Temple relief

Wall relief made up of one single rectangular block, which, given the size of the figures, the hieroglyphs and the deeply sunk relief, was worked for a temple or chapel of considerable size. This technique allows the images to be seen in greater detail if there is considerable environmental light. Therefore we can assume that this block was placed on the exterior walls of the building.

The iconography shows a female figure wearing a striped tripartite wig which brings to mind the jackal crowns of the Ptolemaic queens, surmounted in the centre by a snake whose tail also appears at the back of the head. This attribute leads us to consider a possible identification of the person as a sovereign. A “Hemhem” crown is in place on top of the wig, made up of an ornate triple “atef” crown over two spiral ram horns, which symbolize the triumph of solar light over chaos. Both of these headdresses are those of the Late Period of Egypt, even during the period of Greek domination. This is one of the elements that make it possible to date the piece. Two straps are depicted in relief on the shoulders. These were probably to hold the robe that she was wearing in place or perhaps they indicate a chain that was holding a piece of jewellery or a pectoral over the chest.

This queen has her arms stretched out towards the front at the level of the shoulders in a typical stance seen in ancient Egyptian depictions, an attitude of offering. The palms of the hands, sculpted in profile, are holding the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol of the horizon, the “Aket”. According to Egyptian tradition, the horizon is symbolized by the sun disk between two mountains, and this solar symbol has clear connotations both of permanence and of eternal life. However, as we are dealing with a Meroitic image, not an Egyptian one, the meaning may not necessarily be the same, given that the natural offering of a queen to the gods would have been circular vases called “Nu”.

To the left of the block we find two really curious hieroglyphic symbols. An animal similar to a mouse is depicted sitting below two small squares. The translation and the meaning are unknown as the hieroglyphs are from Meroitic script, not Egyptian. In ancient Nubia the script was completely different from the Egyptian. Unfortunately, as the number of documents in existence is much smaller than the number of those available for the Nile civilization, translation has been impossible.

The piece, then, is one in which cultures and styles have been mixed. It was done in a period of Greek domination of Egypt and the Nubian zone, but it shows typical characteristics of the southern kingdom.

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