Experts were carrying out excavation work in the Berenice site, on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea, when archaeologists from the Autonomous University of Barcelona discovered a somewhat unusual temple; was dedicated to the cult of the falcon and inside there was remains of decapitated falcons.
Born in 2016, the Sikait Project seeks to analyze the territorial, socio-economic, cultural and religious characteristics of Mons Smaragdus, currently Wadi Gemal National Park. This region was characterized by the fact that it was the only one in the Roman Empire where one could find beryl ore, better known for its green variant; the emerald.
Joan Oller Guzmanprofessor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and responsible for the project, presented the results of the research started in 2019 in the journal American Journal of Archeology.
Mysterious discoveries and rituals
The article shows us the excavation of a religious complex dating from the 4th to the 6th century AD. C., which has been dubbed “Sanctuary of Falcons” by experts. It is located in the North Complex, being one of the most important buildings of Berenice at the time.
Initially, the site was excavated by the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology and University of Delaware. The place served as a port to the Red Sea, founded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, in the 3rd century BC. C. It continued to operate in Roman and Byzantine times, becoming the main entry point for the trade of Cape Horn, Arabia and India.
Joan Oller explained that the material discoveries are of great importance. The presence of different offers such as harpoons, a cube-shaped statue and a stele with clear indications around worship.
Cubic statue found in the temple. Credit: University of Chicago Press Reviews.
However, the result that stands out the most is 15 falcons inside the sanctuarymost decapitated and buried on a pedestal, suggesting he was part of a ritual.
According to experts, the temple dates from the late period, when the city was partially or totally controlled by the blemmies, a group of nomadic people from Nubian which, at that time, was extending its domain from much of the Arabian Desert.
an unknown cult
Despite all the discoveries and details that the temple offers on a totally unknown aspect, without a doubt, the most important are the remains of falcons inside the sanctuary.
Falcon burials had been found in the Nile Valley in the past, all for religious purposes, as well as cults of bird-related deities.
Stele discovered with a strange religious message. Credit: University of Chicago Press Reviews.
However, this is the first time a falcon burial has been observed inside a templewhich was also accompanied by eggs, another unprecedented discovery. Moreover, in the Temple of Berenice they were found in groups, unlike other finds of decapitated falcon mummies, which were always individual.
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The other interesting discovery was that of a stele which has a eccentric description:
“It is improper to boil a head in this place.”
For Oller Guzmán, this, far from being a dedication or a thank you as is common in the inscriptions of the time, was an order where it was forbidden to boil the heads of animals inside the temple because it was an activity they considered profane.
Complete skeleton of an adult peregrine falcon found in the southeast corner of the temple. Credit: Photo: Berenike Project/Sikait Project.
The professor said that all discoveries lead in one direction; an intense ritual activity that combined aspects of Egyptian tradition and Blemian contributions, centered on the cult of the god khonsuwhich had a falcon’s head in its depictions and was among the Theban Triadwith Amon and Mut.
The research has been published in American Journal of Archeology.
This discovery changes the landscape of what was believed about blemmies in the Arabian desert and expands knowledge about Egyptian theology during the late Roman Empire. Proving once again that we know very little about our ancestors.
References: National Geographic / La Vanguardia.
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