NEW YORK, 14 MARCH 2007â€”In late January, the Brooklyn Museumâ€™s archaeological expedition
to the Temple Precinct of the Goddess Mut at South Karnak discovered a
reliefâ€”a decorated painted and gilded lintel that once crowned
the doorway of a religious structure. The decoration of this
object was sufficiently unusual that local Luxor officials of the Supreme Council
of Antiquities sent photographs to the main office in Cairo.
On February 1, Farok Hosni, Egyptâ€™s Minister of Culture, announced the
discovery of the lintel as a significant find. That day the lintel was
transported to the Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art, where it will
receive its final cleaning and conservation and be placed on display.
Archaeologist Richard Fazzini, who has run the excavation for the
Museum since its inception, comments, "Some of the significance of the
lintel is the quality of its carving and its gilding. A small number of
ancient Egyptian reliefs were gilded, but that adornment has seldom
survived. Equally important is the unusual nature of its iconography,
which has its origins in the early first millennium B.C. but which is here
dated to the Ptolemaic Period or early Roman Period (late fourth to late
first century B.C.) by the inscriptions."
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
The lintel is 110 cm long, 45 cm high, and 8 cm deep. Its top is
decorated with a concave Egyptian cavetto cornice adorned with a sun disk
from which hang two uraeus-cobras, representations of the protective
goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt. The cavetto has painted stripes and
the sun disk and cobras are gilded.
Below the cornice is a temple-shaped scene framed on the top and sides
by a rounded molding and a band decorated in paint with an inscription,
which remains to be cleaned to see if it is sufficiently preserved to be
translated. Within the frame are images of deities and panels with
inscriptions. At the left is a series of child-deities squatting atop
lotus blossoms which rise from a strip of water. As typical of ancient
Egyptian images of children, each holds a finger to his mouth. Each also
holds a royal crook and flail. The first and fifth gods are identified as
forms of the lunar deity Khonsu and are crowned with a lunar disk and
crescent representing the phases of the moon. The other three are forms of
the solar deity Horus and wear various royal crowns. All wear capes
painted blue, perhaps symbolic of the sky.
Facing these deities is an altar-shaped table piled with food beyond
which stand two goddesses. One is a female Bes-image, with her hands in a
gesture of adoration. (Bes is a name that applies to a number of related
deities who can appear in this form.) The other, perhaps an image of a
statue on a base, is in the form of a crowned pregnant hippopotamus with a
crocodile on her back and holding a hieroglyph for "protection." A
pregnant hippopotamus is a formidable mother symbol, and this image can be
used for a number of protective goddesses associated with childbirth.
The lintel was unearthed leaning against the south face of the
precinctâ€™s enclosure wall where it runs along the north side of the
forecourt of Temple A (its ancient name is unknown) in the northeast
corner of the site. Temple A is as large as the Mut Temple itself and was
an important cult center for at least 1500 years.
The Brooklyn Museum has been working at the Mut
Precinct for more than two decades, during which it has not only excavated
but preserved and restored monuments whenever possible. Among the other
findings that have contributed to the scholarship about ancient Egypt, is
the discovery that Temple A was originally a "Temple of Millions of
Years," dedicated to the cults of several kings of the New Kingdom,
including the monumental builder Ramesses II. The Expedition has also
helped determine that in the Third Intermediate Period Temple A was
transformed into a per-mes ("Birth House"), whose decoration celebrates
both the birth of the god Khonsu, son of Amun and Mut and, from the time
of the Kushite kings of Dynasty
the king himself. By linking the kingâ€™s birth to the godâ€™s, the conquering
Kushite rulers sought to legitimize their claim to Egyptâ€™s throne. The
temple continued to serve the same purpose for the Macedonian Ptolemies
and the Roman emperors, who all added to its decoration. It is thus not
surprising to find a monument so closely linked to divine birth in the
ruins of Temple A.
More information about the site and its deities is available on the
Museumâ€™s Web Site at www.brooklynmuseum.org and in the
Museumâ€™s Egyptian galleries.
HEKA: MAGIC AND BEWITCHMENT IN
EGYPTIAN ART IN THE AGE OF
KUSH: BLACK AFRICA'S EARLIEST
LOUVRE EGYPTIAN GALLERIES: PARIS ON THE