Journal: Monday 29 March 1999
The feast was over and we were leaving Abydos today, but not until later in the afternoon, so getting up early Robin and I were able to spend a whole morning with the Seti I Temple completely to ourselves until the arrival of the noon convoy.
Armed with my SLR and trusty tripod, there were several things I wanted to look at again. One of the sandstone roof lintels in the outer Hypostyle Hall bears a relief that has become famous for including the so-called ‘Abydos helicopter’, which actually forms part of the names and titles of Rameses II. While there has been much written, offering ‘proof’ that the ancient Egyptians had a high level of technology (undeniably!), the carvings of a helicopter, submarine or tank, and flying saucer can be easily explained as the layering of one inscription over another, which archaeologists call palimpsest. I have come across this in lots of places in Egypt, where one king has over-carved an inscription replacing the names of a predecessor with his own. This glyph in Abydos is no different, having been modified at least once and then worn down to produce the strange appearance of the relief, which actually does look like a helicopter. My apologies to UFO enthusiasts, but I remain very sceptical.
I also wanted to take another look at one of my favourite chambers, the Hall of Sokar, where there are many unusual and beautiful reliefs which had never been painted. Sokar was a Memphite god who was often identified with Osiris and here is portrayed the story of Osiris and Isis; Osiris being restored to life and the mystic conception of Horus. Near this scene is a very rare relief representing the Goddess Nut in the form of a pregnant hippopotamus, squatting on her haunches and holding a large knife in her forepaws. Before her Seti offers wine. It is more usually the goddess Tauret, the protector of women in childbirth who is shown as a hippopotamus.
This chamber also includes a vaulted chapel of Nefertem, with more unusual scenes as well as inscriptions taken from the Pyramid texts. Nefertem, in the Memphis theology, was the son of Ptah and Sekhmet and is often depicted with a lotus blossom on his head by which he was recognised as a god of perfumes. He is usually depicted anthropomorphically as a man, but here at Abydos he is shown as a lion-headed god and is carrying cradled in his hand, the sacred eye of Horus. Nefertem is named as ‘Protector of the Two Lands‘, ‘Lord of Kas’ and on his head perches a falcon crowned with a lotus flower. This is one of my favourite reliefs in the whole temple.
I walked through some of the other halls and out to the Osirion, collecting some of the water in a little jar which Omm Sety claimed had magical healing properties. Soon it was time to leave to go back to the hotel to gather our things and pay our bill. The four nights here had cost us only LE40 each (about £5.00) so we were quite generous with our baksheesh all round. Our young policeman who had hardly left our side for four days was delighted with his tip and was suddenly our best friend, begging us to come back soon. After saying a fond goodbye to all the good friends we had made in Abydos, Horus drove us to the station at el-Balyana to catch the 3.00pm train and we had an uneventful journey back to Luxor.