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The Goddess Mut
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Mu



Staff Report

NEW YORK, 14 MARCH 2007—In late January, the Brooklyn Museum’s archaeological expedition to the Temple Precinct of the Goddess Mut at South Karnak discovered a relief—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, Egypt’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."

Gilded Lintel
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 precinct’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 XXV , of the king himself. By linking the king’s birth to the god’s, the conquering Kushite rulers sought to legitimize their claim to Egypt’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 Museum’s Web Site at and in the Museum’s Egyptian galleries.

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