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HomeScienceThey discover a sanctuary with headless hawks in an Egyptian temple

They discover a sanctuary with headless hawks in an Egyptian temple

researchers from Sikait Projectled by Professor Joan Oller Guzmán of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), have just been featured in the magazine American Journal of Archeology the results of his campaign at the site of the Greco-Roman port of berenikein the Arabian Desert of Egypt, made in January 2019.

The article presents the excavation of a religious complex of late chronology (4th-6th century of our era) baptized as Falcon Sanctuary (Falcon Sanctuary) by researchers, and located within the North Complexone of the most important buildings in the city of Berenike during this period.

General image of the Sanctuary of the Halcones. / The Berenike Project/Sikait Project

The site is a Red Sea port founded in Ptolemaic times (3rd century BC) and continued into Roman and Byzantine times, when it became the main entry point for trade from the Horn of Africa, Arabia and India.

The Blemian nomadic people

Within this chronological framework, one of the most recent phases would be the last one, between the 4th and 6th centuries, when it seems that the city is partially occupied and controlled by the defectsa nomadic population group of Nubian origin that at the time extended their rule over much of the Egyptian Arabian Desert.

A small temple of Egyptian tradition was identified, which from the 4th century onwards was adapted by the Blemian population to their own system of beliefs.

In that context, the North Complex It is pivotal because it offered clear evidence of a link to the blemmies, with the discovery of inscriptions dedicated to some of their kings or the Sanctuary of the Falcon.

The excavations have identified a small temple of Egyptian tradition, which from the 4th century onwards is adapted by the Blemian population to their own system of beliefs.

Harpoons, statue and stele with inscription

“The material finds are especially notable, with the presence of offerings such as harpoons, cubic shaped statue or a stele with indications about the activities of the cult, which was chosen as the cover of the issue of the magazine”, highlights Joan Oller.

For the first time, a burial of falcons – 15 specimens, most without heads – is observed inside a temple, also accompanied by eggs

The most striking votive aspect would be the deposition of up to 15 hawks inside the shrine, most without heads. Although hawk burials for religious purposes have been observed in the Nile Valley before, as well as cults of individual specimens of these birds, this is the first time that a hawk burial has been observed inside a temple, and also accompanied by eggs, too. an unprecedented discovery.

Mummies of decapitated hawks were also found in other places, but always isolated individuals, never in groups, as is the case with Berenike. The stele presents the curious inscription “It is inappropriate to boil a head in this place” which, far from being a dedication or a thank you as is common in the inscriptions of the time, prohibits boiling the heads of animals inside the temple, an activity considered profane.

“It is inappropriate to boil a head in this place”, reads the inscription on a stele, referring to the fact that it is not allowed to boil animal heads inside the temple, an activity considered profane.

Oller points out: “All these elements would point to a intense ritual activity which would combine aspects of the Egyptian tradition, together with Blemian contributions, on a theological basis possibly related to the cult of the god Khonsu. The findings add to our understanding of this semi-nomadic population, the blemmies, within the Egyptian Arabian Desert at the end of the Roman Empire.”

The excavation at the Berenike site is led by Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology (University of Warsaw, Poland) and the University of Delaware (USA). The Sikait project has funding from the PALARQ Foundation and licenses from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The research team. From left to right: Delia Eguiluz Maestro, Juan Oller Guzmán, David Fernández Abella and Vanesa Trevín Pita. / The Berenike Project/Sikait Project


Joan Oller Guzman et al. “To the Falcon Sanctuary in the Port of Berenike (Red Sea Coast, Egypt)”. American Journal of Archeology2022



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