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Deriv; Ancient Celtic dolmen from Poulnabrone, Ireland and carved Egyptian deity Thoth

Thoth’s Storm: New Evidence for Ancient Egyptians in Ireland?

When ancient Egypt and Ireland are spoken about in the same breath it usually results in the rolling of eyes, polite exits and the sound of murmurs citing pseudo-history and new age babble.
At least, that used to be the case.

Recent discoveries in DNA research have added to already verified archaeological finds to present a scenario that is now more difficult to dismiss.  

The Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) atop the Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland.

The Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) atop the Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland. ( CC BY 2.0 )

The Hill of Tara is one of Ireland’s most ancient sacred sites. It is surrounded by many other Neolithic earthworks and tombs and although commonly associated with the Celts, the site pre-dates their arrival in Ireland by thousands of years.

In legend it is the place where the Tuatha De Danann reigned. These were a God-like people who were said to have arrived in Ireland in mysterious ships and had magical powers.

A plate of The Dagda, representing the legendary members of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

A plate of The Dagda, representing the legendary members of the Tuatha Dé Danann. ( Public Domain )

Ritual Burials and Mysterious Bones

During recent and very controversial excavations near Tara a story emerged about a strange skeleton that had been found by workers digging at Lismullin Henge. Some thought it was the remains of a dog, others a badger. But, most curious of all was the claim of some witnesses that the remains were, in fact, those of an ape.

As Con Connor, Arch Druid of Ireland’s Celtic Druid Temple writes, “Why was such a ritual burial in a royal site not cause for focused investigation?”

In her work, A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials , author Lynn Brunet writes that, “Furthermore, the Irish Masonic author, J. A. Penny notes that a skeleton of a Barbary ape had been found at Tara, the mythical center of Ireland and seat of the High King.”

But why would there have been such strange bones buried at this site? These primates are not indigenous to Ireland and the archaeological complex surrounding Tara dates back thousands of years. If bones of an ape had been found at any point, do we have a precedent for such a burial at any other of Ireland’s most ancient sacred places?

In fact we do. During excavations at Eimhain Macha (Navan Fort) in County Armagh, the skull of a Barbary ape was found. When it was carbon dated it was discovered to be roughly 2,500 years old. The question for many archaeologists was how it got to Ireland in the first place, but perhaps a more intriguing enquiry would investigate why.

The Irish-Egyptian Connection

One of the more controversial theories when it comes to the origins of the Irish people is a connection to ancient Egypt. Although there are many Irish legends connecting Tara and Egyptian royalty, these have been impossible to prove.

One of the most intriguing examples of these proposals was the discovery of the skeleton of a 15-year-old boy at The Mound of the Hostages, near Tara, by Dr. Sean O Riordan of Trinity College. Carbon dating showed that the remains were roughly 3,800 years old. A necklace found with the skeleton was made of faience beads and matched similar Egyptian manufacture and design.

The Hill of Tara is an archaeological complex featuring many ancient monuments, such as the ‘Mound of Hostages’, seen above. In tradition Hill of Tara is known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.

The Hill of Tara is an archaeological complex featuring many ancient monuments, such as the ‘Mound of Hostages’, seen above. In tradition Hill of Tara is known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.  (CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Scotia, Egyptian Royalty

There is also the famous legend of Queen Scotia, an Egyptian princess or queen, depending on which version of the legend you read, who was said to have arrived in Ireland in 1700 BC and was killed by the Tuatha De Danann in a great battle.

Her supposed grave is marked by a giant inscribed stone in County Kerry and its importance has led to local politicians calling for its preservation.

A 15th century depiction of Scota’s voyage from Egypt.

A 15th century depiction of Scota’s voyage from Egypt. ( Public Domain )

An interesting aside is that Scotia’s grave is not far from the island of Skellig Michael, the site of a pre-Christian settlement and a later monastery.

According to the 11th-century  Lebor Gabála É renn (Book of Invasions), Milesius, a great leader of one of Ireland’s invaders lost two of his sons nearby in 1400 BC when a magical storm caused by the Tuatha De Danann submerged their ship. 

The majestic and isolated Skellig Michael off Ireland’s coast.

The majestic and isolated Skellig Michael off Ireland’s coast. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Despite these legends, up until recently there had been very little strong academic evidence linking Ireland with the lower Mediterranean. In December 2015, however, this all changed.

Groundbreaking DNA Findings

Scientists from Trinity College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast published new findings in the journal, the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .  What they found was that the ancient Irish were not only related to the people of southern Europe but that that there was a Middle Eastern connection too.

With this new knowledge comes a tantalizing explanation for the ape skull in ancient Ireland and which connects to a previously unexplored etymological link to the Tuatha De Danann .  

Commonly, the meaning of this mysterious race has been posited as The People of Danu , a mother goddess from Irish mythology. However, the earliest recordings of the Tuatha do not include the last word Danann, instead being described as Tuatha De or Tuatha Di . In fact it is only since the 19 th century that the current description of Danu was widely accepted by scholars.

Perhaps then it is time to look at these people using the new information we now have about their roots and, most importantly, the gods they worshipped and revered.

Thoth, ancient Egyptian god often depicted as an ibis-headed man.

Thoth, ancient Egyptian god often depicted as an ibis-headed man.  ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

One of the most important Egyptian gods was Thoth, later to be named Hermes by the Greeks. Thoth was a moon god who was said to have brought wisdom and writing to the world. He was often represented and symbolized by a baboon or the North African ape. Could this be a reason for ape bones found at Irish sites?

Depiction of Thoth as a baboon, circa 1400 BC.

Depiction of Thoth as a baboon, circa 1400 BC. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Even more curious are the overlooked etymological variants of Thoth; Thoout and Thaut. When we look for phonetic comparisons within Egyptian hieroglyphics we find very apt descriptions of the Tuatha De Danann’s arrival in Ireland.

Thoout Dai translates as ‘Thoth’s crossing’, Thoout DAt translates to ‘Thoth’s journey by boat’ and Thoout Da translates as ‘Thoth’s storm’ (According to Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Tuatha came to Ireland "in dark clouds"). (9.)

All of these phonetic similarities are in line with the descriptions of these legendary people and how they arrived in Ireland.

Illustration of the Ibis-headed Thoth and baboon primate in boat.

Illustration of the Ibis-headed Thoth and baboon primate in boat. ( Public Domain )

Another telling factor in the omission of these translations by scholars in the 19 th century is that The Rosetta Stone and the decipherment of hieroglyphics by Champollion only took place in the 1820’s. The early Christian monks who first recorded these stories would have had no knowledge of these phonetic translations.

Indeed, most scholars of Irish mythology in the 19 th century probably remained unaware of Champollion’s work as well. Most believed Danann came from the Vedic Goddess Danu.

When we remove the more fanciful elements of myth and lore we are still left with many unanswered questions that new scientific evidence is compelling us to ask. Some of the answers have already overturned previous academic opinion and with each technological breakthrough we discover new means to dig further into our past.

Although an ancient connection between Ireland and Egypt was once thought far-fetched and outside of the accepted scholarly realm, we now have more reason than ever to examine these links and wonder again about the Tuatha De or, possibly, Thoth’s Storm.

© David Halpin 2016

Visit David’s Amazon page here.

Featured image: Deriv; Ancient Celtic dolmen from Poulnabrone, Ireland (Flickr/ CC BY 2.0 ) and carved Egyptian deity Thoth (Jon Bodsworth).

By David Halpin

References

Ireland’s Druid School . “Primate Skeleton at the Henge in Tara Valley?”. 2008. DruidSchool.com [Online” Available at: http://www.druidschool.com/site/1030100/page/937849

Brunet, Lynn. “A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials: Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland” . 2009.

Moriarty, Colm. “A Barbary Ape Skull from Navan Fort, Co. Armagh ”. 2014.  IrishArchaeology.ie [Online] Available at: http://irisharchaeology.ie/2014/05/a-barbary-ape-skull-from-navan-fort-co-armagh/

UCD School of Archaeology .“Piecing Together the Past”. 2006. UCD.ie [Online] Available at: http://www.ucd.ie/ucdtoday/mar06/mar06/the_mound_of_hostages.pdf

The Kerryman . “Councillors call on Scottish kin to preserve Queen Scotia's grave”. 2000. Independent.ie  [Online] Available here.

Smith, Charles. “Ancient and Present State of the County of Kerry”. 1756

Rincon, Paul. “Ancient DNA sheds light on Irish Origins”. 2015. BBC.com [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35179269

Lara M. Cassidy, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. “Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome”
PNAS 2015 : 1518445113v1-201518445. [Online] Available here.

Dictionary: English-to-Hieroglyphs. 2015. Hieroglyphs.net [Online] Available at: http://hieroglyphs.net/0301/cgi/lookup.pl?ty=tr&ch=D&cs=1

 

Comments

I'm not certain that derivations from sahu and sea are mutually exclusive. It's not obvious on the surface, but a comprehensive study of various European myths does show a connection between souls and the sea and the underworld and even kingship. I suspect sahu is closer to the original source, but not the original. I could be wrong, of course.

Tuatha De another possible explanation:

Old Albanian language

Tu a tha = the saying
De = God (ancient Greek DEA) = wisdom/knowledge

Thot = says (second person)

Okay, first of all – “Thoth” is the Greek name for that particular deity. The Egyptian name – which, since we’re looking at an Egyptian connection to Ireland – is ḏḥwty, possibly pronounced something like Djhuty (*ḏiḥautī). So the word “Thoth” can’t really be used to link Egypt and Ireland, unless you’re saying it was Greeks importing Egyptian culture in.

Secondly, the Celtic myths that survived were very heavily influenced by both the Romans and the monks who recorded them. I’ve read one book – “A Brief Guide to Celtic Myths & Legends” by Martyn Whittock (ISBN13: 978-1-78033-892-7) that claims that a great deal of the links to Egypt portrayed in the stories of the Tuatha De (Danann) are based on biblical stories – the monks trying to link Celtic myths to biblical ones. This makes a certain amount of sense, especially if you look at the actual dates of when the myths were written down. They’re all around the times of 11th to 12th centuries CE. That’s centuries after Christianity came to the British Isles, and even before that, the Romans had heavily affected the native Celtic myths and legends.

Third, as I believe someone else pointed out, the ancients had elaborate trade routes all throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near and Middle East. Admittedly, 3.8K years ago is before the Phoenicians (who were not exactly a single people, so far as we know, but a conglomeration of city states) took control of maritime trade, but overland trade did exist. (How else could Baltic amber get down to the Mediterranean to be discovered in the wreck of a ship dating to around 1305-1300 CE or thereabouts – which was, FYI, also before the Phoenicians came to prominence. Check out the info about the Uluburun shipwreck.)

And fourth – reading through the paper on the genetic discoveries you reference… where is the connection to Egypt? Yes, it mentions that the Neolithic subject was descended from peoples from the Middle East – referring to the Fertile Crescent – and there might have been some Egyptian there… but she wasn’t descended primarily from Egyptians. As for the Bronze Age genomes, they were linked to the Pontic-Caspian Steppes, which is the likely origin of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Again, not Egyptian.

David Halpin's picture

Hi Tagoold,

Thanks for the comment and I’m sorry to have taken so long to reply. This article has over 30’000 shares from this site alone and I have also tried to answer questions on other forums and Facebook pages so I have obviously missed many conversations, unfortunately.

I’ll take your points one by one, if that’s okay. The name Thoth is the Greek for Dhwty but the name in hieroglyphs remains the same. There are actually many variants of both ‘Dhwty’ and ‘Thoth’ in terms of spelling although it is difficult to know how the phonetic changes applied both geographically and culturally. Certainly, in terms of the article and Thoth’s relationship to Tuatha, the symbolic links stand up.
Bear in mind too that Thoth/ Dhwty is the Egyptian interpretation of a much earlier God/ Wisdom-giver dating further back into antiquity. For my hieroglyph interpretations, I used Budge’s translations which are not above criticism but have still to be bettered. He breaks down the symbols which Thoth/ Dhwty is represented by and translates those symbols into English equivalents. Each glyph has a number of meanings so the article tries to find the explanations that best represent the descriptions of the Tuatha De’s arrival in Ireland. Again, I think my translation is as strong as the 19th-century version which was decided by people without access to the information and context we have today. Until we invent a time-machine or discover some irrefutable proof, this will always be a matter of opinion.  

The second point you make is one that I agree with and try to demonstrate in the article. Believe me, I have been a long time trying to demonstrate the Christian influence on Irish pagan and mythological tales. In fact, another point of contention is that even the Celtic influence is appropriation in many ways. Our stone circles and megaliths here in Ireland are thousands of years older than the Celts. A recent example of this misinformation was when a well-known American Pagan wrote about visiting a famous Irish monument and she poured honey and milk all over it because in Celtic stories this place was sacred to a particular Celtic Goddess! Trying to point out to this person that the monument has nothing to do with the Celts was a futile exercise.

Taking your third and fourth points together, trade is definitely a perfect reason for people from the Fertile Crescent to move up through Europe. The article doesn’t dispute that at all, in fact in the case of the beads found at Tara I would say this is a very likely explanation. That said, with trade comes mixing, both culturally and in terms of belief. DNA evidence leaves no argument that people from Africa, the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Europe were in Ireland around 3’500 BCE.
From my perspective and in light of the newest evidence, the Egyptians themselves came out of Anatolia at some point as evidenced by the Hathor connections so the Fertile crescent region was definitely one of the stages for Indo-European origins. I would be an advocate of the out of Africa hypothesis, personally, so if we go back roughly 60’000 years the movement from eastern Africa up through Europe and Asia would be the origin point, long-term.

I hope this helps clarify my thinking.  

David. 

      

David Halpin

Those pesky Greeks gave their names to so many ancient Egyptian words and they have become so common that we tend to think they were the Egyptian words. Some examples:

Pyramid “meaning wheat cake” replaced the Egyptian “"Mr” usually written as Mer meaning unknown. In Arabic, pyramid means “ultimate age or size”

Pharaoh replaced the Egyptian “pero or per-a-a” meaning “Great House” and referred to the royal residence

Sphinx replaced the Egyptian “Ssp Ankh" meaning “the living image”

Obelisk meaning "needle” replaced the Egyptian “tekhenu” meaning "to pierce"

Isis replaced the Egyptian “Aset,  Eset or Iset” meaning “throne”

Even the land itself if Greek (originally Aigýptios or Aegyptios). The Egyptians called their land kmt Usually written “Kemet” meaning “Black Land” named for the black silt left behind after the annual flood of the Nile. Later, the country was called by the Arabic word “Msir” meaning “country”

There are others but I think I made my point. Also, Osiris is the Latinized form of the Egyptian Usir which is interpreted as "powerful" or "might”

 

By the way, it should be noted that vowels were not ed in ancient times so the addition of them is arbitrary.

 

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