It’s a real mystery as baffling as the polar bears seen on a tropical island on the television show Lost. A 3,000-year-old tomb was found in Egypt with walls covered with paintings of baboons worshiping an Egyptian god. Baboons in Egypt? Was Amenhotep III part of the DHARMA Initiative?
During the cleaning of the eastern part of the front yard of the tomb of Userhat, a big carved hole in the northern wall was found. After crawling through the hole, it was found that it leads to the southern wall of the hall of the newly discovered tomb of Khonso.
As Egyptologist Jiro Konto of Japan’s Waseda University explained to the Luxor Times this week, the recent discovery was a hole-in-the-wall surprise in an existing tomb in present day Luxor. Userhat and Khonso were both Royal Scribes in the royal court of Amenhotep III (also referred to as Amenhotep the Great), grandfather of Tutankhamen. There may have even been a rivalry because the walls of his tomb refer to Khonso as a “true renowned scribe.”
The tomb is well-preserved with paintings on the ceiling and the walls. Images on the walls show Khonsu and his wife worshiping Osiris, god of the afterlife, and Isis, goddess of health (Khonsu smartly covered both bases). Osiris and Isis appear again on another wall, but Konto says the most interesting painting shows a different Egyptian god in an unusual setting.
On the north wall of the entrance doorway, we found a scene showing the solar boat of the god Ra-Atum being worshipped by four baboons showing the pose of adoration.
Baboons have appeared in images and as statues in other Egyptian tombs. The Old World apes are not a native species and are believed to have been brought to ancient Egypt as pets. Their similarities to humans – especially their intelligence - caused some Egyptians to believe they were their deceased ancestors, leading to them eventually getting their own god – Babi or Baba, the “bull of the baboons.”
This could explain the baboons on the walls of Khonso’s tomb. The creatures are symbols of the dead, but they’re also intelligent, which led them to become symbols of wisdom and science as well and eventually to be considered the muses of those who wrote about those subjects – the scribes. The baboons were obviously smart enough to worship and assist Ra-Atum, the sun god who rode across the sky in his solar boat as a symbol of life (real baboons exhibit behavior that makes them appear to revere the sun). Sticking with Ra protected the dead in the underworld and gave them hope of rebirth when the solar boat showed up again at dawn.
Konto says the prominent display of baboons in this tomb showed that royal scribe Khonsu understood their importance both in life and in death. The Egyptologist hopes that this new find will lead to the discovery of more hidden tombs in Luxor.
On Lost, Charlie told Locke that polar bears “are like the Einsteins of the bear community.” It appears ancient Egyptians may have felt the same way about their own out-of-place animal - the baboon.