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Pharaoh bows to god of gods in newly discovered quarry carving

A team of archaeologists from a Swedish university has made some important discoveries at a large ancient Egyptian quarry. 

They’ve found a rock carving up to 3,000 years old depicting a pharaoh making offerings to the gods Amun-Ra and Thoth. They also discovered a rock inscription of the transfer of two obelisks from the quarry.

The carving dates to the Third Intermediate Period of the late dynastic period. The Third Intermediate began when Ramesses XI died in 1070 B.C. It ended with the Psamtik I’s founding of the 26th Dynasty in 664 B.C.

The carvings and inscription are difficult to decipher because they are so worn and eroded. 

They were found at Gebel el Sisila, Egypt’s largest sandstone quarries, north of Aswan.

Mapcarta screenshot of Egypt and the River Nile showing Silsila, the red dot north of Aswan

Dr. Maria Nilsson and her team from Lund University are doing an epigraphic study at Gebel el Silsila. An epigraph is an inscription on a building or, in this case, the walls and surfaces of the quarry.

The Gebel el Silsila Survey has found more than 60 rock art sites on both sides of the Nile. 

The sites date from the epipalaeolithic period of 8500 to 6500 years ago, to the Early Dynastic period of 3100 to 2686 B.C.  

They have found depictions of abstract patterns, geometric patterns, object inscriptions, animal illustrations in addition to these images of gods and people at work in the quarry.

The Cairo Post focused on the importance of the inscription of the obelisk transfer.

“The work technique shows a notable cooperation among the workers and the workshops at the quarry. The scenes of the rocks, which were precisely cut, confirm the advanced skills of ancient Egyptian labor,” the Cairo Post quoted Director General of Aswan Antiquities Department Nasr Salama as saying.

Other scenes depicting workers detaching blocks and loading them onto sailboats on the River Nile have been found at Gebel el Silsila.

An ancient obelisk at Aswan, Egypt, that workers had not finished carving out of the ground Olaf Tausch

The Swedish team started working at the site in 2013. They have a blog detailing their work at Gebel el Silsila Survey Project.

“As always, Gebel Silsila is a remarkable place, with great beauty and wonders to behold across the whole site. There is so much to be learnt here about the everyday Egyptian,” Sarah Doherty, a team member, wrote at the blog.

The image of the pharaoh making offerings to Thoth and Amun-Ra were found about 5 feet above the ground in the quarry wall’s face. 

The figures are poorly preserved but some details can be seen. 

Amun-Ra, king of gods, was rarely depicted with Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom.

“We can see the characteristic double feather crown of Amun-Ra, and the moon disc of the ibis-headed Thoth,” Nilsson told Discovery News. “Unfortunately, the item presented by the pharaoh is no longer discernible.”

It is also unknown exactly which pharaoh made the offering.

Thoth carved and painted at a temple in Abydos. Olaf Tausch photo

The Magic Spell Casters Association of Egypt website identifies Amun-Ra as the oldest and most worshiped of Egyptian gods, the King of Gods and the God of Kings. It says “Amun” means hidden and “Ra” means light. Pharaohs liked to call themselves “beloved of Amun” and “son of Ra,” the site says.

The Hymn to Amun-Ra says:

HAIL to thee, Amun-Ra, Lord of the thrones of the earth, the oldest existence, ancient of heaven, support of all things;

Chief of the gods, lord of truth; father of the gods, maker of men and beasts and herbs; maker of all things above and below…

Amun in various forms: man, goose and ram. Andreas Praefcke photograph

Thoth was also an important god in ancient Egypt. One myth says Thoth, a god of wisdom, created himself through the power of language. 

Egyptians thought he invented writing, medicine, and magic, religious and civil practices.

In the book Ancient Egyptian Legends, author M.A. Murray says a priest shows Nefer-ka-ptah, son of the king, where the Book of Thoth was:

He opened the gold box and found the Book of Thoth.

He opened the Book and read a page, and at once he had enchanted the sky, the earth, the abyss, the mountains, and the sea, and he understood the language of birds, fish, and beasts. 

He read the second page and he saw the sun shining in the sky, with the full moon and the stars, and he saw the great shapes of the Gods themselves; and so strong was the magic that the fishes came up from the darkest depths of the sea. So he knew that what the priest had told him was true.

Thoth finds his book gone and complains to Ra, who tells Thoth to do as he will with Nefer-ka-ptah and his wife, who also read the book and gained power. The husband and wife and their child all drown, having been drawn into the Nile by “the Power of Ra.” The king has his son buried with the Book of Thoth.

“Thus was the vengeance of Thoth fulfilled, but the Book remained with Nefer-ka-ptah,” says Murray’s book.

Featured image: The newly-discovered carving at Gebel el Sisila.


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