ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Hedgehogs and porcupines
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Hedgehogs and porcupines


hedgehog amulet; Source: Bulletin of the Museum of fine Arts
Hedgehog amulet,
Late Period
Source: Bulletin of the Museum of fine Arts, Boston, December 1930

    The hedgehog was admired for its survival in the semi-desert areas outside the green floodplains and was a symbol for rebirth after death because of its hibernation.
    Hedgehogs are frequently depicted as offerings in tomb reliefs of the Old Kingdom and, more rarely, in hunting scenes amidst larger animals in full flight. Rattles were made in their shape, scaraboid hedgehog amulets were worn, and, during the later Old Kingdom, hedgehog statuettes were affixed to the bows of ships. These figureheads, in contrast to others, did not face forward, but rather looked backwards, the reason for this being unclear.
    Two species of hedgehog live in Egypt. The long-eared desert hedgehog, (Hemiechinus auritus), lives in the north of the country in burrows it excavates itself. It is nimble, nocturnal and solitary.
    The desert hedgehog, (Paraechinus deserti) is bigger than its Lower Egyptian cousin. Bones of this hedgehog have been found among other human refuse at Merimde and it is this species which was depicted in hunting scenes.
    Hedgehogs are omnivorous and useful to man as insect eaters.


    The North African porcupine, Hystrix cristata, lives in mostly tree-less areas covered with grass, reaches a length of about a metre, and has long quills with which it defends itself. It is mainly herbivorous.
Porcupine remains have been found in pre-historic settlements,[4] they may have been hunted even then. Representations are rare. In the tomb of the nomarch Djehutihotep at el Bersheh there is a depiction of what may be a porcupine climbing up a mound.[1]
    The only Egyptian word known for a spiny creature is HntA (or Hntj) used in medical texts and its translation, whether it referred to hedgehog or porcupine, is uncertain.[2]. For nssq, a disease of the head (hair loss has been suggested) the Ebers papyrus suggests
Spine of a hedgehog (or quill of a porcupine), warm, mix in oil, apply.
After a German translation [5]

    It is also uncertain what divine associations the porcupine had. According to Maspero it was suggested that the animal had been consecrated either to Re or to Bes.[3].

Fred Wendorf, Romuald Schild, Holocene Settlement of the Egyptian Sahara, Springer 2001
Percy Edward Newberry, George Willoughby Fraser, Francis Llewellyn Griffith, El Bersheh, Memoir of the Archaeological Survey of Egypt, no. 4, 1983
Joachim, Heinrich (trans.), Papyros Ebers. Das Älteste Buch über Heilkunde, Berlin 1890
Erman, Johann Peter Adolf, and Hermann Grapow, eds. 1926–1953. Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache im Auftrage der deutschen Akademien. 6 vols. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’schen Buchhandlungen. (Reprinted Berlin: Akademie-Verlag GmbH, 1971).
Gaston Maspero, Mathaf al-Misri, Guide to the Cairo Museum, Printing-office of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology 1910
[1] Newberry et al. 1983, p.14
[2] Erman & Grapow, 1971, vol. 3, 122.7 and 121.15
[3] Maspero & Misri, 1910, p.295
[4] Wendorf & Schild, 2001, pp.618f, pp.630f., p.667
[5] Joachim 1890, p.168

© 2005
September 2007