Maria Nilsson, Lund University

Symbolae sacrae – symbolic formulae for protection and adoration within the sandstone quarries of Gebel el Silsila

Within the grand sandstone quarries of Gebel el Silsila is a vast amount of unique symbolic representations; stylized iconographic and pseudo-scripted signs and marks that to some extent signify deities and their protection against demons, evil and mishaps. Like written protective formulae, these marks were placed within the quarries to symbolically safe-keep the quarry workers, and for expressing gratefulness once the work had been completed. For such reason a single quarry face/wall could be incised with more than 300 marks with no apparent order of distribution; some carved immediately adjacent adoration texts or dedications. In total, thus far, some 5000 quarry marks have been documented and analysed by the current archaeological concession (Lund University).

This paper aims to present a selection of quarry marks that can be associated with the metaphorical world of the ancients (chiefly early Roman) with focus on assigned protective deities (eg. Bes, Min, Horus, Amun, but especially the local Agathodaimon Pachimesen); the ever assimilating daemon Shaï; apotropaic figures (anguipedes, akephaloi, Harpocrates, Tutu); and marks used for protection, adoration, respect and gratefulness. It is an attempt to broaden the perspective of traditionally accepted ancient apotropaia, and incorporate superstitious representations communicated by a group of hard working men within the quarries of Gebel el Silsila. The material presented is based on preliminary conclusions.

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