Pre-Dynastic dish with astronomical symbolism © Adriano Forgione

Does This Ancient Egyptian Dish Demolish Everything We Know about the Origins of Greek Astronomy?

I recently received a very interesting email from Adriano Forgione, publisher of the best-selling Italian ‘ancient mysteries’ magazine FENIX. Adriano, a long-time reader of the Grail, asked if I could publish a short article that he had written regarding his personal discovery of a very interesting ancient Egyptian artifact (image above; reason why it is very interesting in his article below).

As this is a topic I’m extremely familiar with, I thought it might be more helpful to present both Adriano’s article, and some comments from myself, together here in this post. Here’s Adriano’s article first:

During my travels in Egypt for my studies I meet in the Nubian Museum in Aswan, an absolutely unknown artifact, not recognized for its importance. The first time I saw it in 2008, I understood immediately to find myself in front of an “astronomical-mythological” object of enormous value. An object of unrecognized importance until today, not only among archaeologists, but also from my own colleagues who deal with ancient knowledge and the sacred science, simply because the finding is unknown.

Let me make an introduction: Orion is known by the ancients as the constellation of the “Heavenly Hunter.” Often it depicted with a club, but more often with a bow, and sometimes accompanied by a lion skin. The posture assumed in the sky from this constellation have a perfect match with that of Narmer Palettethe Egyptian pharaoh when he were depicted as the “Divine Warrior” and “Egypt Divine Defender”. A parallel between the lines that form the silhouette of this constellation and the pharaoh’s profile, at the earliest dynasties (eg in the Narmer tablet that carry in the accompanying images) highlights the correspondence, and so it was until the end of Egyptian history. In fact the representations on the outer pillars of the temples, until the Ptolemaic era have respected this artistic canon, representing, such a form, a divine concept. I recall that the temple was a sacred place and house of the cosmic order. Therefore, the Pharaoh/Orion as “Heavenly Hunter” of demons, it protected the sacred place from the disorder and the chaos. The enemies of Egypt, dominated by the sovereign, were, therefore, only a metaphor of opposing forces of the divine spiritual and light forces and not mere propaganda, as Egyptologists erroneously interpret.

And then here comes the object that I’ve identified in the museum. We can find the more ancient representation and relationship between Orion and the Great Hunter Archer, of the Egyptian mythology, in a dish of pre-dynastic era (dating back to 3500 BC) in the Museum of Aswan. This can tell us that this correspondence could go back to the Egyptian prehistory. Not only that, this would demonstrate that prehistoric Egyptians already associated the constellations that today we identify with Orion the Hunter, the Hare and the Canis Major and Canis Minor to these very ancient symbologies, so they were not Greek, but of Egyptian origin. As proof of what I’m saying, and I read in this finding, there is depicted a hunter with bow and arrows, in the same posture that we know now as the “symbol of Orion.” To the left of the hunter there is a dog, exactly where in the sky there is the constellation “Canis Minor”. But according to mythology, and also according to the astronomy, the dogs following Orion in its hunting are two. The other is the Canis Major, where Sirius lies, (called the “Dog’s Star”) and that, chasing the constellation of the “Hare”, placed just under the feet of Orion.

Celestial map showing Orion

Everything is portrayed perfectly in this ancient dish, which was, in my opinion, a ritual object. Some might ask: and the leopard skin to the right? Here it is explained: Orion, as predator and beasts hunter is associated with the “Lion skin” according to the Greeks, as it is archetypal of the One who shot down the bestial strength and the darkness that it symbolizes (just like Hercules or Gilgamesh). But we know that for the ancient Egyptians, the symbol of the dominion of the brutality was not associated with the lion, but with the leopard (Leo-Pardus, the Heavenly Lion) of which skin the sovereign and priests was dressed. Therefore, I am sure to have in this marvellous object, completely anonymous, a proof of the remote and ancient origins of Egyptian astronomical knowledge (later transposed in the Book of the Dead), as well an indication that the constellations which we call today “Heavenly Hunter/Orion”, “Canis Major”, “Canis Minor” and “Hare”, should have their origin and their names thanks to this people of the prehistoric Egypt. Only thousand years later were they passed to the Greeks and to our civilization.

Long-time readers of this site (and our Darklore anthology series) will note that Adriano’s discovery agrees with – perhaps even confirms – a hypothesis I put forward some 17 years ago (web version/PDF version): that similar depictions of ‘the God with the Upraised Arm’ – found in art across the ancient ‘near-East’, not just Egypt – were actually an astronomical archetype based on the constellation of Orion….thousands of years before the Greeks.

For example:

The Gods with the Upraised Arms

Adriano’s discovery takes things a step further though, with many of the elements on the dish appearing to be precursors of later Greek ‘creations’: the dog following the Orion figure, the animal beneath that appears very much like a hare, and the lion skin. Dating on the dish is key here – could this be a later copy based on Greek designs? If it is indeed from pre-Dynastic Egypt, this dish should signal a paradigm change in what we believe about the origins of the ‘Greek’ constellations. Can anyone provide further information about this artifact?

(Regardless of that, it’s quite instructive to look at how similar the depiction of the ‘dog and prey’ beneath Orion is to the two people beneath the feet of Narmer on the Narmer Palette.)

Many thanks to Adriano Forgione for sending this fascinating article in to us!

  1. Cosmic Winners and Losers
    It’s not totally clear that the figure on the right side of the dish is a leopard skin. Regardless, this figure would correspond to the captive about to be slain on the Narmer Palette. It’s also not clear what constellation is being referenced by that particular location on the dish and Palette. For example, is it the “river” Eridanus or the “bull” Taurus? I think the associations made by Adriano are valid, but some details need to be worked out.

    What I found in my own recent study is that the myths related to Orion tell the story of predation and domination in the “fertile river valley (galactic plane)” of the galaxy by “northern (constellation) powers”. There has been conflict and violence, not only in a physical/stellar sense, but between various “alien” civilizations as they have sought to exploit and colonize other regions. (As above, so below.)
    (Still free to TDG members. Just contact me through my website.)

    The people that asserted their authority over ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were justifying their actions by patterning them after cosmology, at least as they understood it (or as it had been revealed to them). Therefore, if Adriano is correct in associating the pre-dynastic dish as a variation on the Narmer Palette theme (and this seems to be quite feasible), then we can perhaps gain some further insight into ancient cosmology. Specifically, they seem to have believed that one alien group had conquered another one in the region of Orion (or adjacent to Orion in Eridanus and/or Taurus) and assumed part of the vanquished group’s nature/powers in a cannibalistic sense. However, in myth, mighty Orion is himself subsequently betrayed (by Sirius) and attacked by his own dogs (i.e., forces from Canis Minor and Canis Major). The charm of the leopard skin did not ultimately protect him. The history of our neck of the cosmological woods appears to be one of intense competition and even murderous treachery!

    In ancient tradition, the leopard skin was worn by the “sem-priest”, who could also represent an (ill-fated?) heir-apparent or crown prince. Also, according to my research, the priestly constellations were Cepheus (Simeon) and Draco (Levi), which were subdued by Ursa Minor (Judah) and Heracles (Benjamin). So, perhaps Orion had first been claimed by space cadets from Cepheus, who were then supplanted by an invasion from Heracles.

  2. Where?
    As Jason Colavito has pointed out:

    Where is the companion bowl?

    These were found during an expedition in 1969, and even I was aware of these. Four of these bowls have been unearthed (QH 206 & 207), two matching sets. In order to make any sense to these early 11th Dynasty (not pre-dynastic, yes, I know making up stuff is fun, but c’mon…) is to read a set together.

    And no, the figure is not female, and yes, it is a traditional Egyptian garb.

    Furthermore, in Babylonian astrology Procyon and Gomeisa were known as MASH.TAB.BA “twins” and later became synonymous with twin deities Lulal and Latarak. The Greek didn’t think too much of them though. In the oldest surviving Greek astronomical treatise, Aratos’ Phaenomena, there is no myth attached to Procyon, and it is only mentioned as the star that rises before “the flaming dog”.

    1. Dishing It Out
      The dating of the dish is of course significant, but the symbolism of the dish is also significant in its own right.

      I personally don’t see any point in disputing whether Egypt had contacts with other regions such as Mesopotamia or even Greece. To me it’s beyond obvious. A ruling (if not strictly speaking royal) family existed prior to the dynastic period in Egypt and claimed authority over both Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as adjacent regions (if not the entire world). It’s not as clear how well they could project that claim in a practical sense and at various times (due to catastrophic events), but the “institution” certainly existed and is the reason why any cosmological knowledge survived (in myth, art, etc.) at all.

    2. Orion Mystery?
      Info re these 11th dynasty bowls:

      2120-30 BC suggests Egyptian-Nubian source of later Greek Orion celestial figure. The relative positions of hunter, dogs, and hare on the bowl photo (here in Daily Grail) do match the constellations. The scorpion on the right matches the star group that sets as Orion rises, and reflects Greek myth about Orion stung to death by a scorpion. (Speculate as we might about this axis and opposition linking our galactic centre and direct exit from our galaxy).

      Seems the consensus about MASH.TAB.BA Twins is that they are Gemini not the Dogs? (A pair of Twins, actually).

      1. Good Kitty, Kitty
        In the dish shown in your link, the leopard is behind the figure of Orion rather than in front. Still, the leopard is depicted as “peaceful” (i.e., subjugated). The presence of the two fish would seem to indicate Pisces rather than Gemini, but this needs further consideration.

        The placement of the dishes as ceremonial “foundation deposits” in a 1st Intermediate Period tomb complex makes the dating uncertain. The dishes could have been older objects that were used to lend greater antiquity and dignity to the grave site (or even refer back to a much earlier precedent of subjugation in this region of Nubia).

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