Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Old Predynastic Maadi

The archaeological site of Maadi, for which a modern suburb of Cairo is named, is located on an east-west oriented desert ridge between two wadis at the southern city limits of Cairo. Regrettably, part of this Predynastic site has already been ruined by modern building activities, and the remaining area is under threat from the intrusion of this highly populated area of Egypt.

Maadi is not only the name of an ancient Egyptian settlement, but is also used to define a specific culture of the 4th millennium BC, though by the middle of that period it had already been abandoned. It is closely associated with Buto, the other Lower Egyptian stronghold of early civilization which may predate Maadi, and might certainly have existed concurrently with Maadi.

Parts of the Maadi site was initially excavated in 1918, and the results of this investigation became public in a report to the International Congress of Geography in 1925. Three years later, Egyptologist J. Lucuas visited the site and identified three specific areas of settlement.


Maadi, as well as two nearby necropolises, were extensively excavated . By the Department of Geography of the University of Cairo between 1930 and 1953. In the earliest years of this project between 1930 and 1933, the excavations were conducted in cooperation with the German Institute of Archaeology (O. Menghin, K. Bittle). In total, there were eleven archaeological missions carried out by the University of Cairo under the leadership of various Egyptian and foreign prehistorians. Though this work came to an abrupt halt during World War II, four volumes of research were published by various specialists in the fields of natural sciences, pottery, lithic industries, non-lithic objects and cemeteries. Unfortunately.

Throughout this period, a part of the western section of the site was occupied by a military camp and other structures, and was therefore not accessible to archaeologists. However, in the mid 1980s, F. A. Badawy finally received permission to excavate that area, which resulted in the discovery of a very ancient stone building.

Currently, and in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities and the University of Cairo, parts of Maadi are being excavated by the German Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. In addition to sampling various regions of the site, the stone building excavated by F. A. Badawy has been cleared, and the adjacent area excavated to clarify its stratigraphic relationship to the surrounding settlement.

So far, the findings of this work provide a picture of at least two occupation phases, including one in which wooden posts of different sizes, probably from huts and fences, storage jars fire places and small mud lined pits, occasionally with burnt walls was discovered. Substantial ash deposits also point to industrial activities.

There now is recognized two subterranean or semi-subterranean stone buildings. The one originally excavated by A. F. Badawy is entirely made of stone and was carefully plastered with Nile mud. It has a rectangular plan with rounded corners and an entrance lined by walls from the north. Its interior measurements are eight by four meters, with the floor situated two meters deeper than the upper preserved edge of its walls. So far, this building is completely unique among ancient Egyptian sites.

A second building has now also been discovered within the recent excavation zone. It consists of an entrance corridor of approximately six
meters in length and a one to one and a half meter width, which slopes to a depth of two and one half meters below the upper edges of its walls. This corridor is accessible from
the south by stone steps and communicates with a cave-like main room that has not yet been fully excavated. While the corridor is carefully line with plastered stone, the main room appears to be simply cut into the bedrock.

This second building is similar to others that were found in the older excavations in the eastern part of Maadi, which scholars have connected to the chalcolithic Beersheva culture of Southern Palestine. There is no doubt whatsoever that both buildings date to the Predynastic Period, and thus far, they represent the earliest examples of the use of stone as building materials known in Egypt.

The Settlement

The site of Maadi is located on a narrow ridge in the mouth of the Wadi al-Tih. Though on the surface, it appears to have the typical characteristics of a Northern Egyptian Predynastic farming village, evidence unearthed in this location suggests otherwise. Certainly agriculture was a primary economic factor in this settlement, but there was also an emphasis on trade, metallurgy and foreign contacts that was unknown in other northern sites.

Between about 3600 and 3000 BC, a number of innovations took place at Maadi that brought Egypt into the realm of the international world. Trade dominated this settlement more than any other contemporary sites, and it had few rivals in Egypt even during later periods. Its location within the Wadi al-Tih, the main historic route to the copper mines of the Sinai, together with the presence of housing obviously of a foreign type and pottery, domesticated donkeys, elaborate storage facilities and a well developed copper industry all evidence the importance of it role as a trade center.

Maadi may have in fact originated in order to exploit the Sinai copper mines. Unearthed tidbits in the area include copper bars that are possibly ingots, bits of unprocessed, a miscast head of an ax, and even a possible smelting area, originally identified as a pottery kiln. However, trade may have predated Maadi's copper industry, considering that metallurgy had developed first in other regions like the Mediterranean and Iranian Plateau, and spread into Egypt through trade with foreign lands. Hence, we may note that Maadi was a mercantile community which invested its surplus wealth into metallurgy, transportation and storage.

There can be little question that Maadi benefited from a very favorable geographical position. Not only did it have access to the mainstream of the Nile, just south of where it branches into the Delta, but from there goods could reach the Mediterranean and of course there was also access to the desert frontiers to the east through the Wadi al-Tih. Its ultimate abandonment, however, may have been due to the ease with which its location was imitated by the ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis, located only ten kilometers north of Maadi. Another contributory factor may have also been the fact that after the unification of Egypt, its rulers sought to control and exclude the nomads that undoubtedly provided considerable trade goods to the area.

One of the most obvious evidences of foreign contact at Maadi is a unique type of dwelling that was apparently imported from southern Palestine. Though most of the houses in the settlement were typical of the usual Lower Egyptian variety, having an oval shape with post walls and frames of mud-daubed wickerwork, there were also true underground houses which were unique among the villages of prehistoric Egypt. However, such houses did exist at several sites around Beersheba in southern Palestine, leading archaeologists to believe that they were imports from that area to Egypt, perhaps even housing foreigners at Maadi.

These foreign style structures were constructed with a pit dug two to three meters into the subsoil. There dimensions could be as great as three by almost five meters. Their entrance consisted of a slanting passage with steps that were sometimes faced in stone. Around the walls of the pit, posts were driven into the floor in order to support a roof that was probably made of light materials such as woven mats, the remains of which were discovered in some of the buildings. In the center of the floor, a sunken hearth was constructed.

Within these dwellings, considerable debris was unearthed during excavations, supporting the claim that they were houses as opposed to some sort of ceremonial structure.

However, the subterranean houses are not the only evidence of foreign contact at Maadi. With the exception of "Fayoum A" culture locations, Lower Egyptian sites usually only reveal storage pits and jars associated with individual households. Though such facilities also existed at Maadi, there were two specialized storage areas located at opposite ends of the site. On the southern boundary of the settlement were large, underground storage cellars while on the northern border there were rows of great storage jars, known by the Greek name, Pithoi, that were sunk up to their rims in the soil. The latter pithoi mostly contained foodstuffs such as emmer wheat and barley as well as cooked mutton, animal and fish bone and shellfish. Non-food items included small pots, flints, spindle whorls and jar stoppers. On the other hand, the cellars on the southern boundary of Maadi contianed luxury goods, suggesting a fairly well organized community based system of storage and exchange.

The storage cells measured one to two meters in depth, and could reach a maximum length of almost four meters. Within these cellars, there were at times large pithoi jars sunk into the floors and covered by stone lids. There is also indication that the cellars were at one time roofed over with light timbers. There was also at least one cellar with a retaining wall built of stone, which was one of the earliest uses of that material for building purposes. Some of the cellars were also linked together, which might indicate an increasing wealth of their owners or the settlement at large.

While many of the cellars had been disturbed or filled with trash during later periods, surprisingly, there fortunately remained samples of their original content, providing clues to the goods that were once flowed through Maadi. In one of these cellars that remained sealed, there was unearthed a number of well made stone jars and vases, carnelian beads and a decayed, unidentifiable white substance. In other cellars, jars contained grain and in several examples as many as twelve containers were still in place.

Well made stone jars at Maadi perhaps indicate that at least here Lower Egypt had finally attained the technical competence in stone grinding found in the south, provided they were manufactured in this region. These items, manufactured from a variety of stone including granite, gneiss, diorite, Fayoum basalt, limestone and alabaster, were both well made and attractive. They were usually fashioned as elongated cylinders with flat rims, small handles and flaring, ring-like bases. These were undoubtedly used for commercial purposes, while local limestone was roughly shaped into dishes, bowls, cups and lamps for domestic use.

Carnelian beads may have possibly served as a crude form of trade currency. The beads that were found in the sealed cellar were almost certainly made from material remote from Maadi. It may have originated in the Eastern Desert, and the beads may have also been manufactured elsewhere and brought into Maadi by nomads. These attractive red-orange, translucent carnelian beads were in considerable demand in the ancient Middle East and South Asia during the fourth and third millennia BC. They were also easy to transport and relatively scarce.

There was also found the distinctive black-topped red ware of Upper Egypt, which is not surprising considering the site of ancient Gerzeh lies only about thirty kilometers south of Maadi. Other southern imports included the ubiquitous slate pigment palettes.

Another indication of Maadi's role in foreign trade is the so-called Palestinian pottery unearthed at this site. Maadi contained several ceramic type that, like its subterranean houses, have precedents in the the Beersheba area of southern Palestine. They included ledge-handled jars, round-body lug-handled pots and loop-handled pots with light bodies.

This pottery corresponds well with the discovery of some of the earliest domesticated donkey remains known in prehistoric Egypt Even today, jars are strapped on the backs of donkey or camels by nomads and transported with ease over long distances, and evidences the method that allowed the foreign pottery to be transported over their long journey form southern Palestine.

The Maadi South cemetery

As stated earlier, Maadi choose to invest most of its wealth in trade, storage and metallurgy, rather than fancy tombs and luxury goods as did their southern counterparts in Upper Egypt. However, they were not without some quest for prestige, and just bout the time that foreign contacts accelerated around 3,600 BC, they began to adopt many of their southern neighbors burial customs, though always on a poorer scale. Unfortunately, the early excavations at the three necropolises located in the area were not very well documented, and thus scholars have found it extremely difficult to date many of the burials.

Two of the cemeteries located in Wadi al-Tih and Maadi North, may probably be dated later than the Predynastic period. The necropolis that probably was used by the townspeople at Maadi, Maadi South, and which was luckily the best reported, is located about a kilometer southeast of the town on a low rise in the mouth of the Wadi Digla. Here, Amer and Rizkana unearthed some 468 burials between 1952 and 1953, all distributed over little more than an acre of land. Besides the human burials there were also burials for thirteen gazelles and one dog. At least one of the gazelles had its throat cut in what might have been a ritual sacrifice. The poorest graves were segregated at the western end of the site where the fourteen animal burials occur.

The prehistoric date for this cemetery is supported by the contents of its graves, including artifacts that closely resemble those excavated in the settlement. These included any number of pots of the familiar oval, ring-based variety on smooth red and polished black wares, stone vases of alabaster, basalt and limestone, flake and blade tools, trapezoidal and rhomboidal palettes with beveled edges similar to those of the Naqadan culture, shell pigment containers and combs, bracelets and combs. Of course, there were also carnelian and other colored stone beads. Interestingly, little copper was discovered, presumably because it was simply considered too valuable for trade purposes to bury with the dead.

With the coming of the unification of Egypt, Maadi disappears from our history of Egypt, but it certainly contributed to the future of the empire with its unique cultural and knowledge of trade with the outside world.

As a side note, there is, or was at least until recently a museum at Maadi. It is both difficult to find and difficult to reach, having no signs and no real road. However, we are told that those truly interested in the archaeological site would do very well to seek it out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Spirits of Nature

Religion of the Egyptians

Ancient Egypt had by tradition a great variety of gods and what today can be labelled as "spirits" and "fairies". The total of them all was over 2.000, but many of them had similar characteristics and appeared all over the country by different names. The huge diversity is due to the fact that before the country was united the Nile Valley was split up into about forty self ruling areas (later to be provinces - so called nomes) where the ruling tribe had its own deities. Almost all gods had one thing in common - they had a count- erpart of the opposite sex and manifested themselves on earth through animals. Thus hundreds of birds, crocodiles, snakes, frogs, turtles, cows, cats etc. were considered to be the living images of a particular god and a natural and indestructible part of the environment in which people lived.All parts of life were covered and there were gods for - beer, plants, digestion, the high seas, female sexuality, gardens, feasting etc. Many of them had lots of duties and were in time combined with each other in a great number of ways. They could also appear in many forms like a goddess (curious even by Egyptian standards) having a head of a bee and body from a hippopotamus. The goddesses are easy to single out in depictions - they always had their legs joined together, while the gods used to be shown striding.

Different towns struggled to have just their local gods as the prime deities in the state religion and thus we have many different religious legends over the years depending upon which town had the greatest influence for the moment. Because of this over the years different gods came into fashion and later went out of style, with exception of a group that was in front right from the beginning and never lost its popularity. These were responsible for vital things like love, joy, dancing, childbirth, justice, cemeteries, afterlife, writing, mummification etc. All aspect of daily life were covered by at least one of these deities, and like people on earth they were members of families, were married and had children. Many ingredients made it possible for common people to identify themselves with them since their personalities were made of both divine strength and human weakness. They did most of the things that ordinary people did, like harvesting, hunting, eating, drinking, partying and even dying. Most of them were depicted as men and women combined with the head of the animal by which they were represented and they could appear in different costumes and be represented by several animals in the Egyptian fauna. In other words - they could appear in many ways and yet some of them were so alike looking that it's impossible to identify them without reading the connecting text. Just looking at the dresses and the regalia they carry along isn't always enough, because they used to borrow objects from each other. This guesswork is a part of the charm when looking in to their in many ways, to us, unlikely world.As to their names today we use a blend of both their original Egyptian ones like Re, Ptah and Amon, and the Greek forms like Isis, Anubis and Horus.


When the goddesses and gods were depicted with a human body the variety wasn't so big in the way they were dressed. Not more then half a dozen types of garments make almost one hundred percent of all. From the beginning they all wore white dresses, or at least single colored. This tradition slowly changed over the years and with time the colours and patterns became various. The peak was reached during the Greco-Roman period with outfits like actors in a costume spectacle in a theatre. Excluding the mummy-like creations, here is a type description in brief:

Tunic with suspenders.Male garment, ending above the waistand popular in all times. Example: Re.
Dress with suspenders.Female garment, ended above the waist, and was usually white. Example: Hathor.
The short loinclothShort and skirt-like garment and popular from earliest times. Example: Asar-hap.
The short-sleeved overall From the earliest times very common tight female garment. Example: Isis.
The full-length dressUnusual, sleeve-less and for goddesses. Went up to the neck. Example: Seshat.

Notice that long sleeves were not in fashion in any era of Egyptian history, at least for the gods and goddesses. Their dresses were to a great extent similar to those worn by the upper classes in society during daytime and evenings, and mostly indoors.


The gods had a lot of different things to put on their heads, and they surely did. In bright contrast to the stereotyped positions of their bodies the painters and sculptors were keen on giving the heads as much attention as possible. This was obviously initiated by pharaoh himself or the priesthood in order to give their favourite gods as much promotion as possible. The different crowns could give a hint where the god originally came from, and by wearing the combined crown for the whole country, the message was given that this god or goddess was important to all Egyptians. To make them conspicuous all crowns, hats etc. were adorned with plumes, horns, snakes, flowers, sun discs, leaves etc painted in bright colours. Especially during the Greco-Roman era the fantasy and elaboration was significant.

EGYPTIAN CROWNS: The red one was from Lower and the white from Upper Egypt. The double crown represented the whole country. The Atef-crown was worn by Osiris and the type with horns and the sun disc by Re-Horakhte and other gods. The blue helmet-like came during dynasty 18 and was worn by kings and the god Amon.

Besides royal crowns the gods had a lot of other symbols and things to wear upon their heads. In some cases the headgear was necessary to identify the deities in question, when they were dressed the same, as they often were. Here is a selection of personal things helping to identify which goddess is depicted in case the written hieroglyphs don't give a clue. The following objects below are shown in the way that they looked when the bearer in question was facing right. Neit had the a stylised form of her shield and crossed arrows on her head. Isis wore a throne on top, a rather uncomfortable one it seems, and Maát had her standing ostrich feather she was named after. Nephtys had a building topped with a bowl-like object (for collecting rain water?) and Nut had a pot (or a broad vase) upon her head.Selkhet wore the dangerous scorpion (without its deadly sting), and Seshat had the holy Persea-tree with two horns over it as her personal sign. Anat had a stylised cow's uterus as her token. Hathor had several objects in her hat box like cow's horns with the sun disc and her favourite musical instrument - the sistrum, which was a rattle.

Most of these objects worn upon their heads were unique for just one female deity. The solar disc and horns (Hathor) and object of Anat could be worn by others and the very common solar disc with a cobra (not shown) was the insignia of many goddesses.


All paintings, drawings, sculptures and reliefs in Egypt followed a traditional scheme, and changes came slowly in time. Lots of artistic expressions didn't alter anything at all, and were the same for 3000 years. Traditional ways of depicting people are among these unaltered expressions of art. The body was normally in profile except for the torso which was shown from the front like the eye, to make the face more expressive. The gods (and kings) depicted were seldom empty handed - they usually carried various objects, and the symbolic meaning of some are still obscure to Egyptologists. The gods usually had the well known ankh-sign in one of their hands, with the meaning in general "life", also to be interpreted as joy of living. Since the Egyptian religion offered eternal life for those who had behaved well on earth, we don't know if this sign of life meant the next or the present one - or possibly both. The other hand was holding a staff or sceptre of some kind, and here we have half a dozen types. Goddesses usually had a sceptre topped with a flower in different colors (like a white lily from the Nile) but this was seldom seen among the gods, possibly because it gave a more soft impression to the observer.

Very common through all times was the Was-sceptre for "command" (see pictures below) and some gods, like Ptah and Osiris, had their own type of this staff.

1) Sceptre with flower often carried by goddesses.
2) The herdsman's crook of god Anedjti, patron of shepherds and protector of domesticated animals.
3) Was-sceptre, stood for domination and power. It was very common among gods/kings in all times.
4) Staff of creator Ptah formed of four "djed-pillars" of order and stability (possibly a human spine).
5) Outfit of Osiris: crook and flail (cattle breeding and farming) plus the Was-sceptre and ankh-sign.

The Myth of Osiris

In the very beginning of time Osiris was king over Egypt and his queen (and sister) was the goddess Isis.

He was beloved by the people whom he told how to worship the gods and grow their crops for their daily bread. His brother Set became jealous and tried to overthrow him and become king himself. When participating in a feast with Osiris as host, Set began to describe a beautiful coffin he had, in a way that made the other guests curious. IsisHe was asked to fetch it and so he did and this was just in line with his plan.

Everyone agreed that it was a magnificent piece of craftsmanship and Set told them that he would give it away for free to whomever fitted exactly into it. Since he had made the coffin himself it was measured to fit one person only - his brother Osiris. When he placed himself in it everybody could see that he was the one who would get i as a present, but the evil Set had other plans. With his brother Osiris still in it, he and his fellows quickly nailed the lid and threw it into the Nile. Queen Isis was overcome by sorrow and began to search all over the land for it, but in vain.

One day she heard that a wonderful tree had sprung on the shores of Byblos in the north on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where the local king had cut it down and built a palace from it.
HorusIsis understood that this was the place where the coffin had come to shore and she went there in disguise. She got a job at the court as a hairdresser for the queen and now when she could walk freely inside the castle she began to look for the coffin, and finally she found it in a remote chamber.

During the night she managed to snach it and embarked a boat heading for Egypt. When she came there she hid in the marshlands in the delta. There she opened the coffin and took a last farewell of her beloved husband Osiris and began searching for a suitable place to bury him. But Set was aware of all this and was hiding nearby. When Isis went to rest for the night he snatched the coffin and cut his brother's body into fourteen pieces and spread them all over Egypt. Isis became furious and asked her sister Nephthys and her son Anubis, to help her to find all the pieces of her husband's body.

They now started a nation wide search that lasted for many years and finally all the part of Osiris' body were found except for the penis which had been thrown into the Nile where it was devoured by a fish. Isis made a wooden replacement for it and then put the whole body together. She now asked the sun god Re to make her husband alive just for one day, which he did, and they could have a last night of love together. The next day Osiris died and his body was embalmed by Anubis who thus made him the first mummy. Isis later gave birth to a son who was named Horus and she did all she could to keep it a secret from Set, but he found them and almost killed them in an ambush.
ThothThey were saved by the god of wisdom - Thoth, and he told them to hide in the reeds in the marshes once more. But as before Set found their hiding place and had more wicked things on his mind. He transformed himself into a snake and gave the little Horus child a fatal bite.

When Isis came back she found her baby almost lifeless, and took him to the nearest village to get help. A wise old woman examined him and found out that it must have been Set as a snake who had bitten him. Thoth came to their rescue once more and drove out the poison from Horus' body and he recovered. He and his mother stayed hiding in the delta until he was a mature man and sometimes he took the form of a hawk and scouted out Set for the final showdown - the revenge on his murdered father. When that moment came they fought for three days until Thoth stopped the fight. They were both taken to the Court of Law in the Underworld and there they presented their versions of the story leading to the combat. The Court did not believe Set, who was sentenced to pull the boat with the sun across the sky forever. Horus now became the new king of Egypt like his father Osiris before him, and the good had finally conquered evil.

Isis put the body of her dead husband in a coffin and had nineteen identical coffins made in which she put duplicates. Priest from Egypt's twenty biggest towns then were given one each and could all thereafter claim that they had Osiris' tomb in their town. Thus many places in Egypt were (and still are) called Abusir - the place of Osiris.
Legends of creation

Ancient Egypt had different stories telling about how the world and all its inhabitants once came to be. The legends varied from province to province along the Nile, but after the unification a handful of them grew more popular and others were forgotten.The priesthood in the cult centres of the creator-gods supported their own version and thus we meet gods like Atum, Re, Ptah, Khnum and Kheper performing the act as The Great Maker, but in different ways. There are no Deluge-legends involved in any of the creation stories of the Nile-people, probably because they had their own big flood every year and the beginning of everything couldn't possibly involve a banality like that.

The most common, and probably one of the oldest stories, said that at the dawn of time there was nothing but the water called Nun, and the first ground coming out of the water was symbolized by fetish called the "Ben-Ben stone". From a slightly irregular shape in time it turned into a broad and short obelisk with a pointed top in a four-side pyramid fashion. Some scholars suggest that this might be the prototype for later pyramids tombs, but others do not. On the Ben-Ben stone stood Atum and he coughed and spat out Shu and Tefnut.

The world creators in short:

ATUM from Heliopolis made everything (even himself) of his own sperm through masturbating or spitting. He then created woman from a bit of flesh from his hand.
PTAH from Heliopolis in Lower Egypt made the world by simply saying words and made earth raise from the water, very similar the story in the Bible.
RE (also from Heliopolis) is told in a rather late poetic legend to be the creator by using a tear from his eye to build all the world.
KHNUM from the island of Elefantine in Aswan in the south, was the creator who made the world and all its people on his potter's wheel. The stuff was mud from the Nile.
PERKHE (representing Re) made all other gods from matter taken from his own body. He also created life (symbolically) every morning by commanding the sun to rise.
AMON from Thebes was during the New Kingdom vaguely connected to the creation of the World, saying that he once (like Atum) had created himself at the dawn of time
THOTH was in Khemenu (Hermopolis) in Upper Egypt, the maker of the world and the first ones he helped to life were four frogs and four snakes, the so called Ogdoad.

The first family

The family from which all the world was built up was the earth god Geb and his wife Nut, goddess of the sky. They had the twins Shu who was god of the cool dry air and his sister Tefnut, patroness of rain, dew and moisture.By command of the sun-god Re they were separated and Geb wept over his loss, and from his tears came all the seas and oceans of the world.

One legend tells that Re for some reason (possibly jealousy) had become angry with Nut and laid a curse on her telling that none of her coming children could be born on any one day of the year. This was a big setback for Nut and Geb who were just planning to raise a family. In their agony they turned to the god of wisdom - Thoth, for advice. He went to his superior, the shadowy and not often depicted moon-god Aah who was in charge of the Egyptian moon-calendar. This old table of time consisted of 12 months of 30 days together making the moon-year of 360 days.

Thoth made him a proposition to gamble about the matter and they started to play a game of dice resulting in victory for Thoth. He thereby won the moonlight of the five additional days of the true astronomical year (in this case July 14-18) and gave it to Geb and Nut who used them for the births of their children. Thus the curse of Re had no effect because the children could all be born outside the official calendar.

In the following years Nut gave birth to five of the most famous deities of Egypt: Year 1 - Osiris. Year 2 - Horus (the Elder). Year 3 - Set. Year 4 - Isis. Year 5 - Nephtys.

The origin of Universe

From the beginning there was nothing but a water chaos called Nun, and from that came the god Atum, who had created himself. He made the earth-god Geb and his sister (and wife) Nut, goddess of the sky. To hold up and fill the sky they had two children, the boy Shu, the god of the air, and a girl Tefnut, goddess of moisture and rain. This family of four was the very foundation upon which the world existed as they represented: earth, water, air and the sky.

The first gods

1) The old tradition from Heliopolis (Iunu) just north of Memphis in Lower Egypt said the creation of all the gods was made by Kheper, who was another form of their local sun god Re. He was self-produced and made the other gods out of the matter of his own body. He was the father of many gods like Osiris, Nephtys, Isis, Set, Horus and others.
2) The priests from Hermo- polis in Upper Egypt declared for their part that Thoth was the primeval god and created the first four couples that built up everything. The first pair was Nun and Nuntet (snakes), who represented and dwelled in the mass of water from which everything emerged. The second was Heh and Hauhet (frogs), who stood for indefinite time and long life. The third was Kek and Keket (snakes), who embodied darkness, and the fourth pair was Niau and Niaut (frogs) representing the void. During the New Kingdom the two latter were replaced by Amon and Amonet.
3) In Sais (in the delta in Lower Egypt) the priests taught the people that their own mighty goddess Neit was behind the origin of the other gods. She was self-begotten and self-produced and mother of the mighty solar god Re.
4) Another story tells that the creation of The World was wet and dark and Atum-Re arose from the Nun and appointed the eight reptile gods above (the so called Ogdoad) to their proper places and brought order from chaos. Here the frogs Niau and Niaut have been changed for Amon and Amonet which tells that this version is of later date (New Kingdom) when Amon had reached a lofty position among the gods.

Creation of man

A very old legend in Egypt told that mankind was divided into four types when they were made on the potter's wheel by the great creator Khnum. He made them all out of mud of various colors from the Nile. The order in which they were made was as follows: First was - Romut, meaning "men", and these were the Egyptians themselves. The second to come from the potter's wheel was - Áamu, the people from the desert mountains east of the Nile. This name was later also used for Asians in general.Number three, called - Temehu, was the fair skinned people from the Mediterranean coast west of the Nile Delta and the oases west of the Nile Valley.The last to be made was - Nehesy, the black people to the south of Egypt, below the province of Nubia. Notable is that the names of these people seem to be very old and originating from the early times when the Egyptians didn't have a name for Asians, which they surely encountered well before the first dynasty as shown in archaeology remains.According to another (much younger) legend mankind was created from a tear that fell from the eye of the god Re, and turned into men and women. The fair-skinned Libyans, considered as "cousins" by the people in the Nile valley, were formed in the same way. The two other people have a tear from Re as their origin too, but in a more irregular way.

The Court in the Underworld

When a person had died he was taken to Underworld where his deeds in life were taken to the Court of Osiris for the final judgement. Since this place also was called "The Island of Fire" it's quite obvious that the Egyptians had knowledge about the burning interior of the Earth though they had no volcanoes in their own country. Before coming there the dead person had to pass a labyrinth of gates and doors and answer questions correctly to pass through. The lion-god Aker let him through the last gate and he was facing the fourteen members of the jury in the Tribunal Hall. There he was allowed to speak about his behaviour on Earth. (Shown in the upper left in the picture below).

Then god Anubis took him into the courtroom presenting him the scale where his heart would be put in balance with the feather of the goddess Máat, patroness of truth and harmony. The procedure was recorded by Thoth - the god of writing and wisdom. Sometimes Thot's animal (a baboon) was sitting on top of the scale ready to adjust the result using a sliding weight.

The deceased enters from the left guided by Anubis. His heart is placed on the scales and the result is recorded by Thoth. Then Horus takes him in front of the judge Osiris for the final verdict. Behind the throne stand Isis and Nephtys.

If the heart of the deceased wasn't too heavy with sins from his life on Earth, he went through and could continue his voyage to the afterlife and was granted a plot of land in the "Field of the Reeds". This was the paradise for the ancient Egyptians - to grow crops for eternity in a land that was the very image of the Nile Valley they just had left.

If he failed the test on the other hand - his heart was immediately devoured by the beast Ammut sitting under the scale ready to have a good blow-out. In that case the dead faced the most horrible future imaginable for the Egyptians - he was denied an eternal life in the land in the West and his soul would be restless forever.

The seven steps to Paradise

1. Crossing the celestial river by Nemty to the "Land in the West".
2. Passing through gates and labyrinths by answering questions.
3. Being let into the great Court of the Underworld by the god Aker.
4. Addressing a jury of 14 judges about the deeds during life on Earth.
5. Taken by Anubis to "Balance of Truth" to weigh his heart for sins.
6. If the heart wasn't heavy, brought by Horus to Chief Judge Osiris.
7. Entering the "Fields of the Reed" (Paradise) and get eternal life.

The Book of the Dead

The Book of the Dead was (in most versions) an illustrated manuscript which consisted of prayers and magical texts to be used during the funeral and read over the dead to ensure the survival in the afterlife.

These texts were a necessary part of the funerary equipment and were thought to help through dangers of the Underworld. Over 150 burial spells were written on papyrus and placed with the dead and the content has been traced back to the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts from 2.300 B.C. and had probably a long oral tradition before that.

Each nome (province) and even towns had their own version putting text mentioning the local gods in favour. For poor people (i.e. the average Egyptian) there were versions not so elaborated (and expensive) and just containing the essence. A big part concerned the moment when the dead came in front of the jury in the Underworld. There he would make confessions like: "I have not killed or used false weights on my balance, or caused pain to anyone". Then he usually stated things like: "I have given clothes to the naked, water to the thirsty and bread to the hungry" etc, all to convince the jury members of his kind-heartedness.

One spell was spoken in front of a tribunal of 42 gods, and proclaimed innocence of a series of specified sins that covered every kinds of wrong doing. This made the soul worthy to go further into the Judgement Hall where the Court of Osiris (see above) had the final word. Being approved of there he was ready to embark on the Boat of Re to sail to the "Land in the West" for eternal rest.

The human soul - Ba, seen as a bird, hovering over his newly mummyfied master on his bier.

Ka and Ba (body and soul)

The purpose of preserving the body through embalming is clearly shown in the two components the Egyptians thought built up a man's personality. In both cases the physical body was essential for their existence and an eternal life for the deceased.

The Egyptians believed that every person (during life and after) was followed by an invisible double called - Ka. He was created at the moment of birth and stood for "force of live" for the person. He could not be seen or depicted but all big tombs had a "blind door" for him to use. After death a transformation of rebirth took place and every night he was released to give his dead master a spiritual travel to the land of the living. The travel itself was made by his soul Ba (see beyond). This was a link from the tomb to life on earth that was supposed to go on forever. The poor commoners who couldn't afford an embalming were offered small simple statuettes of mummies to give their Ka someone to stand beside in the life beyond and thereby please their life-long companion and get eternal rest themselves.

Ka (left) walking beside the bodyand Ba who was dwelling within.

The human soul was called - Ba and was depicted as a bird with a human face, sometimes with the features of the dead person. The Ba (like Ka) appeared for the first time at the moment of birth, but the Ba was dwelling within the body, and after death in the mummy. During life he was his master's conscience and after death he was himself protected from being misled by evil spirits through rituals and prayers from "The Book of the Dead" performed by priests or relatives. A correct behaviour in both worlds was essential to the Egyptians. After death he was released from the mummy every night and could fly back to the world of the living to check things out. Before sunrise he was back within his master, who thus never lost contact with the world he had left.

The Solar Boat of Re

The story of the sun god Re and the voyage in his boat was one of the most important in Egyptian mythology and concerned the very basics of life for the people in the Nile Valley. It clearly shows the cyclic way of looking at time and life that was at hand since the oldest times for Egyptians.

The religious beliefs in Heliopolis in Lower Egypt told that Re was the creator of men and at the beginning of the fifth dynasty he reached a very lofty position when the kings adopted his name in their titles claiming to be his sons.Re travelled through the waters of heaven in two different boats each day. The first, Madjet ("being strong"), rose out of the east behind the Mount Bakhu and then passed between two sycamore trees. At noon he was transferred over to a small bark by the name of Semektet ("going weak"), and this vessel took him into the sunset in the west at Mount Manu.

He did not navigate the boats himself because this was taken care of by Máat, goddess of justice and stability. She was first mate on the bridge and set the course accompanied by Horus.

The first voyage over the sky.
The life-giving Re (as the sun disk) and the symbol of creation the beetle Kheper on the very first day. Onboard are the gods who had helped to formed the World. The boat was the first land that was created and is held up by Nun, the lord of the watery chaos below from which everything had emerged at the dawn of time - the day before. (See gods Hu and Sia).

The boat was not provided with sails, but had another way to get power to move. It was simply pulled across the sky by the evil god Set who had been condemned to do so for killing his brother Osiris (as told in the Myth of Osiris above).

At night the god Upuaut stood on the prow and navigation was assisted by pilot fish Abtu and Ant, who swam in front of the boat.

The crew consisted of the gods Geb and Heka plus the companions Hu and Sia. They all helped Re to overcome the obstacles set up by those who tried to stop his journey - the three monsters Sebau, Nak, and Apep. The evil creature Apep was the most dangerous one and he took the shape of a big snake or a crocodile.

Under the protection of war god Maahes, Re fought and killed the monsters every day in order for the sun to rise the next morning, and by then they were all alive and kicking again and the daily combat could begin as usual.

Cloudy days were scary to the Egyptians because it might be that Apep had stopped Re in his boat. To prevent this and make things go back to normal again they made extra offerings in the temples to make the sun come back.

A prayer for life
By begging Re to come back in the morning the Egyptians hoped that life should go on as usual.(From a prayer book).

The most critical days, that thankfully did not come often, were those with solar eclipses in different stages. It seemed that Apep was swallowing up the sun, but somehow, after extra ceremonies, Re turned out to be the winner in the end. There were even manuals for people to help to fight this evil snake/crocodile that could jump up from the heavenly waters and attack the boat and the people onboard. Even the otherwise bad god Set took part in the struggle, besides pulling the boat, which underlines the importance of the mission.

The essence of this myth is that the sun (symbolising life itself) was a constant struggle. A lifetime for a man was a similar voyage with the birth and peak of living at noon. At twilight life was coming to an end and people finally reach the glorious Land In the West - the next World, after their short stay on Earth.

By venerating the gods who struggled every day to make the life-giving sun keep shining, order and stability was secured. This was what the chief navigator goddess Máat stood for and she always managed to get the old barge to port.

Burial customs

The basic purpose of mortuary preparation was to ensure the deceased a successful passage into the next world. The tombs were from the very beginning shallow holes in the sand later to be lined with a wall of sun dried bricks or stones and topped by a mound of sand or clay. The substructures were elaborated downwards when pits leading to grave chambers were cut out in the bedrock starting around 3200 BC. The structures above ground developed into bench-like brick buildings (mastabas) later to be made of stone and ending with the great pyramids 2.400 BC, a time span of evolution for almost half a millennium.

The amount of grave goods and offerings (for wealthy people) was increasing and be- came more sophisticated and progress was also seen in the treatment of the body of the deceased - the mummification. This custom first appeared also in about 3200 BC. and steadily progressed technically for the next 2.000 years from simple dehydration (made by the dry climate) to preparations with chemicals.

Originally the dead was placed in a crunched position lying on the side, but with time traditions changed and they were stretched out on their backs.

The religious belief was that the body should be preserved intact for the soul to dwell in the next world. This made kings and other royalties hide their dead protected un- der mountains of stone (pyramids) and later in secret hideouts in the desert cliffs. Unfortunately they did not separate the valuable offerings and grave goods from the mummies, which made the robbers plunder it all during periods of political instability.

Prepared for eternity
Anubis who was the watcher over the cemeteries, also took care of the important mummification.

In the picture he is making an em- balming to make the dead keep his looks in the next world. Without a physical body the soul had no place to dwell and became restless forever.Poor people could only afford small clay figurines as substitute for a preserved body.

Thus the great kings of the Old Kingdom did not come to "the Field of Reeds" after death despite (or probably just because) they tried to protect themselves under moun- tains of stone, which draw attention to everybody, not the least tomb robbers.

The next world was located in more than one place both in a physical and a religious (metaphysical) sense. It could be 1) in the area around the tomb, 2) among the stars, 3) in the celestial regions with the sun god or 4) in the Underworld itself.

All places had one thing in common: they were all located in "The Beautiful West" where the day (and life) ended with the setting sun.The journey to the next world was fraught with obstacles in the Underworld. It was a trip by boat through many gates with tricky questions to answer. The judgement after death (see Book of the Dead above) was a subject often depicted from the New Kingdom and onwards, but the belief was older than that, probably from before the first dynasty 2000 years earlier. It was the final judgement whether the dead had been a good human being or a bad one. Most of them (who had means) passed through by giving offerings to the gods and making declarations of their good behaviour on Earth, true or not.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Birth of Gods

We are able to study the gods of ancient Egypt very well back to the beginning of recorded history (around 3000 BC), and we can also find representations of divine powers back another millennium before the Egyptian began to write down their thoughts. However, since these earliest beginnings of religion in Egypt predate the written word, and the non-written evidence often comes from relatively uncertain contexts and settings and is difficult to interpret, the subject is open to differing opinions.

Man's first gods were the forces of nature. Terrifying and unpredictable, they were feared rather than revered by our ancestors. Yet while much of the world was in darkness, worshipping cruel incarnations of natural forces, a river valley in Africa held a people who followed a different path. They worshipped gods that were beautiful to behold, luminous beings that walked the earth, guiding the human race to Paradise. They had human forms but were much more powerful; yet like humans, they got angry, despaired, fought with one another, had children, and fell in love. They lived lives that were very much like those of the people who worshipped them, the ancient Egyptians.
They were gods to be feared yes, as all gods are, but they were also gods to be loved. What's more, the Egyptians enjoyed talking about the gods.
Like the gods of the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptian gods seemed to be made for storytelling. There were tales to educate, tales to entertain, and tales with morals, and in those stories, the gods didn't seem so far away and unreachable. It was comforting to hear that the gods also wept for those they had lost, to hear about the gods laughing, to learn that the gods faced many of the same problems that the people did, albeit on a grander scale. In learning about the gods on such an intimate level, the Egyptians could better relate to the universe around them.

Nevertheless, various evidence suggests that even very early Egyptians had concepts of spiritualism. The care with which the dead were buried in the prehistoric period, and the afterlife belief implied by that care, certainly suggests that the necessary intellectual sophistication was present for such a belief.

During the true neolithic period in Egypt (Merimda and Fayoum cultures), no representations are known that can be interpreted with any certainty as depictions or symbols of divine power. However, no real conclusions can be drawn from this lack of evidence because the art during that time frame which we have been able to recover consists of pottery vessels and the first cosmetic palettes, none of which have depictions of human beings, animals or objects. Hence, there could have been a worship of fetishes made from perishable materials, though none have been found. The lack of animal burials seems to suggest the absence of divine worship, though future finds could certainly change our perceptions of this period.
During the chalcolithic period, which lasted through most of the fourth millennium BC in Egypt, offers us our first clear evidence for a belief in gods, which is already at this early stage surprisingly multifarious and highly differentiated. Hence, the evidence from this period suggests that earlier worship took place for which no direct evidence has been found. The main sites that evidence the belief in gods during the chalcolithic period are Maadi and Heliopolis in Lower Egypt and Badari and Naqada in Upper Egypt. At all of these locations, animal burials, typically consisting of gazelles and dogs (or jackals), and more rarely cattle and rams, have been found, and the care with which these animals were buried and provided with grave goods evidences a cult of sacred animals or at least of divine powers in animal form.

During this period also, cosmetic palettes begin to assume the form of animals, and finally, by the end of the Predynastic Period, they are richly decorated with animal figures in relief. The most notable examples of these are the "animal palettes" in Oxford and in the Louvre. We also see, from the Naqada I period, figures of animals on decorated vases and in the form of clay statuettes.

Hence, considering this evidence, there can scarcely be any doubt that, at least in the last centuries of prehistory the Egyptians worshiped divine power in animal form. Yet, even in that period there was no pure zoolatry. If these zoomorphic images are not merely totems of tribal groups and do signify manifestations of the divine in some way, the represent a significant stage in the development of Egyptian gods. The idea that the divine might be manifest in animal form is a vital prerequisite for the animals which are shown acting in human ways and which are the major representations of the Egyptian gods at the end of the Predynastic Period.
From the Naqada II period and from the beginning of recorded history, the animals on "standards" and archaic objects of uncertain character which were carried on poles evidence the worship of sacred objects. It would seem that this fetishism was far less important than animal worship, though because these objects were rather perishable, it may have had more importance than we now realize.

What we do not know is whether anthropomorphism, or the worship of deities in human form, took place in predynastic times. Though human figures made of clay and ivory are infrequently found in the Badari culture and even became common in the Naqada cultures, there remains much doubt about these objects. Though they have been repeated interpreted as deities, many pointers lead us to suspect that they may not be. For example, nude, possibly female figures, have been labeled as a "great mother goddess", but in fact, nude statuettes such as these are quite unknown in Egypt during the early historical period. One should also be very skeptical about identifying naked, bearded figures as gods. Such figures may more likely be associated with enemies of Egypt, for foreigners were frequently shown with beards, and captives especially were often naked. Scholars also believe that the fragile nature of clay, from which many of these figures are made, probably also provides evidence that they did not represent gods.

Hence, there is no certain evidence for the worship of anthropomorphic deities in predynastic Egypt, even though such deities as Min, Neith and Onuris, who we find in human form at the beginning of history, were most probably worshiped in prior times.


Patron of: fertility, sexuality, and travelers through the eastern Sahara.

Appearance: a man with a large erect penis. Sometimes he is shown in the garb of a pharaoh, wearing a feathered crown and carrying a flail.

Description: a very ancient god, Min has become rather popular in the modern era, a sort of resurgence of his cult. Min was honored with a variety of ceremonies, some involving the harvest, others praying for a male heir to the pharaoh. Lettuce was his sacred plant, for it was believed by the Egyptians to be an aphrodisiac. The Greeks identified him with their god Pan, and the Romans believed Min to be the same god as Priapus.

Worshipped: Worshipped widely throughout Egypt by the end of the New Kingdom, his cult centers were at Koptos and Akhmin (Panopolis).


Patron of: war, impartiality, mummification wrappings, the funeral bier.

Appearance: A woman carrying weapons of war, usually a bow and arrow and a shield.

Description: In the Old Kingdom she was a war deity, invoked as a blessing for weapons, both for the soldier and the hunter. Often weapons were placed in tombs surrounding the mummy as protection against evil spirits. These weapons were consecrated to Neith.

In the New Kingdom her association with funerary rites is even greater. She stands, along with Isis, guarding the funeral bier of the pharaoh. In the New Kingdom the mummy wrappings were considered the "gifts of Neith."

In may stories Neith is found being asked to arbitrate between two sides, her combination of military prowess and impartiality renders her very similar to Athena.

Worship: Cult centers in the Delta in the same area as Sobek, her son.
The Egyptian War God

A god of war and hunting who originated at This (the Thinite region) near Abydos, Anhur (Han-her, Inhert)), was more commonly known by his Greek name, Onuris (Onouris). His name (Anhur) literally means "he who leads back the distant one" (which might also mean "Sky Bearer"), which appears to reference the mythical manner in which this god is said to have journeyed to Nubia in order to bring back the leonine "Eye of Re", who became his consort as the lioness-goddess Mekhit. This legend is paralleled by another surrounding the god Shu at Heliopolis, who was supposed to have also brought back the fearsome "eye" as his own consort, Tefnut. However, the name Anhur suggests that the tradition may have originated with him. This nevertheless led to Anhur often being equated with Shu and also to his link to the sun god under the epithet, "son of Re". Onuris was thus supposed to hunt and slay the enemies of his solar-deity father.

Onuris, as a war-like god, was also associated Montu and Sopedu and had a strong rapport with Horus, whose claims he vociferously advocates in the tribunal judging the rights to the Egyptian throne. Later during the Greek period, he was identified with the Hellenistic war god, Ares. The Romans maintained this war-like identity of Onuris as evidenced by a depiction of Emperor Tiberius on a column shaft in the temple of Kom Ombo which shows Tiberius wearing the characteristic crown of Onuris.

The iconography of Onuris that has survived depict him as a standing god, with a beard and a short wig that is surmounted by a uraeu and either two or four tall plumes. He is frequently depicted wearing a long kilt which is often decorated in a feather-like pattern. His right hand is raised as if to thrust a lance (he is also known as the "lord of the lance") or spear, while his left hand holds a length of rope that may be symbolic of his role in capturing his lioness consort. His association with the spear and ropes also provides an inevitable link with the mythological struggle between Horus and Seth, in which the hawk god used the same weapons to entrap and kill his foe, the Hippopotamus.

However, in other instances the rope is absent, and the god may be depicted grasping his raised spear in both hands and at other times neither rope nor spear is present, though his arms are raised as if to hold these objects. This iconography clearly shows that rather than throw the spear, he intends to thrust his spear downward into a subdued enemy. Hence, Onuris controls rather than attacks his enemies.

Though Onuris seems to have originated at This near Abydos in Upper Egypt, his main area of worship in later periods was in the Delta town of Sebennytos (modern Samannud), where he was venerated alongside or as a form of Shu. There is a temple of Onuris-Shu called Phersos (Per-shu) at this site that has been dated to the reign of Nectanebo II, though its construction may have started during the reign of Nectanebo I of Egypt's 30th Dynasty, though worship of Onuris in this location would have predated this temple. Silver and bronze amulets of the god occasionally have been unearthed in Late Period burials elsewhere in Egypt.

Small, silver statue of Onuris with Lance


Unfortunately, few gods that we may name from later Egyptian times can be traced back into prehistory. For example, while the standards of the prehistoric Egyptians document the existence of hawk cults, they do not really provide any evidence that they depicted Horus, or other known hawk deities. Nor can the opponent of Horus, Seth, be made out with certainty though there were dog-like animals represented. Also, the cow goddess found on the Narmer palette and about three centuries earlier on a palette from Girza, is iconographically more similar to Bat, rather than to the better known Hathor. However, stars added to the image show that she was already a sky goddess, so alongside animal deities, it should be clear now that the Ancient Egyptians were also worshiping inanimate objects, or rather the manifestation of gods through them.

How the predynastic Egyptians viewed the relationship between animals and human beings can perhaps best be seen in the "Battlefield" palette, pieces of which are in both the Oxford and London. The retro of this composition depicts a battlefield crowed with contorted bodies of defeated enemies, while others have been captured and bound. The subjugated enemies, who are naked and without weapons, appear utterly defenseless. The victors are represented as animal powers, consisting of a lion, birds of prey and standards surmounted by birds. However, on other contemporary palettes of the time and in predynastic rock drawings, there are sometimes human hunters.

Yet it seems certain that men of this period felt themselves defenseless without an animal disguise. Mankind had not yet become so dominate, and animals still appear to be the most powerful and efficacious beings. This may explain why, in late predynastic times, the powers that determine the course of events were mostly conceived in animal form.

Then, at the beginning of the historical period, the human view changes drastically regarding the superiority of animals. The earliest documented kings of Egypt retain animal names such as Scorpion, Catfish, Kite (?), Cobra and "Wing-spreader" (probably a bird of prey), but towards the end of the 1st Dynasty, this type of name disappears for good. Apparently, mankind was no longer feeling subjected to incomprehensible powers and so the powers that were worshiped as deities came more and more to show a human face as their original animal or inanimate form changed into a human one.

However, one must not discount the emergence of monarchy and the resultant origin of the Egyptian state, which transformed ancient religion by providing a new focus which unified its different goals and needs. In fact, at this point it might be said that the infancy of Egyptian deities had ended, and there is almost no doubt that the state greatly effected the direction that religion would take.

So this evolution from dynamism to personalism took place shortly after Egyptians began to write, taking place between 3000 and 2800 BC, and while other regions experienced the same transitions, only in Egypt can it be observed and documented. This process has been called the anthropomorphization of powers, and it produced the first gods in human form, though other methods of depicting this anthropomorphization appear at the same time. For example, the cow heads that crown the Narmer palette contain a human face, while the subjugated "and of papyrus" has a human head attached.

Front and Back of the Narmer Palette

Yet, it should be noted that, in many ways, the ancient Egyptians never completely abandoned the power of animals. Hathor, for example, appears to have been one of the earliest deities to be given anthropomorphic form, but even she retained the horns of her sacred animal, the cow, and was frequently depicted in bovine form millennia after her appearance. The Apis Bull also retained immense importance, and the various protective deities were often in the form of animals throughout Egyptian history.

At first the depictions of gods as humans takes on the form of a body without separate limbs. Erik Hornung has pointed out that this cannot be attributed to mummy form, as Osiris and other gods were later depicted, because it would be some centuries before mummification was practiced. However, one must also remember that the dead were probably at this early time wrapped in some sort of shroud. Still, a more likely explanation is the Egyptian tendency in art throughout the historic period to emphasis the most prominent human features. Note even on the Narmer palette the stance of the king as he smites his enemies. As in later artwork, his head is profiled while his chest and shoulders are viewed from the front. His legs once again return to profile. Hence, Egyptians concentrated on essential and unavoidable features of the human form. The archaic figure of a god shows no more and no less than is necessary to evoke an image in human form.

Initially, there were few gods in human form. Min was probably depicted in human form, as recorded on the annal stone in Palermo, but this is a late copy from early records, so it could have been influenced by later statuary. However, an image of Ptah in human form on a stone vase from Tarkhan can certainly be placed in the early dynastic period. Neith and Satis, who in later periods were depicted in human form, are attested by their inclusion in names during the early dynastic period, but whether they were then represented in human form is unknown. However, we can assume that by the end of the at the beginning of the Old Kingdom, Min, Geb, Nut, Shu and Atum were all depicted in human form and already familiar to Egyptians (though no absolutely certain evidence exists).

Interestingly, though the predynastic Narmer Palette displays a cow's head with a human face, during the first two dynasties of Egypt's historical period, purely anthropomorphic deities appeared along side purely animal forms of gods, who were still predominant, such as Horus (hawk), Seth (dog), Apis (bull) and the baboon-form "great white one". It would not be until later that gods combining human and animal elements, which is so characteristic of Egypt, would make their appearance. Only at the end of the 2nd Dynasty do the first gods in human form with animal heads appear on cylinder seal impressions of King Peribsen. The earliest examples in fact show the god Ash, "lord of Libya". The earliest form with a hawks head and a human body is on the 3rd Dynasty stela in the Louvre, representing the god Horus.

Thus, Egypt's ancient representation of gods would be complete, and continue into the later dynasties with remarkably little change over the next several thousand years.