History

Oldest Depiction of Ancient Egyptian Demons Found

The newly found drawings show demonic entities populated the ancient Egyptians' imaginations as far back as 4,000 years ago.

A Belgium-based Egyptologist has discovered the oldest depictions of ancient Egyptian demons, showing that demonic entities populated the ancient Egyptians' imaginations as far back as 4,000 years ago.

Presented recently at the International Conference on Ancient Egyptian Demonology at Swansea University, U.K., these demons gripped their victims and cut off their heads.

Wael Sherbiny, an independent scholar who specializes in the ancient Egyptian religious texts, found two demons on two Middle Kingdom coffins about 4,000 years old.

The third was portrayed in a 4,000-year-old leather roll the researcher had previously discovered in the shelves of the Egyptian museum in Cairo, where it was stored and forgotten for more than 70 years. It was the oldest and longest Egyptian leather manuscript.

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"These three demons are already familiar to scholars from ancient texts. However, the depiction of two of them was unknown until now," Sherbiny told Discovery News.

"The drawings show them in either a purely zoomorphic or anthropomorphic representation," he added.

Two demons, called In-tep, pictured as a dog-like baboon, and Chery-benut, depicted as unspecified figure with human head, appear as guardians at the entrance of a complex building, possibly a kind of temple, that contains several chambers guarded by other demonic entities.

"The texts link this building to the moon god Thoth and the bark of the sun god," Sherbiny said.

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He noted that apart from their names, no accompanying textual elements refer to the tasks of these two demons.

"The name of the first demon, In-tep, may denote his dangerous role in severing heads as a punishment to any intruder of the sacred space," Sherbiny said.

The third demon, Ikenty, was the guardian of a fiery gate that led to a restricted area concealing a divine image. The demon's appearance was already known as it was portrayed on a Middle Kingdom coffin (1870-1830 BC) in the form of a large bird with a black feline head.

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Sherbiny discovered the same demon in a slightly different, but highly intriguing form in the much older Cairo leather roll, basically finding the oldest image of Ikenty.

"The texts indicate that this demon has a swift attack with inescapably powerful grip on whomever he sees," Sherbiny said.

The ancient Egyptian world of belief was inhabited by a huge number of entities with super powers. They could play both malevolent or benevolent roles, as threats, maladies and dangers, or as protectors, helpers and defenders.

"They turn up in variety of contexts that touch upon different spheres of human life and after life," Sherbiny said.

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In-tep, Chery-benut and Ikenty revealed that the elaborate and polychrome drawings of entities from the New Kingdom (about 3,500 years ago) onwards have much older roots than previously thought.

Sherbiny will publish the images of the demons in a forthcoming, extensive study which includes an integral analysis of the contexts in which the demons appear.

"Unfortunately little has survived, and the examples I discovered represent a rare opportunity to witness how the ancient Egyptians imagined the invisible," Sherbiny said.

The demon Ikenty represented as a large bird with a black feline head on a Middle Kingdom coffin. The same demon appears as a large bird on a much older leather roll.

In one of the most ambitious and innovative projects ever, Egypt’s main pyramids will be investigated by a team from Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering, Nagoya University in Japan and Paris-based non-profit organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation. Cutting-edge technologies like infrared thermography, muon radiography and 3-D reconstruction will look inside four pyramids, which are more than 4,500 years old. They include Khufu, or Cheops, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid at Dahshur. The current survey focuses on the Bent pyramid, so named because of its sloping upper half. Built by Snefru, founder of the Fourth Dynasty, the monument is the first with smooth faces after generations of stepped pyramids. Cosmic-ray muon radiographies are expected to provide more information about its construction. The work is under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

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A team led by specialist Kunihiro Morishima, from the Institute for Advanced Research of Nagoya University, Japan, has entered the pyramid to install 40 plates. The monument has two entrances, one on the north side and one on the west side. These entries open onto two corridors leading to two burial chambers arranged one above the other.

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The plates contain two emulsion films that are sensitive to muons, so they basically work as muon detectors. Muons continually shower the Earth's surface. Just like X-rays pass through our bodies allowing us to visualize our skeleton, these elementary particles, weighing around 200 times more than electrons, can easily pass through any structure, even mountains. Plate detectors placed inside the pyramid allow researchers to discern void areas -- that muons cross without problem -- from denser areas where some of them are absorbed or deflected.

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Now covering a surface of about 10 square feet in the pyramid's lower chamber, the plates have been left at the site to accumulate data. In early 2016 the emulsion films will be processed in Cairo. Then they will be analyzed to generate muon radiographies images, potentially revealing hidden chambers in the pyramid. "In case a void is detected, the images generated from the emulsion film analysis show a contrast difference," Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director with professor Hany Helal of the ScanPyramids mission, told Discovery News. "The principle is that you have to count the muons. Then you scan and process the image to generate an image with contrast," he added.

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The difficult part of the technique is producing highly sensitive detectors, which can be either gels like the ones used for silver prints or scintillators. Enough data then needs to be accumulated over days or months to emphasize the contrasts. In order to find out the best chemical formula of the emulsion films, plate samples have already been installed in the Queen Chamber of Khufu's Pyramid. "We need to find the best formula for the environment inside the pyramid. The installation will be completed at a later stage in 2016," Tayoubi said.

Read the article: Pyramid Secret Chambers Sought Using Cosmic Rays