The Dendera light

The Dendera light

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The Dendera light is a particularly controversial topic since it is not exactly an artefact of potential ancient technology, but the possible depiction of an artefact on a wall of one of the best preserved ancient temples in Egypt—the temple of the  Egyptian goddess Hathor at Dendera.

The Dendera light is found on three stone reliefs and, at first glance, could be construed as a lamp with a cable at the end and a snake-shaped cord inside. A priest is holding the lamp at one end, and a few smaller figures are below it with one appearing to hold the lamp upwards.

The Dendera temple complex in Egypt. Photo source: Wikipedia

A Norwegian electrical engineer was the first to propose that the image depicted an electrical lamp. Peter Krassa and Rainer Habeck published a book based on the relief titled Lights of the Pharaohs , and Zeichnung Garn-Birne, another electrical engineer, later constructed a working model of the Dendera lamp. You can watch the video here.

A reconstruction of the Dendera lamp at the Mystery Park in Switzerland, according to the electric lamp interpretation 

Most Egyptologists, however, interpret the image much differently. The Hermopolitan myth of creation, the first thing to emerge from the primordial sea of Nun, which pre-existed creation, was a lotus flower. That flower gave birth to the sun god, Atum-Ra. There are many ancient depictions of the lotus in the shape of a ‘lamp’ similar to the relief above, and in later depictions a snake in a bubble was used to represent Atum-Ra. The bubble or field around the snake may represent the emergence of the universe out of nothingness. Therefore, an obvious implication to the meaning of the Dendera lamp, according to Egyptologists, is a reference to the sun god emerging from the lotus flower.

Scholars also point out there there is no reference in historical texts of the use of light or electricity, which one would expect to find if it really were an electrical lamp, nor have any electrical items been uncovered in the thousands of archaeological sites throughout Egypt. 

Whatever the conclusion regarding the Dendera relief, it continues to draw crowds from around the world who are eagre to catch a glimpse of the unusual carving. 

By John Black

Related Links

Dendera temple complex

Ancient Egypt: Mythology

Egyptian Light Bulb

Lights of the Pharaohs


Really enjoying John Black and his various columns. Very knowledgeable, informative, and well-written.

malisa wright

johnblack's picture

Thank you Malisa!

There must be links between ancient the egyptian myth is very similar to the ancient Indian myth....A lotus coming out of the umbilicus of sleeping Vishnu. ... representing the ethereal ocean or the pre- existence of creation...then Brahma or the god of creation emerged from the lotus....

This is extreamly interesting, and I think I might go look for this book. Thank you

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