Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ancient Nile Valley influences in Extra-Nile Valley Art

Herein we will look at various Nile Valley influences in contemporaneous cultures around the Mediterranean sea and its spread thereof. For instance, given the Egyptian incursions into the Levant, Canaan in particular, their cultural impact in that area should really come as no surprise. In this regard, Egyptian involvement in the said region had taken a noticeably resolute turn under Rameses II; and under the 25th Dynasty, we see further Egyptian military adventures in the area, mainly against Assyrians. Additionally, of course, mainland ancient Greece, and its precursor cultural complex in the Cretan islands — the Minoan social complex, were notably recipients of ancient Nile Valley cultural diffusions. Let's take a look at examples...

Kushites in "Mesopotamian" art:

 -  -
A male likely of Kushitic-origin, carrying a leopard skin, and accompanied by a monkey, and an oryx: Neo-Assyrian; 8th–7th century B.C.
Excavated at Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), Mesopotamia
"Phoenician style" Ivory; H. 5 5/16 in. (13.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1960

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we are told: Phoenician ivory carvers were strongly influenced by the themes and style of Egyptian art owing to longstanding ties between the two cultures. Some Phoenician ivories illustrate purely Egyptian themes, but many use Egyptian motifs in entirely original compositions.

Specifications [Hint: click on the photo to get a higher resolution]
Height: 10.350 cm
Width: 10.200 cm
Thickness: 2.450 cm (max.)
Weight: 151.000 g
ME 127412
Room 57-9: Ancient Levant

Courtesy of the British Museum, we are given the following comments about the above the ivory piece displaying what appears to be a Kushitic boy being attacked by a lioness:

Inlaid ivory panel of a lioness devouring a boy

Phoenician, 9th-8th century BC From the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Nimrud, northern Iraq

'I'm not sure how I feel about this piece, however it sort of brings to mind a piece of memorabilia of a black figure. It's quite sensual looking, the young African man appears to be held in a kind of embrace by the lioness. It's also reminiscent of Dracula imagery in Europe too. His hair and facial features tell me that he is indeed a young African man but the museum title doesn't mention this, and I wonder why. It's very common for this kind of omission to occur. There's something about this boy, there's gold leaf on him, and armlets, it suggests to me that he may have been important in some way, was he a noble family's son perhaps?' Anita Mckenzie, of African, Caribbean and Indian heritage

The panel was found at the Assyrian capital city of Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia. It was recovered by the excavator Max Mallowan from the bottom of an ancient well in the palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC). It had probably been thrown there during the destruction of the palace in the late seventh century BC. The carving is Phoenician in style, which suggests that the piece of furniture may have been made in one of the Phoenician centres along the Levantine coast, and come to the Assyrian capital as tribute or booty. The carving shows an African boy with jewelled armlets and bracelets being attacked by a lioness. Above them is a dense network of lilies and papyrus. Much of the surface of the ivory was once overlaid with gold leaf and inlaid with carnelian and lapis lazuli. Some of this survives and there are traces of the blue mortar into which the lapis lazuli inlays were pressed. The African wears a short kilt covered in gold leaf. The curls of his hair are marked with gold. A spot of lapis lazuli is also inlaid on the forehead of the lioness. D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995) R.D. Barnett, A catalogue of the Nimrud ivor (London, The British Museum Press, 1975) J.E. Curtis and J.E. Reade (eds), Art and empire: treasures from (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

What is being referred to as "curls of his hair" above, could very likely be a wig, relatively short and frizzy — the kind that had become a sort of Kushitic signature wear, that is — amongst the rich pool of fascinating and diverse garments often displayed on the people of Kush and thereof, Meroe; this may explain why it is also tinged with gold. Perhaps the wig style in question is made rather more obvious on the aforementioned "Nubian" figure at the very top, accompanied by the monkey and oryx figurines. The interesting thing about this "Nubian" figurine, is that we are told that it is presumably that of a tribute bearer (as is supposedly also the case in the one below, carrying an antelope-like creature on his shoulders); one can only discern from this, that such personalities were presumably captives of war stationed in the Levant or the vicinity thereof itself, that is — as opposed to personalities sent by a semi-autonomous regime in either the Kushitic or Egyptian complex under foreign rule, but it is worth remembering that, neither Kush, nor Dynastic Egypt under the 25th Dynasty rulers of Kushtic origin, were ever brought under the Assyrian territorial hold. One will recall that the Kushites were a force to be reckoned with, even from the Roman standpoint, when Egypt was brought under the Roman sphere of influence. Their reputation as fighters seems to have led to their call for "rescuing" the ancient Hebrews from Assyrian onslaught, sometime during the 25th Dynasty [see: The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C., by Henry T. Aubin (April 1, 2003)].

A "Nubian" male likely of Kushitic-origin [S881 Nimrud Ivory], carrying what appears to be an antelope-like creature on his shoulders, and leading a what looks like a calf at the same time. The kilt style, that distinctive-looking short frizzy wig, and armlets appear to be reoccurring themes on these "Nubian" personalities, whom to reiterate, were very likely of Kushitic-origin. This neo-Assyrian era [ca. 800 BC] carved ivory too was uncovered in the Nimrud region. Dimensions & Measurements [presumably of figurines]: Height: 5.5434 cm, Height: 3.5434 cm, Height: 7.5434 cm and ID: 8341

One can only assume that these were carved by artistically-skilled Nile Valley war captives themselves, or just as likely [in fact, the more likely scenario of the two, given the synchronizing of Phoenician style renditions with Nile Valley themes], their former allies in the so-called Near Eastern region, now under some form of foreign control, if indeed these items are depicting "tribute bearers" paying tribute to some non-Nile Valley authority; not to be ruled out, these carvings could well also be the work of artists of Assyrian origin themselves, depicting presumably "tribute bearers" from amongst personalities of Assyrian captives of war, and/or "symbolic" renditions of their rivals or enemies, presumably of both "Nubian" and some "Near Eastern" origin, as tribute to some new found authority of Assyrians. If so, this might likely have coincided with the timeline when Kushitic rulers of 25th Dynasty Egypt withdrew their hold on Egypt, and presumably retreated back to Kush. Again, notwithstanding, it should be noted that no record of note has been brought to the fore, suggesting that either Egyptian or Kushitic territory were brought under direct control of Assyrians. On the other hand, Assyrians supposedly did find some opportunistic-ally in a native Egyptian ruler after the 25th Dynasty. Not to be dismissed either, and one that is noticeably overlooked in some quarters, is the possibility of these ivory items being attained through exchange of trade relations, as nothing particularly about the themes of the "Nubian" animal tenders in question standout as indicative of one under captivity or prisoner of war. This may be an even more likely scenario than any of the aforementioned speculations, when one considers the fact that many of these so-called "Nubian" human figurines appear to be well-dressed for the time and place in question, decorated or ornamented and healed; nothing about them speaks aloud of "involuntary servitude". As far as the earlier reckoning by Anita Mckenzie is concerned, with regards to the armlets, it might well be over-signifying the role of the armlets, as it appears to have been one of those reoccurring themes on "Nubian" personalities of these ivory carvings. All three renditions of "Nubian" personalities above appear to be sporting said armlets, not to mention necklace [particularly obvious on the topmost figurine image posted here]; the image-resolution of the figurine right above, not to mention the wear and tear of the article itself, does not allow one to ascertain whether the male therein too is wearing a bracelet, but clear enough to show that he is certainly wearing an armlet. The boy being attacked certainly is wearing bracelets. As far the issue of the importance attached to the inlaying of the attire with gold is concerned, well, that may be another matter.

Below, we have a golden plague displaying Amenemhat IV offering Atum ointment. The plague is said to be likely from Byblos, which lay in what is now part of modern Lebanon. It supposedly dates back to the 12 Dynasty era, ca. 1795 BC, courtesy the British Museum...

Specifications: Width - 3cm , and length - 3cm; EA 59194

Courtesy of the British Museum, we are told this about the piece:

The plaque was made using the technique called 'ajouré'. The design is cut out of sheet metal by using a chisel to punch around the outline; the Egyptian craftsman did not possess shears or fine saws. To get over the difficulty of producing smooth edges, strips of metal were soldered onto the base plate to provide cells into which inlay could be added. This technique was often used to produce pectorals and other pieces of jewelery. Openwork pieces without further adornment are quite rare. Here the details on the figures and hieroglyphs have been chased onto the metal using a fine chisel and mallet. The work is of extremely high quality, particularly the delicate modeling of the muscles of the legs of the figures. The discovery of the plaque at Byblos shows that Egypt had contacts, probably through trade, with this important port during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1750 BC).

E.R. Russmann,Eternal Egypt: masterworks of (University of California Press, 2001)

I. Shaw and P. Nicholson (eds.), British Museum dictionary of A(London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc(London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

Next, is a Phoenician style bronze bowl, dating back to ca. 800 BC, uncovered at Nimrud, which is now part of what is northern Iraq; it clearly depicts human figures, in particular—faces spread in a "petal-like" fashion towards the center of the bowl, sporting Egyptianized facial themes, like for example, the extended eye-lines, and wearing unmistakably conventional Egyptian royal headdresses; also, visible in some areas, and nearer to the edges of the bowl, are several standing figures, wearing what appears to be Egyptian-style headdresses or crowns...

Specifications: Width - 8.5 in, length - 8.5 in, and thickness is 1 in; ME N65

Courtesy of the British Museum, the following descriptions for the bronze bowl above is provided to us:

The slaying of the demon Humbaba This very fragmentary bronze platter was discovered in the last century in the palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud. It was probably acquired as tribute or booty by the Assyrian monarchs as they led their armies towards the Mediterranean.

The decoration is typically Phoenician,
a mixture of Near Eastern and Egyptian motifs. One figure with raised hands and gripping a demon's hair has been identified as related to the slaying of Humbaba. This is part of the story of the Mesopotamian hero king Gilgamesh who, with his companion Enkidu, defeated the demon Humbaba. This tale is first known from Sumerian stories of the early second millennium BC, but by around 1200 BC the Epic of Gilgamesh, which incorporated the Humbaba story, had became known throughout the Near East: fragments of cuneiform tablets recording the tales are known from Megiddo in Palestine, Emar on the Euphrates, south of Carchemish, and Hattusas, capital of the Hittites in Anatolia.

Here the slaying of Humbaba is incorporated into a scene where figures are depicted as Egyptian pharaohs

W.G. Lambert, 'Gilgamesh in literature and art:
the second and first millennia' in Monsters and demons in the anc (Mainz, 1987)

A.H. Layard,
Discoveries in the ruins of Ni (London, J. Murray, 1853)

From the following 'black and white' Chicago Oriental Institute photo collection, we come across a number of Neo-Assyrian era ivory carvings, which are noticeable for their display of discrete examples of major Nile Valley head-gear styles:

A plethora of Egyptian themes incorporated into Phoenician-style/influenced art had been uncovered in the Nimrud area, not to mention reoccurring displays of figures wearing the double crown [sporting a rearing uraeus/cobra-like figure], like in the rendition below...

Specifications: Ivory; width at the top - 3.5cm, width at the bottom - 5.1cm, height - 6.5cm and thickness - .6cm; excavation number - ND9423. It dates back to ca. 800 BC.

Not in a too different style, other Nile-Valley themed figures displaying wigs, along with crowns, are shown kneeling, with arms raised — reminiscent of the figure above...

Image - front and back end; specifications: Ivory; width - 3.2cm, height - 3.8cm, and thickness - .7cm, dating back to ca. 800 BC or so; excavation number - ND10479.

Notice the attempt to give the wig a frizzy look, and then of course, on top of the wig, a rather small-sized double-crown head-gear is seen. Others yet, like the example below, are only shown with the wig, with no crown at all...

Specifications: Ivory; height - 4.4cm, width - 3cm, and thickness - .6cm; excavation number - ND10658, dating back to ca. 800 BC.

The figure above, perhaps more worn off when compared to the example immediately above it, is unmistakably wearing a wig, but this time around, no display of a crown.

In lieu of the traditional Red and/or White crown, in certain cases, a winged sun-disc head gear is portrayed, like the examples below...

Specifications: Top fragment is ivory, with a height of 2.5cm, width of 2.7cm, and a thickness of .4cm; bottom fragment has a height of 2.4cm, a width of 3.2cm, and a thickness of .5cm. The item, with an excavation number of ND13395, as appears to be the case for all the other Neo-Assyrian era items [uncovered in the Nimrud region] mentioned, dates back to ca. 800 BC or so.

In the rendition above, rather than a wig on this occasion, the kneeling figure is wearing the conventional ancient Egyptian royal-style "cloth" headdress.

Here is another example, but a rather more complete one this time around, with even the neck gear showing...

Specifications: Neo-Assyrian era carved ivory uncovered from the Nimrud area; height - 5.2cm, and width - 3.1cm; excavation number - ND13155.

Rather incomplete, but from what is displayed on what remains of the head-figure, one notices a crown with a uraeus (cobra-like figure) attached to the front...

Specifications: Neo-Assyrian era Ivory; height - 3.5cm, width - 4.4cm, thickness - 1.2cm, and a tenon of 4.9cm; excavation number - ND13456.

Hey, forget about conventional human figures just wearing a headdress and/or even a crown! Why not have something vastly different altogether [from the examples above], but still keeping with Egyptian themes? Yeap, a Heru-like rendition fits the bill...

Specifications: Neo-Assyrian era Ivory; height - 6.3cm and width - 3.4cm; excavation number - ND10486.

The kneeling-figure rendition above essentially displays a comprehensive assortment of ancient Egyptian themes; from the double-crown, the falcon head gear, to the distinctive wig attached. The figure's short-sleeved top/robe is yet another visibly distinctive element, vis-a-vis the various examples of attire already shown in the other imagery so far posted.

Back to imagery in color! Below, we have in color, a display with many things going on in there...

Specifications, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum: Egyptianizing figures on either side of a tree with a winged disk, 8th–7th century B.C Neo-Assyrian Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) Ivory; H. 4.88 in. (12.4 cm) Rogers Fund, 1962 (62.269.3

Much of what is displayed in the ivory carving above, is pretty much obvious, although some might have a little trouble in either identifying certain objects or how one interprets certain objects: Across the top portion of the ivory-carving, there are what appears to be 10 "cobra" heads, each displaying what appears to be sun-disc crowns. Right beneath those cobra heads, one notices a "winged" sun disc. Then comes the two male figures, each wearing the double crown; in between them, one sees a large plant-like "scepter" or shaft that is rooted in the ground and sporting large horn-like extensions [which might well have been intended to be caricatures of leaves, emulating the horns of a ram], and topped off by what might be a petal-like gear. Close to either side of the plant structure, both males appear to be holding onto a small ram-headed shaft/scepter in their right hand, each sporting a sun disc crown on their head. Near the base of the said middle shaft or trunk of the plant figure, a branch from its either side springs out, terminating into what appear to be leave renditions [which appear to emulate the horns of a ram], with each topped off by petal-like structures. The male figure on the right hand side, appears to be holding yet another scepter or shaft in his left hand; this shaft seems to be the conventional Egyptian "Was" scepter. Whereas the male figure on the left hand side, is holding an "ewer" in his left hand. Now, the attire of these two male figures in itself is interesting — there appears to be some cloak-like extension, from their waist-line, emanating from their kilt, perhaps attached to the kilt by a belt or "belt-like" form. On the kilts, one notices designs sporting "hanging" cobras or uraei, in lieu of where a "penis" sheath would otherwise be shown; in fact, such a sheath appears to be more apparent on the kilt of the male figure standing on the left hand side, but on the inside of the kilt. Other visible items are, a "rearing" uraeus attached to the front of the crown of the male on the left hand side [it appears to have been chipped off on that of the male on the right hand side], the neck gears of both the male figures, and their "fake" or symbolic beards usually reserved for figures of royalty and/or divinity.

Going "Persian"!...

Cyrus the Great

It doesn't take much of an imagination to see that the figure of 'Cyrus the Great' above is wearing an Egyptian crown — in particular, the triple Atef flanked by uraeus on either side.

Switching gears for a moment to Greek art, and traces of Nile Valley themes therein...

The following Archaic Greek life-size statues are notable for the postures, with hands clutched and the left foot a step forward from that of the right counterpart. Now where have we seen this theme? Ah yes, the theme was popularized by ancient Egyptians, as we will shortly see examples of...

Courtesy of, we are told: Kore (Phrasikleia) by Ariston of Paros and Kouros, lifesize, circa 550 B.C. Found in a pit at Merenda in Attica in 1972.
Note the posture of especially the male figure on the right.

"Behind the Phrasikleia Kore in the picture from the National Museum of Athens we see a Sphinx found at Spata in Attica. Marble, circa 570 B.C. Sphinxes were used to top funeral stele in Attica until 530 B.C." -

Here is a closeup example of another Greek statue...

Courtesy of Kouros Marble, lifesize, circa 540 B.C. Found at the cemetery of Anavysos

Now, compare the body posture of the above figure, with that of the Egyptian pharaoh (Menkaure) below...


The Greek examples have their arms to their sides and hands clutched in pretty much the same manner as pharaoh's (Menkaure's), but in the pharaoh's case, he is actually holding onto something; note the step forward by the pharaoh's left foot, vis-a-vis the right one. The Greek examples seem to have done away with the tiny detail of holding an object firmly in the hand, but the overall theme of the body posture, reminiscent of that of the pharaoh example above, leaves not doubt about from where the Greeks came up with the idea; and in fact, courtesy of, we have:

"The frontal pose, the left foot extended forward, the arms attached or close to the hips, the rigid pose, and the mysterious smile are all characteristics of the Kouros and Kore statues of the Archaic period. The sculpture of the Archaic Greek style is evidently influenced by ancient Egypt as the commerce between the two countries was flourishing."

Perhaps the above mentioned posture is made no more apparent than the following example from ca. 550 BC...

Courtesy of Kouros
Lifesize, circa 550 B.C.
From the island of Melos.

The comparisons may well not be entirely complete, unless an ancient Egyptian example — completely naked, like the case usually was with the Greek examples provided here — is thrown in, so as to match the Greek examples in both total nakedness and general posture:

Although the available resolution of this image is quite low, what appears to be a distinctively Afro-hair style look, is hard to miss.

In the Minoan collection, we bump into this falcon rendition, dating to ca. 1700-1550 BC...

Specifications: Length: 4 cm, height: 2.1 cm, and weight: 45.5 g; excavation ID - GR 1876.11-20.2 (Jewellery 817).

It is heavily tinged with Egyptian theme, so much so that if it weren't for the supposed "head" rendition, even the British Museum commentators would have reckoned it to be a fully-imported Egyptian item. To put it precisely in their own terms, they say:

Although this falcon was found in Crete, it is very Egyptian-looking in style and technique. Falcons were important in Egyptian symbolism: the sun-god Re was represented above all as a falcon, the perfect symbol of power in the sunlit skies of Egypt...

It has also been suggested that the style of the head is not Egyptian, so it could be a Minoan work heavily influenced by Egyptian jewellery. In either case it is evidence of contacts and artistic exchanges between the two areas at the time.


The wings originally had an inlay: faint traces have been identified as diopside, a semi-precious stone. It is possible that the bird was originally part of a larger and more elaborate piece of jewelery, perhaps occupying the corner of an Egyptian pectoral (chest) ornament of roughly rectangular shape. A small, rough hole at the top of the bird's back, and two neat holes through the tip of the talon and the right wing were perhaps for attachment. However, the holes may have been made to adapt the piece, perhaps as a pendant, and this work may have been done in Crete.

R. Higgins, The Aegina Treasure: an archae (London, 1979)

Taking a look at an example, unquestionably Egyptian in origin...

Specifications: Gold pectoral of a hovering falcon From Egypt; dating to about the Late Period, after 600 BC; Width: 14.800 cm.

A fairly decent description of this falcon had been provided by a British Museum commentator; this is how it went:

Inlaid with multi-coloured glass

Pectorals first appear in royal burials of the Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1750 BC), but are known from wall decoration of the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC). They are usually made of precious metal, inlaid with semi-precious stone or coloured glass. Pectorals were often placed on the chest of the mummy. Twenty-six pectorals were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Some were placed on his body, while others were found in one of the Anubis shrines and chests. Many pieces were worn during life as they show signs of wear.

The decoration of pectorals was often associated with kingship, and with the protection of the gods. Symbols for eternity, life and protection are also often included. Falcons with outstretched wings were a popular motif. Their form allowed for elaborate and colourful inlays. The falcon was associated with the sun god, and with the ba. The ba was the element of an individual which is close to what we would call the 'personality'. The ba, represented by a bird, usually with a human head, was believed to stay close to the body.

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

Turning to the Sphinx, perhaps the most famous Nile Valley artistic theme aside the pyramid!...

Photos of the Giza Sphinx, supposedly taken in 1849 and in 1870 by Maxime du Camp and Sebah respectively.

Sphinx photos purportedly taken in 1877, in 1880 by Zangak, and 1885 respectively.

Not sure about the dates attributed to these photos, but what can be said without a doubt, is that they were likely taken sometime in the 19th century. What is worth noting about these photos, is the changing status of the Sphinx, not to mention attention to its immediate surroundings. Take note for example, that in some photos, the Sphinx is only visible from head to shoulders, with the remainder of its body covered by sand, while in later photos, more of its body is exposed.

There has been reckoning elsewhere that the basic idea of the Sphinx may have actually spread from the Nile Valley to the so-called Near East, and then from there — that is, if not directly from the Nile Valley, to Greece, and thereof, to the "far East". Of course, the supposed counter-argument given to this, is the idea that animal-human mythic renditions are naturally reoccurring themes in human societies; some even make a simple case about the mere availability of certain animal types in the region in question, being some sort of a condition that would deter or even insulate a region from importing a theme involving the animal(s) in question. Perhaps an example of this may be seen in the image below, displaying a Nok [lay in what is now part of Nigeria] wood carving, wherein one notices the human head united with the body of some "dog-like" (?) creature; the peculiar body makes it difficult to immediately identify it with the Sphinx, since it doesn't appear to invoke that of a sitting lion in any immediate sense, and yet, its tail appears to be rather peculiarly too long and slender to be immediately identified with a conventional figure of a dog...

Thanks to a poster in a discussion board, the following scans of various renditions of the so-called "Near Eastern" Sphinx, along with some examples that are reminiscent of Egyptian renditions, were made available:

In getting back to that issue about the Nile Valley origin of the Sphinx concept, some reckoning about an independent "Near Eastern" conception of the Sphinx is predicated on the idea that they are contemporaneous, and this supposedly comes from comparing a "life-size" old Kingdom Sphinx — as opposed to the Giza example — with the earliest example supposedly from "Mesopotamia". These advocates date the said Old Kingdom Sphinx earlier than the Giza example; the premise for this is rather flimsy — based on the rigidly-held, if not more a romanticized one, idea in some circles that Khufu must have built the Giza Sphinx. Recent findings by geological experts have put these perceptions of the Giza Sphinx into question. The findings that have been arrived, make it difficult to reconcile the building of the Giza structure with its supposed undertaking some time in the Fourth Dynasty era; dates attained from the geological examination of the structure, at the least go back to the pre-dynastic era. Several of such dating have taken the age of Giza Sphinx back to as far as the turn of the early Holocene, and some consider these to be still "conservative" estimates, while others play it even "safer", by placing to dates that are nearer to the foundation of Dynastic Egypt, but still predating it, mainly out of fear of being typecast as "ridiculous". While these fairly early dates have been attained from examining the overall structure of the Giza Sphinx, many of the experts who attained those dates, all agree that some renovation work on the Giza Sphinx structure had clearly taken place as well; this is where the reworking of the structure at certain points in the Dynastic period, with one of the earliest examples having likely been undertaken some time in the Fourth Dynasty, is not ruled out. Based on these findings, the logical conclusion to be reached, is that the Giza Sphinx represents the earliest example of Sphinx found anywhere, and hence, serves as the definitive Sphinx. Indeed, at least one French author/researcher had been cited acknowledging the concept of Sphinx originating in, or at the very least, first appearing in the Nile Valley before it makes its appearance anywhere else, including the so-called "Mesopotamia".

This carving of the Sphinx of Hetepheres II, daughter of Khufu, dating back to the Fourth Dynasty, is what some refer to as possibly the oldest example of Egyptian Sphinx, even though these same folks would also generally acknowledge that the supposed work on the Giza Sphinx also dates to this period. Now of course, the caveat that comes along with the aforementioned geological examinations that date the Giza Sphinx structure to the pre-dynastic era, is that given the associated researchers generally agree that the Sphinx face as we know it — would have been a major area of reworking upon the orders of the pharaoh [Khufu], so as to have the Sphinx face carved in his image, it is fairly likely that the original face of the Sphinx with which it would have initially been carved is lost to us. After all, the wisdom here, is that Khufu's face would have been different from the original facial rendition of the Giza Sphinx. Even so, one is rarely directed to the specific "Mesopotamian" Sphinx(s) that is supposed to be contemporaneous with the Fourth Dynasty examples.

The mere prospect of lions having been available in the so-called "Mesopotamia" in no way insulates that region from having imported the concept of Sphinx from the Nile Valley, any more than it has insulated the "far East" from having initially imported the concept from Classical Greece, and possibly the so-called "Mesopotamia". On the backdrop of what has been noted above, no "Mesopotamian" Sphinx rendition dates either as early as or earlier than the Giza Sphinx. Initially importing the concept does not preclude its "localized" evolution thereof, as seems to have been the case in say, the "far East". For instance, on a discussion board, one person noted the routine "sitting" posture of ancient Egyptian Sphinxes, while many "Mesopotamian" examples, though by no means an exclusive thing, are shown "standing" all on fours; another person noted the obvious "winged" element of many "Mesopotamian" examples — that the "winged" Sphinx actually proceeds the non-winged example in "Mesopotamia", as a further evolution of the concept therein and hence, are generally figured in later art than the non-winged examples, would have been duly taken into consideration before any presentation of such an element as a supposed counter-argument against concept of Sphinx as initially a cultural import in the so-called "Near East". Pictorial examples of these winged-Sphinxes will follow shortly. Hence, if the mere presence of lions in the so-called "Mesopotamia" had inspired "Mesopotamian" locals of the concept of Sphinx, it certainly doesn't seem to have occurred until well after the idea had originated in the Nile Valley desert.

Wikipedia is a source, as noted here before, that warrants referencing with a critical-eye, and as such, when an unnamed Wiki-author says the following about the Sphinx, the claim is immediately followed up with either cross-referencing it with or at the least, tracing it back to its purported "primary" named sources/authors, which are noted below...

In contrast to the sphinx in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, where the traditions largely have been lost due to the discontinuity of the civilization,[6] the traditions of the "Asian sphinx" are very much alive today.

— Where "[6]" is supposedly referenced from: Demisch, Heinz (1977). Die Sphinx. Geschichte ihrer Darstellung von den Anfangen bis zur Gegenwart.

The above is followed up with this:

The earliest artistic depictions of "sphinxes" from the South Asian subcontinent are to some extent influenced by Hellenistic art and writings. These hail from the period when Buddhist art underwent a phase of Hellenistic influence. But the "sphinxes" from Mathura, Kausambi, and Sanchi, dated to the third century BC until the first century AD, also show a considerable non-Hellenist, indigenous character. It is not possible, therefore, to conclude the concept of the "sphinx" originated through foreign influence.[7].

— Where "[7]" was supposed to have been referenced from the website titled '', authored by Raja Deekshithar; that website for its part, put it this way:

The earliest textual reference to the sphinx of India is found in the Yajur Veda. The earliest known depictions in stone of sphinxes are found in central and north-west India and date to the 1st century BCE till the 2nd century CE. They are found among the decorations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines. And they show distinct Hellenistic influences especially in that they often have wings of the type typical of Greek sphinxes.

The earliest dated example of a sphinx in southern India is found among the sculpture in Mamallapuram. In the 6th and 7th century kings of the Pallava dynasty experimented in the vicinity of this ancient port with various architectural and sculptural forms. The domination of the Pallavas was eclipsed in the 9th century by the Chola kings, whose centre of power lay in the delta of the Kaveri river. The Cholas dominated southern India for over four centuries and made generous contributions towards the temples and towards the arts, generating some of the greatest treasures of human civilization. It was in the temples constructed and supported by them that we find many of the early sphinx sculptures. In this period the main characteristics of the purushamriga are lion bodies, with mane, and only a human face, with elongated ears. A few are depicted crouching, and in pairs. Most are striding or jumping. During this period we also see occasionally purushamriga that have the lower body of a lion, with the upper body of a human being, and are shown half up-right. Often they are engaged in the worship of the Shiva Linga with a lamp and a bell. Many of the depictions are narrative panels relating the story of the chase of Bhima by the purushamriga from the Mahabharata. In other parts of India we also find sphinxes depicted in the various local artistic idioms. In the temples of Orissa, for instance in Konarak, Banpur and Garudipancana, besides the half upright lion-human sphinxes, we find the sphinx also as an upright being with a human body, lion’s claws for legs, feet and hands, and human head with fangs. Here they are called Nara-virala... The crouching sphinx with mane and elongated ears. This possibly belongs to the earliest depictions in the specifically Indian artistic idiom. Striding and jumping sphinxes with only human faces also belong largely to early phases. The half upright lion-human figures generally seem to belong to somewhat later to much later phases of development. The fully upright life-size purushamriga represent the final phase of the artistic development of the sphinx in Indian art.

The author concludes with this...

After the early stages of art in north and central India, there is no further evidence for Hellenistic influence. It is therefore possible to conclude this influence was temporary and only relevant with respect to the style of depiction, and did not pertain to or reflect on the concept of the sphinx as such.

And elsewhere the same author says this:

The earliest textual reference to the purushamriga is found in the Yajur Veda in connection with the ashvamedha, the horse-sacrifice. The earliest datable sculptural representations of sphinxes in India are found among the archaeological remains of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines dating to the first century BCE to the first and second century CE. These belong for the most part to the period of the Kushana dynasty and follow the style of Gandhara art. Examples have been found in Mathura, Bodhgaya, Bharhut, Gandhara, Sanchi, Orissa and other places. Various composite Mythologyological creatures, among them sphinxes, adorn the capitals of pillars, reliefs and freezes. Although the earliest sculptural depictions of sphinxes in the South Asian subcontinent are clearly influenced by Hellenistic inspired early Buddhist art, this does not in my view establish or confirm that the concept of the sphinx was introduced to South Asia through Greek influence. The best argument is that the Buddha himself was first depicted under Hellenistic influence by artists of the Kushana kingdom in the period of Gandhara art . This does not by any means make Gautama the Buddha a Greek prince and saint. According to the doctrinal and oral traditions of south India, the purushamriga is first mentioned in the Yajur Veda, which is dated to a period long before the time of the Greek influence on Indian art. And its ritual role continues till today, in the lamp ceremonies and processions of south Indian temples.

And this...

"The next datable illustration of a sphinx in Indian art is found among the monuments of Mamalapuram, an ancient sea-port some 50 kilometers south of the capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai (formerly Madras)... The excavation of this cave shrine is dated to the early to middle 7th century. Mamalapuram was one of the centers for the trade between India and the Roman Empire. And Greco-Roman artistic influence cannot be excluded."

Now of course, the key words here are "the earliest" examples show foreign influence, while the progressive or later examples seem to show less and lesser foreign influence. This goes back to the aforementioned point about initial cultural diffusion not precluding eventual localization of an imported concept, and hence, the turning of an initially imported concept into an original local design(s). As noted by the author, not unlike the case of Buddha, the mythic personality of the Purushamriga, for instance, may well itself predate Hellenistic themes in Indian art, but who is to say that the preexisting physical manifestation of this mythic figure did not 'transform' into that of the Sphinx concept, as a result of foreign cultural infusion; to be certain, primary texts ought to clue us in on the prospect of exactly when the Purushamriga took on the form of a Sphinx. Even so, it is highly doubtful that this would be contemporaneous or older than the appearance of the concept in the Nile Valley.

The author tells us that "Purushamriga" means just this:

"The sphinx of India is known as purushamriga, which means human-beast in Sanskrit. Depictions in various styles from different historical periods are found all over the South Asian subcontinent."

And the standard definition of the Sphinx is this...

"According to the dictionary, a sphinx is a composite mythological being with the body of a lion and a human head."

"human-beast" says nothing of the standard definition of the Sphinx, as exemplified by the Giza Sphinx. That aside, the author of course correctly assigns terms for the Sphinx concept according to Egypt, ancient Greece, and India respectively; namely, Sheshep-Ankh [Egyptian terminology], Sphinx [Greek terminology] and Purushamriga [Indian terminology].

The following excerpts from the author in question are particularly interesting:

The author questions..."Could it be concluded from the visual and textual evidence I have gathered through my research and presented in this website, that this mythological composite being called purushamriga is identical with or possibly related to the sphinx known from other parts of the ancient world?"

And sure enough, the author answers..."The description is fitting, and so is the definition. Also the functions are almost similar."

And thereof, the answers to the following questions put forth by the author himself, are answered along the way by himself in many cases...

Questionnaire put forth: "And in case we could prove or establish a relationship, would it have its source in synchronicity, be rooted in an archetypal origin, or would it be one of derivation? And if the sphinx was a cultural derivation, we would have to answer the question whether it was derived from one part of the ancient world to the other, or from a common source."

Connection #1, as acknowledged by the author:

Basic form of a lion body with a human head.

Connection #2,

Other remarkable parallels with the depiction of sphinxes in the ancient art of West Asia and the Mediterranean area are the pairing of male-female purushamriga

Connection #3,

The placement near temple entrances, their depiction on thrones, as vehicles of deities, and trampling on a warrior.

Connection #4,

Recognized artistic and stylistic influence from Hellenistic sources. This was probably short-lived, in the north-western and central Gangetic plain from the 1st century till the 2nd century BCE. Sometimes the sphinx is here depicted with wings. Although this influence doesn’t seem to have existed beyond this time and area it does show possibly a certain exchange did take place.

Connection #5,

There are many similarities in the functions of the purushamriga in India and the sphinx of the ancient world. The latter is described as a being of secret and sacred knowledge. In India the purushamriga is said to be a great yogi and depicted as a rishi or seer.

Connection #6,

Both the sphinx and the purushamriga guard the entrances of temples and ward off evil.

Connection #7,

Both are portrayed as worshipping and as announcing the epiphany of the deity. Both are also sometimes functioning as the vehicle of deities.

Connection #8, even though the author presents this as a case, wherein the Indian perception is purportedly deviant from the others mentioned, it nonetheless serves to show parallelism between the other cultures mentioned,...

But although the civilizations of Egypt, West Asia and the Mediterranean see the sphinx as primarily a solar symbol, in the Yajur Veda it is stated to be dedicated to the Moon.

Given these connections laid out above between cultures with the Sphinx concept, let us now confront the concluding questions put forth by the author:

Question: Are the purushamriga in Indian sculpture and ritual associated to the sphinxes of other parts of the ancient world?

Answer: Given the number of commonalities or parallels above, it is rather hard to miss the associations between the said Sphinxes around the world; the number of connections are indeed considerable enough to simply dismiss the phenomenon as mere convergence of independent ideas on different parts of the planet.

Question: Are they derived through artistic or mythological influence?And if so, was the derivation from West to East, or from East to West?

Answer: The aforementioned connections argue for both; mythological influence and artistic influence. Given that the earliest attested Sphinx is found in the Nile Valley, and from what we've just read from the author himself, it is evident that the flow of the basic concept of Sphinx was one of West to East direction, with the Nile Valley Sahara being the likely ultimate origin of the concept.

Question: Or is the sphinx a mythological concept that originates from human civilization beyond our historical horizon? From an as yet un-identified common cultural source? Or do they derive from the archetypal and mythological sub-conscious of ancient peoples?

Answer: As just noted, the connections mentioned are numerous enough to simply dismiss them as mere coincidence. If the basic concept of the Sphinx had independently occurred in different regions of the world, it certainly had not occurred by way tangible evidence, in other parts of the world either prior to or as early as the Nile Valley concept. Given the abundance of well-preserved material in the so-called "Mesopotamia" for instance, when compared to situation in the Nile Valley, it is hard to reconcile that its inhabitants had known about the Sphinx concept all along, at the same time it emerged in the Nile Valley, and yet did not have the instinct to artistically express them. The above mentioned "connections" do seem to hint on a common cultural source; the pointers thus far examined, ultimately place this common cultural source in northeastern Sahara. An ultimate common cultural source to reiterate, does not preclude synchronization of the imported basic-concept with local traditions. Hence, the idea that the said Sphinxes around the world share a common cultural source is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the prospect of synchronization of an initially-imported basic concept with either preexisting and/or newly developed local mythology.

From the referenced website, the following photo collection of the Indian Sphinx are provided:

The first image dates back the era when the earliest artistic examples of Sphinx makes its appearance in the India subcontinent from ca. 100 BC - 200 CE, and the second image, is an example that dates back to the Pallavas Dynasty [ca. 400 CE to 900 CE]

Another example of a "winged" Sphinx, likely amongst of the early examples, and a relief sporting some Sphinx figures at the top of the building.

Relatively later renditions, compared to the examples presented above. Also, more localized artistic themes are apparent here.

Sitting examples of Sphinx, reminiscent of the seemingly most favored posture by ancient Egyptian artists.

Getting to the pictorial examples of so-called "Mesopotamian" Sphinx renditions noted above, with these ones mainly dating to the Neo-Assyrian period...

Specifications: Phoenician style ivory carving dating to ca. Neo-Assyrian period, uncovered at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu).

Apparent Egyptian themes in the rendition above include: Egyptian-style eye lining, conventional royal headdress, triple atef crown, and neck gear. To the right forelimb, next to the Egyptian-style apron, is a hanging uraeus or cobra, displaying a frontal profile and with a sun-disc on its head.

More Neo-Assyrian era examples of 'winged' Sphinxes, reminiscent of the example provided above; specifications for the first Sphinx rendition: Ivory; Phoenician style, dating to ca. 9th-8th century BC, and found at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq.

Specifications for the second Sphinx rendition: Height: 6.9 cm, width: 7.75 cm and thickness: 1 cm; Ivory; Phoenician style, dating to ca. 9th-8th century BC, and found at Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq; excavation ID - ME 134322.

In the first rendition, we come across the recurring theme of the royal headdress with a uraeus attached to its front, and topped off by a double crown this time around; the Egyptian-style neck gear is also visible, along with the hanging Egyptian-style apron-like attire, not to mention the Egyptian-style eye lining on the Sphinx's face. In the second rendition, again one notices the Egyptian style eye lining on the face, the hanging apron-like attire, the headdress, and what appears to be a small-sized double crown on top of it. Could easily be missed, if not carefully observed, is a uraeus or cobra [visible near the right forelimb] possibly hanging from neck-gear. Note the reappearance of ram-horn looking leaf extensions [in some cases, topped off by 'petal-like' figures] emanating from trunks or plant shafts rooted in the ground [seen in all three Sphinx renditions above].

Specifications for the seated Sphinx: Horse blinker with sphinx, 8th–7th century B.C. Neo-Assyrian; Ivory; height - 4.13 in. (10.49 cm), uncovered in Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu); Rogers Fund, 1954 (54.117.1)

On the fish-shaped platform above, the obvious Egyptian themes are, the conventional royal headdress, topped off by a sun-disc head gear, which itself sports a uraeus featuring a miniature sun-disc on its head. Hanging from the chest area of the Sphinx, is another uraeus, also featuring a miniature sun-disc on its head, but this time, with wings attached to the neck-area of the cobra featured. On the tail-end of the fish-shaped platform, is an Egyptian themed shaft [of a lotus plant?], furnished with a cartouche decorated with hieroglyphs.

More Decorated Bronze Bowls...

Specifications: Diameter: 18 cm and height: 2 cm; Bronze bowl with Egyptian motifs, Phoenician style, dating to about 8th century BC, and Found at Nimrud, northern Iraq; excavation ID - ME N59.

The bronze bowl, like the one posted at the top of this post, but apparently better preserved, is notable for recurring Egyptian themes; namely, what appears to be a Sun-like structure in the center and encircled by winged Sphinxes wearing royal Egyptian headdresses and head gear flanked by kneeling human figures, also wearing Egyptianized-headdresses and attire, holding shafts in either hands. According to the British Museum's site, 'similar bowls have been found at various places in the Mediterranean, including the Greek mainland, Crete and in Etruscan tombs'.

Specifications: Diameter: 21.700 cm and height: 2.850 cm; Phoenician style, 8th century BC Found at Nimrud, in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II - northern Iraq; excavation ID - ME N9.

The bronze bowl above sports a decorated center encircled by images of "winged" Sphinx pairs on all fours facing one another, each wearing the famous Egyptian double crown on top of what appears to be a falcon-head gear or simply, falcon head, and each putting their right forelimb on some not-so-identifiable figures [due to inadequate resolution of the image], with some sort of a plant figure in between them. The Sphinx pairs are alternately flanked by a slender plant-like structure, which in turn is flanked by yet another but broader trunk plant-like figure, topped of by the well known Egyptian-style scarab/beetle caricature.

Specifications: Ivory; diameter: 18 cm and height: 2 cm; Phoenician style, dates to about 8th century BC, and found at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq; excavation ID - ME N25.

On this bronze bowl, the central figure of the Egyptian-style scarab/beetle immediately jumps at one; it is encircled by alternating representations of fully-seated [in a manner reminiscent of most renditions of Egyptian Sphinxes] "winged" Sphinxes facing one another, each sporting human heads wearing the conventional Egyptian royal headdress, with plant-like structures in between them, one of which seems to be topped off by a hovering "winged" uraeus or cobra; the Sphinxes are flanked by a cluster of plants, followed by what appears to be antelopes or deer-like creatures facing one another, while flanking what appears to be a "winged" cobra hovering over a plant on the one hand, a cluster of plants in between, and a beetle (?) over a plant on the other. More of elements of these figures re-appear nearer to the circumference of the bowl, in alternating fashions once again. Again, according to the notes of the British Museum, similar bowls have been uncovered in mainland ancient Greek, Cretan, Etruscan tombs, and regions around the Mediterranean sea.

The Sphinx tradition was no less featured the Sinai peninsula of Egypt, which is worth noting, as this is a well-known corridor for bidirectional migration and exchange of culture...

Specifications: From Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai, Egypt; dating to the Middle Kingdom, around 1800 BC; excavation ID - EA 41748.

A notable feature of this particular Sinaitic Sphinx, clearly adhering unwaveringly to conventional Egyptian themes, is inscriptions on it, both in standard hieroglyphics and "proto-Sinaitic". It must be remembered that the term "proto-Sinaitic" itself may be a tad misleading, in light of such inscriptions having been recently found deep in the Nile Valley—a far as Abydos in particular. At any rate, courtesy of the British Museum, we are told...

Inscribed in both hieroglyphic and proto-Sinaitic scripts

This sphinx was found by Flinders Petrie in the temple in the mining settlement at Serabit el-Khadim. The semi-precious stone turquoise was extracted here from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1750) onwards. Hathor, the goddess associated with turquoise, is named in the hieroglyphic inscription on the right shoulder of the sphinx. The proto-Sinaitic inscription includes a name composed of a similar shape; the name is of a goddess similar to Hathor. This suggests that the inscriptions are bilingual, giving the same information in both languages, as on the Rosetta Stone.

That said, judging from the following claim and from the fact that is even acknowledged right therein that the so-called "proto-Sinaitic" signs derived from hieroglyphics, apparently, some one forgot to tell the British Museum commentator who wrote the piece, about recent "proto-Sinaitic" findings in Abydos, that predates any such inscription found anywhere...

Proto-Sinaitic script has been found on a small number of objects and in inscriptions in the Sinai, Palestine and the deserts around Egypt. It consists of at least twenty-three signs, half of which seem to be **derived from hieroglyphs**. The appearance of the script in the later Middle Kingdom coincides with Egyptian trading interests in Palestine and it is likely that the script originated in Palestine or Syria to write a West Semitic language. It is not certain whether it has yet been fully or correctly deciphered, although pioneering work was carried out by the scholars Alan H. Gardiner and W.F. Albright and has been continued by Benjamin Sass.

The British Museum authors need to get with the program; that is the least one would expect from a Museum!

Greek examples of the Sphinx...

Left: A rendition of Oedipus and the Sphinx, and Right, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Sphinx-shaped finial of a marble grave stele (total height: 423.4 cm) of a youth and a little girl, Attica, ca. 530 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Inv. 11.185.

In a passing, while examining the bronze bowls uncovered at Nimrud, we came across the scarab; well, here is another artistic rendition of the scarab in the so-called "Mesopotamian" art, obviously inspired by Egyptian artistic conventions...

Specifications: Stamp scarab seal with winged figures, 6th–5th century B.C; found in the Levant or Syria; Ivory in green jasper; height - 3/8 in. (1.02 cm); found by W. Gedney Beatty, 1941 (41.160.162)

This seal apparently has two pieces; the scarab-engraved and shaped piece fits into the pit engraved into the piece on the right hand side. If there is any doubt about the source of inspiration of the scarab, well, the themes on the piece on the right hand side of the image, quickly removes such doubt; on that piece, one notices two "winged" female figures facing one another, wearing head gears sporting the sun-disc. The two females flank what appears to be a rendition of Ausar [see in between the wings of the female figures], wearing a distinctive solar-disc integrated crown [likely a double atef crown], and on the very top, is a hovering "winged" sun-disc.

Notes on the piece, courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Arts:

Around the beginning of the first millennium B.C., Phoenician seal engravers adopted the use of the scarab, an Egyptian symbol of regeneration. In typical Phoenician fashion, the seals were decorated with Egyptian motifs that are juxtaposed out of context, sometimes with non-Egyptian animal subjects. Popular subjects included the birth of Horus and scenes of his mother Isis nursing him as an infant. Winged protective deities and genies were also favorite themes. Iconographically, the seals of the eighth to seventh centuries B.C. have a close dependence on Phoenician carved bowls and ivories. Phoenician scarab seals reached a peak of popularity in the fifth to fourth centuries B.C., when they spread throughout the Mediterranean. The city of Tharros on Sardinia was a major center of production and distribution. By this time, the seals were carved with not only Egyptian themes but also Etruscan and western Greek imagery.

What next? Ah, the pyramid!...

Well, pyramids are generally-speaking, more widespread than any of the concepts mentioned herein so far, and the cultural-traditions and techniques behind building them, generally differ markedly in their themes. That being said, it is not exactly a secret that the ancient Roman examples [notably, the Pyramid of Cestius ~ ca. 12 BC] were generally inspired by the Nile Valley examples, and much more recently, i.e. in contemporary times, the Germans were inspired by the Giza example, to build a large modern tomb in the shape of a pyramid. Referenced works that probably aid in furthering our understanding of these inspirations, include: Lawrence J. F Keppie, Understanding Roman Inscriptions, pp. 104-105. Routledge, 1991; Jean-Marcel Humbert, Clifford A. Price, Imhotep Today: Egyptianizing Architecture, p. 27. Routledge Cavendish, 2003; and James Stevens Curl, The Egyptian Revival: Ancient Egypt as the Inspiration for Design Motifs in the West, pp. 39-40. Routledge, 2005. The Roman examples actually more emulated the Meroitic-style pyramids than they did the larger Giza examples; after all, the Romans had presided over attack against Meroe a few centuries earlier, prior to the reign of Cestius [~ca. 23 BC].

Cestius' Pyramid

This will be it for now, but this post will be the subject of ongoing revision and/or updating, as is the case with virtually all other postings here, as more information on Nile Valley influences on non-Nile Valley art come to attention. So, stay in touch!
*Appreciation to Museums of the British Museum, the Chicago Oriental Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and not to leave out the photo collection of Raja Deekshithar.