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Seth, one of Egypts earliest gods, has always been a conundrum; originally benign, he came to represent chaos and

war. What has always been uncertain is the exact nature of the Seth animal. Ken Moss suggests a likely candidate.

The Seth-Animal: A a Dog and its Master

s depicted in ancient Egyptian paintings, reliefs and sculpture, the head of the god Seth is taken from the shape-shifting Seth-animal. More than twenty animals have been suggested as having been the inspiration for the Seth-animal, including the ass, oryx, aardvark, giraffe, pig and an extinct dog. Others have suggested a composite animal, a mix of real or imaginary beasts. Many Egyptologists agree that the Seth-animal was never a real creature. Even the form and meaning of Seths hieroglyphic determinative changed. At first a dog-like form (see below), utilised in words denoting aggression and storms, it later became a seated figure with the characteristic features of Seth and signified illness.

Top: an image of Seth from an Eighteenth Dynasty relief in the Open Air Museum at Karnak. Photo: RP. Above: the changing hieroglyphs of Seth over time, from proud dog to stick-figure, to seated hook-nosed god, to a dead ass. Images: courtesy Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden.

Most gods retained their faunal characteristics throughout history (like the Horus falcon and Thoth ibis and even true composite animals like Ammit, the Devourer), but Seth and the Seth-animals appearance changed more than once. From the earliest times to the Middle Kingdom there are no representations of Seth in his god form, and the older the depiction, the more obvious the dog-like appearance of the head. The pronounced sharply-curved beak-like nose was a late artifact, but it was this particular shape that became the accepted form of Seth. The basic reason why there has always been such confusion about the Seth-animal is simply because all versions of the beast have been conflated, with little regard for the age of the representations. To find an origin, one must look to the time of origin. Generally, the earliest Seth-animal is claimed to appear on ivory labels or combs of the Naqada Period, but these figures are usually missing some of the classic features. Until recently, the true Seth-animals first certain attestation is from standards on the famous King Scorpion macehead. This ceremonial macehead, c. 3100 BC, features a king wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt. At the least, this is unequivocal evidence that followers of Seth supported a royal clan at this early time. A drawing of these tiny figures shows two dog-like animals with erect feathered tail, erect square-tipped


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Above: representations of the Seth-animal from the macehead of King Scorpion. Image: courtesy Dr. Angela McDonald.

ears, and a snout with the same kind of stripes as the ears (see above). An even older Seth-animal was found in 1995, about forty kilometres northwest of Luxor at Gebel Tjauti (see below). It is a rock carving, c. 3180 BC, which is part of a memorial tableau to King Scorpion that appears to record the conquest of the Naqada region.

As for the tail, it too changed over time. From an erect, smooth, or fur-tipped tail it become portrayed as a forked rod and finally an actual feathered arrow. It has been suggested that the Egyptians used the erect tail motif for the aggressive god Seth because it is a sure sign of aggressive behaviour in certain animals such as giraffes and dogs. However, it is the square-tipped ears that have always been the key identifier of the Seth-animal as well as the major stumbling block in identifying the animal it was based upon. No animal has ever had ears that naturally ended in squared tips, but it was precisely this characteristic that led to my fortuitous discovery of the real Seth-animal. While researching the god Seth, I happened upon a National Geographic program called The Hunting Hounds of Arabia, and there on the screen was a living Seth-animal. It was a streamlined dog with erect feathered tail and erect square-tipped ears running in the desert scrub after a desperate rabbit. The answer to the square-tipped ears was explained by the narrator. The dogs ears were cropped, that is the tips of the ears had been cut off by their owners. This is a long-standing tradition, still carried out in Syria and elsewhere, that is done in the belief it helps the dogs avoid being snagged on branches while pursuing their game. The breed is the magnificent Saluki, the quintessential Arabian hound of the Bedouin and others. Focusing now on the Seth-animal, I was delighted to discover that my old friend (in spirit) E.A. Wallis Budge

Above: an early representation of the Seth animal, from a rock carving at Gebel Tjauti. Image: courtesy of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

In addition to the Seth-animal, there are many realistic animals on the rock inscription, and even a depiction of a ruler with a falcon above his head, possibly the first use of the Horus title. As for the Seth-animal, the discoverers tell of a protodynastic depiction of the strange animal of the god Seth, the earliest certain depiction of this beast from the vicinity of Seths cult center at Ombos. The carving clearly depicts a sleek type of dog with erect tail and the distinctive square-tipped ears of the Seth-animal. The snout mimics the ears shape as well and this may relate to the macehead depictions where the ears and snout had something in common, which the artists tried to replicate. Perhaps the living animal had a squarish muzzle, or the snouts fur pattern was similar to its ears. Note also how this portrayal of the head shares similarities with the early stick-figure style of the Seth hieroglyph. These oldest representations of the Seth-animal are clearly of a dog, but with two unique features: an erect tail and erect squared-off ears. The body of the Sethanimal has in fact always been that of a canine, with paws, and even the head was dog-like in the beginning. It was only over time that the head became exaggerated with a long, narrow, down-turned snout. This change accounted for the guesses of aardvark, tapir etc. as possible candidates for the Seth-animal and caused some of the confusion surrounding the Seth-animals identity.

Above: a Middle Kingdom representation of the God Seth, from the thronebase of a statue of King Senusret I, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Photo: RP.

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Above: Salukis in the snow. Note the erect tail of the dog on the right, and also the slightly arched nose. Photo: Petri Nokelainen, Finland. Below right: a Saluki at full speed, showing clearly the ears and the tail.

pre-empted my discovery by some seventy years. In his very last book, he not only concluded that a dog was the basis of the Seth-animal, he even guessed correctly that it was the fleet and aggressive Saluki hunting dog. In 1934 Budge wrote that although this dog does not keep his ears pointed or his tail erect when he is lying down, no one who has ever lived in tents with Arabs who keep Salukis, and seen him frequently, can fail to identify the Seth animal with the Saluki. Dogs are often touted as being the first domesticated animal and some even claim the Saluki itself is the oldest domestic dog. The body can be either smooth like a Greyhounds or with feathered tails, ears, and legs. The dogs of the feathered variety are the ones most likely to have their ears cropped. The photos on this page show Saluki and the reader is encouraged to visit Saluki websites to see them running and hunting. Note especially the arched snout in the photograph above and the triangular shaped head and slanted eyes of the dog on the right. Does not this latter picture compare favourably with both the petroglyph of the Gebel Tjauti and the stick-figure Seth-animal determinative? The erect status of both the tail and ears of the Sethanimal is also now clear. The animal was portrayed in its hunting state rather than while resting like most dogs or canine deities (Anubis, for example, who was a dog said by some to have been fathered by Seth). This fits perfectly with the god Seth himself, the all-powerful god of action, a hunter and perpetual dispatcher of the serpent Apep [Apophis]. Abu Nuwas, a ninth century Arab poet, wrote of a hunting Saluki: Like an arrow it was sent, tearing away from his own skin, lightning like a cloud. The Saluki is a dog of the desert, bred mainly for hunting gazelles, foxes and hares. Hunting by sight, these sighthounds can run down their prey at some sixty-five kilometres an hour. The Saluki is the single sacred exception to the Muslim convention that dogs are unclean beasts, and they share their masters homes and dinner tables. Today, in Arabia and Syria, they are often accompanied by falconers, and the falcons and Saluki combine their talents in the hunt for game. The falcon can spot a distant gazelle and, in diving towards it, acts as a beacon

for the long-distance-running Saluki. They also trade jobs, with the Saluki flushing out hidden birds that are then pounced upon by the falcon. Like the Saluki, the falcon is another accepted creature within Islam. This aspect of the Saluki, a desert hunting animal that is associated with another desert hunting animal, the falcon, melds nicely with their respective gods. Dog-Seth and falcon-Horus were inseparable in Egypts mythology. Toby Wilkinson states that the pairing of Horus and Seth is attested from the middle of the First Dynasty. We know, too, that the Pyramid and Coffin Texts constantly refer to Horus and Seth in one breath. One wonders if there is any philological connection between the Arabic term for the Saluki as el hor, the noble one, and the Egyptian Hor, meaning Horus. And is the strange dual Horus-Seth, with two heads sharing one body, related to this question? A revival of sorts concerning this association occurred during the New Kingdom. As Herman Te Velde noted: This motif of falcons and Seth-animals is brought together in the description of a hunt of Rameses III, where the king is compared to Seth trampling down the game and to a falcon on the watch for birds. The identity of the Seth-animal as the Saluki hunting dog offers a further unexpected surprise it may explain why the god Seth has seemed somehow foreign to the land of the Nile. Although Seth undoubtedly was an important early god, only two kings took him as their patron deity and one of these shared the honour with Horus. This and the fact that the origin of the Seth-animal, the Saluki hunting dog, was lost early on in Egypts history leads me to suspect that the dog, and possibly also the god, originated in a foreign land. Seths home town, his Nome, was Nubt (Greek Ombos) in Upper Egypt and it is located by the Wadi Hammamat, the most direct route from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea. From the coast it is a short journey to the Gulf of Aqaba with access to Syria and Mesopotamia. Nubt, the golden, the ancient name of Naqada, controlled access to the Wadi Hammamat and its importance as a gold-mining area and travel route has been documented in Genesis of the Pharaohs by Toby Wilkinson. As he stated: Naqada may have played a key role in the political consolidation of Upper Egypt that preceded the unification of the whole country ... . The later importance of Horus and Seth in the doctrine


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of divine kingship points to the significance of Hierakonpolis and Naqada in the process of unification. In other words, the creation of ancient Egypt transpired here, along the one-hundred-mile Wadi Hammamat and the adjoining region of the Nile. This wadis significance is found in its rock-art, which portrays domestic scenes, hunting (often with dogs), and semi-nomadic cattle-herding. Most significantly, there are carvings of Mesopotamian-style boats and one of the first images of a falcon surmounting a serekh, similar to the later ubiquitous sign of royalty, the Horus falcon. Serekhs themselves seem to be based on Sumerian temples an important indication of the high-level influence of outsiders upon early Egypt (although recent excavations and discoveries at sites such as Hierakonpolis in Egypt are pushing back the dates of the origins of the Egyptian civilisation within Egypt itself). Indications of a foreign contact through this wadi are in the following material goods: Red Sea shell jewellery is found in Badarian excavations north of Naqada; lapis lazuli, from Naqada II gravesites, is said to have come all the way from Afghanistan, by way of Sumer; the famous cosmetic palettes of the Predynastic Period are made of schist from the Wadi Hammamat; the common palette motif of animals with long entwined necks a form that was unknown in Egyptian art before or after may have come from Mesopotamia. One final datum of interest is that the prime example of the Seth-animal, the Scorpion Kings mace, is in the bulbous pear-shape of maces from Mesopotamia and not the thick disc mace of ancient Egypt. Most of the foreign influx during this time was voluntary and welcomed. Besides traders, craftsmen of many specialties are likely to have entered through the Eastern Desert and accelerated changes in the Predynastic Period. Some of these visitors may also have brought their favourite animal companions, their Saluki hunting dogs. Hamad Al Ghanem, a historian of the Saluki, believes that this breed did indeed originate in Mesopotamia. This was also the time of Seths ascension. First Dynasty Queen Merneith was She who sees Horus and Seth, and King Hetepsekhemwy was The Two Powers are at Peace. Thus this pair were already principal gods at the beginning of Dynastic Egypt, and an earlier conflict between the followers of Horus and those of Seth may have been reconciled. In the Second Dynasty, the normal use of a Horus title briefly changed and the speculation is that Seths adherents gained royal recognition or at least formed a temporary alliance with the Horus royal family. Sekhemib changed his name to Peribsen and his serekh became topped by the Seth-animal (clearly a dog-shaped creature). The following king was Khasekhemwy, The Two Powers Arise, and his serekh has both the Horus hawk and Seth dog. This is a unique instance, not repeated throughout Egypts very long history. Something else which is strange, and unremarked, is that the Seth-animal and the Horus falcon

Above: images of the hawk Horus and of Seth, from an Eighteenth Dynasty block in the Open Air Museum in Karnak. Photo: RP.

face each other. Hieroglyphs are normally composed with the characters facing in the same direction. The Khasekhemwy serekh is therefore doubly extraordinary. The popularity of Seth did not last long however, as the very next ruler was again a Horus king and Seth fell out of favour for over a thousand years, as far as royal names are concerned. And so, too, began a dramatic change in the Seth-animal. But why did it somewhat parallel the change in fortune of the god Seth? Other gods waxed and waned in prestige over time, but these other gods depictions and avatars did not change with them. Only the Seth-animal underwent this bizarre process. One possibility is that the foreigners brought in both the god Seth and the Saluki that became its icon, the Seth-animal. Or they just had the dog and the indigenous people came to associate the dog with Seth possibly because, as a desert hunter, it was a natural companion to the already revered Horus hawk. Once the foreigners abandoned hunting with clip-eared dogs, the Seth = Seth-animal link had been forged, but the origin of the live Seth-animal, the Saluki, was forgotten. The Saluki, however, did not become extinct only its association with the god Seths symbol died out. In fact, around 2,000 BC, the Saluki began replacing the Tesem hound as the most portrayed dog in Egyptian art. But as

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the ears are never shown as being cropped, this distinctive link to the Seth-animal must have been largely abandoned, and this factor aided the disconnection between Saluki and symbol. Another cause for the loss of the Seth-animals Saluki origin may have been the attitude of the earliest Dynastic rulers. First Dynasty King Den is shown on an ivory label subjugating the people of the Eastern Desert. The supreme irony, as Wilkinson notes, was that as soon as an all-powerful Dynastic Egypt came into being, one of its first acts was to vilify, not only true foreigners, but the peoples of the Red Sea hills, the very people whose distinctive lifestyle had helped to fashion pharaonic civilisation. The keepers of the clip-eared Salukis may have become the enemy. Support for this scenario comes from the peculiarity that, of all the desert lands of the Middle East, falconry never took hold in Egypt. The reason may be that the foreign falconers and Saluki owners traditions eventually died out, or falconry never caught on precisely because it was a foreign sport and therefore tainted. Another hint as to the foreign origin of Seth is that the Egyptians themselves used the Seth-animal determinative to write the names of other foreign gods. The Libyan Ash, Semitic Baal, and Hittite Teshub were all considered to be forms of Seth, whereas identifications of Seth with other typical Egyptian gods are rare. Seths name in the oldest pyramid texts is always written with the Seth-animal dog; however, in later pyramids the god Seth is only written with phonograms. By the first millennium BC, the dog-like glyph disappears entirely and the Seth-animal symbol is changed to an ass with a knife

sticking in its head or body. Not only was the god Seth now anathema, even his symbol was ridiculed and killed. Of all the avatars of Egypts gods, the Seth-animal was the only one that changed in appearance (or was portrayed differently) over time. The link to the primaeval Seth-animal, the Saluki, was broken and forgotten. The fact that, today, the Saluki, with its all-important cropped ears, calls Syria and the Arabian peninsula home is perhaps the sign of the foreign origin of Egypts Seth-animal, if not the god Seth himself. This new perspective on early Egyptian history will hopefully interest others to pursue the issue further. Study of the relationships between the early peoples of the Wadi Hammamat, both indigenous and foreigners, will undoubtedly increase our knowledge of the mysterious god Seth and his counterpart Seth-animal, the Saluki hunting dog.

Ken Moss

Ken majored in Psychology at the University of British Columbia many years ago. It was his secondary exposure to world history that led to a compelling life-long interest in the origins of civilisation, with a special emphasis on ancient Egypt. Further Reading See the previous AE articles on Seth (by Birgit Schoer, AE24, Jun. 2004) and on Dogs in Ancient Egypt (by Malcolm Hobson AE28, Feb. 2005).

Above: a detail of a statue of Seth, dating to the reign of Rameses III and now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Photo: RP.


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