by a wavy line as in the case of contemporaneous Biar Jaqub water signs), what else but drinking (or about to drink) water could have been assigned to her body posture by the artist? The depiction reveals no further clues. Under these circumstances and until a further detailed examination of the rock drawing concerned priority is given to proposal according to which the said giraffe is shown involved in drinking water. (If however, one day, it should be revealed that the Barque Site 2 –giraffe is not drinking but browsing, the meaning of this exceptional rock drawing, nevertheless, would lead us again to the realms of religion and mythology.)
figure 156: From Wadi Hamra, Gilf Kebir: Giraffe feeding on a small tree. Courtesy of Prof. Miroslav Barta. Image shown is color enhanced.
There is a third way to, possibly, unveil the hidden meaning of the scene. Reflecting once again that the panel concerned is roughly facing north which implies that, from the vantage point of the observer who is obliged to look southwards when he wants to cast a glance at the rock drawings shown in figure 152, it may not be appropriate to consider the small antelope in figure 153 as an adversary of the pair of large giraffes or of the sun. Because this antelope, like a few other animals depicted in the upper “register”, is oriented to the east welcoming sunrise. Approaching the register’s pictorial structure from this perspective would imply that, despite of several figures opposing each other, the Neolithic engravers were not at all elaborating on antagonisms in their work of art. Indeed, the antelope and two damaged giraffes on the panel’s left are shown looking at the morning sun whilst the pair of large giraffes, their smaller conspecific and the one arching over the barque are depicted according to “…the local sense of the apparent rotation of the sun…” (D. Huyge: op. cit. p. 199). Hence, favored by the alignment of the rock face concerned and contrary to the apparent impression (which, at present, seems to be controlled by a corset of equalizing modernist aesthetic standards (German: eine möglicherweise durch ästhetische Normierung der Wahrnehmung und anderer kulturspezifischer Mechanismen der Moderne verzerrte, sinn-verengende Betrachtungsweise)), the iconographic elements of this scene were harmoniously modeled and placed according to, perhaps, truly existent vibrant myths. Moreover, it seems as if this particular “register” was deliberately chosen to be embellished with a legend i.e., a narrating pictorial story whose single “statements” (consisting of quadrupeds and the solar barque) were taken from reality but were subjected to a metamorphosis ensuring that, everyday life scenes were mythically charged and impregnated with a sense-giving solar orientation. In such a context it was not necessary to define whether the boat’s heading is to the east or to the west as, in any case, the vessel was meant to function as a solar barque. Consequently and contrary to the two barques depicted at funerary Barque Site 1 (figures 143+145), the engraver at Barque Site 2 may even have deliberately refrained from depicting in detail a barque´s stern that would differ from its prow. (To the modern observer, the slightly bowed left contour line of the hull may tentatively indicate where the barque´s front and where its rear is.)
Sidenote 25: It would indeed be unusual if, at this particular place, the Neolithic artist had depicted a funerary barque as heading westwards thus, as running against the traverse rock face immediately to its right. (Seemingly, such a “decision” would “make sense” only if the Biar Jaqub artists conceived the world and the universe as a curved space.) Notwithstanding that such a “directional anomaly” would have to be considered as highly intentional, one must bear in mind that physical features such as (a) cracks, holes or (b) the margins of a rock panel ending, for instance, in empty space (see for example the case of the two funerary barques in figure 143) or (c) at an adjacent patch of rock unsuitable for drawings or, further, (d) at a traverse rock face, may, in one way or the other, have influenced the arrangement of a rock drawing’s composition. (see also M. Barta, M. Frouz: op. cit., p. 45, figure 15). Therefore it is not surprising that in the hunting scene (figure 157) at Water Mountain Outpost No. 7 the giraffe, seen here as the archetype of a late Bashendi B period heliophorous being which, in this special case, happens to be facing death and thus, loosing its sacred status because of (human) necessities of life, is shown oriented to the north (against the solar run but towards “The Imperishable Ones”) and that, as a consequence of this inevitable mortal threat, the rock surface that was selected for the scene is located at the very northeastern end of the hill. Hence, the giraffe’s orientation and the location of the panel concerned indicate that not a mere incident directly linked with reality i.e., with the hunt and with killing, is shown in figure 157 but that the composition as a whole was meant to emanate a symbolic message (possibly regarding afterlife existence) and thus, as in the case of funerary Barque Site 1, served as a mythical fable meant to distance the observer from reality and from rationality. (Note that, at either of these sites the western slopes are void of rock drawings which rules out an investigation similar to the ones performed by Huyge at Elkab.)
figure 157: From Water Mountain Outpost No. 7. Depiction of a true-to-life giraffe hunt embodying a fable meant to distance the observer from reality. Image shown is color enhanced.
The accordance in terms of (1) the orientation of a Bashendi B “holy image” and (2) the location of the panel which contains such images (as evidenced at funerary Barque Site 1 (figure 143) and at Water Mountain Outpost No. 7 (figure 155)) is striking. Indeed, such arrangements are not limited to the two Biar Jaqub rock art sites presented here. It would, however, go beyond the scope of this paper to further exemplify this intriguing observation. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the funerary Barque Site 1- panel appears to be older than the giraffe hunting scene shown in figure 155, indicating, perhaps, that the solar or stellar orientation of a decisive part of the Biar Jaqub rock art and thus, a solar or stellar cult probably began to emerge already during the final centuries of Bashendi A times (7,600-6,800 BP, calBC 6,450-5.650; M. Stuiver, P. J. Reimer: Radiocarbon 1993 (35) pp. 215-230.)
The lower “register” of the panel concerned (figure 152) leaves us with the impression of a frieze whose engravings were meant to complement the “story” told above. This frieze contains six giraffes, two gemsboks, a sable antelope and a few other beasts. One badly weathered quadruped barely to be seen on the register’s left side is depicted in a “sitting” posture. A giraffe superimposes it. As supported by an image found at nearby Caprinae Site which contains two wild sheep or goats in a mirror-image arrangement (figure 140) thus, showing one of the beasts as lying on its back, “sitting” animals or those in supine position may represent killed beasts and hence, could indicate hunting activities. (see J. D. Keyser: Indian rock art of the Columbia Plateau. Seattle 1992, p. 38, cited from http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/vanhoekart/web/rap1part1.html) On the right margins of the “register” a gemsbok is shown as if heading for the traverse rock face immediately to its right. In the case of the barque engraved in the upper “register” such an orientation has been considered a “directional anomaly”. But, in our modern minds, would this “anomaly” not disappear when we hypothesize that, here and there, the Neolithic artists of Biar Jaqub related representations of animals directly to the natural world and thus, engraved the beasts of their choice into a rock face wherever there was empty space without attempting to project mythical-religious concepts onto them? Thus, could it be that, in the lower “register”, focusing on the hunt, real game is depicted whereas, in the upper “register”, quite unspectacularly, an attempt is made to make terrene the inexplicable whilst, simultaneously, metaphysical promises are being staged? To suspect that, in metaphysical terms, “above” and “below” had existed in the Biar Jaqub Neolithic is not far-fetched. For example, the drinking(?) giraffe (figure 155) is depicted at the very top of the upper “register” although, in real life, lakes, ponds and water holes are commonly found at a lower altitude than the surrounding countryside. The said giraffe is however, not depicted somewhere below or even in the lower “register” but at the highest place possible. Furthermore, the crane shown in figure 145 is depicted above the holy barque and not below it where an aardvark, a creature of the underworld, is occupying its rightful place.
As more details emerge the more urgent it is to unveil the mythical-religious projections which, during the Western Desert Neolithic, breathed life into an imagery that, after the great exodus to the Nile valley, fell silent forever.
5.345.331.225 Crocodile Site – a crocodile-boat-“sitting” hyena- combination at Water Mountain outpost no. 9. Evidence of mythologically inspired artwork dating to the Naqada II period.
figure 158: Biar Jaqub, Water Mountain outpost No. 9 (hillock in the front right of the photo) at the western slope of which the imagery of the Crocodile panel is depicted.
Apparently, the depictions of two funerary barques (figures 143+145) and a sun barque (figures 151+154), both dating to the Bashendi B-period, represent simplified versions of contemporary genuine boats. In the case of Barque Site 1 the two funerary vessels are characterized each by (a) a solidly built sickle shaped hull void of any superstructure, (b) a pair of heavy logs extending almost vertically downwards and attached to the boat in the region of the unmanned high prow(?), (c) a low stern, and (d) a crew that is not involved in activity. Consequently, (e) oars or paddles are absent. The only activity taking place in this still life image is that, (f) the larger one of the barques, roughly 20 metres long, is being towed.
In the case of Barque Site 2 it is not certain as to whether (a) the right-angle shaped vessel is (b) crewed. (A few badly weathered short strokes and a long one are recognizable that could be indicative of a captain figure and a small crew.) But (c) a multitude of oars or paddles, possibly (d) divided into two groups, confirm that the boat, similar to the sun, was meant to reach its destination under its own steam.
Although all these features appear independently from each other in the iconographic repertoire of Egyptian Predynastic boats, there is not a single vessel that could be regarded as an exact copy of the said Biar Jaqub barques. Regarding the shape of the hull and the mode of the vessel’s movement Rohl et al. found an image of a high-prowed boat being towed by five figures at Wadi el-Baramiya in the Eastern Desert (D. Rohl: op. cit., p. 45, No. 7) that, if it would not exhibit real humans, a quadruped as cargo and a fairly high but low-angled stern, could serve as a proof for an accordance between the riverine vessels of the Amratian (circa 4,000-3,500 BC) and Gerzaean cultures (circa 3,500-3,200 BC) on the one side and the barques of the Bashendi B populace on the other. So, does this lack of conformity indicate that, the Biar Jaqub Bashendi B-period barques being, probably, considerably older than the Amratian and Gerzean period boats, were not en vogue in the Nile valley around 5,000 BC? Furthermore, could it be that the design of the Biar Jaqub barques was copied from other regions than the Nile valley?
When dealing with these questions one should bear in mind that, our focus lies on a possible diffusion of cultural concepts and ideas and not on ancient transfers of technology regarding, for instance, nautical traditions. From this viewpoint the boat engravings of Biar Jaqub may not have been meant to reflect any practical purpose. Instead, detached from reality and “implanted” into a desert or semi desert environment void of rivers or sizable lakes to be navigated, these images, at the time of their making, may have been regarded as
(a) a reminiscence of a moister period when such waters in the region concerned had existed
(b) motifs imported from Lake Mega-Chad (LMC) that “…had its largest extent between 7,500 and 6,959 cal.B.P (5,500-4,950 BC) when the lake’s surface measured approximately 361,000 km2 …” and that, by 4,000 calBP (2,000 calBC), had “… split into a larger northern lake in the Bodele Depression and a smaller Lake Chad in the south… Lake Bodele… had a surface of 91,000 km2…and Lake Chad had a surface of 22,000 km2“ (Th. Schneider: The west beyond the west. op. cit., p. ) It may well be that, during Bashendi B times and later, boats shaped like the ones shown in figure 145 and crewed by up to twenty rowers, had navigated on these enormous lakes.
With regard to slim, long, “boomerang shape” Predynastic boats Raban, citing Wainright, proposes such a possibility suggesting, that “…several similarities between certain traditions of the Pharaonic culture… and the sub-Saharan cultures of the area west of Lake Chad, such as Burnu, Mali and Songai…” (A. Raban: op. cit., p. 383) point to the possibility of long-range cultural diffusion. From this may follow that far-away “southwestern religious ideas” and the associated imagery found their way also to the Biar Jaqub area and that the said Bashendi B boat depictions are, in fact, an offspring of a tradition which came into being in the region of the Chad basin and beyond. According to Raban these cultural imports from the southwest may have included “… the tradition of ceremonial procession by water, carrying the late chieftains to their afterlife across the river or the lake.” (Ibidem)
(c) motifs imported from the Nile valley where, recently, a black painted sketch of a boat capable to navigate on the river’s open waters, was found on a granite pebble fragment 15 kilometres south of Omdurman/Sudan. The archaeological horizon to which the fragment belongs was dated to the early seventh millennium BC. (7,980 +/-40 BP – 7,870 +/- 40 BP; 7,050-6,640 calBC), anticipating “… the accepted beginning of navigation along the Nile by about 3000 years.” (D. Usai, S. Salvatori: The oldest representation of a Nile boat. Antiquity, vol. 81, issue 314, December 2007, in: http://antiquity.ac.uk./ProjGall/usai/index.html.) The sketch is not complete. But, as far as one can see, the boat’s design which is similar to “… later examples dating to the fourth millennium BC, like the Badarian boats painted on dwelling walls and pottery jars…” (Ibidem) differs completely from that of the Biar Jaqub barques.
The endless expanses of the LMC or Lake Bodele must have left deep impressions on those who, engulfed by timelessness and the unbounded starry skies, traveled in their boats along the shorelines. Experiences of a different kind but, perhaps, evoking similar mythical ideas and predispositions to the religious, took place in the Mesolithic of the (Upper Nubian) Nile valley. (Note that, for instance, in the early Holocene a 30 kilometres long lagoon reached from south of Omdurman to the slopes of Gebel Baroka in the northwest. (Ibidem)) Although these predispositions cannot be addressed here because of lack of sufficient data, it must be noted that, we are indeed on firm grounds when assigning the funerary barques at Barque Site 1 (figures 143+145) to the end of the sixth millennium BC. These engravings would then still be roughly 1,500 years younger than the earliest known representation of a Nile boat. (see above) Moreover, as pointed out before, due to long range cultural links, representations of boats could have found their way to Biar Jaqub as early as 6,500 BC. In other words, the age-old boat engravings at Barque Sites 1+2 are not a chimera or inexplicable anachronisms that, long ago, already had fallen out of time, but symbols derived from the real world that were to project onto the spectator myths and ideas of the religious. In this context it has to be assumed that, the stimuli to deviate from the standard Neolithic pictorial agenda (that focused mainly on depictions of the then-existing fauna) came from outside. That such stimuli prevailed in Biar Jaqub over a long period, i.e., at least until Naqada II times, is attested by the imagery of the Crocodile Site.
The meaning of the Crocodile Site’s solar oriented imagery
Crocodile Site i.e., the crocodile-boat-hyena-combination shown in figures 159+160, is narrating an ancient story in a new guise. For this purpose, unlike Barque Sites 1+2 that are roughly 1,500 years older, but similar to the only a little older Rosette Site, an extended iconographic repertoire was used that, however, is void of representations of the by then almost extinct giraffes. Compared with the two Bashendi B period sites, the Crocodile Site’s symbolism is augmented and confirmed by the following figurative elements (figures 159+160):
(a) A barque whose design is deviating from that of its predecessors. Its hull appears to be of the size of the crocodile depicted above it. Amidships a pole(?), probably the mast(?) is placed on two supports(?) in horizontal position. So, if there were not two oars or paddles and a fairly large steering oar, the latter attached to the boat’s split stern, the “non-deployment” of the boat’s sail, mast and rigging, as in the case of the Barque Site 1 funerary barques, could indicate that the vessel’s imaginary (hidden) passengers were being delivered to their fate without any impulse of their own. Thus, if the boat would represent a funerary barque and the pole(?) was meant to represent a mast(?), would this suggest the possibility of an effort-free fare to the netherworld as, in principle, the barque could also be propelled by the wind, thereby avoiding the need for rowing or canoeing for all eternity? Interpreting the boat’s symbolism this way may not be appreciated by readers. But it should be remembered that, in the Amratian and Gerzaean periods, images of the daily riverine vessels were found in funerary contexts on hundreds of painted jars and also as clay and wooden models. So, whilst in these periods, utilitarian “… boats were everywhere in the daily life of the communities…” (A. Raban: op. cit, p. 376), it seems that, to the watercrafts depicted on grave goods, “…some kind of ceremonial or religious function…” (E. J. Baumgartel, cited from A. Raban:op. cit., p. 376) was clearly assigned. This conjuncture should not be seen as a carte blanche for wild speculations. But with regard to the proposed archaic ceremonial context it must be allowed to delve deeper into the imagery’s details and into the nautical traditions i.e., the ceremonial sailing and the mythical-religious ideas incorporated in it. (Note that, because the pole’s ends do not protrude beyond the two supports(?), there is a remote possibility that the boat’s superstructure is representing a cabin. In this case the cabin would elevate to symbol of its own right.)
(b) Two crocodiles attacking (c) two human figures. Their short limbs could indicate that, in the instant of the attack, the figures concerned are meant to have adopted a defensive stance. (d) An enigmatic ornament to the left and (e) an enigmatic composition with two “sitting” quadrupeds at its right end. (figure 160)
figure 159: Crocodile Site. Rock panel at Water Mountain outpost No. 9 consisting of (left to right) an enigmatic ornament, a funerary barque, two human figures being attacked by crocodiles and an unidentified quadruped. Photographed with side flashes to enhance the visibility of details.
figure 160: From Crocodile Site. Enigmatic composition with two “sitting” quadrupeds on the right, at its southern end. At least one of the animals is a canine (hyena?). Image shown is color enhanced.
The crocodile panel i.e., the crocodile-boat-hyena-combination (figures 159+160) that I discovered at Water Mountain outpost No. 9 (figure 158) is placed on a vertical rock panel at the western slope of the hillock. All but the hillock’s southern slopes are fairly well dotted with drawings. Surprisingly though, at the foot of the steep southern slope, way above the present level of the playa which surrounds the hillock on three sides, I found the remains of an ancient fire place and on top of it a complete soot-blackened Sheikh Muftah cooking pot. (figure 161; for more details see Results of winter 2007/08 expedition, Preliminary report on the results of radiocarbon- and TL-datings) To date, this fireplace is the only proof of a habitation site at Water Mountain outpost No. 9. So, for our considerations it seems reasonable to use this fireplace as point of reference. (Note that, the fairly large amount of charcoal found in two archaeological horizons beneath the pot and under the sand surrounding it, indicates a fire place and not a spillage of embers that accidentally dropped from the dirty pot at the moment when being temporarily stored away.)
figure 161: In situ position of a Sheikh Muftah cooking pot found at the southern slope of Water Mountain outpost No. 9
The crocodile panel (figure 159) is facing west. Provided that the spectator would squat at the said fireplace the boat’s heading is to his rear left i.e., passing by his left shoulder towards the south. The panel’s imagery could have been placed elsewhere on the hillock’s slopes but, probably, according to the cultural rules and conventions of his time, the artist concerned decided to position it in such a way that the boat’s hull (of 10 cm in length) is oriented contrary to the rotation of the sun. Does this “deviant” alignment express a negative relationship to this celestial body? If so, the boat’s “antagonistic” direction most likely was meant to signify death, i.e. a funeral event(?) hence, the boat itself representing a funerary barque. (see Huyge´s reasoning above) The symbolism of death and of the afterlife existence intrinsic to this artwork, is further supported by two crocodiles attacking two human figures from the south, and also by a nearby enigmatic depiction (figure 160) made up of what appears to be a continuous groove that changes direction at sharp angles forming a symmetrical pattern of interlaced straight lines and triangles (30 cm in length and 15 cm in height) fairly reminiscent of two stylized partly intertwined serpents.
Sidenote 26: For the Early Dynastic art, Hendrickx and Förster consider representations of crocodiles as related to the sun (S. Hendrckx, F. Förster: op. cit., p. 834) whilst for the Terminal Predynastic and early Dynastic, Huyge, following Hornung, associates a “negative” cosmological symbolism to the said beast i.e., regards crocodiles as the fearsome foes of the sun. (D. Huyge: op. cit., p. 201). By contrast, for the historic period, Westendorf refers to crocodiles (a) as heliophorous animals i.e., as beasts employed by the sun and providing services for her or (b) as a manifestation of the sun god emerging from the primeval waters. (W. Westendorf: op. cit., p. 209) These quotes demonstrate that, in the course of time, the mythical dimension and qualities of the beast concerned did not remain the same.
Attached to the intertwined serpent’s “open” southern end are two “sitting” carnivores. Their long nose, curved back, big ears and long bushy tail is characteristic of striped or dotted hyenas. Fragmentary skeletal elements of both species and scattered bones of prey animals “… broken in the manner typical of hyenas … have been recovered from deposits of Middle Holocene/Neolithic and Middle Pleistocene/Older Middle Stone Ages” in Dakhla oasis. (C. S. Churcher: Hyenas in the Dakhleh Oasis II, in: The oasis papers 3. Proceedings of the third international conference of the Dakhleh Oasis project. G.E. Bowen, C. A. Hope (eds.), Oxford 2004, pp. 95, 101) Striped and dotted hyenas “…may have visited the occupation sites of Neolithic peoples in the greater Dakhleh Oasis region. When the region was well watered, as during … the first half of the Holocene, they may have been able to range more widely because of the ease of available water…” (Ibidem, p. 101) and, even in later times, as proved by a few engravings of hyenas, they probably hung around Biar Jaqub campsites “… after dark when the human habitants had retreated into their… “ (Ibidem) dwellings. Although there is no final proof, according to Hallier & Hallier, the sitting posture (defined as “…executed on a (nearly) vertical rock surface while the image has deliberately been rotated …. (+/- 900) that the zoomorph appears to the observer as “sitting” on the buttocks; the spine more or less in a vertical position and the head at the top.” (M. van Hoek: The “sitting” zoomorph in Saharan rock art. op. cit., p. 183)) which must be taken as highly intentional, symbolizes dead or dying animals. (U. W. Hallier, B. C. Hallier: Felsbilder der Sahara. Stuttgart 1992, cited from M. v. Hoek: op. cit., p. 186) Applying Hallier´s assumption to the scene depicted in figure 160 and keeping in mind that hyenas were hunted by the ancient Egyptians because they were considered extremely dangerous to humans and livestock, it may indeed be that the image of the two “sitting” hyenas served to convey a symbolic message regarding death and afterlife existence. Note that, as in the case of the two sitting zoomorphs shown in figure 142, the legs of both sitting hyenas are conspicuously stretched out against the solar run which further attests to the image’s intentional character and to a symbolism that transcends man’s own transience by linking his fragile existence to a mythological concept deeply inspired by the movement of the sun.
Sidenote 27: The fact that the hyenas´ “sitting” posture does not match with their natural sitting pose and that this highly intentional portrait is associated with (a) another enigmatic ornament, (b) a funerary barque and (c) two crocodiles attacking humans is in itself strong evidence that the artist concerned adhered to specific mythical- religious ideas of his time. This arrangement together with the fact that, for the first time in Western Desert rock art, hyenas exemplify the „sitting“ animal phenomenon, qualifies the composition as an exceptional find.
to be continued
5.345.4 Three or more gods(?) surrounding the sky goddess(?): how to define the limits of the “White Nut” scene?
to be continued
Results of a 4WD-trip to the Gilf Kebir
1/6/2010 – 1/22/2010
Carlo Bergmann and Christan Kny