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Ancient Egypt: Cosmographic scene on the handle of the Gebel el Arak knife
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The Gebel el Arak knife
The Gebel el Arak knife
Source: University of Texas website


The Gebel el Arak knife

Images on the backside of the handle

    Surrounding a perforated knob used for suspending the knife, the backside of the haft of the Gebel el Arak knife is decorated with the images of a number of animals presided over by an old man in Mesopotamian dress. The artist who carved these depictions must have been knowledgeable in some aspects of Asiatic culture at least.
Knife handle, Source: BIFAO 68
    The old man, the creator god El or a similar Asiatic deity [3], identified with the Egyptian Atem, is flanked by his offspring, two lions, representing the planet Venus in its guises of Morning Star (Ashtar, Egyptian Shu) and Evening Star (Ashtaret, Egyptian Tefnut) [4][1].
    The two-lion motif reappears in Egyptian mythology in the form of Aker [2], the earth god protecting the eastern and western horizons, the accesses to the underworld.
    Below this scene two dogs wearing collars face each other. It has been suggested that they represent the constellations of the Big and the Little Dog which Venus approaches or passes through.
    The lower half of the decoration is said to depict the daily cycle of Venus: Daily cycle
Source: BIFAO 68, p.75
  1. The antelopes represent the freshness of night.
  2. A young man, apparently Shu, god of the Morning Star, traps the antelope at daybreak in order to kill it.
  3. Shu chases the bull of the daily heat with his dog.
  4. The lion, the Evening Star, devours the bull.
  5. Return of the antelopes of the night. [4]


J. P. Allen: The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Society of Biblical Literature, 2005
E. A. W. Budge: The Papyrus of Ani
Robert du Mesnil du Buisson: "Le décor asiatique du couteau de Gebel el-Arak," BIFAO 68 (1969), pp.63-83
Nicolas-Christophe Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, Blackwell Publishing 1992, ISBN 0631193960
Atum and the Dual-Lion who made their two gods and their body themselves
that is Shu and Tefnut, who made the gods, begot the gods and set the gods.
Pyramid Texts No. 447
J. P. Allen: The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p.55
[2] Of Aker the Book of the Dead says:
Atem has built your house, and the double Lion-god has laid the foundations of your habitation.
After E. A. W. Budge: The Papyrus of Ani
[3] Not everyone is willing to speculate as to the identity of the figure. Grimal (op.cit., p.36) just refers to a "warrior".
[4] Du Mesnil, op.cit.

  -The battlescene from the knife of Gebel el-Arak
-Photo of the reverse side of the knife handle. Picture by Jon Bodsworth
-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page
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-Francesco Raffaele: Predynastic and Early Dynastic knife-handles, mace-heads, combs
-Ernest Moyer: Mesopotamian Influence In the Nile Valley - Introduction

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© June 2006
December 2007