Avian Hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt


In this first post of the New Year, I thought I’d start off with something fun, and while it’s not scientists performing interpretive dance in the 1950’s, it takes us in another direction combining archaeology and animals – back to the first mention of domestic birds in Ancient Egypt!

I came across J B Coltherd, a scientist at Edinburgh’s Poultry Research Centre’s article, “The Domestic Fowl in Ancient Egypt”, in Ibis, 108 (1966): 217-223 in the off-print series and discovered some interesting ideas on origin of chickens and geese in Egypt and that it could be reference by hieroglyphs depicting the different kinds of birds. In this article, he traces the birds’ history through trade routes and appearances of references in hieroglyphs from different time periods.

According to Coltherd, in 1966, ‘there is no recorded mention of the domestic fowl in Ancient Egypt before the Middle Kingdom (2134-1786 BC). Evidence for its existence there before this time is completely negative. The hieroglyph Quail which is found in the earliest inscriptions, and certain peculiarities in the mention of the indeterminate birds, led some early writers to believe that the fowl had already been introduced into Ancient Egypt at the dawn of history, by invaders from Mesopotamia.’

He illustrates the article with several examples:

A goose: Goose HeiroglyphA sentence on how four birds lay eggs every day:

Sentence and a general symbol for birds:

General birdThis article would certainly be fascinating to anyone interested in archaeology, Egyptology, as well as biology and animal migration. It would be interesting to know if anyone – scientist or archaeologist – has found any more specific and current information on when domestic fowls were introduced to Egypt. Any ideas – please post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *