“Falcon Shrine” discovery contains previously unknown ancient rituals

Archaeologists from the Sikait Project, directed by Professor Joan Oller Guzmán from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), have uncovered a shrine containing previously unknown ancient rituals during excavations at Berenike, a Greco-Roman seaport in the Egyptian Eastern desert.

Berenike, also known as Berenice Troglodytica, was founded by Ptolomy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC, who named it after his mother, Berenice I of Egypt. The port city served as a trading centre with the East Coast of Africa, India, and Arabia, mainly for the transportation of war Elephants.

- Advertisement -

The results of their study, published in the American Journal of Archaeology, describes the excavation of a religious complex, that reveals new discoveries linked to the presence of the Blemmyes.

The Blemmyes were a nomadic Eastern Desert people, first appearing in written sources from the 7th century BC until the 8th century AD. The Greek term first appears in the third century BC in one of the poems of Theocritus and in Eratosthenes. Eratosthenes described the Blemmyes as living with the Megabaroi in the land between the Nile and the Red Sea north of Meroë.

The religious complex, named the “Falcon Shrine” by the researchers, corresponds to the Late Roman Period from the 4th to 6th centuries AD. During this period, the city was partially occupied and controlled by the Blemmyes, indicated by the discovery of inscriptions on a stele in a small traditional Egyptian temple, which after the 4th century AD was adapted by the Blemmyes to their own belief system.

“The material findings are particularly remarkable and include offerings such as harpoons, cube-shaped statues, and a stele with indications related to religious activities”, said UAB researcher Joan Oller.

- Advertisement -

The team also found an arrangement of up to 15 falcons buried within the temple, which for the first time were accompanied by eggs, suggesting a new previously unknown ancient ritual when compared to falcon burials in the Nile Valley.

The stele contains an inscription which reads: “It is improper to boil a head in here”, which far from being a dedication or sign of gratitude as normally corresponds to an inscription, is a message forbidding all those who enter from boiling the heads of the animals inside the temple, considered to be a profane activity.

According to Joan Oller, “all of these elements point to intense ritual activities combining Egyptian traditions with contributions from the Blemmyes, sustained by a theological base possibly related to the worshipping of the god Khonsu (the ancient Egyptian god of the Moon)”.

Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)

Header Image Credit : K. Braulińska; drawing by O.E. Kaper


- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Archaeologists reveal hundreds of ancient monuments using LiDAR

A new study published in the journal Antiquity has revealed hundreds of previously unrecorded monuments at Baltinglass in County Wicklow, Ireland.

Archaeologists use revolutionary GPR robot to explore Viking Age site

Archaeologist from NIKU are using a revolutionary new GPR robot to explore a Viking Age site in Norway’s Sandefjord municipality.

Highway construction delayed following Bronze Age discoveries

Excavations in preparation for the S1 Expressway have delayed road construction following the discovery of two Bronze Age settlements.

Archaeologists uncover possible phallus carving at Roman Vindolanda

Excavations at the Roman fort of Vindolanda have uncovered a possible phallus carving near Hadrian’s Wall.

Carbonised Herculaneum papyrus reveals burial place of Plato

An analysis of carbonised papyrus from the Roman town of Herculaneum has revealed the burial place of Plato.

Sealed 18th century glass bottles discovered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

As part of a $40 million Mansion Revitalisation Project, archaeologists have discovered two sealed 18th century glass bottles at George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Study suggests human occupation in Patagonia prior to the Younger Dryas period

Archaeologists have conducted a study of lithic material from the Pilauco and Los Notros sites in north-western Patagonia, revealing evidence of human occupation in the region prior to the Younger Dryas period.

Fort excavation uncovers Roman sculpture

Archaeologists excavating Stuttgart’s Roman fort have uncovered a statue depicting a Roman god.