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Objects of Wonder: The Symbolism and Suspense behind Ancient Egyptian artifacts

Objects of Wonder: The Symbolism and Suspense behind Ancient Egyptian artifacts

Ancient Egypt was a land of great mystery and intrigue. It still takes a keen eye to understand the deep philosophy embedded in not just the wealth of texts and inscriptions, but everyday objects too.

A Tut Mystery in Chicago

A massive statue, traditionally thought to depict King Tutankhamun, was one of a pair excavated by the Architectural Survey of the Oriental Institute, Chicago, under the directorship of Dr. Uvo Holscher; its companion is now located in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It was discovered in 1931 near Medinet Habu in the ruins of the memorial temple of the person who assumed power next, Pharaoh Aye. The thorny question of the existence of a mortuary temple of Tutankhamun thus arises.

All that remains of Tutankhamun’s purported mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. It is more likely that the structure was commissioned by his predecessor, King Aye, considering he was advanced in years when he assumed the throne.

As the ruler, Aye is said to have carved his name over that of his predecessor. However, after he died following a brief reign, the military commander Horemheb came to the throne, usurped this statue, chiseled out Aye's cartouches on the back pillar, and had his name inscribed on it instead. This is the story much of the world believes.

The difficulty in understanding who is depicted on this royal statue arises because the face of Tutankhamun is not remotely uncommon. The only problem is that they are universally renamed; almost exclusively with that of Horemheb. Renowned Amarna expert, Dr Aidan Dodson shared his insights with the present writer: “There are now significant doubts as to whether they ever belonged to Tutankhamun - the palimpsest texts are of Ay, and it seems far more likely that they were taken over in-situ with the temple, rather than transferred from Tutankhamun's never-located memorial temple.”

Concurring with this postulation, British Egyptological researcher, Dylan Bickerstaffe says: “It is just the youth of the statues that led to the attribution to Tutankhamun. They don't actually look like him. Everything else found at the Ay/Horemheb temple was of those two. There are areas of flooring etc., surviving in situ at the site. It may have been taken over from Tutankhamun, but Horemheb did a good job of usurping the monuments of his predecessors, and columns from the location clearly carry his names. The statues could be Tutankhamun, but they are not 'typical' and could be Ay, or, of course, Horemheb.”

However, differing with this view, leading Egyptologist, Dr Peter Lacovara states, “Ray Johnson examined the statues and thinks that they represent Aye, not Tutankhamun, but the quarrying may have been begun by Tutankhamun for the temple which was founded by him.”

This gigantic quartzite statue has caused much confusion over the years as to the identity of the king it depicts; with most people assuming it portrays the likeness of Tutankhamun . However, after studying the palimpsests scholars now believe that there is no evidence that it represents the boy-pharaoh, but Aye from whom Horemheb usurped it.

In the past, it was believed that upon returning to Thebes from Amarna, Tutankhamun had ordered the construction of a grand mortuary complex at Medinet Habu located to the north of the funerary temple of the Twentieth-Dynasty king, Ramesses III. Though excavations here in the 1930s revealed a total of nine foundation deposits, all of them yielded objects that bore the boy-king’s successor Aye’s name as Pharaoh.

Egyptian art and architecture

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Egyptian art and architecture, the ancient architectural monuments, sculptures, paintings, and applied crafts produced mainly during the dynastic periods of the first three millennia bce in the Nile valley regions of Egypt and Nubia. The course of art in Egypt paralleled to a large extent the country’s political history, but it depended as well on the entrenched belief in the permanence of the natural, divinely ordained order. Artistic achievement in both architecture and representational art aimed at the preservation of forms and conventions that were held to reflect the perfection of the world at the primordial moment of creation and to embody the correct relationship between humankind, the king, and the pantheon of the gods. For this reason, Egyptian art appears outwardly resistant to development and the exercise of individual artistic judgment, but Egyptian artisans of every historical period found different solutions for the conceptual challenges posed to them.

For the purposes of definition, “ancient Egyptian” is essentially coterminous with pharaonic Egypt, the dynastic structure of Egyptian history, artificial though it may partly be, providing a convenient chronological framework. The distinctive periods are: Predynastic (c. 6th millennium bce –c. 2925 bce ) Early Dynastic (1st–3rd dynasties, c. 2925–c. 2575 bce ) Old Kingdom (4th–8th dynasties, c. 2575–c. 2130 bce ) First Intermediate (9th–11th dynasties, c. 2130–1939 bce ) Middle Kingdom (12th–14th dynasties, 1938–c. 1630 bce ) Second Intermediate (15th–17th dynasties, c. 1630–1540 bce ) New Kingdom (18th–20th dynasties, 1539–1075 bce ) Third Intermediate (21st–25th dynasties, c. 1075–656 bce ) and Late (26th–31st dynasties, 664–332 bce ).

Geographical factors were predominant in forming the particular character of Egyptian art. By providing Egypt with the most predictable agricultural system in the ancient world, the Nile afforded a stability of life in which arts and crafts readily flourished. Equally, the deserts and the sea, which protected Egypt on all sides, contributed to this stability by discouraging serious invasion for almost 2,000 years. The desert hills were rich in minerals and fine stones, ready to be exploited by artists and craftspeople. Only good wood was lacking, and the need for it led the Egyptians to undertake foreign expeditions to Lebanon, to Somalia, and, through intermediaries, to tropical Africa. In general, the search for useful and precious materials determined the direction of foreign policy and the establishment of trade routes and led ultimately to the enrichment of Egyptian material culture. For further treatment, see Egypt Middle Eastern religions, ancient.

Materials and Metals

The predominant materials used to craft Egyptian jewelry were gold and copper. The masses could afford the copper, with the nobility opting for gold. Both were mined in Nubian deserts and in abundant supply. Silver is very rarely uncovered in excavations through Egypt- any use of it was due to its importation, as silver wasn’t available in ancient Egypt. Jewelrs would use gold that came in shades of grey, to reddish brown, and rose. The colour variation was due to the mixing of elements such as copper, iron, or silver into the gold.

The Essential Guide to Modern Pyramids

The pyramids of the ancient world are some of the most enduring icons of our planet’s past. From the remnants of the Mayan civilization to the famous monuments of Egypt, and even as far east as Cambodia, the pyramid form has been admired by humans throughout the ages.

Pyramids still feature heavily in modern-day architecture, and while some imitate or reference those ancient wonders of the world, others repurpose the pyramid form, re-imagining the shapes of antiquity in contemporary urban settings.

In the following guide, we look at seven of the world’s most impressive — and often, controversial — modern pyramids.

Memphis, Tennessee, United States

Our guide starts with a monument ranked as the sixth largest pyramid in the world. At 321 feet in height, the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee falls into line just behind ancient Egyptian structures such as the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Red Pyramid at Dahshur.

The Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee (photograph by Jeremy Atherton, via Wikimedia)

The original design for the Pyramid Arena included a statue of Ramesses II, remembered as “Ramesses the Great,” or “Ozymandias.” In 2011 the statue was removed, and it now stands on the grounds of the University of Memphis.

Taking its inspirational cues from the city’s namesake — Memphis, the ancient capital of Lower Egypt — the building was designed as a sports arena. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, this vast complex was built in 1991 with the capacity to seat over 20,000 spectators.

Naturally though, wherever there’s a vast multi-million dollar project shaped like a pyramid, there will inevitably be “Illuminati” theories not far behind. In the case of the Memphis Pyramid, or the “Great American Pyramid,” as it was conceived, there are rumors which tie the businessman behind the building — John Tigrett — to shadowy New World Order sects.

The Pyramid Arena seen from Main Street (photograph by Thomas R Machnitzki, via Wikimedia)

The radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones posits that both John Tigrett and his son Isaac were involved in the occult, and picks up on a popular theory which circulated in 1991: workmen involved in the construction of the pyramid were supposedly paid to weld a strange metal box to the inside of the apex. Depending on which story you listen to, the box was delivered by men dressed in black, and the whole procedure had to take place under the cover of night.

As strange as these stories sound, the Memphis Flyer reported that a team of county officials eventually heading up to the top of the pyramid to investigate. There, 300 feet above the River Mississippi they found a metal box welded to a beam. Inside the metal box was a wooden box, with a velvet box inside that, which contained a small crystal skull.

When questioned about the find, Isaac Tigrett — himself co-founder of the Hard Rock Café — claimed it was part of a future publicity stunt to be dubbed “The Egyptian Time Capsule.” Others theorized that the crystal skull would have served to activate the energy of the pyramid, and that without its “spiritual battery,” the venue was eventually doomed to failure.

Well, the doom they spoke of proved true enough.

A problem with drainage pumps on the pyramid’s opening night caused severe flooding of the arena, and staff had to sandbag the stage and its power cables to prevent electrocuting patrons. It also transpired that the pyramid, which had been promoted as an NBA venue, fell short of NBA standards — and the cost of modifying the arena was so high that it proved cheaper to build the 1994 FedExForum instead.

Other projects have been attempted — and abandoned — in the years since, and the Pyramid Arena has not seen regular use as a sports stadium since 2004. While plans are underway to convert it into a Bass Pro Shop hunting and fishing megastore, the unfortunate history of the venue has earned the arena its local nickname — the “Tomb of Doom.” 

Astana, Kazakhstan

Continuing the theme of Illuminati plots, our next pyramid takes us all the way to Kazakhstan, and the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, the architectural jewel in the crown of the nation’s capital.

Astana’s Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (photograph by Darmon Richter)

Following their break from the Soviet Union in 1991, while other former USSR states were suffering widespread economic depression, Kazakhstan was fortunate enough to strike oil instead. The country abandoned its former capital of Almaty — a city located in the southeast, close to the border with China — and instead built the brand new capital at Astana.

Spending billions of petrodollars on the project over the next decade, President Nazarbayev hired some of the most renowned architects in the world, including Britain’s Sir Norman Foster, who was responsible for the design of the pyramid at the city’s heart.

The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was built between 2004 and 2006, and forms a perfect triangle, measuring 62 meters in height and 62 meters across the base. With local temperatures ranging from plus to minus 40 degrees Celsius between summer and winter, engineers were required to build the pyramid over a steel and concrete skeleton able to endure extreme contraction and expansion.

Inside the top floor conference room of the pyramid (photograph by ingalatvia/Flickr user)

The building contains a 1,500-seat opera house in its lowest levels, in addition to education facilities and a circular table in the apex surrounded by windows containing the images of flying doves where the Kazakh congress meets. Its design is claimed to recognize “all the world’s religious faiths.”

However, according to conspiracy theorists (those at xlivescom, for example) the pyramid design is a “representation of the philosophy of the initiates.” It is claimed that the building embodies the esoteric principles of Pythagoras and other teachers of the ancient mystery schools, including strong themes of sun worship. In many of these theories, links are drawn between sun worship and diabolism, based on the biblical definition of Lucifer as, “the Bringer of Light, the Morning Star.” The pyramid’s circular congress hall is cited as a perfect example of a “sun table.”

Taken in isolation, perhaps such theories would be easy to dismiss… but these ideas begin to build momentum when one considers the supposed Illuminati symbolism of Astana in more depth.

The city really is a dream destination for conspiracy theorists, its futuristic architecture laden with rich symbolism of a seemingly esoteric nature. The city center, for example, has been said to mirror the layout of a Masonic temple: a wide open area decorated in checkered tiles, the presidential palace in the eastern position (the point reserved for the Grand Master’s chair in a Masonic temple), which is flanked by two vast golden pillars.

Of course, it could all be a coincidence, or it could be a knowing nod on behalf of the architects. Many will tell you, however, that the city of Astana is set to become one of the great power centers in the coming New World Order.

Moscow, Russia

The previous two entries in this guide highlight the oft-reported significance of pyramid symbology in the esoteric traditions. The connection itself is more than mere aesthetics however, and many have gone on to hypothesize that a unique structural power — or energy — can be found within the pyramidal form.

The Moscow Pyramid (photograph by renidens)

The internet abounds with theories that the pyramids of ancient Egypt (as well as visually similar structures in Mexico and Cambodia, for that matter) were built according to an extraterrestrial design. There are other theories suggesting that the pharaohs of Egypt had access to electricity, and that the pyramids were, in effect, giant power stations. Numerous ideas like this were floated during the 20th century, and led to extensive studies of “pyramid energy.” The French occultist Antoine Bovis developed one such theory in the 1930s. Popular stories state that he visited Egypt’s Great Pyramid, and noted that the carcasses of animals that had died inside the pyramid showed no signs of decay. Bovis himself later refuted the myth, saying he had never been to Egypt, although he had observed compelling results in experiments using homemade cardboard pyramids.

In 1949, inspired by the writings of Bovis, the Czech entrepreneur Karel Drbal began marketing his “Pharaoh’s Shaving Device.” This consisted of a model pyramid containing razors and by aligning the blades carefully along the magnetic fields within, he offered a promise that they would forever remain sharp. Drbal’s work would later be showcased by authors Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain.

Interior view of Alexander Golod’s Pyramid (via Atlas Obscura)

As one might imagine, the “Pyramid Power” theory has more than its fair share of critics. Nevertheless, for a time it became a popular avenue of research amongst those looking for renewable sources of energy. Ukrainian defense contractor Alexander Golod decided to put these theories to the test on a grand scale, creating a 150-foot fiberglass pyramid roughly one hour outside of Moscow.

An official website reports a number of striking results achieved through studies using Alexander Golod’s design of “Golden Section Pyramids.”

According to the site: exposure in the pyramid boosted the immune system of organisms, it increased the properties of medicines tested (while decreasing associated side effects), radioactive sources exposed to the pyramid energy became less dangerous, while the various bacteria and viruses exposed lost much of their pathogenic strength. Plant seeds which were placed in the pyramid were shown to enjoy a 30-100% increase in yield, while Russia’s military radars detected a prominent “energy column” above the structure — which is “thought to have repaired the Ozone layer in Russia.” A related study exposed crystalline structures to the pyramid energy, before placing them around jails. The reported result was a drastic decrease in violent and criminal behavior inside the institutions.

Alexander Golod’s Golden Section Pyramid (photograph by Kolya Pynti)

While the findings at Alexander Golod’s Pyramids have been backed by the Russian Academy of Sciences, they have yet to find strong support from the international scientific community, on account of limited or unsatisfactory evidence. So it may be a while yet before hospitals and prisons in the West start taking the form of giant pyramids.

Paris, France

A more familiar pyramid can be seen in the glass structure that fronts the Louvre in Paris. This iconic structure is formed from one large glass and metal pyramid, surrounded by three smaller pyramids that between them form the focal point of the “Cour Napoléon.”

Courtyard of the Louvre Museum, with the Pyramid (photograph by Alvesgaspar, via Wikimedia)

Completed in 1989, the largest of these structures, commonly referred to as the Louvre Pyramid (or “Pyramide du Louvre”), now serves as the main entrance to the museum and is one of the city’s more notable landmarks.

The structure’s Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei, claimed that the design was inspired by a trellis he had seen at the adjacent Jardin des Tuilleries, and that the Louvre Pyramid was in no way related to the monuments of ancient Egypt. On close inspection though, the Louvre Pyramid is an excellent approximation of the contours of the Great Pyramid of Giza — accurate to within a degree.

The Louvre Pyramid raised controversy in the 1980s, following the publication of an official brochure. Twice in the pages of the brochure, it was claimed that the structure was formed from 666 individual panes of glass. That figure was subsequently quoted by numerous newspapers and became a widespread misconception.

Inside the Louvre Pyramid (photograph by Vinceesq, via Wikimedia)

As we’ve already seen, the pyramid form has often been linked to the occult, so just imagine the excitement amongst conspiracy theorists upon learning that the panes of glass in the Louvre Pyramid totaled 666: the biblical “Number of the Beast.”

The pyramid was commissioned in 1984 by then President of France François Mitterrand. The leader was said to have been a Masonic sympathizer at the very least, which invited broad speculation as to the motives behind his Parisienne pyramid. After all, the city has a long history of involvement with the freemasons and many still argue that the Craft played a key role in the French Revolution.

In a 1998 book titled, François Mitterrand, Grand Architecte de l’Univers (François Mitterrand, Great Architect of the Universe), Dominique Stezepfandt posited that “the pyramid is dedicated to a power described as the Beast in the Book of Revelation. […] The entire structure is based on the number 6.”

The Louvre and its Pyramid by Night (photograph by Benh Lieu Song, via Wikimedia)

Revelations aside, the notion that the Louvre Pyramid features 666 panes is, in fact, false. An official statement by the Louvre Museum numbers them at 673, and this same figure can be reached using simple mathematics.

The “Number of the Beast” theory did briefly resurface in 2003, when Dan Brown featured the Louvre Pyramid in his best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. His protagonist Robert Langdon comments that the pyramid “at President Mitterrand’s explicit demand, had been constructed of exactly 666 panes of glass.” Whether Dan Brown made an artistic choice to humor the rumor over reality — or, perhaps simply failed to do his homework — is anybody’s guess. 

Pyongyang, North Korea

Dubbed by international media as the “Phantom Pyramid,” the “Hotel of Doom,” and, even, the “Worst Building in the History of Mankind,” Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel has become infamous for its long years of dereliction, and though not strictly a pyramid, this pyramid-shaped structure has nevertheless earned its way onto our list.

The name “Ryugyong” translates to English as “Capital of Willows,” an old Korean name used to denote the city of Pyongyang itself. Once completed, the lavish complex was set to contain a wealth of accommodation suites, shops, and offices, topped by five consecutive floors of revolving restaurants.

It was designed to be the tallest hotel anywhere in the world, and with a total of 105 floors across a height of 330 meters, if the project had been completed in time for its 1989-projected opening it would have succeeded. There wouldn’t be another hotel to reach that height until 2009, in fact, with the completion of Dubai’s Rose Tower.

The Ryugyong under construction in 2007 (photograph by pricey/Flickr user) 

Construction of the Ryugyong Hotel began in 1987, right in the heart of North Korea’s capital. The Hermit Nation is famous for its competitive architectural statements — at the time, Pyongyang was already home to the world’s tallest free-standing stone tower (the Juche Tower) as well as the world’s tallest triumphal arch. However, with the Ryugyong they hit a stumbling block.

Construction halted in 1992, likely impacted by the fall of the Soviet Union the previous year North Korea had strong economic ties with the USSR, and the latter’s collapse had financial repercussions for many of its allies.

For the next 16 years, the Ryugyong would stand watch over the city as a bare concrete skeleton. The failed project became something of a national embarrassment its likeness was scrapped from postage stamps and airbrushed out of photographs, as people did their best not to notice the hulking, unfinished giant.

The Ryugyong Hotel up close (photograph by Simon Cockerell)

It was only in 2008 that the project was reopened and there is some subtle poetry in the fact that it was an Egyptian telecommunications company — the Orascom Group — who bought the lease on this vast pyramid. Now, the Ryugyong’s exterior is finally finished in polished glass, and a grand opening for the complex is to be expected some time in the next few years.

While access to the interior of the Ryugyong is — of course — highly restricted, there are a handful of Westerners who’ve been allowed a glimpse inside the unfinished hotel. The following photographs come courtesy of Simon Cockerell at the Koryo Tours group, themselves regular visitors to the DPRK. The images show off the colossal scale of the project, as well as the spectacular views of Pyongyang offered by the Ryugyong’s 100th floor penthouse suites.

Inside one wing of the Ryugyong Hotel (photograph by Simon Cockerell)

Looking out the windows of the Ryugyong (photograph by Simon Cockerell)

The city of Pyongyang, seen from the Ryugyong Hotel (photograph by Simon Cockerell)

Nima, Japan

While we’re on the subject of Far East pyramids, Japan’s Nima Sand Museum is housed inside a series of unique glass and steel structures — adding not one, but a further six modern pyramids to our list.

The Nima Pyramids (photograph by montkd)

Measuring 17 meters across the base and 21 meters high, the main Nima pyramid is a striking vision on the horizon of what was once a sleepy fishing village. The architect responsible for the museum, Nima-born Shin Takamatsu, explained the height of the large pyramid, claiming he wanted it to be visible from his mother’s grave in the village.

The museum was opened in March 1991, celebrating the bizarre properties of the sand found along nearby Kotogahama Beach. It contains rich traces of finely ground quartz, which are said to produce a song-like sound when walked upon.

This is not an unknown phenomenon — similar effects having been noted elsewhere in the world, such as the dunes of the Badain Jaran Desert in China, a beach in Doha, Qatar, and the Singing Sand Dunes of Altyn Emel National Park in Kazakhstan.

In the Japanese beach town of Nima, however, the effect is put to work in a series of art installations contained within the museum. Aptly housed inside a series of six glass pyramids, the Nima Sand Museum features a range of glass handicrafts such as sundials, clocks, and hourglasses — the latter more commonly known here as “sandglasses.”

There are mineral and fossil specimens also on display, as well as a number of interactive exhibitions and workshops. Visitors are invited to learn the secrets of producing sand art, or have a go at making their own glass in a studio building situated next door to the museum.

Perhaps the most famous of all the exhibits at the Nima Sand Museum, though, is the sandglass located inside the tip of the tallest pyramid. The glass measures 5.2 meters from end to end and one meter in diameter, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest sandglass. The sand contained inside weighs roughly a ton. 

The sandglass in the apex of the largest pyramid (photograph by sleepytako/Flickr user)

The glass has been crafted to measure the passing of one year precisely, and the museum holds an annual celebration centred around the turning of the sandglass. Each New Year’s Eve, a team of 108 men and women rotate the glass, chosen according to their signs in the Chinese zodiac. The count starts afresh at midnight, accompanied by the release of 1,000 fireworks over the water.

Las Vegas, Nevada, United States

The last pyramid on our list takes us back to the United States, and the famous Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. This colossal building is modeled according to the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and at 365 feet in height, it’s now the third tallest pyramidal structure in the world (behind the pyramids of Giza and Khafre in Egypt).

The Luxor seen from the Airport (photograph by Jenny Lee Silver, via WikiMedia)  

The Luxor Hotel was opened to the public in 1993, at the end of an 18-month, $375 million construction project. Divided into 30 stories, the building is operated by MGM Resorts and features 4,400 rooms, four swimming pools, a wedding chapel, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and a 120,000-square-foot casino.

In addition to the pyramid building itself, the Luxor Hotel and Casino features a replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza — measuring 100 feet tall — as well as a 140-foot Egyptian-style obelisk. Meanwhile, the tip of the pyramid houses what is believed to be the strongest beam of light anywhere in the world: the Luxor Sky Beam.

The Sky Beam has been in operation since October 1993, using a series of 39 xenon lamps arranged with mirrors to create one narrow, intense beam pointing up at the sky. On a clear night, the beam is visible from as far away as Los Angeles — a distance of 275 miles. Over the years, the light has established a whole new ecosystem, attracting countless numbers of owls, bats, moths, and flying saucers, it would seem.

Since the Luxor was opened, a steady stream of UFO sightings have been reported in the sky above the pyramid. In these videos, for example, a London-based UFO enthusiast has captured what appear to be a large number of flying objects above the pyramid, dodging in and out of the beam of light. Similar phenomena have been reported since the Luxor opened.

While many have explained the sightings as birds or bats feeding on the thousands of moths drawn in by the Sky Beam, Jamie Marfleet of UFO Sightings Daily disagrees.

The Luxor’s Sphinx and Sky Beam (photograph by Liam Richardson)

“They are round and move swiftly in and out of the beacon,” he wrote on his site, going on to argue that the “orbs are not bats or birds because they do not have wings and they never flap.”

By way of alternate explanation, he added, “the top of the Egyptian pyramids are said to be able to channel energy into a beam and shoot it somewhere distant […] perhaps the orbs are expecting the same thing from this one.”


While this guide tackles some of the most iconic — and controversial — modern pyramids around the world, there are plenty more out there. So by way of an epilogue, take a look at these other examples of modern pyramidal architecture: 

Walter Pyramid, California, United States (photograph by Summum, via WikiMedia)

Kazan Pyramid, Russia (photograph by Gradmir, via WikiMedia)

The Muttart Conservatories in Edmonton, Canada (photograph by WinterforceMedia, via WikiMedia)

The Summum Pyramid, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States (via Atlas Obscura)

The Sunway Pyramid Shopping Centre, Malaysia (photograph by Cmglee, via WikiMedia)

Pseudoarchaeology and the Racism Behind Ancient Aliens

A female Egyptian head with an elongated skull is likely a depiction of the child of Amenophis IV/Akhenaten, (1351-1334 BCE) and is a forgery executed in the 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period style, limestone and red paint, Walters Art Museum (image via the Walters Art Museum creative commons).

At the ancient site of Hatnub, a quarry in the eastern Egyptian desert not far from Faiyum, archaeologists have recently discovered a sled ramp system used to transport alabaster blocks. Post holes and a ramp with stairs on either side indicate that the contraption allowed Egyptian builders to move heavy blocks up and down steep slopes. Inscriptions have now helped archaeologists from the Institut français d’archéologie orientale and the University of Liverpool to date this groundbreaking technology to at least the reign of Khufu, who ruled from 2589–2566 BCE. Khufu is known as the pharaoh who likely commissioned the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Discovery and reconstruction of the ramp allows us to better understand ancient construction techniques. It also chips away at the long-held but fringe theory that the blocks were so heavy and the distances they would have to travel so lengthy that aliens must have built the pyramids.

Where did the theory of aliens building the pyramids actually come from? Since the late 19th century, science fiction writers have imagined Martians and other alien lifeforms engaged in great feats of terrestrial engineering. Earlier alien theories surrounding Atlantis may have spawned fantasies about alien building. The most substantial evidence for non-earthly creatures arrived in the wake of H.G. Wells’s success.

The Pyramids of Giza (Egypt) are often the focus of extraterrestrial theories (image via Wikimedia by Ricardo Liberato).

Capitalizing on the fervor surrounding Wells’s The War of the Worlds, astronomer and science fiction writer Garrett P. Serviss penned a quasi-sequel titled Edison’s Conquest of Mars in 1898. Serviss posited that “giants of Mars” had moved large blocks and built the Great Pyramid. He even noted that the Sphinx had Martian features. Edison’s Conquest was part of a number of science fiction works published as books or serialized in newspapers in the late 19th century which imagined alien invasions fought off by great inventors of the time. Thomas Edison was a favored hero in these science fiction fantasies much later collectively called Edisonades.

Cover of Serviss’ Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898) Illustration by G. Y. Kauffman (image via Wikimedia)

The popularization of the theory of alien architects as having a basis in science rather than consisting of only fictional musing can be attributed to Swiss author Erich von Däniken’s 1968 publication of the book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Originally published in German and subsequently translated into English, it was one of the first popularly sold books to suggest that extraterrestrial life forms, not humans, built structures associated with our ancient civilizations. In 1966, Carl Sagan and Iosif S. Shklovskii had already speculated that contact with extraterrestrials might have occurred in their book Intelligent Life in the Universe, but von Däniken took this theory to new levels.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of that book’s publication with over 65 million books sold to date. While its ideas might be laughable to most, the creation of doubt is a pernicious and rhetorical agent. The questioning of human building projects in Chariots of the Gods? remains a bedrock for many within the field of pseudo-archaeology. Far from innocuous, these alien theories undermine the agency, archaeology, and intellect of non-European cultures in Africa and South America, as well as the Native peoples in North America by erasing their achievements.

Cover of the translated edition of Chariots of the Gods (image by Christo Drummkopf via Flickr), first released in the United States in 1970

A potent combination of tabloids and television helped to make von Däniken’s book a bestseller in the United States. Historian of pseudoscience John Colavito has remarked that while the book became a bestseller in Europe, it was the National Enquirer’s underscoring of von Däniken’s work through a serial series published in the tabloid that introduced it to readers in the US in 1970. Three years later, NBC aired an adaption of the book retitled In Search of Ancient Astronauts (featuring a cast of all white men) which translated and visualized pseudo-theories of archaeology and science for broad popular consumption.

It is notable that many (though not all) extraterrestrial theories focus on archaeological structures at sites within Egypt, Africa, South America, and North America — a fact that has led some academics to see beliefs in ancient alien engineers as a stalking horse for racism. In a piece for the online journal The Conversation rather frankly titled “Racism is Behind Outlandish Theories about Africa’s Ancient Architecture,” Julien Benoit, a postdoctoral researcher in vertebrate paleontology at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), addressed the continued harm of these theories:

Firstly, these people try to prove their theories by travelling the world and desecrating ancient artefacts. Secondly, they perpetuate and give air to the racist notion that only Europeans – white people – ever were and ever will be capable of such architectural feats.

Belief can indeed lead to action. In 2014, German pseudoscientists and “hobbyists” defaced a cartouche of Khufu inside the Great Pyramid in their misguided search to prove their alien theories. The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Zimbabwe site are commonly cited by pseudo-archaeologists as structures built by extraterrestrial beings, along with the Moai heads on the tiny Easter Island off the coast of Chile.

Martians build the Sphinx as a portrait of their own leader in an illustration from Serviss’ Edison’s Conquest of Mars (Image via Hathitrust)

Stonehenge, in the English countryside of Wiltshire, is one of the few structures built by European ancestors placed in this category structures allegedly built by aliens, though in the original printing of Chariots of the Gods? von Däniken does not discuss the site any more than to say its massive stone blocks were from Wales and Marlborough. The disproportion of speculation surrounding non-European versus European structures is noticeable. As medieval historian Chris Reidel noted,

That’s what the ancient aliens theory does: it discredits the origins of civilizations, and almost entirely of non-white civilizations. People may suggest Stonehenge was built by aliens — but do the[y] suggest the Roman Forum or Parthenon were? No.

We must question what is at stake in these cases. While the British are not in any danger of having their overall intellect or capability as a culture questioned, many non-European cultures are historically more vulnerable to such questioning.

If we look to von Däniken’s work, there can be little doubt that his racial beliefs influenced his extraterrestrial theories. After a short stint in jail for fraud and either writing or appropriating the material for a number of other books that developed his ancient astronauts theory, von Däniken published Signs of the Gods? in 1979. It is here that many of his racial views are most boldly stated. British archaeology officer Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews points out on his Bad Archaeology blog just a few of the many racist questions and statements posed by the author: “Was the black race a failure and did the extraterrestrials change the genetic code by gene surgery and then programme a white or a yellow race?” He also printed beliefs about the innate talents of certain races: “Nearly all negroes are musical they have rhythm in their blood.” Von Däniken also consistently uses the term “negroid race” in comparison with “Caucasians.”

What does it mean to deny a non-Western civilization their accomplishments? As Everisto Benyera, a lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa, has noted, these “Western denialists” prefer to revoke agency and skill from ancient Egyptians or the Shona people of the Bantu civilization, rather than recognize their intellectual ownership of these structures. In a chapter addressing “Colonialism, the Theft of History and the Quest for Justice for Africa,” Dr. Benyera remarked:

Western denialists would rather attribute the Great Zimbabwe to aliens, who do not exist, than attribute them to the Shona people and the Africans who exist and who built them. The denial of the Shona people of their intellectual ownership, among others of the Great Zimbabwe, Khami ruins, is theft of history.

And while many may consider theories of ancient aliens to be an outlandish and ultimately harmless belief or meme, Benyera points out that there is an extant spectrum of western denialism whose occupants seek to rescind and reallocate great accomplishments from African civilizations in particular.

The Great Zimbabwe National Monument is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates to about 1100-1450 CE. Legends say that it was the capital of the Queen of Sheba. It is a stunning testament to the Bantu civilization of the Shona (image by Simonchihanga via Wikimedia).

To Benyera, one example of western denialism lies in the writings of the historian Niall Ferguson. Benyera notes that Ferguson underscores the colonial gifts of parliamentary democracy and the English language to the countries that they colonized in his book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. Like von Däniken, Ferguson’s views have been disseminated by television shows. A six-part series also called Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World aired on Channel 4, ostensibly to hype the book’s release. Arguing that aliens brought magnificent structures to many African civilizations erases accomplishments, but so does arguing that colonizers brought gifts (rather than imposed obligations) upon the nations they colonized.

Colonization coded as the gift of civilization remains an entrenched defense of colonialism.

In recent years, academics have increasingly called foul on alien theories as cultural erasures outside of Africa as well. A year ago, Christopher Heaney, a professor of Latin American history at Pennsylvania State University, wrote an article addressing the racism behind notions that Pre-Columbian bodies were evidence for extraterrestrial life. Others have sought to dispel the racist theories surrounding Native mound-building cultures.

In comments to Hyperallergic, Morag Kersel, an archaeologist at DePaul University, noted the connection between ancient aliens and the idea that an ancient and superior race had originally built mounds like those at Cahokia in southern Illinois. The myth supported racist policies and has done lasting damage.

It’s an extension of the 19th-century myth of the mound builder. No way could the North American mounds and artifacts have been made by people of the First Nations, it had to be an “alien” (non-local) race. Rather than set up a white supremacy model, which may have not been as popular, von Däniken takes the “alien” further to “aliens” from outer space.

Kersel noted that the use of pseudoscience revoking the accomplishments of Native American cultures is a sad part of American history. Journalist Alexander Zaitchik pointed out in an article for the Southern Poverty Law Center that there was widespread popularity and belief in the “Lost Race of the Mound Builders” in 19th century America. It was used by Andrew Jackson and others to undermine the intellect and abilities of Native peoples as we removed them from their native lands.

The “astronaut” geoglyph in the Nazca Desert of Peru has been attributed to extraterrestrials by Erich von Däniken’s and others (image via Wikimedia).

Today, many of von Däniken’s theories can still be found in television shows like Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. Since 2009, the show has featured a mix of mostly white male conspiracy theorists posing harmful questions about the legitimacy of human involvement in archaeological structures. As of recently, they have at least begun to incorporate actual Egyptians such as Ramy Romany. Despite his history of racist views, Von Däniken appears to still be a paid producer on the show Ancient Aliens.

Most Egyptologists see shows like Ancient Aliens as a program that capitalizes on the bizarre rather than endeavoring to be out-and-out racist. In comments to Hyperallergic, Salima Ikram, distinguished university professor and Egyptology unit head at the American University in Cairo, noted that even Egyptians viewing the History Channel find the program more fantastical than factual: “I think that often it is more that people want the extraordinary and the bizarre, and do not want anything too real, as they crave the fantastic — look at the types of films being made and their popularity.” For most watching these programs, they are indeed about escapism through conspiracy theories — and internet memes.

For others, the attraction to books and television touting ancient alien conspiracies may be a bit more racially motivated. In comments to Hyperallergic, Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of Religious Studies and Classics at the University of Iowa who also served as an academic counterbalance on a number of episodes of Ancient Aliens, discussed the role of the program in supporting racist ideas of ancient capability:

There is an underlying ethnic bias against people of color that many white people don’t even recognize when the magnificent achievements of the ancient world are attributed to aliens instead of to their rightful creators — the ancestors of modern Egyptians, Iraqis, Guatemalans, Peruvians, etc. This is not to say that belief in ancient alien theory makes one racist. However, attributing the achievements of the forerunners of darker-skinned peoples to aliens because you believe they couldn’t have possibly done it themselves might be perceived as racists to the people of color who descend from these ancient innovators.

As Cargill and many other right-minded academics now make clear, the necessity for scientists, archaeologists, and academics in general to talk to the public about the ethnic biases of pseudoscience is becoming ever more apparent. In 2015, bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove already discussed the need for archaeologists to dispel pseudoscientific myths through public outreach. Public-facing scholarship in the humanities and STEM fields can serve as strong rebuttals to pseudoscientific narratives broadcast on television and online.

In July, the 50th anniversary edition of Chariots of the Gods? was published along with a new foreword and afterward by the author. Yet it is notable that the punctuation that originally posed the book’s title as a question has now been removed. The title stands more as a statement than a question, but it is up to archaeologists, historians, and the public to continue to interrogate the insidious arguments that it contains.

Ancient Mysteries of Sound Levitation

The mysteries and numerous capabilities of sound have intrigued mankind for millenniums. Einstein thought nothing was faster than the speed of light. But in 2007 a team of US physicists discovered that “superluminal acoustic sound waves” can actually out-perform light in speed and velocity under certain conditions. With that finding, the potential for sound-based technology became even more apparent.

In 2014 a Japanese team of scientists from the University of Tokyo used sound to levitate objects as big as a small screw in mid-air, moving them not just up and down but also to-and-fro and side-to-side. They used an array of four audio speakers, generating inaudible high frequencies sound waves that intersect inside a confined space. The crossover of these intersecting waves creates “standing” waves. Some standing waves are kept in constant position, serving as a suspending force, while other waves are used to support a floating object within the standing waves (see VIDEO below).

Unfortunately, science has still not been able to figure out how to levitate larger heavier objects. Yet, history suggests the Ancient Egyptians might have already cracked this secret in their building of the pyramids and other megalithic monuments. Did they have some advanced form of sound levitation to move thousand ton stones—a task that present day builders admit would be difficult even with the use of modern cranes?

I found an interesting account of sound levitation in the book The Lost Technique by Swedish civil engineer, Henry Kjellson. Kjellson recounts the experience his friend, a Dr. Jarl, had while staying at a Tibetan monastery in the 1930’s.

“ In the middle of the meadow, about 250 meters from the cliff, was a polished slab of rock with a bowl like cavity in the center. The bowl had a diameter of one meter and a depth of 15 centimeters. A block of stone was maneuvered into this cavity by Yak oxen. The block was one meter wide and one and one half meters long. Then 19 musical instruments were set in an arc of 90 degrees at a distance of 63 meters from the stone slab. The radius of 63 meters was measured out accurately. The musical instruments consisted of 13 drums and 6 trumpets (Ragdons).

Eight drums had a cross-section of one meter, and a length of one and one half meters. Four drums were medium size with a cross-section of 0.7 meter and a length of one meter. The only small drum had a cross-section of 0.2 meters and a length of 0.3 meters. All the trumpets were the same size. They had a length of 3.12 meters and an opening of 0.3 meters. The big drums and all the trumpets were fixed on mounts which could be adjusted with staffs in the direction of the slab of stone.

The big drums were made of 1mm thick sheet iron, and had a weight of 150kg. They were built in five sections. All the drums were open at one end, while the other end had a bottom of metal, on which the monks beat with big leather clubs. Behind each instrument was a row of monks.

When the stone was in position the monk behind the small drum gave a signal to start the concert. The small drum had a very sharp sound, and could be heard even with the other instruments making a terrible din. All the monks were singing and chanting a prayer, slowly increasing the tempo of this unbelievable noise. During the first four minutes nothing happened, then as the speed of the drumming, and the noise, increased, the big stone block started to rock and sway, and suddenly it took off into the air with an increasing speed in the direction of the platform in front of the cave hole 250 meters high. After three minutes of ascent it landed on the platform.

Continuously they brought new blocks to the meadow, and the monks using this method, transported 5 to 6 blocks per hour on a parabolic flight track approximately 500 meters long and 250 meters high. From time to time a stone split, and the monks moved the split stones away.”

This account is quite incredible. It reminds me of the biblical stories of “trumpets” bringing down the walls of Jericho. Nikola Tesla also talked about experiments he made with acoustic sound waves which started an earthquake in the building of his New York City laboratory. He recounted how the beams in the building started to shake as if their molecular structure was being affected. No doubt about it—sound is very powerful. But, does it have the ability to neutralize gravity?

What caught my attention in the Tibetan account, was the mention of using a large size stone bowl (underlined). Similar stone basins (actually quartz) have been found scattered around the pyramids of Egypt and I remembering seeing one on my last trip there in December 2014. While their purpose remains a mystery to modern-day Egyptologists, the theory is that they were used for blood collection during ritual sacrifices. This is a weak hypothesis since no trace residues of blood have been found on any of the stone basins. This explanation is further discounted by the fact that each basin has three holes that are located near the upper rim of the basin, not at the bottom. These holes were not designed to let out blood from animals placed in the huge basins. If so there would be an obvious drain hole at the bottom. So what or how were these curious quartz basins used? The clue is that they were made of quartz, which creates piezoelectric charge—especially when under pressure or sound is applied.

Author and researcher, Dr. Alex Putney, explains his take on the bowls in human-resonance.org:

“The huge quartz basins have a borehole centered on each of the four sides of the square bases of the instruments, while the comparable limestone examples display three machine-drilled holes on just one side of the square blocks. The diameters of the bowls appear to be uniform, suggesting they were part of a large array that once surrounded the pyramids before being collected in groups by Egyptian authorities for present-day public display.

The identical dimensions and curvature of the many stone basins, with perfectly rendered geometric forms, gives the appearance of having been serially manufactured through mold-making processes rather than being quarried and carved in a solid state. Abundant evidence of this fact has been ignored for close to 30 years by much of the academic community, despite publication in scientific journals. The geopolymer research of Dr. Jacob Davidovits documents the lower density of the limestone blocks of the Great Pyramid, showing them to have been synthetically cast using a concrete-like slurry composed quite differently than all naturally sedimented limestone. The pyramid’s massive limestone blocks contain an exotic admixture of opal CT, hydroxy-apatite and silico-aluminates that enhance the limestone’s natural capacity to convert all atmospheric acoustic energy into an electrical current within the crystals, inducing a strong electromagnetic field around the pyramid structures and within their passages and chambers.

The modular nature of the blocks suggests they were distributed around the pyramids as part of the original walled enclosure that once surrounded each of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau.

The specific and exclusive use of piezoelectric calcite and quartz crystals for the construction of the pyramids themselves, and the large basins that once surrounded them in great numbers, relates to their transducive capacity to focus and amplify acoustic waves. Mechanical flexing occurs in the quartz and calcite crystals as a uniform structural deformation that generates standing waves within the stones’ crystalline lattice, eventually building a strong electromagnetic field that allows acoustic levitation.”

A similar mystery surrounds the building of the infamous coral castle in Florida in the U.S. The coral castle is a stone structure that was built by one man without any help. The Latvian American, Edward Leedskalnin, said that he had discovered the techniques that Egyptians used to build the pyramids—techniques related to levitation and anti-gravity technologies.

He also used a bowl-like device (see picture) with magnetic spokes. He never revealed what the round device was, nor his building secrets. It took him 28 years to build the castle from about 1923 to 1951 and he refused to allow anyone to view him while he worked. He built the castle completely on his own carving more than 1,000 tons of rock. He was known to work at night, yet neighbors reported they never heard any construction noise. If he used sonic levitation methods, the sound waves used were inaudible to humans.

Arab historian, Abul Hasan Ali Al-Masudi, has written about Ancient Egyptians using a metal rod to strike stone, causing stone to levitate. The stones would move along a fenced path that was lined with metal poles on both sides of the path. The metal poles created vibrating frequencies in such a way that they would provide a moving runway for the stones. I have no idea how Al-Masudi arrived at this conclusion, or whether it is true or not, but the use of the “metal rod” is interesting.

The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics often display a metal rod called a Was Scepter. Only the gods, pharaohs, and priests were allowed to carry such a sacred instrument. It symbolized “power and dominion.” The bottom looks suspiciously like a tuning fork which might have had some magnetic properties. The head of the scepter resembles a pteranodon, the largest “flying” reptile that ever existed. Was it in honor of the flying gods who could easily carry aloft large objects? This would explain why only the powerful few could carry it. It might have been used to strike up an earth resonance which somehow defied gravitational forces. The whole science of gravity and anti-gravity has yet to be fully understood. And I’m sure the Ancients kept this knowledge in guarded hands.

Time unlocks all mysteries. I think we are getting closer to re-discovering the answers to this lost science. Just imagine the possibilities when we, too, can briefly release large stones from the confines of gravity. Yep—we could literally move mountains.

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Dr. Kathy Forti is a clinical psychologist, inventor of the Trinfinity8 technology, and author of the book, Fractals of God: A Psychologist’s Near-Death Experience and Journeys Into the Mystical

Ancient Greek Pottery

The pottery of ancient Greece from c. 1000 to c. 400 BCE provides not only some of the most distinctive vase shapes from antiquity but also some of the oldest and most diverse representations of the cultural beliefs and practices of the ancient Greeks. Further, pottery, with its durability (even when broken) and lack of appeal to treasure hunters, is one of the great archaeological survivors and is, therefore, an important tool for archaeologists and historians in determining the chronology of ancient Greece. Whatever their artistic and historical value though, the vast majority of Greek vases, despite now being dusty museum pieces, were actually meant for everyday use and, to paraphrase Arthur Lane, it is perhaps worth remembering that standing on a stone pavement and drenched with water, they would have once gleamed in the Mediterranean sun.

Materials & Production

The clay (keramos) to produce pottery (kerameikos) was readily available throughout Greece, although the finest was Attic clay, with its high iron content giving an orange-red colour with a slight sheen when fired and the pale buff of Corinth. Clay was generally prepared and refined in settling tanks so that different consistencies of material could be achieved depending on the vessel types to be made with it.


Greek pottery was invariably made on the potter's wheel and usually made in separate horizontal sections: the foot, the lower and upper body, the neck, and finally the handles, if necessary. These sections were then joined together with a clay 'slip' after drying and it is possible in many cases to see the prints of the potter impressed on the inside of the vessel. The piece was then put back on the wheel to smooth the join marks and add the final shaping. Therefore, all vases were unique and the small variations in dimensions reveal that the use of simple tools and not cut-out templates was the norm.

Next, the pot was decorated. This process depended on the decorative style in vogue at the time, but popular methods included painting the whole or parts of the vase with a thin black adhesive paint which was added with a brush, the marks of which remain visible in many cases. This black paint was a mix of alkali potash or soda, clay with silicon content, and black ferrous oxide of iron. The paint was affixed to the pot by using a fixative of urine or vinegar which burned away in the heat of the kiln, binding the paint to the clay. Another technique, used more rarely, was to cover the vessel with a white clay paint. Alternatively, only lines or figures were added in black using a thicker version of the black paint mentioned above and applied with a stiff brush or feather in consequence, a slight relief effect was achieved. Minor details were often added with a thinned black paint giving a yellow-brown colour, a white pipe-clay, and a dark red of ochre and manganese. The latter two colours tended to flake off over time.


The finished pot was then ready to be put in the kiln and fired at a temperature of around 960 °C, which is relatively low and explains the 'softness' of Greek pottery (in comparison to, for example, Chinese porcelain). Pots were fired several times (in the same kiln) in order to achieve the required finish and colouring. First, the pot was fired in an oxidising fire where good ventilation to the kiln ensured that the orange/red of the clay came to the fore. Then the pot was re-fired in a kiln starved of oxygen (reduction process) by adding water or damp wood inside the kiln. This ensured that the painted colours, particularly the black, darkened in colour. A third firing, again with good ventilation, re-reddened the clay of the pot whilst the painted areas, now protected by a thin wash, kept their original colouring. This complicated process obviously required excellent timing from the potter so as not to spoil the vase with unseemly discolouring.

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Potters & Painters

Painter and potter (kerameus) were usually, although not always, separate specialists. However, lasting partnerships existed such as between the potter Ergotimos and painter Kleitas. Many individual potters and less frequently, painters, have been identified with certainty through their signatures (most commonly as “. made this”) although the majority of Greek vases are unsigned. However, Professor J. D. Beazley, working in the 20th century CE, identified more than 500 unsigned artists distinguishable through their particular style. Beazley's systematic and comprehensive cataloguing of Greek pottery has also allowed for the study of its evolution in techniques, designs, and decoration.

Painters often worked in collective workshops, generally under the supervision of one 'master' potter (which suggests form was actually more important than decoration for the Greeks). Although artists were free from centralised political control or restrictions, they no doubt were driven by the market demand for particular styles, subjects, and fashions. Many potters and artists were prolific in their output and in some cases over 200 vases may be attributed to a single artist. The majority of pottery workers would have been paid no more than any other manual labourer and a good vase probably cost only a day's wages. Certainly though, a few artists would have been in great demand and their goods were sold not only locally but far and wide throughout the Mediterranean. Potters themselves sometimes relocated to other cities, particularly colonies, often taking with them their regional style. There was also some rivalry between artists as indicated by one signed comment on a vase, “better than Euphronias could ever have done”.



Although Greek pottery provides us with a wide range of shapes from cups to plates to massive amphorae, many of the forms remained relatively constant over centuries. This is primarily because Greek potters were producing wares for practical use - holding wine, water, oil, and perfumes - and once the optimum practical shape had evolved, it was copied and maintained. However, despite this restriction in form, the Greek potters and painters could express their versatility in the decoration of the vase.

The most common forms of pottery were amphorae for storing wine, large kraters for mixing wine with water, jugs (oinochoai) for pouring wine, kylixes or stemmed cups with horizontal handles for drinking (especially practical if lifting a cup from the floor when reclining on a lounger at dinner), hydra with three handles for holding water, skyphoi or deep bowls, and lekythoi jars for holding oils and perfumes. Precisely because these objects were for practical use, handles (when present) are generally sturdy affairs, yet the potter, by using carefully considered shapes, often managed to blend these additions into the overall harmony of the vessel and was aided in this endeavour with subtle decorative additions by the painter.

Decorative Styles: Proto-Geometric Pottery

Greek pottery, particularly in terms of decoration, evolved over the centuries and may be categorized into four broad groups:


These groups or styles, however, did not pass abruptly from one to the other but rather in some cases ran contemporary for decades. Also, some city-states and regions were either slow to catch on to new styles or simply preferred the 'old' style decoration long after they had gone out of production elsewhere. In addition, some cities and regions were consistently a little eccentric in their decoration (notably Laconia-Sparta, Cyprus, Crete, and Boeotia) and preferred to follow their own artistic path rather than imitate the styles of the more dominant centres such as Athens and Corinth.

The first distinctive Greek pottery style first appeared around 1000 BCE or perhaps even earlier. Reminiscent in technique of the earlier Greek civilizations of Minoan Crete and the Mycenaean mainland, early Greek pottery decoration employed simple shapes, sparingly used. Proto-Geometric pottery, however, differs from Minoan and Mycenaean in shape. The centre of gravity of the vase is moved downwards (creating a more stable vessel) with the feet and neck more articulated.

The most popular Proto-Geometric designs were precisely painted circles (painted with multiple brushes fixed to a compass), semi-circles, and horizontal lines in black and with large areas of the vase painted solely in black. A new motif on the bases of vessels was the upright triangular points which would endure for centuries and become a staple feature of the later black-figure pottery design.


Geometric Pottery

From around 900 BCE the full Geometric style appeared and favoured the rectangular space on the main body of the vase between the handles. Bold linear designs (perhaps influenced by contemporary basketwork and weaving styles) appeared in this space with vertical line decoration on either side. It was in this period that the Maeander design first appeared (perhaps inspired by the practice of wrapping leaves around the rims of metal bowls), destined to become forever associated with Greece and still going strong on everything from plates to beach towels even today. The lower portion of Geometric vessels were often painted in black and separated from the rest of the vase using horizontal lines. An interesting Geometric style shape appeared which was the circular box with a flat lid, on top of which, one to four horses acted as a handle.

From the 8th century BCE, Geometric pottery decoration began to include stylized human figures, birds, and animals with nearly all the surface of the vase covered in bold lines and shapes painted in brown and black. Towards the end of the period in the 7th century BCE, the so-called Orientalising style became popular in Corinth. With its eastern trade connections, the city appropriated the stylised plants (e.g. lotus, palm, and the tree of life), animal friezes (e.g. lions), and curved lines of Egyptian and Assyrian pottery to produce its own unique Greek version. The rest of eastern Greece followed suit, often preferring red on a white slip background. Athens also followed the new trend and it became widespread with, for example, the Cyclades also producing pottery in this new freer style, often on very large vases and with more spacious decoration.

At the end of the 7th century BCE, Proto-Corinthian pottery reached new heights of technique and quality producing the finest pottery yet seen, in firing, shape, and decoration. The black stylized figures became more and more precisely engraved and were given ever more detail, grace, and vigour. The celebrated black-figure pottery style was born.

Black-figure Pottery

Although first produced in Corinth, then with fine examples made in Laconia and southern Italy (by Euboean settlers), it would be the potters and painters of Attica who would excel above all others in the black-figure style, and they would go on to dominate the Greek market for the next 150 years. Not all figures were painted black as certain colour conventions were adopted, such as white for female flesh and purple-red for clothes and accessories. A greater interest in fine details such as muscles and hair, which were added to the figures using a sharp instrument, is characteristic of the style. However, it is the postures of the figures which also mark out black-figure pottery as the zenith of Greek vase painting. The finest figures are given grace and poise and often illustrated in the moments before actual movement or resting after exertion.

The famous vase by Exekias, with Ajax and Achilles playing a board game during the Trojan War, is an excellent example of the dignity and energy black-figure painting could achieve. In addition, black-figure vases often told, for the first time, a narrative. Perhaps the most celebrated example is the Francois Vase, a large volute krater made by Ergotimos and painted by Kleitas (570-565 BCE) which is 66cm high (26 inches) and covered in 270 human and animal figures depicting an astonishing range of scenes and characters from Greek mythology. Typical other vessels of the black-figure style are amphorae, lekythoi, kylixes, plain cups, pyxides (small lidded boxes) and bowls.

Red-figure Pottery

The black-figure technique was replaced by the red-figure technique (red figures created by painting their outline with a black slip background) around 530 BCE which would endure for the next 130 years or so. The two styles were parallel for some time and there are even 'bilingual' examples of vases with both styles but the red-figure, with its advantage of the brush over the graver, could attempt to more realistically portray the human figure and eventually it became the favoured style of Greek pottery decoration. Perhaps influenced by contemporary wall painting techniques, anatomical detail, diverse facial expressions, greater detail in clothing (especially of folds, following the new fashion of the lighter chiton dress which also fascinated contemporary sculptors), greater attempts at portraying perspective, the overlapping of figures, and the depiction of everyday life such as education and sporting scenes are all characteristic of this style.

The shapes of red-figure vessels are generally those of the black-figure style. An exception is the kylix which becomes shallower and with a shorter foot, almost becoming a third handle. In addition, the painted narrative is to be read by turning the cup in the hand. Other minor modifications are the hydra, which becomes a little fuller in figure and the slimmer neck-amphora. Lekythoi of this period commonly had a white background as did (more rarely) cups and boxes.

New Media

Into the fourth century BCE, perhaps in attempting to copy the innovations in perspective of contemporary fresco, the red-figure style would reveal its limitations and vases would degenerate into over-packed scenes with strange floating perspectives. Significantly, pottery painting would no longer be linked intrinsically to the form which it decorated and so ceased to exist as an art-form in its own right. Consequently, artistic attention and excellence would turn away from the confinements of pottery to other more open media such as wall-painting.


In conclusion, then, we may say that not only has Greek pottery given us some of the most distinctive, influential, and beautiful shapes and designs of antiquity but it has also given us a window into the lives, practices, and beliefs of a people long gone and of whom we very often have no contemporary written record. These everyday objects, unlike those other archaeological survivors literature, sculpture, and architecture, allow us to feel a little closer to the ordinary people of the ancient world, those who could not afford fine art or precious jewellery but could indulge in possessing a finely made object such as a Greek vase.

Egyptian Art (3100 BCE - 395 CE)

Hypostyle Hall, Karnak temple,
Luxor. (Begun 16th century BCE)
The photo clearly illustrates the
massive scale of monumental
Egyptian architecture, which
dwarfs anything erected at the
time in Europe.

Scene from the Book of the Dead
(Thebes Dynasty c.1000 BCE)

A major contributor to late Neolithic art, Egyptian culture is probably the best known form of ancient art in the Mediterranean basin, before the advent of Greek civilization (c.600 BCE). Ancient Egyptian architecture, for example, is world famous for the extraordinary Egyptian Pyramids, while other features unique to the art of Ancient Egypt include its writing script based on pictures and symbols (hieroglyphics), and its meticulous hieratic style of painting and stone carving. Egyptian civilization was shaped by the geography of the country as well as the political, social and religious customs of the period. Protected by its desert borders and sustained by the waters of the Nile, Egyptian arts and crafts developed largely unhindered (by external invasion or internal strife) over many centuries. The Pharaoh (originally meaning 'palace') was worshipped as a divine ruler (supposedly the incarnation of the god Horus), but typically maintained firm control through a strict bureaucratic hierarchy, whose members were often appointed on merit.

For a contemporary comparison, see: Mesopotamian Art (c.4500-539 BCE) and Mesopotamian Sculpture (c.3000-500 BCE). For oriental painting, pottery and sculpture, see: Chinese Art. See also: Neolithic Art in China (7500 on) and also: Traditional Chinese Art.

The function of Egyptian art was twofold. First, to glorify the gods - including the Pharaoh - and facilitate human passage into the after-life. Second, to assert, propagandize and preserve the values of the day. Due to the general stability of Egyptian life and culture, all arts - including architecture and sculpture, as well as painting, metalwork and goldsmithing - were characterized by a highly conservative adherence to traditional rules, which favoured order and form over creativity and artistic expression. Decorative arts included the first examples of Nail Art.

Fayum Mummy Portrait (Louvre)
From c.100-200 CE, after the Rules
of Painting were relaxed under the
influence of Greek art.

For a brief review of Muslim arts
see: Islamic Art.

Ancient Egypt Timeline

1st Dynasty (2920-2770 BCE)

Horus Aha
Djer (Itit)
Djet (Wadj)
Den (Udimu)

2nd Dynasty (2770-2650 BCE)


3rd Dynasty (2650-2575 BCE)

Netjerykhet (Djoser)
Sekhemkhet (Djoser Teti)

Timeline of Ancient Egypt

Egyptian culture evolved over three thousand years, a period usually divided as follows:

The Early Dynastic Period The Old Kingdom (2680­2258 BCE) The Middle Kingdom (2134-1786 BCE) The New Kingdom (1570­1075 BCE), including the controversial Amarna Period of King Amenhotep (Akhenaton) (1350­1320 BCE). After this, came an Intermediate Period until the Ptolemaic Era (323-30 BCE) and the period of Roman rule (30 BCE - 395 CE).

Ancient Egyptian civilization is symbolized by the Pyramids, most of which were constructed during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods, when the Pharaoh's power was absolute. Even today, the full significance of these funerary monuments and tombs is imperfectly understood by archeologists and Egyptologists. Testifying to the social organization and architectural ingenuity of Ancient Egyptian culture, the Great Pyramid of Giza (c.2565 BCE) remains the sole surviving member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as compiled by the Greek poet Antipater of Sidon.

Egyptian Artists and Craftsmen

Egyptian sculptors and painters were not artists in the modern sense of being a creative individual. Ancient Egyptian art was rather the work of paid artisans who were trained and who then worked as part of a team. The leading master craftsman might be very versatile, and capable of working in many branches of art, but his part in the production of a statue or the decoration of a tomb was anonymous. He would guide his assistants as they worked, and help to train novices, but his personal contribution cannot be assessed. Artists at all stages of their craft worked together. The initial outline sketch or drawing would be executed by one or more, who would then be followed by others carving the intermediate and final stages. Painters would follow in the same manner. Where scenes have been left unfinished it is possible to see the corrections made to the work of less-skilled hands by more practised craftsmen. Many master craftsmen reached positions of influence and social importance, as we know from their own funerary monuments. Imhotep, the architect who built the Step Pyramid complex for King Zoser, 2660-2590 BC, was so highly revered in later times that he was deified. The credit for any work of art, however, was believed to belong to the patron who had commissioned it.

4th Dynasty (2575-2467 BCE)

Khufu (Cheops)

5th Dynasty (2465-2323 BCE)

Neferirkare Kakai
Shepseskare Ini
Niuserre Izi
Djedkare Izezi

6th Dynasty (2323-2152 BCE)

Pepy I
Merenre Nemtyemzaf
Pepy II

(7th-11th Dynasties)
(2150-1986 BCE)

Neferkare II
Neferkare III
Djedkare II
Neferkare IV
Menkamin I
Neferkare V
Neferkare VI
Neferkamin II
Ibi I
Neferirkare II

11th Dynasty (1986-1937 BCE)

Inyotef I
Inyotef II
Inyotef III
Mentuhotep I
Mentuhotep II
Mentuhotep III
Mentuhotep IV

12th Dynasty (1937-1759 BCE)

Amenemhet I
Senusret I
Amenemhet II
Senusret II
Senusret III
Amenemhet III
Amenemhet IV

(13th-17th Dynasties)
(1759-1539 BCE)

Amenemhat V
Sehetepibre I
Amenemhat VI
Sehetepibre II
Sobekhotep I
Hor I
Amenemhat VII
Sobekhotep II
Antef IV
Sobekhotep III
Neferhotep I
Sobekhotep IV
Sobekhotep V
Ini I
Sobekhotep VI
Dedumes I
Ibi II
Hor II
Sekhanre I

Egyptian civilization was highly religious. Thus most Egyptian artworks involve the depiction of many gods and goddesses - of whom the Pharaoh was one. In addition, the Egyptian respect for order and conservative values led to the establishment of complex rules for how both Gods and humans could be represented by artists. For example, in figure painting, the sizes of figures were calculated purely by reference to the person's social status, rather than by the normal artistic rules of linear perspective. The same formula for painting the human figure was used over hundreds if not thousands of years. Head and legs always in profile eyes and upper body viewed from the front. For Egyptian sculpture and statues, the rules stated that male statues should be darker than female ones when seated, the subject's hands should be on knees. Gods too were depicted according to their position in the hierarchy of deities, and always in the same guise. For instance, Horus (the sky god) was always represented with a falcon's head, Anubis (the god of funeral rites) was always depicted with a jackal's head.

The use of colour in Egyptian paintings was also regulated and used symbolically. Egyptian artists used six colours in their paintings red, green, blue, yellow, white and black. Red, being the colour of power, symbolized life and victory, as well as anger and fire. Green symbolized new life, growth, and fertility, while blue symbolized creation and rebirth, and yellow symbolized the eternal, such as the qualities of the sun and gold. Yellow was the colour of Ra and of all the pharaohs, which is why the sarcophagi and funeral masks were made of gold to symbolize the everlasting and eternal pharaoh who was now a god. White was the colour of purity, symbolizing all things sacred, and was typically used used in religious objects and tools used by the priests. Black was the colour of death and represented the underworld and the night.

For details of the colour pigments used by painters in Ancient Egypt, see: Egyptian Colour Palette.

Egyptian Arts And The Afterlife

Nearly all of Ancient Egypt's surviving paintings were discovered in tombs of the pharaohs or high governmental officials, and portrays scenes of the afterlife. Known as funerary art, these pictures depicted the narrative of life after death as well as things like servants, boats and food to help the deceased in their trip through the after life. These paintings would be executed on papyrus, on panels, (using encaustic paint) or on walls in the form of fresco murals (using tempera). In addition, models (eg. of boats, granaries, butcher shops, and kitchens) were included in the tomb in order to guarantee the future well-being of the dead person.

As the spirit inhabited the body, the preservation of the latter against decay was also critical. The use of tightly wrapped bandages to mummify the corpse, and the removal and packaging of internal organs within ceramic canopic jars and other opulent sarcophagi became widespread among the ruling elite. All these arrangements helped to support a nationwide industry of Egyptian artists and craftsmen who laboured to produce the artworks (paintings, scultures, pottery, ceramics, jewellery and metalwork) required.

Egyptian sculpture was highly symbolic and for most of Egyptian history was not intended to be naturalistic or realistic. Sculptures and statues were made from clay, wood, metal, ivory, and stone - of which stone was the most permanent and plentiful. Many Egyptian sculptures were painted in vivid colours.

NOTE: In addition to pyramid architecture, stone sculpture, goldsmithing and the Fayum Mummy portraits, Egyptian craftsmen are also noted for their ancient pottery, especially Egyptian faience, a non-clay-based ceramic art developed in Egypt from 1500 BCE, although it began in Mesopotamia. The oldest surviving faience workshop, complete with advanced lined brick kilns, was found at Abydos in the mid-Nile area. Egyptian faience is a non-clay based ceramic composed of powdered quartz or sand, covered with a vitreous coating, often made with copper pigments to give a transparent blue or blue-green sheen. See Pottery Timeline.

The Rule of King Amenhotep (Akhenaton) (1350­1320 BCE)

Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (husband of Queen Nefertiti) triggered a sort of cultural revolution in Egypt. Born into the cult of Amon (Amen), a line that worshipped a wide range of gods, he changed his name to Akhenaton and, strengthened by his control of the army, instituted the worship only of Aten, a sun god. The Egyptian capital and royal court was moved to Amarna in Middle Egypt. All this led to a radical break with tradition, especially in the arts, such as painting and sculpture. They became more naturalistic and more dynamic than the static rule-bound art of previous eras. In particular, the Amarna style of art was characterized by a sense of movement and activity. Portraits of Egyptian nobles ceased to be idealized, and some were even caricatured. The presence of Aten in many pictures was represented by a golden disc shining down from above.

After the death of Akhenaton, the next Pharaoh - the child Tutankhaten - was persuaded to move back to Memphis and change his name to Tutankhamen, thus reverting to Amon. As a result, Egyptian painters and sculptors largely returned to the old traditions which continued until the Hellenistic era from 323 BCE onwards.

NOTE: To compare earlier Middle Eastern works of Sumerian art (c.3,000 BCE), please see the Ram in a Thicket (c.2500 BCE, British Museum, London), Kneeling Bull with Vessel (3,000 BCE, Metropolitan Museum, New York) and The Guennol Lioness (3000 BCE, Private Collection). For contemporaneous sculpture, see for instance the Human-headed Winged Bull and Lion (859 BCE) from Ashurnasirpal's palace at Nimrud, and the alabaster reliefs of lion-hunts featuring Ashurnasirpal II and Ashurbanipal, both characteristic examples of Assyrian art (c.1500-612 BCE).

Hellenistic Era (c.323-27 BCE)

The influence of Greek Hellenistic art on Egyptian artists, a process accelerated during the Ptolemaic Era, encouraged the naturalistic representation of individuals in paintings and sculpture, not unlike the process initiated by Akhenaton. Portraits became realistic and the rules of colour were relaxed. This trend was further encouraged by the practical Roman style of art.

The most famous example of Hellenistic-Egyptian painting during the era of classical antiquity, is the series of Fayum Mummy Portraits, discovered mainly around the Faiyum basin, west of the Nile, near Cairo. A type of naturalistic portraiture, strongly influenced by Greek art, notably Hellenistic Greek painting (323-27 BCE), Fayum portraits were attached to the burial cloth of the deceased person. Preserved by the exceptionally dry conditions, these paintings represent the largest single body of original art which has survived from Antiquity.

Collections of Egyptian artworks can be seen in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo the British Museum, London the Louvre Museum, Paris the Agyptisches Museum, Berlin the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Apachnan (Khian)
Apophis (Auserre Apepi)

Pepi III
Nikare II

Antef V
Sobekemzaf I
Mentuhotep VII
Nebirau I
Nebirau II
Sobekemzaf II
Antef VI
Antef VII
Tao I
Tao II

18th Dynasty (1539-1295 BCE)

Amenhotep I
Thutmose I
Thutmose II
Thutmose III
Amenhotep II
Thutmose IV
Amenhotep III
Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten
Ay (Kheperkheperure)

Note: The rulers of Egypt were not
called Pharaohs by their own people.
This word was only used by the
Greeks and Hebrews. However,
today it is the accepted term for
for all the ancient Kings of Egypt.

19th Dynasty (1295-1186 BCE)

Ramesses I
Seti I
Ramesses II
Seti II

20th Dynasty (1186-1069 BCE)

Ramesses III
Ramesses IV
Ramesses V
Ramesses VI
Ramesses VII
Ramesses VIII
Ramesses IX
Ramesses X
Ramesses XI

Egyptian Painting & Sculpture: A Brief Survey

The earliest incised figures and scenes in relief date from prehistoric times when slate cosmetic panels and combs of wood, bone, and ivory were buried in the graves of their owners. These were carved in the simple, effective outlines of species familiar to the people of the Nile Valley - antelopes, ibex, fish, and birds. More elaborate ivory combs and the ivory handles of flint knives which probably had some ceremonial purpose were carved in relief, the scene standing out from its background.

By the end of the prehistoric period Egyptian sculpture was unmistakable, although up to this point there had been no great architectural monuments on which the skill of the sculptors could be displayed. From the meagre evidence of a few carvings on fragments of bone and ivory we know that the gods were worshipped in shrines constructed of bundles of reeds. The chieftains of prehistoric Egypt probably lived in similar structures, very like the ones still found in the marshes of South Arabia.

The work of sculptors was displayed in the production of ceremonial mace-heads and palettes, carved to commemorate victories and other important events and dedicated to the gods. They show that the distinctive sculptural style, echoed in all later periods of Egyptian history, had already emerged, and the convention of showing the human figure partly in profile and partly in frontal view was well-established. The significance of many details cannot yet be fully explained, but representations of the king as a powerful lion or a strong bull are often repeated in Dynastic times.

Early royal reliefs, showing the king smiting his enemies or striding forward in ritual pose, are somewhat stilted, but by the 3rd Dynasty techniques were already very advanced. Most surviving examples are in stone, but the wooden panels found in the tomb of Hesire at Saqqara, 2660-2590 BCE, show the excellence achieved by master craftsmen (Egyptian Museum, Cairo). These figures, standing and seated, carved according to the conventions of Egyptian ideals of manhood, emphasized in different ways the different elements of the human form. The head, chest, and legs are shown in profile, but the visible eye and the shoulders are depicted as if seen from the front, while the waist and hips are in three-quarter view. However, this artificial pose does not look awkward because of the preservation of natural proportion. The excellence of the technique, shown in the fine modelling of the muscles of face and body, bestows a grace upon what might otherwise seem rigid and severe. Hesire, carrying the staff and sceptre of his rank together with the palette and pen case symbolizing his office of royal scribe, gazes proudly and confidently into eternity. The care of the craftsman does not stop with the figure of his patron, for the hieroglyphs making up the inscription giving the name and titles of the deceased are also carved with delicacy and assurance, and are fine representations in miniature of the animals, birds, and objects used in ancient Egyptian writing. The animals and birds used as hieroglyphs are shown in true profile.

The great cemeteries of Gizeh and Saqqara in which the nobles and court officials were buried near their kings, provide many examples of the skill of the craftsmen of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Dynasties, a skill rarely equaled in later periods. The focus of these early tombs was a slab of stone carved with a representation of the deceased sitting in front of a table of offerings. The latter were usually placed above the false door, through which the spirit of the dead person, called the ka, might continue to enter and leave the tomb. The idea behind this was that the magical representation of offerings on the stelae, activated by the correct religious formulas, would exist for the rest of eternity, together with the ka of the person to whom they were made.

In single scenes, or in works filling a wall from ceiling to floor, every figure had its proper place and was not permitted to overflow its allotted space. One of the most notable achievements of Egyptian craftsmen was the way they filled the space available in a natural, balanced way, so that scenes full of life never seem to be cramped or overcrowded.

The horizontal sequences or registers of scenes arranged on either side of the funerary stelae and false doors in 5th-Dynasty and 6th-Dynasty tombs are full of lively and natural detail. Here the daily life of peasant and noble was caught for eternity by the craftsman - the action of herdsman and fisherman frozen in mid-step, so that the owner of the tomb would always be surrounded by the daily bustle of his estate. The subjects were intended to be typical of normal events, familiar scenes rather than special occasions.

Egyptian craftsmen did not employ perspective to suggest depth and distance, but they did establish a convention whereby several registers, each with its own base line, could be used to depict a crowd of people. Those in the lowest register were understood to be nearest to the viewer, those in the highest furthest away. A number of these scenes occur in the Old Kingdom: many offering-bearers bring the produce of their estates to a deceased noble at his funerary table, for instance, or troops of men are shown hauling a great statue. Statues represented in reliefs, like the hieroglyphs, are shown in true
profile, in contrast to the figures of the men hauling them. Perhaps the best-known scenes showing nearness and distance, however, are the painted banqueting scenes of the New Kingdom, where the numerous guests, dressed in their finest clothes, sit in serried ranks in front of their hosts.

The registers could also be used to present various stages in a developing sequence of action, rather like the frames of a strip cartoon. In the Old Kingdom, the important events of the agricultural year follow each other across the walls of many tombs: ploughing, sowing, harvesting, and threshing the grain are all faithfully represented. The herdsmen are shown at work in the pastures caring for the cattle so prized by the ancient Egyptians, while other scenes depict the trapping of waterfowl in the Nile marshes and fishing in the river itself. Other domestic activities, such as baking and brewing, also vital to the eternal existence of the dead noble are represented other scenes show carpenters, potters, and jewellers at work.

It was in these scenes of everyday life that the sculptor was able to use his initiative, and free himself to some extent from the ties of convention. The dead man and his family had to be presented in ritual poses as described - larger than life, strictly proportioned, and always calm and somewhat aloof.

The rural workers on the estates, however, could be shown at their daily asks in a more relaxed manner, capturing something of the liveliness and energy that must have characterized the ancient Egyptians. While the offering-bearers, symbolizing the funerary gifts from the estates to their lord, are depicted moving towards him in formal and stately procession, the peasants at work in the fields seem both sturdy and vigorous. They lean to the plough and beat the asses, tend the cattle and carry small calves on their shoulders clear of the danger of crocodiles lurking in the marshes.

The natural details used to fill odd corners in these tomb scenes show how much pleasure the ancient Egyptian craftsmen took in observing their environment. Birds, insects, and clumps of plants were all used to balance and complete the picture. The results of sharp-eyed observation can be seen in the details that distinguish the species of birds and fish thronging the reeds and shallow water of the marshes.

21st Dynasty (1070-945 BCE)

Psusennes I
Pinedjem I
Smendes II
Psusennes II
Pinedjem II
Psusennes III

22nd Dynasty (945-712 BCE)

Shoshenq I
Osorkon I
Shoshenq II
Osorkon II
Takelot II
Shoshenq III
Shoshenq IV
Osorkon IV

23rd Dynasty (828-725 BCE)

Pedubaste I
Osorkon IV

24th Dynasty (725-715 BCE)

Shepsesre Tefnakht I
Wahkare Bakenranef

25th Dynasty (712-657 BCE)


26th Dynasty (664-525 BCE)

Psammetichus I
Nekau II
Psammetichus II
Psammetichus III

27th Dynasty (525-404 BCE)

Cambyses 525-522
Darius I 521-486
Xerxes I 486-466
Artaxerxes I 465-424
Darius II 424-404

28th Dynasty (404-399 BCE)

29th Dynasty (399-380 BCE)

Nepherites I
Nepherites II

30th Dynasty (380-343 BCE)
The last Egyptian-born rulers

Nectanebo I
Nectanebo II

31st Dynasty (343-332 BCE)

Ochus (Artaxerxes III)
Darius III Codomannus

Little survives of the reliefs that decorated the royal temples of the early 5th Dynasty, but from the funerary temple of the first king, Userkaf, c.2,460 BCE, comes a fragment from a scene of hunting in the marshes (Egyptian Museum, Cairo). The air above the graceful heads of the papyrus reeds is alive with birds, and the delicate carving makes them easily distinguishable even without the addition of colour. A hoopoe, ibis, kingfisher, and heron are unmistakable, and a large butterfly hovering above provides the final touch.

The tradition of finely detailed decoration in low relief, the figures standing out slightly above the background, continued through the 6th-Dynasty and into the Middle Kingdom, when it was particularly used for royal monuments. Few fragments of these remain, but the hieroglyphs carved on the little chapel of Sesostris I, now reconstructed at Karnak, show the sure and delicate touch of master craftsmen. During the late Old Kingdom, low relief was combined with other techniques such as incision, in which lines were simply cut into the stone, especially in non-royal monuments, and the result is often artistically very pleasing. The limestone funerary stela of Neankhteti, c.2,250 BCE, is a fine example (Merseyside County Museums, Liverpool). The major part of the stela, the figure and the horizontal inscription above it, is in low relief, but an incised vertical panel of hieroglyphs repeats his name with another title, and the symbol for scribe, the palette and pen, needed for the beginning of both lines, is used only once, at the point at which the lines intersect. The result is a perfectly balanced design, and a welcome variation in the types of stelae carved during the Old Kingdom.

A further development is shown in the stela of Hotep, carved during the Middle Kingdom, 2000-1800 BCE (Merseyside County Museums, Liverpool). The figures of three standing officials and the hieroglyphic signs have been crisply incised into the hard red granite. Originally the signs and figures would have been filled with blue pigment, to contrast sharply with the polished red surface of the stone.

During the Middle Kingdom the use of sunk relief came into fashion, and in the 18th and early 19th Dynasties it was employed to great effect. The background was not cut away as in low relief to leave the figures standing above the level of the rest of the surface. Instead the relief design was cut down into the smoothed surface of the stone. In the strong Egyptian sunlight the carved detail would stand out well, but the sunk relief was better protected from the weather and was therefore more durable.

Painting in ancient Egypt followed a similar pattern to the development of scenes in carved relief, and the two techniques were often combined. The first examples of painting occur in the prehistoric period, in the patterns and scenes on pottery. We depend very much for our evidence on what has survived, and fragments are necessarily few because of the fragile nature of the medium. Parts of two scenes depicting figures and boats are known, one on linen and one on a tomb wall. Panels of brightly coloured patterns survive on the walls of royal tombs of the 1st Dynasty, the patterns representing the mats and woven hangings that decorated the walls of large houses. These patterns occur again and again throughout Egyptian history in many different ways. Some of the finest may be seen on the sides of the rectangular wooden coffins found in the tombs of Middle Kingdom nobles at Beni Hasan and elsewhere, c.2,000-1800 BCE.

Egyptian Tomb Painting

The earliest representational paintings in the unmistakable traditional Egyptian style date from the 3rd and 4th Dynasties. The most famous are probably the fragments from the tomb of Itet at Medum, c.2,725 BCE, showing groups of geese which formed part of a large scene of fowling in the marshes (Egyptian Museum, Cairo). The geese, of several different species, stand rather stiffly among clumps of stylized vegetation, but the markings are carefully picked out, and the colours are natural and subtle.

Throughout the Old Kingdom, paint was used to decorate and finish limestone reliefs, but during the 6th Dynasty painted scenes began to supersede relief in private tombs for economic reasons. It was less expensive to commission scenes painted directly on walls of tombs, although their magic was just as effective.

During the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom, the rectangular wooden coffins of nobles were often painted with elaborate care, turning them into real houses for the spirits of the dead. Their exteriors bore inscriptions giving the names and titles of their owners, and invoking the pro-tection of various gods. The remaining surface areas were covered with brightly painted panels imitating the walls of houses hung with woven mats, and incorporating windows and doors in complicated geometric patterns. Great attention was paid to the "false door" situated at the head end of the coffin through which the ka would be able to enter and leave as it pleased. This panel always included the two sacred eyes of the falcon sky-god Horus, which would enable the dead to look out into the living world.

The interior surfaces of the coffins were sometimes painted with the offerings made to the dead, ensuring that these would continue in the afterlife. An offering table piled with bread, meat, and vegetables was the central feature. A list of ritual offerings was also important, and personal possessions such as weapons, staffs of office, pottery and stone vessels, and items of clothing were all shown in detail. Headcloths were painted at the head end, and spare pairs of sandals at the feet.

These coffins were placed in the small rock-cut chambers of Upper Egyptian tombs, where the stone is often too rough or crumbly to provide a good surface for painting. Fragments of painted murals do survive, however, and some tombs have lively scenes of hunting in the desert or of agricultural work. Acute observation also produced unusual subjects such as men wrestling or boys playing games, shown in sequence like a series of stills from a moving film. Others are painted with outstanding skill. Part of a marsh scene in a tomb at Beni Hasan, c.1,800 BCE, shows a group of birds in an acacia tree. The frond-like leaves of the tree are delicately painted, and the birds, three shrikes, a hoopoe, and a redstart, are easily identifiable.

Tomb painting really came into its own, however, during the New Kingdom, particularly in the tombs of the great necropolis at Thebes. Here the limestone was generally too poor and flaky for relief carving, but the surface could be plastered to provide a ground for the painter. As always, the traditional conventions were observed, particularly in the formal scenes depicting the dead man where he appears larger than his family and companions. Like the men who carved the Old Kingdom reliefs, however, the painters could use their imaginations for the minor details that filled in the larger scenes. Birds and animals in the marshes, usually depicted in profile, have their markings carefully hatched in, giving an impression of real fur and feathers and their actions are sometimes very realistic. In the tomb of Nebamun, c.1,400 BCE, a hunting cat, already grasping birds in its claws, leaps to seize a duck in its mouth.

Fragments illustrating a banquet from the same tomb give the impression that the painter not only had outstanding skill but a particular delight in experimenting with unusual detail. The noble guests sit in formal rows, but the servants and entertainers were not so important and did not have to conform in the same way. Groups of female musicians kneel gracefully on the floor, the soles of their feet turned towards the viewer, while two in one group are shown almost full-face, which is very rare. The lightness and gaiety of the music is conveyed by their inclined heads and the apparent movement of the tiny braids of their elaborately plaited hair. Lively movement continues with the pair of young dancers, shown in profile, whose clapping hands and flying feet are depicted with great sensitivity. A further unusual feature is the shading of the soles of the musicians' feet and pleated robes.

Painting not only decorated the walls of New Kingdom tombs, but gave great beauty to the houses and palaces of the living. Frescoes of reeds, water, birds, and animals enhanced the walls, ceilings, and floors of the palaces of Amarna and elsewhere but after the 19th Dynasty there was a steady decline in the quality of such painting. On a smaller scale, painting on papyrus, furniture, and wooden coffins continued to be skillful until the latest periods of Egyptian history, though there was also much poor-quality mass-produced work.

C. Artistic Techniques of Relief Carvings and Painting

Before any carving in relief or painting could be done, the ground - whether stone or wood - had to be prepared. If the surface was good, smoothing was often enough, but any flaws had to be masked with plaster. During the New Kingdom, whole walls were plastered, and sometimes reliefs of exquisite detail were carved in the plaster itself. Usually mud plaster was used, coated with a thin layer of fine gypsum.

The next stage was the drafting, and the scenes were sketched in, often in red, using a brush or a scribe's reed pen. This phase was important, particularly when a complicated scene with many figures was planned, or when a whole wall was to be covered with scenes arranged in horizontal registers. Some craftsmen were confident enough to be able to use freehand, but more often intersecting horizontal and vertical lines were used as a guide. These could be ruled, or made by tightly holding the ends of a string dipped in pigment, and twanging it across the surface. Quite early in Egyptian history the proportions of the grid were fixed to ensure that human figures were drawn according to the fixed canon. Since the decoration in some tombs was never finished, the grid lines and sketches can be clearly seen, together with corrections made by master craftsmen.

The next stage in producing a relief was to chisel round the correct outlines and reduce the surrounding level, until the scene consisted of a series of flat shapes standing against the background in low relief. Then the final details could be carved and the surface smoothed ready for painting. Any corrections and alterations made to the carving could be hidden beneath a coat of plaster before the paint was applied.

The painter worked directly to a draft on a flat surface, and began with the background. This was filled in with one colour, grey, white, or yellow, using a brush made of a straight twig or reed with the fibres teased out. The larger areas of human figures were painted next, the skin colour applied, and the linen garments painted. Precise details, such as the markings of animals and birds or the petalled tiers of an ornamental collar, were finished with a finer brush or a pen. The pigments were prepared from natural substances such as red and yellow ochre, powdered malachite, carbon black, and gypsum. From about six basic colours it was possible to mix many intermediate shades.

The medium was water to which gum was sometimes added, and the paint was applied in areas of flat colour. During the New Kingdom delicate effects were achieved by using tiny strokes of the brush or pen to pick out animal fur or the fluffy heads of papyrus reeds. Shading was rarely used until the mid-18th Dynasty, when it was employed, particularly in crowd scenes, to suggest the fine pleating of linen garments.

Architecture: Pyramid Tombs and Temples

Egyptian architecture is world famous for its unique underground tomb design, exemplified by the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza, along with its tomb artworks (mummy paintings, sculptures, ceramics and precious metalwork) and Sphinx. All the great monumental pyramids were erected during the era of Early Egyptian Architecture, with only a handful of smaller ones being constructed in the era of in Egyptian Middle Kingdom Architecture. After this came the golden age of Egyptian New Kingdom Architecture, with its huge temple precincts at Karnak and Luxor, after which the extended period of Late Egyptian Architecture was a distinct anti-climax.

• For more about art and design in early civilizations, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.


When you look at ancient Egyptian paintings, they seem very formal as compared to Greek or Roman paintings and art. While the Egyptians ruled for over 3,000 years, their art and painting didn’t change very much.

The tombs of the pharaohs were covered in colorful representations of the one who had passed, living a happy life, with plenty to eat and drink and weather always perfect. The pharaohs were even shown with all of their slaves around them, so that they could serve and care for them in the afterlife.

Egyptian painting was used in a number of ways, including painting directly on the surface. Another method was to create a ‘relief’, which is a raised image above the background and then carefully painting the details of the image.

There is a second type of relief which was carved out and is referred to as ‘sunk relief’, and the images were painted with a raised background surrounding them. Although most of the Egyptian statutes that we see today do not show any color, they were originally painted with bright and what we might consider today to be gaudy colors. They believe that even the Sphinx was at one time brightly painted.


The paint that the Egyptians used was colored or dyed using minerals that were naturally found in their area and some that they imported. The favorite colors that were used in painting were: red, blue, green, gold, and black but they also used white, pink and gray.

The colors and all of the objects found in tombs were preserved due to the cool dry environment and that’s why we can see them today with such bright tones. Artists would grind the minerals into a fine dust and then mix them with a kind of ‘glue’ made from animals or plants.

It was important to make just the right mixture because the paint had to not only stick to the walls, but was designed to last forever.

Colors were taken very seriously in ancient Egypt and the colors and tones that they chose for each painting were carefully selected. There were differences in skin tone color between men and women.

Men had a darker reddish brown to reflect their outdoor life and women had a lighter, almost yellow-brown color to show they lived mostly indoors or in a sheltered location.

Each color that the ancient Egyptians used was also a symbol, many of these we continue to use today.

  • Blue represented the sky, water, the heavens, the ancient flood and both rebirth and creation.
  • Red was the color of fire, anger, life, chaos, victory and hostility.
  • Yellow represented eternal, imperishable, indestructible
  • Green was the color of vegetation, growth, joy, fertility, new life and regeneration
  • White is the color of cleanliness, power, purity, simplicity

Egyptian artists mixed the colors so that they could show details in the paintings that were closer to real life. Many of the colors had a number of different shades, depending upon what they were going to be used for.

Some of the Egyptian gods were also displayed with specific colors. Hapi, the river god was always painted in blue to represent the water. Each of the gods had his or her own specific color and it included any clothing as well as their skin.

Even the god Anubis had his jackal head painted black, because he was the god of the dead. Royalty was often painted with both blue and gold, which were the symbols of strength and power.

Dr. Heather Lynn

Dr. Heather Lynn is an author, historian, and renegade archaeologist, on a quest to uncover the truth behind ancient mysteries. Heather has explored the reaches of the unknown on a personal quest to find the truth about human origins. She broke away from mainstream academia after realizing that much of what we know about our history is based solely on the consensus of elite, often politically motivated, individuals and institutions. Now, Heather is on a mission to expose our hidden history, challenging the accepted narrative found in our history books.

While an undergraduate, she discovered the extent of how deep academic corruption could go. After earning her associate degree in archaeology, she continued to study anthropology and history, earning her MA in History. Her thesis examined the intersection of class inequality, consumer culture, propaganda, and public education in Early Modern Europe. She went on to pursue her doctorate in education at the University of New England. Her dissertation raises questions about the pedagogical value of digital technologies in museums. As a life-long learner, she regularly participates in professional development courses and holds certificates in Human Osteoarchaeology from Leiden University and Archeoastronomy from Politecnico di Milano.

After much soul searching, she turned down a traditional position in academia to venture down a more spiritual path, becoming an ordained minister and earning a doctorate in Comparative Religion. Heather is a member of professional organizations, including: the American Historical Association, the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), Association of Ancient Historians, and World Archaeological Congress. Although Heather Lynn is a scholar, it is her open-minded approach that makes her a true renegade. Her research includes hidden history, ancient mysteries, mythology, folklore, the occult, symbolism, paleocontact, and consciousness.

In addition to regular appearances on podcasts and radio programs like Coast to Coast AM, Heather Lynn has been a historical consultant for television programs, including History’s Ancient Aliens. Her own show, Digging Deeper, is now available on YouTube, iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, and Spotify.

In her spare time, she plays the French horn in a local symphony orchestra whose performances raise money to provide art and cultural education to low-income communities. She loves tennis, classical music, and a good cup of tea.


This definitive guide connects a diverse range of new and existing theories about the Anunnaki, while exploring their possible connection to humanity’s past, present, and future.

Over 6,000 years ago, the world’s first civilization, the Sumerians, were recording stories of strange celestial gods who they believed came from the heavens to create mankind. These gods, known as the Anunnaki, are often neglected by mainstream historians. The Sumerians themselves are so puzzling scholars have described their origin as “The Sumerian Problem.”

With so little taught about the ancient Sumerians in our history books, alternative theories have emerged. This has led many to wonder, about the true story behind the Sumerians and their otherworldly gods, the Anunnaki. Lynn traces the evolution of these Mesopotamian gods throughout the Ancient Near East, analyzing the religion, myth, art, and symbolism of the Sumerians, investigating:

&bullWho are the Anunnaki?
&bullHow accurate are the current Sumerian text translations, and how do we know for sure who to believe?
&bullIs there a connection between the Anunnaki and other ancient gods?
&bullWhere are the Anunnaki now? Will their possible return spell the end of our world?

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An investigation into the historical and archaeological evidence of demons, curses, and possession featuring some of the most gruesome artifacts and sites ever discovered

Demons, jinn, possession, sinister artifacts, and gruesome archaeological discoveries haunt the pages of the new book by Dr. Heather Lynn. Evil Archaeology investigates the archaeological record for artifacts and evidence of evil entities, revealing how demons from the ancient world may be dwelling among us. It also looks at the history and lore behind real relics believed to be haunted and includes historical accounts of demonic possession that go as far back as King Solomon invoking demons to help him build his famed temple.

Is there really a prehistoric fertility goddess figure that has been known to bring death to the families of anyone who holds it? Are there real vampire graveyards? Can the archaeological record prove the existence of demons and malevolent entities?

Some tantalizing questions Evil Archaeology addresses include:

&bullWhat is the origin of demons?
&bullWhat role did Sumerian demons play in the development of civilization?
&bullAre curses real?
&bullCan material objects contain evil? What about places?
&bullWhat can we do to protect ourselves, according to historical records?
&bullWas Jesus an exorcist?

Watch the video: Deep Esoteric Meaning of Planetary Glyphs. Symbols in Astrology (November 2021).