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1000s of animal petroglyphs found in Egypt

1000s of Neolithic Engravings Reveal Egyptians' Ancient Reverence For Animals


The Ancient Egyptians had a remarkable relationship with the animals, who they respected and revered. An astonishing discovery in the deserts of north-eastern Egypt is illustrating that this likely dated back to the late Stone Age.  Archaeologists have found a vast number of engravings on rocks, mainly of animals, at an important Neolithic site. Many of these creatures had great cultural significance in later periods and the petroglyphs are demonstrating that the Egyptians’ regard for animals was very ancient.

A team of archaeologists, working under the auspices of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities, were recording royal inscriptions in the ‘Eastern Desert northeast of Aswan’ according to the Archaeology News network. These are among the earliest royal engravings that have yet been found and they date back to the Neolithic era some 4000 years ago, when the present-day desert would have been a much more hospitable environment. While examining these the mission found a large number of ancient petroglyphs, that had been made by chipping away the surface of a rock.

Many animal images have been found in one area

Many animal images have been found in one area (Ministry of Antiquities)

Images in the desert

It is reported by ahramonline that Moustafa Waziri, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities has stated that, ‘thousands of stone inscriptions from the Neolithic period were uncovered in a semi-enclosed circular valley’.

So the team have found literally thousands of images that had been carved on the rocks. Some of them are indistinct or are crude images and they required a great deal of study before they could be identified.

Many of them depict animals that once lived in the area several millennia ago, including elephants, giraffes, antelope, and crocodile. One of the petroglyphs may be of a big cat such as a leopard. These animals were once indigenous to this area before climate change turned it into a desert and forced them further south. There are also images of some domesticated animals such as cattle, who appear to be grazing. Some images are apparently of a small urban settlement or even a city.

This is perhaps a plan of a settlement

This is perhaps a plan of a settlement. (Ministry of Antiquities)

According to Archaeology News network, some of the rock-art ‘bear Egyptian royal signs, such as the falcon god Horus’. The falcon-god Horus was a symbol of the pharaoh. Another sign represents another Royal symbol, ‘Serekh or the façade of a palace’ reports

The number of inscriptions apparently stretch over a great period of time indicating the long-standing Egyptian presence in the area.

The special status of animals in Egypt

The rock art depicting animals near royal inscriptions indicates the respect that the ancient Egyptians had for the beasts. They did not see them as inferior creatures who could be exploited at will. For the subjects of the pharaohs they ‘had symbolic and spiritual power’ according to  Even the absolute ruler of Egypt used animal symbols to legitimize his rule and demonstrate his power.

As a result, they were typically treated with great deference and even reverence. Animals were manifestations of avatars of the gods of the Egyptian pantheon. It was, therefore, illegal to kill, for example, a cat, who represented the goddess Bastet. The high status of many animals in ancient Egypt can be seen by the fact that they were mummified.

Part of a collection of mummified cats, birds and mice found in the tomb

Part of a collection of mummified cats, birds and mice found in the tomb. Credit: Ministry of Antiquities

The significance of crocodiles in Ancient Egypt

Many of the images that were found in the desert valley near Aswan were of crocodiles. These creatures had immense symbolic significance and according to many documentary sources they were sacrosanct, and some mummified crocs have been unearthed in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt. The crocodile was representative of both the benign God Osiris and also of the demons of the underworld. Rock-art depicting crocodiles would indicate that the symbolic and even religious importance of the world’s biggest reptile was very ancient.

A crocodile mummy

A crocodile mummy. (National Museums Liverpool)

The discovery of so many animal petroglyphs and their location, near royal tombs would indicate that even in the Neolithic, that Egyptians had a particular relationship with animals. This find may show that the later reverence of the subjects of the pharaoh for animals was possibly based on ideas that first emerged in the late Stone Age and the dawn of Egyptian civilization. They may also show the great antiquity of some of the religious beliefs and symbolism of the ancient civilization.

Top image: 1000s of animal petroglyphs found in Egypt.  Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Ed Whelan

Top image: 1000s of animal petroglyphs found in Egypt.  Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Ed Whelan



Is it possible that the depiction of animals in the top image are animal skins?
According to the most refined silver chalice work on the subject available to the public, "Sacred Science," this animal skins ritual likely was performed here. Judging by the Pharaonic symbols bearing the falcon god Horus, this was a place used in connection with the Sed festival in the context of renewing the king through a symbolic rebirth and the fact that all of these petroglyphs of animals occur in a natural occuring womb-like formation, not far from the center of worship for the creator god Knemu, who like Yahweh, molded mankind out of clay (Genesis 2:7).
Knemu is also mentioned as "Father of Father's Mother of Mothers" ("The Book of the Dead",by E. A. Wallis Budge, Gramercy Books, p 174).

"The mystery of the Sed-festival, the celebrating of regeneration, entails the ceremony of rebirth: a return to the womb for a new generation in order to be reborn in a higher state."
"Sacred Science; The King of Pharaonic Theocracy," by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, p 246

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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