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Zodiac Ceiling (Cast) - Dendera | by Gibna Kebira
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Zodiac Ceiling (Cast) - Dendera

The original of this zodiac ceiling at the Temple of Dendera can be found in the Louvre Museum. Unfortunately this cast replacement is a bit meskeen.


Here is how Sharon Waxman describes the removal of the original (in "Loot:The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World"): "The engineer Lelorrain had forged special tools in France to do the deed. Working on the rooftop of the Denderah temple, Saulnier hacked and gouged at the zodiac ceiling over the course of twenty-two days, trying to drag it down using chisels and saws. But when more than three weeks of hacking did not succeed in removing the ceiling, Lelorrain turned to gunpowder in specially drilled holes to dislodge it. The explosions finally did the trick, destroying a nearby sculpture of Isis."


And where is this masterpiece, one of only four known representations of the cosmos from ancient Egypt, displayed? In a small room (Sully Wing, Ground Floor, Room 12 bis) just off the one which houses most of the mummies. Most visitors will never venture into this space even if they notice it. Yet it houses two remarkable antiquities, the aforementioned ceiling and the Chamber of Kings from Karnak, discovered and dismantled by Prisse d'Avennes and carted off to the Louvre in 1843.


Here is how the Louvre website describes it: "The vault of heaven is represented by a disc, held up by four women assisted by falcon-headed spirits. Thirty-six spirits or "decans" around the circumference symbolize the 360 days of the Egyptian year. The constellations shown inside the circle include the signs of the zodiac, most of which are represented almost as they are today. Aries, Taurus, Scorpio, and Capricorn, for example, are easily recognizable, whereas others correspond to a more Egyptian iconography: Aquarius is represented as Hapy, the god of the Nile flood, pouring water from two vases. The constellations of the northern sky, featured in the center, include the Great Bear (Ursa Major) in the form of a bull's foreleg. A hippopotamus goddess, opposite Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, represents the constellation of the Dragon."


It gives us a pretty precise image of what the Egyptians saw in the sky 2,050 years ago. One of the inscriptions even records a solar eclipse that occurred on March 7 in the year 51 BC at 11:10 a.m.!

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Taken on November 22, 2009