Saturday, February 10, 2007

Roman era beam with 1st millenium-style iconography discovered near Karnak

The child gods of ancient Egypt are depicted in a surprisingly real-world way on a stunningly well-preserved, gilded beam recently found at the Temple Precinct of the Goddess Mut in South Karnak, Egypt.

The structure once crowned the doorway of a birthing house inside the temple more than 2,000 years ago. Rituals associated with royal childbirths — perhaps even including "honeymoon nights" — likely took place there.

The beam is significant because of "the quality of its carving and its gilding," said Brooklyn Museum archaeologist Richard Fazzini, who is leading the excavation, in a press release.

"Equally important is the unusual nature of its iconography, which has its origins in the early first millennium B.C., but which is here dated to the Ptolemaic Period or early Roman Period (late fourth to late first century B.C.) by the inscriptions," he continued.

Fazzini is still at the dig, but Edward Bleiberg, curator of Egyptian Art at the museum, described the relief to Discovery News.

The left side shows five child gods sitting on lotus leaves. Each is sticking what looks to be an index finger in his mouth.

The gesture, common to depictions of children in ancient Egypt, could also represent thumb-sucking, but researchers aren't sure. Each child is also holding royal instruments like those found in King Tutankhamun's tomb.

The first and fifth gods are crowned with a disk and crescent that represent phases of the moon. The other gods are forms of the solar deity Horus. All five wear blue capes, possibly symbolic of the sky, although much of the paint has eroded.