Where an Ostrich, Dancer, and Hunter Meet: How Common Were Ritual Images in Neolithic Egyptian Rock Art?
Egyptologists at the University of Bonn, Germany have discovered rock art from the 4th millennium BC during an excavation at a necropolis near Aswan in Egypt. The images were carved into the rock in the form of little dots and portray hunting scenes like those found in shamanic depictions. Experts speculate that they could represent a link between the Neolithic period and ancient Egyptian culture.
Qubbet el-Hawa: An Abundantly Important and Historic Necropolis
For more than a century, Qubbet el-Hawa has been a “hotspot” for archaeologists. More than eighty tumuli (also known as burial mounds) have been unearthed on the hill near Aswan in Egypt during numerous excavations. The long history of this necropolis for the provincial capital Elephantine expands from around 2200 to the 4th century BC. It used to be a crucial exchanging base for Egyptians in Nubia, and their aristocrats were buried in the burial mounds. Prof. Elmar Edel from the University of Bonn studied and investigated the necropolis for twenty-five years – more than anyone in recent history – from 1959 to 1984. "The majority of the objects in the Egyptian Museum in Bonn come from these field campaigns," stated Prof. Ludwig Morenz, as Phys.Org reports, who heads Egyptology at the Bonn alma mater.
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The site of the find: this is where the scientists from the University of Bonn discovered the spectacular rock art. (David Sabel)
The Rock Art is a New Feature at Qubbet el-Hawa
A totally new feature at Qubbet el-Hawa has now been unearthed during an excavation launched at the necropolis in 2015. The team, directed by Prof. Morenz with Amr El Hawary, Andreas Dorn, Tobias Gutmann, Sarah Konert and David Sabel found way older Neolithic rock art from the 4th millennium BC. "Style and iconography provide solid clues when dating these. It opens up a new archeological dimension" said Prof. Morenz on the official webpage of the University of Bonn. Some of these engravings on the rock wall are obviously Egyptian in terms of iconography and stylistics, while others are clearly pre-Egyptian as regards the presentation, method, and motif.
The excavation team and the Egyptian inspectors in November 2015: David Sabel, Aswan inspector Howeyda Mohamed, Amr El Hawary, Aswan chief inspector Shazly Ali Shazly and Ludwig Morenz (from left). (David Sabel)
The images were tapped into the rock with a rough point and are now scarcely capable of being perceived because of their advanced age. Only the archaeologically accurate recording of the traces and the drawing of the outlines divulged the images with notable iconography. The originally puzzling-looking disposition of dots allows three figures to be seen upon closer inspection: a hunter with bow, a dancing man with raised arms and, between them, an African ostrich. “The archer clearly shows hunting for the large flightless bird, while the man with raised arms can be identified as a hunt dancer,” stated Prof. Morenz. The dancer wears a bird mask, a scene that reflects the abstract world of hunting and shamanism that has been traced in many different parts of the planet, excluding Egypt - at least until now.
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Only the precise archaeological recording of the traces and the drawing of the outlines brought the rock art images found at Qubbet el-Hawa to light. (Illustration: David Sabel)
Hunting and Dancing Scenes Linked with the Qubbet el-Hawa Rock Art
Curiously small painted women dancing with raised arms and a bird mask also come from the 4th millennium BC and some clay masks that were discovered a few years back in the Upper Egyptian Hierakonpolis appear to be linked in some way with the rock art of Qubbet el-Hawa. They may represent a connection between the ancient Near Eastern, and even southern European, Neolithic period and Ancient Egyptian culture. “This social practice and the associated complex of ideas have barely been looked at in Egyptology,” says Prof. Morenz. “This opens up new horizons for research,” Prof. Morenz also notes the need for further investigation and examination of the new finds.
A rock panel in the Kharga Oasis in Egypt, which is believed to contain the only known example of ‘spider’ rock art in Egypt. Credit: Salima Ikram
Moreover, the exciting discovery earned the scientists an award from the Minister of Antiquities in Cairo for one of the current ten most significant archaeological discoveries in Egypt.
Top Image: The rock engravings, found at Qubbet el-Hawa, Egypt and dating to around 6000 years ago, can hardly be seen today. (David Sabel) However, the intentionally overvisualized tracing with inherent interpretation of the art allows three figures to be identified: a hunter with a bow (right), a dancing man with a bird mask (left) and, in the center, the large flightless bird the ostrich. (Zeichnung: David Sabel)