The Rock Inscriptions of Gebel Akhenaton

Not far from Pahu’s inscriptions site is another collection of inscriptions, the most remarkable of which are three depictions of Akhenaton, after whom we have named the site Gebel Akhenaton.

Gebel Akhenaton Lower Site No. 7: Akhenaton Elevating Offerings to the Arms of the Aton

Akhenaton holds out a tray of offerings to the downward reaching arms — or as the Egyptians would no doubt have described them, rays with hands1 — of the Aton,2 the disk of which has vanished, presuming it was originally fully carved. The offering tray appears to hold five small and roughly circular loaves of bread, with more obscure offerings atop them; the long, horizontal object onthe left, apparently unfinished at the right end, may represent a clump of onions. Although somewhatcharicateurish, even considering the exagerrations inherent in the Amarna artistic idiom, Akhenaton’s face reveals the features of the first phase of his new artistic style, and is rendered withsomesuccess, especially considering the rough medium of the gebel surface.3

Figure 1 An image of the baboon of Thoth, from the upper portion of the Gebel Akhenaton site.

Behind Akhenaton is a military standard, in the form of a boat and fan atop a pole, apparently a naval ensign.4 A similar rock art depiction of a military standard appears in a rock depiction at Kanais.5 The depictions of Akhenaton are most likely the work of a member of a naval contingent, as is the Amarna Period hieratic inscription of the naval scribe Ramose at Deir Abu Hinnis; the standard in the Gebel Akhenaton depiction suggests more specifically that the image is the work of a standard bearer.6

Figure 2 (photo left) The Head of Akhenaton (detail of the scene in Figure 3). Figure 3 Akhenaton elevates offerings to the Aton, in an image from the lower portion of the Gebel Akhenaton site.

  1. 1. Although Goldwasser, JARCE 46 (2010): 159-165, has speculated on the nature of the Aton with rays and hands, on the basis of determinatives in Amarna texts, an inscription on the ceiling of the third shrine of Tutankhamun (Piankoff and Rambova, Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon, fig. 28 [opposite p. 70]) — apparently overlooked by Goldwasser and others who have commented on Akhenaton’s armed disk — clearly describes the image in the Egyptians’ own terms: “The rays of Aton are protection over you, their hands bearing health and life” (Piankoff and Rambova, ibid., p. 70, n. 1, recognized that the passage on the the shrine described Akhenaton’s solar deity).
  2. 2. Compare Davies, El Amarna 2, pl. 20; idem, El Amarna 4, pl. 23.
  3. 3. Aldred, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, p. 94, no. 6. For the face and head in general, compare the sketch Brooklyn Museum of Art 36.876 — R. Freed, Y.J. Marlowitz, and S.H. D’Auria, eds., Pharaohs of the Sun, p. 246 (no. 136).
  4. 4. Compare two of the standards in Davies, Amarna 3, pl. 31.
  5. 5. Rohl, Followers of Horus, p. 17-19, fig. 3 (there misunderstood as a “standard of the crescent moon with rising sun symbol”).
  6. 6. Willems and Demarée, RdE 60 (2009): 222-226 (note that the same Ramose may also have been a standard bearer as well — ibid., p. 224).